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A Logical Journey from Godel to Philosophy (Representation and Mind) (Bradford Books) [Hardcover]

Hao Wang

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Book Description

1 April 1997 Bradford Books
Hao Wang (1921-1995) was one of the few confidants of the great mathematician and logician Kurt Gdel. A Logical Journey is a continuation of Wang's Reflections on Gdel and also elaborates on discussions contained in From Mathematics to Philosophy. A decade in preparation, it contains important and unfamiliar insights into Gdel's views on a wide range of issues, from Platonism and the nature of logic, to minds and machines, the existence of God, and positivism and phenomenology. The impact of Gdel's theorem on twentieth-century thought is on par with that of Einstein's theory of relativity, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, or Keynesian economics. These previously unpublished intimate and informal conversations, however, bring to light and amplify Gdel's other major contributions to logic and philosophy. They reveal that there is much more in Gdel's philosophy of mathematics than is commonly believed, and more in his philosophy than his philosophy of mathematics. Wang writes that "it is even possible that his quite informal and loosely structured conversations with me, which I am freely using in this book, will turn out to be the fullest existing expression of the diverse components of his inadequately articulated general philosophy." The first two chapters are devoted to Gdel's life and mental development. In the chapters that follow, Wang illustrates the quest for overarching solutions and grand unifications of knowledge and action in Gdel's written speculations on God and an afterlife. He gives the background and a chronological summary of the conversations, considers Gdel's comments on philosophies and philosophers (his support of Husserl's phenomenology and his digressions on Kant and Wittgenstein), and his attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the mind's power over brains and machines. Three chapters are tied together by what Wang perceives to be Gdel's governing ideal of philosophy: an exact theory in which mathematics and Newtonian physics serve as a model for philosophy or metaphysics. Finally, in an epilog Wang sketches his own approach to philosophy in contrast to his interpretation of Gdel's outlook.


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"Experts in mathematical logic will find this book of engrossing interest.For mere philosphers it will have a different fascination: in seeing howthe achievements of a genius can seem to him to provide a firm foundationfor a species of Platonism and the conviction of the superiority of mindsover computers, and at the same time can encourage him to favour aquasi-Leibnizian speculative metaphysics and theology. Hao Wang recordsand assesses the whole with an expert and balanced reasonableness." Sir Peter F. Strawson, Magdalen College, Oxford

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In order to see Godel's work as a contribution to philosophy as we know it today, it is helpful to relate both his philosophical assertions and his philosophically significant work in logic to familiar philosophical concerns. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meet Gödel the philosopher 6 Jun 2000
By Kevin Carmody - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Many mathematicians know about Gödel's famous theorem. But very few know about Gödel the man. Through this book, we come to know the man, especially Gödel the philosopher.
Through this book we find out that although Gödel and Einstein were close friends, Gödel, unlike Einstein, shunned public debate. He held philosophical views which he knew would be very controversial if he were to publicize them, and he greatly disliked publshing anything he could not prove rigorously. Accoringly, he instructed his biographer to publish these viewpoints only after his death.
This book contains hundreds of quotations from Gödel's conversations with the author. Fortunately, the author left in quotations that he he said he did not understand, trusting that others might.
Here are a few quotes:
"Consciousness is connected with one unity. A machine is composed of parts."
"The brain is a computing machine connected with a spirit."
"Materialism is false."
"Our total reality and total existence are beautiful and meaningful . . . . We should judge reality by the little which we truly know of it. Since that part which conceptually we know fully turns out to be so beautiful, the real world of which we know so little should also be beautiful. Life may be miserable for seventy years and happy for a million years: the short period of misery may even be necessary for the whole."
If you find Gödel's theorem interesting, I hope you will read this book and found out more about the man behind the theorem.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hao Wang, Unsung Hero 15 May 2007
By C. L. Vash - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wang's presentation of Godel brings the supergenius mathematical logician within the reach of people who are neither logicians nor mathematicians ... at least occasionally. "Godel, Escher and Bach," a previous best-seller effort, didn't manage to do that. I never thought I could or would stay with a book I comprehended so little. It was like digging through a 5 gallon drum of sunflower seeds in search of a cupful of sesame seeds that I could digest and metabolize. But I couldn't stop! Every time I found one of those sesame seeds I could understand and maybe even use to help me understand something else, I got a rush of motivation to keep on reading, in hopes there would be at least one more such sesame seed! The reason was Wang's delivery, based on his very way of being. He is a smart, trained mathematical logician himself who grew up in a contrasting philosophical culture [featuring Chinese nontheistic assumptions] and he managed to become as humble and honest and open minded and open hearted an individual as I have yet encountered in person or on the printed page. His use of self disclosure ... an au currant recommended practice among scientist science writers ... demonstrates a Goldilocks model for others to follow: not too much -- no egotistical tangents, and not too little -- he is remarkably clear about his own assumptons, biases and prejudices. Even if you don't care much about understanding Godel, the book is worth reading to get acquainted with Hao Wang.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a genius yet to be understood 18 Jan 2011
By a reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Kurt Godel 1906-1978 is undoubtly the greatest logician of all time and probably the most misunderstood thinker in human history -thus far. The editors of his 5-volume "Collected Works" and his biographers have only rather narrow-minded ideas of this extraordinary figure. The late Hao Wang's "Logical Journey" also merely scratches the surface of the richness of Godel's thinking. Even so, I've read this book dozens of times in the past 15 years and never failed to get something new per reading.

