MATHEMATICS – 4
RABBIT UNDER THE TREE by Dr. Khin Maung Win (Math)
Working People’s Daily , 17 August 1987
Pho Tay was telling his friend Nyi Nyi about his experience that morning .
”You remember our friend Soe Myint telling us about a rabbit with a tail only one inch long? He said the rabbit lives in that grove yonder.Well.I was waking across that grove when I saw a rabbit peeping at me from behind a mango tree.I could see his two bright eyes, but since the rest of his body was behind the tree , I could not see his tail. I wanted to know if it was the same rabbit that Soe Myint was talking about.So , I circled around the tree from a distance to see his tail. I circled round the tree four time.But the little cheat also kept moving round always keeping his tail behind the tree,eyeing me suspiciously from behind.I just couldn’t see his tail.”
”So you circled round the tree four times, right ?” asked Nyi Nyi.
”Yes,” answered Pho Tay,”Round the tree,but not round the rabbit.”
”But the rabbit was under the tree.”
”So, it was.”
”So if you circled round the tree four times, you also circled round the rabbit four times.”
”No,not necessarily since the rabbit kept facing and I couldn’t even see his back.”
”What has his back got to do with the whole thing?You circled round the tree four times.The rabbit was under the tree.So you also circled round the rabbit four times.”
”No” ”Yes” ”No ” So they argued.
Finally they went to their Maths teacher.
After listening to them,the teacher said,”Your whole argument rests on the definition of one word,namely ‘circling’. Now,how do you define the phrase ‘to circle round an object’ ?In this case there are two ways to define it.
One, it means moving in such a way that you make a complete circle yourself while the object remains inside the circle. Two,moving round the object in such a way that you can see all sides of the object.The answer to your problem depends on which definition is to be accepted.”
”All right,there are two definitions.Which is the right one ?”
”No , no that’s not the way to ask.In mathematics, you can accept any definition you like.You may ask which of the two definitions is generally accepted ,since all definitions are acceptable.”
Pho Tay and Nyi Nyi were silent.The teacher continued.”I think that the first definition is the one which is more generally accepted. Here’s why. The earth makes a complete revolution round the sun in one year.This has been calculated without taking into account the revolution of the sun on its own axis.””Oh,really,does the sun revolve by itself?”
”Yes it does.For your information,it does a complete revolution on its own axis in 26 days.”
”So that solves the question of ‘circling’.But there is still another problem.”
”Well, what is it ?” asked the teacher.
”It’s like this.Yesterday,I was saying that Soe Myat Thuzar is better than Wut Hmon Shwe Yi. But Nyi Nyi said no , Wut Hmon Shwe Yi is better.What do you suggest?”
”No.I cannot suggest anything.Better ask my brother Sein Khin Maung Yi ,the film critic. However, I can suggest that you can try agreeing on the definition of ‘better’ .”
. . . .
Yakov Perelman . Figures For Fun.
Foreign Language Publishing House.
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