Review of The Jinn from Hyperspace, and Other Scribblings—Both Serious and Whimsical

A reviewer should be unbiased. Alas, I admit that I devoured, digested, and was uplifted by Martin Gardner (MG) in his “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American (SA) from 1956 to 1981, and then by his “Notes of a Fringe Watcher” column in Skeptical Inquirer (SI) from 1983 to 2002. MG also found time to publish over 60 books.

MG grew up around Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has returned to his roots, near Oklahoma City, at the age of 93, in an assisted living facility.

Of The Jinn from Hyperspace, (Martin Gardner, Prometheus, 2008, 307 pp.) MG writes, in the Preface, “Like my earlier anthologies, this book is a haphazard collection of published (and a few unpublished) writings.” The book is not quite haphazard; it is broken up into four parts: “Science, Math, and Baloney” (48%); “Literature” (17%); “L. Frank Baum” (20%); and Lewis Carroll (15%). The book has 36 chapters; “The Jinn from Hyperspace” is the title of chapter 10. But because the chapters are mostly disconnected reprints, each chapter is individually considered below.

Each chapter is reprinted from another book or magazine. Each is introduced by an appropriate paragraph or two. There are illuminating “Notes” at the end of some chapters. I found myself gasping for air, looking for an Index but, alas, there is none; the chapter titles have to act as the Index.

There are some typographical errors, but I only found one serious error: On page 9, “My review of Paul Davies’s book …” should be, according to a personal communication, “My review of Brian Davies’s book …”

Ch. 1 and 2: MG starts out with “The False Memory Wars,” both chapters reprinted from SI, 2006. This was an eye-opener about a mental health scandal, now largely avoided because of revelations such as those of MG. This is followed by “The Sad Case of Father Shanley,” about a False Memory Syndrome that sent a priest to jail in 2005. MG presents convincing evidence of his innocence.

Ch. 3 and 4: We have two chapters about the writings of Roger Penrose: “Penrose: The Road to Reality” and “Penrose: The Emperor’s New Mind.” Penrose is an outstanding British mathematical physicist at Oxford University. Of the first book, MG says “Penrose opens his mammoth treatise with a vigorous defense of Platonic realism. This is the view of almost all mathematicians and physicists. They take for granted that the objects and theorems of mathematics are timeless truths that have a strange existence independent of human minds and cultures.” The review appeared inCriterion, 2004. In the introduction to Ch. 4, we have “Will we ever be able to construct a computer, made with wires and switches, that can do everything a human mind can do? … Many artificial intelligence (AI) researchers think these things are not only possible, but may actually be achieved before the end of the century! Sir Roger Penrose thinks this is baloney, and I agree. We belong to a group called the “mysterians” because we believe neuroscience is nowhere close to understanding consciousness; …” MR wrote the foreword for Penrose’s book.

Ch. 5: “Time-Reversed Worlds.” MG reprints a chapter from his New Ambidextrous Universe, Dover 2005. In the introduction to Ch. 5, MG writes “In my opinion, time, or its synonym, change, is a terrifying mystery, …  If there is a God, is God subject to time? Some theologians say no. Process theologians say yes. I don’t know the answer to this question, and neither do you.” Amen.

Ch. 6: “The Ars Magna of Ramon Lull.” MG reprints the first chapter from his book Logic Machines and Diagrams(McGraw-Hill 1958). Ramon Lull lived from 1235? to 1315; he was a Spanish theologian and visionary. He constructed concentric circles within circles, where each circle is divided into, say, 10 sectors. Each sector has an idea, or word, printed thereon; an example is the 10 commandments. The circles can be individually rotated. With five circles, for example, we can then get 105, or 100,000 different combinations. Each combination is a group of five elements that may suggest a meaningful concept. This is exactly analogous to evolution’s “survival of the fittest.” It is the basis for human creativity. With the human consciousness platform examining a string of possible elements, the right combination of elements comes up with something useful, and we shout “Eureka!” (The writing of this paragraph required four “Eurekas.”)

Ch. 7: “The Banach-Tarski Paradox” is a reprint taken from New Criterion, 2005. It deals with “the strange properties of sets with an infinity of points. … The original version of the Banach-Tarski (BT) paradox shows how a solid sphere can be cut into a finite number of point sets that can be shifted about to make two balls identical in shape and size to the original!”  The paradox comes about because of different levels of infinity: Infinity is not equal to infinity squared, and so forth.

Ch. 8: “Transcendental Numbers and Early Birds” is reprinted from Math Horizons, 2005. MG defines transcendental and other numbers. A counting number is 1, 2, 3, … . As an example, consider the counting number 666. Starting with 1, 2, 3, … we eventually get to 65, 66, 67, 68, … . The 66, 6 group is an “early bird” because it appears much before its counting number, 666. Try this with the last four digits of your telephone number. As MG points out, searching for early birds is a “totally useless amusement.”