To be honest, I have largely skipped over Wang's own ideas (but eventually I've read even these several times in their entirety) and largely concentrated on what Godel himself says - or at least what Wang has filtered out for us as Godel's sayings. It is abundantly clear that Wang understands very little of Godel, in spite of his almost 20 years' efforts. Curiously, this seems to be a major merit of the book because there is little likelihood that Wang could - or would wish to - fabricate numerous Godelian remarks which he himself had felt to be so obsurd and had been resisted by him for years before he finally published them.

Having said the above, "Logical Journey" is nevertheless the only existing book which has genuinely striven hard to understand the enigmatic Godel. Future serious Godel scholarship beyond it should be based upon the enormous bulk of Godel's unpublished notes recorded in the German shorthand Gabelsberger.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of books: the pinnacle of knowledge 7 April 2006
By Kadrian Talley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
: The ideas expressed in this book are at least 100 years ahead of their time. Godel wasn't just friends with Einstein, he was (and is) widely regarded as "the greatest logician since Aristotle" (Oppenheimer said that, Aristotle was the father of logic). Einstein said that the only reason he showed up for work at the IAS in Princeton in his last years was so he could walk home with Godel. In his spare time, Godel was the first person in the world to show how Einstein's equations allowed for the possibility of time travel. He did this, not to show how to travel through time, but to show that time has no real existence, it is instead a consequence of the way in which our minds are organized.

: So much for the pedigree, here's some ideas from the book: the existence of an immortal soul can and will be proved scientifically, computers can never be conscious, and mathematical theorems have an existence every bit as real as the chair you are sitting in.

: I was an agnostic before I read this book. Now I know that "mind" and "soul" are just two words for the same thing. Godel is the smartest man that ever lived, and this book contains some of his most interesting ideas in a (reasonably) accessible form. Don't expect to understand more than 10% of it the first time you read it, I have been reading it for years and understand maybe a quarter of it.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Isaac Newton, a mystical side to another great mathematician 12 Mar 2008
By GangstaLawya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Reading this book is discovering something entirely new about Kurt Gödel. It is the same revelation I had when I read the theological works of Isaac Newton. With partial exception to Laplace, the great mathematicians were theologians. Of course, Gödel's reflections fall into the category of "natural theology" or, if you wish, "metaphysics;" nevertheless, it reveals a unity between mathematical innovation and theological thinking. I cannot recommend this book too highly. There is an isomorphism in arguments for God's existence and arguments about infinity in mathematics (I include formal logic and its metatheory under this same rubric of "mathematics"). For example, mathematical induction resorts to infinity in its argument when it employs the method of recursion. Gödel's famous incompleteness theorem also employs recursion when he applies Gödel numbering (modeling symbols and formulas in arithmetic with prime numbers). The common theme of noncontradiction in logic and its analogue of dividing by zero in number theory finds its analogue here with metaphysical assertions about the problem of infinite regress when we decline to posit an ultimate or infinite power grounding the entire order of things. This ultimate ground or referent warrants the appellation of "God." Because part of the order of things involves "personality," I would add that this warrants positing "God" as "personal," not "impersonal" as understood by the heathen. Gödel goes through these arguments and much more. His concept of consciousness as a unity sounds like he was influenced by Kant's notion of the transcendental unity of apperception or it could be an original thought. It is better to read one great book by a great mind such as this than a hundred books by mediocre minds.
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