Print current pagePrint this page

Hilary Putnam: The Gödel Theorem and Human Nature


What provoked the research I report on in the first part of this talk is a conversation I had with Noam Chomsky more than twenty years ago. I asked Chomsky whether he thought our total epistemic competence - the competence of the "scientific faculty" that he postulates - could be represented by a Turing Machine (where the notion of "competence" is supposed to distinguish between our true ability and our "performance errors"). He said "yes". The paper shows how to construct a Gödelian argument to prove that if there were such a Turing Machine, then we could never know - not just never establish mathematically, but never know even with the help of empirical data - the Gödel number of the Turing Machine that simulates our "scientific competence". The second part of the talk discusses and cautions against some widespread misuses of the Gödel Incompleteness Theorems in discussions of the human mind.