Mathematics, psychology and sociology, philosophy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Translated Quote-ry is the most bizarre form of flattery

(Or: Patafísica y el cerebro de pollo Jorge Borges)

2009 Oct 12th

In 2000, I put a geeky but otherwise seemingly innocuous joke on my personal bio page. Five years later, it kept a whole blog-forum full of Spanish-speaking websurfers puzzled, and I didn't even know it. Their discusson led me to discover something quite insightful.

The webpage is Here is how they quoted me:

09 Jun 2005 Paradojas

Cuando rompo con alguien un hueso de pollo de la suerte el deseo que pido es que se cumpla el deseo de la otra persona. A continuación puedo hacerle la observación de que, o bien el hueso, o bien el universo, deberían dejar de existir de repente.

-- Robert Munafo Publicado por Alvy # 9/Jun/2005 Categorías: Frases, Citas

I do not know any Spanish. Someone translated something I wrote into Spanish in order to quote me. Bizarre, but it gets better... I'll give you my original quote first:

When I break a wishbone, I wish that the other person get their wish, then point out why the wishbone or the Universe should have spontaneously ceased to exist.

This was intended to be a joke, and a self-contradicting logic scenario (like the philosopher who encounters a liar and a truth-teller at a crossing in the road). It turns out not to be a paradox at all (as my Hispanic readers pointed out; answer below). I used an auto-translator to render my words back into English:

When someone break a chicken bone of luck I ask is the desire to fulfill the desire of the other person. Then I can make the observation that either the bone, or the universe, should suddenly cease to exist.3

Okay... so far so good. Brace yourself...

#2 Alex M.

No lo entiendo :S

I do not understand :S

#7 Alvy

La tradición es que el hueso lo parten dos personas, ambos piensan un deseo, a la que se queda el trozo más largo con el huesecillo central se le cumple el deseo, a la otra no se le cumple.

Por tanto, si una persona desea que se cumpla el deseo de la otra y gana el juego, entonces se produce la paradoja porque el deseo de la otra NO debería cumplirse pero se va a cumplir.

The tradition is that the bone is split two people, both think a wish, which is the longest piece with the central ossicle desire is fulfilled, the other is not satisfied.

Therefore, if a person wishes to fulfill the desire of the other and wins the game, then there is the paradox because the desire for the other should not be met but will be enforced.

#15 El Pollo

Devuelvanme mi hueso, y dejare existir su universo.

Give me back my bone, and his universe ceases to exist.

#18 18

Otra paradoja está en desear quedarte con el trozo más peque~no del hueso.

Y la estupidez está en desperdiciar el deseo deseando el trozo más grande.

Another paradox is wanting to stay with the smaller piece of bone.

And the stupidity is willing desire to waste the largest piece.

#20 Gaona

Si la tesis inicial fuera que solo pueda cumplirse un unico deseo (es decir que uno gane y el otro pierda), la hemos liado!

Me pido croquetas.

If the initial thesis was that only one wish can be fulfilled (ie that one win and one loss), we have bundled!

I ask croquettes.

#23 banpiro

No,venga,tratemos ahora el tema que nos preocupa mas a todos ¿los angeles follan? por que el que tengan sexo o no es secundario,lo importante es lo que hagan con el.

No, come, let us now more concern to us all: Do angels f***? that the having sex or not is secondary, what matters is what you do with it.

Along with all the above, and several other humorous references to subjects as diverse as Futurama, the Monty Hall problem, and chicken bones falling from the vastness of the starry night, was a serious discussion that resolved the "paradox" with various logic symbols, arrows and technical jargon. But such formalities are not really necessary, as the answer is quite simply stated:

The "paradox" is based on the notion that only one person can get his wish. But there is nothing that says that must be the case! If my friend and I break the wishbone, and both of us get our wish, then the universe and the chicken-bone can both be happy, to say nothing of me and my friend.

So I learned (in 2009) that (in 2000) I had failed to see the possibility of a win-win scenario, thanks to a bunch of writers (in 2005) whom I have never met.

Addendum: After writing the above, a friend replied:

Two more triumphs for [you]! Robert, you must know Jorge Luis Borges' brilliant work and also the notoriously disrespectful work of the pataphysics society.

In response I'll say the following:

I heard Borges' brain is being kept alive in Argentina, connected via various electrodes to a computer (like in the "Spock's Brain" episode of Star Trek) and is surfing the Internet while waiting for the Nobel committee to finally give him the Prize for literature... so maybe he instigated the discussion. Come to think of it, I don't ever remember putting that quote on my webpage.

The wishbone custom is based in metaphysics, because it involves a belief in something beyond the physical world (namely, a belief that the wish is granted by someone or something that is not explainable in the physical world)

If there were an actual paradox, then I guess it would be 'pataphysics. It definitely has the satirical element (-: However, as the Spanish blog forum points out, there is no actual paradox, because the wishbone belief does not say that the person with the short half of the bone will not get his wish.

So I think it's just plain old logic.


3 : An earlier version of the same auto-translation service delivered the following:

When breaking up with someone a chicken bone of luck-wish I ask is that it meets the desire for another person. Then I make the observation that either the bone or the universe, should suddenly cease to exist.

The version given above is considerably closer to my original.