FOM: General Intellectual Interest

Harvey Friedman friedman at
Thu Mar 25 09:13:59 EST 1999

Hayes 2:48PM 3/25/99 writes:

>Harvey Friedman writes:
>>But I am confident that you will join me and many others on the FOM list in
>>enthusiastically celebrating this recognition of Turing and Godel!!
>Well, yes and no. Imagine what one of the apostles would have felt if he
>had known that one day there would be best-selling books on the Christian
>approach to making lots of money.
>I dont think it is really a cause for celebration

I am not surprised that you said this in light of your earlier statement
that "Maybe the question to ask is, how many mathematicians work for TIME,

Thus it seems to me that your statement below is quite misleading about
your true state of mind:

>Sorry if I was too elliptical. I meant only to suggest that one shouldnt
>take a survey conducted by a magazine such as TIME as being in any way
>authoritative in any matter requiring intellectual insight or specialized
>technical knowledge of almost any topic, except perhaps Washington
>politics. Sorry if this sounds snobbish. My cynicism is however based on my
>own experience.

Hayes continues:

>because I dont think it
>really is recognition in the sense that would be worth celebrating.

It is certainly worth celebrating since it is TIME magazine - which has
such an enormous readership. Your speculations as to how Turing and Godel
got on the list are not only just speculation, but also self defeating. Do
you want your speculations to be true?

>I think
>that Turing is there largely because he is now a national hero in England,

TIME magazine is published by Time/Warner, a large U.S. Corporation. But so
what? Don't you want to celebrate that someone like Turing is a national
hero in England - who doesn't play sports, act in the movies, or guess

>largely as a result of the romantic image produced by his secret WW2
>codebreaking work and the tragic outcome of his persecution as a

There are many many people with analogous nonintellectual achievments
(although the codebreaking work is partly intellectual) who didn't make the
list. Now isn't that interesting and remarkable? Why Turing and not the
others? Join me in celebration.

>(He has much the same popular fascination as Stephen Hawkins,
>another 'warped genius'. For another example of the power of this
>particular meme, watch the ghastly movie "Good Will Hunting".)

But Stephen Hawking is not on that list, and Turing is. Neither is Feynman.
Very interesting! Don't you want to celebrate this?

>And I think
>Godel is there largely for the worst possible reasons, which Steve Simpson
>is acutely aware of, ie because his work is widely regarded as having shown
>that a certain kind of 'oldfashioned' 'linear' thinking is forever doomed.

All kinds of explicitly newfangled goons and geeks never made it to the
list. Very interesting that Godel did, even though he is not anything of
the kind. Don't you want to celebrate this?

>Several best-selling recent books put Godel into center stage in order to
>'prove' that AI is impossible, for example.

I celebrate that they are best selling. This increases the exposure to
Godel, and hence one can now write further books disucssing Godel in new
ways - perhaps drawing competing conclusions - and get a bigger audience
than otherwise. Don't you want to celebrate this?

>I think that 99% of the
>educated adult population don't have even a glimmering of comprehension of
>what Godel's theorems actually mean, and they probably think that Turing
>machines were sold by IBM in 1950.

More people are more likely to understand more about Godel's work because
of this exposure; and also Turing. Don't you want to celebrate this?

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