By Shermer, Michael
Skeptic (Altadena, CA) , Vol. 13, No. 4
The last week of August we lost two good friends: Jerry Andrus and Paul MacCready. Instead of repeating formal facts from published obituaries, we provide links to two such obits, along with my personal remembrances for each of my good friends, a photo montage of their appearances at our annual Caltech conferences over the years. Included in this article is a special insert that provides readers with a pattern for a Jerry Andrus illusion and a Paul MacCready paper airplane.
Jerry Andrus died on Sunday, August 26th from as advanced prostate cancer.
I was first introduced to Jerry's work in the mid-1980s at Caltech at an event on how our senses and brains can be easily fooled. Jerry was a brilliant and talented close-up magician, but he was best known for his 3D illusions that, when presented at a certain angle, distance, and lighting, could completely blow your mind with shape-shifting, figure-flipping regularity. (His web page presents excellent video demonstrations of many of these--click on "eye tricks".) With Jerry's permission, I incorporated into my public lecture on "The Power of Belief" his famous 3D impossible crate illusion (pictured on his web page), explaining that it is one thing to see the various 2D illusions typically presented in introductory psychology textbooks; it is quite another thing to see them re-created in 3D. Jerry Andrus was the world's greatest 3D illusionist.
Although Jerry had no formal degrees, he was one of the most creative, eclectic, and diverse minds I have ever encountered, a true polymath. (It sometimes makes me wonder if a college education, especially a higher degree, can confine the mind and restrict thinking into pre-arranged categories that attenuates cross- and inter-disciplinary pollination, but I'll save that discussion for another day.) His thoughts ranged widely across all fields, and he devoted his life to thinking and creating, all toward the goal of trying to better understand how the world works, most notably the world of the mind. I brought Jerry to Caltech on a number of occasions for our annual conferences, where he tirelessly held court in a section of the hall devoted just to his illusions, sitting there for hours on end patiently showing people just how unreliable our senses and brains can be under the influence of his special magic. Even well into his 80s, Jerry managed the trip to L.A. from Oregon with his suitcases full of illusions, and not just for the Skeptics Society conference, but several times a year at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, where he was a resident magician working the dose-up magic room.
What he did for science and skepticism (which was considerable) aside, however, what I most remember about Jerry was his kindness, honesty, and genuineness. I think it was James Randi who said that if you looked up the word "integrity" in the dictionary there would be a picture of Jerry Andrus. Jerry was kind and considerate to everyone he met. He could be asked the same question a hundred times in a day about some illusion he was showing, and he would answer it with the same enthusiasm the hundredth time as he did the first time. Even though he practiced deception professionally as a magician, Jerry Andrus could no more deceive someone in regular life than he could fly (and Jerry couldn't fly, although I suspect he thought about how to create an illusion that he could). Jerry simply wanted to know the truth about the world. He wanted to cut straight through political, religious, and social barriers to our understanding to get to the heart of a problem. This he did as well as and often better than most professional Ph.D. scientists I have met. We shall miss you so very much Jerry. Your legend lives on.
Here is a link to the Albany [Oregon] Democrat Herald article about Jerry's death: http://www.democratherald.com/ articles/2007/08/27/news/top_story/7aaa 01_andrus. …