Flat Earth

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

One of my articles in this blog has the title What can Science reveal? This is the quest of the Snark (quoting Philo M. Buck, 1942). I think, that the question what science can reveal is only one among several quests of the Snark. Another quest might be, how science reveals the world and how science can be threatened. Here, flat earth theory is a good example. That theory doesn’t not only aim at reverting scientific findings, but also at damaging science itself. I don’t know whether Dodgson/Carroll took any interest in that theory and the related debates, but its history helps me to improve my understanding of popular science debates and businesses in the Victorian society at around the time when Lewis Carrol wrote The Hunting of the Snark.

This week in the New Yorker, Alan Burdick wrote an article about Looking for Life on a Flat Earth, What a burgeoning movement says about science, solace, and how a theory becomes truth (2018-05-30). Very regrettably, Burdick failed to mention Christine Garwood‘s book Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea (2008). That shouldn’t happen in a magazine like the New Yorker. Didn’t Burdick read that excellent book before he wrote his article?

Garwood shows why and how science can be threatened and is being threatened. This includes John Hampden‘s (1819-1891) discrediting of journalists 1870 (p. 76), who probably had quite similar reasons for media bashing as Donald Trump had and openly described them in February 2016. If you want to make a living as influencer, you need to control the presentation of knowledge. To understand that is as important today as it was in the 19th century. It is amazing how similar the 21st century anti-scientific populism is to what happened since “Parallax” started his flat earth business in the Victorian Britain. And he meant business.

William Hartston’s Clues

Creativity: 42 clues to what it all means
[Independent] Monday 17 May 1993 23:02 BST

[…] Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson offers a more convincing explanation. […] He must have known about Thomas Cranmer’s 42 Articles […]

William Hartston probably wrote his article with his tongue in the cheek (which is the safest thing you can do when writing about Douglas Adams’ and about C. L. Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) “42”). It was about an article by

Ellis Hillman, 64, the founder of the Lewis Carroll Society (and president of the Flat Earth Society in his spare time)

in the journal Chapter One of the Alliance of Literary Societies.

But thanks to the creativity of Lewis Carroll and Henry Holiday there really might be textual and pictorial references to Thomas Cranmer and his 42 Articles in The Hunting of the Snark.

On the Flat Earth Society: William Hartston seems to have used Ellis Hillman’s presidency of the Flat Earth Society to ridicule Hillman. Hartston got it wrong. And when Hillman passed away in 1996, Illtyd Harrington’s orbituary in the Independent mentioned his support of the Flat Earth Society out of context as well.

What is the context? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Shenton, based on p. 274 in Christine Garwood, Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, 2008:

[…] But as [Samuel Shenton’s International Flat Earth Research Society] was dying [in 1969], he found the successor he had been looking for: Ellis Hillman, a lecturer and member of the Greater London Council, agreed to be president of the IFERS, with the encouragement of Patrick Moore. Lillian Shenton was suspicious of his motives (he was developing a post-graduate course on the development of ideas about the shape of the earth) and in the event he did little for the society. […]

Garwood wrote:

[…] Initially Hillman, who was frank about never having believed in the earth to be flat, was reluctant to accept Shenton’s offer and recalled contacting Patrick Moore to ask his advice. According to Hillman, Moore was encouraging: “For God’s sake, keep it going,” he allegedly exclaimed, “we must have heretical people in the world of astronomy.” Besides Moore’s enthusiasm, there was a second persuative factor: at the time Hillman was planning a postgraduate course on the development of ideas connected with the shape of the earth and he believed it would assist his academic research to accept Shenton’s offer. […]

Links: Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll | Thomas Cranmer

Searching “Why 24?”: Twitter | Yahoo groups

Alice in the Woods

Bycatch from my Snark hunt:

There are more paintings by Bonomi Edward Warren where he recycled that forest scene. I don’t know who “stole” from whom.

What I tell you three times is true!

001    “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
002        As he landed his crew with care;
003    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
004        By a finger entwined in his hair.

005    “Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
006        That alone should encourage the crew.
007    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
008        What I tell you three times is true.”

329    “’Tis the voice of the Jubjub!” he suddenly cried.
330        (This man, that they used to call “Dunce.”)
331    “As the Bellman would tell you,” he added with pride,
332        “I have uttered that sentiment once.

333    “’Tis the note of the Jubjub! Keep count, I entreat;
334        You will find I have told it you twice.
335    ’Tis the song of the Jubjub! The proof is complete,
336        If only I’ve stated it thrice.”

Kelly Ramsdell Fineman told us …

… that President Theodore Roosevelt and Edith Wharton were huge fans of the Snark. On one visit to the White House, Wharton learned of the following exchange that occurred between the President and the Secretary of the Navy (undoubtedly unaware of Carroll’s poem, or at least unaware that Roosevelt was quoting):

During discussion, Roosevelt said to the secretary of the Navy,

“Mr. Secretary, what I tell you three times is true!”

The Secretary replied stiffly,

“Mr. President, it would never for a moment have occurred to me to impugn your veracity.”

Yes, better don’t impugn your leader’s veracity. Even though he will get rid of you rather sooner than later, you don’t need to push it.


The Bellman’s Rule is stated in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, line #7 and line #335. I said it in Lua – wrote it in Python, I created it for high speed, but I wholly forgot (when finally done), that Haskell is what you need! So, here is an example for how to implement that rule:

#! /usr/bin/haskell
import Data.List
statementList :: [String]
statementList =
  ["Grand Fenwick steals American jobs!"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"Just the place for a Brexit!"
  ,"There are 9 Snark hunters."
  ,"Grand Fenwick steals American jobs!"
  ,"There are 9 Snark hunters."
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"Just the place for a Brexit!"
  ,"6 * 7 = 42"
  ,"Grand Fenwick steals American jobs!"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"Just the place for a Brexit!"
atLeastThrice :: [String] -> [String]
atLeastThrice sL = [head grp | grp <- group $ sort sL, length grp >= 3]

Result (if loaded and executed in GHCi):
*Main> atLeastThrice statementList
["6 * 7 = 39","Brexit promises will be kept!","Grand Fenwick steals American jobs!","Just the place for a Brexit!","There are 10 Snark hunters."]

Fr ɖ Snarc wz a Būjm, y si

https://ashortspell.com/2017/12/14/the-hunting-of-the-snark | lewis-carroll-in-nspel-including-the-original-illustrations-by-henry-holiday/

“Jst ɖ ples fr a Snarc!” ɖ Belmn craid,
Az h landd hiz cru wɖ cer,
S’portñ ć man on ɖ top v ɖ tîd
Bî a fngr intwînd in hiz her.

“Jst ɖ ples fr a Snarc! I hv sd it twîs.
Ɖt alon śd incurij ɖ cru.
Jst ɖ ples fr a Snarc! I hv sd it ʈrîs.
Ẃt I tel y ʈri tîmz z tru.”