Saturday, October 29, 2011

Parallel Texts: Feynman and Lichtenberg

Richard Feyman, speaking with a Swedish princess at a dinner connected with the Nobel Prizes, starting with the princess's line::

   "Oh. Well, nobody knows anything about that, so I guess we can't talk about that."
   "On the contrary," I answered, "it's because somebody knows something about it that we can't talk about Physics. It's the things nobody knows anything about that we can discuss. We can talk about the weather; we can talk about social problems; we can talk about psychology; we can talk about international finance--gold transfers we can't talk about, because those are understood--so its the subject nobody knows anything about that we can all talk about!"
    I don't know how they do it. There's a way of forming ice on the surface of the face, and she did it! She turned to talk to somebody else.
 (From Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman.)

Lichtenberg, from The Waste Books, Book E, entry 15:
What? to debate a subject you have to know something about it? It is my view that a debate requires that at least one of the disputants knows nothing of the subject under discussion, and that in a so-called lively debate in its highest perfection neither party knows anything about it or even the meaning of what he is saying. . . . When I was in England, the American question was debated in every ale-house, coffee-house, crossroads and stagecoach, and even in the council of aldermen at whose head Wilkes stood, in accordance with the rules of lively debate; and when some poor simpleton once stood up and suggested that it might be a good thing to examine the subject seriously before coming to a decision, another man expressly objected that this would be a wearisome task and lead them too far astray, and that a decision should be taken without further ado--which, because it was almost dinner time, was the course agreed upon.

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