Double Talk

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Image: Flickr

In talking about superheroes, these sentences seem natural and right:

(la) Clark Kent went into the phone booth and Superman came out.
(2a) Superman leapt over tall buildings.
(3a) Superman is more successful with women than Clark Kent.
(4a) Batman wears a mask.

But these seem inappropriate or wrong:

(lb) Clark Kent went into the phone booth and Clark Kent came out.
(2b) Clark Kent leapt over tall buildings.
(3b) Clark Kent is more successful with women than Clark Kent.
(4b) Bruce Wayne wears a mask.

Why is this? If we know that Superman is Clark Kent, then those terms should be interchangeable — a statement about Superman is a statement about Clark Kent; they’re the same person.

“At least in some conversational scenarios, utterances of (la)-(4a) strike us as true, and utterances of (lb) (4b) appear to be false,” writes University of Nottingham philosopher Stefano Predelli. “(3a), for instance, seems just the right thing to say when discussing women’s fascination with men in blue leotard; utterances of (3b), on the other hand, seem trivially false. Similarly, during a discussion of why the famed superhero never engages in extraordinary feats when playing the part of the timid journalist, utterances of (2a) seem unobjectionable, but utterances of (2b) will not do.” Why?

(Stefano Predelli, “Superheroes and Their Names,” American Philosophical Quarterly 41:2 [April 2004], 107-123.)

I Got a Feeling

My teenage children are mad about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t mind, but between them they have socks, pullovers and slacks which are fluorescent, and I am worried in case these are harmful to their health. Surely things that are luminous in the dark are usually radioactive, which, I take it, could be dangerous.

You’ll be relieved to know that these clothes, so popular with teenagers (particularly the rock ‘n’ rollers), have been tested for radioactivity, and there is none. So there should be no danger at all, except to anyone who is sensitive to the kinds of colours they select!

Woman’s Realm, April 12, 1958

Turnabout

Here’s an especially vivid example of the illusion created by Dick Termes’ six-point perspective.

If you can convince yourself that the front half of this sphere is transparent, and that the image is painted on the interior of the back half, you’ll find that you’re inside the cage, turning to your left, while the birds are outside the cage, looking in at you. (To get started, I find it helps to focus on an edge of the sphere, rather than the center.)

There are many more examples on Termes’ YouTube channel.

The Bear Gates

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Image: Flickr

These gates, at the main entrance to the grounds of Scotland’s Traquair House, were installed in 1738.

After a visit by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, earl Charles Stuart vowed they would never open again until a Stuart king returned to the throne.

They never have.

“Mother Nature in Tears”

http://mikenolanwildlifeimages.blogspot.com/2009/09/mother-nature-in-tears.html

Photographer Michael S. Nolan took this photo in 2009 at the Austfonna ice cap in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. He writes:

When I took the image early in the morning on July 16, 2009 from the bow of the National Geographic Explorer I was struck by the unmistakable likeness of the face of a woman crying. In fact once my mind locked onto the face it was hard to see any other pattern in the ice cap. I was moved to photograph this particular waterfall several different ways with a couple of different lenses. It was one of the best examples of a human likeness I have ever witnessed in nature.

“The icescape changes every year I visit,” he told the Telegraph. “Every summer the route has less ice as the polar cap retreats.”

(Via Brad Honeycutt, The Art of Deception, 2014.)

The Slave of Passion

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Here’s something odd: a painting of a young lady riding Aristotle like a pony.

In fact what’s surprising is how thoroughly we’ve forgotten this image, which was once one of the most common artistic motifs of the Northern Renaissance, figuring in scores of paintings, sculptures, and engravings.

The woman is Phyllis, the consort of Alexander the Great, who was a pupil of Aristotle. According to a 13th-century manuscript:

Once upon a time, Aristotle taught Alexander that he should restrain himself from frequently approaching his wife, who was very beautiful, lest he should impede his spirit from seeking the general good. Alexander acquiesced to him. The queen, when she perceived this and was upset, began to draw Aristotle to love her. Many times she crossed paths with him alone, with bare feet and disheveled hair, so that she might entice him.

At last, being enticed, he began to solicit her carnally.

