Now that you know the basics of countable elementary submodels (CESM), you might think that you are in the clear. “Mike”, you say arrogantly, “I know all the most basic properties of CESMs, without proof I remind you, what else could I possibly want?”. I gently and patiently remind you that CESMs are worthless unless you know how to apply them properly.
So let’s do that.
Here are two theorems whose proofs you might already know, but that can be proved using elementary submodels. I will show you a proof of the -system lemma (a fundamental lemma in infinitary combinatorics) and a topological theorem of Arhangel’skii. Both of these proofs are taken from Just & Weese’s book “Discovering Modern Set Theory 2”, chapter 24.
So, you may have heard about these things called countable elementary submodels. You may have heard that they work like magic and do all sorts of amazing things. “Mathematical voodoo” some might say. “Witchcraft!” others declare. Hearing this you become intrigued and set out to harness this black power. You quickly realize that there are very few places to learn this dark art; the protectors of this knowledge don’t want it leaking out.
Here I hope to lay out the essential things you need to know (and omit the things you don’t need to know) so that you can start using countable elementary submodels. I am going to lay out as little of the machinery as possible and display only the relevant applicable facts you will need for most proofs involving elementary submodels.
1. A Countable Submodel of What?
The universe of all sets is a ‘model’ for set theory, but it is too big. If we did have a model for set theory we would know that there is a countable submodel of it, by Lowenheim-Skolem. Of course we can’t assert that set theory has a model as this would be equivalent to asserting the consistency of set theory. The clever way around this is to realize that any proof in mathematics only ever uses finitely many axioms of set theory and references only finitely many specific sets. It is always possible to find a model of those finitely many axioms and special sets. (Aside, for those of you who have seen this before, why doesn’t this violate the compactness theorem? It’s tricky.) Here will be our copy of the universe, just for a given proof, and we will take a countable submodel of , not . This is where the language “Take a large enough fragment of ZFC” comes from.
In my ongoing love affair with compactness I am constantly revisiting a particular proof of the Heine-Borel theorem, a characterization of compactness in . There are two proofs that I know of: the standard “subdivision” proof and the “creeping along” proof. I am going to focus on the creeping along proof.
Heine-Borel Theorem. A subset is compact if and only if it is closed and bounded.
To do some creeping we need to collect some useful facts.
Fact 1. A subset is bounded if and only if is contained in some closed interval
Fact 2. The set is complete (as a linear order) because every non-empty set with an upper bound has a least upper bound, called .
Fact 3. Closed subsets of compact subsets of are in fact themselves compact. With fact 1 this means that it is enough to show that closed and bounded intervals in are compact. (In general closed subsets of compact spaces are compact.)