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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos

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Ask About Your Mother-in -Law’s Lladro

Explanations, Advice, and Physics

When did Myrtle punch her brother? Why did George and Martha divorce? Why is Oscar so withdrawn? What should be done before confronting him? Personal advice columnists answer these questions easily, but their answers often appear glib. Why didn’t she have children? It was because she had been a mother to her own sickly and disturbed mother. Why doesn’t she speak to me when we visit? Maybe she would if you first discussed her Lladro collection. Inane as some of these responses are, it’s always impressed me that they’re more illuminating than a biochemical or physical account of the same phenomena. Physics, chemistry, and biology may be more basic sciences than folk psychology, ...

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