Thursday, May 27, 2010
Martin Gardner and Me
I have been meaning to write something to mark the death of Martin Gardner, mathematician and professional curmudgeon. It was a collection of Gardner's essays, read when I was about 14, that first opened my eyes to the joys of skepticism. Gardner made it fun to doubt, and a positive delight to mock the latest in trendy mysticism. The effect was not entirely positive. I was among the most cynical teenagers in human history, and my scientific skepticism was part of it. But at least I was cynical in a rational way. I never doubted that it was possible to learn about the universe, or that it was possible to tell the difference between serious inquiry and bullshit. I always believed in the value of intelligence and knowledge. Gardner helped me shape my brain into a precise tool for judging how much credence we ought to place in various kinds of claims about the world, and for that I will always be grateful to him.