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DanielVarga comments on A discarded review of 'Godel, Escher Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid' - Less Wrong

6 Post author: lukeprog 16 December 2011 05:51AM

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Comment author: DanielVarga 17 December 2011 10:10:42PM 4 points [-]

I read the book in high school and loved it. It was my first introduction to the ideas. And there was an unusual extra psychological factor boosting my interest. One of my math teachers, a brilliant, very eccentric guy once saw the book in my hand, and started to shout at me very-very loudly in front of a crowd about how evil this book was. It was a crazy scene. He had a serious problem with reductionism.

This teacher taught us ultrafilters and Löwenheim-Skolem when we were 17, but he also told us that set theory is false. I confronted him: if set theory is false, surely one of the axioms must be false, so which ones does he object to? He told me the whole thing is stupid. This didn't satisfy me, so I kept asking, and finally he said that for example, the pair axiom is false. It tells us that we can put things into pairs without this affecting them in any way. If I was put together into a pair set with a beautiful woman, and I wasn't affected by this, that would mean that I am impotent. Set theory makes mathematics impotent. I didn't completely buy his story on set theory, but it definitely influenced my thinking somewhat. On the other hand, I chose to ignore his outburst against reductionism.

Comment author: orthonormal 18 December 2011 08:03:34PM 0 points [-]

Without revealing my grounds (except that I've known many mathematicians), I would bet at even odds that your high-school math teacher grew up behind the Iron Curtain. Am I right?

Comment author: DanielVarga 18 December 2011 09:15:27PM 0 points [-]

You are very right. I am from Hungary. The Iron curtain fell exactly the year when my GEB story took place. The guy was a promising young mathematician before becoming a high-school teacher of gifted students at the famous Fazekas high school. Although he was never bitter about it at all, I suspect this change of course was somehow related to the fact that he was a sympathizer of the underground democratic opposition.

Comment author: orthonormal 18 December 2011 10:03:53PM 0 points [-]

Excellent- I'd actually assumed you had grown up in the English-speaking world and that you just happened to have an Eastern European teacher for some reason, even though that's a much less likely way for it to happen. Still, it's nice to see I can trust my instincts about the national character of particular mathematical eccentricities- something about the style of the example reminded me strongly of Erdős (except for the personal irony it would have had for him).