[FOM] Is Godel's Theorem surprising?

Robbie Lindauer robblin at thetip.org
Thu Dec 7 16:49:01 EST 2006

The expectation that PM should be complete comes from the notion that 
PM is a variety of logic which seeks to have "all and only the logical 
truths".  It should be a Sound and Complete system of logic.

Completeness is as important as Soundness because if a system is not 
complete, then there are logical truths which are not derivable in the 
formalism and consequently, the formalism does not embody a complete 
formalism of the logical truths.

To see why this is important, a parallel case in Physics is worth 
considering.  A given Theory of Physical Reality (say Newtonian 
Mechanics) allows one to derive MANY but not ALL of the observed 
phenomenal truths.  Until ALL of the observed phenomenon are accounted 
for by the physical theory, we regard it as incomplete and in need of 
improvement because we know (or have a strong suspicion) that there are 
factors which ought to be taken into account in our system which are 
not being accounted for.  This can result (as it did in the case of 
Newtonian Mechanics) in a complete falsification of the original theory 
in favor of a stronger theory.  That is, without knowing that our 
theory is Complete, it remains a possibility that it is in fact FALSE.

This is slightly more troubling in logic since it means (for incomplete 
systems of logic) that they are not the whole truth and it is not 
clear, for them, whether the statements that would contribute to making 
them complete wouldn't also make them inconsistent or false.

This is the surprising aspect of Godel's theorem as applied to PM and 
related system.

With Godel's theorem, we effectively KNOW that any system that is 
complete and at least as strong as PM is not consistent.

This is surprising and unfortunate because a pragmatic person looking 
at it, as it were, from the outside, might conclude that PM (and 
related systems) therefore can't be the "initial segment" of a complete 
theory of arithmetic because any completion of them is inconsistent.

Best Wishes,

Robbie Lindauer

On Dec 7, 2006, at 5:12 AM, Charles Silver wrote:

> 	Why should it be so surprising that PA is incomplete, and even (in a
> sense) incompletable?
> Or put the other way, why should we have thought PA (or, for Godel,
> the system of Principia Mathematica and related systems) would have
> to be complete?    It has been alleged, for example, that at the time
> of Godel's proof John von Neumann had been working on proving
> *completeness* for PM or some related system?   Why would von Neumann
> have thought *intuitively* that the system could be proved complete?
> 	I'm not intending the above to be questions of mathematical fact.
> I'm just wondering what accounts for the shock so to speak of Godel's
> Theorem.   One answer I've read is to the effect  that everyone at
> the time thought PM was complete.  But for me, that's not
> satisfactory.  I'd like to know *why* they should have thought it was
> complete.  Did they have *intuitions* for thinking it had to be
> complete?
> 	I'm also wondering, though this is a separate point, whether today
> the theorem is not only not surprising, but perhaps even intuitively
> obvious.  One unsatisfactory answer would be that incompleteness is
> now not surprising because we now know it holds.  But do we now have
> distinctly different *intuitions*, aside from the proof itself
> (though of course the proof can't entirely be discounted), that
> establish, let's say the "obviousness" of the result?
> Charlie Silver
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