Index | Comments and Contributions | previous:9.7 proof methods

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Special Category: Jules Henry Poincar़
April 29
July 17

From: Bob Hayden (hayden#NoSpam.oz.plymouth.edu)

A query from Laurie Snell at Dartmouth...

----- Forwarded message from J. Laurie Snell -----

I wonder if you could do me a favor.  I am trying to find the origin of the
mathematician-baker story.  The version I heard was that Poincare bought
bread once a day from his local baker.  The bread was supposed to weigh 1
kilo but afer a year of record keeping Poicare found a nice normal
distribution with mean 950 gr. He called the police and they told the baker
to behave himself.  One year later Poicare reported to the police that the
baker had not reformed.  The police confronted the baker and he said "How
could Poicare have known that we always gave him the largest loaf?
Poincare then showed the police his record for this year which was again a
bell shaped curve with max at 950 gr.  but trucated on the left side.

There is an exhibit at the Boston Science Museum about this but there is no
reference given.

Could you ask your newsgroups if anyone knows the orgin of this story?
Thanks.  Laurie

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Special Category: Ernest Rutherford
August 30
October 19
From: "Alexander Vinogradov" <aevin#NoSpam.link.cytspb.rssi.ru>
 Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) New Zealand physicist One student in
Rutherford's lab was very hard-working. Rutherford had noticed it and asked
one evening:
  - Do you work in the mornings too?
  - Yes, - proudly answered the student sure he would be commended.
  - But when do you think? - amazed Rutherford.

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June 26
December 17
Special Category: Lord Kelvin/William Thomson
Special Category: Ernest Rutherford
August 30
October 19
From: chollanamdo#NoSpam.mindspring.com (The Sanity Inspector)

Too bad Kelvin largely remembered as a fount of regrettable quotations
these days--he *did* do a lot of heavy lifting to get us from then to now.

	I came into the room, which was half dark, and presently spotted
Lord Kelvin in the audience and realized that I was in for trouble at the
last part of my speech dealing with the age of the earth, where my views
conflicted with his.  To my relief, Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came
to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye and cock a
balefule glance at me!  Then a sudden inspiration came, and I said Lord
Kelvin had limited the age of the earth, *provided no new source (of
energy) was discovered.* That prophetic utterance refers to what we are now
considering tonight, radium!  Behold! the old boy beamed upon me.

	-- Ernest Rutherford

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From: entropy#NoSpam.pawl.rpi.edu (Mark-Jason Dominus)
Special Category: Paul Erd५s
September 20
March 26

 Paul Erdos, currently most prolific mathematician in history, is always
making jokes about how old he is. (He says, for example, that he is two and
a half billion years old, because in his youth the age of the Earth was
known to be two billion years and now it is known to be 4.5 billion years.)

He observed one day that the audiences at his talks had been getting larger
and larger, to the point where they filled halls so big that his old and
feeble voice could not be heard. Erdos speculated as to the cause of this.

"I think," he said, "it must be that everyone wants to be able to say 'I
remember Erdos; why, I even attended his last lecture!'"

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Special Category: Paul Erd५s
September 20
March 26
From: joachim.verhagen#NoSpam.xs4all.nl
 Source: Paul Hoffman, de man die van 9etallen hield, 1998

Paul Erd५s (Hungarian mathematician, 1913-1996) had his own particular

* Supreme Fascist = God (Also abbreviated as SF)
  (person who hides Erd५s's socks, glasses, Hungarian passport and kept the
  best  equations to himself)
* straight from the book = beautiful, elegant proof
                           (from the book of the SF)
* boss            = woman
* slave           = man
* captured        = married
* liberated       = divorced
* recaptured      = remarried
* epsilon         = child (for the mathematical symbol)
                  = a little
* to preach       = to give a math lecture
* to exist        = to do math
* to die          = to stop doing math
* trivial being   = Someone who does not do math
* to leave        = to die
* to arrive       = to be born
* Joe             = USSR (for Joseph Stalin)
* Sam             = USA (for Uncle Sam)
* Sam and Joe show= International news
* Ned             = Australia (for Ned Kelly, a famous Australian
                    bandit from the 19th century)
* Jेnos           = Hungary (for Jेnos Kेdेr, ruler of Hungary 1956-1988)
* On the long wavelength = communist (for red)
* On the short wavelength = fascist (opposite of red)
* noise          = music
* poison         = alcohol
* my brain is open = I am ready to do mathematics
* what was that when it was alive? = what kind of  meat is that?

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Special Category: Paul Erd५s
September 20
March 26
From: joachim.verhagen#NoSpam.xs4all.nl
Source: Paul Hoffman, de man die van 9etallen hield, 1998

Paul Erd५s (Hungarian mathematician, 1913-1996) had the habbit of phoning
fellow mathematicians over the whole world, no matter what time it was.  He
remembered the number of every mathematician, but did not know anybody's
first name.  The only person he called by his Christian name was Tom
Trotter, whom he called Bill.

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Special Category: Paul Erd५s
September 20
March 26
From: joachim.verhagen#NoSpam.xs4all.nl
Source: Paul Hoffman, de man die van 9etallen hield, 1998

On one occasion, Erd५s met a mathematician and asked him where he was
from. "Vancouver," the mathematician replied. "Oh, then you must know my
good friend Elliot Mendelson," Erd५s said.

The reply was "I AM your good friend Elliot Mendelson."

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Special Category: Paul Erd५s
September 20
March 26
From: "Robert Karl Stonjek" <stonjek#NoSpam.ozemail.com.au>

 I'm to thick too get a good laugh from calculus jokes, but I did come up
with my own pure math joke some time ago:-

"There was a storm with thunder and lightening.  Little Paul Erdos was in
bed, frightened and fretting and his mother couldn't calm him.  Then, as
mothers seem to instinctively do, she found the right words.  "It's all
right dear", she said, stroking his shiny head, "there's always a prime
between n and 2n".

After that, little Paul drifted off into a blissful sleep."

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Januari 29
May 14
Special Category: Ernst Eduard Kummer
Ernst Eduard Kummer (1810-1893), a German algebraist, was rather poor at
arithmetic. Whenever he had occasion to do simple arithmetic in class, he
would get his students to help him. Once he had to find 7 x 9.  "Seven
times nine," he began, "Seven times nine is er -- ah --- ah -- seven times
nine is. . . ."  "Sixty-one," a student suggested. Kummer wrote 61 on the
board.  "Sir," said another student, "it should be sixty-nine."  "Come,
come, gentlemen, it can't be both," Kummer exclaimed. "It must be one or
the other."

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Januari 29
May 14
From: Joachim Verhagen
Special Category: Ernst Eduard Kummer
Paul Erd५s had another version of this story, how Kummer calculated 7 x 9:
Kummer said to himself: "Hmmm the product cannot be 61, because 61 is
prime, it cannot be 65, because 65 is a multiple of 5, 67 is a prime, 69 is
too big - Only 63 is left."
Source: Paul Hoffman, de man die van 9etallen hield, 1998

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From: voigtman#NoSpam.informatik.tu-muenchen.de (Thomas Voigtmann)
September 20
May 26
 This story is about the number 2^67-1, the 67th Mersenne number (Numbers,
Mersenne had claimed to be prime, which was proven to be non-prime in 1903
by F.N.Cole (1861-1927). In the October meeting of the AMS, Cole announced
a talk "On the Factorisation of Large Numbers".
  He walked up to the blackboard without saying a word, calculated by hand
the value of 2^67, carefully subtracted 1. Then he multiplied two numbers
(which were 193707721 and 761838257287). Both results written on the
blackboard were equal. Cole silently walked back to his seat, and this is
said to be the first and only talk held during an AMS meeting where the
audience applauded. There were no questions.  It took Cole about 3 years,
each sunday, to find this factorisation, according to what he said.

This is freely quoted from E.T.Bell's book "Mathematics: Queen and Servant
of Science", published in London, 1952; you can find the story in David
Wells: "The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers" (Penguin
Books, 1986)

For the curious: 2^67 -1 = 193707721 x 761838257287 = 147573952589676412927

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Special Category: Bertrand (Arthur William) Russell
May 18
Februari 2
Special Category: Godfrey H. Hardy
Februari 7
December 1

 (I'm not sure if the following one is a true story or not)
    The great logician Bertrand Russell (or was it A.N. Whitehead?)  once
claimed that he could prove anything if given that 1+1=1.
    So one day, some smarty-pants asked him, "Ok.  Prove that you're the
    He thought for a while and proclaimed, "I am one.  The Pope is one.
Therefore, the Pope and I are one."

