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Having shown that in principle the system can indirectly make statements about provability, by analyzing properties of those numbers representing statements it is now possible to show how to create a statement that actually does this.
A formula F(x) that contains exactly one free variable x is called a statement form or class-sign. As soon as x is replaced by a specific number, the statement form turns into a bona fide statement, and it is then either provable in the system, or not. For certain formulas one can show that for every natural number n, F(n) is true if and only if it can be proven (the precise requirement in the original proof is weaker, but for the proof sketch this will suffice). In particular, this is true for every specific arithmetic operation between a finite number of natural numbers, such as "2×3=6".
Statement forms themselves are not statements and therefore cannot be proved or disproved. But every statement form F(x) can be assigned a Gödel number denoted by G(F). The choice of the free variable used in the form F(x) is not relevant to the assignment of the Gödel number G(F).
Now comes the trick: The notion of provability itself can also be encoded by Gödel numbers, in the following way. Since a proof is a list of statements which obey certain rules, the Gödel number of a proof can be defined. Now, for every statement p, one may ask whether a number x is the Gödel number of its proof. The relation between the Gödel number of p and x, the potential Gödel number of its proof, is an arithmetical relation between two numbers. Therefore there is a statement form Bew(y) that uses this arithmetical relation to state that a Gödel number of a proof of y exists:
The name Bew is short for beweisbar, the German word for "provable"; this name was originally used by Gödel to denote the provability formula just described. Note that "Bew(y)" is merely an abbreviation that represents a particular, very long, formula in the original language of T; the string "Bew" itself is not claimed to be part of this language.
An important feature of the formula Bew(y) is that if a statement p is provable in the system then Bew(G(p)) is also provable. This is because any proof of p would have a corresponding Gödel number, the existence of which causes Bew(G(p)) to be satisfied.
The next step in the proof is to obtain a statement that says it is unprovable. Although Gödel constructed this statement directly, the existence of at least one such statement follows from the diagonal lemma, which says that for any sufficiently strong formal system and any statement form F there is a statement p such that the system proves
By letting F be the negation of Bew(x), we obtain the theorem
and the p defined by this roughly states that its own Gödel number is the Gödel number of an unprovable formula.
The statement p is not literally equal to ~Bew(G(p)); rather, p states that if a certain calculation is performed, the resulting Gödel number will be that of an unprovable statement. But when this calculation is performed, the resulting Gödel number turns out to be the Gödel number of p itself. This is similar to the following sentence in English:
This sentence does not directly refer to itself, but when the stated transformation is made the original sentence is obtained as a result, and thus this sentence asserts its own unprovability. The proof of the diagonal lemma employs a similar method.
Now, assume that the axiomatic system is ω-consistent, and let p be the statement obtained in the previous section.
If p were provable, then Bew(G(p)) would be provable, as argued above. But p asserts the negation of Bew(G(p)). Thus the system would be inconsistent, proving both a statement and its negation. This contradiction shows that p cannot be provable.
If the negation of p were provable, then Bew(G(p)) would be provable (because p was constructed to be equivalent to the negation of Bew(G(p))). However, for each specific number x, x cannot be the Gödel number of the proof of p, because p is not provable (from the previous paragraph). Thus on one hand the system proves there is a number with a certain property (that it is the Gödel number of the proof of p), but on the other hand, for every specific number x, we can prove that it does not have this property. This is impossible in an ω-consistent system. Thus the negation of p is not provable.
Thus the statement p is undecidable in our axiomatic system: it can neither be proved nor disproved within the system.
In fact, to show that p is not provable only requires the assumption that the system is consistent. The stronger assumption of ω-consistency is required to show that the negation of p is not provable. Thus, if p is constructed for a particular system:
If one tries to "add the missing axioms" to avoid the incompleteness of the system, then one has to add either p or "not p" as axioms. But then the definition of "being a Gödel number of a proof" of a statement changes. which means that the formula Bew(x) is now different. Thus when we apply the diagonal lemma to this new Bew, we obtain a new statement p, different from the previous one, which will be undecidable in the new system if it is ω-consistent.