Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mathematicians Contemplate the Afterlife

Hao Wang,  Reflections on Kurt Gödel (1987),  p. 112, quotes Russell’s Autobiography:

Gödel turned out to be an unadulterated Platonist, and apparently believed that an eternal ‘not’ was laid up in heaven, where virtuous logicians might hope to meet it hereafter.

I must say, I do hope for rather more from my (deo volente) eventual ascension to that better place, than some face-time with the eternal Not.  We’re quite well enough acquainted with that already in this life;  as when standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  It is perhaps unsurprising that Russell, the robust atheist, uses the eternal Not as his example, since that appears to be what he himself anticipated from the afterlife.  But as for us, we hope for something more.  What might this be?

You have probably, when flying above the clouds, imagined what fun it would be to romp upon them, as on a landscape.  How trivial a modification of our in-any-case-contingent physics  that would require!  A little more tensile strength to the cloud-stuff, a bit less heaviness in ourselves, and we might bound from cumulus to cumulus, tumbling down their gullies and ricocheting along canyons – playing Tag and Hide-and-Seek with the lovable cloudbunnies.
Well.  Here then is something to look forward to in the afterlife.  Imagine romping in as many dimensions as you could handle (these would increase with practice) along the intricate curves of a Riemann surface.  And what, you inquire, is a Riemann surface?  Well, basically, a bosom  that has been to heaven.

What will people do in Heaven, who have no interest in mathematics?  I dunno – mah-jongg?  volleyball?
Actually Gödel, the arch-abstractionist, had a rather homey picture of the pleasures of the afterlife: “The main feature of Gödel’s concept of paradise  is that everyone has a happy marriage and a happy job.” (Wang, Reflections  p. 238)

No comments:

Post a Comment