[NOTE: The following is from merritt#NoSpam.Gendev.slc.paramax.com (Merritt). The
story about 1+1=1 causing ridiculous consequences was, I believe,
originally the product of a conversation at the Trinity High Table.  It is
recorded in Sir Harold Jeffreys' Scientific Inference, in a note to chapter
one.  Jeffreys remarks that the fact that everything followed from a single
contradiction had been noticed by Aristotle (I doubt this way of putting it
is quite correct, but that is beside the point).  He goes on to say that
McTaggart denied the consequence: "if 2+2=5, how can you prove that I am
the pope?"  Hardy is supposed to have replied: "if 2+2=5, 4=5; subtract 3;
then 1=2; but McTaggart and the pope are two; therefore McTaggart and the
pope are one."  When I consider this story, I am astonished at how much
more brilliant some people are than I (quite independent of the fallacies
in the argument).

Since McTaggart, Hardy, Whitehead, and Russell (the last two of whom were
credited with a variant of Hardy's argument in your post) were all fellows
of Trinity and Jeffreys (their exact contemporary) was a fellow of
St. Johns, I suspect that (whatever the truth of Jeffreys' story) it is
very unlikely that Whitehead or Russell had anything to do with it.  The
extraordinary point to me about the story is that Hardy was able to snap
this argument out between mouthfuls, so to speak, and he was not even a
logician at all.  This is probably why it came in some people's minds to be
attributed to one or other of the famous Trinity logicians.

From: Karl Beidatsch <jvdhoek#NoSpam.cygnus.uwa.edu.au>

No, no. The reason it was attributed to one of them is easily provable if
given that 1+1=1.

McTaggart is one; Hardy is one. Therefore Mctaggart and Hardy are
one. We'll call this MH.  Whitehead is one; Russell is one. Therefore
Whitehead and Russell are one. We'll call this WR.  MH is one; WR is
one. Therefore MH and WR are one. We'll call this MW.  Jeffreys is one; MW
is one. Therefor Jeffreys and MW are one.

Ergo, all five are actually one person; the unit MHWRJ is their collective

Just goes to show what a little idiocy can do for you.

Karl "My head hurts now!" Beidatsch.

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Special Category: Godfrey H. Hardy
Februari 7
December 1

From: Stephen Montgomery-Smith <stephen#NoSpam.showme.missouri.edu>

The mathematician Hardy was to give a keynote speech at a conference.
Asked for an advance summary, he said he would present a proof of the
Rieman zeta hypothesis -- but they should keep it under their hats. When he
arrived, though, he spoke on a much more prosaic topic. Afterwards the
conference organizers asked why he said he'd talk about the theorem and
then didn't.  He replied this was his standard practice, just in case he
was killed on the way to the conference.

It was part of his tactics against God - in that he thought God would not
allow him to die on the sea trip, because then everyone would think that
Hardy had solved this great theorem.  Hardy had other anti-God tactics,
including always taking an umbrella, and some grading or other boring work,
with him to the cricket games.  For an athiest Hardy certainly spent a lot
of effort against God.

Apparently Hardy's ambitions were:

1.  Prove the Riemann zeta hypthosesis.  
2.  Score the winning play in an important game of cricket.
3.  Murder Mussolini
4.  Prove the non-existance of God.

Well, I think that these ambitions (and maybe a couple of others) were
listed in Nature many years ago - maybe someone else on the usernet would

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Special Category: John von Neumann
Februari 8
December 28

September 27
John von Neumann (1903-1957) [Hungarian/US mathematician and scientist] The
following problem can be solved either the easy way or the hard way.

Two trains 200 miles apart are moving toward each other; each one is going
at a speed of 50 miles per hour.  A fly starting on the front of one of
them flies back and forth between them at a rate of 75 miles per hour.  It
does this until the trains collide and crush the fly to death.  What is the
total distance the fly has flown?

The fly actually hits each train an infinite number of times before it gets
crushed, and one could solve the problem the hard way with pencil and paper
by summing an infinite series of distances.  The easy way is as follows:
Since the trains are 200 miles apart and each train is going 50 miles an
hour, it takes 2 hours for the trains to collide.  Therefore the fly was
flying for two hours.  Since the fly was flying at a rate of 75 miles per
hour, the fly must have flown 150 miles.  That's all there is to it.

When this problem was posed to John von Neumann, he immediately replied,
"150 miles."

"It is very strange," said the poser, "but nearly everyone tries to sum the
infinite series."

"What do you mean, strange?" asked Von Neumann.  "That's how I did it!"

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Special Category: John von Neumann
Februari 8
December 28

From: thommark#NoSpam.access5.digex.net (Mark A. Thomas)

How about the apocryphal story about the MIT student who cornered the
famous John von Neumann in the hallway:

Student: "Er, excuse me, Professor von Neumann, could you please
           help me with a calculus problem?" 
John: "Okay, sonny, if it's real quick -- I'm a busy man."  
Student: "I'm having trouble with this integral."
John: "Let's have a look."  
      (insert brief pause here)
      "Alright, sonny, the answer's two-pi over 5."
Student: "I know that, sir, the answer's in the back -- I'm
           having trouble deriving it, though."
John: "Okay, let me see it again."
      (another pause)
      "The answer's two-pi over 5."
Student (frustrated): "Uh, sir, I _know_ the answer, I just don't see how
       to derive it."
John: "Whaddya want, sonny, I worked the problem in two different ways!"

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Special Category: John von Neumann
Februari 8
December 28

Von Neumann and Norbert Wiener were both the subject of many dotty
professor stories.  Von Neumann supposedly had the habit of simply writing
answers to homework assignments on the board (the method of solution being,
of course, obvious) when he was asked how to solve problems.  One time one
of his students tried to get more helpful information by asking if there
was another way to solve the problem.  Von Neumann looked blank for a
moment, thought, and then answered, "Yes".

Special Category: Norbert Wiener
November 26
March 18
Wiener was in fact very absent minded.  The following story is told about
him: When they moved from Cambridge to Newton his wife, knowing that he
would be absolutely useless on the move, packed him off to MIT while she
directed the move.  Since she was certain that he would forget that they
had moved and where they had moved to, she wrote down the new address on a
piece of paper, and gave it to him.  Naturally, in the course of the day,
an insight occurred to him. He reached in his pocket, found a piece of
paper on which he furiously scribbled some notes, thought it over, decided
there was a fallacy in his idea, and threw the piece of paper away.  At the
end of the day he went home (to the old address in Cambridge, of course).
When he got there he realized that they had moved, that he had no idea
where they had moved to, and that the piece of paper with the address was
long gone.  Fortunately inspiration struck.  There was a young girl on the
street and he conceived the idea of asking her where he had moved to,
saying, "Excuse me, perhaps you know me.  I'm Norbert Wiener and we've just
moved.  Would you know where we've moved to?"  To which the young girl
replied, "Yes daddy, mommy thought you would forget."

The capper to the story is that I asked his daughter (the girl in the
story) about the truth of the story, many years later.  She said that it
wasn't quite true -- that he never forgot who his children were!  The rest
of it, however, was pretty close to what actually happened...

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Special Category: Archimedes


When Hiero was greatly exalted in the royal power at Syracuse, in return
for the success of his policy he determined to set up in a certain shrine a
golden crown as a votive offering to the immortal gods.  He let out the
work for a stipulated payment, and weighted out the exact amount of gold
for the contractor.  At the appointed time the contractor brought his work
skilfully executed for the king's approval, and he seemed to have fulfilled
exactly the requirement about the weight of the crown.  Later information
was given that gold had been removed and an equal weight of silver added in
the making of the crown.  Hiero was indignant at this disrespect for
himself, and being unable to discover any means by which he might unmask
the fraud, he asked Archimedes to give it his attention.  While Archimedes
was turning this problem over, he chanced to come to the place of bathing,
an there, as he was sitting down in the tub, he noticed that the amount of
water which flowed over the tub was equal to the  amount by which his body
was immersed.  This indicated to him a means of solving the problem, and he
did not delay, but in his joy leapt out of the tub and, rushing naked
towards his home, he cried out with a loud voice that he had found what he
sought.  For as he ran he repeatedly shouting in Greek, "heureka, heureka".

