Don’t Upset Descartes

May 31, 2012 at 3:21 am 3 comments

This is René Descartes’ most famous quotation:

Cogito ergo sum. (I think; therefore, I am.)

The following moldy oldie, known by almost everyone, is based on that quote:

René Descartes was sitting in a bar. When asked if he wanted another, he said, “I think not.” And he promptly disappeared.

Slightly less well known is the following quote by Saul Steinberg:

“I think, therefore Descartes is.”

I rather like the following limerick based on Descartes’ famous quote:

There was a young student named Fred;
When asked about Descartes, he said:
“It’s perfectly clear
That I’m not really here,
For I haven’t a thought in my head.”


For my money, though, the best René Descartes quote is the following:

Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.

That reminds me of another moldy oldie, which comes in many different varieties…

A mathematician had tired of academia, so he decided to join the fire department. During his training, the chief asked him, “If you were walking down an alley and came across a dumpster that was on fire, what would you do?”

“Why, I’d get a hose and douse it, of course!”

“Correct,” said the chief. “And what would you do if you were walking down an alley and came across a dumpster that was not on fire?”

“I suppose I’d light the dumpster on fire.”

“You’d do what?” screams the chief.

“I’d light it on fire,” says the mathematician, “thereby reducing it to a previously solved problem.”

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Stranger than (Science) Fiction at Balticon P(Winning Lottery) > 0… but Just a Little

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. xander  |  May 31, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve heard the final joke as a follows:

    An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are attending a conference, all staying at the same hotel. In the middle of the night, the engineer’s trash can catches on fire for some mysterious reason, and, being a quick witted young woman, she immediately grabs the ice bucket, fills it with water, and douses the flame. Just to be sure, she repeats the process a few more times, and goes back to bed.

    The next night, the physicist’s trash can catches on fire. Being a clever fellow, he rapidly calculates exactly the correct amount of water to put out the fire, grabs the ice bucket, fills it 47% to the top, and dumps it into the trash can, extinguishing the flame.

    On the last night of the conference, the mathematician’s trash can starts to burn. Having spoken to the engineer and physicist already, the mathematician quickly grabs his ice bucket, which happened to be full of ice, dumps it out on the floor, and goes back to bed, satisfied that he has reduced the problem to one previously solved.

    Several weeks later, a statistician was arrested and charged with setting trash cans on fire. It seem that he was seeking a larger sample.


  • 2. Bon Crowder (@mathfour)  |  June 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    I love it, Patrick! Makes me want to dig out the old “Irrational Quotes” book we started back in grad school. A few I remember:

    “When life gives you lemmas, make lemmanaide.”

    “The THIS of THAT is the THAT of THIS.”

    “Where did THIS 3 come from? Well, the Anal Extraction Theorem, of course.”

    All of which can be attributed to my friend Mitch (

    Oh, then there was the chili cook off where we were the “Houston Eulers.”

    But that’s taking memories a little too far!

  • 3. Quote for the day: 24-06-2012 | Blowfish12  |  June 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

    […] Don’t Upset Descartes ( […]


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The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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