9 Feb

Why is this obvious?

Content-Type: text/plain Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2) From: Peter Langston <psl> Date: Tue, 9 Feb 99 20:39:31 -0800 To: Fun_People Precedence: bulk Subject: Why is this obvious? X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649 X-http://www.langston.com/psl-bin/Fun_People.cgi Forwarded-by: Jack Doyle <doylej@peak.org> Forwarded-by: Kevin Johnsrude <kevinj@roguewave.com> Forwarded-by: Marc Abrahams [marca@chem2.harvard.edu] 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 perfectly obvious." -- 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