[FOM] Question

William Tait williamtait at mac.com
Thu Nov 27 18:57:29 EST 2008

On Nov 25, 2008, at 4:03 PM, Charles Silver wrote:

> 	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.

The theory of constructible sets was developed in the late 1930's, the  
classic paper on Russell's logic is from 1944, the paper on CH is 1947  
with a valuable supplement from 1964 (with its useful discussion of  
how to think bout the truth of sentences undecidable in ZF), the  
Dialectica interpretation (now to be celebrated in a special issue of  
that Journal. Philipp Keller informs us [FOM, Nov 25]) is from 1958.

No doubt Goedel had mental problems. Also, his correspondence and  
discussions from his later life contain a certain amount of noise. But  
the latter, or so it seems to me, is to be expected; it is only that  
in the case of Goedel, all of this has had more exposure than for most  
folks, through his collected works and books and papers about him. It  
is also the case that, at least  in my opinion, much of what is taken  
by various authors to be instability or madness of his views would  
better be attributed to their inability to read carefully.

I met and talked fairly regularly with Goedel in the early 1960's and,  
in spite of quaint things like an alarm clock ticking away to remind  
him when to take his pills, I was in no doubt that I was in the  
presence of a superior intellect.

Enough, Charles! When one doesn't understand something or someone,  
there are two ways to go: One is to decide that the author is mad. The  
other is more humble---but often more realistic.

Kind Regards,
Bill Tait

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