Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gödel's Truth: Stalking Gödel?

I was a teenager when Kurt Gödel destroyed my love for mathematics.

But he also revealed a much richer world. He enabled me to accept and cherish other dimensions of truth and humanity. I’m still trying to learn how to live more fully and comfortably in this much richer and more complex world, to love without needing to fully understand or control.

And now, I still don’t understand how so few people who are considered well-educated recognize his name or have the slightest clue about his unique intellectual achievements.

I was a math nerd in high school, so one of the reasons I wanted to go to Princeton was that Kurt Gödel was there. I was the first person in my family to go to college and the day I departed for Princeton, New Jersey was the first time I traveled outside of California (except for some vacation trips to Mexico). I must have been one of the most naïve and socially unprepared freshmen ever to arrive on the Princeton campus.

Early in my first semester I asked Professor Raubitschek if I could invite Kurt Gödel to a freshman “keycept” – informal evening gathering of about a dozen freshmen with an upper-classman in an “eating club” or dormitory suite – the 1961 version of First-Year Experience Program. Raubitschek was slightly startled by my question, but he replied with kindness and restraint that he didn’t think such a thing was advisable. I had no idea that I was suggesting a social occasion of a kind that Gödel was locally famous for avoiding. Further, that even in a community that took great pride for treating an extraordinary concentration of world-famous intellectual leaders and scholars with common courtesy and without acknowledging their status, Gödel was regarded as sharing the pinnacle. He was treated as a peer only by Einstein.
[ANTONY E. RAUBITSCHEK, (1912 - 1999)


I can’t imagine I would have been able to concoct a sensible question or statement if I had met Gödel, but I still regret that I too timidly accepted Raubitschek’s conclusion. I could have at least learned where Gödel lived and what he looked like so that I could get a glimpse of him. I have a retroactive urge to be a paparazzi or stalker – the only time I have ever understood why some people want to get a celebrity’s autograph or a lock of his/her hair.

Possible book discussion:

* Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, by Rebecca Goldstein
* The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martinez, Sonia Soto (translator), 197 pages, MacAdam/Cage Publishing (October 16, 2005), ISBN: 1596921501
* Gödel’s Proof, by Ernest Nagel, James R. Newman, Douglas R. Hofstadter (Editor); 125 pages, New York University Press; Revised edition (October 1, 2001), ISBN: 0814758169

Want to participate in developing some conversation about the meaning of Gödel's proof?
Ask to be added as a collaborator to this Google Docs planning document:

1 comment:

  1. Steve,

    I too am fascinated by Gödel's work, and am about halfway through Rebecca Goldstein's book!


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