Martin Gardner (YGtCTO Words #84)

On the Wild Side

Book written by Martin Garner

It is not without some down-turning at the ends of my lips that I note that nearly twelve years ago I penned the following:

It’s a good time to be a skeptic, but you knew that.  And upstate New York is a great part of the world for skepticism.  The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal is right around the corner at 1310 Sweet Home Road in Amherst.  They’re the folks who publish Skeptical Inquirer magazine which lets you ponder Yetis and weeping Virgin Mary statues and palm reading without insulting your intelligence.  Such luminaries as Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov were involved in the early years of the organization.  No other magazine explores concerns about dead Beatles and theories of intelligent design in the same volume.

Amherst also boasts the headquarters of Prometheus Books, which has been building a remarkable backlist since 1969.  Sagan, Asimov and others cross over from the CSICOP fold, but the Prometheus family is huge in comparison even to mainstream publishers- a hundred or so books published each year.  Among my favorites are: Shockingly Close to the Truth!: Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist by James W. Moseley and Karl T. Pflock and On the Wild Side: The Big Bang, ESP, The Beast 666, Levitation, Rainmaking, Trance-Channeling by Martin Gardner.  Moseley spent much of the past fifty years as a player in the UFO subculture.  He gossips a great deal and reveals a lot of the reality of pulling the wool over your neighbors’ heads.  It’s the book that Moseley says he’s been trying to write all that time.  One of the major players in the popular science crowd, Gardner makes sense of nonsense- the motivations and misunderstandings that drive people to idiocy.  The world might just be a saner place if everyone read a little Martin Gardner and worked a little harder at separating reality from fiction.

Martin Gardner

Do I

need to tell you that I long ago memorized the location of Gardner’s books in the local library? When I feel I overwhelmed by the obfuscation and nonsense that seemingly pervades life, let’s just say that “the horse knows the way” and I somehow find myself in the proper aisle among the books that I need.

Gardner is a great balm for all the twisting and turning and mindless acceptance that confront anyone who refuses to disengage from the world. (Of course, such disengaging may offer as many dangers.) I don’t always agree with everything that he writes, but I find great reassurance in reading someone who works hard to think clearly. Coupled with straightforward writing and a willingness to argue with pretty well anyone, I never feel bored or insulted.

The world is simply too complicated and daft to forget how to think. And we all owe Gardner’s memory that small effort.

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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 49 more to go.

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