Throughout the symposium, there will be an exhibition on Gödel by Karl
Sigmund and John W. Dawson.
The same exhibition will later be shown in the Palais Palffy, from
15 May to 15 June, and in the Museumsquartier, Ovalhalle, from 11 July
to 6 August.
Time Magazine ranked him among the hundred most important persons of the
twentieth century. Harvard University made him a honorary doctor "for the
discovery of the most significant mathematical truth of the century." He is
generally viewed as the greatest logician since Aristotle. His friend
Einstein liked to say that he only went to the institute to have the
privilege of walking back home with Kurt Gödel. And John von Neumann, one of
the fathers of the computer, wrote: "Indeed Gödel is absolutely
irreplaceable. He is the only mathematician about whom I dare make this
Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), who was born in Brno, studied in Vienna during the
`twenties. At the age of twenty-four, he revolutionized not only mathematics,
but also the way we see it. During the `thirties, he commuted between Vienna
(where he earned, as a private lecturer, 2.90 shillings per semester) and
Princeton (he was one of the first guest members of the newly-founded
Institute for Advanced Study). In early 1940, he emigrated to the USA
(although not racially persecuted) via the Soviet Union and Japan. He never
returned to Vienna, and wrote to his mother that he was plagued by nightmares
about being trapped in Vienna again.
But Gödel had spent his best and most productive years in Vienna. He belongs
to the Vienna between the wars, just like Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Karl Popper, Konrad Lorenz, Robert Musil or Arnold Schönberg, and he may well
one day be considered as the best-known representative of this uniquely rich
"golden autumn". Vienna honors him, belatedly but gratefully, by a large
congress held at the University of Vienna, sponsored by the Templeton
Foundation, and an exhibition under the patronage of the Austrian president,
financed by the state and the city.
Gödel proved that every mathematical theory rich enough to allow for
counting, adding and multiplying contains true statements which cannot be
proved, except if the theory harbours a contradiction. Worse yet, if one
can prove that the theory is consistent, then it is not. As Hans Magnus
Enzensberger wrote in his Hommage ā Gödel: "You can describe your own
language in your own language: but not completely". This statement seems
reasonable enough, but Gödel managed to translate it into a mathematical
proposition. He succeeded in turning a philosophical sentence into a
mathematical theorem. In this sense, what Gödel has done for philosophy is
similar to what Newton has done for physics.
The two other big discoveries of Gödel are of a similar breath-taking
temerity. He made a fundamental contribution to set theory, the science of
infinity, a field that has been called "the theology of mathematicians".
Gödel succeeded in solving one half of the so-called continuum hypothesis,
the number one on the hit-list of mathematical problems of his century. And
he proved that Einstein's theory of relativity permits, on principle, to
travel into one's own past, something that cosmologists, to this day, have
not properly digested. Gödel remarks, in an aside, that the direction of
time, after landing in one's own past, is the same as before. Hence time
does not run in the opposite sense, like a film spooling backward.
Gödel, who analysed proofs for the existence of God, who believed in
metempsychosis and who wanted to uncover a conspiracy against Leibniz seems
hardly to fit into the twentieth century. But he spent his life right in the
center of the avant garde of its time. Both the thinkers of the Vienna Circle
and the scientists in Princeton belonged to the most modern minds the
twentieth century had to offer. Thus for instance, the development of the
computer by Alan Turing and John von Neumann is based on mathematical logic
and formal systems, fields whose undisputed champion was Gödel, in those
years. The incompleteness theorem, discovered by Gödel well before the time
of programmable computers, is a theorem on the limitations of computer
programs, and since the success of "Gödel-Escher-Bach", Gödel ranks as an
icon of the computer age.
Duration of the exhibition: 26.04 - 06.05. Lesesaal der Uni Wien
15.05 - 15.06 Palais Palffy
11.07- 07.08 Ovalhalle Museumsquartier
The exhibition is NOT directed at experts but at all those interested in
cultural history. The curators of the exhibition are the mathematicians Karl
Sigmund and John Dawson.A large part of the material stems from the archives
of the University of Vienna and the Firestone Library in Princeton, and much
as never been shown before. Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote an introduction to
the catalogue of the exhibition.