JF Ptak Science Books Post 2506
- "You talkin' to me?"--Travis Bickle
- "Is it safe?" -- Christian Szell
- "Who's on first?"--Bud Abbott & Lou Costello
Well, almost a post.
In my haul of the 90,000-item Pamphlet Collection from the Library of Congress some number of years ago oh my brothers and sisters I created many standard and many odd categories into which the pamphlets would hopefully fall into some sort of wishful order. One of the straightforward categories was Titles with Questions, which was actually a combination of a great number of other categories, including the Found-Absurd, the Found-Surreal, and the Glibly Naive, including more-standard selections. The Question Marks could stand on their own, though, because they were ungainly, so stark, and bizarre, and unexpected--they just demanded a certain consideration for themselves.
Sometimes these question marks could easily be an exclamation point.
For some reason these three were separated from the pack, but they're good enough to stand as representatives of the collection, all of which gathered together might make for an interesting exhibition. But for now, three will do.
They bring up a larger though perhaps not-very-interesting issue of other more interesting works in other fields where the title is a question.
For example, here are some good questions, (one in translation):
- "Is the inertia of a body dependent on its energy content?" ("Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?")1
- "Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete"2
As a matter of fact, they're really good questions--and the person putting the question mark into the title of these papers was Albert Einstein in the first case and then Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nick Rosen in the second.
There are many others to be sure, but it is a difficult question to answer offhand, like this, and will take a much longer think. (Another good question comes in the title of Richard Courant's book, What is Mathematics?)
There is a recent paper3 of questionable use for someone like me that looks at the rise of the use of question marks in scientific papers over the last fifty odd years or so. (I must commend the author though as he utilized more than 2 million papers in the comparison.)
But then there are the great philosophical questions like "Why did the chicken cross the road?","Does God Exist?", "If a tree falls...?," "Is there Life after Death?", "Father, Why Have You Forsaken Me?", and "Where's Waldo?"
And of course great books have their fair share of questions--I can quickly come up with the following examples and no doubt some real thought will produce many more: P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother?, Horace McCoy They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Ed Albee Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, PK Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Political (Lenin, What is to be Done?), musical ("Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?" by the Carter Family), and question marks in film ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?", "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"), all need to be addressed for such a future post.
But not right now--for the moment, it is just these three delightful pamphlets.
1. One of the four miracle papers of 1905, published in the Annalen der Physik 18(13):639-641
2. This is the EPR Partadox, a great contribution to physics published in the Physical Review in 1935, 47(10):0777-0780
3. "The titles of scientific articles have a special significance. We examined nearly 20 million scientific articles and recorded the development of articles with a question mark at the end of their titles over the last 40 years. Our study was confined to the disciplines of physics, life sciences and medicine, where we found a significant increase from 50% to more than 200% in the number of articles with question-mark titles. We looked at the principle functions and structure of the titles of scientific papers, and we assume that marketing aspects are one of the decisive factors behind the growing usage of question-mark titles in scientific articles."-- "Scholarly communication in transition: The use of question marks in the titles of scientific articles in medicine, life sciences and physics 1966–2005", by Rafael Ball, in Scientometrics, June 2009, Volume 79 #3, pp 667-679,