A Real Groaner of a Story by a Mathemagician

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I was just watching one of my lectures earlier yesterday, #8 of a series of lectures titled The Joy of Mathematics, by Professor Arthur T. Benjamin of Harvey Mudd University, and published by The Teaching Company. What follows is a sort of in-joke among math enthusiasts, and you may or may not think it’s funny, but I got a few good giggles out of it and decided to share it. It comes from the closing scene at the end of the lecture, the Joy of Algebra made Visual, describing the field of Analytic Geometry. The grammar and wording is verbatim:

“Let me end here with a little story, about a horse that learned arithmetic.

His name was Clever Hans, and the people in the crowd would shout out arithmetic problems to it, and it would put out a hoof and pound five times and the answer would be five, and that of course was correct.

And they would give it more complicated problems like multiplication problems, and it took a little longer, but he was able to do it.

They tried him on algebra problems, he was able to do these.

Finally someone threw out a problem in analytic geometry, and the horse couldn’t do it. In fact it got so crazy that the horse just fell to pieces and died.

And the moral of that story is… NEVER put Descartes before the horse.”

I told you it was bad, but I did get a good belly-laugh with this from a friend of mine who probably knows more math than I do, but that’s something to improve. Thanks. And I hope I didn’t cause a brain hemmorhage.

(Update, 2011/06/02, 12:40 am EDT)

As far as I’m able to tell, Prof Benjamin is the originator of this horrific pun-nishment and if I didn’t mention it clearly enough earlier in this post, deserves full credit for it. Thanks. And if you’re reading this, congratulations for surviving the aneurism it may have caused.

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