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Exploiting symmetry without changing inference

One way to exploit symmetry is to modify the set of axioms in a way that captures the power of the symmetry. In the pigeonhole problem, for example, we can argue that since there is a symmetry under the exchange of pigeons or of holes, we can assume ``without loss of generality'' that pigeon 1 is in hole 1, and then by virtue of a residual symmetry that pigeon 2 is in hole 2, and so on.

The basic idea is to add so-called symmetry-breaking axioms to our original theory, axioms that break the existing symmetry without affecting the overall satisfiability of the theory itself. This idea was introduced by Crawford et al. Ginsberg:symmetry.

While attractive in theory, there are at least two fundamental difficulties with the symmetry-breaking approach:

  1. Luks and Roy Luks:symmetry have shown that breaking all of the symmetries in any particular problem may require the introduction of a set of symmetry-breaking axioms of exponential size. This problem can be sidestepped by breaking only ``most'' of the symmetries, although little is known about how the set of broken symmetries is to be selected.
  2. Far more serious, the technique can only be applied if the symmetry in question is global. This is because the basic argument that satisfiability is unaffected by the introduction of the new axioms requires that there be no additional axioms to consider.

In theoretical problems, global symmetries exist. But in practice, even the addition of asymmetric axioms that constrain the problem further (e.g., you can't put pigeon 4 in hole 7) will break the required global symmetry and render this method inapplicable. More problematic still is the possibility of the symmetries being ``obscured'' by replacing the single axiom

\neg p_{11} \vee \neg p_{21}
\end{displaymath} (41)

with the equivalent pair

\begin{displaymath}a\vee \neg p_{11} \vee \neg p_{21}\end{displaymath}


\begin{displaymath}\neg a\vee \neg p_{11} \vee \neg p_{21}\end{displaymath}

from which (41) can obviously be recovered using resolution. Once again, the symmetry in the original problem has vanished and the method cannot be applied.

These arguments could perhaps have been anticipated by consideration of our usual table; since the inference mechanism itself is not modified (and it is possible to break global symmetries), none of the entries has changed. Let us turn, then, to other techniques that modify inference itself.

next up previous
Next: Exploiting symmetry by changing Up: Symmetry Previous: Symmetry
Matt Ginsberg 2004-02-19