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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Thumbnail of A. H. Reginald Buller (source)
A. H. Reginald Buller
(19 Apr 1874 - 3 Jul 1944)

British-Canadian mycologist who wrote seven volumes of Researches in Fungi, Essays in Wheat and Practical Botany. He wrote limericks, of which, Relativity remains well-known.

A. H. Reginald Buller
“There was a young lady named Bright”

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 600 px)

“There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.”
— A. H. Reginald Buller
Punch (1923)

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This limerick has an interesting history. It was first printed without attribution in the British magazine Punch in 1923, under with the title, “Relativity.” That such a topic was published in the popular press is an indication of how Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity held the public’s attention since it was first published in 1905. Also, the layperson had seen enough coverage in the media to know relativity affects time, and could understand the joke.

The humorous verse continued to be enjoyed as it was reprinted over the years and spread to America and Canada, by now around the world. But who was it’s originally anonymous author?

The answer was given, along with an interesting background of the origination of the verse, in the British newspaper, The Observer (14 Nov 1937).1 Having seen a version of the verse appear in that newspaper, A.H. Reginald Buller send a letter to the editor, claiming that he was the author of the now widespread limerick. Buller was a scientist, not a physicist, but whose field was mycology, the study of fungi.

In his letter, Buller explained that it resulted from a conversation about Einstein's theory with his physicist friend, Dr. G. A, Shakespear, while sitting in his garden. For amusement, Buller suggested they could each write a limerick. A few minutes later their lines were written.

A couple of years later, Buller recited his limerick at a scientific meeting, producing laughter, applause, and the attention of a reporter who suggested sending it to Punch magazine. Indeed, the magazine published the verse in the 19 Dec 1923 issue, for which Buller was paid a few shillings.

Buller penned a further verse a similar theme, that mass increases with velocity, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity:2

To her friends said the Bright one in chatter,
“I have learned something new about matter:
My speed was so great,
Much increased was my weight,
Yet I failed to become any fatter!”

Since then, the original Relativity limerick has become so popular, it appears in such quote collections as The Yale Book of Quotations3 and Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, among others.

1 A. H. Reginald Buller, 'Letters to the Editor: Relativity Limerick', The Observer (14 Nov 1937), 12.
2 William S. Baring-Gould, The Lure of the Limerick: An Uninhibited History (1967), 6.
3 Fred R. Shapiro (ed.), The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 113.

Text by Webmaster, with quote from 'Relativity', Punch (19 Dec 1923), 165, 591. (source)

See also:
  • Science Quotes by A. H. Reginald Buller.
  • A. H. Reginald Buller - context of quote “There was a young lady named Bright” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • A. H. Reginald Buller - context of quote “To her friends said the Bright one in chatter” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • A. H. Reginald Buller - context of quote “To her friends said the Bright one in chatter” - Large image (800 x 600 px)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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