Martin Gardner

recreational mathematician and philosopher

Martin Gardner (October 21, 1914May 22, 2010) was an American recreational mathematician, magician, skeptic, and author of the long-running "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American from 1956 to 1981.

Life, viewed rationally and without illusion, appears to be a nonsense tale told by an idiot mathematician.
Mathemagical mathematics combines the beauty of mathematical structure with the entertainment value of a trick.

QuotesEdit

 
For a moment the waves and particles dance in grotesque, inconceivably complex patterns capable of reflecting on their own absurdity.
 
In many cases a dull proof can be supplemented by a geometric analogue so simple and beautiful that the truth of a theorem is almost seen at a glance.
 
The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all.
 
I've never made a discovery myself, unless by accident.
 
There is still a difference between something and nothing, but it is purely geometrical and there is nothing behind the geometry.
  • A surprising proportion of mathematicians are accomplished musicians. Is it because music and mathematics share patterns that are beautiful?
  • I can say this. I believe that the human mind, or even the mind of a cat, is more interesting in its complexity than an entire galaxy if it is devoid of life.
  • The last level of metaphor in the Alice books is this: that life, viewed rationally and without illusion, appears to be a nonsense tale told by an idiot mathematician. At the heart of things science finds only a mad, never-ending quadrille of Mock Turtle Waves and Gryphon Particles. For a moment the waves and particles dance in grotesque, inconceivably complex patterns capable of reflecting on their own absurdity.
    • Introduction to The Annotated Alice (1960) // The Annotated Alice. The Definitive Edition (1999), by Lewis Carroll (Author, Christ Church College, Oxford), John Tenniel (Illustrated by), Martin Gardner (Editor, Introduction and notes by), page viii
  • There are, and always have been, destructive pseudo-scientific notions linked to race and religion; these are the most widespread and damaging. Hopefully, educated people can succeed in shedding light into these areas of prejudice and ignorance, for as Voltaire once said: "Men will commit atrocities as long as they believe absurdities."
    • Bernard Sussman, "Exclusive Interview with Martin Gardner", Southwind (Miami-Dade Junior College), Vol. 3, No. 1 (Fall 1968)
  • In many cases a dull proof can be supplemented by a geometric analogue so simple and beautiful that the truth of a theorem is almost seen at a glance.
    • "Mathematical Games", in Scientific American (October 1973); also quoted in Roger B. Nelson, Proofs Without Words: Exercises in Visual Thinking (1993), "Introduction", p. v
  • Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals — the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all.
  • I've never made a discovery myself, unless by accident. If you write glibly, you fool people. When I first met Asimov, I asked him if he was a professor at Boston University. He said no and … asked me where I got my Ph.D. I said I didn't have one and he looked startled. "You mean you're in the same racket I am," he said, "you just read books by the professors and rewrite them?" That's really what I do.
    • Quoted in Sally Helgeson, "Every Day", Bookletter, Vol. 3, No. 8 (6 December 1976), p. 8
  • There is still a difference between something and nothing, but it is purely geometrical and there is nothing behind the geometry.
    • The Mathematical Magic Show (1978)
  • Ever since I was a boy, I've been fascinated by crazy science and such things as perpetual motion machines and logical paradoxes. I've always enjoyed keeping up with those ideas. I suppose I didn't get into it seriously until I wrote my first book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I was influenced by the Dianetics movement, now called Scientology, which was then promoted by John Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction. I was astonished at how rapidly the thing had become a cult.
    • "Interview: Martin Gardner" by Scot Morris in Omni, Vol. 4, No. 4 (January 1982)
  • As I have often said, electrons and gerbils don't cheat. People do.
    • "Science: Why I Am Not A Paranormalist", in The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983)
  • Ideologues of all persuasions think they know how the economy will respond to the Administration's strange mixture of Lafferism and monetarism. Indeed, their self-confidence is so vast, and their ability to rationalize so crafty, that one cannot imagine a scenario for the next few years, that they would regard as falsifying their dogma. The failure of any prediction can always be blamed on quirky political decisions or unforeseen historical events.
    • "The Laffer Curve", Knotted Doughnuts and other Mathematical Entertainments (1986)
  • Although Lewis Carroll thought of The Hunting of the Snark as a nonsense ballad for children, it is hard to imagine—in fact one shudders to imagine—a child of today reading and enjoying it.
    • The Annotated Snark (1962), Introduction, p. 15
  • Debunking bad science should be constant obligation of the science community, even if it takes time away from serious research or seems to be a losing battle. One takes comfort from the fact there is no Gresham's laws in science. In the long run, good science drives out bad.
    • The Night Is Large (1996), Introduction to Part III, Pseudoscience p. 171
  • Bad science contributes to the steady dumbing down of our nation. Crude beliefs get transmitted to political leaders and the result is considerable damage to society. We see this happening now in the rapid rise of the religious right and how it has taken over large segments of the Republican Party.

Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Debunking Pseudoscience (2001)Edit

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-32238-6
  • We know from polls how ignorant the general public is about science. Almost half of all adults in the United States now believe in astrology and in angels and demons, and that we are being observed by aliens and UFOs who frequently abduct humans. More than half believe that evolution is an unverified a theory.
    Science education in our nation, especially in lower grades, is getting worse, not better. Several states are constantly doing their best to force public schools to teach creationism. Greedy publishers, interested only in profit, turn out book after book on astrology, ufology, the occult, dangerous programs to lose weight without exercising or cutting calories, and every known variety of dubious medicine.
    The electronic media are equal offenders. Every year I hope the tide is about to turn, and that contributors to television, radio, and the Internet will become so appalled by the flood of fake science they keep flinging at the public that they will at least try to tone it down. Alas, every year the flood gets worse.
    • Introduction (pp. 2-3)
  • Suppose, however, there is not enough time for measures to be taken to prevent a collision, and earth is shattered by a giant NEO that will hurt us all into oblivion. What are the philosophical implications of such an event? This obviously is not a problem for atheists, agnostics, or pantheists because they are resigned to the fact that nature does not care a rap about preserving a species.
    What about theists? I’m inclined to think that even to them a certain extinction of humanity would be acceptable. The Biblical Jehovah, remember, is said to have drowned every man, woman, baby, and their pets, except for Noah and his family.
    If God can allow an earthquake to kill thousands, or the Black Death to wipe out half of Europe, surely she would have no scruples about allowing an asteroid to bring human history to a flaming end.
    • Chapter 3 “Near-Earth Objects: Monsters of Doom?” (p. 36)
  • Let the Bible be the Bible! It’s not about science. It’s not accurate history. It is a grab bag of religious fantasies written by many authors. Some of its myths, like the Star of Bethlehem, are very beautiful. Others are dull and ugly. Some express lofty ideals, such as the parables of Jesus. Others are morally disgusting.
    • Chapter 4 “The Star of Bethlehem” (p. 45)
  • The King James Bible is a literary masterpiece best left unaltered. It is a classic to put on a shelf alongside the great fantasies of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, and yes, even the Koran.
    • Chapter 4 “The Star of Bethlehem” (p. 45)
  • My attack on Freud brought a raft of angry letters from dedicated Freudians. One reader assured me that Freudianism is “alive and well.” True, but alive and well only among a dwindling remnant of Freud acolytes, not among the majority of today’s psychiatrists or intellectuals.
    • Chapter 10 “Freud’s Flawed Theory of Dreams” (p. 112)
  • This confusion of the certainty of mathematics within a formal system and the uncertainty of its applications to the world is a common mistake often made by ignorant sociologists.
  • The deeper question that lies behind the above banalities is whether the rules of baseball are similar to or radically different from the rules of science. Clearly they are radically different. Like the rules of chess and bridge, the rules of baseball or made by humans. But the rules of science are not. They are discovered by observation, reasoning, and experiment. Newton didn’t invent his laws of gravity except in the obvious sense that he thought of them and wrote them down. Biologists didn’t “construct” the DNA helix; they observed it. The orbit of Mars is not a social construction. Einstein did not make up E=mc2 the way game rules are made up. To see rules of science as similar to baseball rules, traffic rules, or fashions in dress is to make a false analogy that leads nowhere.
    • Chapter 14 “Alan Sokal’s Hilarious Hoax” (pp. 147-148)
