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weatherc
2009-Nov-20, 07:32 PM
I can't seem to find a definitive answer to this question. I have seen the answer as "Definitely yes," "Definitely no," and "Definitely maybe."

The question is this:
Did Isaac Newton invent the cat flap?*

I first came across this notion while reading Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which Dirk Gently stated that Newton's greatest achievement wasn't his work on gravity, but his invention of the cat flap. He reasoned that since gravity is always there, someone would have worked it out eventually, but to be able to visualize a door within a door was a mark of true genius. Having never heard this "fact" before, I simply assumed that Adams had made this bit up to be funny. However, I have recently come across other references to this "fact," which led me to search and see if it is true, but there seems to be some debate about it in the sources I have checked.

Does anyone have any trusted references that can shed light on this question?


*Or doggie door, if you prefer.

HenrikOlsen
2009-Nov-20, 07:37 PM
Several medieval castles had smalled doors inset in the big portals, so the door in a door concept is definitely not new at the time of Newton.

ToSeek
2009-Nov-21, 02:45 AM
The London Science Museum thinks so. (http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/events/drama_characters/isaac_newton.aspx) Wikipedia argues about it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Cat_flap#Isaac_Newton)

Lianachan
2009-Nov-21, 03:54 PM
The problem with Wikipedia is that it's for idiots, and by idiots. I would trust the London Science Museum, or practically anything, more than Wikipedia.

Elukka
2009-Nov-21, 04:20 PM
Umm... okay. Any particular reason for the hate?

Strange
2009-Nov-21, 05:43 PM
The problem with Wikipedia is that it's for idiots, and by idiots.

As indicated by the multiple moronic discsussions on that page about "cat flap" not being sufficiently species-neutral.

Lianachan
2009-Nov-21, 08:34 PM
Umm... okay. Any particular reason for the hate?

Years of bitter experience, trying to intelligently discuss things with people who are interested only in humping their political agendas. I used to do a lot of editing, mostly on pages related to archaeology and Scottish history. Now, I've washed my hands of the place.

neilzero
2009-Nov-26, 01:45 AM
Perhaps if I used wikipedia to find out about things like dogie doors, I would think idiot, but I have rarely found science errors in wikipedia. It is however helpful to read the discussion as well as the article. Neil

Lianachan
2009-Nov-26, 08:16 AM
I heard something on the radio while driving home from work yesterday (BBC Radio Scotland) about a school teacher who has urged her children to use Wikipedia. They had somebody on who was discussing at graet length how useless it now is, and was pointing out that actual experts are now deserting it in record numbers. I didn't catch who he was, but I completely agreed with everything he said. I know archaeologists and historians who've done the same thing as me, and just left it to fill up with opinionated rubbish instead of objective facts. I've not really looked at many scientific pages, and certainly never contributed to any, so I have no reason to doubt that higher standards are maintained there.

*Edited - the guy I heard on the radio was Oliver Kamm (http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article6930560.ece).

Perikles
2009-Nov-26, 09:33 AM
The problem with Wikipedia is that it's for idiots, and by idiots. I would trust the London Science Museum, or practically anything, more than Wikipedia.This seems an absurd generalization, but with some justification. Would this not make a good thread on its own to clarify the merits and demerits of Wiki?

Lianachan
2009-Nov-26, 09:57 AM
This seems an absurd generalization, but with some justification. Would this not make a good thread on its own to clarify the merits and demerits of Wiki?

Probably, yes. In summary, though, and as far as I recall, the London Science Museum doesn't let visitors remove information cards from exhibits and replace them with badly written post-it notes of their own opinions.

pghnative
2009-Nov-26, 01:29 PM
Which, presumably, makes it more difficult for experts to correct any errors that the London Science Museum might make.

hhEb09'1
2009-Nov-26, 02:22 PM
*Edited - the guy I heard on the radio was Oliver Kamm (http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article6930560.ece).You criticize wikipedia, but link to an author/article that says "What Wikipedia prizes is not greater approximations to truth but a greater degree of consensus." Which is obviously rhetorical nonsense. :)

On BAUT, wiki references are not taken as absolutes. They are merely starting points, for the defense of a position. The actual defense is still the responsibility of the BAUT poster. Arguments about the merits of wikipedia in general are irrelevant.

