Grigori "Grisha" Mints
Originally published June 4, 2014
With great sadness, the Stanford Philosophy Department notes the passing of our friend and beloved colleague Grigori (“Grisha”) Mints, who died at Stanford on Thursday, May 29th, just shy of his 75th birthday.
Mints was born on June 7, 1939 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was a student of Nikolai Shanin and obtained his degrees in Mathematics from the Leningrad State University (the B.A. and M.S. in 1961, the Ph.D. in 1965, and the Sc.D. in 1990). He held research positions at the Steklov Mathematics Institute, the Leningrad University, and the Estonian Academy of Sciences before his appointment as Professor of Philosophy at Stanford in 1991. He was also appointed Professor by Courtesy in our sister departments of Mathematics and Computer Science, and he maintained an active program of teaching, research, travel, and scholarly interaction right up to the time of his death. In recent years, his contributions have been recognized by election to the Estonian Academy of Sciences (2008) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2010). He is survived by his wife, Marianna Rozenfeld, daughter Anna Reznikova, grandson Alexandre Reznikov, and great-granddaughter Viktoria Reznikova.
Mints was one of the most distinguished logicians in the world. His broad ranging work included important contributions to the development of non-classical logics, intuitionistic logic, modal logic, automated deduction, and constructive mathematics, but he is perhaps best known for his contributions to proof theory, one of the four main subdivisions of modern mathematical logic. Already in the 1920s, David Hilbert proposed the so-called “epsilon substitution method” for carrying out the rigorous theory of proofs, and following Tait’s important contributions in the 1960s, Mints became known as a leading exponent of this method, almost single-handedly leading the way over a long period in efforts to develop the method and expand its range of application. In pursuit of his varied research program, Mints published three books, ten edited volumes, hundreds of scholarly papers, and literally thousands of reviews, by means of which he also maintained his international intellectual connections through sometimes difficult years working in the Soviet Union. His active research program only accelerated after his arrival at Stanford, where he was a mainstay and fixture of our logic group for nearly twenty-five years, leaving his indelible mark on generations of students and colleagues. He worked tirelessly to bridge the different logical worlds in which he worked, particularly the traditions of work from the former Soviet Union and those of his Western collaborators. All of us will fondly remember his constant striving to bring colleagues and collaborators as well as new students into contact with the Stanford logic group, thereby opening up the world of logic to new minds.
Grisha combined great intellectual intensity and seemingly boundless energy with a captivating sense of fun and a gift for illuminating historical analogies and connections. All of us will miss his ready, twinkling smile in the Department Lounge and his energetic presence in department life. His passing is a great intellectual loss to our community, as well as a personal one that will be felt by all his colleagues and students at Stanford. A public memorial event for Stanford colleagues is planned for the Fall.
The following testimonials are among those that have come to the department from Grisha’s students, colleagues, and friends:
“As a student of Professor Nikolay Shanin in the 1960's, Grisha was involved in early work on automated reasoning, and later on he made other important contributions to computational logic. But his true calling was to study formal proofs in the spirit of pure mathematics in the best sense of the word: the main project of Grisha's professional life was to develop a clear, complete understanding of properties of proofs, so that any possible question about them will be easy to answer.”
— Vladimir Lifschitz,
Gottesman Family Centennial Professor in Computer Sciences
University of Texas
“Grisha was a firm but caring supervisor for me. Everyone I know looked up to him as a giant of the field. His knowledge and insights were unparalleled. I'm proud to say that I'm a student of Grisha. He gave me deep insights that were won through his own decades of experience working at the core of proof theory, foundations of mathematics, and automated theorem proving, and at the highest levels of quality.”
— Jesse Alama, Stanford Phil ’09
Postdoctoral researcher, Technical University of Vienna
“Grisha Mints combined a towering intellect and deep understanding of logic and mathematics, with a kind, lighthearted demeanor and generous nature. I always felt I could drop in to Grisha's office at any time, whether to discuss some topic or problem in logic, or quite often, 19th/20th century Russian literature and history. He always had a smile on his face, made anyone feel at ease — even when discussing technical issues in logic — and always had a (distinctively Russian) joke for every occasion. He will be greatly missed.”
— Thomas Icard, Stanford Phil ’14
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University
“Grisha Mints cared passionately about logic and its connections with mathematics and other fields. At the same time, he cared for his students, and gave them superb training combined with a unique international experience where the Russian language and its literary and political features shone through the English. Personally, I recall many encounters with Grisha, from shared interests in modal logic and his constant support of our logic outreach workshops to discussions of many things Russian, often on joint hikes to the parks above the Bay Area. The gap that Grisha Mints leaves in the department is clear for everyone to see, the gap that his passing leaves in the personal lives of colleagues and family wil be felt acutely for a long time to come.”
— Johan van Benthem
Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Stanford U.
