Bananas and antibananas SEP 16 2009
This interview with physicist Murray Gell-Mann contains several great moments, but I particularly liked the answer he gave when asked about how great his colleagues were:
I don't put people on pedestals very much, especially not physicists. Feynman [who won a 1965 Nobel for his work in particle physics] was pretty good, although not as good as he thought he was. He was too self-absorbed and spent a huge amount of energy generating anecdotes about himself. Fermi [who developed the first nuclear reactor] was good, but again with limitations-every now and then he was wrong. I didn't know anybody without some limitations in my field of theoretical physics.
I read one such anecdote involving Gell-Mann in a book some years ago:
Richard Feynman, Gell-Mann's chief competitor for the title of the World's Smartest Man but a stranger to pretension, once encountered Gell-Mann in the hall outside their offices at Caltech and asked him where he had been on a recent trip; "Moon-TRAY-ALGH!" Gell-Mann responded in a French accent so thick that he sounded as if he were strangling. Feynman -- who, like Gell-Mann, was born in New York City -- had no idea what he was talking about. "Don't you think," he asked Gell-Mann, when at length he had ascertained that Gell-Mann was saying "Montreal," "that the purpose of language is communication?"