Martin Gardner

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Martin Gardner
Martin Gardner.jpeg
Born (1914-10-21)October 21, 1914
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Died May 22, 2010(2010-05-22) (aged 95)
Norman, Oklahoma, USA
Pen name George Groth
Armand T. Ringer
Uriah Fuller
Occupation Author
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Chicago
Period 1930–2010
Genre Recreational mathematics, Puzzles, Stage magic, Debunking
Literary movement Scientific skepticism
Notable works Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science;
Mathematical Games (Scientific American column);
The Annotated Alice;
The Ambidextrous Universe
Notable awards Leroy P. Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition (1987)[1]
George Pólya Award (1999)[2][3]

Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner (October 21, 1914 – May 22, 2010)[4] was an American popular mathematics and popular science writer, with interests also encompassing micromagic, scientific skepticism, philosophy, religion, and literature—especially the writings of Lewis Carroll and G.K. Chesterton.[5]

Gardner was best known for creating and sustaining general interest in recreational mathematics for a large part of the 20th century, principally through his Scientific American "Mathematical Games" columns from 1956 to 1981 and subsequent books collecting them. He was an uncompromising critic of fringe science and was a founding member of CSICOP, an organization devoted to debunking pseudoscience, and wrote a monthly column ("Notes of a Fringe Watcher") from 1983 to 2002 in Skeptical Inquirer, that organization's monthly magazine. He also wrote a "Puzzle Tale" column for Asimov's Science Fiction magazine from 1977 to 1986 and altogether published more than 100 books.[6]


Gardner as a high school senior, 1932.

Youth and education[edit]

Gardner, son of a petroleum geologist, grew up in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma. He showed an early interest in puzzles and games and his closest childhood friend, John Bennett Shaw, later became "the greatest of all collectors of Sherlockian memorabilia".[7] He attended the University of Chicago where he earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1936. Early jobs included reporter on the Tulsa Tribune, writer at the University of Chicago Office of Press Relations, and case worker in Chicago's Black Belt for the city's Relief Administration. During World War II, he served for four years in the U.S. Navy as a yeoman on board the destroyer escort USS Pope in the Atlantic. His ship was still in the Atlantic when the war came to an end with the surrender of Japan in August 1945.

After the war, Gardner returned to the University of Chicago.[8] He attended graduate school for a year there, but he did not earn an advanced degree.[1] In 1950 he published an article in the Antioch Review entitled "The Hermit Scientist", a pioneering work on what would later come to be called pseudoscientists.[9] It was Gardner's first publication of a skeptical nature and two years later it was published in a much expanded book version: In the Name of Science, his first book.

Early career[edit]

In the late 1940s, Gardner moved to New York City and became a writer and designer at Humpty Dumpty magazine where for eight years he wrote features and stories for it and several other children's magazines.[10] His paper-folding puzzles at that magazine (sister publication to Children's Digest at the time, and now sister publication to Jack and Jill magazine) led to his first work at Scientific American.[11] For many decades, Gardner, his wife Charlotte, and their two sons lived in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, where he earned his living as an independent author, publishing books with several different publishers, and also publishing hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. Appropriately enough – given his interest in logic and mathematics – they lived on Euclid Avenue. The year 1960 saw the original edition of his best-selling book ever, The Annotated Alice, various editions of which have sold over a million copies worldwide in several languages.

Gatherings for Gardner[edit]

Gardner was famously shy and declined many honors when he learned that a public appearance would be required if he accepted.[12] (He once told Colm Mulcahy that he "never gave a lecture in his life and that he wouldn't know how to.") However, in 1993 Atlanta puzzle collector Tom Rodgers persuaded Gardner to attend an evening devoted to Gardner's puzzle-solving efforts, called "Gathering for Gardner". The event was repeated in 1996, again with Gardner in attendance, which convinced Rodgers and his friends to make the gathering a regular event. It has been held since then in even-numbered years near Atlanta, and the program consists of any topic which could have been touched by Gardner during his writing career. The event's name is abbreviated to "G4Gn", with n being replaced by the number of the event (the 2010 event thus was G4G9). Gardner attended the 1993 and 1996 events.

