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Physics + MathPhysics & Math

Why Physics Needs Humor

Discover the seriously silly antics of some of the greatest minds in physics.

ByPaul HalpernThe Nature of RealityThe Nature of Reality

Know a good physics joke? Here’s a variation of one I heard in graduate school. (Be kind: We were grad students, not comedians.)

James Clerk Maxwell and Michael Faraday were traveling together on the Caledonian Express. Outside it was pouring rain. Maxwell pointed to a fellow in a red cap and uniform standing near an open window.

“That trainman is incompetent,” Maxwell said. “He collects nary a ticket and calls out the wrong names for all the stations. Mostly all he does it is lean against the window with his eyes shut. What a disgrace to the railway!”

Suddenly a flash of lightning entered the carriage through the window and hit the trainman directly. The current bounced right off of him and leapt to the floor. Miraculously, the man was completely unscathed.

“How did he survive?” asked an astonished Faraday.

“Aye, that’s simple,” said Maxwell. “He’s a bad conductor.”