Let ε < 0.

01.14.09

Comparing notes

An experimental physicist had completed an important experiment on the determination of the relationship betwen two physical quantities A and B. He rushed across the campus to the office of a theoretical mathematician who was occupied with the same problem.

“Volodya! I have finished the experiment. A has turned out to be larger than B!”

The mathematician thought about this for a moment before replying.

“This is completely understandable. You didn’t even have to make your experiment, as A must be larger than B for the following reasons…”

“Oh dear,” interuppted the physicist. “Did I really say that A was larger than B? I slipped up — it is B that is larger than A!”

The mathematician thought about this for a moment more before replying.

“Then this is even more understandable, and here is why…”

This joke is adapted from one told by V. Berezinsky in his article “How a theoretical physicist works,” from Paths into the Unknown No 2, 1968.

In fact, according to Berezinsky, it is based off an actual true story involving Ia I Frankel, which is charming in an of itself. According to Berezinsky:

During the 30s, a certain experimenter caught up with him in a corridor and showed him a curve obtained from an experiment. After a minute’s thought Frankel gave an explanation for the form of this curve. However, it was explained that the curve had accidentally been turned upside down. The curve was put into place and having thought it over he explained this behavior too.

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