Tag Archives: Kurt Gödel

Stephen Budiansky

Months before his citizenship test Gödel had commenced upon an exhaustive study of American history, government, current events, laws, and statistics, filling pages of notes in Gabelsberger script about American Indian tribes, the names of British generals in the Revolutionary War, the National Bankruptcy Act of 1863, the office of the Postmaster General, and checking out from the Princeton University Library the New Jersey Revised Statutes, the 1901 Sanitary Code, and the Act of Incorporation of the Town of Princeton. Every few days he would call Morgenstern to ask for more books, and to pepper him with questions about what he had so far discovered. “Gödel reads the World’s Almanac & calls me many times, amazed at the facts he finds & those that he expects to find & are not in it he attributes to evil intent to hide them. Harmless-funny. It amuses me very much,” Morgenstern wrote.

As the date approached he began obsessively interrogating Morgen- stern about the organization of local government. Morgenstern recalled,

He wanted to know from me in particular where the borderline was between the borough and the township. I tried to explain that all this was totally unnecessary, of course, but with no avail….Then he wanted to know how the Borough Council was elected, the Township Council, and who the Mayor was, and how the Township Council functioned. He thought he might be asked about such matters. If he were to show that he did not know the town in which he lived, it would make a bad impression.

I tried to convince him that such questions were never asked, that most questions were truly formal and that he would easily answer them; that at most they might ask what sort of government we have in this country or what the highest court is called, and questions of this kind.

At any rate, he continued with the study of the Constitution. He rather excitedly told me that in looking at the Constitution, to his distress he had found some inner contradictions and that he could show how in a perfectly legal manner it would be possible for somebody to become a dictator and set up a Fascist regime, never intended by those who drew up the Constitution. I told him that it was most unlikely that such events would ever occur, even assum- ing he was right, which of course I doubted. But he was persistent and so we had many talks about this particular point. I tried to persuade that he should avoid bringing up such matters at the examination before the court in Trenton, and I also told Einstein about it: he was horrified that such an idea had occurred to Gödel, and also told him he should not worry about these things nor discuss that matter.

On the day of the examination, Morgenstern picked Gödel up in his car, then drove to Einstein’s home and the three of them set off to Trenton. Einstein, with his usual love of mischief, turned around to Gödel in the back seat and asked sternly, “Now, Gödel, are you really well prepared for this examination?”—which to Einstein’s glee had exactly the effect intended, sending Gödel into a momentary panic. Entering the courtroom, Judge Forman was delighted to see Einstein and chatted with his famous visitor briefly before turning to Gödel.

“Now, Mr. Gödel, where do you come from?”

“Where I come from? Austria.”

“What kind of government did you have in Austria?”

“It was a republic, but the constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship,” Gödel replied.

“That is very bad,” the judge said.“Of course that could not happen in this country.”

“Oh, yes,” Gödel exclaimed. “I can prove it!”

Forman, Einstein, and Morgenstern immediately joined in shutting Gödel up before he could say anything further about his pet idea, and the rest of the ceremony went off without incident.

Stephen Budiansky, Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Gödel, New York, 2021, pp. 242–244