FOM: humorous interlude

Neil Tennant neilt at
Tue Mar 10 22:29:00 EST 1998

In some of my lighter reading, I came across some quotes I thought
might amuse members of fom.

Neil Tennant


>From The Times Literary Supplement, no.4942, December 19, 1997, p.15,
letter to the Editor, 'Mathematics and Western progress', from William
A. Therivel:

The Encyclopaedia Universalis opens its chapter on Islamic mathematics
by reporting (from the Tales from the Arabian Nights) how, in Baghdad,
a barber introduced himself to a prospective client as an accomplished
mathematician, expert in geometry and arithmetic, in astronomy and
refined algebra; and giving proof of his knowledge by performing, in
front of the client who only wanted a haircut, a series of important
astronomical measures with an astrolabe he had carried in his

>From "A Tour of the Calculus", by David Berlinski, Pantheon Books, New
York, 1995, p.38:

In the twelfth century ... Bhaskara demonstrated correctly that
[sqrt(3)+sqrt(12)=3sqrt(3), an achievement, I might add, utterly
beyond the collective intellectual power, say, of the English
department at Duke University. (It is pleasant to imagine members of
the department sitting together in a long lecture hall, Marxists to
one side, deconstructionists to the other, abusing one another as they
grapple with the problem.)

Ibid., p.66:

Mathematics is one thing, but logic is another, a discipline of
symbols set in snow. To the world at large, the logician, with his
sea-green eyes and never-smiling mouth, appears as just another arid
academic; but among the heartbruised mathematicians, he is the iceman,
always and forever. The air chills when he enters the mathematicians'
lounge. His message is always the same, and it is always one of

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