I had an occasion to read this fantastic book over the last couple of months. This book is a compilation by Hao Wang, a confidante of Kurt Gödel. Compiled over ten years it contains Gödel’s views on a wide array of areas. Some of these insights are little known, some are very interesting and some just show that Gödel was just as human in making errors.
This is an unadulterated chronicle of a brilliant mind. I don’t know what else to say to suggest this book. It is a must read for anyone with a remote interest in Mathematical Logic, Philosophy and Kurt Godel.
[Click on the image to buy this book or click here]
Here is an introduction to the book and the author.
Hao Wang (1921-1995) was one of the few confidantes of the great mathematician and logician Kurt Gödel. A Logical Journey is a continuation of Wang’s Reflections on Kurt Gödel and also elaborates on discussions contained in From Mathematics to Philosophy. A decade in preparation, it contains some important and unfamiliar insights into Gödel’s views on a wide range of issues, from Platonism and the nature of logic, to minds and machines, the existence of god, and positivism and phenomenology.
The impact of Gödel’s theorem on twentieth century thought is on a par with that of Einstein’s theory of relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or Keynesian economics. These previously unpublished intimate and informal conversations, however, bring to light and amplify Gödel’s other major contributions to logic and philosophy. They reveal that there is much more in Gödel’s philosophy of mathematics than is commonly realized, and more in his philosophy than just a philosophy of mathematics.
Wang writes that “it is even possible that his quite informal and loosely structured conversations with me, which I am freely using in this book, will turn out to be the fullest existing expression of the diverse components of his inadequately articulated general philosophy”
I will leave you with some quotes from the book. Unless mentioned, they are by Kurt Gödel.
1. To develop the skill of correct thinking is in the first place to learn what you have to disregard. In order to go on, you have to know what to leave out: this is the essence of effective thinking. (1972, from chapter 1 – Gödel’s life)
2. I would not say that one cannot polemicize against Nietzsche. But it should of course also be a writer [Dichter] or a person of the same type to do that. (17.2.48)
3. What you say about sadness is right : if there were a completely hopeless sadness, there would be nothing beautiful in it. But I believe there can rationally be no such thing. Since we understand neither why this world exists, nor why it is constituted exactly as it is, nor why we are in it, nor why we were born into exactly these and no other external relations: why then should we presume to know exactly this to be all at there is no other world and that we shall never be in yet another one? (27.2.50)
4. One. cannot really say that complete ignorance is sufficient ground for hopelessness . If e.g. someone will land on an island completely unknown to him, it is just as likely that it is inhabited by harmless people as that it is by cannibals, and his ignorance gives no reason for hopelessness , but rather for hope. Your aversion against occult phenomena is of course well justified to the extent that we are here facing a hard-to-disentangle mixture of deception, credulousness and stupidity, with genuine phenomena. But the result (and the meaning) of the deception is, in my opinion, not to fake genuine phenomena but to conceal them. (3.4.50)
5. Is the book about Einstein really so hard to understand? I think that prejudice against and fear of every “abstraction” may also be involved here, and if you would attempt to read it like a novel (without wanting to understand right away everything at the 6rst reading), perhaps it would not seem so incomprehensible to you. (8.1.51)
6. As you know, I am indeed also thoroughly anti nationalistic, but one cannot, I believe, decide hastily against the possibility that people like Bismarck have the honorable intention to do something good. (7.11.56)
7. About the relation of art and kitsch we have, I believe, already discussed many times before. It is similar to that between light and heavy music. One could, however, hardly assert that all good music must be tragic? (23.3.57)
8. It is always enjoyable to see that there are still people who value a certain measure of idealism. (12.11.61)
9. Of all that we experience, there eventually of course remains only a memory, but just in this way all lasting things retain some of their actuality. (24.3.63)
10. She was not a beauty, but she was an extraordinarily intelligent person and had an extremely important role [in his life], because she was actually what one calls the life-line. She connected him to the earth. Without her, he could not exist at all.
A complicated marriage, but neither could exist without the other. And the idea that she should die before him was unthinkable for him. It is fortunate that he died before her. He was absolutely despondent when she was sick. He said, “Please come to visit my wife.”
She once told me, ‘I have to hold him like a baby.” (1.4.2-3-4, Alice Von Kahler on Adele and Kurt Godel)
11.The one man who was, during the last years, certainly by far Einstein‘s best friend, and in some ways strangely resembled him most was Kurt Godel, the great logician. They were very different in almost every personal way- Einstein gregarious, happy, full of laughter and common sense, and Godel extremely solemn,very serious, quite solitary, and distrustful of common sense as a means of arriving at the truth. But they shared a fundamental quality: both went directly and wholeheartedly to the questions at the very center of things (in Holton and Elkena, Straus 1982:422).
12. Einstein has often told me that in the late years of his life he has continually sought Godel’s company in order to have discussions with him. Once he said to me that his own work no longer meant much, that he came to the Institute merely to have the privilege to walk home with Godel. [“The late years” probably began in 1951 , when Einstein stopped working on the unified theory. 1.6.2 Oskar Morgenstern]
13. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, the point, however , is to change it. (Karl Marx, Theses on Feverbach 1845, Chapter 3)
14. The place which philosophy has occupied in Chinese civilization has been comparable to that of religion in other civilizations. In the world of the future, man will have philosophy in the place of religion. This is consistent with the Chinese tradition. It is not necessary that man should be religious, but it is necessary that he should be philosophical. When he is philosophical he has the very best of the blessings of religion. (Fung1 948:1, 6).
