A Simple Refutation of Gödel's Theorem


By Ardeshir Mehta



 

August 2001


This paper is a simple refutation of Gödel's Theorem, using as a basis the Web article A Simple exposition of Gödel's Theorem by J.R. Lucas. In order to be clear as to which words are whose, I have written hereunder Mr. Lucas's own words in black Times font, and indented, while my words are in blue Arial font, and not indented.
 
 



 

Mr. Lucas writes (and I have deleted some of the initial and somewhat irrelevant parts of his article):

Gödel's argument is self-referential. It is a development of the Epimenides paradox, known to St Paul. Epimenides was a Cretan and said that All Cretans were Liars. A modern version would be a backboard on which was written:

This statement is false

In this crude form we should not take it very seriously, any more than the ancients did Epimenides. One obvious flaw, pointed out by Gilbert Ryle, is that the `this' fails to refer properly. `This statement ': which statement? It refers to a statement that is still in course of being made. We don't know what the statement is that is being referred to until the statement has been completed, but it cannot be completed until the reference is made out properly. If we try to make sense of it, we get into a loop: `This statement, namely `This statement, namely `This statement, namely `This statement, namely . . . . .'''''' Gödel circumvented Ryle's objection. He found a way of referring to well-formed formulae of formal logic which was independent of token-reflexive (or indexical) terms, such as `this'. Formal logic has relatively few symbols, and to each of these Gödel assigned a number. He then could code a string of symbols by taking the odd prime numbers in order, and raising each to the power of the corresponding symbol. Thus if we want to refer to

( p V p ) --- p

and numbers assigned are

4 7 6 7 5 8 7

the number for the string is

34.57.76.117.135.178.197

This is an enormously big number, but it is just a number, and in principle we could refer to a well-formed formula by a single number. Instead of working out

34.57.76.117.135.178.197

let me pretend that it comes to 1729. Then it might be possible to write down, in a Ryle-proof manner
 

1729 - - - - - - - - - Well-formed formula no. 1729 is false

or, equivalently
 

1729 - - - - - - - - - Well-formed formula no. 1729 is not true


I am sorry, Mr. Lucas, but this too will not suffice for self-reference.

First of all, and as you rightly say, formal logic has relatively few symbols, and to each of these Gödel has assigned a number. One of these, as you probably know already, is the symbol "successor of", often written as ƒ. The basic signs, or symbols, of formal logic do not include the digits from 1 to 9 (inclusive); to write any number down, formal logic uses just the symbol 0 (pronounced "nought") preceded by a number of ƒ symbols. Thus for example, the number 3 is represented in formal logic by the string of symbols ƒƒƒ0 -- meaning "The successor of the successor of the successor of nought".

Thus to write down any number x, formal logic uses a number of symbols equal to (x+1). To write down the number 1729, therefore, formal logic uses 1730 symbols -- and, by Gödel's numbering system, each of these symbols must be assigned a numerical value of either 1 or an integer greater than 1.

Now consider: In order to achieve self-reference within mathematics itself,  well-formed formula no. 1729 must contain the number 1729, written in the symbols of the formal language! This can only be done as ƒƒƒ...ƒ0, where there are 1729 ƒ's and one 0 -- a total of 1730 symbols of the formal language.

And since to each of the ƒ's as well as to the final 0 Gödel has assigned a number equal to or greater than 1, and then coded the string of symbols which says, in effect, "Well-formed formula no. 1729 is not true" by first raising different prime numbers to the powers represented by these numbers, and then multiplying together those prime numbers raised to those higher powers, any number assigned by Gödel to the string of symbols which says, in effect, "Well-formed formula no. 1729 is not true" must necessarily be greater than 1729 ... !

Why, the string of symbols representing the number 1729 itself must be assigned a number greater than 1729. (And this is not even taking into consideration the rest of the symbols comprising well-formed formula no. 1729.)

The number assigned by Gödel to the string of symbols representing the number 1729 must be much, much greater, in fact, than 1729: for if as Gödel actually explains in his 1931 paper, the symbol ƒ is assigned the natural number 3, and the symbol 0 is assigned the natural number 1, then the string of symbols representing the number 1729 must be assigned a number equal to 33.53.73.113.133.173.193 ...  all the way up to the 1729-th prime number (if we regard 3 as the first prime number), each raised to the power of 3 -- and this product then finally multiplied by 1730.

In fact, the first two terms alone of this huge string of prime numbers raised to higher powers -- namely 33.53 -- is equal to 3375, which itself is much greater than 1729. Consider then how gargantuan the number assigned to the string of symbols representing the number 1729 alone must be.

