Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner. Are Universes Thicker than Blackberries? W. W. Norton, 2003.

Nonagenarian Gardner presents yet more essays on a wide variety of topics, including several blasting at psychical research and the paranormal in general. Among these is a critical peace on Mrs Piper, one of the SPR’s favorite mediums. One gets the suspicion that Gardner’s account is as partial as any believer's.

Of more contemporary interest are critical studies of facilitated communication by which autistic children were 'facilitated' by helpers to produce all sorts of communications, including the near-inevitable accusations of parental sexual assault. Needless to say the source of the communications is the 'helper' and not the child, and no doubt using some such technique a chimpanzee could be 'facilitated' into typing out Hamlet, but I am not sure if this interesting experiment has been performed recently. Then there is the the sometimes fatal primal scream therapy, and Gardner recounts a horrific case of child manslaughter at the hands of a 'therapist' obviously a good deal barmier than her clients.

Trouble with Gardner is that not only does he know an awful lot about an awful lot, but he knows he knows, and wants you to know as well, and you get the impression that he definitely believes that his opinion on any subject is the last word. Curiously for a writer often associated with the rationalist CSICOP, Gardner’s objections to much of what he complains about are religious. For example he rejects ideas of multiple universes with the comment that “Surely the conjecture that there is just one universe and its creator is infinitely simpler and easier to believe than there are countless billions upon billions of worlds ... created by nobody” I imagine similar comments could have been made to Galileo or Darwin. Scientific naturalism requires that the answers to scientific puzzles be found within the discourse of science and not with question-stopping religious answers. -- Peter Rogerson

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