Rudy Rucker and Kurt Goedel

My major interest is in parsing theory. But, according to Google Analytics, most of my web hits are for a side interest. A few years ago I discovered the Lost Morgenstern Document, an account of Kurt Gödel's citizenship hearing which had gone missing for so long there was doubt it had ever existed. Einstein was at the hearing and Einstein's fame, plus the fact it's a good yarn, make the Lost Morgenstern Document a matter of fairly wide interest.

This post is about another Gödel document which recently surfaced. This document does not make a good yarn. In fact, in terms of reading difficulty, it ranges from the moderately hard to the low-grade cryptographic. But the Rucker Notes are considerably more important than the Lost Morgenstern Document.

Rudy Rucker (a well-known sci-fi writer who deserves to be better known) talked with Gödel several times and took notes, notes which he has just put online. This is a significant event. Gödel had unconventional views on a wide range of topics. Gödel avoided controversy, in part out of common sense, and in part because he suffered from paranoia. So he avoided publishing unpopular views except when he had watertight proofs. But, when talking to Rucker, Gödel speculated, and even argued.

Rucker was almost, but not quite unique. Hao Wang talked with Gödel at much greater length, and Wang's notes remain the best sources for the ideas that Gödel would not commit to writing. But Wang's conversations were restricted by Wang's interests.

For example, Gödel had thought a lot about the nature of time. He'd published a paper on closed timelike curves, what in a loose sense could be called time travel. Gödel's result was pioneering. When Gödel wrote, professional physicists did not write about time travel. Gödel made it possible for the topic, even if it was still somewhat suspect, to be taken seriously. Wang, however, was not interested. Whenever the physics or philosophy of time came up, Wang changed the subject.

Based on the existence of closed timelike curves as solutions to the mathematics of relativity, is the possibility of time travel to be taken seriously? If so, can you travel back and prevent yourself from being born? Rucker's few pages are, and will probably remain, the most direct evidence we have of Gödel thoughts on these and a heterogeny of issues.

Leave a comment

About Jeffrey Kegler

user-pic I blog about Marpa, my parsing algorithm, and other things of interest to techies.