Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Passing Of Raymond Smullyan

Raymond Smullyan died on February 6, 2017 at age 97, a brilliant mathematical logician, philosopher, magician, musician, and several other disciplines. I should provide a link or two or three or more, but if you are interested, just google him.  There is a really huge amount there.  One of  his more amusing yet deep books bore the title, "What is the Name of this Book?"

It is many years since I have seen him, but I knew him personally, and he impressed the living daylights out of me, not merely for his intellect, but also his great and deep wit.  He always had everyone around him laughing, and in a world that has always been full of horrors, there is a great virtue in that.

He was one of those who recognized that my late old man had proven the seriously clear and useful version of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem (actually two theorems), the version that makes it clear that consistency implies incompleteness, assuming one is dealing with a sufficiently rigorous logical system.  Thus he argued they should be called the Godel-Rosser theorems, as they are called by many in Europe.  The key to the "Rosser Trick" is the "Rosser Sentence" that "For every proof of this statement there is a shorter proof of its contradiction."  Yeah, that really kills it.  I mean,  What is the Name of this Book anyway?

As a strictly personal and youthful remembrance, I can report that when I was about 8, give or take a year, he pulled a dime out of my ear that I did not know was there. But then, that is the sort of thing magicians do.

RIP,  Ray.

Barkley Rosser (Jr.)


Anonymous said...

Do you actually pay $2000/yr for the Iraqi oil report?

Calgacus said...

Sad news. AFAIK, there is no other phrase for the opposite of "wishful thinking" (very common) but "fearful thinking" (just as common these days), which Smullyan coined in 5000 BC. said...


Using Rosser's Trick, I paid less than $2,000, or make that, I paid less than $2,000 not to receive the report.


Well, even more dangerous than fearful thinking is no thinking. I mean, what is the sound of a nameless book not flapping its pages?

Brendan Leber said...

Reading this makes me very sad. I was introduced to Mr. Smullyan's work by one of my high school teachers who shared a couple of puzzles from The Lady or the Tiger and I was hooked. Thirty three years later I still have that, and many other of his books. Thanks, Mr. Smullyan for all of the puzzles and the laughs.

Peter Dorman said...

Barkley, thanks for this memorial, completely deserved. I didn't have the opportunity to meet Smullyan, but I devoured his puzzle books when I was young; they were simply enchanting. What a guy.