Gödel's Proof

Ernest Nagel + James R. Newman

Routledge 1989 [1958]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2001 http://dannyreviews.com/
An early attempt to explain Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem to a broader audience, this little 1958 book by Nagel and Newman is still one of the nicest presentations. Anyone who has studied mathematical logic will probably be able to read it in a sitting, but it should be accessible, with some work, to those with only school mathematics. Familiarity with a formal deductive system such as Euclidean geometry would definitely help, though that's something that can't be taken for granted even with mathematics students these days.

For the first sixty pages Nagel and Newman combine history — Euclid, Hilbert and attempts to formalise mathematics, Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica — with an explanation of the necessary preliminaries — the problem of consistency, absolute proofs of consistency, the codification of formal logic, the difference between mathematics and meta-mathematics (reasoning about mathematics), and the key idea that "meta-mathematical statements about a formalized arithmetical calculus can ... be represented by arithmetical formulas within the calculus". In thirty pages they then present the proof itself: Gödel numbering, arithmetizing meta-mathematics, and the actual construction. This is a drastic simplification of the full proof, obviously, but it is enough to, as they put it, "afford the reader glimpses of the ascent and of the crowning structure". They close with some brief comments on the broader philosophical implications of Gödel's Theorem.

November 2001

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%T Gödel's Proof
%A Nagel, Ernest
%A Newman, James R.
%I Routledge
%D 1989 [1958]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 041504040X
%P 118pp