A Talk with Dennis Overby

Leon Lederman,
Jeremy Bernstein

(Most recent — top)

From: Leon Lederman
Date: April 2, 2001

Brockman is now really over the edge but in consideration of all his past service, I try a serious answer. Both sex and physics fill our daily existence with the expectation of enthrallment from the fantasy of an exchange of miniglances when walking on a crowded street to the working out of an ugly integral or the squooshing of the last bug in the data acquisition software. The physics parallel to the culmination in the act of sex as best I can remember, is the moment of discovery...when you alone come into important new knowledge, usually at three AM in the quiet time. If heavy breathing and sweaty palms are common indicators....well, I have three stories off the top to illustrate the essay:

(1) "What", asked Professor Schmidt, "comes between Fear and Sex? Give up? Funf, dumkopf!"

(2) "Is it better to have a wife or a mistress?" asked Pierre. "Both", said the physicist. When your wife thinks you are with the mistress and the mistress believes you are with the wife, you can be happily in the lab, doing physics.

(3) 'Meet me in one hour.", said the CERN physicist's wife at the door of the hairdresser. So the physicist strolls the streets of Geneva and sees a lovely blond staring helplessly under the hood of a green Porche. "Can I help?", he offers. He fixes it but the need to wash his greasy hands leads to a cup of tea and a romp in bed, terminated by a "Oh, my God!". He dresses, grabs his jacket, borrows chalk from his new friend, rubs it in the coat and runs to the hour late! He explains: "there was this cute blond with a Porche and I fixed it but had to wash my hands and so we went up and one thing lead to another and...". "Just a minute", the wife interrupts, "turn around. You liar you went to CERNB and did physics!"

From Jeremy Bernstein
Date: April 2, 2001

I won't comment on the central point; i.e. sex and physics, except to say I found the overall tone a little flippant. But here are three points:

1. "Of course the answer turns out to be that you can't go that fast..." Of course that is not the answer. The answer is that the speed of light in vacuum is the same for every observer in relative uniform motion. If this were not true and you could only go say half the speed of light you would still have similar paradoxes.

2. Actutally Einstein's grades in both highschool and at the ETH were quite good. Rabi once told me that at a New Years Eve party in Princeton Einstein brought out his old report cards and Rabi was surprised by the good marks.

3. The notion that Planck and "the Germans" had decided that the "quantum stuff" Einstein had been pushing for the last ten years was really hot stuff" — note the tone — is total nonsense. In fact in his letter of recommendation to the Prussian academy Planck urged that Einstein's quantum hypothesis not be held against him! and that he receive the appointment despite it. See Folsing, eg, p.328.


| Top |