Kurt Gödel

Kurt Friedrich Gödel was born April 28, 1906, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. According to Wikipedia, “young Kurt was known as Herr Warum (“Mr. Why”) because of his insatiable curiosity.” I can relate to that, as my younger brother was much the same way. At a certain age, the most frequent word out of his mouth was “why.”

Gödel was a mathematical genius and a friend of Einstein in their later years. I confess as more a word person than a numbers person, I don’t totally understand what he did, but here’s what the Encyclopædia Britannica has to say about his contribution to knowledge. He was a “mathematician, logician, and philosopher who obtained what may be the most important mathematical result of the 20th century: his famous incompleteness theorem.” Later it adds that he developed this theorem to show that mathematics conformed to Platonism, that is, what we see in the physical world is derived from objective ideas, such as all lions are based on the objective idea of LION. (For a fictional look at these fascinating concepts in a nonmathematical way I recommend Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams, who was part of the C.S. Lewis/Tolkien circle.)

And again from Britannica: “Gödel’s idea was that if he could prove the incompleteness theorem, then he could show that there were unprovable mathematical truths. This, he thought, would go a long way toward establishing Platonism, because it would show that mathematical truth is objective—i.e., that it goes beyond mere human provability or human axiom systems.” Though people who understand math celebrate his incompleteness theorem, the philosophy behind it is not widely accepted.

In my VERY layperson’s terms, in any mathematical proof, there is some part of it that cannot be proven but must be taken on faith, such as 2+2=4. We have to simply agree on what 2s and 4s are because there is no way to prove it.

Like too many geniuses, Gödel suffered from some mental instability most of his life, and his obsession with the idea he was going to be poisoned finally caught up with him and he died in 1978.

Einstein and Gödel

Quotes by Kurt Gödel

The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other at all.

I don’t believe in empirical science. I only believe in a priori truth.

Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine.

I am convinced of the afterlife, independent of theology. If the world is rationally constructed, there must be an afterlife

All generalisations – perhaps except this one – are false.

The meaning of world is the separation of wish and fact.

But every error is due to extraneous factors (such as emotion and education); reason itself does not err.

The physical laws, in their observable consequences, have a finite limit of precision.

Ninety percent of [contemporary philosophers] see their principle task as that of beating religion out of men’s heads. … We are far from being able to provide scientific basis for the theological world view.

Consciousness is connected with one unity. A machine is composed of parts.

Don’t collect data. If you know everything about yourself, you know everything. There is no use burdening yourself with a lot of data. Once you understand yourself, you understand human nature and then the rest follows

Intuition is not proof; it is the opposite of proof. We do not analyze intuition to see a proof but by intuition we see something without a proof.

Philosophy as an exact theory should do for metaphysics as much as Newton did for physics. I think it is perfectly possible that the development of such a philosophical theory will take place within the next hundred years or even sooner

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