Of Coconuts and Beings: Peculiarities of a Diophantine Problem

The Philosophy of Humor Yearbook 3 (1):253-270 (2022)
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This paper reconsiders a well-known Diophantine problem-“the coconut puzzle”-with two philosophically humorous motives. The first motive is methodological; the second, ontological. First, different methodological approaches to solving this problem, namely those of the stereotypical engineer, physicist, and mathematician, are informed by different conceptualizations of the mathematical puzzle itself. This is illustrated by comparing stereotypical solutions by an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician. Second, ontological implications of Dirac’s unorthodox solution precipitate heuristic questions concerning correspondence between mathematically admissible answers and physically possible states. An anecdotal history of this problem is also cited, in order to prepare the ground for a concluding satirical solution by an erstwhile Carlylean economist.



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Lou Marinoff
City College of New York (CUNY)

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