‘This I will certainly not do, unless I see a sign of love, lest you be testing me. Therefore, come to my chamber crawling on hand and foot, in order to carry me like a horse. Then I’ll know that you aren’t deluding me.’

When he had consented to that condition, she secretly told the matter to Alexander, who lying in wait apprehended him carrying the queen. When Alexander wished to kill Aristotle, in order to excuse himself, Aristotle says,

‘If thus it happened to me, an old man most wise, that I was deceived by a woman, you can see that I taught you well, that it could happen to you, a young man.’

Hearing that, the king spared him, and made progress in Aristotle’s teachings.

This is an exemplum, a sort of parable designed to warn the reader away from a bad practice — in this case, allowing passion to overcome reason. But it’s nice to see the lesson taught to Aristotle, who once declared that the capacity for practical reason was undeveloped in children, absent in slaves, and “without authority” in women.

(Thanks, Dan.)

Rude Weapons

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Pliny the Elder wrote of an alarming creature of ancient legend:

There are reports of a wild animal in Paeonia called the bonasus, which has the mane of a horse, but in all other respects resembles a bull; its horns are curved back in such a manner as to be of no use for fighting, and it is said that because of this it saves itself by running away, meanwhile emitting a trail of dung that sometimes covers a distance of as much as three furlongs, contact with which scorches pursuers like a sort of fire.

By the Middle Ages this had evolved into the bonnacon, and if anything had gotten worse — from the 12th-century Cambridge Bestiary:

However much his front end does not defend this monster, his belly end is fully sufficient. For when he turns to run away he emits a fart with the contents of his large intestine which covers three acres. And any tree that it reaches catches fire. Thus he drives away his pursuers with noxious excrement.

It seems vaguely to have lived in southern Asia. Let’s hope it stays there.

The Battle of Surfaces

In 2007 Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were ranked 1 and 2 among the world’s men’s singles tennis players. But they excelled on different surfaces: Federer had not lost a match in five years on grass courts, and Nadal had been undefeated on clay for three. And neither player had defeated the other on his favored surface. So they held an exhibition match on a special court that was half grass, half clay.

The court took 19 days and $1.63 million to create. Before the match, Federer said:

We are both looking forward to this absolutely new event. The idea really appeals to me, as we both dominate one of the surfaces. Rafa holds the record of 72 victories in series on clay, and I have not been defeated on grass since 48 matches. It’ll be fun to find out what it’s like to play on a court with mixed surfaces! And it ought to be interesting to see who chooses the better tactic. People have been talking about this event for quite a while. Now it’s coming up pretty soon already, and I like the fact that the stadium — which is very nice, by the way — is located on Majorca, Rafa’s home. He has been to Basel, after all, and now I’ve got the opportunity to play at his place for once.

Nadal won 7–5, 4–6, 7–6(12–10). “It has been a nice experience,” he told the BBC, “although before the match I thought it would be a disaster because I felt it would be very difficult for me to adapt to the court. I have had a good time and that is important.”

Unlimited Shuffleboard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Freedom_Ship_side_view.jpg

Jules Verne’s 1895 novel Propeller Island imagines an immense ship in the Pacific Ocean that’s inhabited entirely by millionaires. In 1999 an organization calling itself Freedom Ship International proposed the real thing, a ship four times as long as the Queen Mary and 25 stories tall. Altogether the ship would boast 18,000 living units, 3,000 commercial units, 2,400 time-share units and 10,000 hotel units, and like Verne’s ship it would circle the world continuously.

“The proposed vessel’s superstructure, rising twenty-five stories above its broad main deck, would house residential space, a library, schools, and a first-class hospital in addition to retail and wholesale shops, banks, hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities, casinos, offices, warehouses, and light manufacturing and assembly enterprises.”

Cost estimates started at $6 billion but soon nearly doubled, and construction still hasn’t begun, though the company was actively pursuing its plans as recently as November 2013. While you’re waiting, you can stay on this giant yacht.

While You Wait

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Old Faithful is sometimes degraded by being made a laundry. Garments placed in the crater during quiescence are ejected thoroughly washed when the eruption takes place. Gen. Sheridan’s men, in 1882, found that linen and cotton fabrics were uninjured by the action of the water, but woolen clothes were torn to shreds.

— William C. Riley, Official Guide to the Yellowstone National Park, 1889