by ALDUS posted on OCTOBER 25, 2011
(definitely check out the comments at the bottom of the original blog post... they continue to come-in)
Perhaps the greatest logician of all time, Kurt Gödel uncovered the existence of a world-wide conspiracy to make men less intelligent. For years Gödel had been very interested in the work of Gottfried Leibniz, whose characteristica universalis influenced Gödel’s use of symbolism in his famous incompleteness proofs, and went so far as to request copies of the voluminous Leibniz manuscripts to be brought to the United States during the second World War. Gödel initially claimed to have discovered evidence of a conspiracy suppressing Leibniz’s work—that Leibniz had in fact completed the famously unfinished (and unfinishable) universal language of thought, but had been prevented from publishing it. In conversation, Gödel suggested that the Viennese Academy of Science, officially inaugurated in the mid-19th century, had in fact been founded by Leibniz in secret some centuries before; its record books, which contained references to the complete characteristica universalis, had been systematically destroyed.
On one occasion, Gödel called his friend Morgenstern, the economist, to the Firestone Library at Princeton, and showed him two piles of books: one stack of works published in Leibniz’s time, citing him, and another pile of the exact Leibniz editions which were being cited. He proceeded to demonstrate that in a suspicious number of cases, the cited passages do not exist; either the citations refer to a non-existent chapter, to a missing paragraph, or to a page on which the supposed text does not appear, as if the books had been altered after the citations were made.
Gödel came to believe not only that this conspiracy against Leibniz still existed, but that it was currently preventing the public from understanding the significance of his own (Gödel’s) work (which, for the curious, proved that any complex formal system cannot be both consistent and complete: that there will always exists truths that are true, but unprovable in the system, and that one of these truths is the very consistency of that system. Gödel evidently understood this result as proving man’s ability to intuit mathematics in a Platonic sense, since no formal procedure can produce all truths).
Gödel, in terror of the conspiracy, rarely published, and eventually wasted away after the death of his wife. Without her care, he starved himself to death in the late 70’s. The accepted explanation is that his death was a result of the over-zealous application of the principle of sufficient reason: that everything happens for a reason–the guiding principle of both philosophers and paranoiacs.
Gödel’s writings on Leibniz (which surely document his investigation into the conspiracy) are housed today in the Firestone Library at Princeton (http://diglib.princeton.edu/ead/getEad?id=ark:/88435/v979v310g). They are written in an archaic 19th century German short-hand, with generous helpings of mathematical symbolism and Latin.
For those interested in learning more, there is almost nothing available. All references to his conspiracy theory refer to the same handful of accounts in various memoirs of his contemporaries and no serious attempt has been made to evaluate his theory, let alone translate his writings on the subject.
A friend of mine, Jeremy Silver, at Princeton had the opportunity to glance at the papers. He writes:
“So I checked out some of the manuscripts in the library today. I don’t think even a fluent German reader could make much sense of them at all. Even his math was not in conventional notation, so I could barely understand any of that. Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to photocopy anything (it requires express permission from the Institute of Advanced Study), but I jotted down some brief impressions of what I saw, and I also tried to transcribe some of his shorthand so you can behold how hieroglyphic they are.
“I only looked at Box 10a which had lots of references and citations to Leibniz’s works (Gödel was quite a bibliographer!), but almost all of it was illegible to me. There was a good bit of Latin, though… probably quoting Leibniz… and I tried to copy down what I could read out of like one sentence.”
_________________"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root."
David Thoreau (1817-1862)
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