Tangents are somehow involved

When I was a lad, I found myself looking for answers to questions that weren’t actually being asked, or which were thrown up purely as rhetorical devices. Here Francis W. Porretto invokes one of the latter:

[C]onclusions about [a collectivity’s] “needs” are as dubious as a theorem about the dimensions of the angels’ dance hall.

I am quite certain he is correct about the conclusions, but I remember seeing, circa 1970, an actual theorem that addressed the issue of how many of the seraphs, cherubs, and so forth could in fact dance on the head of a pin. It went something like this:

1. Measure the angels’ feet.

2. Measure the area of the available dancing surface.

3. Divide A into B. (The actual computation is left as an exercise for the student.)

Now to some, this is right up there with “Define the universe; give three examples.” But to me, it’s always been a reminder that not all questions are as complicated as they’re made out to be.





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