Kurt Gödel

New York Times obituary

By Peter B. Flint

Obituaries Index

Dr Kurt Gödel, 71, Mathematician

Dr. Kurt Gödel, regarded by some mathematicians as the world's leading logician died yesterday at the Medical Center in Princeton, N.J. He was 71 years old and lived at 145 Linden Lane in Princeton.

Dr. Gödel formulated Gödel's Theorem, which became a hallmark of 20th century mathematics and generated tremendous strides in mathematical logic and the foundations of modern mathematics.

The theorem states that in any rigidly logical mathematical system there are propositions or questions that cannot be proved or disproved on the basis of the axioms within that system and that, consequently, it is not certain that the basic axioms of mathematics will not raise contradictions.

The scholar had formulated the theorem in 1931 while he was teaching at the University of Vienna. He was also member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1933 and 1935 and from 1938 to 1952. He became a professor there in 1953 and retired in 1976 as professor emeritus.

In 1951. Dr. Gödel was the co recipient of the first Albert Einstein Award for achievement in the natural sciences. The award has been termed the highest of its kind in the United States His work in mathematical logic, according to the awards committee composed of distinuguished scientists, constitutes "one of the greatest contributions to the sciences in recent times."

In presenting the award, Dr. John von Neumann of the institute said, "Kurt Gödel's achievement in modern logic is singular and monumental -- indeed it more than a monument, it is a landmark which will remain visible far in space and time."

Gödel "... was the first man to demonstrate that certain mathematical theorems can neither be proved nor disproved with the accepted, rigorous methods of mathematics. In other words, he demonstrated the existence of undecidable mathematical propositions. He proved, furthermore, that a very important specific proposition belonged to this class of undecidable problems -- the question as to whether mathematics is free of inner contradictions. The subject of logic will never again be the same."

The logician won many honorary doctorates from major institutions. A citation from Harvard described him as the "discoverer of the most significant mathematical truth of this century, incomprehensible to laymen, revolutionary for philosophers and logicians."

By Peter B. Flint

January 15, 1978 © NY Times