Ambrose Bierce Punks Richard Feynman

Via Boing Boing, where Maggie Koerth-Baker gave a delightful pointer to this film of Feynman explaining for seven-and-a-half minutes why he can’t really explain why magnets repel each other. Or attract, either.

And trumping him in time and space, Bierce gave us this in 1906:

MAGNET, n.
Something acted upon by magnetism.

MAGNETISM, n.
Something acting upon a magnet.

The two definitions immediately foregoing are condensed from the works of one thousand eminent scientists, who have illuminated the subject with a great white light, to the inexpressible advancement of human knowledge.

One thought on “Ambrose Bierce Punks Richard Feynman

  1. Actually, Feynman is saying something profoundly different from Bierce. Bierce is lying (Okay, it’s the “Devil’s Dictionary” and the Devil is supposed to be the one lying), implying that he can discover the maliciously suppressed absurdity in the received wisdom of respectable scientists. Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and many other political idiots have the same strategy.

    Feynman, on the other hand, is sincerely trying to explain what he knows, and he actually does a decent job. However, at a certain point in the explanation, he would have to start talking about symmetry and antisymmetry of quantum wavefunctions, which are, as he says, like nothing the interviewer is familiar with. The fact that reality is stranger than journalists can imagine is not Feynman’s fault.

    I’m reminded of a better joke than Bierce’s: Mathematicians are like Frenchmen — when you tell them anything, they immediately translate it into their own language, where it means something entirely different.

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