Peano arithmetic is unable to pin down the natural numbers, despite its countable infinity of axioms. In fact, assuming its consistency Peano arithmetic has models of every cardinality, meaning that as far as PA is aware, there might be uncountably many real numbers. (If PA is not consistent then it has no models.) I want to take a look at these non-standard models of PA, especially the countable ones. A natural question is, how many countable non-standard models are there alongside the standard models?

Assuming the consistency of PA (which I will leave out from now on, as it’s assumed in all that follows), there are continuum many non-isomorphic countable models. That’s a lot! That means that there’s a distinct countable non-standard model of arithmetic for every real number. This is our first result: the number of nonstandard models of PA of cardinality ℵ_{0} is 2^{ℵ0}. Interestingly, this result generalizes! For every infinite cardinal κ, there are 2^{κ} non-isomorphic nonstandard models of cardinality κ. That’s a lot of nonstandard models! In fact, since any model of cardinality κ involves a specification of some number of constants, binary relations over κ and functions from κ to κ, we know that the maximum number of models of cardinality κ is 2^{κ}. So in this sense, Peano arithmetic has as many nonstandard models of each cardinality as it can have!

Let’s take a closer look at the countable non-standard models. It turns out that we can say a lot about their order type. Namely, all countable non standard models of PA have order type ω + (ω*+ω)·η. What does this notation mean? Let me break down each of the order types involved in that formula:

- ω: order type of the naturals
- ω*: order type of the negative integers
- η: order type of the rationals

So ω*+ω is the order type of the integer line, and (ω*+ω)·η is the order type of a structure that resembles an integer line for each rational number. Thus, every countable non-standard model of PA looks like a copy of natural numbers followed by as many copies of integers as there are rational numbers. The order on this structure is lexicographic: two nonstandards on the same integer line are judged according to their position on the integer line, and two nonstandards on different integer lines are judged according to the position of these integer lines on the rational line. It’s not the easiest thing to visualize, but here’s my attempt:

So if all countable non-standard models have the same order type, then where do they differ? It turns out that they differ in the details of how addition and multiplication work on the non-standards. (After all, a model of PA is defined by the size of its universe and its interpretation of ≤, +, and ×. Same order type means same ≤, so what’s left to vary is + and ×.) In each of the models, + and × work exactly like normal on the naturals. And + and × must operate on the non-standards in such a way as to maintain the truth of all the axioms of PA. So, for instance, since PA can prove that 2x = x + x, the same must be true for nonstandard x. And so on. But even given these restrictions, there are still uncountably many ways to define + and × on the non-standards.

What’s more, we have a theorem known as the Tennenbaum Theorem, which tells us that it’s impossible to give recursive definitions to + and × in non-standard models. Said more simply, addition and multiplication are uncomputable in every non-standard model of arithmetic!

One thing I remain unsure of is how the nonstandard models of Peano arithmetic compare to the structure of ω in nonstandard models of ZFC. We know that there must be models of ZFC where ω is nonstandard, by the compactness theorem (define ZFC* to be ZFC with an extra constant c, with the extra axioms “c ∈ ω”, “c ≠ 0”, “c ≠ 1”, “c ≠ 2”, and so on. ZFC* has a model by compactness, and this model is also a model of ZFC by monotonicity.) But is ZFC “better” at ruling out nonstandard models of the naturals than PA is? Or is there a nonstandard ω for every nonstandard model of Peano arithmetic?