Wiener on learning & Gödel

This is a marvellous paper by former colleague of Norbert Wiener, N. Levinson.
The bibliography of his papers is here.

“It is no coincidence that my first childish essay into philosophy,written when I was in high school and not yet eleven years old, was called The theory of ignorance. Even at that time I was struck with
the impossibility of originating a perfectly tight theory with the aid of so loose a mechanism as the human mind. And when I studied with Bertrand Russell, I could not bring myself to believe in the existence of a closed set of postulates for all logic, leaving no room for any arbitrariness in the system defined by them. Here, without the justification of their superb technique, I foresaw something of the critique of Russell which was later to be carried out by Gödel and his followers, who have given real grounds for the denial of the existence of any single closed logic following in a closed and rigid way from a body of stated rules.
“To me, logic and learning and all mental activity have always been incomprehensible as a complete and closed picture and have been understandable only as a process by which man puts himself en rapport with his environment. It is the battle for learning which is significant, and not the victory. Every victory that is absolute is followed at once by the Twilight of the gods, in which the very concept of victory is dissolved in the moment of its attainment.
“We are swimming upstream against a great torrent of disorganization, which tends to reduce everything to the heat-death of equilibrium and sameness described in the second law of thermodynamics.
What Maxwell, Boltzmann, and Gibbs meant by this heat-death in physics has a counterpart in the ethics of Kierkegaard, who pointed out that we live in a chaotic moral universe. In this, our main obligation
is to establish arbitrary enclaves of order and system. These enclaves will not remain there indefinitely by any momentum of their own after we have once established them. Like the Red Queen, we cannot stay where we are without running as fast as we can.
“We are not fighting for a definitive victory in the indefinite future.
It is the greatest possible victory to be, to continue to be, and to have been. No defeat can deprive us of the success of having existed for some moment of time in a universe that seems indifferent to us.
“This is no defeatism, it is rather a sense of tragedy in a world in which necessity is represented by an inevitable disappearance of differentiation. The declaration of our own nature and the attempt to
build up an enclave of organization in the face of nature’s overwhelming tendency to disorder is an insolence against the gods and the iron necessity that they impose. Here lies tragedy, but here lies glory too. These were the ideas I wished to synthesize in my book on cybernetics»
[“I am a mathematician”, pp. 323-325].

Categories: Episteme, Learning

1 reply


  1. Il Dio dei matematici | rtraba

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