Lianachan
2009-Nov-26, 02:32 PM
Which, presumably, makes it more difficult for experts to correct any errors that the London Science Museum might make.

I'm sure experts can raise concerns and have changes made through legitimate processes. Not, I feel, the same as completely opening everything up for all and sundry to footer with.

Lianachan
2009-Nov-26, 02:39 PM
You criticize wikipedia, but link to an author/article that says "What Wikipedia prizes is not greater approximations to truth but a greater degree of consensus." Which is obviously rhetorical nonsense. :)
I don't doubt that there are parts of it that are useful and reliable, as neilzero says. However, my own experience of it, which is obviously just of the areas I used to contribute (quite a lot) to, is actually quite nicely summarised by some of his comments in that article. I have no idea who he is, or his background. I found him by researching the radio program I heard , and then googling his name.

hhEb09'1
2009-Nov-26, 02:53 PM
I don't doubt that there are parts of it that are useful and reliable, as neilzero says. However, my own experience of it, which is obviously just of the areas I used to contribute (quite a lot) to, is actually quite nicely summarised by some of his comments in that article. I have no idea who he is, or his background. I found him by researching the radio program I heard , and then googling his name.And then cited him and his article in defense of your position. :)

Let's not have any more arguments about the merits of wikipedia in general. If an issue comes up that involves information derived from a wikipedia article, discuss the issue, not wikipedia. Otherwise, it could be considered a malicious hijack.

Lianachan
2009-Nov-26, 02:54 PM
That's a great way to get the last word.

hhEb09'1
2009-Nov-26, 03:01 PM
That's a great way to get the last word.And that's a not-so-great way to try to get in the last word. :)

This thread is about cat doors, not the nature of wikipedia. I'm pretty sure there are/were/will-be threads about wikipedia, and we can continue the discourse over there, if you want to add something to the discussion. I'll even provide a link here to whatever thread you join.

Fiery Phoenix
2009-Nov-26, 03:48 PM
LOL at "Definitely maybe".... :D

I would think it's possible, though. Why not? Newton wasn't just a normal scientist.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Nov-26, 03:58 PM
Isaac Newton would of course wish to claim precedence. But his long argument with Gottfried Leibniz over who invented calculus first was basically irrelevant because neither of them realised they were 200 years too late, and some Indians from Kerala invented it first. Unfortunately the news didn't reach Europe until the 19th century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala_school_of_astronomy_and_mathematics

Maybe Sir Isaac Newton's cat-flap is the first recorded example of a cat-flap. But since cats have been kept for a long time, and it's really rather obvious, I rather suspect it wasn't the first time it was invented. But so far it seems we are in ignorance of any earlier example.

Edit: Post script
I'm sorry, I was attempting to make a joke about Newton's obsession with demonstrating precedence (consider his political battles with Hook as well as Leibniz). But I have fallen foul of the curse of Wikipedia. Earlier versions of the article on the Kerala School suggested that they had invented the calculus all bar the icing on the cake. And I had read similar things elsewhere, no doubt from a common source. But the article has since been rewritten to demonstrate that the Kerala school, albeit ahead of Europe in some areas, only made some limited steps towards the calculus. Of course many such partial steps, albeit different ones, also existed in Europe prior to Newton and Leibniz.

hhEb09'1
2009-Nov-26, 04:40 PM
Isaac Newton would of course wish to claim precedence. But his long argument with Gottfried Leibniz over who invented calculus first was basically irrelevant because neither of them realised they were 200 years too late, and some Indians from Kerala invented it first. Unfortunately the news didn't reach Europe until the 19th century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala_school_of_astronomy_and_mathematicsDo you have another link that explains this? That link says "Their work, completed two centuries before the invention of calculus in Europe, provided what is now considered the first example of a power series (apart from geometric series).[2] However, they did not formulate a systematic theory of differentiation and integration, nor is there any direct evidence of their results being transmitted outside Kerala."

