A theoretical physics joke

21Sep07

I discovered a fun website that allows you to share a `virtual whiteboard’ with other users. I’ll talk about this in my next post. First, I wanted to share one of my favourite theoretical physics jokes. (No offense intended, string students!)

I’ve been told that this joke was told to incoming gradaute students at UCSB. Some explanation for those who don’t get it:

  • In astrophysics (astro-ph), you have the usual case: the more `talented’ you are the more you contribute proportionally.
  • In particle phenomenology (hep-ph), there’s a bit of a plateau, and then the most talented people lead the field.
  • In string theory, knowing absolutely nothing is better than knowing a little bit because at least you won’t waste everyone else’s time publishing `worthless’ papers that they have to sift through. Then there’s Ed Witten, who singlehandedly moves the field forward.

Before anyone gets mad, it’s just a joke!

A serious note: hard work and passion for one’s work makes up for a lot. it makes up for `inherent talent,’ for lack of sleep, for gaps in one’s background, etc.

Also a caveat: the graphs above don’t necessarily reflect the fields accurately! (The Witten delta function may also include a few others,and there may also be a dip from very talented physicsts who do anthropics/statistics on the landscape. … Kidding again!! … sorta… 🙂 )



11 Responses to “A theoretical physics joke”

  1. Apparently there’s a vaguely related dictum in computer programming, which says that adding more programmers to a late project makes it later. (The programmers one can find quickly at that point introduce bugs.)

  2. 2 robert

    Nice one flip. Your detailed exegesis might serve to convince the rest of the world that theorists themselves know that they don’t understand data, without a lot of help. I for one ignored the axes, concluded that the negative excursion in graph three referred to EW’s work on Skyrmions and the like – and thought you (or AZ) a rather cheeky fellow.

  3. 3 Dimitri Terryn

    And bashing againg on the poor stringtheorists…😉

    If this keeps going we’ll have to start organising support groups.

    Although even if it were through, this could be a positive thing. Every starting grad student could make it his life goal “to be a delta DISTRIBUTION” one day😉

    PS : Sorry, but this a pet peeve. There is no such thing as a delta function.

  4. Dimitri — good point, it is indeed a distribution. I’m a bit sloppy with that sort of thing.🙂

  5. Robert — I don’t follow what you’re trying to say about theorists and data.

    Also, I’m taking down a ping-back from a blog which appears to have taken my joke rather too serously and has made some statements about `physics scholasticism’ that I strongly disagree with.

  6. 6 Steffen

    Ah Flip – that’s an old one. Here’s my favourite string theory joke, told by H.Kleinert (who is Zee’s analogue at FU Berlin): String theorists publish so much that their papers get submitted with a speed that’s higher than the speed of light. But there is no conflict with the laws of physics because they also convey no information. (Hopefully this was proper English.)

  7. 7 Dimitri Terryn

    Aha! So I now have an excuse to be slow to publish!

  8. 8 jehan

    or do they????

  9. 9 jehan

    what?????


  1. 1 Witten’s authority « Freedom of Science
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