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Monday, August 1, 2016

Just Sayin’…

Judge Philip Forman:  “Now, Mr. Gödel, where do you come from?” 
Kurt Gödel “Where I come from? Austria.”
Judge:  “What kind of government did you have in Austria?” 
Gödel:  “It was a republic, but the constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship.” 
Judge “Oh! This is very bad. This could not happen in this country.” 
Gödel:  “Oh, yes, I can prove it.” 

With the intensity of the political conventions passed I thought I could drag myself away from politics… but, well, not quite yet!:

Kurt Gödel was no slouch of a thinker or logician, and many or most of you will know the legendary story of his trip to attain U.S. citizenship in 1947. 
The above conversation snippet is part of the purported discussion between Kurt Gödel and the presiding examiner, Judge Philip Forman, when Gödel went (with his friends Albert Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern as character witnesses) to a hearing applying for U.S. citizenship. Using pure reasoning, Gödel was certain he had found a flaw (a self-contradiction) in the U.S. Constitution that would permit a dictator to attain power in the country (in fact, according to some versions of the story I’ve seen, he believed it almost inevitable, given enough time). And, he thought he could prove it!

Einstein and Morgenstern knew Gödel was courting disaster (in applying for citizenship) if he insisted on pushing his view that the country was bound for possible dictatorship, so they helped maneuver Gödel nervously through the mundane procedure, and all ended well.

The story has been told widely, though never with complete clarity, nor with details as to what Gödel’s specific argument with the Constitution was. Many believe it had to do with Article V which spelled out the right to amend the Constitution… in Gödelian recursive thinking this would imply also the right, at some point, to amend the Constitution to say it may no longer be amended, following a despot gaining power. There are, however, likely several other spots in the Constitution that could harbor the seeds of eventual dictatorship. 

For a further long legalistic discussion of Gödel’s story legend see pdf link here:

Anyway, I find it interesting that now, almost 70 years since mathematician Gödel expressed his concerns to Einstein and Morgenstern, there is suddenly more talk of fascism and dictatorship in America than probably ever before in history.  As a recent tweet I saw on Twitter said, "When Fascism comes to America, it won't release its tax returns" ;-) 
One can almost imagine Kurt Gödel, somewhere in the Great Beyond, nodding knowingly...

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