There was a man of Gotham that rode to the market with two
bushels of wheat, and because his horse should not be damaged
by carrying too great a burthen, he was determined to carry
the corn himself upon his own neck, and still kept riding
upon his horse till he arrived at the end of his journey.
Now I will leave you to judge which was the wisest, his
horse or himself.
That's from _The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham_ published 1540.
I have no proof, but there are suggestions that this was an old
joke even then, possibly centuries old.
In any case, it was a joke long before Galileo, long before Newton.
I find that remarkable, because it's not funny unless you understand
a thing or two about the laws of motion. And a joke doesn't get
included in a book -- less than 100 years after Gutenberg's first
printing press -- unless a *lot* of people think it is funny, not
just one or two physics geniuses.
It's completely non-mathematical, but still it is a rock-solid
application of some fundamental principles.
I just found out about this joke today. I need to think about it
some more. I wonder about the old days:
-- Did this get taught in school, or was it just intuitive?
-- Did they have a /name/ for this principle?
-- If you asked them to explain the joke, what would they have said?
And I wonder about the present:
-- What fraction of the adult population would "get" the joke today?
-- What fraction of the student population?
-- If you asked them to explain the joke, what would they say?