[lit-ideas] Re: Smullyaniana

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 3 Mar 2015 07:23:56 -0500

Bartlett defined Grice as a 'logician'. So is Smullyan. 
In a message dated 3/3/2015 12:29:29 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
Palma@xxxxxxxxxx writes: Raymond reads Chinese...
Among other things. 
Raymond Smullyan (known as "Ray" -- "I always found the "-mond" otiose"),  
was brought up in Far Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.
The name "Rockaway" may be misleading: it's Native American, and variant  
spellings include: Requarkie, Rechouwakie, Rechaweygh, Rechquaakie and  
Reckowacky. Its meaning is unclear or was unclear to the Dutch when they 
in the area, and they just kept it for lack of an idea of a better name
One day, his brother told him:
"Today is April Fool's Day, and I will fool you as you have never been  
fooled before."
As Smullyan recalled, he laid in bed long after the lights were  turned out 
wondering whether or not I had really been fooled. Smullyan concluded  that 
indeed his brother had fooled him "as he'd never been fooled before" -- by  
not fooling him. 
This was perhaps the first paradox that Smullyan ever encountered. 
When Smullyan was thirteen years old his family moved from the Peninsula to 
Smullyan attended the Theodore Roosevelt School in the Bronx.
However, Smullyan wanted to learn about groups, rings and fields, the  
foundations of mathematics and mathematical logic. 
This the Theodore Roosevelt School did not offer, so Smullyan  left the 
school for good to study on his own. 
A few years of study certainly put him in a good position to sit the  
College Board examinations, which he did and entered "The Pacific", not the  
ocean, but a college in Oregon. 
Soon Smullyan moved to Reed, in Oregon (named after E. Abingdon, Mass.-born 
 Simeon Gannett Reed and his spouse Amanda, née Wood.  -- Reed's estate was 
 left to his spouse, with instructions to use it to assist in the cultural 
and  intellectual development of Portland. When Mrs. Reed died not much 
progress  towards the instructions of her spouse. But not long after, the  Reed 
estate established Reed in Portland. W. M. Ladd (son of Reed's former  
partner W. S. Ladd) provided the lands on which Reed stands today, and almost  
all of Reed's estate was passed onto Reed). 
After Reed, Smullyan went south, to San Francisco, and stayed there,  but 
not for long. 
He returned to New York ("where I belonged") where he continued to study  
logic on his own. 
He played chess a lot. One of his friends said to him, "If *I* were to  
compose a chess problem, it would be to deduce what happened earlier in the  
This struck Smullyan as a fascinating idea, and was his source for his  
studies in "retrograde analysis" -- that looks for a problem which has a unique 
 solution, yet looks quite impossible. 
Later, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, moving after two  terms 
to Chicago where he began to take courses at the university but gave  up 
after only one semester. 
He continued to study on his own.
He then returned to New York where he spent two years. During these years  
he performed in nightclubs in Greenwich Village. 
He later returned to Chicago, took various courses at the university  while 
continuing to perform at nightclubs. His patter was especially hilarious  
(although himself a shy person). 

He also worked as a salesman for a vacuum cleaner company. 
One of Smullyan's teachers at the University of Chicago was Rudolf Carnap  
('if you've heard of him, or even if you haven't', as Geary quips). 
Carnap recommended Smullyan for a mathematics post at Dartmouth, the  
liberal arts college in Hanover, New Hampshire -- named after the earl of  
Dartmouth -- i.e. the earl of the mouth of the river Dart in Devon, England. 
Smullyan had no formal qualifications at this time.
Smullyan taught at Dartmouth while he earned his B.S. from the University  
of Chicago.
Smullyan published an essay, "Languages in which self-reference is  
possible" in The Journal of Symbolic Logic. It is about languages in which  
self-reference is possible. 
His next essay was "Undecidability and recursive inseparability" which  
aimed to prove two results on undecidability.
By the time the second of these essays appeared, Smullyan was at  Princeton 
working under Alonzo Church for his [i.e. Smullyan's, not Church's]  
After being awarded his Ph.D. from Princeton, he was appointed to  a post 
there, at Princeton -- named after some prince [There is no official  
documentary backing, but Princeton is considered to be named after Prince  
of Orange. My favourite theory is that the name came from a large  
land-owner, Mr. Henry Prince, but I grant a royal prince seems a  more 
eponym for the settlement, as three nearby towns had  similar names, to wit: 
Kingston, Queenstown and Princessville -- and it is  hard to derive 
"Princesville" from Mr. Henry Prince]
Smullan published several mathematical essays ('entertaining if you are  
into that sort of thing', Geary editorialises) during this  Princeton period. 
And essay entitled, "Exact separation of recursively enumerable sets within 
 theories" was written jointly with Hilary Putnam.
Smullyan also published the essay "Theories with effectively inseparable  
nuclei", to be followed by "Extended canonical systems", "Elementary formal  
systems", and "Monadic elementary formal systems" -- "Not precisely items of 
the  New York Times bestselling list", Geary comments).   
Smullyan also published the essay, "Theory of formal systems"  which was 
published by Princeton University Press. 
Kreisel (whom Witters loved) reviewed the book, and says that it gives a  
"most elegant exposition of the theory of recursively enumerable sets -- a  
striking improvement over previous expositions."
Smullyan was later appointed to the Yeshiva in New York, and then moved to  
Lehman (formerly Hunter's Bronx campus, which at the time joined the City  
University of New York).
Later he went to Indiana, and took the Oscar Ewing chair (named after  
Greensburg-born O. R. Ewing)
Smullyan's publications include essays on the foundations of mathematics  
and mathematical logic.
Usually Smullyan begins with fun-filled monkey tricks and brain-teasers  
with devilish new twists, spinning a logical labyrinth of even more complex 
and  challenging problems as he delves into some of the deepest paradoxes of 
logic  and set theory, including Gödel's revolutionary theorem of 
undecidability. He  provides a guided tour of Infinity, explaining the 
discoveries of  Georg Cantor, who was the first to put the subject on a 
sound  basis.
He also published "First-order logic", which deals primarily with the  
proofs of, and the interconnections between, various formulations of the  
completeness theorem for first-order logic. The book combines elegance with  
clear, detailed exposition.
"A good student should be able to read it almost without a teacher."  -- 
unless you count the author of the book as a teacher, figuratively.
He also published "Gödel's incompleteness theorems", which he wrote  "for 
the philosopher or any other curious reader who has at least a nodding  
acquaintance with the symbolism of first-order logic, and who can recognize the 
logical validity of a few elementary formulas."
The essay on incompleteness theorems was the first of a series of texts  
which appeared in quick succession. 
It was followed by "Recursion theory for metamathematics" and  
"Diagonalization and self-reference" ('the first part deals with  
diagonalisation; the 
second with self-reference', Geary's review reads). 
Smullyan co-authored with Melvin Fitting "Set theory and the continuum  
problem" where consistency and independence proofs are given along with some  
charming set pieces on countability and uncountability and on mathematical  

In the classroom, Smullyan is anything but leisurely or quiet. 
Those who watched him teach a logic course, would see him lurch  to the 
blackboard (where he writes in a serviceable hand and in complete  sentences) 
and paced about his desk, fidgeting and chuckling. 
He occasionally breaks into a small sibilant laugh at problems that  seemed 
to leave his students somewhat confused than amused (as perhaps  Smullyan's 
laugh would indicate).
One of Smullyan's hobbies is astronony. He loves observing through his  
telescope, and he ground the six inch mirror himself. 

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