Kurt Gödel

Kurt Gödel

fever; he completely recovered, but for the rest of his life he remained convinced that his heart had suffered permanent damage.

Gödel attended the Evangelische Volksschule, a Lutheran school in Brünn from 1912 to 1916, and was enrolled in the Deutsches Staats-Realgymnasium from 1916 to 1924, excelling with honors in all his subjects, particularly in mathematics, languages and religion. Although Kurt had first excelled in languages, he later became more interested in history and mathematics. His interest in mathematics increased when in 1920 his older brother Rudolf (born 1902) left for Vienna to go to medical school at the University of Vienna. During his teens, Kurt studied Gabelsberger shorthand, Goethe's Theory of Colours and criticisms of Isaac Newton, and the writings of Immanuel Kant.

Studying in Vienna

At the age of 18, Gödel joined his brother in Vienna and entered the University of Vienna. By that time, he had already mastered university-level mathematics.[7] Although initially intending to study theoretical physics, he also attended courses on mathematics and philosophy. During this time, he adopted ideas of mathematical realism. He read Kant's Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft, and participated in the Vienna Circle with Moritz Schlick, Hans Hahn, and Rudolf Carnap. Gödel then studied number theory, but when he took part in a seminar run by Moritz Schlick which studied Bertrand Russell's book Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, he became interested in mathematical logic. According to Gödel mathematical logic was "a science prior to all others, which contains the ideas and principles underlying all sciences."[8]

Attending a lecture by David Hilbert in Bologna on completeness and consistency of mathematical systems may have set Gödel's life course. In 1928, Hilbert and Wilhelm Ackermann published Grundzüge der theoretischen Logik (Principles of Mathematical Logic), an introduction to first-order logic in which the problem of completeness was posed: Are the axioms of a formal system sufficient to derive every statement that is true in all models of the system?

This was the topic chosen by Gödel for his doctoral work. In 1929, at the age of 23, he completed his doctoral dissertation under Hans Hahn's supervision. In it, he established the completeness of the first-order predicate calculus (Gödel's completeness theorem). He was awarded his doctorate in 1930. His thesis, along with some additional work, was published by the Vienna Academy of Science.

The Incompleteness Theorem

In 1931 and while still in Vienna, Gödel published his incompleteness theorems in Über formal unentscheidbare Sätze der "Principia Mathematica" und verwandter Systeme (called in English "On Formally Undecidable Propositions of "Principia Mathematica" and Related Systems"). In that article, he proved for any computable axiomatic system that is powerful enough to describe the arithmetic of the natural numbers (e.g. the Peano axioms or Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice), that:

  1. If the system is consistent, it cannot be complete.
  2. The consistency of the axioms cannot be proven within the system.

These theorems ended a half-century of attempts, beginning with the work of Frege and culminating in Principia Mathematica and Hilbert's formalism, to find a set of axioms sufficient for all mathematics.

In hindsight, the basic idea at the heart of the incompleteness theorem is rather simple. Gödel essentially constructed a formula that claims that it is unprovable in a given formal system. If it were provable, it would be false, which contradicts the idea that in a consistent system, provable statements are always true. Thus there will always be at least one true but unprovable statement. That is, for any computably enumerable set of axioms for arithmetic (that is, a set that can in principle be printed out by an idealized computer with unlimited resources), there is a formula that obtains in arithmetic, but which is not provable in that system. To make this precise, however, Gödel needed to produce a method to encode statements, proofs, and the concept of provability as natural numbers. He did this using a process known as Gödel numbering.

In his two-page paper Zum intuitionistischen Aussagenkalkül (1932) Gödel ref


Biostatus in N.Z.

  • Probably indigenous

Distribution in N.Z.

  • North Island (AK, BP, WO)

Selected references

Selected links

  • Nature Watch NZ


  • [listed, see p. 455]