I am reading Turing 1936 to learn about the halting problem from its origin. However, I encountered a roadblock upon reaching section four, in which Turing demonstrates that his m-configuration tables can be expressed as abbreviated "skeleton tables". I cannot wrap my head around how you are meant to use repeated substitution (as he says) to arrive at a complete m-configuration table. The first example he gives is this:

Turing 1936, Section 4, first example

I took this table and followed these instructions: "If we were to replace C throughout by q (say), B by r, and a by x, we should have a complete table for the m-configuration f (q, r, x). f is called an "m-configuration function" or "m-function"." Which had me end up with this:

My attempt at arriving at an m-configuration table

Now, all I've done is replace the variables like he explicitly said but I am unsure how to use this table compared to the previous m-configuration tables. I doubt this is correct, as I feel I am missing something big. When I see f (q, r, x), what does this mean? My understanding is something like:

  • We have function f, which takes three inputs, two being m-configurations and the third being a symbol.
  • We pass the values originally passed to function f back into f again if ə is not found, or into function f1 if ə is found. Either way the head is moved once to the left.
  • From f1 we return C if a is found under the head, if something other than a is found we pass the values back into f1 and move the head right, or if its something other than a or not a (how is this possible) then we pass the values into f2 and move the head right.
  • ...

I feel as though I am wrong in several ways and I can't find much discussion about this paper on the internet (shocker) so any help would be much appreciated! Even just seeing an expanded table could be enlightening.


1 Answer 1


The expression $\mathfrak{f}\,(\mathfrak{C},\mathfrak{B},a)$ is an $m$-configuration (i.e., a state), where

  • $\mathfrak{C}$ is an $m$-configuration (for example, $\mathfrak{q}$),
  • $\mathfrak{B}$ is an $m$-configuration (for example, $\mathfrak{r}$), and
  • $a$ is a tape symbol (for example, $x$).

You can read $\mathfrak{f}\,(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$ as the instruction “set the machine head over the leftmost $x$ and enter $m$-configuration $\mathfrak{q}$, or if there is no $x$ on the tape, enter $m$-configuration $\mathfrak{r}$.”

How to follow this table

  1. Look up the $m$-configuration (column 1).
  2. Read the symbol under the machine head (column 2).
  3. Execute the corresponding behavior (column 3).
  4. Enter the corresponding $m$-configuration (column 4).


Suppose the machine is in $m$-configuration $\mathfrak{g}$ and the machine head is at the index marked with a dot on the string below (using $\varepsilon$ because I don’t know how to type the schwa symbol): $$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0xx1x\underset{\bullet}{1}0$$ In one of the previous tables, we can define a rule like this:

$m$-config. symbol operations final $m$-config.
$\mathfrak{g}$ $1$ $L$ $\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$.

Then the machine will move left, enter the $m$-configuration $\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$ and proceed as follows:

$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0xx1\underset{\bullet}x10\quad\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0xx\underset{\bullet}1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0x\underset{\bullet}x1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0\underset{\bullet}xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon \underset{\bullet}0xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\underset{\bullet}\varepsilon 0xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\underset{\bullet}\varepsilon\varepsilon 0xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}_1(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\underset{\bullet}\varepsilon 0xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}_1(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon \underset{\bullet}0xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}_1(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0\underset{\bullet}xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{f}_1(\mathfrak{q},\mathfrak{r},x)$

$\varepsilon\varepsilon 0\underset{\bullet}xx1x10\quad\mathfrak{q}$

Of course, if no $x$ was on the tape, it would instead end up in $m$-configuration $\mathfrak{r}$.


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