January 28, 2004

My Favorite Footnote

From Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman, p. 94:

Standing at a point on the postulated spherical earth, [de Selby] says, one appears to have four main directions in which to move, viz., north, south, east and west. But it does not take much thought to see that there really appear to be only two since north and south are meaningless terms in relation to a spheroid and can connote motion in only one direction; so also with west and east. One can reach any point on the north-south band by travelling in either 'direction', the only apparent difference in the two 'routes' being extraneous considerations of time and distance, both already shown to be illusory. Instead of the four directions there are only two. It can be safely inferred,5 de Selby says, that there is a further similar fallacy inherent here and that there is in fact only one possible direction properly so-called, because if one leaves any point on the globe, moving and continuing to move in any 'direction', one ultimately reaches the point of departure again.

5 Possibly the one weak spot in the argument.

Posted by Matt Weiner at January 28, 2004 11:57 AM