AL SECKEL 1958 - 2015
Al Paul Seckel, who died at the age of 57 near his home in France, is best known for helping to make optical illusions a household name throughout the world.
Al Seckel was born in New York City on September 3rd, 1958 to Paul Seckel and Ruth Schonthal Seckel. Al had two older brothers, Ben and Bernard Seckel. They grew up in New Rochelle, New York. While attending Cornell University he met his first wife, Laura Seckel. They moved to California where he spent a great deal of time with Richard Feynman at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In 1987 their daughter, Elizabeth, was born.
Throughout the 1980s, Al Seckel was extremely active in the freethought movement. In 1983, he and John Edwards created the Darwin fish design, which was first sold as a bumper sticker and on T-shirts. In 1984, he founded the Southern California Skeptics (SCS), and became a spokesperson for science and its relationship to the paranormal. SCS co-sponsored and produced a monthly series of lectures held at Caltech that explained alleged paranormal phenomena such as extrasensory perception and firewalking, the aim of which was to interest people in the study of science. Al also authored a monthly column in the Los Angeles Times and the Santa Monica News where he wrote about investigating other supernatural claims from a scientific perspective.
In 1987, SCS and Seckel helped sponsor an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme court in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard, challenging the constitutionality of a Louisiana law calling for the classroom inclusion of creation science. After retiring from the skeptics’ movement in 1990, he turned his full attention to studying the human brain, specifically vision and how it relates to perception.
Al Seckel launched the first free interactive website on illusions in 1994, which can now be found at http://tinyurl.com/alseckelsillusions. Academics, researchers, and students from around the world found his website to be an immense and positive contribution to their teaching and understanding of the subject matter. Throughout much of the nineties, this site was the only source for this information.
He went on to write a number of award-winning books on visual illusions, such as The Art of Optical Illusions and Masters of Deception. He also gave invited lectures at universities and conferences around the world, including at TED and the World Economic Forum, Davos.
Passionate about igniting imagination and joy of scientific thought and curiosity in others, Al developed optical illusion installations and exhibits for museums around the world, including the London Museum of Science, the Hong Kong Centre, the Singapore Science Centre, the Calgary Science Center, and the National Science Centre, Malaysia. He also consulted for many of the most famous magicians of the time, including David Copperfield, Franz Harary, and Mark Setteducati.
Al will be remembered and greatly missed by close friends and colleagues for his gatherings of great thinkers that were akin to the salons during the Age of Enlightenment: carefully curated groups of scientists, artists, writers, and innovators from all walks of life who would gather and share ideas with people from spheres they would otherwise never have met.
Al always had a passion for delightful creations of the mind, which included impossible objects, origami, mazes, creative toys, magic, and mathematical puzzles, as well as a deep fascination with the history of scientific thought. Whether in France hunting for Neanderthal tools, exploring crystal caves and chateaux, or back in America camping and river rafting with friends and family, getting lost in a maze, or delighting a room with impossible magic you had to see to believe, he was always full of life and laughter, ever having fun and adventure.
Al is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth, his brother, Bernard, and his partner, Isabel.
Donations may be made in memoriam to the American Heart Association.