Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
It's funny.  Laugh. Science

So You Think Physics is Funny? 926

mzs writes "I just found this article in PhysicsWorld by Robert P. Crease detailing some of the 'better' physics jokes that readers sent him in response to an earlier article. Read about why the elements of magnetic flux are hard to understand or about the sexual adventures of Alice and Bob in a bar. Let's use the comments for this article to list more jokes from our technical professions which are funny but not necessarily to those outside of the field. I will close with this gem from the article: 'What's new?' 'E over h.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

So You Think Physics is Funny?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:12PM (#7641468)
    The best physics humour ever
    Points of View: December 2003

    Robert P Crease selects the funniest jokes about physics and physicists from his readers' poll

    Three months ago I asked readers of Physics World to contribute samples of new physics jokes, fresh forms of physics wit, or cases of "found humour" in physics (see "So you think physics is funny?"). I received about 200 replies, including jokes in several languages, stories, Photoshop creations, video clips and links to science cartoon databases.

    I was also contacted by a representative of BBC Radio Five Live, who claimed to be interested in having me talk about physics humour late one night. My subsequent negative experience - I hope nobody was awake to hear it - illustrates an important lesson about science humour.

    Outsiders don't get it
    When I was first hooked up, the show's host Dotun Adebayo was finishing a segment on dirty bombs, treating the expert being interviewed with deference and respect. When that concluded, he said something like: "And now for something completely different!" That should have alerted me that I was bring set up.

    Adebayo retold some jokes from my column in Physics World - accompanied by a conspicuously too-loud laugh track - then asked me to explain the jokes. Stupidly, I complied. Too late, it dawned on me that while some aspects of science, such as safety and health, are sacred to outsiders, other parts are simply targets for ridicule. Professional humour is one. The point of the programme was to laugh, not at jokes, but at physicists for their supposedly mechanical and cerebral wit.

    The lesson was that I should have resisted. Being jousted, I should have jousted back - perhaps with the aid of a simple jest. "I can't explain these jokes to you, Dotun, they're only for smart people!" I should have said. "But try this one: did you hear about the restaurant NASA is starting on the Moon? Great food, no atmosphere! Still with me, Dotun? Shall I slow down?" (Thanks to Larry Bays from the Los Alamos National Laboratory for that joke.)

    My Five Live experience reminded me of two other cases of comedians appropriating professional humour. One is a recent New Yorker article in which Woody Allen couches everyday anxiety-provoking experiences (being late for work, trying to seduce someone) in language borrowed from physics. A typical sentence runs: "I could feel my coupling constant invade her weak field as I pressed my lips to her wet neutrinos." Allen lumbers across a whole page in this meant-to-be-cute vein. Don't abandon that film career, Woody.

    The other comedian to have tackled professional humour is Steve Martin, who tells his audience that he has worked up a joke about wrenches because a convention of plumbers is in town that night. The punchline, when it eventually comes, is: "It says sprocket, not socket!" When the supposedly expected guffaws fail to materialize, Martin feigns puzzlement. "Were those plumbers supposed to be here this show?" he asks. Now that brings laughs.

    These episodes illustrate a mixture of ways in which outsiders can appropriate the technical vocabulary of a profession for humorous purposes. Allen uses the poetic suggestiveness of technical terms (coupling, weak field and so on) for good-natured fun; his sentences do not make sense if you are an insider and go only by the words. Martin makes fun out of our not being insiders and not understanding the words. Radio Five Live made fun of the insiders themselves: the fact that they do understand the words.

    Humour, anthropologists tell us, is a flexible tool for managing the social environment. It can be used to draw people in by sharing, to keep people away by intimidating, to build charisma, to impress, to entertain, to relieve tension, to test and challenge oneself and others. But it is an especially useful tool in science, and particularly physics, precisely because it engages, fosters and celebrates the same values that the field itself depends on - namely cleverness, play and
  • Already dead :P (Score:4, Informative)

    by dema ( 103780 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:15PM (#7641496) Homepage
    Google cache [] to the rescue!
  • Re:Protons (Score:1, Informative)

    by itsari ( 703841 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:32PM (#7641728) Homepage
    Physics it the science to end all science.
    Yes it is chemistry, but it is physics, too.
  • Re:group theory (Score:2, Informative)

    by spongman ( 182339 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:33PM (#7641744)
    commutativity (ie A.B = B.A) is not a requirement for groups, but an abelian group is a group whose elements are also commutative over the relation.
  • Re:Neils Bohr (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:39PM (#7641814)
    Full account here []
  • Re:Neils Bohr (Score:2, Informative)

    by gnalle ( 125916 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:41PM (#7641844)
    The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel Prize for physics.

