An Eternal Triangle

penrose triangle

Similarly, in a waking dream, the greater world is somehow represented in the mind. Part of the wonder here is the wonder of consciousness itself, which William James expressed so clearly when he asked, ‘How can the [world] I am in be simultaneously out there and, as it were, inside my head, my experience?’ Many people think there is still no good answer to this question that I know of — although I recently heard the mathematical physicist Roger Penrose identify a striking corollary of it. It is as if, he said, there are three distinct worlds, equally real, and yet each somehow encompassing the others. There is, first, the world of mathematics — unbounded and infinite, and something that Penrose, following Plato, believes really exists. Then, within the world of mathematics there is the relatively small set of equations that, Penrose says, can explain all of physical reality. And finally, within and made possible by that physical reality there is the world of conscious beings and what they can experience. And yet somehow these conscious beings (or at least the ones who are good enough mathematicians) are capable of comprehending the mathematical world. Each world is therefore somehow nested in turn within another in an eternal loop, like the triangle devised by Penrose that has been called ‘impossibility in its purest form.’

— Caspar Henderson, A New Map of Wonders, 2017

Will I Am

In the year 1611, when the King James Version of the Bible was published, William Shakespeare was 46 and 47 years old. The 46th word from the start of the 46th Psalm is shake, and the 47th word from the end is spear. Also, the 14th word is will, and the 32nd word from the end is am, preceded by I. And 14 + 32 = 46.

Remarkably, these coincidences obtain also in Richard Taverner’s 1539 Bible, which uses a different wording.

(J. Karl Franson, “A Myth About the Bard,” Word Ways 27:3 [August 1994], 154.)

Truth in Advertising
Image: Wikimedia Commons

This giant cask, in Rhineland-Palatinate, has a volume of about 1.7 million liters, making it the largest in the world, large enough in fact to house a wine bar with space for 430 guests. It was built in 1934 by Bad Dürkheim cooper Fritz Keller, who fashioned each stave from a 40-meter spruce tree.

Magnificently, it is called the Giant Cask (Riesenfass). It surpasses the Heidelberg Tun, which had held the record previously.

No One Home

On the afternoon of Oct. 24, 1961, 31-year-old Joan Risch was found to be missing from her home in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Blood that matched her type was found in the kitchen and the driveway, a table had been overturned, and a telephone handset had been torn from the wall. Risch’s 2-year-old son was safe in his crib upstairs. Her husband, returning from a business trip, said he could not explain the source of some empty beer bottles in a wastebasket.

Risch had last been seen wearing a trench coat and carrying something red quickly up her driveway, toward the garage. Several people reported having seen a two-tone blue car in the neighborhood, and possibly in Risch’s driveway, at about the time of her disappearance, and a number of witnesses reported having seen a disoriented woman matching Risch’s description walking along nearby roads.

Some time after her disappearance, it was discovered that Risch had checked out 25 books on murders and missing-persons cases over the summer of 1961. The case has never been solved. Both Risch’s husband and police chief Leo Algeo died in 2009. Algeo said, “I thought they’d find a body or bones or something. … Things do turn up. People don’t disappear without a trace.”

The Groaning-Board

At the sign of the Wool-sack, in Newgate Market, is to be seen a strange and wonderful thing, which is an elm board, being touched with a hot iron, doth express itself as if it were a man dying with groans, and trembling, to the great admiration of all the hearers. It hath been presented before the king and his nobles, and hath given great satisfaction.

London handbill, 1682

One of the most curious and ingenious amusements ever offered to the publick ear was contrived in the year 1682, when an elm plank was exhibited to the King and the credulous of London, which, being touched by a hot iron, invariably produced a sound resembling deep groans.

This sensible, and very irritable board, received numbers of noble visitors; and other boards, sympathising with their afflicted brother, demonstrated how much affected they might be by similar means.

— James Peller Malcolm, Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London, 1810

In one of William Molyneux’s communications he mentions the exhibition of ‘the groaning-plank’ in Dublin, a curiosity that attracted much attention and many learned speculations about the years 1682 and 1683. He was, however, too much of a philosopher to be gulled with the rest of the people who witnessed this so-called ‘sensible elm-plank,’ which is said to have groaned and trembled on the application of a hot iron to one end of it. After explaining the probable cause of the noise and tremulousness by its form and condition, and by the sap being made to pass up through the pores or tubuli of the plank which was in some particular condition, he says: ‘But, Tom, the generality of mankind is lazy and unthoughtful, and will not trouble themselves to think of the reason of a thing: when they have a brief way of explaining anything that is strange by saying, “The devil’s in it,” what need they trouble their heads about pores, and matters, and motion, figure, and disposition, when the devil and a witch shall solve the phenomena of nature.’

“Gallery of Illustrious Irishmen: Sir Thomas Molyneux,” Dublin University Magazine, September 1841

Rising Masses

A writer in The Builder has cleverly suggested that bridges might be erected in the crowded thoroughfares of London for the convenience of foot passengers, who lose so much valuable time in crossing. As the stairs would occupy a considerable space, and occasion much fatigue, I beg to propose an amendment: Might not the ascending pedestrians be raised up by the descending? The bridge would then resemble the letter H, and occupy but little room. Three or four at a time, stepping into an iron framework, would be gently elevated, walk across, and perform by their weight the same friendly office for others rising on the opposite side. Surely no obstacles can arise which might not be surmounted by ingenuity. If a temporary bridge were erected in one of the parks the experiment might be tried at little cost, and, at any rate, some amusement would be afforded. C.T.

Notes and Queries, July 17, 1852

Narrators and Film

Ishmael narrates Moby-Dick, just as Gulliver narrates his travels and John Watson narrates the Sherlock Holmes stories. In each case we can assume that all the information presented in the literary story is imparted to us by its fictional narrator.

But the filmed version of each story contains thousands of details that are apparent to us but clearly never observed directly by the narrator. Yet it’s still the narrator who’s ostensibly telling us the story. If the narrator isn’t supplying these details, then … who is?

Fair Enough
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies in the genus Diaethria are commonly called “eighty-eights” because their wings bear a pattern that resembles the number 88 or 89.

The Australian ringneck parrot has four subspecies, one of which is known as the 28 parrot for its triple-noted call, which sounds like “twentee-eight.”

Buzz Off

The first directory of Philadelphia, published in 1785, contains some odd entries:

‘I won’t tell you,’ 3. Maiden’s Lane.
‘I won’t tell it,’ 15. Sugar Alley.
‘I won’t tell you my name,’ 160. New Market Street.
‘I won’t have it numbered,’ 478. Green Street.
‘I won’t tell my name,’ 185. St. John’s Street.
‘I shall not give you my name,’ 43. Stamper’s Alley.
‘What you please,’ 49. Market Street.

Apparently some residents, suspicious of taxation, had refused to identify themselves … so the publishers listed their responses in place of their names in the directory.

(From Notes and Queries.)