Monday, October 12, 2015
Ludwig Wittgenstein apparently once claimed that "a serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes." It's not clear what might have led Wittgenstein to say such a thing. Indeed, it seems an absurd suggestion. Philosophy is largely an explanatory enterprise, and, as we all know, there's no worse fate for a joke than for it to require explanation. However, it is clear that jokes can provide an occasion for philosophical reflection. Even though we do not need an explanation of a good joke in order to find it funny, we nonetheless may have reason to look for an explanation of the fact that it is funny.
The distinction between explaining a joke and explaining what is funny about a joke is subtle enough to seem bogus. Yet surely there is a difference between having to explain a joke in order to make the case that it is funny and offering an explanation of what is funny about a joke that is already acknowledged to be so. The former project is, as we've already mentioned, a joke killer; a joke that needs to be explained in order that one might find it funny is arguably no joke at all. But the latter project of explaining why we find a particular joke funny can be elucidating. For one thing, it calls attention to the varied phenomena of humor, including the puzzling features of language and communication that are often put on explicit display in a good joke. Perhaps eventually such explanations may be helpful in drawing important distinctions between, say, comedy and cruelty, or satire and defamation.
The recent passing of Yogi Berra has rightly occasioned reflection on his famous quizzical remarks that are now widely known as "Yogisms." What is interesting about Yogisms is that they're clearly funny, but it is not clear why. On the one hand, several look like simple conceptual errors. For example, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," "Pair up in threes," and "Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical" seem simply to misunderstand what forks, pairs, and halves are. On the other hand, others appear to be flat tautologies. Consider: "I knew the record would stand until it was broken" and "You wouldn't have won if we'd beaten you." In the cases of both of these kinds, the comedy lies in a kind of unthinking tendency to malapropism. Had Yogi said only one such thing, there likely would be no humor in it; one would simply claim that he had on some occasion misspoken, or said something silly, and be done with it. It is Yogi's proneness to certain kinds of conceptual infelicity – his record of erring – that makes these slip-ups distinctively amusing.
But other Yogisms are more intriguing, and, importantly, these are his more widely-known sayings. Consider the most famous Yogism of all: "It ain't over till it's over." On its face, it looks like another simple tautology. Yet it isn't. What's going on?
I haven't had a drink in nearly a decade. Still think I should've gone out with more style. I chose beer to be my last drink. It was Corona. I remember because I cut my finger slicing the lime.
A decade. That's ten whole years. A lot can happen in ten years. Cities are built and destroyed. World records are broken. Lives begin and end.
Sometimes I would drink Corona and pretend to be on a beach in Mexico. I would wear big, colorful sombreros and curl my toes into the sand.
"I'm just taking a break."
"I don't know. To see if I can, I guess."
"Sounds pointless to me. It's not like you have a problem."
Everyone has a drinking story. Everyone eventually shares it.
Corona tastes even better if accompanied by tortilla chips and some good pico de gallo.
I used to be a bartender myself. I learned that putting an alcoholic behind the bar is a lot like throwing water on a grease fire; it just makes everything worse. The managers all came at me the same way, with eyes cast down, wringing their hands. Words come out unevenly. "This is hard for me." "We're going to miss you." "Need to break professional ties." There's only so many ways to tell someone they're getting fired. I'd nod my head and collect my stuff, usually a few scattered CD's, some cigarettes, and a copy of People magazine hidden behind the margarita machine for when it was slow.
I write about drunk people. Some of them are strangers. The postman who carries shooters in his saddlebag. The bank teller at Chase Manhattan who breathes whiskey fire when she asks "And how would you like your bills?" The teenage boy who runs the Laundromat next door, with his slurred speech and heavy gold eyes, clumsily doling out quarters to the women with their baskets of dirty clothes and half-naked children. He prefers to drink a forty of Old E that he carries around in a recycled brown bag.
Sometimes I know the drunk people I write about. Sometimes they are my cousin or my mother or my friend from college.
I try to make their stories sound more important. Less severe.
