"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery."

-- E.O. Wilson

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Martin Gardner

Author blurb today: Martin Gardner....

In the view of many, Martin Gardner is easily one of the greatest science/philosophy essayists of all time, and still with us occasionally writing in his nineties. He has been called "a national treasure." Some readers know him only from his recreational math writings, which while outstanding, represent only a portion of his incredible, insightful production. Gardner's breadth and depth of knowledge is phenomenal, and his ability to cut through verbiage to focus on essential points and ideas unsurpassed (and all the more remarkable given that he attained a bachelor's degree in philosophy, but never an advanced degree in math or any science). His wit and sense of humor are treats as well.

Two of my very favorite works of his (straight-out "A's") come from the late '90s:

"The Night Is Large" --- a compilation of (philosophical, skeptical, and science) essays he wrote on all manner of topics from 1938 to 1995, that still stand up well today. A GREAT introduction to Gardner if you've not read him before. A great re-read if you are familiar with Gardner.


"The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener" --- possibly the most under-appreciated, even little-known, and yet among the best (though most poorly-titled), works he ever produced, laying out his own philosophical underpinnings (the postscript and notes are almost as interesting as the text, which is admittedly dry in parts). He surprised many here by revealing himself as a "fideist" --- a theist who believes in God while admitting there is no basis in reason or logic for doing so; the only basis stirs from other non-rational parts of the human psyche.
Gardner is also a self-proclaimed adherent of the "New Mysterianism," asserting that an understanding of "consciousness" is likely forever beyond the human brain (versus the more reductionist view that consciousness can ultimately be explained by the actions of firing neurons). I concur with this basic notion that the brain cannot understand itself ("if the brain was so simple that we could understand it, than we would be so simple that we couldn't," as one aphorism puts it). Although many of Gardner's critical views are well-known, others of his views are unpredictable and surprising.

I sometimes find Gardner's stated criticisms in certain areas to be overwrought (much of his criticism of the "General Semantics" movement for example, I think is off-base), yet there is no writer that I might disagree with who I'd more anxiously read and respect than Martin Gardner. Any volume of his essays is a rich and thought-provoking delight. In my view, forget Shakespeare, Gardner ought be required reading for every high-schooler in America!

Wikipedia entry HERE.
Older online interview HERE.

Addendum: HERE, I've reviewed his book "The Jinn From Hyperspace."

1 comment:

Sally said...

I like his "Annotated Alice," but appreciate the recommendations for the others.