“[Despite] Considerable Effort… [It Proved] Intractable”
In the early years of the twentieth century it looked as if—if only the right approach could be found—all of mathematics might somehow systematically be solved. In 1910 Whitehead and Russell had published their monumental Principia Mathematica showing (rather awkwardly) how all sorts of mathematics could be represented in terms of logic. But Emil Post wanted to go further. In what seems now like a rather modern idea (with certain similarities to the core structure of the Wolfram Language, and very much like the string multiway systems in our Physics Project), he wanted to represent the logic expressions of Principia Mathematica as strings of characters, and then have possible operations correspond to transformations on these strings.
In the summer of 1920 it was all going rather well, and Emil Post as a freshly minted math PhD from Columbia arrived in Princeton to take up a prestigious fellowship. But there was one final problem. Having converted everything to string transformations, Post needed to have a theory of what such transformations could do.