Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Physics Lectures

I picked up a great story from O'Reilly Radar.

After winning the Nobel prize, Max Planck went around Germany giving talks. His chauffeur heard the talk so many times that he had it by heart, and so one time, he asked Max Planck if he could give the address. Planck agreed, they changed places, and the lecture came off famously. But then came the Q&A, with the very first question being one that the chauffeur had no hope of answering. The chauffeur replied: 'I'm surprised to hear such an elementary question on high energy physics here in Munich. It's so simple, I'll let my chauffeur answer it.'

My brother used to be an academic at ETH, the famous Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Once, after giving a guest lecture he was asked a question he couldn't understand, "I'm sorry I have no idea what you mean", he replied.

His interlocutor tried a follow up. Vince was still genuinely baffled and perhaps a little uncomfortable, yet afterwards several people quietly, and individually, approached him to thank him for putting down a notorious bore, hair-splitter, and obfuscator. "I've been waiting to see that bugger put in his place for years", said one. Dr. Browne's genuine bewilderment having come across as withering scorn.

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