Then, following up his discovery, he is said to have made two masses of the
same weight as the crown, the one of gold and the other of silver.  When he
had so done, he filled a large vessel right up to the brim with water, into
which he dropped the silver mass.  The amount by which it was immersed in
the vessel was the amount of water which overflowed.  Taking out the mass,
he poured back the amount by which the water had been depleted, measuring
it with a pint pot, so that as before the water was made level with the
brim.  In this way he found what weight of silver answered with a certain
measure of water.

When he had made this test, in like manner he dropped the golden mass into
the full vessel.  Taking it out again, for the same reason he added a
measured quantity of water, and found that the deficiency of water was not
the same, but less; and the amount by which it less corresponded with the
excess of a mass of silver, having the same weight, over a mass of gold.
After filling the vessel again, he then dropped the crown itself into the
water, and found that the more water overflowed in the case of the crown
than in the case of the golden mass of identical weight; and so, from the
fact that more water was needed to make up the deficiency in the case of
the crown than in the case of the mass, he calculated and detected the
mixture of silver with the gold and the contractor's fraud stood revealed.

Vitruvius, on architecture (in in J. R. Newman(ed.) The World of

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Special Category: Andr़ Amp्re
Januari 20
June 10
The french scientist Ampere was on his way to an important meeting at the
Academy in Paris. In the carriage he got a brilliant idea which he
immediately wrote down ... on the wand of the carriage: dH=ipdl/r^2. As he
arrived he payed the driver and ran into the building to tell everyone.
Then he discovered  his notes were on the carriage and he had to hunt through
the streets of Paris to find his notes on wheels.

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March 14
October 21
Special Category: Waclaw Sierpinsky

During a class of calculus my lecturer suddenly checked himself and stared
intently at the table in front of him for a while. Then he looked up at us
and explained that he thought he had brought six piles of papers with him,
but "no matter how he counted" there was only five on the table.  Then he
became silent for a while again and then told the following story:

"When I was young in Poland I met the great mathematician Waclaw
Sierpinski.  He was old already then and rather absent-minded.  Once he had
to move to a new place for some reason.  His wife didn't trust him very
much, so when they stood down on the street with all their things, she
 - Now, you stand here and watch our ten trunks, while I go and get a

She left and left him there, eyes somewhat glazed and humming absently.
Some minutes later she returned, presumably having called for a taxi.  Says
Mr. Sierpinski (possibly with a glint in his eye):
 - I thought you said there were ten trunks, but I've only counted to nine.
 - No, they're TEN!
 - No, count them: 0, 1, 2, ..."

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Special Category: Leonhard Euler
October 5
July 31

Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. The encylopedist Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. the empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest's tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented. The mathematician, which was Euler advanced towards Diderot and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: "Monsieur, (a + b^n)/n =x, therefore God exists. Any answer to that!" Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.

Source:Thi़bault, "Souvenirs de vingt ans de sejour a Berlin", 1804, by way of Augustus de Morgan "Assorted Paradoxes" and James Newman, "the world of mathematics".

Note: Diderot knew his mathematics and had written on involutes and probability. So, the story is unlikely to be true. (Thanks to Kenner Rawdon <rawdon#NoSpam.aya.yale.edu> to point this out to me.)

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
                           Einstein's profession:

In response to a fellow train passenger, October 31, 1930, who asked him
his occupation, he answered that he was an artist's model, reflecting
Einstein's feeling that he was constantly posing for sculptures and
paintings (Einstein Archive 21-006)

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 Albert Einstein (1879-1955) [German physicist] Albert Einstein, who
fancied himself as a violinist, was rehearsing a Haydn string quartet.
When he failed for the fourth time to get his entry in the second movement,
the cellist looked up and said, "The problem with you, Albert, is that you
simply can't count."

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From: Colin_Douthwaite#NoSpam.equinox.gen.nz (Colin Douthwaite)

Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 Einstein was attending a music salon in Germany before the second world
war, with the violinist S. Suzuki.  Two Japanese women played a German
piece of music and a woman in the audience excaimed: "How wonderful!  It
sounds so German!"  Einstein responded: "Madam, people are all the same."

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From: "Alexander Vinogradov" <aevin#NoSpam.link.cytspb.rssi.ru>

Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 Einstein once said that it would be hard to teach in a co-ed college since
guys were only looking on girls and not listening to the teacher. He was
objected that they would be listening to HIM very attentively, forgetting
about any girls. But such guys won't be worth teaching, - replied the great

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From: Colin_Douthwaite#NoSpam.equinox.gen.nz (Colin Douthwaite)

Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 This is a story I heard as a freshman at the University of Utah when Dr.
Henry Eyring was still teaching chemistry there.  Many years before he and
Dr. Einstein were colleagues.  As they walked together they noted an
unusual plant growing along a garden walk.  Dr. Eyring asked Dr. Einstein
if he knew what the plant was.  Einstein did not, and together they
consulted a gardner.  The gardner indicated the plant was green beans and
forever afterwards Eyring said Einstein didn't know beans <g>.  I heard
this second hand and I don't know if the story has ever been published...

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
From: "Jessica Maunder" <jessica#NoSpam.midnightoil.com.au>

Albert Einstein apparently referred to formal occasions as
"feeding time at the zoo"!

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
In 1946 a South African child, Tyffany Williams expressed in a letter her
surprise that Einstein was still alive.
He answered: "I have to apologize to you that I am still among the living.
There *will* be a remedy for this, however (Einstein Archive 42-612)

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18

After the birth of his sister Maja, the two and a half year old Albert
Einstein was told he would now have something to play with.  After looking
at the baby he complained "Yes, but where are its wheels".
[Biographical sketch by Maja Winteler-Einstein]

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18

An American women's organization protested Einstein's visit to America
(1928) on political grounds.  Einstein replied: "Never have I experienced
from the fair sex such an energetic rejection of all my advances; if it
*has* happened, it was never by so many at once.
[Archive 48-818; Ideas and Opinions, 7]

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
                     Einstein never has to dress well.
When Einstein's Wife told him to dress properly  when going to the office
he argued:
"Why should I? Everyone knows me there."

When he was told to dress properly for his first big conference:
"Why should I?  No one knows me there."
[quoted in Ehlers, Liebes Hertz!]

When I was young I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole
in a sock.  So I stoppend wearing socks.
[To Philippe Halsman, Einstein, A centenary volume]

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18

From: "John J. O'Shaughnessy" <jjos0001#NoSpam.aol.com>

I read a story somewhere about the physicists at Los Alamos having
problems with their conclusions while working on the design of the
atomic bomb. That Albert Einstein was asked to assist the scientists
working on the project. According to the story, the physicist were in
awe of Einstein until he began asking very basic questions about
physics which were addressed in depth during their college education.

Although the questions could be answered by any good student, they
proceeded to once again answer his questions in deference to his fame
and lofty position in the scientific community. As they began the
exercise they discovered several errors in their basic physics
education. The began in earnest to question these basic principles
that had been taught to them in school and were ैgivensै in their
processes. More errors we discovered and as the ैgivensै unraveled the
physicist went back to the drawing board and with a ै no assumptionsै
approach and in the end, were able to resolve all of the design issues
and put the Manhattan project back on track. That he used a very
successful Socratic teaching method based on asking questions rather
than giving answers.

Can you confirm if this story is true or not? 