Thus the string of symbols which says, in effect, "Well-formed formula no. 1729 is not true" cannot possibly be assigned the number 1729.

And it doesn't matter which number is assigned to a formula: no number assigned, using Gödel's method, to a formula of any formal system can possibly be contained in that very formula, when that number is expressed in the symbols of the formal language itself.

Indeed, every number assigned to a formula according to Gödel's method must be greater than any number contained in that formula itself.

So even Gödel's method of assigning numbers to symbols, to strings of symbols, and to strings of strings of symbols, of a formal language, does not overcome the fundamental logical objection to the Liar Paradox: which is, essentially, that self-reference is logically quite impossible.

And if self-reference is impossible, then Gödel's so-called "undecidable formula", which must also be self-referential, cannot possibly exist in mathematics.

This takes care of the main thrust of my argument. The rest of my argument now becomes essentially superfluous, but just for the sake of being through, I shall complete my critique of your Web article.

You go on to say in it:
 

What is a proof in formal logic? It is a sequence of well-formed formulae, starting with axioms, ending with the well-formed formula to be proved, with each successive step being a well-formed formula that follows from its predecessor according to some explicit rule of inference. So what Gödel needed to do was to code not just well-formed formulae---strings of symbols---but strings of well-formed formulae---strings of strings of symbols. But this can be done in essentially the same way as before, using this time not just the odd prime numbers, but 2 as well. Then a sequence of well-formed formulae can be expressed by an even number, and a putative proof of well-formed formula no.1729 would look something like

2105.3231. . . . . . 18731729

To give a proper definition of a formal proof, Gödel needed to specify the axioms, and to formulate precisely the requirement that each well-formed formula was either an axiom of followed from earlier members of the sequence in virtue of one of the rules of inference. And having done this in meta-logical terms, he needed to show that granted his coding system, these requirements could be represented as arithmetically definable properties of numbers. It was a mammoth task, and took pages and pages of detailed working. But he managed it, and was able to define a relation between numbers which obtained just in case the first (even) number was the Gödel number of a proof-sequence which was in fact a valid proof of the well-formed formula whose Gödel number was the second number in the relation. That is to say, there is a very complicated relation between numbers, Pr(x,y), which can be defined in terms of addition and multiplication, and holds when y is the Gödel number of a particular well-formed formula, and x is the Gödel number of a sequence of well-formed formulae which constitutes a proof of y. And then, generalising, he could have a general provability predicate which used the existential quantifier, and said just that there was a number which was the Gödel number of a sequence that was a proof of the well-formed formula whose Gödel number was the second number. So the well-formed formula, (Ex)Pr(x,1729) holds when there is a proof of the well-formed formula whose Gödel number is 1729, and conversely --(Ex)Pr(x,1729), holds when there is no proof of the well-formed formula whose Gödel number is 1729.

These two manoeuvres enable Gödel to refer to well-formed formulae by numbers, and to represent provability as a property of numbers definable in terms of the simple arithmetical operations of addition and multiplication, though the definitions are themselves very complicated. It remains to achieve self-reference, to find some Gödel number, 1729 as we have supposed for the sake of brevity, where wff no. 1729 turns out to be the wff --(Ex)Pr(x,1729) How can Gödel achieve this? He does it by means of a ``diagonalization operation'', like those used by Cantor to prove the non-denumerability of the continuum.

Cantor argues by Reductio Ad Absurdum. Suppose we could arrange all the real numbers between 0 and 1 in a denumerable list. The list would then look like

0.a11a12a13a14a15a16a17a18a19 . . .. 
0.a21a22a23a24a25a26a27a28a29 . . .. 
0.a31a32a33a34a35a36a37a38a39 . . .. 
0.a41a42a43a44a45a46a47a48a49 . . .. 
0.a51a52a53a54a55a56a57a58a59 . . .. 
0.a61a62a63a64a65a66a67a68a69 . . .. 
0.a71a72a73a74a75a76a77a78a79 . . .. 
0.a81a82a83a84a85a86a87a88a89 . . ..

where each of the amn is a digit 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9.
Cantor then shows that there is a real number between 0 and 1 that has been left out, contrary to hypothesis.
Let bmm be 1 if amm is 0, and 0 otherwise.
Consider the number

0.b11b22b33b44b55b66b77b88 . . .

It cannot be first on the list because b11 is different from a11, nor second because b22 is different from a22, nor third, nor fourth, nor anywhere on the list because it will differ on the diagonal from that one. So not all the real numbers between 0 and 1 were on the original list, contrary to hypothesis.