Digging Potatoes with the Young
……….. — for George and Dacy
last week I dug potatoes
with the young
—granddaughter and son
I showed them how to sink the fork
in ground a bit away from desiccated tuber stalks
by leaning their slight weight in to force it down
then leveraging tines by length of haft
to bring the harvest slowly from below
so as not to bruise the spuds with too-rude heft
they saw the red roots rise by fork from aromatic soil
some with dangling threads attached
some already gnawed, previously shared,
some inevitably speared by fork and set aside
for sooner use, others for the moment spared
for winter use, to be stored then later speared
they raked their hands through tumbled dirt
to find the ones they may have missed
grinning when they found still-buried ones
—the russet square-inch sides of those by chance exposed
“there’s one,” they said,
“— and there!”
they pawed excited through the earth with me
from far start of row to here
by Jonathan Kujawa
Popular media loves nothing better than leaning on a tired trope when telling a tale. Mathematicians are always solitary geniuses who toil away in solitude on really hard problems. When they solve one nobody can quite say why anyone should have cared in the first place. But never mind that, it was really hard and it's all very impressive that they solved it all by their lonesome with their otherworldly brain. And they'd better be peculiar! Only Sheldon Coopers need apply.
The truth is much more interesting. Of course breakthroughs are sometimes made by the hard work of single individuals (such as Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture or Andrew Wiles's proof of Fermat's Last Theorem). But much more often mathematics is a social, human enterprise. For me, at least, half the fun of it is in the give and take of sharing ideas with others. Ninety percent of my research papers are cowritten. Others may prefer to work alone, but even then they build on the work of others and hope others will read, appreciate, and use their work.
Heck, even the famously reclusive Perelman built his house on the foundation of using Ricci flow to study geometric objects provided by Richard Hamilton. And while Wiles worked in his attic office in complete secrecy for six years, he, too, depended on others. It was Berkeley number theorist (and oenophile) Ken Ribet who proved that Fermat's Last Theorem would follow from the Taniyama–Shimura conjecture about certain elliptic curves (those strange number systems we ran across last year). And when Wiles's proof of the Taniyama–Shimura conjecture looked to have a fatal flaw, it was in collaboration with Richard Taylor that a fix was finally found.
The collaborative and social nature of mathematics is exemplified by Paul Erdős. We crossed his path here at 3QD nearly two years ago. A mathematical vagabond, Erdős was famous for living out of a single suitcase. He traveled the world visiting math friends for a few days or weeks, doing math with anyone who was up for it.
by Alexander Bastidas Fry
When you are told what someone is against, ask them what they are for. If you against nuclear power, what kind of power are you for? Reasonable answers include coal, natural gas, biomass, wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal. However, not all of these answers are equally genuine given the constraints of our world. Renewable energy sources have not historically been economically or technologically viable. Our energy landscape is changing today. A future with more renewables and no nuclear power is possible, yet it may not be the best choice if we are serious about climate change. Nuclear power has often been eschewed out of fear, not practicality or rationality.
The world nuclear, by itself, means little other than associating to the nucleus of the atom which all tangible things are made. The phrase nuclear power is used colloquially to refer to classic nuclear power plants that operate by splitting the atoms of heavy nuclei, such as uranium, in a process known as fission. The key to managing the fission process inside nuclear reactors is cooling. If the cooling fails, the fission reaction can get out of control and lead to disaster. Fission releases energy in the form of heat, this heat creates steam, and the steam turns generators that create electric power. Nuclear fission power can also be used at much smaller scales using devices known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators that harness the heat released from the radioactive decay of materials such as Plutonium 238 or Polonium 210. These devices can produce reliable energy for many decades and be used to power anything including cars or space probes that will be far from the Sun.
Adrian Villar Rojas. The Most Beautiful of All Mothers. Istanbul Biennial, 2015.
Also watch for: Mr.Rojas and Asad Raza's collaborative art project in New York in November, 2015.
by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Award-winning essayist, novelist, critic, and poet Anis Shivani's second collection of poems Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish was published a few days ago. Here is our conversation about his latest book:
SZH: These poems are first and foremost an ideational field, one in which the emotional takes the form of an occasional land mine or a treasure hunt— the “feeling” in the world of these poems is inextricable from the richly diverse tributaries of “thought.” In other words, emotion almost always goes through a thought-filter, which is unusual for poetry, wouldn’t you say?
AS: Thank you for these wonderfully imaginative questions. It makes the difficult task of writing this book over several years feel like it was worth it. These questions are truly a blessing, coming as they do the morning after I read extensively from Whatever Speaks for the first time, at Houston Poetry Fest last night. As I read from the book to a large and engaged audience, many things started becoming noticeable to me that I hadn’t known before; this always happens once the book is out, it changes shape from what you thought it was to something it wants to be.
