Saturday, May 9, 2009

...enjoying my dinner ...

Today, rather than a great little quip with the sting of humour, I have a pleasant little anecdote for you to enjoy. It is from Jaki's "intellectual autobiography", and I have heard another version from him directly, which I might reveal at some future time - but this one is a lot of fun, and may be useful to you some day if you are invited to dinner with scientists. Another trick you can use is to sing the "Periodic Table of Elements" song (arranged by Tom Lehrer, as I recall). Such bridge-building tricks are most enjoyable, and I hope our Society will have a special section in our Journal (when it is eventually published) to collect such delights. People laugh at literature, at poems, at plays, and even at music - oh yes: didn't Haydn write the "Surprise" symphony to make the old ladies jump? (I once heard a concerto for vacuum cleaners which... well, I'll save that for another day.) After all, why should science take a back seat when it comes to humour? Let us keep our professionalism and dignity, let us work hard at our tasks - but let us also keep a page in our lab notebooks to record those rare moments where eternal joy shines (or echoes) through the glassware and circuits and equipment...

My gaining a doctor's degree in physics was meant to provide one of the foundations on which to articulate, for over forty years now, this message, which can only irk scientists who think, thematically or not, that science alone counts. Following a lecture of mine at a big engineering university, one of the professors there stood up and said that I came to the wrong place with my message. But I was invited to another such place after a professor there read, to his great astonishment, in The Relevance of Physics Bertrand Russell's admission that what this world, being on the brink of a nuclear holocaust, really needs is Christian love.

Such invitations go usually together with a dinner where half a dozen faculty are also invited. There (I am talking of the engineering university of the Air Force in Dayton) someone at the dinner table began to extol the superiority of science over the humanities. I was able to shift the discourse to the question of whether the scientific method is capable of deciding whether Michelangelo or Renoir was greater as an artist. Suddenly all those professors of engineering and physics found themselves arguing with one another. In doing so they merely proved the fallibility of their presumed artistic competence or the lack of it. Meanwhile I could go enjoying my dinner undisturbed.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter 26]

PS: I will post that quote from Russell next week. It is startling.

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