Douglas Hofstadter on Martin Gardner

From Scientific American:

Martin-gardner-aut-ab I've been trying to reconstruct how I first encountered Martin Gardner. It may have happened in 1959, when at age 14 I happened to visit the home of a boy a couple of years older than myself, who I thought was extremely smart (and indeed he was—he later became a well-known mathematician on the Princeton faculty). While scanning his bookshelves, I noticed a Dover paperback with the curious title Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I pulled it out and my curiosity was further aroused by the front cover, which mentioned such things as flying saucers, human gullibility, strange cults, pseudoscience, and so on. I had of course heard of things like telepathy, ESP, and such, but didn't know what to make of them. Though they seemed a bit far-fetched, they also appealed to my romantic nature. The year before, I had even half-convinced myself that I could discover my romantic fate by spinning a top and seeing where it fell on a marked board; I also enjoyed the thought that maybe, just maybe, the first initial of the girl I would someday marry was revealed by reciting the alphabet as I twisted an apple stem and stopping at that letter when the stem broke off. Why not? At that tender and rather gullible age, I had never devoted much thought to the demarcation line between sense and nonsense, science and silliness.

But in this book, somebody—clearly somebody very intelligent—was tearing one oddball belief system after another to shreds in a lucid, acerbic, yet at the same time humorous way. This “Martin Gardner” person was wielding common sense as a surgeon wields a knife—and occasionally twisting the knife with glee. It was probably the first time I had realized that systematic and critical thinking could extend beyond such precise domains as math and physics, and could demolish ideas in far hazier fields with great power. It was also the first time I had realized how very many crazy belief systems there are out there in the world, and how important it is to recognize this fact and to combat them.

More here. And also see a good obituary of Gardner in the NYT here.