Friday, July 30, 2010

"Logicomics," an often beautiful graphic novel, is about the time, straddling the 19th and 20th century, when mathematicians tried to prove the validity of their own system to their own satisfaction. They started out thinking it was just a matter of trying.

Of course, they were moving, with everyone, into a time of not being able to know things in the solid, absolute way that seemed so natural in the past.

So after much work by many people. especially massive clearing the underbrush by Bertrand Russel and ---- Whitehead, who worked together, Godel capped everyone's work by proving that mathematics as a whole and all its assumptions can't be proved.

To prove a system, you need to reach out and bring in something from outside the system, which is just what mathematicians didn't want to do.

"Logicomics" is a great read and a great work to look at. We don't have to get all upset about the findings, because we are living inside that finding, and many others say knowing ain't what it used to be, ain't what it seemed like it was going to be in Europe in the 1700's, for example.

Intellectuals kept being certain that they were setting up a certainty program that just had to be worked out. But Russell, Whitehead, and Godel in mathematics and Heisenberg of the uncertainty principle in nuclear physics said no. No certainty of the kind once dreamed of by a certain kind of smart people for smart people now. If you want to be certain, you've got to go to other kinds of human endevour.

It was traumatic for the people who did the work of proving that mathematical logic couldn't be proved to find that uncertainty at the end of the trail

They really wanted certainty.

Another thing "Logicomics" points out is that these logic lovers often had serious insanity in their families or in their lives. They really wanted to find solidness that makes sense all the way down.

Russell, after his parents died was raised by his cold grandmother in a mansion where upstairs an uncle moaned and howled with uncomfortable nuttiness. And his grandmother never told him outright his parents were dead, left him to find it out when he found and explored the family mauseleum on the estate.

Other people in the quest for mathematical certainty did great work for a while, and then no longer contributed to the search because they were disfunctionally nuts.

Reality offers comfort, but so rarely the kind we first had in mind.

I was looking at a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. I knew he wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories about Mr. Hyperlogical and that later in life believed in and heavily promoted Spiritualism, directs communication with dead people. His respectable logical friends and fans didn't like that a lot. But he hung with Spiritualism because he believed.

I had known these things and thought that Conan Doyle had a lot of energy on the logic/illogic boundary--two sides of the same thing.

What I didn't know is that Conan Doyle's father was crazy as a heavy drinker and ended up being locked up for years because he was odd to dangerous when drunk and always ended up drinking. The father couldn't remember the drinking episodes and felt very beset.

Anyway, there's another man, from roughly the time the first work on the proving mathematics problem was happening, who was into logic and had family craziness.

A frequent visual contrast in the good-looking "Logicomics" is the brown, dark late Victorian interiors, and the lighter outside when people take a walk. Brown dark interiors are where they do the actual work on logically proving logic, and the work turns out to be basically as limited as those interiors looks.

The people writing and drawing and researching "Logicomics" are shown doing the work and talking about the work. Some of that happens in Greece, now, where one of them lives. Greece, light and open, as in ancient times, and also modern, reminding one that Athens is a modern city that exists now, and parts of it look much like other cities.

They never say explicitly it's kind rhyming that they are doing a history of an end of the road for logic partly right where the logic road began, in Athens. They may not think that so much, because for them Athens is a continuing modern reality.