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Thoughts on Gödel (Part 2)


Thoughts on Gödel (Part 1): no preferred direction of rotation
John Wheeler Scientist
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We found that Gödel had himself taken down the great Hubble atlas of the galaxies and on each galaxy he'd put a pencil to indicate its direction, and he made a measurement of the angle and he made a statistics of these numbers, and concluded there is no preferred direction of rotation, so that our universe does not match up with his model of a rotating universe, and therefore our universe is not a universe which will give closed time-like lines where you could live your history over and over again. But about a year later I was in my office, rather in the office of my colleague James Peebles, talking cosmology, when the door opened and a student came in and he put something down on the table in front of us, and said "Professor Peebles, here it is." So I said "What is it?" "It's my thesis." "What's it about?" "It's whether there's any preferred sense of rotation of the galaxies." "Oh," I said, "Gödel will be so interested in that." "Gödel? Who's Gödel?" "Well," I said, "if you call him the greatest logician since Aristotle you're downgrading him compared to his true measure." "Are you kidding?" "No." "Where does he live? What country?" "He lives right here in Princeton." So I picked up the phone and called him up and I told him about the work, and pretty soon I got to the point where I couldn't answer his questions and I turned it over to the student, and finally it got to the point where the student couldn't answer and he turned it over to his professor, Peebles, and when Peebles finally hung up he said "My, I wish we'd talked to Gödel before we did the work." But it was about a year after that, that I was at a little cocktail party at the place of Oskar Morgenstern, and there was Gödel and half a dozen others.

John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.

Listeners: Ken Ford

Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008