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Privatdozent Photo Edition #4
von Neumann, Einstein, Morgenstern, Morse & Lefschetz (1952)
At the core of what made Princeton the center of the mathematical universe post-WW2 were arguably four European men: Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern and Kurt Gödel. The four were very close:
Towards the end of his life, Einstein reportedly confessed to Morgenstern that even though “my own work no longer meant much, I come to the Institute merely … to have the privilege of walking home with Gödel”. Gödel discovered unique solutions to Einstein’s field equation and presented them to him on the his 70th birthday. Their relationship has been the topic of many books and articles, including the aptly named When Einstein Walked with Gödel* by Jim Holt.
von Neumann and Morgenstern became close friends starting in 1939 from a mutual interest in ‘maxims of behaviour’, what would later be the field of game theory. The two co-authored the book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior* together in 1940-44, considered the groundbreaking text on game theory.
von Neumann was one of Gödel’s biggest admirers and ardent supporters. von Neumann first met him in 1931 after being in the audience during his first presentation of the Gödel incompleteness theorem. von Neumann would later argue on Gödel’s behalf for the Institute for Advanced Study to offer him a permanent position so that he could leave Austria. This despite Gödel’s previous unpredictable, unproductive visiting stays in the 1930s (read: Kurt Gödel’s Brilliant Madness).
Gödel relied on Morgenstern for decades of his later life, following the passing of his other “protectors” Einstein and von Neumann in the 1950s. Gödel would call Morgenstern routinely with various inquiries ranging from the mundane to the paranoid. As he ate less and less, his paranoia increased. By February 1976 he was calling Morgenstern two to three times per day, at all hours, to “express his fears of being committed, his worries about his catheter and his suspicions about his doctors”.
Einstein and Morgenstern both accompanied Gödel to his citizenship hearing in Princeton in 1947—a tale that deserved its own essay, Gödel’s Constitutional Quarrel (1947).
The other men in the photo are, from left to right, Dana Munro (1892-1990), John von Neumann (1903-57), Whitney Oates (1904-73), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Oskar Morgenstern (1902-77), Mario Laserna Pinzón (1923-2013), Samuel Wilks (1906-64), Marston Morse (1892-1977) and Solomon Lefschetz (1884-1972).
The original photograph was auctioned off via Bonhams in 2020.
Related Privatdozent newsletters:
Kurt Gödel’s Brilliant Madness, June 21st 2021
Gödel’s Constitutional Quarrel (1947), June 14th 2021
Oskar Morgenstern's Transformation (1925-38), August 27th 2021
Gödel's Solution to Einstein's Field Equations, May 4th 2021
The Duties of John von Neumann’s Assistant in the 1930s, July 11th 2021
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Disclosure: The photograph has been colourized for effect. Send inquiries about unwanted use/copyright claims to privatdozent @ protonmail.com.
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