Or to mock a mockingbird: Herbert Paul Grice and Raymond Merrill Smullyan.
Grice used to say that he left Oxford for the 'new world,' as he called it (he
meant the continent named after the old-world sailor Amerigo Vespucci) because
there wasn't many logicians in Oxford. This is odd, coming from Grice, seeing
that Grice was at Oxford and that indeed P. F. Strawson in his wrong
masterpiece (I mean, it's a masterpiece of an essay, if anti-Griceian in nature
-- "Introduction to Logical Theory," often misquoted as "An introduction to
logical theory," but Sir Peter hated indefinites) credits in the
"Acknowledgments" his (Sir Peter's, that is) debt to "Mr. H. P. Grice, from
whom I have never ceased to learn about logic" since he (Grice) was his
(Strawson's) tutor at St. John's -- even if he got a second at PPE (Sir Peter
-- Grice got a first at Lit. Hum. -- but nobody compares to Grice). So Grice
was understandably happy when he arrived in the new world to find Raymond
Merrill Smullyan! (This is evident in the acknowledgment section of one of the
first essays he wrote in the new world, "Vacuous Names") (By 'vacuous names',
Grice means "Marmaduke Bloggs," and others).
In what follows I use what grammarians call the 'historical present'. They
Keywords remain: Herbert Paul Grice and Raymond Merrill Smullyan.
Raymond Smullyan is a Puzzle-Creating Logician. Raymond Smullyan teaches
philosophy at Lehman in the Bronx. There is a nice photograph of him by Eddie
(Edward) Hausner. Raymond Smullyan's merry, agile mind led him to be a
philosopher, a musician, a magician, a mathematician and, most cunningly, a
puzzle-creating philosophical logician. (No, there is no repetition, or flout
of a Griceian maxim, by saying Smullyan was a philosopher and a philosophical
logician -- as every Griceian should know). He (Smullyan, not Grice) lives in
Hudson, N.Y. -- which is a nice place to live. Smullyan is a serious
philosopher, with the publications and the doctorate to prove it. "Serious"
should not be taken too seriouslys, seeing that for Grice the first requirement
of philosophy is that it should be fun ("Prejudices and Predilections"). But
Smullyan's greatest legacy allegedly is the devilishly clever logic puzzles
that he devised, presenting them in numerous essays or just in casual
conversation, alla Grice! Sometimes these puzzles were one-offs. Sometimes they
were embedded in longer narratives to explain philosophico-logical concepts,
such as Boolean logic, as he does in “The Magic Garden of George B and Other
Logic Puzzles;" or retrograde analysis, as he explores in the “The Chess
Mysteries of the Arabian Knights." Smullyan was also a character -- if not of a
Shakespeareian play. With his long hair and beard, Smullyan resembles Ian
McKellen’s wizard, Gandalf, from the “Lord of the Rings” film series, if you've
seen it (and even if you haven't).
Smullyan is lanky, he hates exercise (unlike Grice, whose obituary reads,
"Professional philosopher and amateur cricketer" -- Grice was also football
captain at Corpus Christi) and loves steak and eggs.
Smullyan studied Eastern religion. Grice didn't. This caused a retort from
Staal to Grice: "You should." (Grice accepted that the longitudinal and
latitudinal unities of philosophy possibly held both in the West and the East
-- "Reply to Richards").
Smullyan told corny jokes and performed close-up magic to anyone near him.
Like Grice, Smullyan played the piano with passion and talent. (Grice's father
played the violin, and his younger brother Derek played the cello -- they went
by "The Grices").
A career in music, in Smullyan's case, had been derailed by tendinitis. And
Smullyan was fond of his philosophical, if silly, sayings, such as,
"Why should I worry about dying? It’s not going to happen in my lifetime!”
This was to prove Witters wrong.
Melvin Fitting, of New York, a philosopher, recalls Smullyan’s demeanour as his
thesis advisor at Yeshiva while Fitting was pursuing his doctorate.
“Smullyan would be smiling in anticipation of the many beautiful things he was
going to show you,” the Fitting says.
Smullyan sees beauty in the puzzles that he creates, seemingly non-stop, and
views them as tools to spread the gospel of philosophical logic, as Grice did!
In his essay, "The Lady or the Tiger? And Other Logic Puzzles,” Smullyan writes
about the greater popularity that Euclid’s “Elements” would have achieved had
the Greek mathematician framed it as a puzzle book -- "and in English, rather
"Given a triangle with two equal sides, are two of the angles necessarily
"Why, or why not?"
Smullyan's puzzles are so much a part of his identity that he posed one on his
first date with his future wife, Blanche de Grab, a Belgian.
What he posed to de Grab was a statement that, in the way Smullyan framed it,
could only result in a kiss from her.
Reminiscing about it, Smullyan notes that it was a “pretty sneaky way of
winning a kiss, wasn’t it?”
The 'wasn't it' is rhetorical, in Griceian terms.
Jason Rosenhouse, of James Madison, who edited a compilation celebrating
Smullyan, says the clarity of Smullyan's puzzles can unveil the beauty of
philosophical logic to those who could not previously grasp it.
“It is like fooling a kid into eating his vegetables,” Rosenhouse says, adding,
“Smullyan takes something like Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and uses a
string of logic puzzles as a device for presenting them.”
Martin Gardner, himself a renowned math puzzler, compares Smullyan to the
Oxford logician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who also was an author better known
by his pen name, Lewis Carroll (indeed "Charles Lutwidge" Latinised and
Smullyan pays tribute to Carroll in his essay “Alice in Puzzle-Land: A
Carrollian Tale for Children Under Eighty.”
