Why is this obvious?
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 99 20:39:31 -0800
Subject: Why is this obvious?
Forwarded-by: Jack Doyle <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: Kevin Johnsrude <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Marc Abrahams [email@example.com]
1999-01-10 Questionable Math
Mathematicians, as well as their opposite numbers, have responded eagerly
-- and repetitively -- to our essay question "Why is it only mathematicians
who say 'Why is this obvious?'"
More than 80% of the respondents said, "Because." When respondents answered
anything with other than "Because," it usually "Why not?" Several of the
other answers stood out, for various reasons:
"Because mathematics is the only profession in which the practitioners are
intelligent enough to realize that every person on the planet is, basically,
an idiot, and therefore might need some time in order to comprehend the
-- Investigator J.C. Jamison
"The assertion is patently false. Why is this obvious?"
-- Investigator B. Kallick
"Given that the abstract algebra professor has red hair, and teaches ring
theory, then this is clearly a red hair ring."
-- Investigator L. Sherman
"Missing comma. The quote should have been: "Why, is this obvious?" Much
more in line with a mathematical professor's image."
-- Investigator Felix Finch
"Because math is the only subject where anything is *allowed* to be obvious.
In any other science, you have to get a grant, run an experiment, write an
excruciatingly equivocated research article, and have it peer-reviewed and
published and cited in at least 3 literature overviews. THEN it's obvious."
-- Investigator David Lantz
"Q: Why is this obvious?
A: That depends on what your definition of 'is' is."
-- Investigator T. Rose
"I could tell you why
and it would thrill you.
I could tell you why
and it would chill you.
"Please tell me why,
O will you, will you?"
I could tell you why
but I'd have to kill you."
-- Investigator Ray Orrange
1999-01-11 Classic Obviousness
Obviously, there is a rich history to this matter of mathematicians and the
obvious. It is necessary and sufficient to present three examples:
This is a certifiably non-original story I tell to all math majors I
encounter: One mathematician was showing his new theorem to another. The
colleague pointed at the chalkboard and asked how the theorem went from one
step to the next. The first mathematician said, "That's obvious." The second
went to a second blackboard, spent an hour filling it up with complex
calculations, then stepped back and said, "You're right, it IS obvious."
-- Patrick Lenon
It's worth recalling the story of the very famous mathematician G.H. Hardy,
who in a lecture said about some detail in a proof: "This is obvious."
After a pause, he went on: "Hmm, is it really obvious?" After another pause
he left the room to consider the point, returning 20 minutes later with the
verdict: "Yes, I was right, it is obvious."
-- J.R. Partington
"The world's most famous mathematician, Humpty Dumpty, speaking for fellow
mathematicians everywhere, said: "When I use a word, it means precisely what
I choose it to mean, neither more nor less". Mathematicians always say what
they mean, even though they do not mean what they say. Obviously.
-- Dirk Laurie
© 1999 Peter Langston