  • But that science moves inexorably closer to finding objective truth can only be denied by peculiar philosophers, naive literary critics, and misguided social scientists. The fantastic success of science in explaining and predicting, above all in making incredible advances in technology, is proof that scientists are steadily learning more and more about how the universe behaves.
    • Chapter 14 “Alan Sokal’s Hilarious Hoax” (p. 148)
  • The curious notion that “truth” does not mean “correspondence with reality,” but nothing more than the successful passing of tests for truth, was dealt a death blow by Alfred Tarski’s famous semantic definition of truth: “snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white. The definition goes back to Aristotle. Most philosophers of the past, all scientists, and all ordinary people accept this definition of what they mean when they say some thing is true. It is denied only by a small minority of pragmatists who still buy John Dewey’s obsolete epistemology.
    • Chapter 14 “Alan Sokal’s Hilarious Hoax” (p. 148)
  • Carlos Castaneda died in Westwood, California, in 1998. “His only real sorcery,” writes Kathryn Lindskoog in her entertaining book Fakes, Frauds, and Other Malarkey (1993), “was turning the University of California into an ass.” The next time you come close to a crow, try calling out “Hello Carlos!” If you are high enough on peyote, you might hear the bird answer.
  • Although Jacobs has had no training in psychology, psychiatry, or hypnotherapy, he uses hypnotism to induce his patients (now more than seven hundred) to develop strong memories of horrendous abductions even though many patients had no such memories until hypnotized. Jacobs is convinced that five million Americans have been kidnapped at least once by aliens. One female patient, who worked in retail sales, had, according to Jacobs, one hundred abductions in one year, an average of one every three days!
  • To support his conviction that the Old Testament is accurate history, Newton worked out an elaborate chronology of earth’s history, drawing on astronomical data such as eclipses and star motions and legends such as that of Jason and the Argonauts, which he took to be genuine events. With incredible ingenuity he tried to harmonize biblical history with secular histories of the ancient world. It is sad to envision the discoveries in mathematics and physics Newton might have made if his great intellect had not been diverted by such bizarre speculations.
    • Chapter 22 “Isaac Newton, Alchemist and Fundamentalist” (p. 242)

Quotes about GardnerEdit

  • His "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American is one of the few bridges over C. P. Snow's famous "gulf of mutual incomprehension" that lies between technical and literary cultures.
    • Dana Richards, "Martin Gardner: A 'Documentary' ", in The Mathematician and the Pied Puzzler: A collection in tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), ed. Elwyn Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers, p. 9
  • He writes about various kinds of cranks with the conscious superiority of the scientist, and in most cases one can share his sense of the victory of reason. But after half a dozen chapters this non-stop superiority begins to irritate; you begin to wonder about the standards that make him so certain he is always right. He asserts that the scientist, unlike the crank, does his best to remain open-minded. So how can he be so sure that no sane person has ever seen a flying saucer, or used a dowsing rod to locate water? And that all the people he disagrees with are unbalanced fanatics? A colleague of the positivist philosopher A. J. Ayer once remarked wryly "I wish I was as certain of anything as he seems to be about everything". Martin Gardner produces the same feeling.
  • He was not a mathematician—he never even took a maths class after high school—yet Martin Gardner, who has died aged 95, was arguably the most influential and inspirational figure in mathematics in the second half of the last century.

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