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An Interview with James Randi (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/02/08


An interview with James Randi. He discusses: education, critical thinking, Donald Trump, and varieties of infinity; An Honest Liar and response to the film; gay rights, gay equality, gay marriage, marriage to Deyvi in 2013, coming out as gay on March 21, 2010, and the Harvey Milk film.

Keywords: Deyvi, gay marriage, Harvey Milk, James Randi.

An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part Two)[1]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, &bibliography & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*

4. Ideally, a proper education in the 21st century should include logic, statistics, science, and critical thinking. Do you think that insufficient general intelligence can be a barrier or a factor that’s important for proper critical thinking throughout the lifespan in addition to not having access to those four aforementioned core aspects of what I would consider a proper education in the 21stcentury: logic, statistics, critical thinking, and science?

I think it’s made pretty evident by a lot of people I run into that just don’t have logic working for them. I think this is a lack of formal education. There’s something to be said for that, but it’s not everything. Experience in life counts a great deal too, of course. I was very fortunate to have this ability to think this way, and to make use of what I gained by that.

I was very fortunate to have wonderful teachers, high school teachers. Oh, my goodness! Miss Quail tried to teach me German, which I didn’t quite learn. I can only do einzweidreivierfünf,a few things like that. My physics teacher was Mr. Tovell. I never learned his first name. In school, in Canada, we never knew the first names of any of the teachers. They were Mrs., Mr., or Miss. We weren’t given that privilege or encouraged to find out. Oh yes, my mathematics teacher, Mr. Henderson and physics teacher Mr. Tovell, were my idols. I followed them around a great deal.

No, I pestered them, that’s the right terminology. I really pestered them like a bug, I guess. I asked them questions. I was doing differential calculus in grade school, as a curiosity (dy/dx). Wow, I found out that by knowing a little bit, just like in chemistry – having a little sample of a curve or some such thing, I could find out secrets of the whole thing. Wow! Things like ellipses, I could take a little piece of that and I could find out about the whole thing, find out what it could do, and how. That was wonderful, wonderful. Trigonometry was just a magical thing, a magical thing. I was good at all of that. Not just because I was bright, I don’t suppose, but out of curiosity. I had this burning, curiosity. Then I read One, Two, Three, Infinity by George Gamow. You wouldn’t know these books, I don’t think. They’re rather esoteric.


Gamow taught me about the different degrees of infinity. There are different kinds of infinity, you know? Infinity means as far as you can go. I’ll give you a little workout here. Suppose we have a two-dimensional universe, like a big sheet of paper, a plane surface. It goes on to infinity in all directions and we live on that sheet of paper. What’s the number of dots that you can draw on that sheet of paper?


You got it! Maybe you’re okay! Yes, but now I’m going to show you a higher degree of infinity. This may surprise you. Now, we say, just drawing dots, there’s, of course, an infinite number because it goes to infinity in all directions. What would be a larger degree of infinity, in this two-dimensional universe? A larger degree of infinity by far, and you can sense this even if it doesn’t appeal to you much, at first. Ready? It’s the number of straight lines you can draw on that plane. Now, that means on a flat plane going on for an infinite length and width, though not up or down.

There would be an infinity of dots, but there would of course be a larger number of straight lines that you can draw there, of different lengths, in different directions. So, that’s a second kind, or degree, of infinity… Now, this is the heavy one: What’s the third degree of infinity? If you want to call me back, and ever want to discuss, it, then I’ll tell you, and you’ll say, “Oh, of course, of course.” It’s a wonderful answer. That’s the kind of thing that always fascinated me. I always had wonderful answers. I could look at numbers as a kid in whatever book I would buy or look at, or even in my nightly newspaper, the Toronto Daily Star. I could tell by looking up at Saturn – if it was in the sky that particular season, and I would know if I looked in my telescope – and I had a big brass refracting telescope – which was so big that it was heavy as hell – and I’d stay up late at night and look up into the night sky at Saturn, Jupiter, or the Moon. I’d go to the newspaper and find out how many moons would be there, visible, not behind the planet or in front of it, and in what direction they would be stretched out. By golly, there they were, just as the paper predicted. Of course, I could have asked for the positions of the moons 20 years in the future. But then I’d have to wait quite some time, 20 years, you see.

That can be done. It’s a wonderful discovery.


It was wonderful things that really taught me, fascinated me. Then I also had a good friend, Gary Haines, who was very much scientifically interested, and a couple of others as well. We used to get together and exchange notes. I had a wonderfully exciting childhood that way.

5. Now, in a recent documentary calledAn Honest Liar…

Oh, I remember that, yes.


What was the response to the film in general?

Oh! Very, very good, excellent. As a matter of fact, Deyvi and I have attended, oh, I don’t know how many showings of it. All over this country. I’ve attended showings in Denmark, Germany and in Finland in particular. It’s wonderful, the popularity of it. It’s now dubbed in nine languages, the subtitles, that is. That is quite something. It’s being seen by a lot of people, and the reaction to it has been spectacular. What’s most interesting to me and to Deyvi is that when we attend a screening of it – and we’ve done it so many times we can’t count them – at the end there’s always a Q&A. We appear on stage and answer questions. We often get the same questions, that’s how that sort of thing goes. But then when the audience actually leaves the theatre after seeing the film and the Q&A, there’s always a group of three to five, maybe seven, people who stay at the foot of the stage. We know what that’s all about, and we’re quite accustomed to it now.

One or more will look up at us and say, “You made a big change in my life.” Now, you can’t buy that. That’s not something you can purchase or you can coax somebody into saying, and they often have tears coming down their faces, because they’re the ones we reached as a result of that film, in one way or another. It could be in many different ways because of the contents of that film. Again, you can’t buy that. I hardly have to say any more about it than that. It is quite an experience to have people say that, to have them take you by the hand and say, “You changed my life.” Wow! We are very, very grateful to the producers of the film, of course.

The film has been a success. And it’s ranking very, very high. It was – I forgot – a 96% or something approval rating on Netflix or on one of them.

6. In one scene of that film, there is a clip. It has to do with you and Deyvi discussing gay marriage, which relates to gay rights, gay equality, and gay marriage itself. You were married in 2013 to Deyvi.


What was that experience for you? As well, that relates to, I think March 21, 2010, you came out as gay. What was the experience of coming out as well as getting married to your partner Deyvi?

Okay, that’s two different aspects of it. First of all, I was moved by seeing the Harvey Milk film. I can’t think of the name of it, maybe just “Milk”?  Harvey Milk was a minor San Francisco politician who was killed by an anti-gay. He was just shot dead. Just look up Harvey Milk, M-I-L-K, and I’m sure you’ll find it. I even have some Harvey Milk commemorative stamps in the desk here.

That was, when I saw the film, when I realized that I’d never “come out”. I’d been gay all of those years, all of my friends knew, all of my business acquaintances, et cetera, et cetera. People close to me. But I’d never “come out.” I thought, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, why am I not “out?” I was 82 or something like that then. I’m 88 now. I was a youngster then…


I announced one day on my webpage. “By the way, I’m gay.” I said a few words about it. The reaction I got! I didn’t know what to expect, of course, but the reaction was wonderful. People saying, “I didn’t know, but thank you for coming out and telling us that.” It was a good move. Marriage, gay marriage, eventually became legal in Washington, D.C., to start with, and I decided I wouldn’t waste any time.



It was very simple. We got the certificate. It’s in a safe place, I can assure you. It was something we should’ve done anyway; you know? That is, coming out as gay and then following that up with getting married. But that need eventually came along, not too long after the time of the Harvey Milk film.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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