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Education Math Science

Science Luminary Martin Gardner Dead at 95 96

From James Randi's blog comes word that science writer Martin Gardner has died at the age of 95. I never met Gardner, but one of his books (Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects) has been a favorite of mine since I was 6 or 7 years old; I didn't realize until just now quite how many books he authored.
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Science Luminary Martin Gardner Dead at 95

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  • Aha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eulernet ( 1132389 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:19PM (#32310468)

    Before I discovered Martin Gardner's books, I was unable to understand mathematics, and I had very bad grades.

    One day, I bought one of his books, and suddenly, I was able to see that math and logic was fun, and we could play with them.

    To the amazement of my teachers, my grades increased in a few days, and I wanted to become a mathematician at this moment.

    I became a programmer because I wanted to solve some of his puzzles so badly with my computer.

    Thanks Martin !

  • one of a kind (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:21PM (#32310480) Homepage
    Martin Gardner was one of a kind. I grew up with his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. His book Relativity Simply Explained is what I recommend whenever people ask me for a good intro to relativity. His intelligence and ability to explain were extraordinary compared to a lot of people with much more formal education. He had a long life and seems to have remained sharp and active for almost all of it.
  • Re:Adieu, Martin (Score:3, Interesting)

    by schwaang ( 667808 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:29PM (#32310538)

    I learned Conway's Game of Life through Gardner's SciAm columns, and programmed it for display on a Televideo 925 terminal hung off an S100 bus machine running CP/M on an 8088. I hope Martin boarded a Glider headed for some distant Pulsar...

  • by Walter Wart ( 181556 ) * on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:33PM (#32310562) Homepage
    Martin Gardner was one of the best. Keen intellect, gentle wit, vast knowledge and warm heart. I only met him once, but it was memorable. He will be missed. If he had known the date and hour of his death he would have had a handful of interesting facts tying together all of the numbers. And he would have published it as a puzzle for his readers. Goodbye Mr. Gardner. We will not see your like again soon.
  • RIP A GREAT MAN (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:34PM (#32310566) Homepage Journal

    Without his influence, I would not be in the position I am in now to influence the viability of man living in space.

    RIP to one of the greatest influences on my life. While the mathematics got beyond me, everything else inspired me.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:41PM (#32310626) Journal
    What a sad day. A single book that shaped me [google.com] even in college from a man who could somehow make Mathematics fun. Now I'll never know him personally but I'll always know that a collection of his puzzles [slashdot.org] put me on track to be who I am today. While writers as popular as Clarke and Sagan shaped me as well, Gardner is in the lesser known category that shaped me just as much if not more.

    A near maniacal thirst to algorithmically solve puzzles was instilled in me from his mind via plain old paper.

    Rest in peace, Martin Gardner.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @10:39PM (#32310892)

    Martin Gardner is known to many for his writings in recreational mathematics, but I also came to admire his persistent and vigorous work promoting naturalistic and scientific rigor and his work to discredit fringe science and junk science.

    Some of the areas he wrote on were creationism, organic farming, Charles Fort, Rudolf Steiner, Scientology, Dianetics, UFOs, dowsing, extra-sensory perception, the Bates method, and psychokinesis.

    Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952, revised 1957) is a classic and should be required material in our school systems.

  • Re:Great author (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gyrogeerloose ( 849181 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @10:59PM (#32310982) Journal

    Let me put in a cheer for the "Alice in Wonderland" he annotated.

    Thanks for that, I hadn't put him together with "The Annotated Alice." Fine book; mine is well-thumbed.

  • "Martin will be a hard act to follow". Douglas Hofstadter

  • Re:Good riddance. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:35PM (#32311142)

    >He was of the idea that there is no way to prove the non-existence of god

    This is, in fact, correct. In natural sciences it is only possible to show that something does exist. It is not possible to prove non-existatnce. (It is not the case in mathematics, but mathematics is not a natural science).

    The easiest way to understand it is to realize that the body observations available to science was taken in a limited period of time and area of space. Thus the our current scientific view of the world is only formally valid in this limited domain. What exist outside of it is only our educated guess.

    This is not generally true. It is true in some specific instances. For instance, you cannot prove that there is no such thing as a non-white swan. So in this sense you are correct to say that "it is not possible to prove non-existence." But as an aside, do note that the existence-refuting claim that there is no such thing as a non-white swan is logically equivalent to the existence-asserting claim that all swans are white, which is something you also cannot prove.