Retirement and death[edit]

In 1979, Gardner and his wife Charlotte semi-retired and moved to Hendersonville, North Carolina. Gardner never really retired as an author, but rather he continued to do literature research and to write, especially in updating many of his older books, such as Origami, Eleusis, and the Soma Cube, ISBN 978-0-521-73524-7, published 2008. Charlotte died in 2000 and two years later Gardner returned to Norman, Oklahoma where his son, James Gardner, was a professor of education at the University of Oklahoma.[1] He died there on May 22, 2010.[4] An autobiography — Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner — was published posthumously.[13]

Views and interests[edit]

I just play all the time and am fortunate enough to get paid for it.

– Martin Gardner, 1998

Recreational mathematics and Mathematical Games[edit]

For over a quarter century Gardner wrote a monthly column on the subject of "recreational mathematics" for Scientific American. It all began with his free-standing article on hexaflexagons which ran in the December 1956 issue.[14] Flexagons became a bit of a fad and soon people all over New York City were making them. Gerry Piel, the SA publisher at the time asked Gardner, “Is there enough similar material to this to make a regular feature?” Gardner said he thought so. The January 1957 issue contained his first column, entitled Mathematical Games.[15] Almost 300 more columns were to follow.[1]

The "Mathematical Games" column ran from 1956 to 1981 and was the first introduction of many subjects to a wider audience, notably:

Ironically, Gardner had problems learning calculus and never took a mathematics course after high school. While editing Humpty Dumpty's Magazine he constructed many paper folding puzzles, and this led to his interest in the flexagons invented by British mathematician Arthur H Stone. The subsequent article he wrote on hexaflexagons led directly to the column.

In the 1980s the Mathematical Games column began to appear only irregularly. Other authors began to share the column and the June 1986 issue saw the final installment under that title. In 1981, on Gardner's retirement from Scientific American, the column was replaced by Douglas Hofstadter's "Metamagical Themas", a name that is an anagram of "Mathematical Games".

Many of the games columns were collected in book form starting in 1959 with The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles & Diversions. Over the next four decades fourteen more books followed. Donald Knuth called them the canonical books.

Pseudoscience and skepticism[edit]

Gardner's uncompromising attitude toward pseudoscience made him one of the foremost anti-pseudoscience polemicists of the 20th century.[16] His book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952, revised 1957) is a classic and seminal work of the skeptical movement. It explored myriad dubious outlooks and projects including Fletcherism, creationism, food faddism, Charles Fort, Rudolf Steiner, Scientology, Dianetics, UFOs, dowsing, extra-sensory perception, the Bates method, and psychokinesis. This book and his subsequent efforts (Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, 1981; Order and Surprise, 1983, Gardner's Whys & Wherefores, 1989, etc.) earned him a wealth of detractors and antagonists in the fields of "fringe science" and New Age philosophy, with many of whom he kept up running dialogs (both public and private) for decades.

In 1976 Gardner joined with Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and others in founding the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). He wrote a column called "Notes of a Fringe Watcher"[17] (originally "Notes of a Psi-Watcher") from 1983 to 2002 for that organization's periodical Skeptical Inquirer. These have been collected in five books: New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (1988), On the Wild Side (1992), Weird Water and Fuzzy Logic (1996), Did Adam and Eve Have Navels (2000), and Are Universes Thicker than Blackberries (2003). Gardner was a senior CSICOP fellow and prominent skeptic of the paranormal.

On August 21, 2010, Gardner was posthumously honored with an award recognizing his contributions in the skeptical field, from the Independent Investigations Group during its 10th Anniversary Gala.[18]

Religion and philosophy[edit]

Gardner had an abiding fascination with religious belief. He was a fideistic theist, professing belief in one God as Creator, but critical of organized religion. He has been quoted as saying that he regards parapsychology and other research into the paranormal as tantamount to "tempting God" and seeking "signs and wonders". He stated that while he would expect tests on the efficacy of prayers to be negative, he would not rule out a priori the possibility that as yet unknown paranormal forces may allow prayers to influence the physical world.[19]