To answer your question, yes, I would say that I feel through thoughts, or that thoughts feel me through thinking. This may not be very common in poetry these days, as you point out, when the ethos is to express emotion directly, feel without filters, lay it all out in the open. Anti-intellectuality has its cachet in the poetry world, you know, it’s just the reigning style these days. As for me, I don’t know how to separate the two branches of the mind. The best feelings come expressed in the form of complex ideas, even as it’s interesting to notice ideas unravel, spin to their doomed end in front of one’s eyes, dissipate like a spider’s web or an eddy of water if one so much as observes them. Very Heisenbergian.
It’s fascinating to hold an idea in focus, like the proverbial dot on the wall in Buddhist meditation, and see what happens to it. At first it becomes large, it becomes hegemonic and takes you over, but soon it dissolves until there is nothing left, until there is just the emptiness of your mind, the futility of your focus, to confront you. All ideas seem to me to be like that, they cannot withstand scrutiny, observation, analysis, though that is their claim to fame in the first place—as opposed to so-called emotion.
by Jalees Rehman
"It's empathy that makes us help other people. It's empathy that makes us moral." The economist Paul Zak casually makes this comment in his widely watched TED talk about the hormone oxytocin, which he dubs the "moral molecule". Zak quotes a number of behavioral studies to support his claim that oxytocin increases empathy and trust, which in turn increases moral behavior. If all humans regularly inhaled a few puffs of oxytocin through a nasal spray, we could become more compassionate and caring. It sounds too good to be true. And recent research now suggests that this overly simplistic view of oxytocin, empathy and morality is indeed too good to be true.
Many scientific studies support the idea that oxytocin is a major biological mechanism underlying the emotions of empathy and the formation of bonds between humans. However, inferring that these oxytocin effects in turn make us more moral is a much more controversial statement. In 2011, the researcher Carsten De Dreu and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands published the study Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism which studied indigenous Dutch male study subjects who in a blinded fashion self-administered either nasal oxytocin or a placebo spray. The subjects then answered questions and performed word association tasks after seeing photographic images of Dutch males (the "in-group") or images of Arabs and Germans, the "out-group" because prior surveys had shown that the Dutch public has negative views of both Arabs/Muslims and Germans. To ensure that the subjects understood the distinct ethnic backgrounds of the target people shown in the images, they were referred to typical Dutch male names, German names (such as Markus and Helmut) or Arab names (such as Ahmed and Youssef).
Oxytocin increased favorable views and word associations but only towards in-group images of fellow Dutch males. The oxytocin treatment even had the unexpected effect of worsening the views regarding Arabs and Germans but this latter effect was not quite statistically significant. Far from being a "moral molecule", oxytocin may actually increase ethnic bias in society because it selectively enhances certain emotional bonds. In a subsequent study, De Dreu then addressed another aspect of the purported link between oxytocin and morality by testing the honesty of subjects. The study Oxytocin promotes group-serving dishonesty showed that oxytocin increased cheating in study subjects if they were under the impression that dishonesty would benefit their group. De Dreu concluded that oxytocin does make us less selfish and care more about the interest of the group we belong to.
by Brooks Riley
Once again, as has always been the case come fall; September and October, all these past fifteen years and more, the so called leaders of the world resolve to continue to bomb and bomb and bomb in order to save humanity. That's all they've got going for themselves, bombs. In the name of terrorism.
The Pentagon and its collaborators mainly in Hollywood, Media, Politics, Development and so forth, as the marketing agents for weapons manufacturers, have succeeded in only one project: the branding of a religion and therefore over 2 billion people, as being something else. Enemy combatants. In the name of vests. A vest trumps, drones, bombs, cruise missiles, uranium depleted ammunition, white phosphorus bombings. A vest.
This branding conversation, this fall too, remains and is in fact dialing up to maximize war profits and keep the world on the edge of suicide. As migrants fled war, and continued to don life vests and braved the seas between Turkey and Western Europe trying to wash up alive onto the shores of Greece to then walk further northward to refuge and away from war, and the latest pilgrims to become victims of the Saudis, died in their hundreds during the Hajj in Mecca, another set of migrants and pilgrims made their annual pilgrimage to the Mecca for diplomacy to the headquarters of the UN in New York to agree on one thing—more war, more bombings. The solutions, put forth, no matter what, revolve around religion and bombings. The Holy Roman Empire, it seems is on the rise, still glittering in the vestments of old.
