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Archive for May, 2010

Martin Gardner, R.I.P.

Posted by anandrr on May 23, 2010

When we were little, perhaps 9 or 10, our dad would bring home old issues of Scientific American from the large library at his work. I believe the driving reason for this was the Mathematical Games column in each issue. I eagerly devoured each of them, and when Dad took back the issue waited eagerly for him to come home that evening with the next issue. That column opened up a whole new world of maths and thinking. It also led to a lifelong love with maths, numbers and a lifelong preference for logical and analytical deduction. I don’t remember enough of his writing, and perhaps I will now go and rediscover it, but they clearly made a much bigger impact on me than the other books that we had at home or the similarly themed columns in Science Today, the other magazine we got at home.

Mathematical Games had other indirect impacts on me. Sometimes he had guest columnists, two of them have remained with me through the years: Raymond Smullyan and Douglas Hofstadter. Raymond Smullyan’s columns led me later to read his books starting with What is the Name of this Book, where he used mathematical and logical puzzles as a starting point to talking about and proving Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. For a young teenager, this was heady stuff. Douglas Hofstadter renamed the column Metamagical Themas, and used them as a starting point to explore the themes of recursion, logic and eventually Artificial Intelligence. Between the three of them they were part of the life experiences that trained me so I could get into the Maths Olympiad, and also prepared me for my eventual career in computers. Under slightly different circumstances I would have ended up entirely with a life in mathematics.

Martin Gardner died yesterday. Thanks Martin, and most of all, thanks Appa.


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