 -- John J. O'Shaughnessy

(There have been no reactions to this yet. Please tell us if you know
something - Joachim)

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From: peter.oram#NoSpam.oml.ericsson.se (Peter Oram)

December 25
March 30
Special Category: Isaac Newton
 Isaac Newton (English physicist and mathematician (1642-1727):

I am trying to find a reference to a story said to be about Sir Issac
Newton and an orrery, which news:sci.astro readers may be able to help me
with. The story as I have heard it is as follows:

The story is told of an atheist scientist, a friend of Sir Isaac Newton,
who knocked on the door and came in after he had just finished making his
solar system machine (ie one of the machines like the one in the science
museum where you crank the handle and the planets and moons move round).
The man saw the machine and said `how wonderful' and went over to it and
started cranking the handle and the planets went round. As he was doing
this he asked ` who made this?'. Sir Isaac stopped writing and said `nobody
did'.  Then he carried on writing. The man said `You didn't hear me. Who
made the machine?' . Newton replied `I told you. Nobody did.' He stopped
cranking and turned to Isaac `Now listen Isaac, this marvellous machine
must have been made by somebody - don't keep saying that nobody made it.'
At which point Isaac Newton stopped writing and got up. He looked at him
and said `Now isn't it amazing. I tell you that nobody made a simple toy
like that and you don't believe me. Yet you gaze out into the solar system
- the intricate marvelous machine that is around you - and you dare say to
me that noone made that. I don't believe it'. As far as the record goes the
atheist went away and he was no longer an atheist.  He was suddenly
converted to the idea that God was behind the laws that were found in

Where is the story to be found?  Who was the man?  Also, is it likely to be
incorrect? Since the first orrery machine was 1721, Sir Isaac (1643 - 1727)
must have been quite old at the time.

I welcome email as well as netnews replies - if anyone has a source
reference for this or any other info please let me know.  I have heard that
this story has been seen around on the net .. any leads?

After a remark from the net Peter gave the following in support of the
story: Newton was an Arian, ie he had problems with believing the orthodox
concept of the Trinity, but this doesn't take away from the central point
of the story.  I grant you the story may be apocraphal, (which is why I
originally posted out a request for information which may verify or
discredit it), but I don't think that you can dismiss it because of his
beliefs; what I mean is Newton was a deist not an atheist and as such can
fit the role the story ascribes to him.

"Newton's science was closely related to his theology. In the General
Scholium of his Principia, he states that its purpose was to establish the
existence of God (Westfall, 205,290; Clark, 12; Brooke, p.169; Mandelbrote,
p.292,300). It was to combat atheism (Mandelbrote, p.292), challenge the
mechanical explanation, and point to the need for a wise and benevolent
deity and an intelligent Creator (Harrison, p.27). He believed that the
universe was governed by general, natural laws set up by God, but preserved
by special providence, i.e., aided by supernatural acts, such as comets
(Harrison, p.27; Mandelbrote, p.290). " sourced from Bob Clausen's web

He wrote: "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could
only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being" Isaac
Newton "Principia" 2nd Edition

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December 25
March 30
Special Category: Isaac Newton

From: mstueben#NoSpam.tjhsst.vak12ed.edu (Michael A. Stueben)

      The English mathematician John Wallis (1616-1703) was
   a friend of Isaac Newton. According to his diary, Newton
   once bragged to Wallis about his little dog Diamond.

      "My dog Diamond knows some mathematics. Today he
   proved two theorems before lunch."

      "Your dog must be a genius," said Wallis.

      "Oh I wouldn't go that far," replied Newton. "The
   first theorem had an error and the second had a
   pathological exception."

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 In the period that Einstein was active as a professor, one of his students
came to him and said: "The questions of this year's exam are the same as
last years!"  "True," Einstein said, "but this year all answers are

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 Marilyn Monroe suggests to Einstein: What do you say, professor, shouldn't
we make a little baby together: what a baby it would be - my looks and your
intelligence!  Einstein: I'm afraid, dear lady, it might be the other way
around... (From: "Hedy Knauer" <hedyknauer#NoSpam.charter.net>: This story is
usually told about G.B. shaw and Isadora Duncan.)

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Special Category: Niels Bohr
October 7
November 18
From: ? ,corrected by rtomes#NoSpam.kcbbs.gen.nz (Ray Tomes)

 Niels Bohr (1885-1962) Danish physicist.  Professor Niels Bohr, a famous
Applied Mathematician-Physicist, had a horse shoe over his desk.  One day a
student asked if he really believed that a horse shoe brought luck.
Professor Bohr replied, "I understand that it brings you luck if you
believe in it or not."

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Special Category: Niels Bohr
October 7
November 18
 In his later days, Niels Bohr designed a remarkable way to avoid difficult
questions.  When somebody was driving him into a corner during a coloquium
or lecture, he took a matchbox, apparently to light is cooled pipe, but in
fact (as experienced listeners already knew) to drop the inside on the
floor.  Afterward he took his time to gather the stick and continued with a
talk, about which nobody, least of all the questioner, remembered if it had
anything to do with the question.

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August 8
October 20
Special Category: Paul Dirac
From: rtomes#NoSpam.kcbbs.gen.nz (Ray Tomes)

 George Gamow also tells in "Thirty years that shook the world: the story
(?) of quantum physics" a charming story about Dirac: When Dirac was
visiting Wigner, he saw --- as I recall it was Wigner's sister whom he
wound up marrying --- Wigner's sister knitting.  After he left, he came
back, and picking up the needles said there is one and only one other
variation on this.  Whereby he unknowingly proceeded to demonstrate

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From: "Alexander Vinogradov" <aevin#NoSpam.mail.cytspb.rssi.ru>
Special Category: Lev Landau
Januari 22
April 1
November 20
 This story happened at the session of the Academy of Sciences of the
(former) USSR. The notorious agronomist Lysenko (founder of "creative
Darwinism") gave a talk on the inheritance of acquired traits. When his
report was over, the famous physicist Landau asked: - So, you argue that if
we will cut off the ear of a cow, and the ear of its offspring, and so on,
sooner or later the earless cows will start to be born?  - Yes, that's
right.  - Then, how you explain that the virgins still being born?

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From: "Alexander Vinogradov" <aevin#NoSpam.star.spb.ru>
Special Category: Lev Landau
Januari 22
April 1

 Here is one more story about Landau:

In the Physical Technical Institute in Kharkov where Landau was working
some time, there was one vain and mediocre but prolific physicist who made
his research mostly by the method of plagiarism. One day he received a
telegram which said that he is nominated for Nobel prize and therefore he
should prepare a corpus of all his papers in the typewritten form in two
copies (btw, it was before the computers) and submit them to the head of
Department of Theoretical Physics (which Landau was) with deadline of 1st
April. The poor man lost his head and did not pay attention to the dubious
date. He began to feel very important and stopped to say "good-day" to his
old friends. He accomplished the great task of typewriting the corpus in
time and laid it on the Landau's table only to be met by the question: "Did
you really believe that Nobel prize could be given for this trash?"

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Special Category: Lev Landau
Special Category: Wolfgang Pauli
Januari 22
April 1
April 25
December 15

Laundau who treated everyone else as a fool, found his match in
Pauli. After explaining his work to a sceptical Pauli, he angrily demanded
whether Pauli thought his ideas were nonsense.  "Not at all, not at all",
came the reply.  "Your ideas are so confused I cannot tell whether they are
nonsense or not."

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Special Category: Bertrand (Arthur William) Russell
May 18
Februari 2

Bertrand (Arthur William) Russell (1872-1970) [British philopher and
mathematician]: The following is supposedly a true story about Russell.  It
isn't really a math joke since it makes fun of the British hierarchy, but
it's funny anyway....

Around the time when Cold War started, Bertrand Russell was giving a
lecture on politics in England.  Being a leftist in a conservative women's
club, he was not received well at all: the ladies came up to him and
started attacking him with whatever they could get their hands on.  The
guard, being an English gentleman, did not want to be rough to the ladies
and yet needed to save Russell from them.  He said, "But he is a great
mathematician!"  The ladies ignored him.  The guard said again, "But he is
a great philosopher!"  The ladies ignore him again.  In desperation,
finally, he said, "But his brother is an earl!"  Bert was saved.

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Special Category: Michael Faraday
September 22
August 25
From: Graham Weeks <weeks-g#NoSpam.dircon.co.uk>
 When Gladstone met Michael Faraday, he asked him whether his work on
electricity would be of any use. "Yes, sir" remarked Faraday with
prescience, "One day you will tax it." .

