Gödel’s Lost Letter is Two Years Old
Happy second birthday
All this is a special post, GLL is now two years old.
Today I want to thank you all for your support the last two years. This is the second anniversary of the start of this project, and I am very grateful to all for your support and interest.
I had hoped to get to posts by this time, but so far this is the post—close but not equal to a power of two. Well we should get there soon, and I hope you stay interested as we go on to the next power of two.
Birds and Frogs
On this special occasion I thought I would share something that I recently enjoyed greatly. It was reading a book titled, “The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010,” and is available here. I really enjoyed the book, the essays were diverse, well written, and several raised unusual topics. I suggest it to you with no reservations.
I will single out just one essay that was wonderful—it was written by Freeman Dyson and is on his division of mathematicians into two types: birds and frogs.
Dyson is a Fellow of the Royal Society, famous for his work on many aspects of physics and mathematics. Besides his deep contributions he is one of the best writers on any subject; his writing is a joy to read. I plan to discuss his work and how it relates to complexity theory another day. He has not won a Nobel prize, which led Steven Weinberg, a winner of the Nobel Prize for physics, to state that he was “fleeced” by the selection committee.
As you might guess birds soar above and create whole new theories.
Frogs are problem solvers, who work down in the muck, trying hard to make progress on open problems.
Dyson says that he is a frog, but he knows many birds. Birds build theories that help unify and open up new areas of mathematics, while frogs work on the ground. They solve problems one at a time. Both birds and frogs are needed to advance the field, both can make huge contributions, but they are very different in their approach to research.
He then goes on to discuss famous mathematicians that he has known, and further to classify them as birds or frogs. He considers Kurt Gödel as a bird and John von Neumann a frog. I agree that von Neumann was a frog—he was one of the greatest problem solvers of all time. Yet the classification of Gödel I find a bit puzzling. I would think that Gödel was unique, perhaps a bird and frog. He was a bird for creating a whole new view of mathematics with his Incompleteness Theorems, but he was also a frog in that he had to solve some quite difficult technical problems to prove his new theorems. He had to create whole new methods that were groundbreaking.
I again thank Ken and Subruk for their great support of this project. I especially thank you all who read, comment, agree, disagree, and interact with the blog. Thanks again.
Can we do a better job in the coming year? I hope so.