How funny was Goedel

Exhibition about Kurt Gödel: The logic of incompleteness

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Vienna - Whenever Kurt Gödel is mentioned, the phrase "the greatest logician since Aristotle" appears as a matter of course. The mathematician Karl Sigmund, who designed a large exhibition for Gödel's centenary in 2006, puzzled for a long time where this sentence might come from. Was it first used by Douglas Hofstadter in the non-fiction bestseller Gödel, Escher, Bach or earlier?

Sigmund found the answer in a letter from Moritz Schlick, founder of the Vienna Circle, to a psychiatrist, to whom he strongly recommended the difficult case of Godel, which had strong signs of paranoia and anxiety neuroses. Even then, Schlick quoted the term "the greatest logician since Aristotle" - and also named the man who first pronounced it: Albert Einstein.

The physicist was certainly not easy to impress. But after the first encounter with Gödel, who was not even 30, it was him. The young, rather taciturn man with wire-rimmed glasses caused a sensation with his two revolutionary incompleteness sentences and was invited to Einstein's place of work, the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton in the USA, for the first time.

Development of the first computer

During the upcoming "Vienna Summer of Logic" congress (July 9th-24th) a small version of Sigmund's exhibition will be shown in the Academy of Fine Arts (July 15th-24th). With good reason: With his work, Gödel not only set limits to mathematics, but also had a great influence on further developments: in logic at least, in physics, but also in philosophy and also in the development of the first computer by Gödels Austrian -Hungarian friend John von Neumann and the British Alan Turing.

Sigmund admits that the exhibition does not contain any new insights into Gödel's life and work. But there aren't too many of them. At most additions: Sigmund says that shortly after the big exhibition in 2006 he received a call from an older woman who has already passed away. She had received letters from the logician's brother, Rudolf, which Kurt had written to him during his escape from the Nazis. Gödel, who lost his lectureship as a representative of "heavily Jewishized mathematics", began a six-week journey through the Soviet Union to Japan in January 1940 with his wife Adele, both of which were not yet involved in World War II, and then took a ship across the Pacific to San Francisco. Sigmund: "Gödel wrote enthusiastically about this city that it was the most beautiful that he had ever seen."

Strong fear of poisoning

For the mathematician, the letters, meanwhile in the possession of the Vienna library, are also proof that Gödel apparently had his illness, his "conditions", under control at some times. The paranoia manifested itself above all in a great fear of being poisoned: He therefore only ate food that his wife Adele cooked and tasted in his plate and with his cutlery.

At the end of the trip, Gödel was received by his friend, the economist and game theorist Oskar Morgenstern, who asked him what life was like in Vienna under the Nazis. Gödel is said to have responded with his well-known talent for getting things to the point: "The coffee is pathetic."

"The greatest logician since Aristotle" settled in Princeton and never traveled to Europe again. He received a professorship and became close friends with Albert Einstein, whom he accompanied on long, almost daily walks. One of his late works was a proof of God using logic. Godel's illness worsened. He became lonely and died in 1978 of malnutrition - because his wife was unable to look after him during an extended hospital stay. (Peter Illetschko, DER STANDARD, July 9, 2014)

"Kurt Gödel and the Origins of Logic in Vienna" at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Daily 15.-24. July, 10-18, free admission