In this penetrating, accessible, and beautifully written book, Rebecca Goldstein explores not only the work of one of the greatest mathematicians but also the relation of the human mind to the world around it.
Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, which proved that no formal mathematical system can demonstrate every mathematical truth, is a landmark of modern thought. It's a simple but profound statement, but the technicalities of Godel's proof are forbidding. If MacArthur Fellow and Whiting-winning novelist and philosopher Goldstein (The Mind-Body Problem) doesn't quite succeed in explaining the proof's mechanics to lay readers, she does a magnificent job of exploring its rich philosophical implications. Postmodernists have appropriated it to undermine science's claims of certainty, objectivity and rationality, but Godel insisted, to the contrary, that the theorem buttresses a Platonist conception of a transcendent mathematical reality that exists independent of human logic. Goldstein is an excellent choice for this installment of Norton's Great Discoveries series, which seeks to explain the ways of science to humanists. Her philosophical background makes her a sure guide to the underlying ideas, and she brings a novelistic depth of character and atmosphere to her account of the positivist intellectual milieu surrounding Godel (including a caustic portrait of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein) and to her sympathetic depiction of the logician's tortured psyche, as his relentless search for logical patterns behind life's contingencies gradually darkened into paranoia. The result is a stimulating exploration of both the power and the limitations of the human intellect. Photos. Agent, Tina Bennett. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.