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The Dover Math and Science Newsletter
Engaging. Interactive. Informative.
February 27, 2012
Welcome | Books on Logic | Author Interview: Raymond Smullyan | New & Back-in-Print | Free Excerpts and Puzzles | Save 20% | Contact Us
Author Interview: Raymond Smullyan
Shelley Kronzek handles the recreational mathematics list for Dover Publications. She has been working with Raymond Smullyan for several years. Raymond has published eight logic puzzle and mathematics books for Dover including the just re-released Alice in Puzzle-Land and The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes that are being featured in this month's Math and Science Newsletter. Dover is proud of Raymond's excellent math textbook, Set Theory and the Continuum Problem as well as his first edition work for Dover, King Arthur in Search of His Dog. A lifetime student, teacher, lecturer, performer, and appreciator of math, magic, logic, music, and the written word, Raymond recently chatted with Shelley about his varied interests for this newsletter:
Some Background about Raymond Smullyan

Raymond Smullyan has had a remarkably diverse sequence of careers. Fellow polymath Martin Gardner, former editor of Scientific American, had aptly described him as a "unique set of personalities that includes a philosopher, logician, mathematician, musician, writer, and maker of marvelous puzzles." Born in 1919 in Far Rockaway, New York, Raymond's early music studies were with Victor Huttenlocher for piano and Raymond Huttenlocher for violin. After winning the gold medal for the piano in the 1931 competition of the New York Music Week Association, he decided to make the piano his principal instrument. His main teachers have been Grace Hofheimer of New York City, Bernhard Abramowitsch of San Francisco, and Gunnar Johansen at the University of Wisconsin. He has also had coaching from Artur Schnabel, Mieczyslaw Horszowsky, Nadia Boulanger, Grete Sultan, Alicia de Larrocha, and Richard Goode. At Wisconsin, he publicly performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto #1, and in those days, he was an accompanist to the cellist Ernst Friedlander of the Pro Art Quartet.

His first teaching position was at Roosevelt College in Chicago, where he taught piano. At about that time he unfortunately developed tendonitis in his right arm, forcing him to abandon piano performances as his primary career. As a result of this he turned his attention to mathematics, which he loved equally. He had learned most of this on his own, with very little formal education at the time. He then took a few advanced courses at the University of Chicago, and supported himself at the time as a professional magician! Curiously enough, before he had a college degree, or even a high school diploma, he received an appointment as a mathematics instructor at Dartmouth College on the basis of some brilliant papers he had written on mathematical logic.

After teaching at Dartmouth College for two years, the University of Chicago gave him a Bachelor of Arts degree, based partly on courses he had never taken, but had successfully taught, such as freshman calculus. He then went to Princeton University for his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1959. He is now internationally known as a mathematical logician, having published books and over forty research papers in the field. He is equally well known worldwide as a writer, having authored over twenty books, many of which have been translated into seventeen languages. His writings cover an amazing variety of subjects: recreational logic puzzles designed to introduce the general reader to deep results in mathematics; retrograde chess problems encapsulated into Sherlock Holmes and Arabian Nights stories; stereo photography; Chinese Taoism; the psychology of religious and mystical consciousness; philosophical fantasies; and essays on various aspects of life. His latest book, Some Interesting Memories (published by Thinkers' Press, Davenport, Iowa) contains a delightfully charming account of some of his more memorable adventures and is replete with jokes, anecdotes, puzzles, and paradoxes.

Now a retired, distinguished professor of philosophy from Indiana University, he resides in the beautiful upper region of the Catskill Mountains and has returned to music as one of his principal activities.

Here is Shelley Kronzek's interview with Raymond Smullyan about his logic puzzle books and his passion for connecting with other musicians via YouTube and through other online activities.

