The Magazine

Visions of Infinity

A mathematical voyage brought Kurt Gödel to the shores of madness.

Jun 19, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 38 • By DAVID GUASPARI
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Goldstein does not avert her eyes from this obscene ending, but does not allow it the final word. She concludes with an elegant novelistic turn. Gödel pursued philosophical questions about time in his characteristic way, by seeking results that could be established mathematically. He produced a surprising solution of Einstein's gravitational field equations, a hypothetical universe in which it is possible to travel in time. If time does loop back on itself, Goldstein says, "then a young Gödel will once again sit in a college classroom in Vienna, transfigured by the notion of the infinite eternal verities. . . . He will dream, silently and audaciously, of proving a mathematical theorem the likes of which has never before been seen, a mathematical theorem that will illuminate the nature of mathematics itself.

"And then he will do it."

David Guaspari is a mathematician and computer scientist in Ithaca, N.Y.