- Margaret Thatcher, The Path to Power, Harper Collins,1995, p176

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November 8
This story is told with several different protagonists. (Who knows the

1) Another "true" story, kinda like the aforementioned urban legend: Enrico
Fermi, while studying in college, was bored by his math classes.  He walked
up to the professor and said, "My classes are too easy!"  The professor
looked at him, and said, "Well, I'm sure you'll find this interesting."
Then the professor copied 9 problems from a book to a paper and gave the
paper to Fermi.  A month later, the professor ran into Fermi, "So how are
you doing with the problems I gave you?"  "Oh, they are very hard.  I only
managed to solve 6 of them."  The professor was visibly shocked, "What!?
But those are unsolved problems!"

From: lrmead#NoSpam.whale.st.usm.edu (Lawrence R. Mead)
2) Very nearly this exact story was told to me (or I read it) about the
mathematician David Hilbert when *he* was a grad student. Can anyone here
confirm this?

From: columbus#NoSpam.osf.org (Michael Weiss)
 3) Well now, I heard the same thing about John Milnor.  Moreover the
unsolved problem was showing that any smooth closed curve in 3-space of
total curvature <= 4pi is unknotted, and Milnor *did* prove that as an

From: visser#NoSpam.ph.tn.tudelft.nl (Boudewijn W. Ch. Visser)
4) It was not Fermi,but George Danzig.

The story as told in news:alt.folklore.urban (see the FAQ from there) tells
about a student,not paying attention.  At the end of the lecture,the
professor writes down 8 problems,and the student,waking up, thinks it is
homework.  At the next class,the student apologizes for having finished
only 4 problems ,and having an idea about 2 more.  Turns out the problems
were famous unsolved problems.  The student was George Danzig.

From: sidles#NoSpam.u.washington.edu (John Sidles)

The soon-to-be-famous student who solved a previously unsolved problem, in
the mistaken belief that it was a homework assignment, was indeed...

            ****** George Dantzig ******.

His first-person account can be found (along with many other fascinating
accounts) in the book "More Mathematical People".

Here is the full reference; this book is highly recommended....

~Title: More mathematical people : contemporary conversations / edited
              by Donald J. Albers, G.L. Alexanderson, Constance Reid.
Edition: 1st ed.  Pub. Info.: Boston : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1990.
Phy Descript: 375 p.  Notes: Includes bibliographical references.  LC
Subject: Mathematicians -- Interviews.
              Mathematicians -- Biography.  Other Author: Albers, Donald
J., 1941-.
              Alexanderson, Gerald L.
              Reid, Constance.  Library Loc.: Mathematics.  Status:
Mathematics Research General Stacks
                QA28 .M67 1990 CHECK THE SHELVES

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Special Category: Ludwig Boltzmann
Februari 20
October 5
 While Boltzmann gave a lecture on ideal gasses, he casually mentioned
complicated calculations, which didn't give him any trouble. His students
could not follow the fast mathematics and asked him to do the calculations
on the blackboard. Boltzmann apologized and promised to do better next time.
 The next lesson he began: "Gentlemen, if we combine Boyle's law with
Charles's law we get the equation pv= p\sub 0 v\sub 0 (1 + a t). Now it is
clear that \sub a S \sup b = f(x) dx x (a), then is pv=RT and \sub V S
f(x,y,z) dV = 0. It is so simple as one and one is two. At this moment he
remembered his promise and dutyfully wrote 1 + 1 = 2. Then he continued
with the complicated calculations from his bare mind.

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November 17
Januari 1
Special Category: Eugene Wigner
From: kriman#NoSpam.acsu.buffalo.edu (Alfred M. Kriman)

Wigner, Eugene Paul (11 Nov. 1902-1 Jan. 1995)
 About given name: born Jeno Wigner in BudaPest.
Published as Eugen when in Germany, as Eugene after 1930 in U.S.
 About family name: there is an urban legend around Princeton University,
that he once simply asked a graduate student, "How do you pronounce my
name?" Got back an American pronunciation of the W, and thenceforth went by
that pronunciation. In reality, he was too gentle and modest to correct
anyone's pronunciation of his name.

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Special Category: Charles Darwin
Februari 12
April 19

 Out of the Autobiography of Charles Darwin: One day, on tearing of some
old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a
third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the
one which I held in my right hand into my mouth.

From: LHILL#NoSpam.Bridgewater.edu (L. Michael Hill)
How about Charles Darwin when he saw a beetle and picked it up. He saw a
second and picked that one up in the other hand. He then saw a third one
which he really wanted. Not knowing what to do, he shoved one of the ones
he was holding into his mouth in order to pick up the third one. The one in
the mouth emmitted some kind of stuff which made him spit out the beetle
and also lose the other two!  Charles R. Darwin (1809-1182) [English

From: onno <onno#NoSpam.strawberries.nl>

"One day, on stripping bark from a dead tree, he pinned down to rare
types, one in each hand. Suddenly he saw a third, a new species, too
good to lose. His action was that of a trained egg-collector. He popped
the right-hand one in his mouth. Unfortunately it was a bombardier
beetle, which promptly lived up to its name by squirting a noxious
boiling fluid into his throat, momentarily stunning him. He spat the
beetle out, losing it on the ground, and in the confusion dropped the
other too."

quoted from the biography "Darwin" by Adrian Desmon & James Moore p.59

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October 27
March 18
Berthelot was so proud of his Legion d'Honneur that he had a lab coat made
with a hole in it, through which you could see and admire the medall.

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Special Category: Arthur Eddington
December 28
November 22
From: jpnairn#NoSpam.eworld.com (Jerry Nairn)

There's the story of Sir Eddington, later to become known as Sir
"Adding-one", at an interview with a reporter, in the 30s, I think. The
interviewer said, "I've heard that you're one of the three people in the
world who understand General Relativity." Eddington got a puzzled look on
his face. The interviewer asked him what was the matter, and he replied,
"I'm trying to think who the third person would be."

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Special Category: Arthur Eddington
December 28
November 22
From: Axel Harvey <axe#NoSpam.cam.org>
 Okay, here are a couple of Eddington jokes. You already have a version of
the first one, but this one seems better documented. It is reported by
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in _Truth_and_Beauty:_Aesthetics_and_
Motivations_in_Science_, U. Chicago Press, 1987, p. 117, and was told by
Eddington himself to Chandrasekhar and others at a dinner in Trinity during
the Christmas recess of 1933:

  [ ... ] as the joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal
  Astronomical Society was dispersing [this was 6 November 1919,
  when the results of the eclipse expedition that confirmed Einstein's
  prediction of the bending of light by gravity were announced],
  Ludwig Silberstein came up to him and said, "Professor Eddington,
  you must be one of three persons in the world who understands
  general relativity." On Eddington's demurring to this statement,
  Silberstein responded, "Don't be modest, Eddington," and Eddington
  replied that, "On the contrary, I am trying to think who the third
  person is."

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Special Category: Bertrand (Arthur William) Russell
May 18
Februari 2
Special Category: Arthur Eddington
December 28
November 22

From: Axel Harvey <axe#NoSpam.cam.org>
 The other I read or heard, but I don't remember where. Eddington was
giving a lecture on cosmology and began with a rapid overview of early
models of the universe. He mentioned the Indian idea that the world rested
on the back of a giant turtle, and said it wasn't a good model because it
didn't say what the turtle rested on. After the lecture an elderly lady
went up to him and said, forcefully, "You are very clever, young man, very
clever, but there is something you do not understand about Indian
cosmology: it's turtles ALL THE WAY DOWN!"
From: Nicolas Bray <bray#NoSpam.soda.CSUA.Berkeley.EDU>
 From A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking(don't sue me):

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a
public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the
sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection
of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at
the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is
rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant
tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is
the tortoise standing on?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's
turtles all the way down!"

From: Anton Sherwood (anton#NoSpam.pobox.com)
 To add to the confusion: When I first heard the story
with the above punchline, the scientist was Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog").

From: Philip Baird Shearer <pbs#NoSpam.e3.net.nz>
I have been surfing for "it's turtles all the way down"

Your page was thrown up here is another version (I have seen on the web)
which if the source is correct would seem to be the most likly to be the

The person who originally experienced this anecdote was William James
(1842-1910), a famous American psychologist and philosopher. The novelist
Henry James was his brother.

After a lecture on the solar system, philosopher William James was
approached by a determined elderly lady with a theory.

"We don't live on a ball rotating around the sun," she said. "We live on a
crust of earth on the back of a giant turtle."

