A physicist loose among the liberal arts

First Solo Flight

It is done. Fertig. Au fait. About 10 people came to my talk, which was one of three in that time slot, so I got my fair share. The audience seemed to like it. The level of glassy-eyed stares in the audience was gratifyingly low. Maybe I’ve learned something about talking to non-scientists since I last taught intro physics.

There was a sardonic remark during the opening plenary session about scientists who stick their noses into areas where they have no expertise. (She meant Fred Hoyle.) Thanks, whoever you were, for setting the bar low for me.  Low bar = no pressure.  (Trust me, that kind of thing has physicists rolling in the aisles with laughter).

I have a bad habit. Over the years, I’ve drifted into a presentation mode of putting graphs up on the screen and improvising the interpretation based on reactions from the audience. That doesn’t work well in a context where (a) they’re expecting me to read from a carefully-written paper, and (b) they’re not waiting to pounce on the slightest error in my Ansatz.  Consequently, I said “um” a lot more than I should have. Next time, I’m just going to read the paper and see what happens.

In the question period, we had a pleasant discussion.  Almost everyone had something to contribute.  Kara Samborsky [1] pointed out that, while I’d been treating the parochialism of hobbits as a running joke through my talk, the Brexit vote seems to indicate that staying where you came from is a serious characteristic of the English. Her observation jibes awesomely well with James Cheshire’s results — the West Midlands (i.e., the trustworthy hobbits) had the highest percentage of “Leave” votes of any region in England. I thought I was giving a science/literature talk, not a current-events/literature talk!

One more “thank you” to everyone who came.  Based on their responses, I need to make some tweaks to the paper before I publish it.  The good thing about that is that I can give another presentation of the revised version.  (In conformance with Arrow’s Other Theorem.)

[1] The blog takes no responsibility for misspellings of Slavic names in the Latin alphabet.


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  1. Given that hobbit maps tend to have empty white spaces around the borders of the Shire, and that their information on the outside world seems to derive mostly from dwarves passing through, one could argue that the hobbits already have exited the larger world (Shexit?), unless one argued that they were never part of it to begin with.

    I wonder how much Tolkien thought about the relations between the Shire and Arthedain. We know of course that they asked the permission of Argeleb II to settle there (TA 1601-30), and that they twice sent archers to support Arthedain against Angmar (TA 1974-75, App A).

    Consider the statement, again in App. A, that ‘They chose a Thain to take the place of the King, and were content; though for a long time many still looked for the return of the king. But at last that hope was forgotten, and remained only in the saying “When the King comes back”, used of some good that could not be achieved, or of some evil that could not be amended.” ‘

    There’s some interesting hints there. They felt the need of at least a nominal ruler; they seemed to feel that they had derived some benefit from having a king, enough that the king’s return was long hoped for; and the proverbial saying indicates that they remembered the king as one who provided what was good and repaired what was evil. This could point to a far more active and intimate connection between the Shire and the kingdom around it than we might have guessed, given the Shire’s millennium of isolation before the War of the Ring the attitudes of most of the Shirefolk at that time, and Aragorn’s subsequent ‘keep out’

    So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the world left them rather than they left it.

    • Joe

      I know a lot of towns in the rural USA that have that feel, and in many of them the residents like it that way.

      Definitely you’ve opened up a lode of applicability here. Thinking of the West Midlands with respect to the UK, or the UK with respect to the EU, or Europe with respect to the UN — there’s something here to contribute to all those analyses, though it doesn’t always point the same direction.

      Dominic Nardi to the white courtesy phone, please!

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