Kurt Gödel Biography

Kurt Friedrich Gödel, an Austrian-American logician, mathematician, and philosopher, was a brilliant and curious individual from a young age. Despite initially studying physics at the University of Vienna, his passion for mathematics and philosophy led him to pursue these subjects further. At the age of twenty-five, he achieved his doctorate degree and published two groundbreaking incompleteness theorems. He began his career as a Privatdozent at the University of Vienna and also served as a visiting professor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, USA. Following Germany’s annexation of Austria, Gödel relocated to the USA, where he dedicated his entire career to the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. While primarily known as a mathematician, he later developed a keen interest in philosophy and continued his work in both fields. Tragically, towards the end of his life, he suffered from Persecutory delusions and ultimately succumbed to self-imposed starvation due to his fear of being poisoned.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Kurt Friedrich Gödel
  • Died At Age: 71
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Adele Nimbursky
    • Father: Rudolf Gödel
    • Mother: Marianne Gödel
    • Siblings: Rudolf
  • Born Country: Czech Republic
  • Philosophers
  • Mathematicians
  • Died on: January 14, 1978
  • Place of Death: Princeton, New Jersey, United States
  • Ancestry: Austrian American
  • Cause of Death: Starvation
  • City: Brno, Czech Republic
  • More Facts:
    • Education: University Of Vienna
    • Awards: Albert Einstein Award (1951); National Medal of Science (USA) in Mathematical Statistical and Computational Sciences (1974)

Childhood & Early Life

Kurt Friedrich Gödel was born on April 28, 1906, in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. His father, Rudolf Gödel, was a textile worker who later became the manager and part owner of a textile factory. His mother, Marianne Gödel, was educated at a French institute and had broad cultural interests. Kurt was the younger of his parents’ two children and had a very happy childhood. He was known for his inquisitive nature and was called “Herr Warum” or Mr. Why by his family. However, he also suffered from various ailments, including anxiety neurosis and rheumatic fever.

Education and Early Career

Kurt started his education at a Lutheran primary school in Brno and graduated in 1916. He then attended a German-speaking high school in Brno, where he excelled academically and developed a fascination for foreign languages and history. In 1920, he developed an interest in mathematics and philosophy and began working on university-level mathematics. He graduated in 1924 and continued his studies at the University of Vienna, initially majoring in theoretical physics. However, he soon switched to mathematics and became influenced by great mathematicians and philosophers.

University and Academic Career

In 1929, Gödel submitted his dissertation on the completeness of the calculus of logic and received his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Vienna. He published his dissertation in 1930 and continued working on the topic, publishing his second paper on the same subject in 1931. He also became a member of the Vienna Circle, a group of positivist philosophers. In 1932, he became a Privatdozent at the University of Vienna and gave his first course on the foundations of arithmetic. In 1933, he was appointed a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he gave a series of lectures on undecidable propositions of formal mathematical systems.

Migration to the U.S.A and Later Career

In 1939, Gödel decided to leave for the U.S.A due to the outbreak of World War II. He received a non-quota immigrant visa and arrived in San Francisco in 1940. He was appointed as an ordinary member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and focused on his mathematical research. In 1942, he began to shift his attention towards philosophy and published his first philosophical paper in 1944. He became a full professor at the Institute in 1953 and continued to work on philosophy until his retirement in 1976. He made significant contributions to the philosophy of mathematics and logic.

Major Works and Legacy

Gödel is best known for his two incompleteness theorems, published in 1931, which showed the inherent limitations of formal axiomatic systems containing basic arithmetic. These theorems had significant implications for mathematical logic and the philosophy of mathematics. He received several awards and honors throughout his career, including the Albert Einstein Award in 1951 and the National Medal of Science in 1974. Gödel’s work continues to be influential in the fields of mathematics, logic, and philosophy. He passed away on January 14, 1978, leaving behind a lasting legacy.

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