# Reading, Rapping, and Arithmetic

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

The only thing I learned from Paul Edwards' new book, How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC, was that I can't rap.

This will come as no surprise to those who know me—and really, it probably isn't all that surprising to those who don't. Because if you concede that hip-hop is an art form, then—unless you belong to Malcolm Gladwell's How to Fall Asleep at Night Despite Your Shortcomings club—you probably also concede that rapping is a skill granted to a lucky few, gifted people. Just as most of us can't paint landscapes that would ever see the inside of a museum, most of us simply can't rap very well.

In 1931, logician Kurt Gödel demonstrated his now-famous Incompleteness Theorem, proof that in whichever branch of mathematics you study—geometry, arithmetic, set theory, etc.—there will always be truths that you cannot prove. His logic (pun intended) is surprisingly simple. And there's a great explanation here that I'll try to summarize:

Say you have a program on your laptop, let's call it KRS-One, that supposedly can tell you whether any statement is true or false. It knows the truth of some of our most controversial claims. (It takes three licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop; Buzz wasn't flying—he was falling with style.) It's an impressive piece of software, to be sure, but now feed it this statement: KRS-One will never say that this sentence is true.

You can see the problem. KRS-One can't tell you that the statement is true—although we know that it is. Replace the rules that govern KRS-One's responses with the set of axioms used to prove statements in math, and essentially you have Gödel's proof. As mathematician Rudy Rucker put it in his book Infinity and the Mind, Gödel showed that "rational thought can never penetrate to the final ultimate truth."

What the hell, you ask, does this have to do with hip-hop?