On Arguments and Arguants: Reason, Reasoning, and Reasoners

Helping repair the grave of Kurt and Adele Gödel

Kurt Gödel was a 20th Century genius who is universally considered to be one of the greatest logicians of all time, and is colloquially legendary as Albert Einstein’s “best friend.”

Kurt (1906–1978) and his wife Adele (1899–1981) are buried together in the Princeton Cemetery, about 20 yards from John von Neumann, the first person to recognize the significance of Gödel’s work.

As von Neumann described KG’s famous incompleteness theorems (1930/31): “Kurt Gödel’s achievement in modern logic is singular and monumental — indeed it is more than a monument, it is a landmark which will remain visible far in space and time.”

On a visit to the memorial site, I noticed that the umlaut symbol (ö) on the Gödel gravestone was originally mismarked:

I contacted the Head of the Cemetery to inquire about the mistake, and was surprised to learn it hadn’t been brought to their attention before. There was no record of who had made the monument.

After reaching out to people that study Gödel and some of his former colleagues and friends, the situation was shared with the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). The IAS, one of the greatest intellectual communities of all time, was Gödel’s home after leaving Europe. I believed they were the proper caretakers to remedy the matter, both legally and morally speaking, because of the lack of a next of kin and their management of Gödel’s work.

After reviewing the situation, the IAS decided to proceed with the remedy. But after reviewing the wills of Kurt (’78) and Adele (’81) Gödel, the IAS found an alternative executrix for Adele’s estate. Unfortunately, this person and her husband had passed, but I was able to track down their daughter, a very nice lawyer living in Boston (the executrix of her parents’ estate).

Although the Cemetery stated that none of the parties technically had the express legal authority to represent the Gödel estate, the combination of the IAS’s support and my diligence led the Cemetery to authorize the repair. Perhaps this was fitting: a Gödelian grey area of the law.

I think the inspiration of Kurt Gödel and his work will be increasingly enjoyed for generations, centuries, and even millennia to come. He is a wonderful monument to the capacity of human achievement, and a platonic sherpa showing us that transcendent experience is available at the place where logical obsession meets beautiful composition — where Truth meets beauty.

I’m honored to contribute to the repair, and I’d like to deeply thank the numerous parties who were involved in making this happen (to my knowledge): DS, SR, HH, RD, JP, LG, and CG.

While bound by the constraint of the previous markings — particularly from a medium to long term wear consideration — I think it turned out quite well!

If you are ever in Princeton, you should go visit!

Here is the final result:

Gödel Grave (2020)
As you can see from the stones/tokens above, many come to the memorial to pay homage. I first visited July 2019 while trying to finish a philosophical argument that has conceptual touchpoints with Gödel’s thinking. While entirely separate from the repair, here’s further background for anyone interested.

Here is how it happened:

Old Monument Vs. Corrected Umlaut (thanks to CB & MD).
On the circles: 12MM was too small, 13MM was too large, and 12.5MM was just right… the original 2 etchings became the left dot, with the right dot added next based on that constraint.
The Sandblasting Process
Big thanks to John Farrell & his colleague/friend on a job well done (12/3/2020)

American lawyer, technology entrepreneur, writer