On the difference between theory and practice

I try to claim that I was friends with the genius Richard Feynman. He came to our show a few times and was very complimentary, and I had dinner with him a couple times, and we chatted on the phone several times. I\’d call him to get quick tutoring on physics so I could pretend to read his books.

No matter how much I want to brag, it\’s overstating it to call him a friend. I would never have called him to help me move a couch. I did, however, call him once to ask how we could score some liquid nitrogen for a Letterman spot we wanted to do. He was the only physicist I knew at the time. He explained patiently that he didn\’t know. He was a theoretical physicist and I needed a hands-on guy, but he\’d try to find one for me.

About a half-hour later a physics teacher from a community college in Brooklyn called me and said, \”I don\’t know what kind of practical joke this is, but a Nobel Prize-winning scientist just called me here at the community college, gave me this number, and told me to call Penn of Penn & Teller to help with a Letterman appearance.\”

6 thoughts on “On the difference between theory and practice”

  1. “He was a theoretical physicist and I needed a hands-on guy”: they are quite different beasties. Except Newton, of course. But almost everything about Newton was exceptional. He was even a first rank mathematician too. Whether he was a top class alchemist and religious nutcase I don’t know. Top class Master of the Mint, I imagine.

  2. I can actually imagine Dick Feymann and Penn Jillette being great pals. They seem to share both a visceral dislike of BS and a wicked sense of humour. Read Feynmann’s “Same guy” story about the safes at Los Alamos, and picture Penn doing it instead.

  3. dearieme: Newton was certainly quite an adept religious nutcase. You may recall he was into the book of Daniel, the Apocalypse and other, similar biblical texts. Fine in balance with everything else, but of course rather more dangerous if taken on their own.

  4. I’ve always treasured ‘Feynmann’s Law on Successfully Picking Up Women in Bars’: Never buy them anything; not a drink, not even a cigarette. He didn’t know why it worked, but it did. (At least for him.)

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