15. Engaging in philosophy is salutary in any case, even when no positive results emerge from it (and I remain perplexed). It has the effect [Wirkung] that “the color [is] brighter,” that is, that reality appears more clearly as such. This observation reveals that , according to Godel’s conception , the study of philosophy helps us to see reality more distinctly , even though it may happen that no (communicable ) positive results come out of it to help others.
16. In presenting these conversations, you should pay attention to three principles: (1) deal only with certain points; (2) separate out the important and the new; and (3) pay attention to connections. Godel, 5 February 1976
17. The notion of existence is one of the primitive concepts with which we must begin as given. It is the clearest concept we have. Even “all”, as studied in predicate logic, is less clear, since we don’t have an overview of the whole world. We are here thinking of the weakest and the broadest sense of existence. For example, things which act are different from things which don’t. They all have existence proper to them. (4.4.12)
18. Existence: we know all about it, there is nothing concealed. The concept of existence helps us to form a good picture of reality. It is important for supporting a strong philosophical view and for being open-minded in reaching it. (4.4.13)
19. Power is a quality that enables one to reach one’s goals. Generalities contain the laws which enable you to reach your goals. Yet a preoccupation with power distracts us from paying attention to what is at the foundation of the world, and it fights against the basis of rationality. (4.4.14)
20. The world tends to deteriorate: the principle of entropy. Good things appear from time to time in single persons and events. But the general development tends to be negative. New extraordinary characters emerge to prevent the downward movement. Christianity was best at the beginning. Saints slow down the downward movement. In science, you may say, it is different. But progress occurs not in the sense of understanding the world, only in the sense of dominating the world, for which the means remains, once it is there. Also general knowledge though not in the deeper sense of first principles, has moved upwards. Specifically, philosophy tends to go down. (4.4.15)
21. The view that existence is useful but not true is widely held; not only in mathematics but also in physics, where it takes the form of regarding only the directly observable [by sense perception] as what exists. This is a prejudice of the time. The psychology behind it is not the implicit association of existence with time, action, and so on. Rather the association is with the phenomenon that consistent but wrong assumptions are useful sometimes. Falsity is in itself something evil but often serves as a tool for finding truth. Unlike objectivism, however, the false assumptions are useful only temporarily and intermediately. (4.4.16)
22. Einstein’s religion is more abstract, like that of Spinoza and Indian philosophy. My own religion is more similar to the religion of the churches. Spinoza’s God is less than a person. Mine is more than a person, because God can’t be less than a person. He can play the role of a person. There are spirits which have no body but can communicate with and influence the world. They keep [themselves] in the background today and are not known. It was different in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, when there were miracles. Think about deja vu and thought transference. The nuclear processes, unlike the chemical , are irrelevant to the brain.
23. The possible worldviews [can be divided] into two groups [conceptions]: skepticism, materialism and positivism stand on one [the left] side; spiritualism, idealism and theology on the other [the right]. The truth lies in the middle,or consists in a combination of these two conceptions. (Chapter 5)
24. Some reductionism is right: reduce to concepts and truths, but not to sense perceptions. Really it should be the other way around: Platonic ideas [what Husserl calls “essences ” and Godel calls “concepts”] are what things are to be reduced to. Phenomenology makes them [the ideas] clear. (5.3.15)
25. Introspection is an important component of thinking; today it has a bad reputation. Introspective psychology is completely overlooked today. Epoche concerns how introspection should be used, for example, to detach oneself from influences of external stimuli (such as the fashions of the day). Even the scientists (fashions of the day). Even the scientists [sometimes] do not agree because they are not [detached true] subjects [ in this sense].
26. Positivists decline to acknowledge any apriori knowledge. They wish to reduce everything to sense perceptions. Generally they contradict themselves in that they deny introspection as experience, referring to higher mental phenomena as “judgments”. They use too narrow a notion of experience and introduce an arbitrary bound on what experience is, excluding phenomenological experience. Russell (in his 1940 (Inquiry into Meaning and Truth]) made a more drastic mistake in speaking as if sense experience were the only experience we can find by introspection.
27. For approaching the central part of philosophy, there is good reason to confine one’s attention to reflections on mathematics. Physics is perhaps less well suited for this purpose; Newtonian physics would be better. (Chapter 9)
28. The meaning of the world is the separation of wish and fact. (Chapter 9)
29. Whole and part– partly concrete parts and partly abstract parts- are at the bottom of everything. They are most fmtdamental in our conceptual system. Since there is similarity, there are generalities. Generalities are just a fundamental aspect of the world. It is a fundamental fact of reality that there are two kinds of reality: universals and particulars (or individuals).
30. Zhi zhi wei zhi zhi, bu zhi wei bu zhi, shi zhi ye. (To know that you know when you do know and know that you do not know when you do not know: that is knowledge .) Confucius, Analects, 2: 17. (Epilogue).