Stubborn Constitution

The Austrian-born mathematician Kurt Godel was every bit as eccentric as his theories. After several years of residence in the United States, he finally opted to apply for American citizenship. Having obtained the endorsement of two sponsors to vouch for his character (Albert Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern, one of the founders of game theory), Godel had only to attend a citizenship interview and answer some simple questions to demonstrate his general understandig of the American Constitution. As Einstein later recalled, however, things with Godel were never simple.

On the eve of the interview, Godel called Morgenstern and informed him that he had discovered a logical loophole in the framing of the U.S. Constitution which could conceivably enable a dictatorship to be created. Morgenstern replied that this was absurdly unlikely and advised him under no circumstances to mention it during his interview. The following day, Einstein and Morgenstern did their best to distract Godel from thinking about his discovery by producing a steady stream of jokes and stories. At last his interview began. Remarkably, the presiding judge broke with tradition and allowed his sponsors to sit in during the oral exam.

Things went without incident until the judge addressed Godel directly: "Up to now," he declared, "you have held German citizenship." Godel promptly interjected, explaining that he was in fact an Austrian (like Hitler). "Anyhow," the judge continued, "it was under an evil dictatorship, but fortunately that's not possible in America." To the horror of his sponsors, Godel launched into a veritable tirade: "On the contrary! I know how that can happen, and I can prove it..."

Fortunately for Godel, Einstein and Morgenstern manageed to calm him down and he narrowly passed his exam.

[In his later years, Godel grew paranoid about the spread of germs and began to wear ski masks with eye holes wherever he went. He also compulsively cleaned his eating utensils and eventually died (at 72) in a Princeton hospital essentially because, convinced that he was being poisoned, he refused to eat.]

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