James decided to be gentle. "If your theory is correct, madam, what does
this turtle stand on?"

"The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger turtle, of

"But what does this second turtle stand on?"

The old lady crowed triumphantly. "It's no use, Mr. James -- it's turtles
all the way down!"  

Source: American Museum of Natural History

So, who knows which scientist was given this wise lesson?

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Special Category: Arthur Eddington
December 28
November 22
From: PHILIP MILLER TATE <CH_S521#NoSpam.crystal.king.ac.uk>
 I was reading your scientific jokes / anecdotes web page today and saw a
reference to Sir Arthur Eddington. You may be interested to know that he
once set a Cambridge University Tripos examination question which made
reference to "...a perfectly spherical elephant, whose mass may be
neglected." I'm not sure in what context...

I've not seen the exam paper but there is a reference to it in a 1954 book
on computers called "Faster than Thought".

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From: Jim Hewitt <jimbo#NoSpam.sierra.net>
Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 AE was talking to one of his colleagues about quantum mechanics. The
colleague kept using classical terms to discuss the quantum
phenomema. Einstein finally said (something to the effect), "I can't be
sure that I understand you because you are using the wrong words."

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October 25
May 31
From: kovarik#NoSpam.mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca (Zdislav V. Kovarik)

 Evariste Galois was not only a mathematical genius but also a dedicated
revolutionary.  Ironically, he proved that many problems cannot be solved
by radicals.  

From: cxm7#NoSpam.po.CWRU.Edu (Colin Mclarty)
Actually, on the math side, Galois showed how to tell when a problem CAN be
solved by radicals (Abel earlier proved some can't).

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From: kemp#NoSpam.resptk.bhp.com.au (Ian P Kemp)

Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
 The story is that Albert Einstein's driver used to sit at the back of the
hall during each of his lectures, and after a period of time, remarked to
AE that he could probably give the lecture himself, haveing heard it
several times. So at the next stop on the tour, AE & the driver switched
places, with AE sitting at the back, in driver's uniform. The driver gave
the lecture, flawlessly. At the end, a member of the audience asked a
detailed question about some of the subject matter, upon which the lecturer
replied, 'well, the answer to that question is quite simple, I bet that my
driver, sitting up at the back, there, could answer it...'.

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From: ccayer#NoSpam.dragon.achilles.net (Chris Cayer)

 Here's a vaguely related Steven Wright Quote/joke:
        A while back I went on a trip and I passed by this little shop that
sold postcards and stuff. So I stopped in and sent a card to a friend of
mine back home - it was a satellite picture of the entire earth and on the
back I wrote "Wish you were here".  This is the story as I read it. Took
some time to find it.

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Special Category: Karl F. Gauss
March 30
April 23

  Shortly after his seventh birthday Gauss entered his first school, a
squalid relic of the Middle Ages run by a virile brute, one Buettner, whose
idea of teaching the hundred or so boys in his charge wast to trash them
into such a state of terrified stupidity that they forgot their own names.
  In his tenth year Gauss was admitted to the class in arithmetic. As it
was the beginning class none of the boys had ever heard of an arithmetical
progression. It was easy then for the heroic Buettner to give out a long
problem in addition whose answer he could find by a formula in a few
seconds. The problem was of the following sort, 81297 + 81495 + 81693 + ...
+ 100899, where the step from one number to the next is the same all along
(here 198), and a given number of terms (here 100) are to be added.
   It was the custom of the school for the boy who first got the answer to
lay his slate on the table; the next laid his slate on top of the first,
and so on. Buettner had barely finished stating the problem when Gauss
flung his slate on the table: "There it lies", he said. Then, for the
ensuing hour, while the other boys toiled, he sat with his hands folded,
favored now and then by a sarcastic glance from Buettner, who imagined the
youngest pupil in the class was just another blockhead. At the end of the
period Buettner looked over the slates. On Gauss' slate there appeared but
a single number. To the end of his days Gauss loved to tell how the one
number he had written was the correct answer and how all the others were
wrong. Gauss had not been shown the trick for doing such problems rapidly.
It is very ordinary once it is known, but for a boy of ten to find it
instantaneously by himself is not so ordinary.
  This opened the door through wich Gauss passed on to immortality.
Buettner was so astonished at what the boy had done without instruction
that he promptly redeemed himself and to at least one of his pupils became
a humane teacher. .....

- Eric Temple Bell, "The prince of mathematicians" in James R. Neuman "The
world of mathematics" part I page 293-294.  [Karl F. Gauss (1777-1855),
German mathematician]

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Special Category: Karl F. Gauss
March 30
April 23

From: jeffs#NoSpam.math.bu.edu (Jeff Suzuki)

Another story about Gauss involves his construction of a septendecagon.  He
went to a professor (whose name escapes me) and said "I have just
constructed a septendecagon!"

"Nonsense.  That is impossible."

"Well, then, I have just figured out how to resolve a seventeenth degree

"Bah.  Trivial; I've done it myself."

Gauss later paid back this professor (who was an amateur poet) by calling
him "The finest poet among mathematicians, and the finest mathematician
among poets."

From: Biswanath Basu
Karl F. Gauss's professor was Kastner.

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Special Category: Euclid/Euclides
Someone who had begun to read geometry with Euclid, when he had learned the
first proposition, asked Euclid, "But what shall I get by learning these
things?" whereupon Euclid called in his slave and said "Give him three
pence since he must make gain out of what he learns." - Stobaeus

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December 5
Februari 1
Special Category: Werner Heisenberg

From: Mountain Man <prfbrown#NoSpam.magna.com.au>

Pauli asks Heisenberg the big one ..............

Wolfgang Pauli: "Do you believe in a personal god?"

Heisenberg: "May I rephrase your question?

"I myself should prefer the following formulation: Can you, or anyone else,
reach the central order of things or events, whose existence seems beyond
doubt, as directly as you can reach the soul of another human being? I am
using the term "soul" quite deliberately so as not to be misunderstood.  If
you put your question like that, I would say yes."

            Werner Heisenberg (Physics and Beyond)
            New York: Harper & Row, 1971 - Page 215

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August 8
October 20
Special Category: Paul Dirac
During a lecture, professor Dirac made a mistake in an equation he was
writing on the blackboard. A couragous student raises his finger and says
timidly : "Professor Dirac, I do not understand equation 2.".Dirac
continues writing without any reaction. The student supposes Dirac has not
heard him and raises his finger again, and says, louder this time:
"Professor Dirac, I do not understand equation 2." No reaction. Somebody on
the first row decides to intervene and says: "Professor Dirac, that man is
asking a question." "Oh," Dirac replies, I thought he was making a

From: anonymous

 The story I heard of Dirac was he was working on an equation on the
board. Turning around after to a silent audience he asked for any
questions. A person in audience raised a hand and said "I do not
undersstand such-and-such an equation". To which Dirac replies, "That's not
a question, it's a statement."

This story is also told about Chandra and Pauli.

From: qed100#NoSpam.hotmail.com (Mark Martin)

   Several years ago I had a pen pal who'd been a nuclear physicist at
Harwell. She told me that she'd been present at that lecture, sometime
post WW-2, and that it was Dirac.

-Mark Martin

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September 15
Special Category: Murray Gell-Mann
Murray Gell-Mann

In 1963, when I assigned the name "quark" to the fundamental constituents
of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could
have been "kwork." Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans
Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word "quark" in the phrase "Three
quarks for Muster Mark." Since "quark" (meaning, for one thing, the cry of
a gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "Mark," as well as "bark" and
other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "kwork." But
the book represents the dreams of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden
Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at
once, like the "portmanteau words" in Through the Looking Glass. From time
to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls
for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the
multiple sources of the cry "Three quarks for Muster Mark" might be "Three
quarts for Mister Mark," in which case the pronunciation "kwork" would not
be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the
way quarks occur in nature.

Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar, W.H. Freeman, New York, 1994,
pp 180-181. (1)

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April 5
December 4

Thomas Hobbes: He was 40 years old before he looked on geometry; which
happened accidentally. Being in a gentleman's library, Euclid's Elements
lay open, and "twas the 47 El. libri I" [Pythagoras' Theorem]. He read the
proposition . "By God", sayd he, "this is impossible:" So he reads the
demonstration of it, which referred him back to such a proposition; which
proposition he read. That referred him back to another, which he also read.
Et sic deinceps, that at last he was demonstratively convinced of that
trueth. This made him in love with geometry.

