The Bean Rodeo
The title of this piece occurred to me a long time ago when I was drawing an ‘underground’ comic about a character named Garbage Guy. His life on this planet began eerily like that of another superhero, Superman, but his transformation from citizen to hero would happen at the most inopportune moments, i.e., when he was under a lot of emotional stress. Like Plastic Man, he would change shape and become something in his environment, but instead of becoming a chair or a sofa, Garbage Guy would unfortunately take on the appearance of an ashtray or a discarded t.v. dinner, for example. He had absolutely no control of his transformations, which usually caused him even more stress, making it a vicious cycle of birth/rebirth. The adventures of Garbage Guy eventually took him into Inner and Outer Space, sometimes simultaneously. His exploits into strange worlds remarkably mirrored some of my own childhood fantasies; the series never ended, and we were left wondering…well, some of us were left wondering what would happen to GG. Or at least guessing.
The main focus of this piece, apart from GG, is on Metamathematics, which is located at the intersection of mathematics and philosophy. The protagonists and antagonists of this story include Kant, Descartes, Cantor, Dedekind, Hilbert, Russell, Frege, Wittgenstein, and others. These thinkers take (took) this subject very seriously: Frege fell into deep depression and died soon after his pet project was dealt a death blow by ‘colleague’ Bertrand Russell. Careers were launched and ended as a result of intellectual debates among these people. Some of the contention has been present since the earliest of civilizations, and it exists today, albeit in a more subtle form.
Whether a researcher discovers a theorem or invents a theorem, is a distinction worth fighting over. Well, sort of. Perhaps, like Paul Erdos held, the Great SF (Supreme Fascist) did have a Book with all of the theorems ever to be understood already written out, and it was just up to us mortals to find them.
Maybe that perspective is cutting off the singular and unique achievements of people like Jonas Salk, Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, Copernicus, Einstein, etc., much too early — -don’t they deserve the credit? This piece dips into the argument and simply points in directions the reader may look should this kind of discussion prove to be more than an idle curiosity.