9. Robinson Joins the Ivy League: Yale University 1967-1974
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CHAPTER NINE Robinson Joins the Ivy League: Yale University 1967-1974 Mathematics may be likened to a Promethean labor, full of life, energy and great wonder, yet containing the seed of an overwhelming self-doubt. . . . This is our fate, to live with doubts, to pursue a subject whose absoluteness we are not certain of, in short to realize that the only "true" science is itself of the same mortal, perhaps empirical, nature as all other human undertakings. —PaulJ. Cohen1 N E W HAVEN was a town "whose one distinction, apart from Yale, was its reputation as the birthplace of vulcanized rubber, sulfur matches and the hamburger."2 Yale, by contrast, was one of America's oldest and most outstanding universities, an oasis of learning. Architecturally, it reflected a mishmash of styles running from American colonial and collegiate gothic to sleek alabaster walls of the Beinecke Rare Book Library. T h e heart of the university was the historic old campus: The feel of that old part of the campus was Victorian. . . . Grand, dark brownstone dormitories surrounded it, elm trees shaded the grass, the wooden Yale fence lined flagstone paths. Battell Chapel, superbly hidden, was in one corner. At the other end stood the two remaining Colonial brick buildings. In front of one a statue of Yale alumnus Nathan Hale, clean cut, handsome in his long hair and Colonial dress. . . .3 L O G I C : A N E W E R A B E G I N S AT YALE Robinson arrived in New Haven knowing that the future of mathematical logic at Yale depended upon his success in bringing the subject into focus, giving it a more prominent place within the Department of Mathematics , and attracting a coterie of colleagues and graduate students to build a substantial program. T h e way had been prepared by Michael Rabin, who the semester before had been at Yale teaching logic. Much of what he had to say came as a revelation to his students: Prior to Michael Rabin's course, none of the students had heard of model l Cohen 1971, p. 15. 2 Kakutani 1982, p. 280. 3 Moore 1982, p. 197. 404 — Chapter Nine theory, or the Completeness Theorem, for that matter. In the philosophy department courses were available on the foundations of mathematics, modal logic and model set theory, natural deduction systems, and similar topics, primarily under the direction of Professor Fitch. At this time Paul Cohen's work in set theory was considered very exciting and mysterious. Professor Fitch taught an undergraduate seminar on the Godel monograph, and presided over an informal seminar on Cohen's work, starting with a report I gave on Scott's lectures at Rockefeller University on the Boolean valued interpretation of forcing. For the most part we saw the formal validity of the results of Godel and Cohen without real understanding; this applies to all concerned. Both Rabin and Robinson impressed us deeply with the force of the Compactness Theorem. In fact I doubt that I could distinguish clearly between "Model Theory" and "The Compactness Theorem" at this time.4 Yale's Department of Mathematics was located on Hillhouse Avenue, once described by Charles Dickens as "the most beautiful street in America."5 Distinguished homes built in the nineteenth century for the finest of New Haven's society dotted the avenue. Over the years they had been bought or bequeathed, and now (for the most part) were departmental and administrative buildings of the university. Robinson's office was in Daniel Leet Oliver Hall, built at the turn of the century for the Sheffield Scientific School as a gift from Mrs. James Brown Oliver, in 1908. Located at 12 Hillhouse Avenue, this is a large three-story building with offices and classrooms. Robinson's office was on the second floor, and was famous for its traces of cigar smoke—a telltale sign that he was in his office. M A T H E M A T I C S : A S T U D E N T P E R S P E C T I V E Mathematics had a strong reputation at Yale, but as the Yale Course Critique in 1968 warned: Freshmen coming to Yale and seeking a major will probably not choose mathematics. With so many exciting professors in other departments, only about two percent of each year's class decides to take more mathematics than the poorly taught elementary calculus courses, Math 10 and 15. This is too...