The Paradox of the Question

An angel appears to a conference of philosophers and offers to provide the truthful answer to a single question. Cannily they ask:

“What is the ordered pair whose first member is the question that would be the best one for us to ask you, and whose second member is the answer to that question?”

Truthfully the angel answers:

“It is the ordered pair whose first member is the question you just asked me, and whose second member is this answer I am giving you.”

Philosopher Ned Markosian writes, “At the time the philosophers asked [the question above], it seemed like that question was the ideal one for their peculiar situation. But as it turned out, [that question] was obviously not at all the right thing to ask. … The puzzle, then, is this: What went wrong?”

(Ned Markosian, “The Paradox of the Question,” Analysis 57:2 [1997], 95-97.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In September 2008, Mike Nolan, head of web services at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, England, noticed something strange on Google Maps. “I grew up in the area and spotted on the map one day that it said ‘Argleton’,” he told the Guardian. “But it’s just a farmer’s field close to the village hall and playing fields. I think a footpath goes across the field, but that’s all.”

Bloggers began to discuss the nonexistent town, which found its way into other services that used Google’s data: Employment agencies, weather services, and letting agents began to cite Argleton in their listings, reassigning real people and businesses to the phantom settlement because of its claimed location.

Was it a joke? A placeholder? A misspelling? Whatever it was, it had disappeared again by May 2010. Google would say only that it experiences “occasional errors” and that it gets its mapping information from a Dutch company called Tele Atlas (whose spokesperson would add only, “I really can’t explain why these anomalies get into our database”).

Danny Dorling, president of the Society of Cartographers, said, “I would bet that this is an innocent mistake. In other words, it was not intentionally inserted to catch out anyone infringing the map’s copyright, as some are saying. But the bottom line is that we don’t know what mapping companies do to protect their maps or to hide secret locations, as some are obligated to do.”

Jacob’s Ladder
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1829, engineer J.W. Hoar built a cable railway up the side of Ladder Hill in Jamestown, Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic, to carry cargo up the 40-degree incline to Ladder Hill Fort. After 40 years, termite damage forced the closure of the railway, but the associated staircase remains open to intrepid tourists.

The fastest recorded ascent to date was made by Scotland’s Graham Doig in 2013. He climbed the 699 steps in 5 minutes 16.78 seconds.

The Basket Tree
Image: Flickr

In the 1940s, arborsculptor Axel Erlandson planted six sycamore trees in a circle and grafted them as they grew to form a “woven” unit with diamond interstices.

It’s now the centerpiece of California’s Gilroy Gardens.


When Sarah Davis of Hiawatha, Kansas, died in 1930, her husband John spent most of his wealth on her grave, including 11 life-size statues of Italian marble consorting under a canopy that weighs 50 tons.

The extravagance won John some criticism during the Depression, but today the monument brings a steady flow of tourists to the town.

First Contact

Moving beyond attempts at merely contacting the dead, artist Attila von Szalay claimed to be the first researcher to actually record the discarnate voices of the spirit world. Von Szalay’s quest began in 1936, while he worked in his darkroom. He claimed to hear in this darkened chamber the voice of his deceased brother calling his name. A subsequent interest in Yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophy made him better able to hear such voices, and in 1941 he attempted for the first time to record the spirits on a 78 rpm record (with disappointing results). It wasn’t until 1956 that von Szalay ‘successfully’ recorded such phenomena, this time using a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Perhaps unaware of their importance in the history of telecommunications, the first recorded spirit voices offered such banal messages as ‘This is G!,’ ‘Hot dog, Art!,’ and ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.’ These pioneering sessions were reported by noted psychic researcher Raymond Baylass in a letter to the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1959.

— Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence From Telegraphy to Television, 2000

Horse Sense

That the world-famous ‘thinking horses’ of Elberfeld are not fakes, that they extract cube roots, read and spell by rational processes rather than by means of trick signs from their trainer, is the conclusion reached by one of the leading European authorities on animal psychology …

The cube root of 5832 was proposed by one of the ladies present, written on the board for the horse and the answer, 18, given correctly in a few seconds. \sqrt{15376} and \sqrt[4]{456976} were likewise given correctly — 124 and 26 in about ten seconds. Mr. Krall and the attendant groom had left the hall immediately after the exercise was written on the board in each case. …

[ \sqrt[4]{614656} ]. Correct reply in a few seconds: 28. The horse was then alone in the room. All the spectators had also gone outside.

[ \sqrt[4]{4879681} ]. Reply after 30 seconds: 117. Wrong. The horse corrected it himself to 144, but finally gave up rather despairingly.

“Can Horses Think? Learned Commission Says ‘Perhaps,'” New York Times, Aug. 31, 1913

The Ghost Train
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In August 2006, the Newhaven Marine railway station in East Sussex was closed to passengers due to safety concerns. But it remained legally open, and under an 1844 regulation a train was required to call there once a day.

So until its closure in 2020, the station received daily train service, though its platforms were inaccessible to the public. The service was listed in timetables, but passengers who wished to travel to the next station were ferried there by taxi instead.


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The territory of Madha is an exclave — it belongs to Oman, but it’s surrounded by the United Arab Emirates.

And Madha itself contains an enclave — the village of Nahwa belongs to the United Arab Emirates.

This makes Nahwa a second-order enclave — it lies within the boundaries of its nation, but it’s surrounded by the territory of another state.