Kurt Gödel
1906 - 1978

Kurt Gödel was born in Brunn, Austria-Hungry, which is now Brno, Czech Republic. He was known as Der Herr Warum, which meant “Mr. Why,” among his family. He became very interested in mathematics at age fourteen when his older brother attended Medical School at the University of Vienna. However in school, he first excelled at learning languages. It was later that he favored history and mathematics. He went to the University of Vienna at the age of eighteen. He had already mastered university level math. Even though he thought he wanted to study theoretical physics, he quickly learned that his greatest interest was mathematics. Gödel studied number theory and then mathematics logic. While at the University of Vienna, he met his future wife Adele Porkert. He soon began publishing papers on logic. He received a doctorate of philosophy in 1930.

In 1931, Gödel proved that within any branch of mathematics, questions exist that are not provable on the basis of the axioms and rules that define that system. In other words, all logical systems of any complexity are incomplete. It contains more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set rules. This is known as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

In doing so, he showed that there are problems that cannot be solved by any set of rules or procedures. Instead for these problems the axioms must be extended. This disproved a common belief that the different branches of mathematics could be integrated and placed on a single logical foundation. His theorems were very important in 20th century mathematics, because they proved that mathematics is not a finished object as believed.

In 1933, Hitler came to power. One of his logic professors, Schlick was murdered by a National Socialist student. This caused Gödel to go through a nervous breakdown. In 1938, he married Adele. World War II began soon after they were married. They then fled Vienna to get the United States. Their route to the United States was long because they had to travel via Russia and Japan.

In 1940, Gödel and his wife emigrated to the United States, where he became a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He taught there until his death in 1978. He received the National Medal of Science in 1974. Towards the end of his life, Gödel became convinced that he was being poisoned. In order to prevent being poisoned, he starved himself to death.

Contributed by Jeremy Troutman

References:

  1. URL http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Godel.html
  2. URL http://www.clarku.edu/~hmarek/html.bio.html
  3. Katz, Victor J. A History of Mathematics, Addison-Wesley, 1998.
  1. URL http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Godel.html
  2. URL http://www.clarku.edu/~hmarek/html.bio.html
  3. Katz, Victor J. A History of Mathematics, Addison-Wesley, 1998.

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