Oct 3, 2011

Magpie Tales#85

The Elephant in the Room

Simpleforth is attending his first tutorial as a Freshman student at Brasstoff College, Oxford, UK. His tutor, Professor Headwind, has brought a picture to the tutorial, artist unknown, (as the kindly Tess Kincaid points out).

   There are six or so students in the tutorial group and one of them, not Simpleforth, says "Oh Sir, my granny had wallpaper like that in her downstairs loo!(*)"
   Professor Headwind (pron: wind as in watch, not wind as in gale-force) ignores this early contribution and begins. "Ladies and Gentlemen - "  The six or so gentlemen look at each other, but seeing no ladies(**), give their attention to the picture. 
   Headwind continues. "Today we shall address one of the central problems of philosophy, which has bedevilled our colleagues in the scientific disciplines since discipline . . " A faraway expression crosses Headwind's face. Then he continues "Er, no, erm, beg pardon, I mean since scientific investigation began. To whit.  Is absence of evidence evidence of absence?"
   Again the students look at each other.
  "Is there an elephant in the room?"  Headwind looks round the group, who remain (which remains?) silent
  "Very well then," Headwind continues. He places the picture face down on the desk so that it cannot be seen.  "Is there an elephant in the room?  Hmm?  Hmm? Anyone?"
  The students stare at Headwind.  Simpleforth decides to take a lead.
 "Sir, there never was an elephant in the room. There was, however, an image of an elephant in the room, but now we cannot see it."
 "Excellent. Excellent! You are Mr . . . . ?"
  Headwind consults a list. "Oh!  A grammar school boy. Hmm. Unusual. Well. Never mind. Let's get off. Sorry. On. Let's get on."
   The students exchange glances. There is some restrained tittering.
   "Suppose I had not let you see the picture before asking 'Is there an elephant in the room'?"
  "Sir, we would have said 'No. There isn't an elephant in the room' Then you would have shown us the picture and said something like 'Ah. But there is!  Here it is.' "
  "Well done, Simpleforth.  You're beating me . . " - the same glazed expression - "beating me to the point. Which is?"
   "Q.E.D.," says Simpleforth. "Absence of evidence is not  always or necessarily evidence of absence. And I don't want to truncate the discussion, sir, but I think that next you're going to tell us that just because no one has ever seen an elephant with wings doesn't prove that . .  "
   Now Headwind senses that Simpleforth is a dangerous subversive and far too smart to ever be a successful philosopher.  "Truncate the discussion?  You said 'truncate', Mr.Simpleforth, grammar school boy. Are you trying to be funny?"
   "Me sir? No sir."
  "I can see I'll have my to keep my eye on you, young man! Well, thank you Ladies and Gentlemen. Till next week . . "
   Professor Headwind seizes his picture and sweeps out of the room. The other five or so students gather round Simpleforth, offering coffees or a swift half-pint, and one says "Wonder what the next half-wit will go on about?" and another asks "Who said his granny had an elephant in her loo?"
  At this moment, a tall blonde female - actually Headwind's secretary(***) - who had been hiding behind the desk, shows herself and says. "Hi, Guys! Do I look like an elephant?"

(*)    Go here, oh Disbelievers! There are more things in Heaven and Earth . .  . etc
(**)   But have a care, dear reader. In the context, anything is possible.
(***) That's Headwind's story.

Many more in-flight pachyderm stories at Magpie Tales


  1. Very interesting philosophical, one might almost say eschatological (if I were absolutely certain what that meant) discussion.

  2. As absurd as can be, which for me is perfect !!Definitely evidence of absense!

  3. A little of the absent-minded Prof thing but at least he was in control. That probably saved the day! Excellent write!


  4. All philosophy professors are called Professor Headwind, aren't they? Furthermore, there are always elephants in the room, are there not :-)

  5. I've seen a few of those blonde elephants in the room
    quite a magpie

  6. 'truncate the discussion' ... I would love to meet the charming and very witty Mr. Simpleforth.

  7. haha simpleforth is my hero...funny stuff...

  8. Elephants and black swans. Love this..

  9. Oh, those whacky professors and their elephants. Probably more of a mouse, though.

  10. I'm rather enjoying Simpleforth's adventures in academia. I hope there will be more. Love the names you've come up with too. Brasstoff College :)

  11. I can't stop giggling over the name "Simpleforth"...

  12. good god but I love your writing! This is so creative that it just makes my whole day. Simply marvelous! I also cannot believe that you found elephant wallpaper with that image; it astonished me.

    (I have not written this Magpie yet, as I am catching up on reading others' blogs...)

  13. Sue J. Like Arnie, "He'll be back"
    Tess. Neither can Simpleforth
    Lydia. I Googled 'Images' for "Elephant with wings" - and there it was!

    All. So what was the final score? I think it was a draw, because the Professor had absented some of the evidence. Or something.

  14. i love that the professor's name was headwind (as in watch not wind as in galeforce) :) This was hysterical...simpleforth wasn't so simple :)

  15. Loved having this to start my morning with

  16. heh heh heh......education need more Profs like him. To wind up or not!!

  17. Trust you to sneak in a female, Doctor F. (for fun?) :)

  18. Trellissimo - not so! The Professor was reinforcing his point. Notice his use of "Ladies and Gentlemen"

  19. Oh clever! Highly enjoyable, entertaining and, er ... deep. ( I loved 'truncate'!)

  20. quite brilliant:)
    Wouldnt be astray in a monty python sketch, loved it, thanks for the laugh!

  21. Just proves you have to pay attention in class to best the prof...

    Excellent simple yet forthright...

  22. HA!! Brilliantly funny. I'm with Words A Day: definitely Python material.

  23. Well done! Almost as absurd as elephants with wings... :-)

  24. Ah! Every word counts and means something in a well written piece. By the way, didn't this same lady visit the oval office during Clinton's presidency? :)

  25. I just wonder why the blonde was hiding behind the desk. Hmmm?!

  26. Jackie J. She was "hiding" there to prove the Professor's point. Remember, he did address the room with - "LADIES and Gentlemen" Absence of eveidence of her was not evidence of her absence


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