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August 27, 2009

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Albert and Kurt


Albert and Kurt, via Nerdboyfriend.

This is my preferred vision of the all-knowing creator figure. He must a) have hair like that, and b) wear a nice unassuming blue sweatshirt.

SERIOUS QUESTION: Would this have been a fun conversation to be in? Like, reflected glow of fame aside, were these guys actually enjoyable to talk to? Any anecdotes or insights?

Posted August 27, 2009 at 4:16 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Science


I've read a lot about Gödel, and a little about this relationship, and by all accounts Einstein was MUCH more enjoyable to talk to. Will dig up some apposite quotes.

This from Rebecca Goldstein's book on Gödel:

The Einstein of legend—with his wild hair and absent-mindedness, his quixotic embrace of one-world politics and other lost causes—is not usually portrayed as a savvy, worldly sort; but, compared to Godel, he was. Most in Princeton, even his mathematical colleagues, found Godel, with his "interesting axiom" [that the world is fundamentally intelligible/rational] exponentially complicating every discussion and practical decision, all but impossible to speak with. As the mathematician Armand Borel wrote in his history of the Institute's School of Mathematics, he and the others sometimes "found the logic of Aristotle's successor. . . quite baffling." Eventually, the mathematicians solved their Godel problem by banishing him from their meetings, making him a department of one: the sole decision-maker on anything
having strictly to do with logic.

Gödel would tell physicists that he didn't believe in natural science, biologists that he didn't believe in evolution -- he told Noam Chomsky that he was busy trying to prove that the laws of nature were a priori (prior to all experience).

But Einstein, even though he got exasperated with his politics ("Gödel's really gone crazy... He voted for Eisenhower!") loved him:

Einstein, too, was presented time and again, on their daily walks to and from the Institute, with examples of Godel's strange intuitions, his profound "anti-empiricism." Nevertheless Einstein consistently sought out the logician's company. In fact, economist Oskar Morgenstern, who had known Godel back in Vienna, confided in a letter: "Einstein had 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 um das Privileg zu haben, mit Godel zu Fuss nach Hause gehen zu dürfen" that is, in order to have the privilege of walking home with Godel.

[nb Don't quote me on that German, I'm cleaning up a bad OCR job.]

What a great passage. That's really lovely actually.

Completely unrelated, I recognize that field. I am 90% certain that the street behind them is Olden Lane. I also got the impression from Isaacson's biography (highly recommended!) that Einstein was quite charming.

Oh, and my favorite most likely apocryphal story I heard while growing up in Princeton was that Einstein loved walking down around town with one foot on the road and the other on the sidewalk. Just imagine that man lurching forward like a teeter-totter feels me with glee.

I can't do it justice since I heard it second-hand from Jack Cowan, but the story of Einstein and von Neumann[probably?] shepherding the increasingly weirder Gödel to his citizenship hearing---where he argued the logical inconsistencies of the Constitution with the judge---were more than memorable. He was, to put it bluntly, pretty loony by that point.

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