Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Goedel

ISBN : 9780198866336

Stephen Budiansky
368 ページ
156 x 234 mm

A remarkable account of Kurt Goedel, weaving together creative genius, mental illness, political corruption, and idealism in the face of the turmoil of war and upheaval. At age 24, a brilliant Austrian-born mathematician published a mathematical result that shook the world. Nearly a hundred years after Kurt Goedel's famous 1931 paper "On Formally Undecidable Propositions" appeared, his proof that every mathematical system must contain propositions that are true - yet never provable within that system - continues to pose profound questions for mathematics, philosophy, computer science, and artificial intelligence. His close friend Albert Einstein, with whom he would walk home every day from Princeton's famous Institute for Advanced Study, called him "the greatest logician since Aristotle." He was also a man who felt profoundly out of place in his time, rejecting the entire current of 20th century philosophical thought in his belief that mathematical truths existed independent of the human mind, and beset by personal demons of anxiety and paranoid delusions that would ultimately lead to his tragic end from self-starvation. Drawing on previously unpublished letters, diaries, and medical records, Journey to the Edge of Reason offers the most complete portrait yet of the life of one of the 20th century's greatest thinkers. Stephen Budiansky's account brings to life the remarkable world of philosophical and mathematical creativity of pre-war Vienna, and documents how it was barbarically extinguished by the Nazis. He charts Goedel's own hair's-breadth escape from Nazi Germany to the scholarly idyll of Princeton; and the complex, gently humorous, sensitive, and tormented inner life of this iconic but previously enigmatic giant of modern science. Weaving together Goedel's public and private lives, this is a tale of creative genius, mental illness, political corruption, and idealism in the face of the turmoil of war and upheaval.


List of Maps and Illustrations
1 Dreams of an Empire
2 Alle echten Wiener sind aus Brunn
3 Vienna 1924
4 Floating in Midair
5 Undecidable Truths
6 The Scholar's Paradise
7 Fleeing the Reich
8 New Worlds
9 Plato's Shadow
10 If the World is Constructed Rationally
Appendix: Godel's Proof
Photo Credits


Stephen Budiansky is the author of eighteen books of biography, history, and science. From 1979 to 1982 he was a magazine editor and radio producer at the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.; from 1982 to 1985 he was Washington correspondent and then Washington editor of the scientific journal Nature. He joined the staff of U.S. News & World Report, where he worked in a variety of writing and editing positions, including national security correspondent, foreign editor, and deputy editor. Since 1998 he has been a full-time author and independent scholar, and in 2011 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts as a writer of general nonfiction. His books include Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas (2019); Code Warriors: NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union (2016); and Mad Music: Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel (2014).