The matter of proofs

Is this list a joke? Is this what mathematicians call humor: a casual mockery of religion, philosophy and medicine? Is this their idea of funny?

One despairs thinking this may be the case.

Or is this how things really work?

An important new addition to the stuffy ol' methods of proof and number --- faith-based mathematics, as inspired by the heroic efforts of theologians and friends of complementary and alternative methods (CAMs) all over the ages!

So, suppose you wanted to prove that pi, that tricky mathematical constant, was equal to three; or suppose you wanted to prove all functions are continuous. (You know, have no jumps in them. Not that this is going to help you much if it needed to be told.)

  1. Proof by faith: We have no proof. That is the proof. If you question our proof, you're an insensitive prick.
  2. Proof by a test of faith: There's a counterexample. We will hope it goes away.
  3. Proof by a miracle: A three-line proof; the second line is "Then a miracle happens."
  4. Proof by prayer: Whine upwards until the problem goes away. (Works for grad students. Professors, eh, not so much.)
  5. Proof by devil: "What? You have a counterexample? The devil must have tricked you. Out, devil! Out!"
  6. Proof by a sign from God: "I saw three gaunt letters of smoke in my dream, yea, and the letters were 'Q' and 'E' and 'D'... And this is what they mean: It is proven!"
  7. Proof by a vision: "Can you see it? The proof! It's coming in through the walls!"
  8. Proof by peer pressure: "Of course you know all functions are continuous. You wouldn't want to be sad and alone, right?"
  9. Proof by odium: "Hitler didn't believe all functions are continuous. What, you want to agree with Hitler?"
  10. Proof by the life of Jesus: "Jesus was a nice guy. Everyone likes Jesus. I think this verse means Jesus said all functions are continuous."
  11. Proof by witnessing: "I have seen the proof!" "Me too, brother!" "Praise the proof!"
  12. Proof by separate magisteria: The proof exists in a different world. Since you can't go and see it, you must believe me when I say it is as I say.
  13. Proof by morality: "Discontinuous functions would be evil, ugly, troublesome and unspeakably horrid. If there was a discontinuous function, I'd probably go insane and rape your granny or something. Is that what you want me to do? Huh?"
  14. Proof by an appeal to optimism: "It would be terrible if this function wasn't continuous. Therefore it is."
  15. Proof by Hell: "If you don't believe all functions are continuous, you could become a grad student of Professor Mumblescream. Do you want that?"
  16. Proof by teleology: "Things would get pretty damn unspeakably complicated if all functions weren't continuous. Since considering such a bummer would be grant-destroyingly hopeless, all functions are continuous."
  17. Proof by ontology: "Mathematics is idealism. Can you conceive of anything more ideal than all functions being continuous?"
  18. Proof by an anthropic argument: "I say this function is continuous. Am I not wonderful? Hence the function is continuous."
  19. Proof by a transcendental argument: "This exercise would be meaningless if the function wasn't continuous. Hence Q.E.D."
  20. Proof by a transcendental argument (alternative): "Let us assume a discontinuous function. The whole structure of mathematics crumbles to the ground!"
  21. Proof by lack of imagination: "What do you mean, discontinuous function? The professor never said nothing about discontinuous functions..."
  22. Proof by theology: "No, seriously! No-one believes all functions are continuous anymore! It's just that this function is continuous because we need it to be..."
  23. Reiki proof: Wave hand, move on to the next lemma.
  24. Proof by conspiracy: "Sure, all the books say pi ain't three. But do you know how much money those big-time publishers would lose if it came out pi is three?"
  25. Proof by Däniken: "But I ask of the mathematicians: dare we suppose pi might equal three, radical though it is?"
  26. Proof by ancient prophecy: "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain."
  27. Proof by analogy: "Saying pi ain't three is like saying birds don't fly!"
  28. Glossolalic proof: "Abba waa! Wallah! Wa-wam bilbal bol wal woo! Woowum!"
  29. Hypnotic proof: "Pi is three. Pi is three. Pi is three. Pi is three. Pi is three."
  30. Proof by herbal remedies (student version): "Oh, man, pi is so totally three. And it's coming through the walls!"
  31. Proof by a cultural variation: "Herr Doktor, here in Prussia we don't need proofs; we believe when we're told!"
  32. Proof by another cultural variation: "What do you mean pi ain't three? I saw it on TV!"
  33. Pi is three. Pi is three. Pi is three. Subliminal proof.
  34. Proof by ghost reference: "In my dreams the rabbit-spirits of my ancestors have told me this: Pi equals three." (Not recommended for print or publication. Works fine if you are in a position of authority over the listeners.)
  35. Organic proof: "The professor said it."
  36. Biblical-numerationist proof: "1 Kings 7:23"
  37. Proof by intelligent design: "1 Kings 7:23 This Ludolphite value of pi is too complex."
  38. Proof by chi: "pi = chi = 3."
  39. Proof by press conference: "BREAKING NEWS --- Georgia mechanic proves international eggheads have been wrong about the value of a difficult mathematical abstraction all along!"
  40. Proof by examining entrails: "Hey, where's that grad student of yours?"
  41. Proof by astrology: "Look up. Do you see those giant forms that the twinkling lights hint at. That's the Applied Mathematics Tall Building, and they said that for all intents and purposes..."
  42. Biorhythmic proof: "I guess caffeine was rising and attention dropping when I proved this."
  43. Proof by ancient wisdom: "This clay tablet here says pi equals three. As you can see in your webcam, the pyramid where the tablet was found shows skills surpassing all things invented ever since..."
  44. Homeopathic proof, strong concentration: Take three lines from a book about pies and dissolve in 300 pages of bland, inert statements. Sell by postal order with an ad in "Hot Archangels Monthly".
