Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Plug For Raymond Smullyan

I was recently re-reading an old work by mathematician/logician Raymond Smullyan, and it occurred to me how relevant many of his writings are today amidst the sudden interest in the P vs. NP problem.

Smullyan is retired, in his 90's now, and it also occurred to me (and I hope this doesn't sound morbid) that I don't know how much longer he'll be around enlightening us. His friend and even-more-famous colleague Martin Gardner of course passed away earlier this year in his mid-90's, after an incredibly productive life. Gardner's death was one of the inspirations for me starting this blog, and I feel I ought acknowledge Smullyan's contributions while he is still among us...

Although (like Gardner) he has written a fair amount of recreational mathematics, Smullyan is probably even better-known as a logician dealing with more abstract issues (recursion, self-reference, paradox) that underlie mathematics, and that when resolved, have significant application. His writings have always been creative, entertaining, original, and generally accessible to lay readers (though probably lacking the "zing" and universality of much of Martin Gardner's output).

His prolific book listings on Amazon here:

Smullyan's pursuits also range across astronomy, music, magic, mysticism, and Taoist philosophy, and interestingly he seems to find a measure of unification in Taoism for the abstract mathematical paradoxes/puzzles he ponders (I always find interesting the division between those serious mathematicians who are deeply drawn toward mysticism and those who are not!).
If you're not familiar with Smullyan's work, I'd recommend getting to know him; especially if the whole P vs. NP hoopla intrigued you.

Wikipedia entry for Smullyan here:

...and one of his fans has put up a MySpace page dedicated to him as well: 

Like Gardner, he is another American gem!

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