    Aage Bohr [] also won the Nobel price of physics.

  • Re:E over h? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ptr2void ( 590259 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @04:46PM (#7641915)

    There's more than two formulas in physics :-)

    The energy of a photon is E = h f (or E = h nu)

    The relation between wavelength and frequency is c = lambda f.

  • Re:Neils Bohr (Score:4, Informative)

    by Yokaze ( 70883 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:02PM (#7642158)
    Actually it is not a joke, but a funny anecdote []. And it was a barometer.
  • Re:Math joke (Score:2, Informative)

    by SamSim ( 630795 ) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:05PM (#7642209) Homepage Journal
    For a mathematician, this actually a very, very funny joke. Basically, the Banach-Tarski theorem says that you can take a unit sphere...

    "Cut it up" into six pieces...

    Rearrange the pieces...

    And get TWO unit spheres - BOTH identical to the original. The proof hinges on the fact that the six "pieces" concerned are so complicated and "jaggedy" that they cannot be said to have an absolute volume. More information here [].

  • Re:Funny? Yes. (Score:1, Informative)

    by mr100percent ( 57156 ) * on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:31PM (#7642533) Homepage Journal
    186,000 miles/second


    299792458 meters/second

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:18PM (#7643086)
    but that joke was originally about the marines vs the army and air force.
  • Heisenberg (Score:3, Informative)

    by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Saturday December 06, 2003 @02:54AM (#7646068) Homepage
    If each universe is unique to the observer, does that mean we have as many universes as their are quantum particles? How do those universes stay so closely collaborated that we can all observe the same initial condition to start from?

    Depends how metaphysically you mean that. I say not. There is one universe, but an effectivelty infinite number of ways to observe it. Are two different observations of the same universes tantamount to having different universes? I dunno. This ties in directly to the old Eastern proverb of "If a tree falls in a forest...".

    What constitutes an "observer"?

    I'll change the question somewhat. An observer is you. You (presumably) don't perturb the system. But any *observation* regarding the system that gives you information by definition must have interacted with the system, and vice versa. This gives the possibility that the system changed in significant ways during the time you made the measurements. Thus, it's observations, not observers, that matters. A subtle distinction.

    Classic example is if I'm determining the position of an electron. How would I do that? Presumably with a series of photons, which I would aim at the general area where the electron might be. When one bounced back, I could calculate where the electron was. But there's a problem - depending on the wavelength of light I use, the measurement is imprecise, and there is a standard error of half a wavelength. So, with visible light, I can only get to within, say, a few hundred nanometers. Not good.

    What do I do to fix the problem? Go with light of a shorter wavelength. Say x-rays. Now, we're down to the Angstrom level. Lots more accurate.

    Now Heisenberg comes in to play. So let's say I've determined the position of the electron with near infinite accuracy using a short wavelength and thus extremely high energy photon. Since I determined the position of the electron by bouncing this electron off of it, what happened to the electron? Well, I sure blasted the hell out of it with those x-rays. So I effectively know nothing about its momentum.

    So, to more accurately measure position, I have to do something to the system which ultimately makes measuring momentum impossible. There are a number of variable pairs like this - Energy and time, for instance. Basically, variable pairs like this have units that multiply into Energy*time. (momentum is distance, momentum is Energy*time/distance).

    Going back to the cat, it's effectively a system that exists in one of two valid states, which can be easily perturbed. Doing anything to the system that tells you its state can also change its state. But Schrodinger wasn't talking about HUP, really, although the two concepts are inexorably linked. If he were, he would have said something like, if you determine 100% whether it's dead, you can no longer know whether it's a Tabby or a Persian any longer. What he was actually elucidating is the following: a state that is a superposition (ie, weighted average essentially) of all valid states is, in quantum, also a valid state, and is the only thing that can be assumed in an unperturbed system. Hence, "alive and dead" is a valid state, because "alive" and "dead" are. See more Here [] regarding superposition.

    Actually, that last statement is a tad off but I'm not writing a textbook. If anyone wants to call me on it, please do so I can put more people with physics abilities on my friends list. ;)

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"