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15 Places You Won’t Believe Have Seen Snow

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Believe it or not, some of the world’s hottest regions have experienced winter blizzards, spring flurries, and even summer snowfalls. Here are 15 sunny places that are, surprisingly, no stranger to the white stuff.

1. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 

WHEN: January 1949

HOW MUCH: More than half an inch of snow covered L.A.’s downtown weather station, and the San Fernando Valley received nearly a foot.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: L.A. has experienced a handful of snowfalls over the decades, but this one lasted for nearly three days. Today, it’s remembered as the greatest recorded winter storm in the city’s history—not exactly a hard distinction to earn, considering it’s only snowed six times in L.A. since 1949, and not once in the past 54 years.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Even though they had to temporarily trade in their shorts and T-shirts for parkas, Californians managed to find humor in the situation. People built sombrero-wearing snowmen, and one hardware store erected a sign that read, “Snow Plows for Rent—Hurry!” The city of Reno, Nevada, even mailed L.A. a snow shovel.

“’The Big Snow of 49,’ we will remark to our wide-eyed grandchildren, “ one local newspaper rhapsodized. “Now that was a snow that really was a snow.” 

2. MUHAFAZAT AL WAFRAH, KUWAIT

WHEN: January 28, 2016

HOW MUCH: A light dusting of snow (if it was, in fact, snow) reportedly fell near a border post in Muhafazat al Wafrah, Kuwait.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Temperatures in Kuwait can dip as low as 36°F during the colder months, but to our knowledge, the tiny Gulf country has never experienced a white winter.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: "I asked my grandfather, he said there has never been snow before," one local man commented to a newspaper. "Everyone is surprised." However, the jury’s still out on whether Kuwait actually experienced its first official snowfall. People shared images and videos of the phenomenon on social media, but none were independently verified. Meanwhile, one meteorologist told an official state news wire service that the “snow” was really hail that had fallen onto wet grounds, forming a layer of ice.

3. MAUNA KEA, HAWAII

WHEN: June 14, 2016

HOW MUCH: A light dusting

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island that stands nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest peak in the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to its elevation, Mauna Kea has a sub-arctic climate zone. It’s no stranger to snow, blizzards, and ice during the winter, but it’s more unusual to see the volcano covered in frozen precipitation during warmer months. That being said, Mauna Kea has experienced summer snow before—once in June 2011, and other incidents that have occurred in July, August, and late May.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Native Hawaiians (and weather experts) know that snow falls on the top of the summits of Hawaii’s three tallest volcanoes—Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Haleakala—several times a year. But others were a little confused, so a weather service explained the science behind the phenomenon in a social media post on June 15, 2016: “Snow on Mauna Kea in June? How common is that?” they wrote.  “Although not common during the summer months, snow can fall and has fallen during the summer. Just last year, the summit saw snow on July 17th. The combination of cooler than normal upper air temperatures and thunderstorms bringing in moisture was what made snow possible yesterday.”

4. SOUTHERN FLORIDA

WHEN: The early morning of January 9, 1977

HOW MUCH: Miami’s beaches received trace amounts of white stuff, and even Homestead, Florida—a suburb that’s only 25 degrees, 28 minutes north of the equator—saw a few flurries. However, the phenomenon was short-lived, and the skies were clear by 9:30 a.m. The precipitation ended up being so slight that the freak occurrence wasn’t even officially recorded as a snow event.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The event marked the first time that steamy South Florida had ever seen snow. There hasn’t been a confirmed instance since—although one meteorologist says she received reports of flurries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in January 2010. (These sightings weren’t officially confirmed by weather services.)

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Teachers allowed students to leave class and run in the snow, and a sanitation company in Pompano Beach playfully put "Free Snow Removal" signs on its garbage trucks. “Born and raised in Florida, I had never seen snow, and I will never forget that day as long as I live," one woman later reminisced to a local newspaper on the event’s 35th anniversary last year.