I am a philosophical theist. I believe in a personal God, and I believe in an afterlife, and I believe in prayer, but I don’t believe in any established religion. This is called philosophical theism.... Philosophical theism is entirely emotional. As Kant said, he destroyed pure reason to make room for faith.[20]

– Martin Gardner, 2008

In his autobiography, edited by Persi Diaconis and James Randi, Gardner stated: "When many of my fans discovered that I believed in God and even hoped for an afterlife, they were shocked and dismayed... I do not mean the God of the Bible, especially the God of the Old Testament, or any other book that claims to be divinely inspired. For me God is a "Wholly Other" transcendent intelligence, impossible for us to understand. He or she is somehow responsible for our universe and capable of providing, how I have no inkling, an afterlife."[21]

Gardner wrote repeatedly about what public figures such as Robert Maynard Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, and William F. Buckley, Jr. believed and whether their beliefs were logically consistent. In some cases, he attacked prominent religious figures such as Mary Baker Eddy on the grounds that their claims are unsupportable. His semi-autobiographical novel The Flight of Peter Fromm depicts a traditionally Protestant Christian man struggling with his faith, examining 20th century scholarship and intellectual movements and ultimately rejecting Christianity while remaining a theist. He described his own belief as philosophical theism inspired by the theology of the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. While eschewing systematic religious doctrine, Gardner believed in God, asserting that this belief cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reason or science. At the same time, he was skeptical of claims that any god has communicated with human beings through spoken or telepathic revelation or through miracles in the natural world.

Gardner's religious philosophy may be summarized as follows: There is nothing supernatural, and nothing in human reason or visible in the world to compel people to believe in any gods.[citation needed] The mystery of existence is enchanting, but a belief in "The Old One" comes from faith without evidence. However, with faith and prayer people can find greater happiness than without. If there is an afterlife, the loving "Old One" is probably real. "[To an atheist] the universe is the most exquisite masterpiece ever constructed by nobody", from G. K. Chesterton, was one of Gardner's favorite quotes.[19]

Gardner said that he suspected that the fundamental nature of human consciousness may not be knowable or discoverable, unless perhaps a physics more profound than ("underlying") quantum mechanics is some day developed. In this regard, he said, he was an adherent of the "New Mysterianism".

Literary criticism and fiction[edit]

Gardner was considered a leading authority on Lewis Carroll. His annotated version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, explaining the many mathematical riddles, wordplay, and literary references found in the Alice books, was first published as The Annotated Alice (Clarkson Potter, 1960), a sequel published with new annotations as More Annotated Alice (Random House, 1990), and finally as The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (Norton, 1999) combining notes from the earlier editions and new material. The book arose when Gardner, who found the Alice books 'sort of frightening' when he was young but found them fascinating as an adult,[22] felt that someone ought to annotate them and suggested to a publisher that Bertrand Russell be asked; when the publisher did not manage to get past Russell's secretary, Gardner was asked to take the project. The book has been Gardner's most successful, selling over half a million copies.[23]

Gardner's interest in wordplay led him to conceive of a magazine on recreational linguistics. In 1967 he pitched the idea to Greenwood Periodicals and nominated Dmitri Borgmann as editor.[13][24] The resulting journal, Word Ways, carried many articles from Gardner; as of 2013 it was still publishing his submissions posthumously.

In addition to the 'Alice' books, Gardner produced “Annotated” editions of G. K. Chesterton’s The Innocence Of Father Brown and The Man Who Was Thursday as well as of celebrated poems including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Casey at the Bat, The Night Before Christmas, and The Hunting of the Snark; the last also written by Lewis Carroll.

Gardner occasionally tried his hand at fiction of a kind always closely associated with his non-fictional preoccupations. His roman à clef novel was The Flight of Peter Fromm (1973) and his short stories were collected in The No-Sided Professor and Other Tales of Fantasy, Humor, Mystery, and Philosophy (1987). Gardner published stories about an imaginary numerologist named Dr. Matrix and Visitors from Oz (1998), based on L. Frank Baum's Oz books, which reflected his love of Oz. (He was a founding member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, and winner of its 1971 L. Frank Baum Memorial Award.) Gardner was a member of the all-male literary banqueting club, the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of Isaac Asimov's fictional group of mystery solvers, the Black Widowers.


