[FOM] Torkel Franzen

Timothy Y. Chow tchow at alum.mit.edu
Mon Apr 24 11:40:48 EDT 2006

The news of Torkel Franzen's death came as a shock.  I never met him in 
person, but as a relatively early adopter of USENET (I started in 1988), I 
soon encountered his razor-sharp mind on sci.logic.  When scholarship 
catches up to the real world and the story of USENET is properly told, I 
believe that Torkel Franzen will emerge as a major figure, one always 
ready to confront the Augean stables of nonsense on the newsgroups with 
the river of his clear thought and wit.  Google Groups estimates 25,000 
articles written by him, and this is an underestimate since Google's 
archive extends only so far back in time.  It was always a guilty but 
immensely entertaining pleasure to watch Torkel slice and dice a pompous 
fool so deftly that the victim would not even realize how hard people were 
laughing at him.

But Torkel did not limit himself to entertaining himself and others by 
fencing with idiots.  For those who really wanted to learn something, he 
was always quick to supply precise, penetrating insights and answers.  I 
am personally indebted to him for his clarification of many of the common 
confusions that plague beginners in logic.  I bought his two recent books 
as soon as they came out and was not disappointed; they are splendidly 
written in his inimitable style, and fill voids that had remained in the 
literature despite the many published expository accounts of Goedel's 
theorem and related topics.  I cannot resist quoting a hilarious line from 
"Goedel's Theorem":

  For any remaining instances of incompleteness or inconsistency in the 
  book, I consider myself entirely blameless, since after all, Goedel 
  proved that any book on the incompleteness theorem must be incomplete or 

The paragraph in the introduction to "Inexhaustibility" in which he 
mentions his wife is one of the sweetest dedications I have ever read.  
Though I know nothing of his wife beyond what is written there, my 
sympathies go to her.  The only small comfort I can offer is the 
reassurance that though the world may have lost the unique, brilliant, 
passionate, and witty Torkel Franzen, it will not forget him.

Tim Chow

More information about the FOM mailing list