Sad News: Daedalus (David Jones) is gone

We’ve just seen reports that our friend David Jones — best known in the science world as “Daedalus” — died. “Daedalus” was the name of the column David created and wrote, in which he did something that, as far as I am aware, was a unique way to make people laugh, then think.

Each Daedalus column would describe an imagined invention. Usually there would be something quite intentionally wrong in the details — a violation of some law of nature, typically — but in a way that was not immediately obvious. The greatest pleasure, should you the reader care to indulge, came in figuring out what exactly made that invention so very odd or impossible. (He waxed on, a bit, about one of his favorite specialties — perpetual motion machines — in a 1983 piece in New Scientist.)

The column ran for many years in New Scientist magazine, and then moved to Nature. Some of the best Daedalus columns were collected and made into two books: The inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes; and The Further Inventions of Daedalus.

David was fond of pointing out, later in life, that many of the ideas he presented in the column accurately foreshadowed things later honored with Nobel Prizes, and a few with Ig Nobel Prizes. That and other musings are in David’s book The Aha! Moment.

Wikipedia has a partial summary of some of the things David did. Better: Conor Lawless visited David in 2010, then produced a writeup with lots of photos.

The photo here shows David at the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. He was not in the best of health, having lost most his ability to walk — but said he would come to demonstrate to himself and the world that he could still do things he wanted to do. David traveled from his home in England to the Ig Nobel ceremony at Harvard University, in the US (and that was in the weeks just after the September 11 attack on New York — travel was not simple for anyone).

In the ceremony, David did one of the first 24/7 lectures. This photo shows that moment. You can read his words, and see video of his actual performance.

While David was in town, he and I and Jerry Lettvin and our families had dinner together. The meal featured a spectacular competition: David Jones and Jerry Lettvin — two of the most inventive, science-loving minds on the planet — gleefully shooting each other’s musings full of holes.


4 Responses to “Sad News: Daedalus (David Jones) is gone”

  1. sam roberts Says:

    Does anyone have his biography or know how to reach his family?

  2. sam roberts Says:

    Does anyone have his bio or know how to reach his family? Thanks

  3. Katie Says:

    As an undergrad and postgrad at Newcastle chemistry he was a lovely fixture in the department. Used to pootle in with his ancient briefcase (lab tubing replaced the handles) and check his post with a few kind words for whomever was knocking around.

  4. Pascall Says:

    The main thing is that this time passed not in vain and you wrote so many interesting things

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