[FOM] Question

Charles Silver silver_1 at mindspring.com
Tue Nov 25 17:03:14 EST 2008

	In some contexts, It's never been clear to me why Gödel's opinion is  
cited about sets and about math in general, since it's clear he began  
going nuts at the IAS, eventually starving himself to death from his  
paranoid view that he was being poisoned.  And then there's the story  
of him when he was much younger finding a contradiction in the US  
constitution when applying for citizenship.  Of course, his  
mathematical insight was great when he was young, esp. ~ 1931.  But,  
even then, this doesn't rule out some of his mathematical attitudes  
being kooky.  And I believe that did emerge when he was older.
	My pure guess is that he was probably suffering from some degree of  
mental illness even when he was young.   Yet, not only did this not  
impair him, but it helped him mathematically.   Then, I suspect, his  
illness besides becoming more severe, crept into his mathematical  
views, possibly making them less worthy of consideration.  I won't go  
on with this, because some of what I've already said may well be wrong  
(besides being inconsistent), and my purpose isn't to argue at which  
time he clearly wasn't in his right mind and how that affected his  
mathematical outlook.

	Rather, I'm interested in whether anyone qualified has done a  
retrospective neurological analysis of Gödel.   Of course, it wouldn't  
follow that even if he was completely psychotic that his mathematical  
views shouldn't be considered valuable.  I think that a competent  
mathematical history about his mental state correlated with his ideas  
in math (or physics) would be quite interesting.   And I'm wondering  
whether anyone knows of such an investigation.
	(Perhaps unrelatedly, this reminds me of a novel by John Barth in  
which a person suffering from mental disturbances started saving his  
nail clippings and excrement in bottles.   When he died, the lawyer  
for one party of the estate--the deceased had been rich--had to  
establish that the person who died was sane when he wrote one of his  
seventeen wills, but insane when he wrote the next one.)

	(Another possibly unrelated comparison is the speculation of the  
illustrious cognitive neurologist Michael Gazzaniga that Kant wrote  
with much clarity when young, but that eleven years later (after  
awakening from his "dogmatic slumber"), Kant had begun suffering from  
a brain malady, possibly causing his great work "The Critique of Pure  
Reason" to be nonsense.)

	A book on Gödel's descent into madness correlated with his views as  
his illness deepened would be most welcome.

More information about the FOM mailing list