    However, natural science can very easily show the non-existence of things. Very trivially, we can take a thing as non-existing if it a priori contradicts itself logically. Suppose a particle physicist has conceptualized a new particle he calls the "nihilon," which is an eternal, non-aging particle that obliterates all matter and energy that comes within a light-year radius of it. Can such a particle be shown to not exist? Of course, and very easily. If it's eternal, it was present in the early years of our universe when the size of the universe was much smaller than a light year. It would have obliterated all matter and energy then, and we wouldn't be here today. The fact that we are here today means the nihilon does not exist.

    Now I know some of the particle physicist pedants here will pick apart my made up example, but the point is not to test my ability to come up with particle physics sci-fi, the point is that there are plenty of things which can be shown a priori to not exist. As another example, in biology, we can show that a function for junk DNA does not exist, by noting among many other things, that some segment of DNA is a pseudogene, or that mutations can harmlessly alter some segment of DNA, or (the gold standard) note that we can excise huge chunks of some test organism's genome and note that it is still phenotypically normal.

  • Re:Good riddance. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:45PM (#32311170) Homepage Journal
    Which means that he should've at least waited for god to materialize in a bright light and have a fireside chat with him before he assumed that god existed.

    What exists outside of it is only our educated guess.

    The belief of a deity amidst overwhelming evidence to the contrary is not an "educated guess," it's wishful thinking.

  • bringing it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by trb ( 8509 ) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:59PM (#32311220)
    From the product description of his collected SciAm Mathematical Games columns [amazon.com] on CD:

    His column broke such stories as Rivest, Shamir and Adelman on public-key cryptography, Mandelbrot on fractals, Conway on Life, and Penrose on tilings.


  • by GrendelT ( 252901 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:07AM (#32311260) Homepage

    In his honor, I'd like to link to the 3D paper dragon [neodux.com] that was created for Gathering for Gardner.
    RIP Gardner.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:23AM (#32311336)

    organic farming

    Just curious here, but why does organic farming (lack of pesticides and genetic modification?) require debunking as belonging to fringe or junk science?

    It's not the existence of organic farming, it's the claims that are associated with it. Sometimes the organic choice turns out to be less healthy than non-organic type (like when some nutso places try to sell you non-pasteurized milk).

    Some of the organic choices are probably indeed better for you. A lot of it is most definitely more ethical in terms of treatment of animals. And if we all switched to organic, large portions of the human population would starve, as we couldn't possibly produce as much food as cheaply to feed everyone. Turns out the benefits of mass food production seriously outweigh the problems.

  • by Cliff Stoll ( 242915 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:56AM (#32311510) Homepage

    After he saw one of my first Klein Bottles, Martin Gardner encouraged me to make them for recreational mathematics enthusiasts. "Even if the Klein Bottles don't work out, you'll have fun meeting these folks"

    And so began my zero-volume business.

    In high school, I followed his instructions to make hexaflexagons and fooled with Knights tours on chess boards. Much later, I was honored to correspond and meet him.

    In person, he was just as curious, creative, and encouraging as you would expect from his writing.

    Along with others here, I will miss Martin Gardner - his Scientific American articles, his wide ranging books, and his warm support. He leaves a wide wake behind him.


  • by MoeDumb ( 1108389 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:59AM (#32311522)
    I'm wondering if he and Richard Feynman ever got together. Would love to have been a fly on the wall for those conversations.
  • Re:Adieu, Martin (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @02:03AM (#32311882)

    Yes, I remember coding one such in Fortran on an IBM 1130 back in the day, almost 30 years ago. I'd corresponded with Gardner about that and he pointed me to Lifeline, Robert Wainwright's GoL newsletter. I never forgot that little kindness.

  • Re:Good riddance. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mathinker ( 909784 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @02:20AM (#32311948) Journal

    > He was of the idea that there is no way to prove the non-existence of god, and therefore it's reasonable to believe in a god.

    I've never read his annotated version of Alice in Wonderland, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Gardener would have claimed that he both believed and disbelieved in the existence of God, in a weird sort of spiritual quantum superposition.

    > ... hurt the Atheist cause more than anything.

    Really? I would have thought that your insensitive post might possibly have done more damage. It certainly raised my bile. You're lucky I know so many atheists who I actually respect.

  • Not quit in my case (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:04AM (#32313220)
    A kind letter from Gardner after I sent him the results of an investigation I had done into polyominoes went some way to convince me that I had enough symbolic manipulation skills to change career to systems design. This proved the best decision I ever made after deciding to get married. So long, Martin Gardner, resquiescat in pace.

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama