May 04, 2006

Torkel Franzen

Torkel Franzen died a few weeks ago from cancer. I was coincidentally halfway through his book "Goedel's Theroem: An Incomplete Guide To Its Use And Abuse" (AK Peters, 2005) when I heard about it. In books, papers, and on Usenet, he had a lucid, probing, and drily funny style that for me was perfectly suited to (among other things) his trying to correct the often idiotic and shallow "understanding" of Goedel's theorem and its supposed ramifications that seem to attend both Postmodern and pre-modern takes on maths, logic, and the real world (wherever it is, somewhere Out There).

In particular, there's a special circle in hell reserved for people who (mis)use Goedel's theorem(s) to justify saying things like "Goedel's theory shows that physics can not ever be complete or True", or "as Goedel's proof has shown, the human mind can prove what computers cannot", or "Goedels' theorem shows that absolute truth is always unattainable" (and similar atrocities that it's sometimes a little too tempting to blame on the whole Goedel Escher Bach Thing). Torkel demanded a rigour that felt refreshing after the liguistic shell games that so often result from the movement of scientific or maths concepts like Goedel's Theorem, Relativity, Chaos Theory, Fractals, etc., into general philosophy and popular culture.

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