  45. Homeopathic proof, superstrong concentration: "Proof: QED."
  46. Bible code-style proof: "Look! The symbols "pi", "=" and "3" are all on this diagonal!"
  47. Acupuncture proof: Your superior needles you until the proving's done. (30% of grad students working for a Ph.D. say this method is either very effective or effective!)
  48. Proof by emotion: "Look at this child! This poor child! Can you even guess the pain and sadness of her lost childhood if she has to spend her summer toiling with make-up exams!"
  49. Proof by anecdote: "A friend of mine used pi equals three in a Computer Science exam and now he's a professor at Harvard. You can't argue with that!"
  50. Proof by Lysenkoism: "The dean said pi is what?"
  51. Proof by crop circles: "It's a little lopsided, but its circumference divided by diameter is three!"
  52. Proof by ear candling: Will be used on grad students if they don't behave. Rarely, however, used to prove that pi equals three.
  53. Proof by evil eye: State claim, invite questions. If any, utilize the Look. Move to other matters. (a professorial method)
  54. Proof by trick: "Let us assume pi = 3. The result immediately follows."
  55. Proof by moxibustion: Another method for teaching graduate students.
  56. Pentagram proof: "By the name of Euler, I summon thee! By the name of Laplace, I summon thee! Answer, o Professor Doomsnarl, room D666, and conduct us into the mysteries of this unspeakable thing we need to prove!" --- "You pitiful mortals! For disturbing my rest, you shall pay the ultimate penalty!"
  57. Utilizing the Philosopher's Stone: "Sorry. Didn't have time to prove that. Was reading Potter. Mercy?"
  58. Proof by psychic surgery: "Oh, so you want proof? Come up here." --- shortly followed by: "Anyone else wants a piece of proof? Huh?! Huh?!" (note: we recommend using an accomplice instead of brute force.)
  59. Proof by a seance: Twenty students gather in a room. Shortly thereafter a TA appears and tells them all kinds of things from Beyond the Reach of Mortals. "Um, I didn't quite understand that last bit. Could you elaborate?" --- "Knock knock. Next!"
  60. Lizard people proof: Answer all questions with "Ah, I knew your puny human brains couldn't understand..." Avoid blinking.
  61. Feng shui proof: Great many things can be assumed to be proven if you arrange your references with care. (Jour. Assyrian Math. Soc., 19 (2), tablets III--XI, 512 BCE)
  62. Proof by urine therapy: The less said about this, the better.
  63. Men in Black proof: "These men from the agency supplying our funding would like to have a word with you about the results..."
  64. Proof by shiny terminology: "Three is the indigo pi."
  65. Tarot proof: "Number eleven, Death's Head. It in conjunction with three (Hung Jury) signifies that pi is sinking... sinking... pi is three. Twenty bucks or your firstborn for more."
  66. Horoscopic proof: "Aries. There will be a career-destroying surprise in your love life. If you've been uncertain about that long trip, take it now. Also, pi is three."
  67. Trepanation proof: "Let me demonstrate how I came to my conclusion. Sit down; I'll get the drill."
  68. UFO proof: "The vast, cool and unsympathetic intelligences of the planet Grill-XI convey, through me, these insights in the hopes that it will bring an end to the endless weapon-building on the planet Earth. Then they will come in a blaze of nuclear... er, a blaze of peace. Peace."
  69. ET proof: "My mommy said it works. Here, phone home."
  70. Duck-and-cover proof: Works if you have some flashy, superfically impressive "proof" --- many of these here would do. First perform the said quackery, then profit, then run for cover.
  71. Use of pyramido-logic: "Look at this pyramid! If you measure the three sides and substract the height of this pharaoh figurine here in inches you get the True Circumference, which divided by this diameter in Egyptian feet --- between the Sphinx and the coffee-looking stain... is three!"
  72. The Secret proof: "Pi is three if you want it to be. If it ain't, you obviously are a loser who should have wished harder."
  73. Proof from thickness: "Well, obviously you need to remember that the circumference has a thickness! Measure circumference from the inside, measure diameter from the outside, and presto, pi is three. Any smart remarks about that, huh?"
  74. Bermuda triangle proof: "My proof! Gone without a trace!"
  75. Proof by Nostradamus: "In the day soon to be / The number shall be three."
  76. Homeopathic proof, distance version: "After calling our service number, hold the circle close to the receiver. Our good vibrations will cause the pi to change. Remember, you're paying for qualitty!"
  77. Proof by ID: "Sure, there can be functions that are discontinuous in a micro sense, but an everywhere discontinuous function? Get outta here!"
  78. Proof by resurrection: "Again bringing up this continuity nonsense? Wasn't this settled three days ago?"
  79. Proof by trolling: "Freebird!" (Apply repeatedly to anyone who disagrees. After each application run away, leaving trails of urine and feces if at all possible. If this fails, flash.)
  80. Proof by concern trolling: "Ehm, don't you think the poor chap would be just embarrassed to death if you corrected him, with his weak heart and all? He has small children, you know, named Jason and Jennifer. Jennifer likes kittens."
  81. Proof by realism: "Okay, maybe we can't know all functions are continuous... but let's humor that bulky guy with the mullet and lots of scars and pretend they are."
  82. Proof by realism, pt. 2: "What is more important, winning the next election or quibbling over continuity? Oh, and the other guy wants to kill all mathematicians --- it's me or him."
  83. Proof by Comic Sans: (example omitted to prevent headaches; was cc:d to a Prof. Meyers)
  84. Proof by assertion: "The notion of Discontinuitism is in its death throes. I foresee in a decade it will be no more." (Repeat verbatim as long as necessary. Avoid excessive fantasies of recanting, show trials, etc.)
last updated: (Jul 01 2011)