Philosophy of mathematics[edit]

Gardner was known for his sometimes controversial philosophy of mathematics. He wrote negative reviews of The Mathematical Experience by Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh and What Is Mathematics, Really? by Hersh, both of which were critical of aspects of mathematical Platonism, and the first of which was well received by the mathematical community. While Gardner was often perceived as a hard-core Platonist, his reviews demonstrated some formalist tendencies. Gardner maintained that his views are widespread among mathematicians, but Hersh has countered that in his experience as a professional mathematician and speaker, this is not the case.[25]

Additional views[edit]

Over the years Gardner held forth on many contemporary issues, arguing for his points of view in a wide range of fields, from general semantics to fuzzy logic to watching TV (he once wrote a negative review of Jerry Mander's book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television).[26] His philosophical views are described and defended in his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983, revised 1999). Under the pseudonym "George Groth", Gardner panned his own book for the New York Review of Books.[27][28]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Interview with Martin Gardner, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 52, No. 6, June/July 2005, pp. 602–611
  2. ^ "MAA Writing Awards Presented". Notices of the AMS 47 (10): 1282. Nov 2000. 
  3. ^ Gardner, Martin (Jan 1999). "The Asymmetric Propeller". The College Mathematics Journal 30 (1): 18–22. doi:10.2307/2687198. 
  4. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (May 23, 2010). "Martin Gardner, Puzzler and Polymath, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  5. ^ Singmaster, D (2010) Obituary: Martin Gardner (1914–2010) Nature 465(7300), 884.
  6. ^ Maugh II, Thomas H. (1914-10-21). "Martin Gardner dies at 95; prolific mathematics columnist for Scientific American – Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  7. ^ Dirda, Michael (2012), "Sherlock Lives!", NYRBlog (2 February 2012).
  8. ^ "eSkeptic » Wednesday, May 26th, 2010". Skeptic. Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  9. ^ Gardner, Martin, "The Hermit Scientist", Antioch Review, Winter 1950–1951, pp. 447–457.
  10. ^ Yam, Philip (December 1995). "Profile: Martin Gardner, the Mathematical Gamester". Scientific American. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  11. ^ Gardner, Martin; Berlekamp, Elwyn R.; Rodgers, Tom (1999). The mathemagician and pied puzzler: a collection in tribute to Martin Gardner. A K Peters, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-56881-075-1. 
  12. ^ Robert P. Crease, Gathering for Gardner, The Wall Street Journal, p. W11, 2 April 2010
  13. ^ a b Gardner, Martin (2013). Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691159912. 
  14. ^ Martin Gardner, The Economist, June 5, 2010 
  15. ^ TELLER (January 3, 2014). "The Brainteaser". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Magazine Names the Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Century. at the Wayback Machine (archived March 25, 2008), Skeptical Inquirer
  17. ^ "CSI | Articles by Martin Gardner". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  18. ^ "About the IIG Awards". Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  19. ^ a b The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner, Quill, 1983, pp. 238–239
  20. ^ Carpenter, Alexander (2008), "Martin Gardner on Philosophical Theism, Adventists and Price" Interview, 17 October 2008, Spectrum.
  21. ^ Gardner, Martin. 2013. Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner. Princeton University Press. p. 191
  22. ^ Jan Susina. Conversation with Martin Gardner: Annotator of Wonderland. The Five Owls. Jan./Feb. 2000. 62–64.
  23. ^ Matthew J. Costello (1996), The Greatest Puzzles of All Time, Courier Dover Publications, p. 116, ISBN 978-0-486-29225-0 
  24. ^ Eckler, A. Ross (2010). "Look back!". Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics 43 (3): 167–168. 
  25. ^ Reuben Hersh (31 October 1997). "Re: Martin Gardner book review". Foundations of Mathematics mailing list. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  26. ^ Science, good, bad, and bogus – Martin Gardner – Google Books. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  27. ^ "Gardner's Whys" in The Night is Large, chapter 40, pp. 481–87.
  28. ^ Groth, George (1983-12-08). "Gardner’s Game with God | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved 2010-05-27. 

External links[edit]