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Title: Fish Tales

Abstract

This talk is about fishing and the friendships that have resulted in its pursuit. It is also about theoretical physics, and the relationship of imagination and fantasy to the establishment of ideas about nature. Fishermen, like theoretical physicists, are well known for their inventive imaginations. Perhaps neither are as clever as sailors, who conceived of the mermaid. If one doubts the power of this fantasy, one should remember the ghosts of the many sailors who drowned pursuing these young nymphs. An extraordinary painting by J. Waterhouse is shown as Fig. 1. The enchantment of a mermaid must reflect an extraordinary excess of imagination on the part of the sailor, perhaps together with an impractical turn of mind. A consummated relationship with a mermaid is after all, by its very nature a fantasy incapable of realization. To a theoretical physicist, she is symbolic of many ideas we develop. There are many truths known to fisherman in which one might also find parallels to the goals of scientists: (1) A fish is the only animal that keeps growing after its death; (2) Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught; (3) ''...of all the liars among mankind, the fisherman is themore » most trustworthy.'' (William Sherwood Fox, in Silken Lines and Silver Hooks); and (4) Men and fish are alike. They both get into trouble when they open their mouths. These quotes may be interpreted as reflecting skepticism regarding the honesty of fisherman, and probably do not reflect adequate admiration for a creative imagination. Is it fair to criticize a person for believing a falsehood that he or she sincerely believes to be true? The fisherman simultaneously invents the lie, and believes in it himself. The parallel with theoretical physics is perhaps only approximate, although we physicists may invent stories that we come to believe, on some rare occasions our ideas actually correspond to a more or less true descriptions of nature. These minor philosophical differences are not really the central issue, however. It is more to the point that both fishermen and scientists enjoy creating a good story, and we also enjoy a story well told. The correct mixture of truth, lie, fantasy and excitement is a witches brew.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY (BNL)
Sponsoring Org.:
DOE - Office Of Science
OSTI Identifier:
992122
Report Number(s):
BNL-94036-2010-CP
R&D Project: PPO-006; KB0301020; TRN: US1007682
DOE Contract Number:
DE-AC02-98CH10886
Resource Type:
Conference
Resource Relation:
Conference: Lake Baikal Summer School on Theoretical Particle Physics and Astrophysics; Bolshy, Koty, Irkutsk, Russia; 20100706 through 20100714
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
73 NUCLEAR PHYSICS AND RADIATION PHYSICS; 79 ASTROPHYSICS, COSMOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY; ASTROPHYSICS; CULTURAL OBJECTS; EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES; LAKE BAIKAL; MIXTURES; PHYSICS

Citation Formats

McLerran, L. Fish Tales. United States: N. p., 2010. Web.
McLerran, L. Fish Tales. United States.
McLerran, L. 2010. "Fish Tales". United States. doi:. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/992122.
@article{osti_992122,
title = {Fish Tales},
author = {McLerran, L.},
abstractNote = {This talk is about fishing and the friendships that have resulted in its pursuit. It is also about theoretical physics, and the relationship of imagination and fantasy to the establishment of ideas about nature. Fishermen, like theoretical physicists, are well known for their inventive imaginations. Perhaps neither are as clever as sailors, who conceived of the mermaid. If one doubts the power of this fantasy, one should remember the ghosts of the many sailors who drowned pursuing these young nymphs. An extraordinary painting by J. Waterhouse is shown as Fig. 1. The enchantment of a mermaid must reflect an extraordinary excess of imagination on the part of the sailor, perhaps together with an impractical turn of mind. A consummated relationship with a mermaid is after all, by its very nature a fantasy incapable of realization. To a theoretical physicist, she is symbolic of many ideas we develop. There are many truths known to fisherman in which one might also find parallels to the goals of scientists: (1) A fish is the only animal that keeps growing after its death; (2) Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught; (3) ''...of all the liars among mankind, the fisherman is the most trustworthy.'' (William Sherwood Fox, in Silken Lines and Silver Hooks); and (4) Men and fish are alike. They both get into trouble when they open their mouths. These quotes may be interpreted as reflecting skepticism regarding the honesty of fisherman, and probably do not reflect adequate admiration for a creative imagination. Is it fair to criticize a person for believing a falsehood that he or she sincerely believes to be true? The fisherman simultaneously invents the lie, and believes in it himself. The parallel with theoretical physics is perhaps only approximate, although we physicists may invent stories that we come to believe, on some rare occasions our ideas actually correspond to a more or less true descriptions of nature. These minor philosophical differences are not really the central issue, however. It is more to the point that both fishermen and scientists enjoy creating a good story, and we also enjoy a story well told. The correct mixture of truth, lie, fantasy and excitement is a witches brew.},
doi = {},
journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = 2010,
month = 7
}

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