Faith No More

Kurt Gödel composed an ontological proof of God’s existence:

Axiom 1. A property is positive if and only if its negation is negative.

Axiom 2. A property is positive if it necessarily contains a positive property.

Theorem 1. A positive property is logically consistent (that is,
possibly it has an existence).

Definition. Something is God-like if and only if it possesses all positive properties.

Axiom 3. Being God-like is a positive property.

Axiom 4. Being a positive property is logical and hence necessary.

Definition. A property P is the essence of x if and only if x has the property P and P is necessarily minimal.

Theorem 2. If x is God-like, then being God-like is the essence of x.

Definition. x necessarily exists if it has an essential property.

Axiom 5. Being necessarily existent is God-like.

Theorem 3. Necessarily there is some x such that x is God-like.

“I am convinced of the afterlife, independent of theology,” he once wrote. “If the world is rationally constructed, there must be an afterlife.”

Hintikka’s Paradox

(1) If a thing can’t be done without something wrong being done, then the thing itself is wrong.

(2) If X is impossible and Y is wrong, then I can’t do both X and Y, and I can’t do X but not Y.

But if Y is wrong and doing X-but-not-Y is impossible, then by (1) it’s wrong to do X.

Hence if it’s impossible to do a thing, then it’s wrong to do it.


One day while teaching a class at Yale, Shizuo Kakutani wrote a lemma on the blackboard and remarked that the proof was obvious. A student timidly raised his hand and said that it wasn’t obvious to him. Kakutani stared at the lemma for some moments and realized that he couldn’t prove it himself. He apologized and said he would report back at the next class meeting.

After class he went straight to his office and worked for some time further on the proof. Still unsuccessful, he skipped lunch, went to the library, and tracked down the original paper. It stated the lemma clearly but left the proof as an “exercise for the reader.”

The author was Shizuo Kakutani.

Who’s On First?

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy states that “no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.” Examples:

  • Arabic numerals were invented in India.
  • Darwin lists 18 predecessors who had advanced the idea of evolution by natural selection.
  • Freeman Dyson credited the idea of the Dyson sphere to Olaf Stapledon.
  • Salmonella was discovered by Theobald Smith but named after Daniel Elmer Salmon.
  • Copernicus propounded Gresham’s Law.
  • Pell’s equation was first solved by William Brouncker.
  • Euler’s number was discovered by Jacob Bernoulli.
  • The Gaussian distribution was introduced by Abraham de Moivre.
  • The Mandelbrot set was discovered by Pierre Fatou and Gaston Julia.

University of Chicago statistics professor Stephen Stigler advanced the idea in 1980.

Delightfully, he attributes it to Robert Merton.


[Bertrand] Russell is reputed at a dinner party once to have said, ‘Oh, it is useless talking about inconsistent things, from an inconsistent proposition you can prove anything you like.’ Well, it is very easy to show this by mathematical means. But, as usual, Russell was much cleverer than this. Somebody at the dinner table said, ‘Oh, come on!’ He said, ‘Well, name an inconsistent proposition,’ and the man said, ‘Well, what shall we say, 2 = 1.’ ‘All right,’ said Russell, ‘what do you want me to prove?’ The man said, ‘I want you to prove that you are the pope.’ ‘Why,’ said Russell, ‘the pope and I are two, but two equals one, therefore the pope and I are one.’

— Jacob Bronowski, The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, 1979


Write down any natural number, reverse its digits to form a new number, and add the two:

lychrel number example - 1

In most cases, repeating this procedure eventually yields a palindrome:

lychrel number example - 2
lychrel number example - 3

With 196, perversely, it does not — or, at least, it hasn’t in computer trials, which have repeated the process until it produced numbers 300 million digits long.

Is 196 somehow immune to producing palindromes? No one’s yet offered a conclusive proof — so we don’t know.

Fair Point

One threatening morning as Einstein was about to leave his house in Princeton, Mrs. Einstein advised him to take along a hat.

Einstein, who rarely used a hat, refused.

‘But it might rain!’ cautioned Mrs. Einstein.

‘So?’ replied the mathematician. ‘My hair will dry faster than my hat.’

– Howard Whitley Eves, In Mathematical Circles: Quadrants III and IV, 1969