CRICK, Francis Harry Compton (1916-2004). An important archive containing 19 autograph letters, 11 typed letters, 2 autograph card, and 2 printed e-mails from Francis Crick to Georg Kreisel, mathematician and internationally known expert on the foundations of logic and mathematics. Approximately 42 pages, various 4to sizes, many on The Salk Institute letterhead. (Archive also includes copies of Kreisel’s correspondence to Crick.) Mostly La Jolla, 1989-1996.
Francis Crick is most noted for being a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 with James Watson. Together with Watson and Maurice Wilkins, he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material". During the latter part of his career, he held the post of J.W. Kieckhefer Distinguished Research Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where his research centered on theoretical neurobiology and attempts to advance the scientific study of human consciousness. He remained in this post until his death in 2004.
Georg Kreisel (1923-2015) was born in Graz and came from a Jewish background; his family sent him to the United Kingdom before the Anschluss, where he studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, and then, during World War II, worked on military subjects. After the war he returned to Cambridge and received his doctorate. While a student at Cambridge, Kreisel was the student most respected by Ludwig Wittgenstein. "In 1944--when Kreisel was still only twenty-one--Wittgenstein shocked Rush Rhees by declaring Kreisel to be the most able philosopher he had ever met who was also a mathematician" (Ray Monk, Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Penguin, 1991, p. 498).
He taught at the University of Reading until 1954 and then worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1955 to 1957, following an invitation by Kurt Gödel. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1966. Subsequently he taught at Stanford University and the University of Paris. Kreisel was appointed a professor at Stanford University in 1962 and remained on the faculty there until he retired in 1985. Kreisel worked in various areas of logic, and especially in proof theory, where he is known for his so-called "unwinding" program, whose aim was to extract constructive content from superficially non-constructive proofs. After retirement Kreisel lived in Salzburg, Austria. He wrote several biographies of mathematicians including Kurt Gödel, Bertrand Russell, and Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer. He died in Salzburg, aged 91.
Kreisel first met Crick when both were in the Royal Navy during WWII, and later developed a very close friendship during their time in Cambridge, where Kreisel was in Wittgenstein's circle. They corresponded ever since.
The contents of the letters are detailed and diverse, but most are concerned with the following main topics:
1. Correspondence concerning Crick’s book What Mad Pursuit.
2. Correspondence about Crick’s book The Astonishing Hypothesis, and Penrose’s book The Emperor’s New Mind and the question how the brain works.
3. Correspondence requesting information from Kreisel about the foundations of logic and mathematics, especially about the theory of proofs and Turing machines.
In other letters Crick discusses Dyson’s ideas on the origin of life, “how I do science,” meeting Wittgenstein, why the discovery of DNA structure “was so exciting,” and personal matters including his heart and health issues.
Crick writes on how he “does” science on 8 August 1993: “You are quite right that I am not ‘scientific’ about everything—how can one be? I suppose I use strict scientific criteria when I am working in some field and have a fairly detailed knowledge of the basic facts and current theories. On the other hand when the matter is one of ‘personal experience’ I often adopt a rather empirical approach. This would be true, for example, about how I do science. I doubt if what I have to say about it has much scientific value but it represents the way I find it best to explain it to myself, without much confidence that I really understand what is going on. Basically I suppose this is how one practices a skill—that is, one knows how to do it but can’t say exactly how one does it (as in swimming). Incidentally it’s probably a different part of the brain that is largely worked.”
Referring to the discovery of the structure of DNA, he writes on 9 September 1993: “Curiously enough, the book deals with the ‘awareness’ problem at about its same stage as DNA was before we had the structure… I think that the docudrama you said failed to put across was exactly why the structure of DNA was so exciting. It showed that it was, but only in more worldly terms…” The docudrama he is referring to is most likely the film ‘Life Story’ about the discovery of the DNA structure.
From the several letters mentioning Wittgenstein, he writes on 7 February 1995: “About Wittgenstein. Yes, I remember the occasion when the three of us talked together in his rooms in Whewell’s Court. The conversation, as far as I recall it, covered mainly two topics: how to send some cigarettes to friends in Germany; and the curing of medical problems. (I was unsympathetic about the latter).”
The archive is from the Institut für Wissenschaftstheorie (Institute for Philosophy of Science) in Salzburg (since January 2015 Georg Kreisel-Institut für Wissenschaftstheorie), which Prof. Kreisel and Prof. Weingartner privately ran with the help of several scientific assistants until Kreisel's recent death in March 2015. Kreisel left his Crick-correspondence to Prof. Weingartner for the above mentioned institute.
Crick wrote a paper in which he describes his relationship with Kreisel (Francis Crick, "Kreiseliana: About and Around Georg Kreisel." Edited by Odifreddi. 1996), and in which he writes: "Kreisel is an excellent letter writer. I have kept all his letters to me. They are unlikely to be published in our life-times, because of their frankness, but they should make amusing reading for posterity… More recently they have become rather longer and more convoluted, but this is partly because he has had to explain to me some rather elementary points related to mathematical foundations—why he thinks Roger Penrose’s arguments about the brain and computability are wrong, for example." He concludes his piece: “I have known him now for about fifty years. Over that time I have been immensely influenced by his powerful intellect. We have many interesting and enjoyable times together. If I had never met him my life would have been very different. It is with deep gratitude and affection that I salute him on his 70th birthday.”
In his acclaimed book on the race to discover the structure of DNA, The Double Helix, James Watson reports that Kreisel helped Crick to solve a mathematical problem concerning certain helix structures. Watson writes:
"Peter Pauling arrived with the inside news that his father was preoccupied with schemes for the supercoiling of a-helices in the hair protein, keratin. This was not especially good news to Francis. For almost a year he had been in and out of euphoric moods about how a-helices packed together in coiled coils. The trouble was that his mathematics never gelled tightly. When pressed he admitted that his argument had a woolly component. Now he faced the possibility that Linus's solution would be no better and yet he would get all the credit for the coiled coils.
Experimental work for his thesis was broken off so that the coiled-coil equations could be taken up with redoubled effort. This time the correct equations fell out, partly thanks to the help of Kreisel, who had come over to Cambridge to spend a weekend with Francis. A letter to Nature was quickly drafted and given to Bragg to send on to the editors, with a covering note asking for speedy publication. If the editors were told that a British article was of above-average interest, they would try to publish the manuscript almost immediately. With luck, Francis's coiled coils would get into print as soon as if not before Pauling's" (chapter 20).