5. PHOENIX, ARIZONA

WHEN: Two record-breaking instances: January 20, 1933, and January 21-22, 1937

HOW MUCH: 1 inch

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Believe it or not, Arizona isn’t dry as a desert year-round. Come winter, heavy snowfalls often blanket the state’s mountainous north central regions. But snow is almost unheard of in Phoenix—which is why it was so monumental when the metro area received an inch of the white stuff on two separate occasions in the 1930s. Today, these incidents remain in the books as the greatest amounts of snow ever recorded in the region. (Snow fell again in Phoenix in 1998, but only .22 inches of precipitation—and a trace amount of snow—was measured.)

 WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Local newspapers described the 1937 snowfall in dramatic terms: “Winter subjected Arizona to an unrelenting barrage of bitter cold yesterday, sending snow flurries [to] Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma,” one news outlet wrote—even though a subsequent paragraph revealed that only a few flakes fell during the late afternoon and evening, and melted before hitting the ground.

6. GUADELOUPE

WHEN: March 31, 2016

HOW MUCH: : “A very fine snowfall” reportedly covered the hills above the municipality of St. Claude, northeast of the capital city of Basse-Terre, after the region experienced a cold front and accompanying precipitation. 

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Caribbean news outlets claimed it wasn’t an April Fool’s Day Joke: For the first time in recorded history, snow had actually fallen on the tropical French island of Guadeloupe. (We haven’t been able to find accounts by non-locals, so the jury’s still out on whether the alleged phenomenon was actually a prank.)

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: “This has never before been seen in Guadeloupe,” a French meteorologist said on TV. “This is an exceptional event that we will never forget.”

7. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

WHEN: June 28, 1836

HOW MUCH: Up to one inch 

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Overnight rain turned into morning snow, and by 7 a.m. people reported measuring as much as one inch piling on top of rooftops and awnings (although it reportedly melted in an hour). Over the following decades, Sydney reportedly experienced several other snowfalls, but none were as dramatic—or as strange—as the 1836 incident.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Sydney officially become Australia’s first city in 1842. Before that, it was a colony of British settlers and former convicts. According to a local newspaper, the surprised European transplants “were reported to have made light of the unusual occurrence,” a reporter wrote. “Some of the ‘Old hands’ express a hope that their old acquaintances, Messrs. Frost and Snow do not intend emigrating to New South Wales.”

8. ROME, ITALY

WHEN: February 4, 2012

HOW MUCH: Parts of the city were covered in nearly a foot of snow, and even more fell the following day.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Can’t imagine white weather in the Mediterranean? Neither can its inhabitants. This was Rome’s heaviest snowfall since the mid-1980s—and the city was completely unprepared for the chaos it caused. Schools shut down, some commuters took as long as eight hours to arrive home from work, and some 33,000 homes were left without power the next day. Later that week, officials were forced to shut down the Colosseum after they discovered that frozen chunks of its walls were falling off, and the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were closed to tourists.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: One journalist told a Canadian news outlet that Rome’s mayor announced nobody should drive in the snow without snow chains, “which no one has in this city because it never snows,” she said. They did, however, have shovels: Civil protection authorities handed out around 2000 shovels in Rome’s central public squares, and asked locals to lend a hand and help dig the city out.

9. THE SAHARA DESERT

WHEN: February 18, 1979

HOW MUCH: It’s hard to pinpoint an official recorded depth, but the snowstorm reportedly lasted a half-hour and melted within a few hours.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Saharan mountain ranges (which include Chad’s Tibesti Mountains and Algeria’s Ahaggar Mountains) experience snow around every seven years—but this time around, it fell in the city of Ghardaïa, Algeria. The phenomenon marked the first time that snow was ever recorded in the desert’s low altitude areas.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: The snowstorm reportedly caused traffic delays, but we still don’t know if locals complained or used the weather as an excuse to skip work.

10. BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

WHEN: July 9, 2007

HOW MUCH: A front of Antarctic air drifted north, causing normally warm temperatures to dip and precipitation to fall. Newspapers didn’t name an official snow depth, but the soft, wet layer of white stuff covered Buenos Aires and portions of the western highlands.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: According to the national weather service, Buenos Aires hadn’t experienced a major snowstorm since June 22, 1918. (The occasion may have also felt particularly festive because it occurred on Argentina’s independence day holiday.)