My dear Mr Lucas. Cantor cannot possibly show that there is any real number which has been left out of the list, because the list, being infinitely long, is not complete, and can never be so! Thus there can always be one more row added to the list in which we can place the newly-constructed real number 0.b11b22b33b44b55b66b77b88 ... .

(For a more complete argument in this regard, see my Simple Refutation of Cantor's Diagonal Procedure).

But this is almost a separate issue: for as we showed above, it is impossible to use Gödel's method of assigning numbers to symbols, to strings of symbols, and to strings of strings of symbols, of a formal language, in order to write a formula of that formal language which can achieve self-reference.

Then you go on to add:
 

Gödel used a similar technique to devise a well-formed formula which used a negative existential quantifier to say that a certain (very large) number did not have a carefully constructed arithmetical property, where the very large number turned out to be the Gödel number of the well-formed formula itself, and the carefully constructed arithmetical property was the one possessed by the Gödel numbers of wffs that were unprovable in the given system. The essential move is to take a two-place predicate, F(m,n), and then consider the case where m=n, thus converting the two-place predicate into a somewhat peculiar one-place one.
Let me wave my hand over the enormous amount of careful working needed to achieve this in a water-tight fashion, and claim that we have achieved self-reference.

wff no.1729- - - - - - - - - `wff no.1729 is unprovable in the system'


As we have seen above with respect to the string of symbols which in effect says "Well-formed formula no. 1729 is not true", this other string of symbols, which says, in effect, "wff no.1729 is unprovable in the system" also cannot possibly be assigned the number 1729, because the number 1729 is contained within that string, written as ƒƒƒ...ƒ0, where there are 1729 ƒ's and one 0 -- a total of 1730 symbols, each of the ƒ's being assigned by Gödel the number 3, and the 0 being assigned by him the number 1.

Thus the string of symbols, which says, in effect, "wff no.1729 is unprovable in the system", can only be assigned a number greater than 1729.

So you cannot possibly conclude as you do, viz:
 

But then it must be true. Otherwise, if it were false, then wff no.1729 is not unprovable in the system, that is wff no.1729 is provable in the system; so the system is proving a false well-formed formula, and is fundamentally unsound. So provided the system---i.e. ordinary elementary arithmetic---is OK, it contains some well-formed formula, wff no.1729 as we have pretended, which is true and unprovable in the system.


... for there can be no such self-referential well-formed formula in the system -- i.e., in mathematics itself.

(By the way: It may not be argued that the so-called "undecidable formula" need not itself contain its own Gödel-number, but may refer to itself indirectly, by saying, in effect, "That formula which is obtained by substituting the free variable in formula number so-and-so by its own Gödel-number is not provable". As Gödel himself writes -- in footnote No. 20 and Definition No. 31 of his 1931 paper entitled "On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems", wherein he tries to prove his celebrated Theroem -- such a formula, containing as it must the sign "Subst" or "Sb" (standing for the operation of substituting a variable in a formula with a number) belongs to metamathematics, not to mathematics. Thus if Gödel can in fact prove that such an undecidable formula exists, he can only prove thereby that mathematics by itself cannot decide a metamathematical formula ... to which we should retort, as any school-boy justifiably might: "Big deal!")

As a consequence, Gödel's Theorem stands thoroughly disproved.

There is a much fuller, but still comprehensible, account in my book Critique of Gödel's 1931 Paper Entitled "On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems" which I wrote a few years ago in collaboration with Ferdinand Romero, and which is available for download in .pdf format from my Home Page.

And there is a short and sweet account of the ideas contained above on my Home Page too, entitled -- of course -- A Short and Sweet Refutation of Gödel's Theorem.
 
 

If anyone reading this article has any comments, contact me!
 
 

(Return to my Home Page)
 
 



 

PS: Of course Gödel-numbers themselves belong to metamathematics, and not to mathematics, and may not validly be used in any mathematical formula. Any formula in which a Gödel-number appears must belong to metamathematics, not to mathematics; and thus if Gödel can actually prove that there is such a formula and that it is indeed undecidable, all he can possibly prove thereby is that it is his metamathematics that is incomplete ... leaving mathematics itself as complete as ever it was!
 
 



 
 

PPS: One can hardly argue that mathematics and metamathematics are essentially the same thing: for if they were, it should be possible to derive all of metamathematics from the axioms of mathematics alone (such as the Peano axioms, or the axioms of Zermelo and Fraenkel, later extended by John von Neumann). But no one, not even Gödel, has ever been able to lay claim to having performed such a superhuman feat.
 
 



 
 

PPPS: Just explain one thing to me: how did you geniuses at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford -- not to mention the Sorbonne, Heidelberg and To-dai -- miss these simple points, especially the ones in the PS and PPS above ... for seventy years?