Kurt Gödel, Philosopher-Scientist #4

After the two introductory papers, the volume we’re taking about divides into two parts: “Close Readings of some of Gödel’s Philosophical Remarks (Max Phil)” and “New Readings in Gödel’s Philosophy”, and in each part the papers are ordered alphabetically by author rather than thematically or in some sensible reading order. We’ll just have to dive in.

So the next paper is by Éric Auderau, “Gödel: From the Pure Theory of Gravitation not Newton’s Absolute”. I don’t propose to comment on this paper. It claims, inter alia, that remarks in Max Phil show that Gödel was thinking about the his cosmological model with a rotating universe three years before he was invited to contribute to the Schilpp volume on Einstein, and that more light is thrown on how Gödel regarded his models by these remarks. Annoyingly, however, Auderau doesn’t bother to translate the German of the various remarks he quotes from  Max Philso I can’t assess their significance.

Julien Bernard then contributes a paper “From the Physical Existence of Tuples to Quantum material prima: Gödel revives some Leibnizian ideas on Physics Within the Frame of Contemporary Physics of Matter”. This concludes, helpfully but disappointingly, with nearly six pages of remarks from Max Phil. Helpfully, because the remarks appear in a parallel text with translations (albeit rather shaky ones). Disappointingly, because the remarks are — shall we say? — not very impressive. There’s rather little sign on this evidence that we are going to learn much from Gödel the philosopher once he strays from logic and mathematics.

Here’s the second remark Bernard quotes (his translation):


Force of Gravity : Inertia = God : Devil

The force of gravity governs the sky [‘Himmel’, surely better rendered ‘the heavens’] and tries to destroy every multiplicity. It would cease only if matter was concentrated in a single point. Profession is only for men. There are very fewer [sic!] different types of men than of women. Adherence, cohesiveness is also part of chemical forces. What is heat? A “frenzy-force” that consists of an idleness? Light = an effect of love and profession? Light is actually nothing physical, because the identity of colour is no more a physical property.

At first blush, the remarks about men and women seem mad! But that’s unfair — for Gödel’s preceding remark actually gives another analogy(!) according to which electrons = men, nuclei = women, magnetic force = professional life, inertia = idleness. But decoded like that, what are we left with but some banalities (there are more kinds of nuclei than electron) and some bad philosophy (colour is not physical so light is not physical — contestable premiss and non-sequitur)? Oh dear.

Ok, some of the other remarks recorded here are in rather better shape. In particular, Gödel raises the question of when a pair of things form some physical compound entity that is more than (as we would say) a mereological fusion — I think Gödel would regard mere fusions as logical fictions. Bernard discusses this “problem of the compound” a little, looking over his shoulder towards Leibniz. But we don’t get a sharp answer from Gödel. And you’d never guess from Bernard that this sort of question has been done to death in contemporary analytic metaphysics — so no effort is made to place Gödel in relation to positions marked out in recent discussions.

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