The Sorrow of Physicists

 

On occasion I have taken Physics toys to work. Sometimes they make life easier. The infrared pyrometer is useful. Sometimes they are just cool or distract from the amount of time it takes to accomplish things.

The utility and beauty of such objects leads one to hubris.

The physicist shouts to the world, ‘Physics has the best toys!’

Chemists smile sadly and whisper, ‘Alcohol.’

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Ithaka

Ithaka

by

C.P. Cavafy.

As you set out for Ithaka,

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

angry Poseidon — don’t be afraid of them:

you never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when —

with what pleasure, what joy —

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind,

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Passing the Turing Test

In my lifelong effort to pass the Turing test I have developed a few techniques. I often great strangers with ‘What do you think?’ It is a subtle compliment. How many people’s thoughts are actually worth hearing? It is an invitation to a conversation more interesting than the weather.

It is, however, generally a failure. The most common response is ‘I don’t think!’ or ‘They don’t pay me to think.’ This demands a reply. ‘No one pays you for the best things in life.’ is too clumsy. After a bit of work I settled on a reply.

When I am told ‘I never think.’ I widen my eyes and say in as impressed voice as I can muster: ‘Are you a Senator?’