John Von Neumann was Consulted by a Group Who was Building a Rocket Ship

The great mathematician John Von Neumann was consulted by a group who was building a rocket ship to send into outer space. When he saw the incomplete structure, he asked, "Where did you get the plans for this ship?"

He was told, "We have our own staff of engineers."

He disdainfully replied: "Engineers! Why, I have complete sewn up the whole mathematical theory of rocketry. See my paper of 1952."

Well, the group consulted the 1952 paper, completely scrapped their 10 million dollar structure, and rebuilt the rocket exactly according to Von Neumann's plans. The minute they launched it, the entire structure blew up.

They angrily called Von Neumann back and said: "We followed your instructions to the letter. Yet when we started it, it blew up! Why?"

Von Neumann replied, "Ah, yes; that is technically known as the blow-up problem - I treated that in my paper of 1954."

(Raymod Smullyan, "What Is the Name of This Book?")

Sent by: Joke Labs posted on 19 November 2006