Shelley Kronzek: Describe yourself for our readers.
Raymond Smullyan: I am one whose function on earth is to create as many beautiful and interesting things as possible, whether in mathematics, music, photography, philosophy, literature, etc., and in general to do work that others appreciate!
Shelley Kronzek: Dover has been publishing your books of logic puzzles for the past four years. You have been creating magical books of puzzles a lot longer than that! How did you get started in the business of writing logic puzzle books? Had you been integrating the puzzles into your classroom teaching? How did this very venue get started for you?
Raymond Smullyan: How did I get started in puzzle books? Sort of by accident. The editor, Oscar Collier of Prentice-Hall, father-in-law to my math student, now Professor Melvin Fitting, asked Melvin if he would be interested in writing a puzzle book. Melvin suggested that this was more in Raymond Smullyan's line. Oscar then asked me, and I assented. They then published my first puzzle book, which was described by Martin Gardner as "the most original, most profound, and most humorous collection of recreational logic and math problems ever written." This started me on puzzle books, and I soon branched out to many other topics--Chinese philosophy, theology, essays, stories (King Arthur), etc. Twenty-six of my books can be found on Amazon.
Shelley Kronzek: Who have you been trying to reach with these puzzles and what has been most rewarding about telling these stories?
Raymond Smullyan: My puzzles are mainly designed to introduce the general reader to deep results in mathematical logic--all through purely recreational devices. Thus my main target audience is the general public.
Shelley Kronzek: Which math and logic problems have been the most intriguing for you? Why?
Raymond Smullyan: The math and logic problems that have been of most interest to me are on the existence of sentences that cannot be either proved or disproved even in the most comprehensive systems yet known.
Shelley Kronzek: Would you give our readers an example or two of such sentences, please?
Raymond Smullyan: Godel constructed a sentence that asserted its own non-provability in the system under consideration. The sentence is thus true if and only if it is not provable in the system. Under the reasonable assumption that only true sentences are provable, the sentence must be true but not provable. Its negation, which is false, is also not provable, and so the sentence is undecidable--neither provable nor disprovable in the system.
Shelley Kronzek: Who are your heroes or heroines of music, math, and magic, and why?
Raymond Smullyan: Within math it's definitely the work of the world's greatest logician--Kurt Gödel who first discovered the "incompleteness theorem." Much of my popular writing is designed to get the general public to understand this remarkable discovery. As for my musical heroes, they are the classical composers Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin. My magical heroes are James Randi and the recent David Blaine.
Shelley Kronzek: I realize that your original passion was music. It seems that you've now returned to your "first love." Raymond, how many music videos do you have posted on YouTube? How and when did you get started with this venue?
Raymond Smullyan: I am most happily a member of the Piano Society. They are like my own family! I have had lively communications with many of its members, several of whom have come to visit me. The Piano Society is a wonderful international organization on the Internet in which both amateur and professional pianists can upload their recordings and anyone can download them for free. The level of playing is remarkably high! Some of the pianists are as good as any I have ever heard. Now, a few months ago, I realized that they needed funds, and so I had the bright idea (if I may pat myself on the back!) of making a book of profiles of pianists of the Society in which they tell the story of their lives and their views on music and art and other things. I gave the copyright to the Society, and so all the money earned by the book goes to the Society. The book really came out beautifully! This is due to the expert formatting of the physicist and pianist Dr. Peter Bispham, who also designed the lovely front cover using the beautiful photograph of the pianist and painter Julia Froschhammer, who also appears in the book. The paintings shown on the cover are all hers.
Shelley Kronzek: Do you know how many or can you guesstimate the number of YouTube music videos you have posted? How and when did you get started with this venue? Do you have one or two favorites for our readers to go to?
Raymond Smullyan: I started posting my classical pieces on YouTube back in 2007. I really don't remember how or why I started doing the video postings. You can click here to find all of my videos together.
At that site, it is listed that the number of my music videos is 28, but this is misleading, since several of my videos are broken up into several parts. I think the best choice of two that would be good for the general reader are RAMBLES, REFLECTIONS, MUSIC AND READINGS (six parts) and MARTIN GARDNER (four parts). Next would be A SCHUBERTIAN WANDERING (six parts).
Shelley Kronzek: What's next on the writing agenda?
Raymond Smullyan: A Raymond Smullyan Reader with Dover. It will publish during the Spring or Summer of 2013 and will contain some of the "best of" my logic puzzles and stories.
Shelley Kronzek: No conversation would be complete without asking for a few of your jokes or some wordplay. Usually, I don't have to ask!
Raymond Smullyan: I'd be delighted. Amongst my favorite jokes are:
(1) A physicist visited a mathematician friend and told him that he just concluded an experiment that conclusively proves that quantity A is bigger than quantity B. The mathematician replied, "That's perfectly understandable! You didn't even have to make the experiment. A must be bigger than B for the following reasons . . ." The physicist interrupted him and said, "Oh I made a mistake. It is not A that is bigger than B; it is B that is bigger than A." The mathematician said, "That's even more understandable because . . ."
(2) A man went into a restaurant and said to the waiter: "I would like some coffee without cream." The waiter went into the kitchen and returned and said, "I am sorry, Sir, we don't have any cream. I can let you have coffee without milk."
(3) In Ireland a man went into a bar and ordered three beers. Night after night he would order three beers. At one point the bartender asked him why he always ordered three, and the man explained that he had two brothers, one in America and one in Australia, and they made a pact that each time one of them would drink a beer, he would also drink two others in memory of his two brothers. This went on night after night for several months, and many of the customers were quite touched by this. Then one night, to everyone's amazement and sorrow, the man ordered only two beers. Finally one man came over to him to offer his condolences for the death of his brother. To his surprise, the man told him that both his brothers were alive and quite well. When asked why he then ordered only two beers, the man replied: "I decided to stop drinking."
Shelley Kronzek: Thanks, Raymond, for your time and your thoughts!

Welcome | Books on Logic | Author Interview: Raymond Smullyan | New & Back-in-Print | Free Excerpts and Puzzles | Save 20% | Contact Us