{-# OPTIONS --type-in-type #-}
module Type where
open import Agda.Primitive public
  renaming (Set to Type; Setω to Typeω; SSet to SType
           ;Level to Lvl;lzero to ℓ0; lsuc to ℓs)
  using    (_⊔_)

open import Data.Product using (; _×_; _,_) renaming (proj₁ to π₁; proj₂ to π₂)
open import Relation.Binary.PropositionalEquality as Eq using (_≡_; refl)
open Eq.≡-Reasoning using (_≡⟨⟩_; _∎)

data    : Type where
record  : Type where constructor 
data   𝔹 : Type where 𝕗 : 𝔹; 𝕥 : 𝔹
_iff_ : Type  Type  Type
p iff q = (p  q) × (q  p)

In GHC Haskell, every normal type has the kind Type (previously *), including Type :: Type. Previously this behavior was turned on with -XTypeInType, but is now the default.

Agda’s type hierarchy is more complex.

Instead of Type : Type we instead have Type₀ : Type₁ and Type₁ : Type₂ and so on.

Any type that quantifies over another type must be larger than it. For example:

record Dynamic : Type₁ where
    Ty : Type₀
    term : Ty

Dynamic∀ : Type₁ 
Dynamic∀ =  {r : Type₀}  ((Ty : Type₀)  Ty  r)  r

Contrast this with the identity type, which is at the same level as Ty because it takes it as a generic parameter, rather than existentially quantifying over it.

record Identity (Ty : Type₀) : Type₀ where
  field term : Ty

Identity∀ : Type₀  Type₀
Identity∀ Ty = Ty

It would be annoying to figure out which type level to use on our own, so types are polymorphic over universe level. Type alone is sugar for Type₀, which is itself sugar for Type ℓ0, and Type₁ is sugar for Type (ℓs ℓ0) etc. The full polymorphic type is Type : (ℓ : Lvl) → Type (ℓs ℓ), for a special Lvl type:

-- postulate Lvl : Type
-- {-# BUILTIN LEVEL Lvl #-}
-- {-# BUILTIN LEVELZERO ℓ0  #-} -- : Lvl
-- {-# BUILTIN LEVELSUC  ℓs  #-} -- : Lvl → Lvl
-- {-# BUILTIN LEVELMAX  _⊔_ #-} -- : Lvl → Lvl → Lvl
-- infixl 6 _⊔_

Lvl is a magic type. It isn’t possible to pattern match on levels, and they’re erased at run-time.

When multiple polymorphic levels appear in a type, the resulting level must bound all of them. This is achieved with the max operator. e.g. the dependent pair:

record Σ {ℓa ℓb} (A : Type ℓa) (B : A  Type ℓb) : Type (ℓa  ℓb) where
    fst : A
    snd : B fst

So universe levels create a nice hierarchy that statically guarantee we only have a finite depth of meta types, but things get weird when we try to quantify over level polymorphic types. What level should we give this type?

very-meta = ( : Lvl)  Type 

Russel’s Paradox

To understand this better let’s see what goes wrong in the classic example that inspired universe levels: Russel’s Paradox

Russel’s paradox relies on comprehension, which lets us construct a class by quantifying over sets satisfying a predicate. e.g. \(\{ x | x ∈ ℕ , \textrm{even?} x \}\)

We can encode this as:

module russel where
  data TYPE : Typeω where 
    [_∋_] :  {} (X : Type )  (pred : X  TYPE)  TYPE

Notice a comprehension isn’t a normal Type, it’s a proper class: (TYPE)! It won’t type-check as Type without --type-in-type, because the resulting type wants its level to be ℓs ℓ for every - i.e. it wants an infinite level. Agda doesn’t have an an infinite level ω, but it does have a Typeω which could be thought of as Type ω if one did exist. Typeω exists for precisely this reason - TYPE will type-check as Typeω even without --type-in-type. In general, ((ℓ : Lvl) → Type ℓ) : Typeω and the only constructor that can be applied to expressions of kind Typeω is .

We can encode a few example natural number TYPEs by quantifying over basic Types.

   ⟨∅⟩ ⟨∅,⟨∅⟩⟩ : TYPE
   = [   (λ()) ]                    -- 0
  ⟨∅⟩ = [      ) ]              -- 1
  ⟨∅,⟨∅⟩⟩ = [ 𝔹  (λ{𝕗  ⟨∅⟩; 𝕥  }) ] -- 2

The trouble comes when we try to examine the elements of a comprehension:

  _∈_ : TYPE  TYPE  Type -- This won't typecheck without --type-in-type
  a  [ X  f ] =  λ x  a  f x

  _∉_ : TYPE  TYPE  Type
  a  b = (a  b)  

We can now encode Russell’s paradoxical class directly as the TYPE of all TYPE that don’t contain themselves:

  Δ : TYPE
  Δ = [ ( λ t  t  t)  (λ{(t , t∉t)  t}) ]

This does indeed capture the right notion we can prove that a class is in Δ if and only iff it doesn’t contain itself:

  x∈Δ→x∉x :  {X}  X  Δ  X  X
  x∈Δ→x∉x ((Y , Y∉Y) , refl) = Y∉Y

  x∉x→x∈Δ :  {X}  X  X  X  Δ
  x∉x→x∈Δ {X} X∉X = (X , X∉X) , refl

  x∈Δ↔x∉x :  {X}  (X  Δ) iff (X  X)
  x∈Δ↔x∉x = x∈Δ→x∉x , x∉x→x∈Δ

Now the infamous contradiction is direct: Δ both does and does not contain itself!

  Δ∉Δ : Δ  Δ
  Δ∉Δ Δ∈Δ = (π₁ x∈Δ↔x∉x) Δ∈Δ Δ∈Δ 

  Δ∈Δ : Δ  Δ
  Δ∈Δ = (π₂ x∈Δ↔x∉x) Δ∉Δ

  paradox : 
  paradox = Δ∉Δ Δ∈Δ

  open import Data.Nat using ()
  x : 
  x = 3

So how bad is this? What’s actually going on?

If we’re using Agda as a proof assistant, it’s pretty terrible: we can now prove anything we like! This is why Agda uses such onerous level checking by default.

But Russel’s paradox is quite weird, and one might wonder how easy it is to accidentally violate well-foundedness.

we can unroll paradox to see what’s happening computationally:

-- _ : paradox ≡ paradox
--  _      = paradox
--       ≡⟨⟩ Δ∉Δ                          Δ∈Δ
--       ≡⟨⟩ (x∈Δ→x∉x Δ∈Δ)                Δ∈Δ
--       ≡⟨⟩ (x∈Δ→x∉x (x∉x→x∈Δ Δ∉Δ))      Δ∈Δ
--       ≡⟨⟩ (x∈Δ→x∉x ((Δ , Δ∉Δ) , refl)) Δ∈Δ
--       ≡⟨⟩ Δ∉Δ                          Δ∈Δ ∎

If you try to compile the above commented code the type-checker will hang, but we can see why: Δ∉Δ Δ∈Δ reduces to itself!

It turns out that all unsound uses of --type-in-type result in type-checking non-termination, so we’ll never construct an ill-typed value at run-time.

For this reason we follow Haskell’s example and include --type-in-type by default, to maintain clarity by reducing noise.

When checking a serious proof it’s worth reintroducing Levels for consistency, but for interactive exploratory work or didactic communication it’s nearly always a hindrance.