In one chapter, Smullyan writes, Alice thinks to herself about how confusing,
yet remarkably logical, Humpty Dumpty is.
"I wonder," Alice says, “how Humpty Dumpty manages to be both confusing and
logical?” There was no answer. There was, it would seem, some confusing logic
in the zig-zagging path of Smullyan’s life.
Raymond Merrill Smullyan was born in Far Rockaway, Queens, which is a nice
place to be born. His father, Isidore, was a businessman. His mother, Rosina
Freedman, was a homemaker. Smullyan's education was peripatetic and eclectic.
Smullyan attended both Pacific and Reed in Oregon, and then studied mathematics
and logic on his own. He also learned magic. Smullyan creates chess puzzles
that are more concerned about moves that had been made than the ones that
should be made. Smullyan put together a magic act, and performed under the
stage name Five-Ace Merrill at nightclubs like "The Pump Room" in Chicago,
where he worked for tips. He went on to get his B. A. in mathematics from
Chicago and a Ph.D. from Princeton. Smullyan taught at Princeton, Yeshiva,
Lehman, and Indiana.
Smullyan's philosophy of teaching was a little puzzling. “My policy is to teach
the student as much as possible and to require from him or her as little as
possible,” he tells Donald Albers and Gerald Alexanderson, the authors of
“Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews."
But, Smullyan adds, the impact of his apparent lenience is that many of his
students work harder in his course than in any other. Smullyan is survived by
his stepson, Jack Kotik; six step-grandchildren; and 16
His wife Blanche, a pianist and music educator, died in 2006. His first
marriage ended in divorce.
Kotik recalled being with his wife at the Smullyans’ house in Elka Park, N.Y.,
and listening to a radio report about the high salaries of athletes.
His mother, Blanche, said they were excessive. Smullyan says that to be paid so
much was unfair.
“I said, ‘Raymond, isn’t it true that you’re more intelligent than most
people?’ ” Kotik says.
""Yes,’ he said. So I said, ‘I think that’s unfair. We should take out part of
your brain and distribute it to people who could use it.’
“He was silent for a minute, and finally Smullyan says, ‘I can not give you any
reason, but I would not do it.’ ”
Puzzles are an essential part of Smullyan’s patois — a logician’s way of
greeting and testing people.
When Smullyan met his most recent editor, Rochelle Kronzek, he asked her to
solve some problems.
“It intimidated me at first, but I came up with creative answers,” Kronzek, the
executive editor of World Scientific Publishing, says, “and more than once he
smiled because he liked the way I was thinking."
"He got a lot of joy out of seeing how other people thought."
Some Smullyan quotes:
When asked why he doesn't believe in astrology, Smullyan responds that he's a
Gemini and Geminis never believe in astrology.
"Some people are always critical of vague statements. I tend rather to be
critical of precise statements; they are the only ones which can correctly be
A recurring puzzle in Smullyan is an ISLAND were each habitant is either a liar
or a truthteller. Here is an example:
"You come across two inhabitants of the island. Let's call them A and B. A
says, "We are both telling the truth." B says, "A is lying". Can you tell who
is a liar and who is a truthteller?"
"Why should I be worried about dying? It's not going to happen in my lifetime!"
or in my favourite version:
"Why should I worry about death? It's not going to happen in my lifetime!"
"I believe that either Jupiter has life or it doesn't. But I neither believe
that it does, nor do I believe that it doesn't."
"Of course the falsity of the fact that you believe the pillar box is blue
implies that you don't believe that it is blue. But this does not mean that you
believe it is NOT blue!"
"I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have
free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!"
The unpublications by Smullyan are many and varied. So are his publications. We
-- What is the name of this book? The riddle of Dracula and other logical
puzzles. -- Musical Memories. -- Some interesting memories: a paradoxical life.
-- A beginner's guide to mathematical logic. -- Reflections: the magic, music,
and mathematics of Raymond Smullyan. World Scientific. -- Four lives: a
celebration of Raymond Smullyan, edited by Raymond Smullyan (in collaboration
with Jason Rosenhouse). -- The chess mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. -- Logical
labyrinths. -- The lady or the tiger? And other logical puzzles. -- The magic
garden of George B, and other logical puzzles. -- The riddle of Scheherazade
and other amazing puzzles -- ancient & modern. -- First-order logic
(Grice's favourite essay by Smullyan -- vide Grice, "Vacuous Names" --
"Acknowledgments". -- The Goedelian puzzle book: puzzles, paradoxes, and
proofs. -- 5000 B. C. and other PHILOSOPHICAL fantasies: puzzles and paradoxes,
riddles and reasonings. -- A mixed bag: jokes, puzzles, and other memorabilia.
-- To mock a mockingbird, and other logical puzzles -- Set-theory and the
continuum problem (with Melvin Fitting). -- A beginner's further guide to
mathematical logic. World Scientific. -- Theory of Formal Systems -- Annals of
Mathematics Studies, Princeton. -- Who knows? -- King Arthur in search of his
dog, and other curious puzzles. -- This film needs no title: a portrait of
Raymond Smullyan. -- Alice in Puzzle-Land: A Carrollian Tale for Children Under
Eighty. -- Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems. -- Satan, Cantor, and Infinity --
and other mind-boggling puzzles. -- Alice in Puzzle-Land: more brain-teasers by
the most puzzling genius on earth. With an introduction by Martin Gardner.