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The way of Unorthodox thinking

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The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen.

“Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer.”

One student replied:

“You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building.”

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer which showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn’t make up his mind which to use.

On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:

“Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer.”

Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper’s shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper.”

“But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T = 2 pi sqroot (l / g).”

“Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up.”

“If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.”

“But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor’s door and say to him ‘If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper’.”

The student was Niels Bohr, the only person from Denmark to win the Nobel prize for Physics.

Disclaimer: I am not copyright holder for this story. If you are, feel free to contact me.

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Written by elitewarrior

April 25, 2009 at 4:46 pm

The problem with Logic

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A Harvard scholar, Mr. Sean Goldstein approaches a learned Rabbi telling him that he has a Doctorate in philosophy, and would now like to learn the Talmud to round off or complete his knowledge. After summing him up for a few minutes, the Rabbi told him ” I seriously doubt that you are ready to study Talmud. Its the deepest book of our people. If you wish however I am willing to examine you in logic, and if you pass the test I will teach you Talmud. “The young man agrees. Rabbi holds up two fingers ” Two men come down a chimney. One comes with a clean face and the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face? 
The young man stares at the Rabbi. ” Is that a test in Logic?  The Rabbi nods. 

” The one with the dirty face washes his face” He answers wearily. 
” Wrong. The one with the clean face washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with theclean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face.” 
“Very clever” Says Goldstein. . ” Give me another test.” 
The Rabbi again holds up two fingers ” Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face and the other comes out with a dirty face. which one washes his face? 
” We have already established that. The one with the clean face washes his face” 
” Wrong. Each one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face. When the one with the dirty face sees the one with the clean face washing his face, he also washes his face. So each one washes his face” 
” I didn’t think of that! ” Says Goldstein. ” Its shocking to me that I could make an error in logic. Test me again!.” 
The Rabbi holds up two fingers ” Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face and the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face? 
” Each one washes his face” 
” Wrong. Neither one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face andthinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with clean face sees that the one with the dirty face doesn’t wash his face, he also doesn’t wash his face So neither one washes his face” 
Goldstein is desperate. ” I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test” 
He groans when the Rabbi lifts his two fingers “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face and the other comes out with 
a dirty face. Which one washes his face? 

” Neither one washes his face” 
” Wrong. Do you now see, Sean, why Socrates logic is an insufficient basis for studying the Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Dont you see? The whole question is narishkeit – foolishness – and if you spend your life trying to answers foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish.”


Disclaimer: I do not own this story. I don’t know if some one is copyright holder for this story. If someone has copyright for this story please contact me at limit[dot]dgp[at]gmail[dot]com so that I could show the credit or remove the post.

Written by elitewarrior

March 16, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Posted in story

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