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December 24, 2006

Puzzle #9

Posted by John Baez

Which famous philosopher is also known as the RaMBaM?

Posted at December 24, 2006 10:47 PM UTC

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Re: Puzzle #9

The same one who said that astrology didn’t work; that God does not actually grow angry; and that the Universe contains “no defect whatever, nothing superfluous, nor anything unnecessary.”

If Moses Maimonides were the model for Western religious beliefs, perhaps Richard Dawkins could have stuck to biology. But then again, if men were angels

Posted by: Blake Stacey on December 25, 2006 2:52 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

You got it!

Here’s the answer I had:

Q: Which famous philosopher is also known as the RaMBaM?

A: Maimonides. The most famous Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon lived from 1135 to 1204. His name was Hellenized to ‘Maimonides’, which means ‘son of Maimon’, just like ‘ben Maimon’. Many Jewish works shortened his name to the acronym ‘RaMBaM’.

Sources:

  • The Encylopedia of Philosophy, ‘Maimonides’, Shlomo Pines, Collier MacMillan Publishers, 1967.
  • Wikipedia, Maimonides.
Posted by: John Baez on December 25, 2006 3:31 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

Hmmmm.

Are these puzzles supposed to be (honestly!) answered without searching the internet?

Now my puzzle is: what information cannot be retrieved from Google?

(Well, I was quite certain that my mother’s nickname was not in the internet – she doesn’t even use a computer, but I’ve just searched for it and found 841,000 hits. I’ll not bother to look whether one of those refer to her at any event…)

Christine (how could we actually live before the internet? I feel like a primitive person when I recall I did my undergraduate work without the internet. I’m getting old).

Posted by: Christine Dantas on December 26, 2006 5:40 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

The main goal of these puzzles is to induce a sense of desperate curiosity — for example, you’re supposed to wonder how could a famous philosopher possibly be called ‘the RaMBaM’? But, there’ll be some people out there who actually know the answer. Indeed, almost all of my puzzles have been improved by people who knew more than I did about the answers.

So, I’ll be perfectly happy if people use whatever means they want to answer these puzzles — except looking up the answers on my website, which would be unsporting.

But, I’ll be happiest of all if the few people in the world who know a lot about a given puzzle decide to tell us what they know.

Until I started posting them on this blog, I hadn’t thought about how some of these puzzles are vastly easier to answer than others when you use Google.

“Which 39-year-old female mathematician was rumored in 1999 to be secretly in charge of one of the world’s largest countries?” seems to be hard, since nobody got it. Apparently it’s hard to find useful keywords.

Others, like this RaMBaM one, are trivial. But, Blake Stacey kindly gave his answer some ‘added value’, by telling us a bit about Maimonides.

In the future, I’ll try to make up puzzles that don’t become trivial with Google.

Now my puzzle is: what information *cannot* be retrieved from Google?

There’s a lot of very useful information that’s still quite hard to get using Google — even if Google helps.

I feel like a primitive person when I recall I did my undergraduate work without the internet. I’m getting old.

When I was a grad student I did my thesis without the internet and without using LaTeX. Later I helped write a math book without using LaTeX — stupid, since I think it was around at the time. Luckily the internet was around by the time I left the ivory towers of the East Coast and went to UC Riverside — otherwise I would have gone insane with boredom before James Dolan showed up. In fact, he showed up because he read my posts on usenet newsgroups.

These days, my whole strategy of knowledge acquisition and dispersal would be unthinkable without the web, Google, broadband and wireless internet. I’m writing this lying in bed, while my more old-fashioned mate reads the paper.

I expect to die doing things that would be unimaginable to me now.

Posted by: John Baez on December 26, 2006 6:23 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

So, the main idea is not who can find the answer to the puzzle faster (which indeed can sometimes be quite easy with Google) but in such a way as to add some valuable information to the expected answer. At least, by this way I find it more interesting!

I expect to die doing things that would be unimaginable to me now.

You’re not alone with that wish! It would be fun to get back to this post decades from now and see what we’ve got!

Christine

Posted by: Christine Dantas on December 26, 2006 10:22 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

Christine wrote:

You’re not alone with that wish!

It’s not a wish with me — I’m perfectly happy with my life now, at least in this respect. It’s an expectation!

It’s a somewhat fun prospect, now. But, I expect that as I get older and more mentally stiff, it will become increasingly difficult to keep up with the changing world. I see this in my parents: my mother grew up with an icebox instead of a refrigerator, and has essentially given up on trying to master VCRs (remember those)? I’m no longer so young as to arrogantly assume something similar won’t happen with me. Even now, I need to spend more time deliberately catching up with changing technology. I don’t have an iPod, I don’t have a Blackberry… I’ve only recently got in the habit of carrying around a cell phone all the time, and I still hope nobody calls me.

Posted by: John Baez on December 26, 2006 10:50 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

John Baez wrote:

I expect to die doing things that would be unimaginable to me now.

Hopefully, it will not be the act of doing these unimaginable things which kills you! I mean, just contemplate the obituary: “John Baez, noted mathematical physicist, died at age 420 late last night during a failed transfer between quantum memory matrices.”

I have come to believe that there is an art to choosing search-engine keywords. Even if the information is out there, somewhere on the Interblag, fairly frequently it won’t turn up without the proper incantation. Also, I have had the mildly frightening experience of searching on some topic — say, supersymmetry in the Fokker-Planck equation — and having a mirror of a Wikipedia article I myself wrote come out at the top.

(For the curious, I first learned of Moses Maimonides while reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, though I had known something about his time period since I saw James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed, a few years earlier.)

Posted by: Blake Stacey on December 26, 2006 11:01 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

“John Baez, noted mathematical physicist, died at age 420 late last night during a failed transfer between quantum memory matrices.”

Oh, I’m sure he can imagine that. It’s going to be extremely difficult to come up with something unimaginable.

Posted by: John Armstrong on December 26, 2006 11:57 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

You guys are such sticklers for precision… err, I mean accuracy. I should have said:

I expect to die doing things that are unimagined by me now.

Posted by: John Baez on December 27, 2006 4:52 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

John Baez agrees with Ben Franklin; Re: Puzzle #9

The rapid progress true science now makes occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprove large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levity, for the sake of very easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour and double its Produce; all Diseases may, by sure means, be prevented or cured, not even excepting that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity.

[Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Joseph Priestly, 1780]

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on December 27, 2006 6:37 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Puzzle #9

But, I’ll be happiest of all if the few people in the world who know a lot about a given puzzle decide to tell us what they know.

Let’s increase your happiness then by pointing to a post on another blog which answers your question and more.

Posted by: David Corfield on January 10, 2007 12:37 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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