by Dwight Furrow
In matters of love we have a Euthyphro problem (so-called because an early version of the problem is raised by Plato in his dialogue Euthyphro). Do I love my wife because I think she's beautiful or do I think she's beautiful because I love her? Replace beauty with any other virtue and the question remains. If I think my wife is beautiful (or kind or smart) because I love her, then what explains my loving her? It can't be her beauty, kindness, or intelligence because my belief that she possesses these virtues is antecedent to the love, not a prior judgment. It is peculiar to think there is no reason why we love what we love. However the second horn of the dilemma is no more promising. If I love my wife for her beauty, kindness, or intelligence, it would seem that I should love someone else who is equally virtuous. But, of course, I don't. Those particular general qualities seem inadequate as explanations for love since there are any number of people possessing them that I do not love.
Philosophers have come down on either side of the dilemma. Luminaries such as Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hume, and Kant have tried to argue without much success that beauty or sexual attraction are the precursors of love. But we can surely love things that are not beautiful or sexually attractive; in fact we often love what is ugly. More recently, Harry Frankfurt has argued that love is a kind of brute fact. We love things for no reason—it's just a fact that we do so and bestow value then on the things we love. For Frankfurt, things have value because we care about them and thus their value cannot be a justification of why we care on pain of circularity.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Jennifer M. Morton over at The Philosophers' Magazine Online:
Picture yourself as a young mother with two children. You enrol in university to obtain a bachelor’s degree, hoping to give yourself a better chance at a job that pays a living wage. Maybe you receive government loans to pay for tuition, and rely on your family’s help, but you still don’t have enough to pay for living expenses and childcare. So, you continue working at a job that pays slightly above minimum wage while taking a full load of courses. Every day you wake up early to get the children ready for school and commute an hour or more to university. After class, you pick up your children from school. If you’re lucky, you can drop them off with a relative while you go to work. By the time you return home in the evening, you are tired, but still have many pages to read and assignments to complete. This is your gruelling daily routine. Now, ask yourself: what could philosophy do for you?
I teach philosophy at the City College of New York, an institution which, since its founding in 1847, has attracted a student body as diverse as the city it serves. Many of my students come from minority, low-income, or immigrant communities; some all three. They are strivers - seeking an education in order to become health professionals, teachers, engineers, or lawyers while holding onto jobs and taking care of families. Most of them are more fortunate than our imagined protagonist, but for many of them going to university involves great personal and financial sacrifices. Given that few of my students will ultimately find their way into the academy and that, within that already small cohort, only a fraction will choose to do so in the field of philosophy, the question of why study philosophy has a particular resonance for them, and for me as their teacher.
One answer to this question is pragmatic - philosophy teaches you to think and write logically and clearly. This, we tell our students, will be of use to them no matter what path they pursue. We advertise philosophy, then, as a broadly useful means to a variety of ends. There is a lot of truth to this dispassionate answer, but it is also rather disappointing. It sells philosophy short. A different sort of answer dives into profundity - philosophy aims to discover fundamental truths. Many disciplines aim at knowledge but philosophers, we solemnly tell our students, go deeper - we seek Knowledge with a capital K. This is undeniably the goal of many philosophers, but it can alienate some students (in particular, those who are not interested in pursuing an academic career). Why, these students might ask, is the knowledge that philosophy aims at any deeper than that of more practical fields such as medicine, science, or the law? And why should they care about this kind of knowledge? Even if most professional philosophers aim at the deepest kind of knowledge, this does not show that it is a valuable enterprise for all students, especially for those who are already overcoming significant hurdles to attend university.
Giulia Bertoluzzi over at Scroll.in:
Founded by the Prophet Zoroaster around 3,500 years ago, the religion claims around 190,000 followers. The official religion in Iran for 1,000 years, its adherents are now a dwindling minority within the Islamic Republic.
Middle East Eye paid a visit to their fire temple (or Agiary), the site of daily services led by Zorastrian priests. The visit coincided with the third Gambahar, one of the six annual festivals designed to celebrate the creation of the Earth.
Mobediar Sarvar Talapolevara enters the temple dressed in a long white dress on top of which a white veil is pinned, and sits close to the small but vigorous fire that crackles in the middle of the temple.
Talapolevara’s immaculate threads are transcendentally laundered, flawless white throughout. Her one accessory is the traditional koshti, a long belt which represents the Zoroastrian basic principles of “good thoughts, good words and good actions”.
“My father was a Parsi, that is a Zoroastrian from India,” she says. “I recall him fastening his belt every day before breakfast and telling us about his childhood in India, where Zoroastrians cling to conservative traditions and kids must wear the koshti from the age of eight.”
“It was my father who encouraged me the most. At first Indian Parsis opposed the idea of the female priests,” Mobed Talapolevara said. “That’s why I was pleasantly surprised upon my initiation as a priest four years ago to receive messages of support from those same Indian Parsis. They even published articles in Indian newspapers and at the International Congress of Zoroastrians."
Over at Rationally Speaking:
Parents in the United States are spending more time and energy than ever to ensure that their children turn out happy, healthy, and successful. But what does the evidence suggest about the impact of their efforts? Economist Bryan Caplan (and the author of "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids") argues that, despite our intuition that parenting choices affect children's life outcomes, there's strong evidence to the contrary. Bryan and Julia discuss his case, and explore what that means for how people should parent and how many kids they should have.
Mike Konczal in Boston Review:
Nineteenth-century America was a place full of hazards. Disease, political oppression, imperialist warfare, poor living conditions, and hard manual labor took their toll, as they still do. But some dangers were peculiar to the era—among them, exploding steamboats.
Between 1825 and 1830, 273 people died in such accidents. DeBow’s Review (1848) noted 233 cases of “bursting boilers,” “collapsing flues,” and other breakdowns, which could cause massive damage. In his 1833 State of the Union address, President Andrew Jackson noted the “many distressing accidents which have of late occurred . . . . by the use of steam power.” But he didn’t simply mourn, instead arguing that the problem demanded “the immediate and unremitting attention of the constituted authorities of the country.” He sought criminal penalties to prevent what he saw as the negligence of carriers.
But the problem was so severe that Congress eventually decided tackle it administratively. Criminalizing bad behavior wasn’t enough; for the good of individual lives and the larger economy, the government would take positive steps to prevent explosions. Under the Steamboat Act of 1852, Congress mandated standards for boiler pressure and testing. Pilots and engineers would be federally licensed. And government inspectors could enforce these rules.
This “steamboat agency” seems like something straight out of the twentieth century. It relied on the Constitution’s commerce clause to regulate a specific industry for personal safety. It developed these regulations based on scientific understanding. And it combined licensing, rule making, and adjudication, as the New Deal and Great Society agencies did and continue to do. It was, in sum, an early manifestation of an administrative state that contemporary conservatives insist did not exist until Progressive Era reformers built it upon the ashes of a former libertarian utopia.
Christopher Snowdon in Spiked:
Does free-market capitalism foster an environment in which death and disease flourish? That is the question asked by academics Ted Schrecker and Clare Bambra in How Politics Makes Us Sick: Neoliberal Epidemics. In this strident little tome, they argue that the infectious diseases of the Victorian age – which they claim, in a characteristically ahistorical aside, were stamped out thanks to ‘organised resistance by labour, via trade unions’ – are being replaced by an epidemic of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, as a result of ‘neoliberal’ policies. They argue that things are worst in Britain and the US where neoliberalism supposedly burns most brightly, whereas life is better, though far from perfect, in the Nordic countries because they all have a ‘strongly interventionist state’.
Schrecker and Bambra focus on four ‘neoliberal epidemics’ – obesity, insecurity, austerity and inequality – which they portray as the latter-day equivalents of cholera and tuberculosis. Strikingly, none of these ‘epidemics’ are diseases in a medical sense. Obesity and stress are risk factors for disease; inequality is an economic variable; and ‘austerity’ is a hyperbolic term for balancing the budget through fiscal restraint. It is also notable that all of these issues predate ‘neoliberalism’ by many years and can be found in countries that have a considerably more dirigiste economy than the UK. There is a simple explanation for why cancer and heart disease have become the leading causes of death in rich countries. When there are only two classes of disease, communicable and non-communicable, eradication of the communicable leaves only the non-communicable. Since the concept of a natural death has been defined out of existence, it is inevitable that more people die from non-communicable diseases, albeit usually at an advanced age. It is a trend that should be welcomed.
David Ignatius in the Washington Post:
Last weekend’s deadly attack on an international hospital in Afghanistan was a reminder of the terrible war that grinds on there, with Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire.
Doctors Without Borders, a globally respected group, has charged that the deaths of 22 patients and staff members at its hospital in Kunduz was a “war crime.” The United States has promised to investigate what Gen. John Campbell, the NATO commander in Kabul, says was a mistake.
