Friday, July 07, 2006

Martin Gardner

Jochen Fromm, who is continually coming up with interesting items, found this interview with Martin Gardner from a year ago. Here are a couple of brief excerpts.
Gardner: Uri Geller does [things that] are not done by magicians. Magicians would be ashamed to stand up in front of an audience and bend a spoon! It seems too silly. …

Notices: So how does he bend a spoon?

Gardner: He gains access to the spoons before the demonstration. If you take an ordinary spoon, it’s easy to bend it. You can bend it back and forth a few times to weaken the metal to the point where if you just stroke the spoon it bends. That’s the whole secret of Uri Geller’s metal bending—getting to the material in advance and preparing it. …

Notices: If there are absolute standards for aesthetics in art, do they also exist in mathematics?

Gardner: Dirac was a great believer in having beautiful equations. “There is no room in mathematics for ugly mathematics,” was, I think, one of his statements. But in physics you can have very beautiful theories that turn out to be totally false. There is a predecessor of string theory called vortex theory, in which all the basic particles were supposed to be knots in the ether. Since there is no friction in the ether, once a little particle would form, it could not lose its shape. I was doing some checking on it, and I ran into statements by top physicists (including James Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, J. J. Thomson, and Albert Michelson) that this theory is too beautiful not to be true.
It turns out that Gardner had a very limited mathematics education — although he learned a lot while writing his column. As a student he studied mathematics only up to calculus.

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