These are some imports that are required for code on this page to work properly.

{-# OPTIONS --cubical #-}

open import Cubical.Foundations.Prelude
open import Data.Bool
open import Data.Unit
open import Data.Empty

¬_ : Set → Set
¬ A = A → ⊥

infix 4 _≢_
_≢_ : ∀ {A : Set} → A → A → Set
x ≢ y  =  ¬ (x ≡ y)

The other day, I was trying to prove true ≢ false in Agda. I would write the statement like this:

true≢false : true ≢ false

For many “obvious” statements, it suffices to just write refl since the two sides are trivially true via rewriting. For example:

open import Data.Nat
1+2≡3 : 1 + 2 ≡ 3
1+2≡3 = refl

This is saying that using the way addition is defined, we can just rewrite the left side so it becomes judgmentally equal to the right:

-- For convenience, here's the definition of addition:
-- _+_ : Nat → Nat → Nat
-- zero  + m = m
-- suc n + m = suc (n + m)
  • 1 + 2
  • suc zero + suc (suc zero)
  • suc (zero + suc (suc zero))
  • suc (suc (suc zero))
  • 3

However, in cubical Agda, naively using refl with the inverse statement doesn’t work. I’ve commented it out so the code on this page can continue to compile.

-- true≢false = refl

It looks like it’s not obvious to the interpreter that this statement is actually true. Why is that


Well, in constructive logic / constructive type theory, proving something is false is actually a bit different. You see, the definition of the not operator, or ¬\neg, was:

-- ¬_ : Set → Set
-- ¬ A = A → ⊥

The code is commented out because it was already defined at the top of the page in order for the code to compile.

This roughly translates to, “give me any proof of A, and I’ll produce a value of the bottom type.” Since the bottom type \bot is a type without values, being able to produce a value represents logical falsehood. So we’re looking for a way to ensure that any proof of true ≢ false must lead to \bot.

The strategy here is we define some kind of “type-map”. Every time we see true, we’ll map it to some arbitrary inhabited type, and every time we see false, we’ll map it to empty.

bool-map : Bool → Type
bool-map true = ⊤
bool-map false = ⊥

This way, we can use the fact that transporting over a path (the path supposedly given to us as the witness that true ≢ false) will produce a function from the inhabited type we chose to the empty type!

true≢false p = transport (λ i → bool-map (p i)) tt

I used true here, but I could equally have just used anything else:

bool-map2 : Bool → Type
bool-map2 true = 1 ≡ 1
bool-map2 false = ⊥

true≢false2 : true ≢ false
true≢false2 p = transport (λ i → bool-map2 (p i)) refl

Note on proving divergence on equivalent values

Let’s make sure this isn’t broken by trying to apply this to something that’s actually true:

data NotBool : Type where
  true1 : NotBool
  true2 : NotBool
  same : true1 ≡ true2

In this data type, we have a path over true1 and true2 that is a part of the definition of the NotBool type. Since this is an intrinsic equality, we can’t map true1 and true2 to divergent types. Let’s see what happens:

notbool-map : NotBool → Type
notbool-map true1 = ⊤
notbool-map true2 = ⊥

Ok, we’ve defined the same thing that we did before, but Agda gives us this message:

Incomplete pattern matching for notbool-map. Missing cases:
  notbool-map (same i)
when checking the definition of notbool-map

Agda helpfully notes that we still have another case in the inductive type to pattern match on. Let’s just go ahead and give it some value:

notbool-map (same i) = ⊤

If you give it , it will complain that ⊥ != ⊤ of type Type, but if you give it , it will also complain! Because pattern matching on higher inductive types requires a functor over the path, we must provide a function that satisfies the equality notbool-map true1 ≡ notbool-map true2, which unless we have provided the same type to both, will not be possible.

So in the end, this type NotBool → Type is only possible to write if the two types we mapped true1 and true2 can be proven equivalent. But this also means we can’t use it to prove true1 ≢ true2, which is exactly the property we wanted to begin with.