The hospital bombing comes as the United States is quietly exploring some diplomatic options that could reduce the violence in Afghanistan — and perhaps even curb the danger of a nuclear Pakistan next door. As with most diplomacy in South Asia, these prospects are “iffy,” at best. But they open a window on what’s happening in a part of the world that, except for disasters such as the Kunduz incident, gets little attention these days.
The United States recognized more than four years ago that the best way out of the Afghanistan conflict would be a diplomatic settlement that involved the Taliban and its sometime sponsors in Pakistan. State Department officials have been conducting secret peace talks, on and off, since 2011. That effort hasn’t borne fruit yet, as the Taliban’s recent offensive in Kunduz shows.
But the pace of negotiations has quickened this year, thanks to an unlikely U.S. diplomatic partnership with China.
The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me ‘This too?’—
query of tenderness
under the blown red wing.
Remember the brazen world?
Let’s find a room
with a window onto elms
strung with sunlight,
a cafe with polished cups,
darling coffee they call it,
may our bed be stoked
with fresh cut rosemary
and glinting thyme,
all herbs in due season
tucked under wild sheets:
fit for the conjugation of joy.
by Meena Alexander
Academy of American Poets
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Steven Pinker in The Guardian:
People often ask me why I followed my 2011 book on the history of violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature, with a writing style manual. I like to say that after having written 800 pages on torture, rape, world war, and genocide, it was time to take on some really controversial topics like fused participles, dangling modifiers, and the serial comma.
It’s not much of an exaggeration. After two decades of writing popular books and articles about language, I’ve learned that people have strong opinions on the quality of writing today, with almost everyone finding it deplorable. I’ve also come to realise that people are confused about what exactly they should deplore. Outrage at mispunctuation gets blended with complaints about bureaucratese and academese, which are conflated with disgust at politicians’ evasions, which in turn are merged with umbrage at an endless list of solecisms, blunders, and peeves.
I can get as grumpy as anyone about bad writing. But as a scientist who studies language for a living (and who has had to unlearn the bad habits of academic writing) I long ago developed my own opinions on why so much prose is so egregious.
Contrary to the ubiquitous moaning about the imminent demise of the language, this is not a new problem. Similar lamentations about the slovenly habits of the young and the decline of English have appeared regularly since the invention of the printing press.
A Japanese mathematician claims to have solved one of the most important problems in his field. The trouble is, hardly anyone can work out whether he's right.
Davide Castelvecchi in Nature:
The papers were huge — more than 500 pages in all — packed densely with symbols, and the culmination of more than a decade of solitary work. They also had the potential to be an academic bombshell. In them, Mochizuki claimed to have solved the abc conjecture, a 27-year-old problem in number theory that no other mathematician had even come close to solving. If his proof was correct, it would be one of the most astounding achievements of mathematics this century and would completely revolutionize the study of equations with whole numbers.
Mochizuki, however, did not make a fuss about his proof. The respected mathematician, who works at Kyoto University's Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences (RIMS) in Japan, did not even announce his work to peers around the world. He simply posted the papers, and waited for the world to find out.
Probably the first person to notice the papers was Akio Tamagawa, a colleague of Mochizuki's at RIMS. He, like other researchers, knew that Mochizuki had been working on the conjecture for years and had been finalizing his work. That same day, Tamagawa e-mailed the news to one of his collaborators, number theorist Ivan Fesenko of the University of Nottingham, UK. Fesenko immediately downloaded the papers and started to read. But he soon became “bewildered”, he says. “It was impossible to understand them.”
A plant-hopping insect found in gardens across Europe - has hind-leg joints with curved cog-like strips of opposing 'teeth' that intermesh, rotating like mechanical gears to synchronise the animal's legs when it launches into a jump.
The finding demonstrates that gear mechanisms previously thought to be solely man-made have an evolutionary precedent. Scientists say this is the "first observation of mechanical gearing in a biological structure".
Through a combination of anatomical analysis and high-speed video capture of normal Issus movements, scientists from the University of Cambridge have been able to reveal these functioning natural gears for the first time. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Science.
The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box.
Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears – essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.
The gear teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together like those in a car gear-box, ensuring almost complete synchronicity in leg movement - the legs always move within 30 'microseconds' of each other, with one microsecond equal to a millionth of a second.
This is critical for the powerful jumps that are this insect's primary mode of transport, as even miniscule discrepancies in synchronisation between the velocities of its legs at the point of propulsion would result in "yaw rotation" - causing the Issusto spin hopelessly out of control.