Friday, November 15, 2019

My Martin Gardner testimonial

The Martin Gardner Centennial was in 2014 and I commemorated it on this blog. I also submitted my own testimonial to the official web site and linked to it in this post:

Now I'd like to reproduce my contribution here:

Martin Gardner Testimonials: Testimonial 55: Ralph Dumain

As a teenager I discovered Martin Gardner in the 'Mathematical Games' column of the June or July 1967 issue of Scientific American, having innocently bought it at the corner drugstore on account of my boyhood interest in science. That column featured John Horton Conway’s game Sprouts. From then on I was hooked on Gardner’s columns and related books.

In his June 1968 column Gardner proposed a problem concerning Baker’s Solitaire, and followed up with readers’ solutions in subsequent issues. My name appeared with several others in the September 1968 issue. These acknowledgments were not included when the column was anthologized in Mathematical Magic Show: More Puzzles, Games, Diversions, Illusions and Other Mathematical Sleight-of-Mind from Scientific American in 1977.

Gardner’s columns radiated from the base of recreational mathematics to encompass quite a range of topics. Gardner stimulated my interest in the related hobby of abstract strategy board games, but that was only the beginning. Through Gardner I learned about the artist M.C. Escher, the 19th-century fad of four-dimensional space, anamorphic art, Raymond Llull (the godfather of the ars combinatoria), and numerous other fascinating topics reaching into obscure corners of intellectual history.

Gardner’s literary efforts were wide-ranging, but his other major claim to fame was his contribution to the 'skeptics' movement, decades before that movement was formally organized. I read Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science not long after I discovered Gardner. I returned to this book several times over the decades. I was never fully convinced of Gardner’s criteria for the demarcation of science and pseudoscience. In addition to dealing with obvious crackpots, he delved into fringe areas where rationality bleeds into irrationality, such as Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics, William Reich’s radical psychoanalysis and orgonomy, and Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the media. Still, the range of Gardner’s examples supplied a background I could draw upon throughout my adult life. This book can be said to have stuck with me, but I will forever be indebted to Gardner for all the wonders to which I was introduced via his work on recreational mathematics.

Like so many others I felt a serious loss when Gardner died. I paid tribute to him in my Reason & Society blog, in my podcast of July 19, 2010, and in my web guide to Board Games & Related Games & Recreations. Though my priorities have shifted over the decades, I can still say that Martin Gardner enhanced my life in a particular and unique way. He will always be remembered fondly."

         — Ralph Dumain, librarian and independent scholar, Washington, DC (22 May 2014)

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