Sunday, September 9, 2007


Don't worry, this is about jokes, not me telling jokes. I prefer to tell jokes verbally rather than by typing them, so stop running away! Invest in caller ID instead. :)

OK when I was in engineering school, we had a bunch of jokes about engineers versus physicists. And the premise of all of them was the same--that physicists are far smarter than engineers, but they don't have any practical knowledge. So a typical one has the physicist scribbling complex equations all over the log with his pen, while the engineer whips out his leatherman, does a quick "approximation," and saves the day.

Now that I am in physics school, I find that physics people have all the same jokes, only they are recast with physicists versus mathematicians! And once again, the mathematicians are far smarter in theory, but by God, we physicists know how to make the rubber meet the road!

This tells me something very interesting--no one is proud of being smart! They all fancy themselves in such a manner as, "Gee, I'm not very smart, but I can make it work better than that brainiac over there!" Even the smartest people I know say this! What is this? Humility? But why the bragging over the supposed humility? I mean, of course we all know people who are extremely book smart and not smart at all in "the real world." And we all know people who are very, very smart in practical applications but not so good with crunching equations. But in general, higher IQ does lead to higher strengths in both theory and practice, so why do people seem to think that the two are mutually exclusive?

At my second job out of college, I took a class for training technicians, to learn some practical knowledge to round out my engineering knowledge. I was the only engineer and the only woman (further complicating matters) in the class. Now the majority of technicians at this company are very good, very bright, have years of specialized experience, etc, etc. But they took utter, utter delight in gently teasing me about my lack of experience. I didn't even have to pretend to take it good-naturedly; I did naturally, such was the overall gentleness and inoffensiveness of this teasing. But still, years later, I look back and think, what was that all about? If they were so superior to me, why did they feel the need to tease me?

I guess I have to tentatively conclude three things:
1) Everyone admires practicians over theoreticians.
2) Therefore, everyone fancies himself a practician, and teases theoreticians.
3) And yet, the people who are among the very best actual practicians in the world, are not secure enough to resist teasing theoreticians.

How baffling!

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