What is the title of this post?
June 26, 2011 7:42 PM   Subscribe

92 years young, the delightful Raymond Smullyan is a mathematician, logician, magician, concert pianist, and Taoist philosopher - who also pioneered retrograde chess problems.
posted by Trurl (22 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a copy of Smullyan's little 1968 volume on first-order logic. I had no idea about his other pursuits, nor that he is still alive. Good to know!
posted by Nomyte at 7:49 PM on June 26, 2011


A conscious being without free will may very well be a metaphysical absurdity, but a physical thing that exerts no gravitational attractions certainly is not (unless you beg the question of what it means to be a physical thing).
posted by oddman at 8:16 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still working my way through To Mock a Mockingbird. I'm delighted to learn more about Smullyan -- thanks!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:16 PM on June 26, 2011


The Tao is Silent is one of my favorite books of all time. This conversation with God in particular perfectly illustrates my feelings about free will that I could never quite express.
posted by saul wright at 8:22 PM on June 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


What is the title of this verbatim copy of a Wikipedia article?
posted by erniepan at 8:23 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a kid who played a lot of chess, The Chess Mysteries Of Sherlock Holmes was always my favourite of all chessbooks - this may go some way to explaining why I was never that good a chessplayer - but the thing about that book is that it isn't really about chess as such, so much as a way of showing how the mechanisms of chess can also be used for something else; generalised it becomes a manual for breaking out of limited rulesets, yet specifically, it's a whole lot of fun and incredibly entertaining.

Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by motty at 8:45 PM on June 26, 2011


Thanks for this....

As I age, as I approach that point where my aspirations exceed my abilities, to see Raymond accomplish this, it gives me hope...
posted by tomswift at 9:13 PM on June 26, 2011


Thanks for this, especially the youtube link;

He was even going all wei wu wei on that piano, small but deliberate yet gracefully whimsical movements.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:43 PM on June 26, 2011


so I'm trying to figure out the hardest logic problem in the world, and I don't want to look at the answer, can someone who has done the puzzle (or peeked at the answers)
help me understand something about the nature of FALSE's lies and the validity of the YES/NO questions?


eg:

If I ask A: 'If I ask B a true question will it say YES?'

if A=TRUE, B=FALSE
I am asking TRUE: 'If I ask FALSE a true question will it say YES?'
TRUE will say NO, -this is a valid YES/NO question.

if A=TRUE, B=RANDOM
I am asking TRUE: 'If I ask RANDOM a true question will it say YES?'
TRUE can't answer yes or no, this an illegal YES/NO question

if A=FALSE, B=RANDOM
I am asking FALSE: 'If I ask RANDOM a true question will it say YES?'
will FALSE say YES?, or even perhaps NO, knowing that it doesn't not know the answer, so to say anything is a lie, or can FALSE only answer the opposite of the truth, making this question unanswerable?

can I ask questions like this where silence is one of the potential answers?

If the answer is 'not relevant to the correct answer that's a big help as it closes of possibilities'
posted by compound eye at 12:23 AM on June 27, 2011


Can anyone translate the chess notation from the first example in the last link? I took a look at a guide but it didn't quite explain things for me (plus I am meant to be on my way to work right now...)
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 1:05 AM on June 27, 2011


Can anyone translate the chess notation from the first example in the last link?


Spoiler warning!









it means that there was a white pawn between the black king and the bishop, and a black piece where the rook is now. The pawn took the black piece and promoted to a rook.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:23 AM on June 27, 2011


When I was a young teenager, I devoured What Is the Name of This Book? Couldn't get enough of the Knights and Knaves and their logical puzzles. A few years later, I stumbled onto The Tao is Silent, and it became one of the first wedges between me and the Christian fundamentalism I grew up with. This guy is amazing.

That said, as an adult, I've tried to get into To Mock a Mockingbird many times, always resulting in defeat. Granted, it may be a more difficult book. But I also think Smullyan's books on logic may be especially accessible to non-adults (or adults who've unlearned how to be adults).
posted by treepour at 2:23 AM on June 27, 2011


My first course on computability theorem referred to one of Smullyan's results as "Smullyan's double fixed point theorem" (in fact, as the course was in German, "Smullyans Doppelfixpunktsatz").

Although I used this theorem only once and only in an exercise, I really like its name, and think it could only be improved by referring to it as "Smullyan's double fixed point theorem of doom" (or, as we would call it, "Smullyans Doppelfixpunktsatz des Todes").
posted by erdferkel at 3:22 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I never connected Smullyan the mathematician to the guy who wrote The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, which is where I learned roughly everything I know about Sherlock Holmes, having found the actual books a bit tedious.
posted by hoyland at 4:25 AM on June 27, 2011


I always liked his short proof of Godel's incompleteness theorem.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:09 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What Is The Name Of This Book?" was one of my favorite books as a kid. I spent hours doing the puzzles. Kept me quiet on family vacations.
posted by aletheia at 5:38 AM on June 27, 2011


Lovely man, The Tao is Silent, has been a wonderful read.
posted by KaizenSoze at 6:21 AM on June 27, 2011


In case no one else mentions it, his book This Book Needs No Title was a major influence in my teenage years. It 's worth it just for the logical argument against worrying.
posted by wittgenstein at 6:29 AM on June 27, 2011


I met Raymond Smullyan when I was in college. The math department brought him in to do a talk. One of his skills is his ability to take things that feel intractable and make them easier to comprehend by turning them into games.

For example, in considering the notion of relative size of infinite sets, he made these games:
Background - you are condemned to hell. The devil creates a game that you play once a day every day and if you win you are released.
  1. The devil has picked a Natural number on day 1.
  2. The devil has picked an Integer on day 1.
  3. The devil has picked a Rational number on day 1.
  4. The devil has picked a Real number of day 1.
  5. The devil picks a new Real number every day.
After each, he poses the question, "Will you get out of hell?" In this example, he is presenting the notion of things that are countably infinite (or not).

He finished his talk relating a story of how he used to do magic shows for children's parties and he had one particularly stubborn audience member who insisted that he do real magic. "Like what?" "Well, could you turn us all into lions?" "I could, but the magic word turns everyone into lions including me and then I couldn't say the words to turn us back." "Well, could you teach me the word?" "I could, but to teach you the word, I would be saying the word and that would turn us all into lions, etc." "Well, could you write the word down?" "I could, but in writing the word down, I'd be invoking it and that would turn us all into lions, etc." long, long pause... "how did you learn the word?"
posted by plinth at 6:56 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Love, love Raymond Smullyan. If you want a present for a gifted kid, hunt down a copy of 5000 BC and other Philosophical Fantasies.
posted by vacapinta at 7:04 AM on June 27, 2011


But I also think Smullyan's books on logic may be especially accessible to non-adults (or adults who've unlearned how to be adults).

Very interesting hypothesis. Can you elaborate?
posted by grumblebee at 4:09 PM on June 27, 2011


I bought What Is The Name of This Book? at a bookstore on Martha's Vineyard while on a family vacation at the age of, oh, ten? eleven? I loved doing all the logic puzzles so much that when we went back the next year, I went to the very same bookstore and immediately bought This Book Needs No Title. The cover design and typeface were remarkably similar but to my surprise, there were no logic puzzles (at least, not of the solvable kind). However, if anything, that book was even more important to the development of my outlook on life.

I wish I could thank you enough, Mr. Smullyan, but I am unfortunately not yet a complete sage.
posted by skoosh at 7:32 AM on June 28, 2011


« Older Tim Geithner speaks at his alma mater, Dartmouth...   |   Distant Reading, or, the "Science" of Literature Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments