FOM: wider cultural significance: misuse of G"odel's theorem

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Fri Mar 26 13:41:08 EST 1999

The Hayes/Friedman/Davis conversation on nonspecialist understanding
of G"odel's theorem is quite interesting.

Excerpt from a posting by Graham Solomon 15 Feb 1999 22:24:32

 > Here are a couple of examples of nonspecialist uses of the
 > incompleteness result:
 > `... how then can we expect to solve the ever-increasing ethical
 > contradictions by a simple axiomatic system? ... It's time to bid
 > farewell to these fantasies of omnipotence. In the long run no one
 > -- no country and no individual -- can avoid coming to terms with
 > the limits of his own responsibility, and setting priorities.
 > ... all imaginable options end in the logic of triage, whether we
 > admit it or not.'
 > Hans Magnus Enzensberger, _Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia_ (New
 > York: The New Press, 1994) ....  Enzensberger's book was a New
 > York Times Notable Book of the Year. ....

Here Enzensberger misuses G"odel's theorem to support a general
argument against the efficacy of reason, which in turn supports a
collectivist ethical/political doctrine: the sacrifice of the
individual for the sake of the collective (`the logic of triage').

I think this is a good example of the kind of misuse of G"odel's
theorem that we as f.o.m. professionals ought to combat.

Concerning best-selling books that misuse G"odel's theorem, Harvey
Friedman 25 Mar 1999 15:13:59 writes:

 > I celebrate that they are best selling. This increases the exposure
 > to Godel, and hence one can now write further books disucssing
 > Godel in new ways - perhaps drawing competing conclusions - and get
 > a bigger audience than otherwise. Don't you want to celebrate this?

Harvey, do you celebrate Enzensberger's book as an opportunity to
write further books discussing G"odel in new ways?  Do you have any
plans to write such further books, or to do anything else along these
lines?  I sometimes get the impression that you are reluctant to
become involved in this kind of thing ....

Pat Hayes 25 Mar 1999 13:30:15 complained:

 > Several best-selling recent books put Godel into center stage in
 > order to 'prove' that AI is impossible

Another excerpt from Graham Solomon's posting:

 > Hugh Kenner, _The Counterfeiters: An Historical Comedy_ (New York:
 > Anchor Books, 1973), p.138. Kenner's book is an engaging historical
 > study of literary and other responses to the idea of simulations
 > like clockwork ducks and other automaton devices, computer models
 > of mind, etc.

Was Hayes referring to Kenner's book?

-- Steve

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