Sunday, September 14, 2008

Person of the Day - Kurt Godel

While Albert Einstein is rightfully celebrated as the greatest thinker of the 20th century, his name now synonymous with genius, his good friend Kurt Godel remains mostly anonymous. Godel's incompleteness theorem is one of the most stunning and important achievements in the history of mathematics.

Godel's genius, as genius sometimes is, was attended by demons. He led a fascinating and bizarre life - he fled Nazi Germany, found time travel in Einstein's relativity, exposed legality for dictatorship in the Constitution, agonized for a proof of God, possessed a queer high-pitched laugh, and died of paranoid self-starvation. He was a brilliant, tortured man, a great man of the 20th century. Rebecca Goldstein and Palle Yourgrau have recent books on Godel. Douglas Hofstadter wrote this piece for Time in 1999.

(image credit The Institute for Advanced Studies archive)