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.


Thomas said...

That's interesting. I don't remember the skepticism angle of Gardner at all.

But I was a math geek, so he had a strong effect on me.

John said...

Checking the LOC catalog, which lists dozens of Gardner titles, I think the book I read was "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science."

Katya said...

I was just reading his obituary this morning. Now reading this here--I feel a dimension of marvel that so many of my friends knew of this man and his mind and one aspect or another of his writing.

(this is partly something the obituary acknowledged)

Katya said...

P.S. We had a subscription to the Skeptical Inquirer at some point in my childhood, which is how I knew M.G.