[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.
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