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The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries)

by Rebecca Goldstein

ISBN 0393327604 / 9780393327601 / 0-393-32760-4
Publisher W. W. Norton & Company
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

Kurt Gödel is often held up as an intellectual revolutionary whose incompleteness theorem helped tear down the notion that there was anything certain about the universe. Philosophy professor, novelist, and MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Goldstein reinterprets the evidence and restores to Gödel's famous idea the meaning he claimed he intended: that there is a mathematical truth--an objective certainty--underlying everything and existing independently of human thought. Gödel, Goldstein maintains, was an intellectual heir to Plato whose sense of alienation from the positivists and postmodernists of the 1940s was only ameliorated by his friendship with another intellectual giant, Albert Einstein. As Goldstein writes, "That his work, like Einstein's, has been interpreted as not only consistent with the revolt against objectivity but also as among its most compelling driving forces is ... more than a little ironic."

This and other paradoxes of Gödel's life are woven throughout Incompleteness, with biographical details taking something of a back seat to the philosophical and mathematical underpinnings of his theories. As an introduction to one of the three most profound scientific insights of the 20th century (the other two being Einstein's relativity and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle), Incompleteness is accessible, yet intellectually rigorous. Goldstein succeeds admirably in retiring inaccurate interpretations of Gödel's ideas. --Therese Littleton [via]