What are the chances of sustaining life at the Sydney Opera House?

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Stephen Bullon sent a link to an article in the Guardian — Ian Sample, "Most threats to humans come from science and technology, warns Hawking", 1/18/2016 — and pointed to a picture caption that reads "Stephen Hawking reflects on the Earth’s chances of sustaining life at the Sydney Opera House / earlier last year".

Stephen's comment:

Seems to me that if you can't sustain life at the Sydney Opera House, the rest of Australia has got no chance.

The picture and caption:

Yet another unfortunate consequence of the lack of vocalized brackets in human languages. It's clear that our species rushed into hierarchical compositionality without adequate planning.



  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 6:38 am

    See "PP attachment ambiguity of the week" (LL, 2/14/15) and links therein for similar cases.

  2. GH said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 9:28 am

    Not to mention the problem with different people having the same name. I took "Stephen's comment" to refer to Hawking, and had a devil of a time figuring out what was going on.

  3. Gavin said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 9:41 am

    See also a violent, shoddy conceptual scheme on the rampage in Scotland.

  4. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

    I had the same problem

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

    "Earlier last year" seems rather suspicious as well. One wonders if the caption was originally composed in December as "earlier this year", and then hastily revised for a January publication date.

  6. Guy said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

    @Gregory Kusnick

    I didn't even notice that. It makes me feel a little bit like the "more people have been to Russia than I have" sentence.

  7. David Morris said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 9:27 pm

    I have been to the SOH a number of times and never encountered any difficulty sustaining life there. Maybe the problem is with the ageing audiences for symphonic concerts and operas.

  8. Rubrick said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 10:47 pm

    Completely off topic, but the phrase "sustaining life" has a whole ocean of added meaning in any context involving Stephen Hawking. That the man is still alive is astonishing. That he's still working borders on the unbelievable.

  9. pj said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 5:43 am

    But the architecture in the picture makes it clear that he's not at the Sydney Opera House* as he thus reflects, so what else could it mean?

    *He's just outside the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, if I'm not much mistaken.

  10. GH said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 8:23 am

    It's a video. Presumably the action moves from Cambridge to Sydney, though it is a bit confusing that the caption and preview image don't match.

  11. Steve Politzer-Ahles said,

    January 21, 2016 @ 1:56 am

    @GH, @Ralph Hickock: same!

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