About a year ago, in the context of a course on Scheme, a friend and colleague asked me:

What’s the difference between an equation and a definition?

Here is my much-belated answer, resurrected as a reminder and a guide to myself as I begin my own study of equations (this time of the differential variety)…

The character “`=`

” is commonly used to signify six different things; namely:

- an equivalence relation
- the standard (numeric) equality procedure
- equations
- identities
- definitions
- assignments

Equivalence relations are reflexive, symmetric, and transitive binary relations.

The standard (numeric) equality procedure is a procedure whose application to arguments evaluates to `#t`

when all arguments are numerically equal and to `#f`

otherwise.

Equations are combinations whose head is the equals symbol, like:

Like any syntax, equations can be assigned several interpretations. One interpretation that is popular in math is to treat equations as defining relations; that is, as describing one or more sets of solutions of the equation(s).

A solution is an environment in which a set of equations all evaluate to `#t`

. For example, the evaluation of the following “let” expression proves that `(4, 2)`

is a solution of the equation `y = 2*x`

:

Identities^{1} are equations that have been (perhaps implicitly) universally quantified over a set of satisfying assignments. Identities are mostly used to relate values like `2`

, `+`

, and `*`

as in:

Definitions are compound terms whose evaluation has the side-effect of installing a new variable-to-value binding into the current environment:

Finally, assignments are terms (whose evaluation) or statements (whose execution) has the side-effect of performing writes to a store:

language | assignment |
---|---|

python | `x = 2 * x` |

C | `x = 2 * x;` |

pascal | `x := 2` |

scheme | `(set! x (* 2 x))` |

C redux | `*(int*)0x12345678 = 0;` |

While there are few identities written in Scheme, there are several computer algebra systems written in Scheme-like languages in which plenty of identities have been written.↩