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Children pelted each other with snowballs, motorists drove with tiny snowmen on their car hoods, and crowds gathered at the city’s famous Obelisk monument to enjoy the historic weather. "Despite all my years, this is the first time I've ever seen in snow in Buenos Aires," an 82-year-old woman told a newspaper. 

11. BAGHDAD, IRAQ

WHEN: January 11, 2008

HOW MUCH: Flurries (they melted quickly)

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Snow is a regular occurrence in northern Iraq’s mountain regions. In Baghdad? Not so much. Locals reportedly couldn’t agree on when (and even whether) Baghdad had received snow before. Some people said it had never happened whereas others argued snow struck the region once, a little over 40 years prior. Others only remembered occasional rain or hailstorms.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Some people said they’d only seen snow in movies, so they were eager to capture the moment. “I rushed quickly to the balcony to see a very beautiful scene,” said one 19-year-old college student. “I tried to film it with my cell phone camera. This scene has really brought me joy. I called my other friends and the morning turned out to be a very happy one in my life.”

12. SOUTH TEXAS

WHEN: December 24-25, 2004

HOW MUCH: 12.5 inches in Victoria, Texas; 4.4 inches in Corpus Christi, Texas; and 1-3 inches across parts of the Houston metro area.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Forget about white Christmases—South Texas rarely ever gets snow, much less a measurable amount. This was the most snow that the region had seen since the late 1800s, so naturally, it set several historic records: Corpus Christi experienced its heaviest-ever recorded snowstorm, Victoria weathered its greatest 24-hour snowstorm, and the city of Brownsville received its first measurable amount of snow since February 1895.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Nobody believed forecasts calling for snow—so when the storm finally hit, locals had nothing to wear. One man remembers his children playing in the snow, plastic bags taped around their ankles to stay dry. Other people recall snowball fights and snowmen, and refer to the phenomenon as a Christmas miracle.

13. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

WHEN: February 14-15, 1895

HOW MUCH: More than 8 feet

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Big Easy is famous for its bayous and swamps, but it’s also experienced 17 measurable snowfalls since 1852 (including a 1-inch dusting in December 2008).  The city’s greatest snowstorm on record is the 1895 blizzard, which reportedly also caused flurries to fall even further south, in Tampico, Mexico.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Here’s one local newspaper’s account of the wintry weather phenomenon: “For more than 12 hours past snow has fallen here steadily and tonight [evening of February 14] the Crescent City is wrapped in a mantle of white such as she never wore before … Street car service was entirely suspended this afternoon, and the hackmen reaped a harvest, charging unheard of prices for their vehicles.”

14. DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA

WHEN: Weather stations have only officially recorded two instances of snow in Death Valley. The first occurred on January 9 and 11, 1949; the second, on January 4 and 5, 1974. (This isn’t counting four inches of snow that was spotted at an unofficial weather station at Cow Creek, the national park’s employee housing area, on January 12, 1949.) 

HOW MUCH: A trace amount

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: Death Valley is Earth’s hottest place, and North America’s driest. Its average rainfall is less than two inches per year, and temperatures often soar above 120°F (although it does get chillier during the winter months).

15. THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

WHEN: The snowfall began on July 3, 2011, and lasted for several days.

HOW MUCH: Thanks to a rare Antarctic cold front, parts of the arid region received nearly 32 inches of snow.

WHY IT WAS A BIG DEAL: The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, thanks in part to the Andes Mountains and Chilean Coast Range, which naturally block moisture from the region. Parts of the 600-mile-long plateau have never even experienced a recorded rainfall.

WHAT THE LOCALS THOUGHT: Locals of nearby San Pedro de Atacama said the snowstorm was the largest the region had received in three decades. Roads to the city were temporarily blocked, and thousands of people were left without electricity, cell phone service, radio, and food.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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