John Myhill

John R. Myhill Sr. (11 August 1923 – 15 February 1987[2]) was a British mathematician.

John Myhill
Born(1923-08-11)11 August 1923
Died15 February 1987(1987-02-15) (aged 63)
Alma materHarvard University
Spouse(s)Akiko Kino (died 1983)
ChildrenJohn (born 1957), Robert (born 1960), Phoebe (born 1963), Nova (born 1970)[1]
Scientific career
ThesisA Semantically Complete Foundation for Logic and Mathematics (1949)
Doctoral advisorWillard Van Orman Quine
Lynn Harold Loomis


Myhill received his Ph.D. from Harvard University under Willard Van Orman Quine in 1949.[3] He was professor at SUNY Buffalo from 1966 until his death in 1987. He also taught at several other universities.

His son, also called John Myhill, is a professor of linguistics in the English department of the University of Haifa in Israel.

Research results

In the theory of formal languages, the Myhill–Nerode theorem, proven by Myhill with Anil Nerode, characterizes the regular languages as the languages that have only finitely many inequivalent prefixes.

In computability theory, the Rice–Myhill–Shapiro theorem, more commonly known as Rice's theorem, states that, for any nontrivial property P of partial functions, it is undecidable to determine whether a given Turing machine computes a function with property P. The Myhill isomorphism theorem is a computability-theoretic analogue of the Cantor–Bernstein–Schroeder theorem that characterizes the recursive isomorphisms of pairs of sets.

In the theory of cellular automata, Myhill is known for proving (along with E. F. Moore) the Garden of Eden theorem, stating that a cellular automaton has a configuration with no predecessor if and only if it has two different asymptotic configurations which evolve to the same configuration. He is also known for posing the firing squad synchronization problem of designing an automaton that, starting from a single non-quiescent cell, evolves to a configuration in which all cells reach the same non-quiescent state at the same time; this problem was again solved by Moore.

In constructive set theory, Myhill is known for proposing an axiom system that avoids the axiom of choice and the law of the excluded middle, known as Intuitionistic Zermelo–Fraenkel. He also developed a constructive set theory based on natural numbers, functions, and sets, rather than (as in many other foundational theories) basing it purely on sets.

The Russell–Myhill paradox or Russell–Myhill antinomy, discovered by Bertrand Russell in 1902 and rediscovered by Myhill in 1958,[4] concerns systems of logic in which logical propositions can be members of classes, and can also be about classes; for instance, a proposition P can "state the product" of a class C, meaning that proposition P asserts that all propositions contained in class C are true. In such a system, the class of propositions that state the product of classes that do not include them is paradoxical. For, if proposition P states the product of this class, an inconsistency arises regardless of whether P does or does not belong to the class it describes.[5]

In music theory, Myhill's property is a mathematical property of musical scales described by John Clough and Gerald Myerson and named by them after Myhill.

See also


  1. N.D. Goodman and R.E. Vesley (1987). "Obituary: John R. Myhill (19231987)". History and Philosophy of Logic. 8 (2): 243–244. doi:10.1080/01445348708837118.
  2. Revue philosophique de Louvain, Volume 85, page 603.
  3. John Myhill at the Mathematics Genealogy Project.
  4. "Problems Arising in the Formalization of Intensional Logic." Logique et Analyse 1 (1958): 78-83
  5. Russell-Myhill Paradox.
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