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Conversations with Kurt Gödel

I don’t think I mentioned this on my blog yet: I scanned my mostly handwritten notes on my conversations with the great logician Kurt Gödel during the years 1972-1977, and saved the scans into a single PDF . Once the download finishes (it’s about 15 meg), you can click the book-with-a-ribbon Bookmarks button on the left side of the PDF viewer to separate out the six different files. My notes are a little hard to decipher in spots, and often rather mathematical, but here they are for the historical record, treasures from the Rucker vaults.

Reading them, I was amused by my temerity in arguing about things with Gödel. Arrogant young pup that I was. But maybe he was entertained by that. I liked when in my 1975 phone call Gödel tells me, vis a vis the offbeat ideas about set theory I held at that time—“But no one in the whole world agrees with you.” He wasn’t one to soft-pedal his opinions.

And I like the bit in the very last 1977 phone exchange when, as an example of unpredictability or of free will, I’m talking about how one makes a decision about which shoe to put on first, and Gödel seems to say, “But why wear shoes?”

Maybe I can take that as a metaphor! But why wear shoes? Indeed.

Most of the notes are hand-written or typed, but here’s a doodle I made talking to him on the phone, March 10, 1972, mostly talking about set theory and transfinite numbers, with logic and philosophy of mathematics mixed in.

The good old days, my golden dawn.

For more on my meetings with Gödel see my memoir essay “Memories of Gödel” in the next post.

6 Responses to “Conversations with Kurt Gödel”

  1. Mike Says:

    Thank you for sharing these! It’s exciting (and humbling) to see an actual image of the artifact produced by the encounters between two of the most amazing minds, one near the end of his life’s work and the other so young and wild, just beginning the trip that would open so many of us to the higher dimensions. Again, thanks!

  2. Andres Caicedo Says:

    This was fascinating!

  3. EH Says:

    Einstein had a middle position: “why wear socks?” Woolen 2-manifolds, forsooth.

  4. conceptuelle Says:

    Everything about this is amazing! But especially “why wear shoes?” and the phone doodle sheet. I am dying. Thank you for sharing!

  5. conceptuelle Says:

    Also — I can’t believe you essentially tried to son Godel with “well, that’s a chance you have to take.” (!!!)

    In re-reading it I see that you probably meant it in a “all progress happens only through chance” kind of thing but with the added dimension of calling yourself snotty it reads like some flippant telenova dialogue. haha

    I think Godel was so literal that he did not understand what you meant in a context that is more like computer networking? Where absolute and defined sets interact dynamically and thus are connected.

    So, so awesome. Once again thanks for posting.

  6. Rudy Says:

    Thanks, Conceptuelle, for your comments. Noting that you and EH both refer to that passage, I think it over, and I see that “But why wear shoes?” is indeed a cool and edifying response to the “left or right” option I’d mentioned.

    With my “that’s a chance you have to take,” I was just sticking up for myself, as I was disappointed that Godel didn’t think my work would go anywhere (and to some extent he was right, although I did get a paper or two and my popular nonfiction book done). But here, too, this is interesting to me in retrospect, as all through my career as a writer, I’ve continued taking that chance of writing things that were out of the mainstream.

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