1. “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

    A question in Christian theology / philosophy first used by Protestants to ridicule the Catholic scholastics back in the 1600’s.

  2. Mark H has it. Dorothy L Sayers used it as an example of unfair criticism of classical education (the “Quadrivium”):

    A glib speaker in the Brains Trust once entertained his audience (and reduced the late Charles Williams to helpless rage) by asserting that in the Middle Ages it was a matter of faith to know how many archangels could dance on the point of a needle. I need not say, I hope, that it never was a “matter of faith”; it was simply a debating exercise, whose set subject was the nature of angelic substance: were angels material, and if so, did they occupy space? The answer usually adjudged correct is, I believe, that angels are pure intelligences; not material, but limited, so that they may have location in space but not extension.
    An analogy might be drawn from human thought, which is similarly non-material and similarly limited. Thus, if your thought is concentrated upon one thing—say, the point of a needle—it is located there in the sense that it is not elsewhere; but although it is “there,” it occupies no space there, and there is nothing to prevent an infinite number of different people’s thoughts being concentrated upon the same needle-point at the same time. The proper subject of the argument is thus seen to be the distinction between location and extension in space; the matter on which the argument is exercised happens to be the nature of angels (although, as we have seen, it might equally well have been something else); the practical lesson to be drawn from the argument is not to use words like “there” in a loose and unscientific way, without specifying whether you mean “located there” or “occupying space there.”

  3. I missed the correct solution (as Mark H. described it above @1), and thought that the word “reduced” should have been inserted into the dialog before “capacity”, which might have produced a strip with two separate, equally viable interpretations (angels vs. Zippys).

  4. P.S. I’m not sure where the re-sampling occurred, but the “strip” version seems to have been more strongly affected. Here’s a sharper image:

  5. Thanks for the image work. As far as I recall, the strip version (used as “highlighted image”) was saved from its appearance on Wayno’s blog. The panel version would have been either from Comics Kingdom or the Bizarro daily preview mailing.

  6. Does he mean there’s so many pinheads around, that they’re running out of room at the pinhead club? @Mark H has a good point (no pun intended). But even if that, the cartoon isn’t very funny.

  7. @ Andréa – It’s not biblical (see Mark @1): it’s from the sort of hairsplitting philisophical tradition that exists in many faiths. Compare the Jewish “Talmud”, or the Bhuddist “koan” questions about “one hand clapping” or “trees falling in unpopulated forests” (but not the one about “bears in the woods”).

  8. P.S. @ Maggie – The point of the humor is the implicit conflict between “we can’t take any more visitors” and the “classic” answer to the question, which is that there is no upper limit to the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin (because heavenly “dimensions” are “unlimited” in every respect). You don’t have to believe any of this, it’s merely necessary to know that the discussion has taken place. The changing positions of the Easter eggs is irrelevant, just a side effect of reformatting the drawing.

  9. As a detail in one of the ways this debate has come down to us, it was “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” — which is nicely echoed in the “Dance Tonight” sign. They’re not just fitting there, they’re trying to dance.

    (Also “Club Pinhead” echoes “head of a pin” which I suppose afforded them a smidgen more room than the “point” of a pin.)

  10. LOL I see what you did there. To keep going with it and take your comment more seriously than you likely intended, rather than there being ‘no there there,’ we might say the idea is that there is the possibility that ‘everywhere is there.’

  11. Who wrote about the “fearful sphere” (though that might be Borges’s phrasing) whose center is everywhere and whose perimeter (or surface?) is nowhere? Pascal maybe?

  12. I was not familiar with this, but I found a Cambridge Press article on it. ‘By the time Pascal took up the metaphor, he started to write, “Nature is a fearful sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” Borges points out in his mock pedantic tone that Pascal later crossed out the word “fearful.”’ Clearly I need to do a bit more reading!

  13. Of all people, Charles Schultz took up the issue (through Peppermint Patty, IIRC). His answer was “8 if they’re skinny, 4 if they’re fat.”

  14. By the way, my daughter’s answer to the angels dancing question was, “as many as God wants.”

  15. I’m Jewish and I knew about “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”.

Add a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.