Ch. 9: “A Defense of Platonic Realism,” is a critical review of Science in the Looking Glass: What Do Scientists Really Know? by E. Brian Davies (Oxford, 2003). MG writes “… Platonism is still used today for what is more often called mathematical realism.” The review first appeared in Notices of the AMS, 2005.

Ch. 10 to 13: These four reprints are taken from Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. “The Jinn from Hyperspace” is from a puzzle column, 1981. It is an entertaining fairy tale about John Collier Fletcher, who “always wanted to be an opera star.”
“Satan and the Apple,” 1985, is another delightful fairy tale (unless you believe in Satan). The Apple is an Apple word processor.

“Blabbage’s Decision Paradox,” 1980. “Blabbage is a poor pun on Charles Babbage, England’s pioneer computer scientist.” The fairy tale is focused on two boxes – one transparent, one opaque. There is a hundred-dollar bill inside the transparent box. Since I am violently opposed to gambling, let’s go on to the next reprint.
“Professor Cracker’s Antitelephone,” 1980. Here a double pun yields a story about Alexander Graham Cracker, who used tachyons. “Because tachyons move faster than light, … doesn’t that mean they travel backward in time?”

Ch, 14: “Energy from the Vacuum,” taken from SI, 2007. It pokes fun at Energy from the Vacuum, by Thomas E. Bearden, 2002. “… this monstrosity is two inches thick and weighs three pounds.” “The nation’s number two drumbeater for ZPE [zero-point energy] is none other than Harold Puthoff, who runs a think tank in Austin, Texas, where efforts to tap ZPE have been under way for years.”

Ch. 15: This is the review of a novel, PopCo, by Scarlett Thomas. The review is taken from the College Journal of Mathematics, 2007. “As far as I am aware, PopCo is the first novel to interweave a romantic plot with recreational mathematics.”

Ch. 16: “Four Letters” refers to Letters to the Editor that were published:

(1) In the Norman (Oklahoma) Transcript, 2005. “I was surprised to see that you gave so much space to covering Dr. Thomas Sharp’s lecture in which he argued that dinosaurs are mentioned 25 times in the Bible.”

(2) In the Norman Transcript, 2006. It is about an obnoxious television ad, “Head On, apply directly to the forehead.”

(3) In Ojai magazine, 2006. “Why is it that The New Yorker cartoons are not funny anymore?” “Please, will someone explain.”

(4) In the Norman Transcript, 2006. “Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show, is promoting a homeopathic remedy for the common cold. If Rush knew anything about the history and nature of homeopathy he would be much ashamed of this commercial.”

Ch. 17: “Is Beauty Truth?” is reprinted from the SA, 2007. It is a review of Why Beauty is Truth, by Ian Stewart. “Stewart concludes his book with two maxims. The first: ‘In physics, beauty does not automatically ensure truth, but it helps.’ The second: ‘In mathematics beauty must be true—because anything false is ugly.’ I agree with the first statement, but not the second.”

Ch. 18: “Is String Theory in Trouble?” is a review of The Trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin, and Not Even Wrong, by Peter Woit. The review appeared in New Criterion, 2007. “[Lee Smolin] became a researcher at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, a think tank he helped found. The Trouble with Physics, his third book, is a powerful indictment. He sees string theory as not a theory—only a set of curious conjectures in search of a theory.” “Most of Woit’s book is a moderately technical, equation-free survey of quantum mechanics, the standard model of particle theory, and the history of superstrings. … Not until the last third of his book does Woit take up reasons for regarding string theory a failure, destined to give way to a testable TOE [Theory of Everything].”

Ch. 19: “Do Loops Explain Consciousness?” is a review of I Am a Strange Loop, by Douglas Hofstadter. The review appeared in Notices of the AMS, 2007. In the introduction, MG says “I was reluctant at first to review I Am a Strange Loop because I disagree with his main theme, but finally I decided I might as well defend my point of view.” In the review, “On page 94 Hofstadter offers a clever six-stanza poem by a friend that commemorates an event he later considered symbolic. One day he grabbed a batch of empty envelopes and was puzzled by what seemed to be a marble wedged between them. The marble turned out to be a spot where a thickness of paper felt like a marble. In a similar way, he believes, we imagine a self wedged somewhere between the neurons of our brain. The marble provides the central theme of I Am a Strange Loop. The soul, the self, the I, is an illusion. It is a strange loop generated by a myriad of lesser loops.  … not only observing itself, but aware it is observing itself.” “Let me spread my cards on the table. I belong to a small group of thinkers called the ‘mysterians.’ … We share a conviction that no philosopher or scientist living today has the foggiest notion of how consciousness, and its inseparable companion free will, emerge, as they surely do, from a material brain. It is impossible to imagine being aware we exist without having some free will, if only the ability to blink yes or no, or to decide what to think about next. It is equally impossible to imagine having free will without being at least partly conscious.” “There may be advanced life-forms in Andromeda who know the answers. I sure don’t. Nor do Hofstadter and Dennet. And neither do you.”