In O. L. Dick (ed.) Brief Lives, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960.

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Special Category: Enrico Fermi
September 29
November 28

From: Jdowling#NoSpam.ssdd.redstone.army.mil
 Enrico Fermi, Italian physicist, 1901-1954.  When I was an undergraduate
at the University of Texas, I worked in the Fusion Research Center. We had
an elderly secretary named Sadie, whose last name I forget. During WWII,
she had a job as a secretary at Los Alamos. As she told the story, she was
partly responsible for making sure that the scientists properly disposed of
secret documents in the incinerator.  No one seemed to have problems with
this except Fermi who--although he invented the first atomic pile--never
could quite figure out how to work the incinerator, and Sadie always had to
take him through the steps each time he had to dispose of a document.

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From: joshua#NoSpam.cimatron.co.il

Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18

 Before they immigrated to the US, the Einsteins endured the severe
economic situation in post WWI Germany. Mrs. E saved old letters and other
scrap paper for Albert to write on and so continue his work.

Years later, Mrs. Einstein was pressed into a public relations tour of some
science research center. Dutifully she plodded through lab after lab filled
with gleaming new scientific napery, The American scientists explaining
things to her in that peculiarly condescending way we all treat non-native
speakers of our own language.

Finally she was ushered into a high-chambered observatory, and came face to
face with another, larger, scientific contraption. "Well, what's this one
for?" she muttered.

"Mrs. Einstein, we use this equipment to probe the deepest secrets of the
universe," cooed the chief scientist.

"Is THAT all!" snorted Mrs. E. "My husband did that on the back of old

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18
From:ESouthgate#NoSpam.webtv.net (Lee Southgate)

 (Not apochrypha -- saw this in a magazine)

Einstein's second greatest contribution -- he said that when he was cooking
soup and also wanted a soft-boiled egg he would add the egg to the soup and
thereby have one less pot to wash...

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Special Category: Albert Einstein
March 14
April 18

Charlie Chaplin had invited Albert Einstein  to the premiere of City
Lights.  When the public cheered them both, Chaplin remarked: "They cheer
me because they all understand me, and they cheer you because no one
understand you. [Folsing, Albert Einstein, 457]

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Special Category: Niels Bohr
October 7
November 18
From: gvg#NoSpam.lvld.hp.com (Greg Goebel)

 Niels Bohr (1885-1962) Danish physicist On reading of a particularly
bizarre physical theory (Dirac's theory leading to the discovery of the
positron, to be stuffy about it) Niels Bohr proposed that it would be very
useful as an elephant trap.

Simply put an explanation of the theory on a poster, tack it up on a tree
in the jungle, and any elephant (a beast noted for its wisdom) that passed
by would immediately become so engrossed trying to figure it out that it
could be packed up and delivered to the Copenhagen zoo before it realized
anything had happened.

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May 12
April 18
From: "Zoran Zdravkovski" <zoran#NoSpam.robig.pmf.ukim.edu>
 Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) one day was approached by his assistant who
all excited informed him that he had just discovered a universal solvent.
Liebig asked: - "And what is a universal solvent?"  Assistant: - "One that
dissolves all substances."  Liebig: - "Where are you going to keep that
solvent, then?!!!"

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October 9
July 15
From: "Zoran Zdravkovski" <zoran#NoSpam.robig.pmf.ukim.edu>

 The novelist Hermann Sudermann met once Emil Fischer and started thanking
him on his discovery of veronal: - You know it is so efficient, I don't
even have to take it, it's enough that I see it on my nightstand.

Fischer replied: - What a coincidence, when I have problems falling asleep,
I take one of your novels.  As a matter of fact, it's enough that I see one
of your wonderful books on my nightstand and I immediately fall asleep!

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Special Category: Walter Hermann Nernst
June 25
November 18
From: "Alexander Vinogradov" <aevin#NoSpam.link.cytspb.rssi.ru>
Hermann (Walter) Nernst (1864-1941), German physical chemist.

Nernst (the author of the third law of thermodynamics) was breeding fishes
in a pond near his cottage.  - Why do you bother with them? - asked his
acquaintance. - Even a poultry breeding seems to be more interesting.  - I
bred animals which are in thermodynamic equilibrium with the environment. -
replied Nernst. - Breeding homeotherms just means warming the Universe at
your expense.

(And exceeding the CO2 output, can we add nowadays.)

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Special Category: Walter Hermann Nernst
June 25
November 18

From: "Zoran Zdravkovski" <zoran#NoSpam.robig.pmf.ukim.edu>
 Walther Nernst, the famous German physical chemist, developed an electric
lamp, known as the "Nernst lamp", which he sold for a very large sum of
money. A colleague of his, not without spite asked him whether his next
project will be making diamonds.  Nernst answered, -"No, I can afford to
buy them now, so I don't need to make them".

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From: "Tommy Tyrberg" <tommy.tyrberg#NoSpam.norrkoping.mail.telia.com>
 This story is told about the mathematician Arne Beurling:

When PhD candidates he was supervising came to him with their finished
theses he would read the last few pages of the thesis, then pull out a
paper from his desk, look at it for a few moments and then say "Well, that
seems to be the right answer, You can submit it".

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Special Category: Pierre de Fermat
Januari 12
August 17
Januari 23
Februari 14
Special Category: David Hilbert

I once heard that the great mathematician David Hilbert was invited to give
a talk on any subject he liked during the early days of air travel.  His

	The Proof of Fermat's Last Theorem

Needless to say, his talk was eagerly anticipated.  The day arrived, the
talk was given, and it was brilliant -- but it had nothing at all to do
with Fermat's Last Theorem.

After the talk, someone asked Hilbert why he had picked a title that had
nothing to do with the talk.  His answer: "Oh, that title was just in case
the plane crashed."

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Special Category: David Hilbert
Januari 23
Februari 14
From: essoft#NoSpam.ix.netcom.com
 This reminds me of an old anecdote, presumably true, which went something
like this -- Mr. Hilbert has accepted an invitation to deliver a keynote
address to a large engineering convention. The organizers subsequently
learned that Hilbert was known for rather acerbic attitude towards
engineering.  Greatly concerned they decided to go back and talk to him.

After beating around the bush for a while they managed to convey to him
that they are worried that he may offend some people, and if he could sort
of hold back during his speech.

When Hilbert realized what they were asking he grinned broadly and said,
"You don't have to worry about that at all. How could I possibly offend
anyone for mathematics and engineering have absolutely NOTHING IN COMMON".

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Januari 22
Februari 28
From: Aniko Szabo <aniko.szabo#NoSpam.hci.utah.edu>
 Hungarian mathematician Frigyes Riesz needed two assisstants for his
lectures: one was reading aloud his (Riesz's) book, the second one was
writing everything on the board, while Riesz was standing next to the board

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From:Terry Pilling <terry#NoSpam.offshell.phys.ndsu.nodak.edu>
 Just a few trivial observations,

A funny thing that one notices in the course of learning particle physics
is the various signature nuances of various authors, they each seem to have
a favorite word or phrase that they use over and over.

For example if you begin your studies with the introductory text by Franz
Gross "Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Field Theory" you will notice
that he loves the word "famous" and uses it very frequently throughout the
text - if you notice it very early on, it becomes ridulously funny as you
go along (in a weird sort of way)

The next step comes with the graduation to "Quantum Field Theory" by Micho
Kaku.  You can hardly turn a page without noticing his favorite phrase,
"highly non-trivial" is very copiously used.

Then finally when you have learned all of that preliminary stuff you begin
to read "Superstring Theory" or, in fact, any of the mountain of papers
written by Edward Witten, and you notice that you cannot go very far in one
of his introduction sections without noticing his favorite word -

Some physics-nerd grad student could develop a sort of twisted "Where's
Waldo" - type drinking game wherein one must take a drink everytime you
come across the word "crucial" in a Witten introduction.

At the very least it brings a chuckle or two into an otherwise difficult

Well back to reading another "famous" and yet "highly non-trivial" paper,
"crucial" to my understanding of particle physics!



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August 31
September 8
From: "Daniel P. B. Smith" <dpbsmith#NoSpam.bellatlantic.net>
 IIRC when Helmholtz invented the ophthalmoscope (the instrument used for
examining the interior of the eye), he tried to interest the king's
physician in it, and was told that his invention was of no value, "because
I can already diagnose every known disease of the eye without the aid of
the ophthalmoscope."

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April 25
December 15
Special Category: Wolfgang Pauli
It was well known to Pauli's co-workers that Pauli should be kept away
from experiments.  When he came near any experiment it would go wrong and
instruments would go broke.  This became known as the Pauli Effect.

One day an important experiment went wrong without any apparent reason.
Pauli was not even around, so this was very strange .... until they
discovered a few days later that Pauli was in the train that was passing
the building at the time of the crash.

(To my shame, I must give as source: paraphrased from a movie, Babylon 5:
The river of souls. But on checking I also found it mentioned on the web)

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Special Category: Louis Pasteur
December 27
September 28

From: Bill <libertas#NoSpam.bellsouth.net>

Over a hundred years ago a university student found himself seated in
a train by the side of a person who seemed to be well-to do peasant.
He was praying the rosary and moving the beads in his fingers. 

"Sir, do you still believe in such outdated things?" asked the student
of the old man." 

"Yes, I do. Do you not?" asked the man. 

The student burst out into a laughter and said, "I do not believe in
such silly things. Take my advice. Throw the rosary out through this
window, and learn what science has to say about it". 

"Science? I do not understand this science? Perhaps you can explain it
to me.", the man said humbly with some tears in his eyes.

The student saw that the man was deeply moved. So to avoid further
hurting the feelings of the man, he said: 

"Please give me your address and I will send you some literature to
help you on the matter." 

The man fumbled in the inside pocket of his coat and gave the boy his
visiting card. On glancing at the card, the student, lowered his head
in shame and became silent. On the card he read: 

"Louis Pasteur, Director of the Institute of Scientific Research,

	-- Unattributed story told and retold about Pasteur

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Benjamin Franklin could still the waves of a stream just by waving his
walking stick.  It worked because his stick was hollow and contained oil.
It is told that Franklin learned the principle behind this trick when on a
boat trip he noticed that the water behind the ship became calmer after the
cook cast greasy water overboard.

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Special Category: George de Hevesey
It is told that in 1921 George de Hevesey suspected that the leftovers from
his dinner were not thrown away, but kept for the next day.  To check that
he added a minimal amount of a radioactive substance to his leftovers.  The
next day he tested the goulash soup that was served to him with a Geiger
counter.  The soup was indeed radioactive.
And this way radioactive tracers were discovered.

Source: Adriaan van der Woude & Rob de Meijer, "Radioactiviteit",
Natuurwetenschap & Techniek, 2003 (modified by me)

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October 28
December 5
From: Erik Reuter (eer36024#NoSpam.uxa.cso.uiuc.edu)

Bischoff, one of the leading anatomists of Europe, thrived in the 1870s.
He carefully measured brain weights, and after many years' accumulation of
much data he observed that the average weight of a man's brain was 1350
grams, that of a woman only 1250 grams. This at once, he argued, was
infallible proof of the mental superiority of men over women. Throughout
his life he defended this hypothesis with the conviction of a zealot. Being
the true scientist, he specified in his will that his own brain be added to
his impressive collection. The postmortem examination elicited the
interesting fact that his own brain weighed only 1245 grams.
-- Scientific American [March 1992]

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From: willner#NoSpam.cfa.harvard.edu (Steve Willner)

When Ray Davis started his original solar neutrino experiment, he bought
several thousand gallons of cleaning fluid to fill the detector.  I've been
told that shortly afterwards, he was overwhelmed by sales people wanting to
sell him vast quantities of coat hangers.

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From: The Sanity Inspector <synapsid#NoSpam.THETRASHhotmail.com>

	One day while Mr. Edison and I were were calling on Luther
Burbank in California, he asked us to register in his guest book.  The
book had a column for signature, another for home address, another for
occupation and a final one entitled 'Interested in'.  Mr. Edison
signed in a few quick but unhurried motions...In the final column he
wrote without a moment's hesitation: 'Everything.'
	-- Henry Ford, _My Friend Mr. Edison_

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Special Category: Abb़ Georges Lematre
Abbe Georges Lemaötre was not only a Catholic priest, but also a well known
theoretical physicists.  One day he came to G५ttingen for a lecture.  He
told that he and other had calculated from the abundance of certain
elements, the products of radioactive parent elements that the Earth was
about 4.5 billion years old.
After the talk, someone asked whether he believed in the bible.  He said,
"Yes, every word is true." 
But, the students continued, how could he tell us the earth is 4.5 billion
years old, if the bible says it is about 5.800 years old?
He said, "That is no contradiction."
"How that?"
Lemaötre explained that God made the earth 5.800 years ago with all the
radioactibe substances, the fossils and other indications of an older age.
He did this to tempt humankaind and to test its belief in the bible.
The students asked, why he was so interested  in finding out the age of
the Earth if it is not the actual age?
And he answered: " To convince myself that God did not make a single

mathematics physics
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November 23
March 1
Maxwell asked the mathematician Isaac Todhunter whether he would like an
experimental demonstration of conical refraction.

Todhunter answered: "No, I have been teaching it all my life, and I do not
want to have my ideas upset.

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The zoologist William Buckland was known for tasting everything. During a
visit to Italy he was shown a stain on the floor of a church on the spot
where a saint had died.  He was told that the the stain renewed itself
every morning with fresh blood.  Buckland immediately kneeled on the floor
and licked the moist patch.  He informed his host that it was not blood,
but nothing more than bats' urine.

Yes, William Buckland tastes everything.

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November 23
November 23
Special Category: Georges Cuvier
One night Georges Cuvier was visited by the devil.  One of his students
dressed up with horns on his head and shoes shaped like cloven hooves.
This frightening apparition burst into Cuvier's bedroom when he was fast
asleep and claimed:
 "Wake up thou man of catastrophes.  I am the devil.  I have come to devour
Cuvier studied the apparation carefully and critically said, "I doubt
whether you can.  You have horns and hooves.  You eat only plants."

New after last time posted (December 21, 2013) mathematics
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From: Sinan Karasu <sinan#NoSpam.bozuk.org>

Lennart Carleson

I heard this in a class at University of Washington around 1974.
Lennart Carleson was teaching a class. He walked in, wrote a theorem
on board , and then he wrote "Proof: Trivial". Then he looked at it
for 10 seconds, erased the "Trivial" , and walked out. He came back
just before the bell with a stack of papers , and wrote "Trivial" ,
and walked out.

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From: scienctrix#NoSpam.juno.com (Sciencetrx)

One line summaries: (Can anybody elaborate on these stories?)

- Newton purportedly died a virgin.  
- Paracelsus was the basis of Faust. The word "bombastic" allegedly comes
  from his name because of his manners.  
   (The first is true, no idea about bombastic - Joachim)
- Galileo never dropped the balls from the tower.
   (Coresio dropped balls from the tower and found a difference. There is
    no proof that Galileo did drop balls - Joachim)
- Feynman was a trickster of sorts.
   The watch gag, cracking combination locks, played the bongos, etc.
   (True.  Read "surely you are joking, mr. Feynman - Joachim)
- Reich, a once highly respected psychologist, ended up his life being
  considered a crackpot with his Orgone theory.
- John Mack, of Harvard, is somewhat of an outcast due to his abduction
- Tycho Brahe lost the tip of his nose in a duel about a math problem.  He
  wore a metal prosthesis for the rest of his life.  Allegedly he died due to
  a burst bladder.  During an audience with the king, he literally held his
  (The nose story is true, The bladder holding  was during a dinner with baron
   Rosenberg -Joachim)
- Einstein walking around without socks, extra marital affairs, etc.
   (Einstein got a child with Mileva  before they maried and
    had an affair with Elsa, before his divorce from Mileva and marriage
     with Elsa.  - Joachim)
- Edison's sometime habit of not bathing frequently. His bad business sense
 in building cement houses.
- AC Gilbert (of Gilbert Science sets and Erector Sets fame) blew up a
  family shed as a youngster.

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