Automating the Search for Elegant Proofs

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Abstract

The research reported in this article was spawned by a colleague's request to find an elegant proof (of a theorem from Boolean algebra) to replace his proof consisting of 816 deduced steps. The request was met by finding a proof consisting of 100 deduced steps. The methodology used to obtain the far shorter proof is presented in detail through a sequence of experiments. Although clearly not an algorithm, the methodology is sufficiently general to enable its use for seeking elegant proofs regardless of the domain of study. In addition to (usually) being more elegant, shorter proofs often provide the needed path to constructing a more efficient circuit, a more effective algorithm, and the like. The methodology relies heavily on the assistance of McCune's automated reasoning program OTTER. Of the aspects of proof elegance, the main focus here is on proof length, with brief attention paid to the type of term present, the number of variables required, and the complexity of deduced steps. The methodology is iterative, relying heavily on the use of three strategies: the resonance strategy, the hot list strategy, and McCune's ratio strategy. These strategies, as well as other features on which the methodology relies, do exhibit tendencies that can be exploited in the search for shorter proofs and for other objectives. To provide some insight regarding the value of the methodology, I discuss its successful application to other problems from Boolean algebra and to problems from lattice theory. Research suggestions and challenges are also offered.

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