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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mathematical Truth...

A great, older interview with Rebecca Goldstein on Gödel, Platonism, and everything in-between, from 2005:

http://edge.org/conversation/godel-and-the-nature-of-mathematical-truth

an excerpt:
 "Gödel mistrusted our ability to communicate. Natural language, he thought, was imprecise, and we usually don't understand each other. Gödel wanted to prove a mathematical theorem that would have all the precision of mathematics—the only language with any claims to precision—but with the sweep of philosophy. He wanted a mathematical theorem that would speak to the issues of meta-mathematics. And two extraordinary things happened. One is that he actually did produce such a theorem. The other is that it was interpreted by the jazzier parts of the intellectual culture as saying, philosophically exactly the opposite of what he had been intending to say with it. Gödel had intended to show that our knowledge of mathematics exceeds our formal proofs. He hadn't meant to subvert the notion that we have objective mathematical knowledge or claim that there is no mathematical proof—quite the contrary. He believed that we do have access to an independent mathematical reality. Our formal systems are incomplete because there's more to mathematical reality than can be contained in any of our formal systems. More precisely, what he showed is that all of our formal systems strong enough for arithmetic are either inconsistent or incomplete. Now an inconsistent system is completely worthless since inconsistent systems allow you to derive contradictions. And once you have a contradiction then you can prove anything at all."


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