FOM: General Intellectual Interest

Pat Hayes phayes at
Thu Mar 25 14:30:15 EST 1999

Harvey Friedman writes:
>But I am confident that you will join me and many others on the FOM list in
>enthusiastically celebrating this recognition of Turing and Godel!!

Well, yes and no. Imagine what one of the apostles would have felt if he
had known that one day there would be best-selling books on the Christian
approach to making lots of money.

I dont think it is really a cause for celebration because I dont think it
really is recognition in the sense that would be worth celebrating. I think
that Turing is there largely because he is now a national hero in England,
largely as a result of the romantic image produced by his secret WW2
codebreaking work and the tragic outcome of his persecution as a
homosexual. (He has much the same popular fascination as Stephen Hawkins,
another 'warped genius'. For another example of the power of this
particular meme, watch the ghastly movie "Good Will Hunting".) And I think
Godel is there largely for the worst possible reasons, which Steve Simpson
is acutely aware of, ie because his work is widely regarded as having shown
that a certain kind of 'oldfashioned' 'linear' thinking is forever doomed.
Several best-selling recent books put Godel into center stage in order to
'prove' that AI is impossible, for example. I think that 99% of the
educated adult population don't have even a glimmering of comprehension of
what Godel's theorems actually mean, and they probably think that Turing
machines were sold by IBM in 1950.

Pat Hayes

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