Saturday, May 22, 2010

Martin Gardner passed away

I just got word that Martin Gardner passed away.  This is a sad day.  Martin Gardner was something of a hero to me.

Mind you, I never knew much about the man himself.  I was only familiar with Martin Gardner's works.

I've been a puzzle enthusiast for a long time, since high school if not earlier.  You do not get to be a serious puzzle enthusiast without hearing about Martin Gardner.  For decades, Martin Gardner wrote a column in Scientific American called "Mathematical Games".  And though he stopped writing the column before I was born, he made enormous contributions to puzzling and recreational mathematics.

Case in point, the puzzle I posted earlier today is credited to Martin Gardner.  This was a complete coincidence, but it is not a surprising one, because a significant number of the "classic" puzzles were at some point collected and popularized by Martin Gardner.

If that weren't enough, Martin Gardner is also considered one of the earliest skeptical writers, in the sense of the modern skeptical movement.  He wrote a book called Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which sounds like a very typical introduction to scientific skepticism, much like others written by Carl Sagan, James Randi, and Michael Shermer.  But this book was written in 1952!  CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) didn't even exist until 1976.  In fact, Martin Gardner was a founding member of CSICOP too.

Finally, there is one more way in which Martin Gardner is important to me.  I must admit that I've only read one book by him, but in retrospect it seems significant.  I read Relativity Simply Explained back in high school, before I started majoring in physics.  It was the first sensible description of Relativity I had ever seen.  I would not be surprised if this book was part of what motivated me to go into physics.

So perhaps now you've figured my blog out.  I talk about so many different things, but the unifying theme seems to be, "Areas of discussion that are indebted to Martin Gardner."  Thank you, Martin Gardner.