Nature, Nurture

Identical twins Jack Yufe and Oskar Stohr were born in 1932 to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Their parents divorced when the boys were six months old; Oskar was raised by his grandmother in Czechoslovakia, where he learned to love Hitler and hate Jews, and Jack was raised in Trinidad by his father, who taught him loyalty to the Jews and hatred of Hitler.

At 47 they were reunited by scientists at the University of Minnesota. Oskar was a conservative who enjoyed leisure, Jack a liberal workaholic. But both read magazines from back to front, both wore tight bathing suits, both wrapped rubber bands around their wrists, both liked sweet liqueur and spicy foods, both had difficulty with math, both flushed the toilet before and after using it — and both enjoyed sneezing suddenly in elevators to startle other passengers.

See Doppelgangers.


To discover whether a number is divisible by 11, add the digits that appear in odd positions (first, third, and so on), and separately add the digits in even positions. If the difference between these two sums is evenly divisible by 11, then so is the original number. Otherwise it’s not.

For example:

11 × 198249381729 = 2180743199019

Sum of digits in odd positions = 2 + 8 + 7 + 3 + 9 + 0 + 9 = 38

Sum of digits in even positions = 1 + 0 + 4 + 1 + 9 + 1 = 16

38 – 16 = 22

22 is a multiple of 11, so 2180743199019 is as well.

Fugitive Truth

When I conduct a psychological experiment, my expectations might influence the outcome.

That’s called the experimenter expectancy effect. Does it exist? Well, we could do an experiment to detect it …

… but if it exists then it would bias the experiment, and if it doesn’t then we’d detect nothing. Either way, it seems, we can’t reliably assess what’s happening.

Warm Work

(Please don’t try this.)

[T]ar … boils at a temperature of 220°, even higher than that of water. Mr. Davenport informs us, that he saw one of the workmen in the King’s Dockyard at Chatham immerse his naked hand in tar of that temperature. He drew up his coat sleeves, dipped in his hand and wrist, bringing out fluid tar, and pouring it off from his hand as from a ladle. The tar remained in complete contact with his skin, and he wiped it off with tow. Convinced that there was no deception in this experiment, Mr. Davenport immersed the entire length of his forefinger in the boiling cauldron, and moved it about a short time before the heat became inconvenient. Mr. Davenport ascribes this singular effect to the slowness with which the tar communicates its heat, which he conceives to arise from the abundant volatile vapour which is evolved ‘carrying off rapidly the caloric in a latent state, and intervening between the tar and the skin, so as to prevent the more rapid communication of heat.’ He conceives also, that when the hand is withdrawn, and the hot tar adhering to it, the rapidity with which this vapour is evolved from the surface exposed to the air cools it immediately. The workmen informed Mr. Davenport, that, if a person put his hand into the cauldron with his glove on, he would be dreadfully burnt, but this extraordinary result was not put to the test of observation.

– David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic, 1868

“A Very Small Dinner Party”

From Lewis Carroll’s A Tangled Tale: The governor of Kgovjni gives a dinner party for his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father — and invites a single person:

Males are denoted by capitals, females by small letters. The governor is E, and his guest is C.

See “Proof That a Man Can Be His Own Grandfather,” No Reunion, and The Half-Bastard.

Wheels Within Wheels
Image: Wikimedia Commons

If the moon orbits the earth, always presenting the same face to us, does it rotate on its own axis?

It seems a simple question, but its appearance in the London Times in April 1856 set off a war among the English intelligentsia:

  • “A ship sailing round the world presents to the fishes always the same face as the Moon does to us. Coming home again, it will surely not be said that the ship has performed a [rotation].”
  • “Let him perforate a small ivory ball to represent the Moon, pass a wire through it, and bend this wire into a circle of a foot in diameter, and then push the ball round the circumference. Will there then remain any doubt of her not rotating on her axis?”

The answer, as William James would note in his parable of the squirrel, is that “which party is right depends on what you practically mean” by the term in question. Today we’d say that the moon rotates about its axis in the same time it takes to orbit the earth.

Incidentally, Lewis Carroll submitted two letters, but the Times didn’t print them. Perhaps it’s just as well — he was far ahead of everyone else: “I noticed for the first time the fact that though [the moon] only goes 13 times round the earth in the course of the year, it makes 14 revolutions round its own axis, the extra one being due to its motion round the sun.”

The Streetcar Singularity

‘If a man followed the directions of a street-car company,’ said Jones, ‘he would never enter one of its cars. Once in, paradoxically, he would never leave it. Just read that sign; it says, ‘Passengers are forbidden to enter or leave this car while in motion.’ Now, how in the name of Lindley Murray can a passenger do otherwise than get in motion, while leaving or entering a street car?’

— Marshall Brown, Bulls and Blunders, 1893