It doesn't seem to have anything to do with calculus.

tusenfem
2009-Nov-26, 06:11 PM
It doesn't seem to have anything to do with calculus.


Nor does it have anything to do with cat flap.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Nov-27, 08:49 AM
Nor does it have anything to do with cat flap. Keep on topic here.
I brought it up trying to make a joke about Newton's obsession with precedence. But sadly my joke fell flat because I got it wrong. Error explained in edit to the original post.

weatherc
2009-Nov-27, 01:36 PM
The issues about Wikipedia, while looking like a threadjack, actually have some merit here. They illustrate how something that is common knowledge (e.g., that Newton invented the cat flap) can be wrong, or at least in doubt.

The only Wikipedia reference to Newton and the cat flap is the link to the British Science Museum, as ToSeek pointed out earlier. While I won't call the reputation of the British Science Museum into question, they don't present a reference online. How do they know he invented the cat flap? Do they have drawings or contemporary accounts of it? They don't say on the web site. Just because it is a museum doesn't mean they can't fall victim to the occasional trap of something being "common knowledge" when it isn't actually true.

One thing in Newton's favor in this case is that no one seems to be able to point to any prior art of a cat flap. If anyone could find evidence of a cat door in England (or anywhere, really) before Newton's time, then that would help settle the issue.

One thing against Newton in this case is that he liked to take credit for what he did. He also was in the habit of documenting his achievements. While the cat flap may not have ranked very high on his list of inventions and discoveries in his own mind, one would think he would have noted it in some way, especially if the idea was catching on with his contemporaries.

Sticks
2009-Nov-27, 01:42 PM
If Newton invented the catflap, how was it modified by Albert? :whistle:

weatherc
2009-Nov-27, 01:47 PM
If Newton invented the catflap, how was it modified by Albert? :whistle:Well, first Einstein wondered one day about what it would be like if he were a cat. Then he got distracted, and wondered what it would be like to ride a beam of light. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sam5
2009-Nov-27, 05:27 PM
Well, first Einstein wondered one day about what it would be like if he were a cat. Then he got distracted, and wondered what it would be like to ride a beam of light. The rest, as they say, is history.

What about Schrödinger's cat flap?

Sticks
2009-Nov-27, 05:57 PM
What about Schrödinger's cat flap?

That is both open and closed at the same time :shifty:

weatherc
2009-Nov-27, 06:23 PM
That is both open and closed at the same time :shifty:I thought that the cat was both inside and outside at the same time, but I am not a physicist, so I wouldn't be the best person to ask.

PetersCreek
2009-Nov-27, 06:28 PM
The cat is neither in nor out until you check...but then, it doesn't care what you think about its status.

mahesh
2009-Nov-27, 07:12 PM
Aah, that is exactly the attitude our cat Rooney has too, Mr PetersCreek!

...and like the Grand Old Duke of York's men...neither up nor down...

couldn't care less. As long as he has nice crunchy goodies to eat and lots of tickles with milk.

hhEb09'1
2009-Dec-04, 07:05 PM
Nor does it have anything to do with cat flap.Sure it does, it goes to motive, as Ivan explains in the edit to the post I was responding to.

Newton might not've been so desperate to produce an additional masterpiece (the cat door) if he'd received what he thought was his due because of calculus.

PetersCreek
2009-Dec-04, 07:15 PM
I tried to scrape some calculus off my cat's teeth once. There was quite the flap about that, too.

Sticks
2009-Dec-04, 07:31 PM
We once had two cats who were very similar in appearence

It was hard to differentiate them

Celestial Mechanic
2009-Dec-05, 05:49 AM
I tried to scrape some calculus off my cat's teeth once. There was quite the flap about that, too.An integral part of cat ownership, I'm sure. ;)

DrRocket
2009-Dec-05, 06:31 AM
The cat is neither in nor out until you check...but then, it doesn't care what you think about its status.

Isn't the purpose of the cat flap to allow one to peek with actually performing a measurement ? I would have thought that Schrodinger would get at least a little credit.