Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The good ol' Gödel proof...

I stumbled upon this webpage from Jeffrey Kegler, a mathematician and novelist. In it, Kegler discusses the most prominent "legend" about Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), who was one of the greatest logicians of all time, and discoverer of the Incompleteness Theorems, about which I have written before (usually in a Jakian vein). Kegler explains:

The story of Gödel's citizenship hearing has been much repeated over the years. What is known was that on 5 December 1947, Kurt Gödel went to his citizenship hearing in Trenton, New Jersey. The examiner was Judge Philip Forman. As his witnesses, Gödel brought his two closest friends, Oskar Morgenstern and Albert Einstein. Gödel was granted citizenship, and took his oath on 2 April 1948.

Afterwards, Morgenstern told many people that he and Einstein had had their hands full preventing Gödel from derailing his citizenship chances. Gödel, in his usual manner, had read extensively in preparing for the hearing and had discovered a contradiction in the U.S. Constitution, one which would allow the U.S. to be turned into a dictatorship. Gödel, in fact, claimed a proof of this and despite his friend's warnings brought this up at the hearing. Fortunately, Judge Forman knew Einstein -- when Einstein became a citizen, Forman had administered the oath. Forman cut Gödel off and forced the hearing to a normal conclusion.

I read the short, and actually quite colorful memo which Morgenstern later composed about the event (available in PDF), and you might like to do so as well. I also visited Kegler's blog and discovered his 2007 novel, The God Proof, is available at for free download. On his homepage Kegler explains that "Gödel ... discovered a new proof of God's existence. A sketch of Gödel's 'Ontological Proof', as it is usually called, is in his Collected Works (Vol. III, p. 403-404), but two of Gödel's notebooks [containing more about the proof] have disappeared." He goes on:

I've never heard of anyone being persuaded by a proof of God's existence, whether by Kurt Gödel or anyone else. A proof that can change someone's mind is called "coercive". There are lots of coercive proofs out there. For example, if you doubt the facts of arithmetic, there are convincing arguments, backed up by the fact that you'd be wise to accept their force if you want correct change. Similarly for a lot of the basic facts of geometry.

Could a coercive proof be made for God's existence? A reasonable person can certainly have her doubts. But you'd also be forced to admit that if any mathematician could come up with an unexpected results, it would be Gödel, who made a career out of them.

Fascinating stuff. I'd love to read The God Proof when I find some time. For now, though, I'm trying to get through James Hannam's God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations for Modern Science as quckly as I can so I can publish a review of it at the inFORM website. Also fascinating stuff!


Chad said...

I just found out that Kurt Godel liked Islam. He said Islam is a consistent idea of religion and open-minded. Very interesting.

The Codgitator said...

Yes, it is interesting.

mightygreekwritingmachine said...

I really enjoyed the hand written/typed memo of Morgenstern. Quite hilarious given the context and period of time. I need to re-read the US Constitution, now.

The Codgitator said...


It is a hoot. The USA is what it is just by having people like Gödel and Einstein and Morgenstern as citizens!