A long time ago I read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter and since then became a fan of this sensitive and gifted mathematician. I highly recommend the book and since we are closing down, I figured I get a few of my favorites in before then.
Kurt Friedrich Gödel (in English the umlaut becomes oe) was born April 28, 1906 in Brno Czech Republic to a Rudolf August Godel a businessman and Roman Catholic and a Protestant mother Marianne a well-educated woman but both ethnic Germans. Raised Protestant he was himself was a theistic Christian — belief in a personal Jesus without the sectarian divisions. His childhood was marred by one great event when he was around 4 and contracted rheumatic fever leaving his heart muscle permanently damaged. Older pictures of Herr Doktor Goedel (pronounced Ger-duhl) show a shrunken man with large looming eyes probably because of his heavy lenses.
A excellent student throughout primary school and later the Gymnasium, Goedel excelling especially in mathematics, languages and religion. Upon his graduation from the Gymnasium in Brno he enrolled in the University of Vienna, attending lectures on physics, his initial field of interest, philosophy by Heinrich Gomperz, and mathematics. by Hans Hahn.
The move to Maths
It was the later teacher that encouraged the change from physics to mathematics. His dissertation was the completeness theorem for first order logic (Gödel 1929) and joined the Vienna First Circle headed by Moritz Schlick ( a student of the Swiss physicist Max Planck — Godel was incredibly well connected). The group was known as “logical positivists,” after Herbert Feigl (then at University of Chicago) and Albert Blumberg 1931 paper “Logical positivism: A new movement in European philosophy”. Though Gödel was not a logical positivist, he found their companionship and discussions formative (Mercury in the 4th house).
Things turned sour when Hitler came to town. First his adviser Hans Hahn was killed for being a Jew and then Moritz Schlick was assassinated by an ex-student, same reason. Gödel was shattered that mathematicians could be considered an enemy of the state and had a nervous breakdown. While he received the “Dozentur neuer Ordnung,” (professor for the New Order) granted to candidates after they had been blood test for racial purity, and then tested in their field of study, he found the environment intolerable and was horrified that he had been classified as an “Aryan.”
Depressed that the Nazis were destroying what many considered a “second Athens” the intellectual capital of Europe — Vienna, — he worried too that leaving his intellectual homeland he would spend his life in barren wasteland devoid of liked minded scholars. It was that they were Germans, his own people, that plagued him and beyond even his ken of how this could have happened.
His wife Adele, a Russian ballerina, who had gotten him out of prison proving he was neither a homosexual nor a Jew, got them out of Vienna into the relative safety of Russia. It was a long (6380 miles) and arduous route via the Trans Siberian Railroad. Nonetheless, from Vladivostok,they picked up the Shanghai train and then a boat to San Francisco, nearly 10,000 miles from their Viennese start.
Welcome to America
Einstein who knew they were coming from messages from Freud in Vienna who himself was also in flight having paid a ransom to the Nazis for safe passage to London, telegraphed the pair he had secured Godel a post at the University; Godel believed it a hoax. Nonetheless, Kurt and Adele took buses and trains across America before ending up at a forlorn train station at Princeton Junction. There much to Gödel ‘s surprise they were met by their benefactor; stunned at seeing Einstein he colllapsed in his arms and mumbled, Danke Gott — they were safe.
- Aussergewöhnlich Kurt Gödel – The extraordinary Kurt Gödel