Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gödel and the Constitution V: My Conjecture

I have long promised a final post in this series, containing my conjecture as to what Gödel's constitutional contradiction was. It is quite different from the other speculation I have seen. My delay has had several reasons:

  1. I have been immersed in doing my own mathematics.
  2. Really doing the homework on this requires a reasonable reading knowledge of German, something I do not have.
  3. Even given that I had done the homework, it was hard for me to imagine that others are impatient to hear my conjectures.
  4. Frankly, while I find the following convincing and interesting, my guess is most readers of the following will share the opinions of Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern and will be disappointed.

Without further ado, then, here is my conjecture:

  1. When the Nazis took over Austria, I conjecture that there was some after-the-fact justification in terms of Austrian constitutional law. I want to emphasize here that Gödel's concern would have been Austrian law -- *NOT* German law. I do not read German well and cannot follow up on this. It may be hard to find because even the lawyers who drafted it probably did not take it seriously.
  2. Gödel did take this after-the-fact justification seriously, and at face value. From Gödel's point of view, it would have explained why the Anschluss could and did happen.
  3. When Gödel studied the US Constitution, he found that a similar thing was possible under its terms.

I had already formed this conjecture before finding the Lost Morgenstern document, which contains the closest we will ever get to the exact wording of the conversation:
Gödel: "[Austria] was a republic, but the constitution was such that it was changed into a dictatorship."
Judge: "Oh! This is very bad. This could not happen in this country."
Gödel: "Oh, yes, I can prove it."

I cannot claim that the Morgenstern document proves my conjecture, but its language does track the conjecture exactly. And, if this conjecture seems unconvincing and uninteresting to you, note that that counts as evidence in its favor -- recall that, even though the story centers around it, Morgenstern and Einstein found Gödel's line of reasoning not worth repeating. Had it been something clearly convincing or interesting, presumably they would have passed at least a fragment of Gödel's argument on to posterity.