University Professor of Logic, University of Amsterdam
Weilun Visiting Professor, Tsinghua University, Beijing
"Grisha was something like the grandfather I never had. From the time I arrived at Stanford, he exhibited great warmth both personally and intellectually. His graduate seminars and subsequent encouragement have helped me grow tremendously as a researcher. His activity in the research seminar in logic and foundations of mathematics as well as his open-door policy set a tremendous model that I hope to follow in my own academic career. His ability to combine deep mathematical insight with a care for the larger political and social world always shone through in his characteristic humor. A favorite of mine: in an advanced proof theory seminar, Grisha paused before proving a theorem and said, 'If George Bush had known this proof, we never would have gone to Iraq.'
I was with Grisha in Russia during his last trip where he both organized and participated in a conference at the intersection of philosophy, mathematics, and linguistics. Although his sudden departure has left a hole in many that can never be filled, let us at least take solace in the fact that Grisha remained as active, kind, sharp, witty, and vibrant as ever until his last days."
— Shane Steinert-Threlkeld
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Philosophy
"Grisha Mints was one of my logic teachers at Stanford. I am grateful to everything that he did for me. This includes all the ways in which he taught me how not to be a terrifying logic instructor. Basically by taking whatever he would do and do the opposite. He also taught me the hard way how to stand up to people. My first year, hopelessly insecure because I was sure I didn't belong there, facing my genius Russian model theory teacher. I learned to smile, and graciously accept correction, and not burst into tears. This was apparently what he wanted me to be able to do. For better or worse, nobody else ever scared me like that again.
I have so many favourite things about Grisha I want to talk about.
There is the fact that he often would not let me take notes when I would see him in his office to ask questions, because he was writing down things. I had to just listen. I would generally leave after a half hour or 45 minutes with a scrap of paper saying (more or less) \exists x \phi.
There was the department event where he wandered up to me and said he had been meaning to ask what my relationship was to mushrooms. (Not *those* kind, just regular.)
He said that his favourite joke was "What is one great thing Stanford has but Berkeley doesn't? The Hoover institute." This is because it would upset people at both schools, of course.
After my first year at Stanford, I had to have a talking to by my then-partner because I had started prefacing every sentence with "No." I would say things like, "No. Yes, exactly, (etc)" This is because Grisha's response to everything you said was "Ah...no." and I had picked up the habit. He said "yes" once, I think, by saying "Ah...no. Ah... maybe you know something."
But what I will always be grateful for is the story I love to tell people, that he was the first one to specifically try to encourage me, as a woman in logic, to carry on and work hard. There was a semester when I had literally no other women in any of my classes. One of my friends wrote as a joke on the board before class "Audrey wonders why there are no women in logic." Grisha came in to teach, and when he saw it prefaced the class by telling us (but really me) all about the amazing Sofia Kovalevskaya. I know this was his way of telling me that women are fully capable of success in logic and math. Honestly, I don't think the story itself helped, but the fact that he told it to me truly did. I like to think he wouldn't have told it to me if he didn't think I had it in me. So it always meant a lot to me, and probably always will.
So thank you, Grisha, for everything you did for me. I will miss you. It makes me sad to think that I'll never hear you say "Ah...no" to me ever again. I hope you are now doing cut elimination proofs for intuitionistic logic on that big chalkboard in the sky."
— Audrey Yap
Stanford Phil '06
Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Victoria
Very sad news today: Grisha Mints has died. He was born June 7, 1939 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). He received his education in mathematics at Leningrad State University under N. A. Shanin, and held positions there, at the Steklov Institute in Leningrad, and then, from 1980-1991, at the Estonian Academy of Science in Tallinn. In 1991 he joined the Philosophy Department at Stanford University, where he also held courtesy appointments in computer science and mathematics (since 1992 and 1997, respectively). In 2008 he was elected to the Estonian Academy of Sciences, and in 2010 named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Grisha was a force in logic, especially in proof theory. His early work centered on systems for automated theorem proving, where he contributed significantly to the development of Maslov's inverse method, resolution, and the relation between the two. He made major contributions to general proof theory, non-classical logics, constructive mathematics, program verification, and proof mining. He was the leading expert on Hilbert's epsilon calculus and the substitution method approach to the proof theory of strong subsystems of arithmetic. In addition to over 200 papers, he wrote two introductory books on modal and intuitionistic logic, and some of the early papers from his days in the Soviet Union were collected in his Selected Papers in Proof Theory.
I'm grateful to have had many beautiful interactions with Grisha over the years. The logicians at the TU Vienna had close contacts with Tallinn in the late 80's and early 90's, and I had the good fortune to meet Grisha then. While at Berkeley and Stanford, I attended a couple of his classes. He was a demanding teacher, but I learned a lot. I often visited before I taught at Stanford, and a few times since I've left. Whenever I did, he would ask me what I was working on, and he'd acknowledge what I'd said with a smile and a sideways nod and "um-hmm." Often he would then tell me about some obscure, usually Soviet-era, book or paper that addressed all the problems and questions I had. Then came the part where he'd tell me about his current work, and I would struggle to keep up. I'll always fondly remember those visits. He was a wonderful, generous teacher and colleague.
— Richard Zach
Professor, University of Calgary, Department of Philosophy
Lecturer at Stanford, 2001