I have been told that Kurt Godel was among the Mathematicians that Einstein consulted on occasion in his work. Can anyone tell me if this is true or not, or if it is at least plausible? If it is true, would that be an example of a Philosopher making a contribution to Physics?

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    Both Einstein and Gödel were recruited in the inaugural year of the Institute for Advanced Studies (1933-34), though unlike Einstein, Gödel was not a full professor but a "worker". The two are know to have become friendly and spent much time together. I'm not aware of Einstein directly consulting Gödel regarding Einstein's work. However, Gödel did present Einstein with a solution to the field equations of general relativity which included closed (loop) timelines, which Einstein found "novel".
    – NWR
    Sep 1 '20 at 4:29
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    See Palle Yourgrau, A World without Time: the forgotten legacy of Godel and Einstein, Basic Books 2009 Sep 1 '20 at 7:44
  • There are many cases of philosophers contributing to physics, like Cartesian coordinates. But Godel was a mathematician, which there are almost limitless examples of contributing to physics.
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 1 '20 at 9:14
  • As well as J.Holt, When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought (2018): "A decade after arriving in Princeton [in 1933], Einstein acquired a walking companion, a much younger man who, next to the rumpled Einstein, cut a dapper figure in a white linen suit and matching fedora. The two would talk animatedly in German on their morning amble to the institute and again, later in the day, on their way homeward." Sep 2 '20 at 13:58

I do not think "consult" is the right word. They worked together at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, became personal friends, their offices were nearby and they had many conversations. Todorov tells the story of their friendship in Kurt Goedel and His Universe, see also Berlinsky's Einstein and Gödel. But that only happened after 1940 when Goedel finally emigrated from Vienna. By that time Einstein's major work, special and general relativity, quantum statistics and entanglement, etc., was already done. As Morgenstern reminisced in a 1965 letter to Bruno Kreisky,

"Einstein told me that his own work no longer meant much, that he came to the Institute merelyum das Privileg zu haben, mit Gödel zu Fuss nach Hause gehen zu dürfen (to have the privilege to be able to walk home with Gödel)".

Gödel, on the other hand, was still active, but it is unclear that he consulted Einstein either, even when he ventured in 1948 into constructing a solution of general relativity with closed timelike curves, the well-known Gödel's universe. Todorov adds:

"Einstein is such a legend that most people are afraid to approach him. Gödel isn't. There is a feeling of equality between them. Their debates range from the trivial to the profound. Gödel is skeptical about Einstein's idea of a unified field theory and says so ([Y02] p. 56). [...] In spite of being close to each other it is not clear whether Gödel discussed his work on general relativity with Einstein prior to its completion. As witnessed by Straus, Gödel was totally solitary and would never talk to anybody while working."

As for a philosopher contributing to physics, both Gödel and Einstein were part-time philosophers. The ideas of relativity came, in part, from Einstein's reflections on the positivist philosophy of Mach. His defense of metaphysical realism in debates with Bohr over completeness of quantum mechanics are also well-known. But as Einstein was first and foremost a physicist, so Gödel was first and foremost a mathematician, a mathematical logician more precisely, and only then a platonist philosopher. And that was how Einstein saw it. According to Strauss:

"Einstein... felt that he should not become a mathematician because the wealth of interesting and attractive problems was so great that you could get lost in it. In physics he could see what the important problems were and could, by strength of character and stubbornness, pursue them. But he told me once 'Now that I've met Gödel, I know that the same thing does exist in mathematics'".

  • I believe that Einstein continued doing work and publishing papers at Princeton, even if not on the groundbreaking level of his previous work regarding the foundations of Relativity Theory. I have been led to believe that this is where he occasionally felt it appropriate to consult a Mathematician such as Kurt Godel. I am not suggesting that Godel was involved in the foundations of Einstein's original work on Relativity, which was clearly published before Godel's time as a prominent Mathematician or Philosopher. Sep 1 '20 at 5:54
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    @AbercrombieDorfen It is possible given their close relationship, but there is no concrete evidence of it in the memoirs that Todorov cites, other than the vague mention of the unified field theory. Perhaps you could explain how you came to believe it.
    – Conifold
    Sep 1 '20 at 6:30
  • I was told that Einstein may have occasionally discussed Mathematics with Godel, except have not been able to find any actual evidence of it. Sep 2 '20 at 4:06
  • @AbercrombieDorfen Told by whom? Did that person have first hand knowledge of the events?
    – Conifold
    Sep 2 '20 at 4:07
  • The person did not claim to have personal knowledge. It was years ago and I never asked for a source. Sep 5 '20 at 3:02

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