Humor in der Mathematik
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Von Neumann and Norbert Wiener were both the subject of many dotty
professor stories. Von Neumann supposedly had the habit of simply
writing answers to homework assignments on the board (the method of
solution being, of course, obvious) when he was asked how to solve
problems. One time one of his students tried to get more helpful
information by asking if there was another way to solve the problem.
Von Neumann looked blank for a moment, thought, and then answered,
Student: "Er, excuse me, Professor von Neumann, could you please help me with a calculus problem?"
John: "Okay, sonny, if it's real quick -- I'm a busy man."
Student: "I'm having trouble with this integral."
John: "Let's have a look." (insert brief pause here)
"Alright, sonny, the answer's two-pi over 5."
Student: "I know that, sir, the answer's in the back -- I'm having trouble deriving it, though."
John: "Okay, let me see it again." (another pause)
"The answer's two-pi over 5."
Student (frustrated): "Uh, sir, I _know_ the answer, I just don't see how to derive it."
John: "Whaddya want, sonny, I worked the problem in two different ways!"
Wiener was in fact very absent minded. The following story is told
about him: When they moved from Cambridge to Newton his wife, knowing
that he would be absolutely useless on the move, packed him off to MIT
while she directed the move. Since she was certain that he would
forget that they had moved and where they had moved to, she wrote down
the new address on a piece of paper, and gave it to him. Naturally,
in the course of the day, an insight occurred to him. He reached in
his pocket, found a piece of paper on which he furiously scribbled
some notes, thought it over, decided there was a fallacy in his idea,
and threw the piece of paper away. At the end of the day he went home
(to the old address in Cambridge, of course). When he got there he
realized that they had moved, that he had no idea where they had moved
to, and that the piece of paper with the address was long gone.
Fortunately inspiration struck. There was a young girl on the street
and he conceived the idea of asking her where he had moved to, saying,
"Excuse me, perhaps you know me. I'm Norbert Wiener and we've just
moved. Would you know where we've moved to?" To which the young girl
replied, "Yes daddy, mommy thought you would forget."
(In fact, Norbert Wiener never forgot who his children were!
But the rest of the story has been confirmed by his daughter)
During a lecture, professor Dirac made a mistake in an equation he was writing on the blackboard.
A couragous student raises his finger and says timidly : "Professor Dirac, I do not understand equation 2.".
Dirac continues writing without any reaction. The student supposes Dirac has not heard him and raises his finger again, and says, louder this time: "Professor Dirac, I do not understand equation 2."
No reaction. Somebody on the first row decides to intervene and says: "Professor Dirac, that man is asking a question."
"Oh," Dirac replies, I thought he was making a statement."
The famous professor of mathematics was in town for a conference. Since he had some free time, he was approached to give a seminar for the undergraduate mathematics students at the local college. After covering several blackboards with densely packed computations and expressions filled with Bessel functions and more, the professor remembered that there were many undergraduate students in the room. Feeling just a twinge of remorse that perhaps he was talking above the heads of some of the students in his audience, he turned around and asked the audience if there were any students who had never seen a Bessel function. The audience was silent for a moment. Finally, one intrepid student raised his hand to admit that he had never seen Bessel functions. The professor nodded with apparent comprehension. Without hesitation, he turned around and pointed at the blackboard, while saying "well there's one now" and continued his talk.
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