University of Lincoln, UK

At Least One

“At least one” is a mathematical term meaning one or more. It is commonly used in situations where existence can be established but it is not known how to determine the total number of solutions.

One of the three jokes known to Christopher, the protagonist in the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, concerns the preciseness with which mathematicians apply the term “at least one.” As told by Christopher (Haddon 2003, p. 142), the joke runs as follows. “There are three men on a train. One of them is an economist and one of them is a logician and one of them is a mathematician. And they have just crossed the border into Scotland (I don’t know why they are going to Scotland) and they see a brown cow standing in a field from the window of the train (and the cow is standing parallel to the train). And the economist says, ‘Look, the cows in Scotland are brown.’ And the logician says, ‘No. There are cows in Scotland of which at least one is brown.’ And the mathematician says, ‘No. There is at least one cow in Scotland, of which one side appears to be brown.’ And this is funny because economists are not real scientists and because logicians think more clearly, but mathematicians are best.”highland_cow

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