Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Martin Gardner Sunday

This coming Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of Martin Gardner's birth, so for a Sunday reflection, some quotes about the man:
[several of these are taken from the Martin Gardner "testimonial" page: ]

Douglas Hofstadter, in tribute to Martin, upon his death in 2010:
"This is really a sad day…  sad because his  [Gardner's] spirit was so important to so many of us, and because he had such a profound influence on so many of us. He is totally unreproducible -- he was sui generis -- and what's so strange is that so few people today are really aware of what a giant he was in so many fields -- to name some of them, the propagation of truly deep and beautiful mathematical ideas (not just "mathematical games", far from it!), the intense battling of pseudoscience and related ideas, the invention of superb magic tricks, the love for beautiful poetry, the fascination with profound philosophical ideas (Newcomb's paradox, free will, etc. etc.), the elusive border between nonsense and sense, the idea of intellectual hoaxes done in order to make serious points... and on and on and on and on. Martin Gardner was so profoundly influential on so many top-notch thinkers in so many disciplines -- just a remarkable human being -- and at the same time he was so unbelievably modest and unassuming. Totally. So it is a very sad day to think that such a person is gone, and that so many of us owe him so much, and that so few people -- even extremely intelligent, well-informed people -- realize who he was or have even ever heard of him. Very strange. But I guess that when you are a total non-self-trumpeter like Martin, that's what you want and that's what you get."
"Several decades passed by before I rediscovered the elegance, simplicity, and depth of his writing, and most importantly, the validity of his approach to mathematics. Then, in due course, I had the great pleasure of meeting him in his old age. He was nothing like the stern-looking man on all those book covers: in reality he was a sweet-natured, kind, wise and modest to a fault, with a twinkle in his eye, and a total joy to be with. While I can't say that Martin's columns or books steered the early course of my life, his extraordinarily diverse written legacy, his devotion to learning, his generous sharing of his toys, and his sheer decency, all conspired to reset my course in midlife.
He was also extremely egalitarian and generous with his time: he didn’t care if you were a prince or a pauper, if you had an interesting idea then he wanted to know about it, and he’d encourage you to get it in front of others. In a sense he was the original (mathematical) community organizer, at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular."
-- Colm Mulcahy  
"Martin Gardner was an artist of mathematical writing. His work stands and will continue to stand the test of time. It is a springboard for others. I can gaze and contemplate his work over and over and see new things and create new ideas."
-- Tim Chartier
 "All of us who dare to aim our writing at 'the general reader' follow as best we can in Martin's footsteps. He is the Archimedes of mathematical writing."
        — Keith Devlin
and this:
"We glibly talk of nature's laws
but do things have a natural cause?
Black earth turned into yellow crocus
is undiluted hocus-pocus."

-- Piet Hein
used as the frontispiece to Martin's autobiography, "Undiluted Hocus Pocus"

To conclude, this wonderful, older and rare (14-min.-edited) interview with Martin was uploaded this week to YouTube... delightful:

Finally, has this tribute page running this month in honor of the Gardner Centennial:

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