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  • feedwordpress 08:01:40 on 2018/07/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , practical joke, prank, , Pythagorean Cup,   

    “All practical jokes, friendly, harmless or malevolent, involve deception, but not all deceptions are practical jokes”*… 


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    When you think of the ancient Greeks, practical jokes might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But along with art, architecture, and philosophy, you can add trick cups to their list of accomplishments.

    The Pythagorean cup is so-named because it was allegedly invented by Pythagoras of Samos (yes, the same guy who gave us theories about right triangles). It’s a small cup with a column in its center. It doesn’t look like much, but when an unsuspecting drinker fills it past a designated level, the liquid mysteriously drains out. Legend has it that Pythagoras used it as a way to punish greedy drinkers who poured themselves too much wine…

    A timeless practical joke, brought to you by the ancient Greeks: more merriment at “Pythagorean Cup.”

    * W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

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    As we ponders pranks, we might send a “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag” to the polymathic Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the philosopher, mathematician, and political adviser, who was important both as a metaphysician and as a logician, but who is probably best remembered for his independent invention of the calculus; he was born on this date in 1646.  Leibniz independently discovered and developed differential and integral calculus, which he published in 1684;  but he became involved in a bitter priority dispute with Isaac Newton, whose ideas on the calculus were developed earlier (1665), but published later (1687).

    As it happens, Leibnitz was no mean humorist.  Consider, e.g…

    If geometry conflicted with our passions and our present concerns as much as morality does, we would dispute it and transgress it almost as much–in spite of all Euclid’s and Archimedes’ demonstrations, which would be treated as fantasies and deemed to be full of fallacies. [Leibniz, New Essays, p. 95]

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:07 on 2016/05/03 Permalink
    Tags: , Golden Gate Bridge, , , , , prank, Rafinesque, , species,   

    “Various species grouped together according/ To their past beliefs”*… 


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    A page from Constantine Rafinesque’s field notebook

    Pranks are meant to be discovered—what’s the point in fooling someone if they never notice they’ve been fooled? But one 19th century prank, sprung by John James Audubon on another naturalist, was so extensive and so well executed that its full scope is only now coming to light.

    The prank began when the French naturalist Constantine Rafinesque sought on Audubon on a journey down the Ohio River in 1818. Audubon was years away from publishing Birds in America, but even then he was known among colleagues for his ornithological drawings. Rafinesque was on the hunt for new species—plants in particular—and he imagined that Audubon might have unwittingly included some unnamed specimens in his sketches.

    Rafinesque was an extremely enthusiastic namer of species: during his career as a naturalist, he named 2,700 plant genera and 6,700 species, approximately. He was self-taught, and the letter of introduction he handed to Audubon described him as “an odd fish.” When they met, Audubon noted, Rafinesque was wearing a “long loose coat…stained all over with the juice of plants,” a waistcoat “with enormous pockets” and a very long beard. Rafinesque was not known for his social graces; as John Jeremiah Sullivan writes, Audubon is the “only person on record” as actually liking him.

    During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales.

    By the 1870s, the truth about the fish had been discovered. But the fish were only part of Audubon’s prank…

    More at “Audubon Made Up At Least 28 Fake Species To Prank A Rival.”

    * Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), “Bills Corpse,” Trout Mask Replica

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    As we tease each other with taxonomy, we might recall that it was on this date in 2009 that a man riding his horse across the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin to San Francisco was stopped by the California Highway Patrol.  The CHP, which judged the horse a danger to pedestrians and bicyclists who use the walkway and a distraction to drivers– who did indeed slow to a crawl– had the rider dismount and walk his mount back to the Marin side.

    The offending equestrian returning to the Marin Headlands

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