The Great Loop Forward

Cybernetic Incompleteness between East and West 1700–2000

Paul Feigelfeld

The dissertation explores the operative function of incompletenesses in occidental symbolic systems that work with discrete alphabets. However, the starting point for the analysis is the transmission of mathematical and metamathematical knowledge between China and Europe – between an incomplete and a complete symbolic system – in the 17th century, in order to demonstrate its massive influence on the development of G.W. Leibniz’s system of knowledge. In doing so, the Chinese trace in Western thought and the operation of symbols in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries should be made visible at significant points in history. The goal of the dissertation is to trace back the Mathematics of (operative) incompleteness and undecidability – the kind of Mathematics that ends classical Mathematics with Gödel and Turing, transposing it into the immanence of the machine – to procedures which Leibniz had developed because of his engagement with Chinese knowledge. Several sidelines of the dissertation engage, among other things, with the translation of Western Logic into Chinese in the 17th and 19th century and the resulting “discovery” of Chinese logic, and Norbert Wiener’s work on circuit design and prefigurations of Cybernetics at Tsinghua University in Beijing in the 1930s.