Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Aristotle and the Four-Legged Fly

Aristotle thought that flies have four legs.
You're absolutely right.  Artistotle refused toa ccept that flies had any more than four legs.  Apparently it was believed for more than a thousand years and such was his standing that nobody else bothered to count.
 Let's stipulate that flies have more than four legs.  Did Aristotle think so?  Plenty of Googlists repeat the story, which might be enough to excite a skeptic. And sure enough, here comes John S. Wilkins, otherwise unknown to me, who represents himself as a Historian and Philosopher of Science and who appear  to be a cautious reader of ancient texts.  Wilkins thinks the charge a canard originated, perhaps, in the past 50 years.   His full analysis is here. He focusus particular attention on a mayfly who has four legs for walking and another two "specialised simply to hold onto the female during mating in flight."  Now that part I dearly hope is true.

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