Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | February 5, 2015

The Metaphysician’s Nightmare

I had at one time a very bad fever of which I almost died. In my fever I had a long consistent delirium. I dreamt that I was in Hell, and that Hell is a place full of all those happenings that are improbable but not impossible. The effects of this are curious. Some of the damned, when they first arrive below, imagine that they will beguile the tedium of eternity by games of cards. But they find this impossible, because, whenever a pack is shuffled, it comes out in perfect order, beginning with the Ace of Spades and ending with the King of Hearts. There is a special department of Hell for students of probability. In this department there are many typewriters and many monkeys. Every time that a monkey walks on a typewriter, it types by chance one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. There is another place of torment for physicists. In this there are kettles and fires, but when the kettles are put on the fires, the water in them freezes. There are also stuffy rooms. But experience has taught the physicists never to open a window because, when they do, all the air rushes out and leaves the room a vacuum.
— Bertrand Russell
‘The Metaphysician’s Nightmare’, Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories (1954), 38-9.

Responses

  1. there’s another bertran russel dream he wrote about. he was walking through a library, and it had way too many books, so they were gradually throwing them into the trash (or fire, like a groucho marx movie—its alternative and renewable energy since you can always write more and then burn them). he came across ‘principia math’—and they were trying to decide whether it should be thrown out


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