Ch. 20 and 21: These two chapters are reviews of two books by Gilbert K. Chesterton. The first review, “Chesterton:The Flying Inn,” was published in New Criterion, 2006. MG writes “Like Gilbert Chesterton’s The Bull and the Cross, The Flying Inn is a comic fantasy almost totally forgotten today, even by Chestertonians. In view of the current explosion of Islamic fundamentalism, and the rise of terrorism against infidel nations, The Flying Inn has an eerie relevance to the Iraq war that keeps the novel from flying into complete obscurity. Lord Phillip Ivywood, the novel’s main character, is England’s handsome, golden-voiced prime minister. He has come under the influence of a Turkish fanatic, Misyara Ammon, a large-nosed, black- bearded Muslim popularly known as the Prophet of the Moon. He has convinced Lord Ivywood that the Muslim faith is superior to Christianity.” This refers to a book published in 1913! In the second review we have “Chesterton: Manalive,” scheduled to appear in Gilbert Magazine. MG writes “Manalive is about a man, Innocent Smith, who has a twofold mission: to invent curious ways, close to practical jokes, of keeping himself in a perpetual state of Chestertonian wonder, and to arouse a similar state in others. The crazy novel opens with a great alliterative sentence: ‘A wind sprang high in the west, like a wave of unreasonable happiness.’ The wind is a symbol of the wave of wonder that pervades all of Smith’s slapstick antics.”

Ch. 22: “The Night Before Christmas” is the introduction to MG’s Annotated Night Before Christmas, Simon & Schuster 1991, reissued by Prometheus in 1995. “The story of how Clement Clarke Moore came to write his immortal poem, and the curious history of its early anonymous publications, have been told many times. Indeed, every Christmas they seem to be told again in some newspaper or periodical.”

Ch. 23: “The Great Crumpled Paper Hoax” is reprinted from Ojai Orange, 2007. This fictional depiction of a hapless artist and his wife pokes fun at “modern” art. The “artist” finally mounts a crumpled ball of paper on a supporting spike, and becomes hugely successful.

Ch. 24: “So Long Old Girl.” The Old Girl is a destroyer escort, the USS Pope, upon which MG served until it was decommissioned in 1945. The chapter is prose dressed up to look like poetry – exactly the kind of endeavor that MG denounces in the introduction to chapter 23. Be that as it may, I love the “poem” because I was similarly engaged on a destroyer at that time.

Ch. 25 to 31: These are MG’s introductions to six reprints of L. Frank Baum fantasies, plus the last chapter which tells how the Oz Club started:
Ch. 25: Queen Zixi of Ix, Dover 1971.
Ch. 26: The Enchanted Island of Yew, Baum Bugle, 1990.
Ch. 27: John Dough and the Cherub, Dover 1974.
Ch. 28: The Magical Monarch of Mo, Dover 1968.
Ch. 29: American Fairy Tales, Dover 1978.
Ch. 30: Mother Goose in Prose, Dover 1997.
Ch. 31: “How the Oz Club Started” (actually, the International Wizard of Oz Club) will appear in the Baum Bugle. The Club was founded in 1957; its official journal is the Baum Bugle. MG writes that “At that time the country’s librarians, almost to a man and woman, were dismissing Baum’s fantasies as not only mediocre, but unwholesome for children.” The many details of the story make for fascinating reading. The chapter ends with “The bitter controversy over Baum’s reputation has happily evaporated. Anti-Baum librarians, who I once called ‘gray-minded’ (not gray-haired!), are now in full retreat. Even British critics, thanks to the efforts of Angelica Carpenter and a few others, are discovering that there is much more to learn about Oz than you can get from the MGM musical.”

Ch. 32 to 36: These are MG’s introductions to four Lewis Carroll books, plus the last chapter which is a reprint of his introduction to an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Signet 1960. One can only be amazed that the brain of this superman, Martin Gardner, is able to delve into so many areas for, in addition to everything else, he is an authority on Lewis Carroll!
Ch. 32: Sylvie and Bruno, Dover 1988.
Ch. 33: Phantasmagoria, Prometheus 1998.
Ch. 34: The Nursery Alice, Dover 1966.
Ch. 35: Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, Dover 1965.
Ch. 36: “The Two Alice Books.” Only a single paragraph in the chapter is specifically devoted to each of these two books. The remainder of the chapter gives interesting tidbits about Lewis Carroll’s life. “There is convincing evidence that Carroll was romantically in love with Alice.” “There is no question that Carroll’s fondness for young girls, and photographing them without clothes, was in his mind a completely innocent admiration of their charms.” But this is not the important legacy that Carroll left behind. MG ends the chapter with “… I would not consider a person educated who has never read Carroll’s Alice books. Among the great characters of imaginative literature, Alice has become as immortal as Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn, Captain Ahab, Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy Gale of Kansas. If you are not yet acquainted with Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and behind the mirror, read on and enjoy!”

And that’s a piece of advice I can apply to the whole of The Jinn from Hyperspace – read on and enjoy!

A shorter version appears in Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 32, no. 4, 2008, pp. 52, 53.

 

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