A Fundamentally Eccentric Premise

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

by L.X. Finegold
Physics Department, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This issue of AIR, on British Eccentrics, is fundamentally wrong in its premise. To most Brits, "eccentrics" may be a little different from the average (in statistical terms, one sigma), but that small difference is perfectly acceptable and normal. I was born in England, and grew up there. Am I an "eccentric"? Let me first declare and aver on the basis of incontrovertible, dispassionate, unbiased and objective evidence - that I am not [Finegold 2000].

Nutters and England
If you're way out (in statistical terms, a huge three sigmas) in Limeyland [Cook 1779], then you're not an acceptable eccentric but are a dangerous "nutter," to be carefully avoided by the rest of us sensible folk.

An example of a nutter would be the Canadian Prime Minister who, though married, consulted every night with his mother for practical political advice (yes, he really existed). There's nothing wrong with that, but for the small point that she was long dead [Macdonald 1867].

Indeed, it's pointed out that in mechanical engineering, cranks and eccentrics are essential to automobiles, so that without cranks and eccentrics, our modern civilization would crash.

Some of us would regard it perfectly natural to wear bow ties, for their ends do not dip into our breakfast eggs. Similarly, we know a normal Limey who found that an elastic band would automatically close his open trouser zipper [Finegold 1999]. Another Limey uses the number on his "Donation of body to medicine upon death card" as an identification number for cashing cheques etc.; he chose 3.14159265 (which is π) - and it works beautifully with officialdom.

Remembrance of Things Not Passed
Most people's memory drops off slightly with time (Fig. 1); for some it drops it off exponentially; many Brits see nothing wrong with a linear decrease. This linear decrease eventually becomes a negative memory, which means that some of us remember things that never were. (See Fig. 1 and caption.) Then the real problem is that we don't know which memories we forgot, and which we invented.

Figure 1. The figure shows, reading from the top curve downwards: A. Most people forget things, but retain a lot. B. Physicists forget a lot, yet still retain a little. C. Your author rapidly forgets, so quickly that the curve becomes negative so that (a la James Thurber) he remembers things that never were.

Poor Examples
A book on eccentrics says that "one of our (eccentric) subjects was the first in Britain to carry a child in a backpack in public" [Weeks 1996). Here I must object: Long ago, I too carried a six-month old in a backpack around London, without ever dreaming there was anything odd about it. (Where I was from then, lots of outdoors people carried kids in backpacks, and it's now common everywhere.) Since this book is written by two Yanks, one of whom was a psychotherapist in Scotland who prefaces his name with "Dr." on the title page of the book (such prefacing is regarded in England as lower class or "Naf"), what would they know about the English anyway? Again, this shows I am not associated with eccentrics.

While hanging on the telephone in my office, my eye was attracted to a transparent bag taped to the wall of my room (which, despite certain comments, is not padded); it contained a small mysterious white powdery cube. On close inspection, it has a label "Chalk, from White Cliffs of Dover; now I recall, 'twas given to me by a geologist buddy who thought I was homesick.

Repetitive Summary
I trust that the above discussion clearly demonstrates - from an Anglocentric point of view, which is obviously the only valid view - that Brits (and especially this one) are not eccentrics at all. This whole issue of Annals of Improbable Research is, just like most of the other issues, fundimentally off base.

So, to the British, there ain't no such thing as an eccentric. The closest to "eccentric" that one might get is one long-time friend telling another “By gum, Alf, all the world's crazy but tha and me and, cum to think of’t, tha's been acting a bit queer lately." Hence this issue on British eccentrics is based on an illusion, for they simply don't exist.

There goes a happy Eccentric
He doesn't give a d~mn.
I wish I were Eccentric.
My G·d, perhaps I am!
(Onymous, 2000)

Cook, J., 1779. English are called Limeys because Captain James Cook (he used to live near me)
pioneered lime fruit for his sailors, to ward off scurvy. With typical British efficiency, he chose the citrus fruit lowest in the anti-scurvy Vitamin C. So the English are no longer scurvy knaves ... But I digress.

Finegold, L.X., 1999. "Lab Notes: On the Fly", AIR, vol. 5, no. 2.

Finegold, L.X ., 2000. Personal interview with LXF, 1 IV 2000.

MacDonald, J.A., 1867. He used to live near where I got hitched.

Onymous, A.N., 2000. I memorized this one. Sorry, can't find author. It's an oldie.

Weeks, Dr. D. and J. James, 1996. Eccentrics; A study of Sanity and Strangeness, Kodansha International, New York, p. 105.


This article is republished with permission from the November-December 2000 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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