Peano and the cat, and the earth

peanoMore from the history of cats and physics, as explained in the Skull in the Stars blog:

Giuseppe Peano (1858-1932) is not well-known to the general public, but he was a formidable voice and researcher in mathematics, publishing over 200 books and papers during his lifetime….

When Peano encountered the problem of the falling cat in 1894, he immediately saw in it a kindred spirit to the nutating Earth, and began working on mathematics to explain the latter.  Both problems involve an object changing its orientation in space entirely in the absence of external forces, and both problems can be qualitatively explained by internal motions of the object in question.

There is something terribly ironic about Peano’s inspiration: where physicists are normally known for oversimplifying problems — there is the famous joke about approximating a cow by a sphere — Peano went in the other direction, envisioning a sphere as a cat!

In an 1895 paper titled “Sopra lo spostamento del polo sulla terra” (“Concerning the pole shift of the Earth”), Peano presented his own mathematical theory of the phenomenon…

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