Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Bet

Imagine the room filled with conference attendees listening carefully to the latest derivation of an approximation of the linear transport equation. It's time for questions. Some attendees don't care but most do not want to really expose their sub-optimal understanding of what was just presented to them. Then, in the back of the room, quite confidently, Paul Zweifel, who minutes ago was outside the room, raises his hand and asks: "What you describe here...does that work with low energy neutrons ?" Paul was conspicuous when he entered the room, so the presenter is a little flabbergasted at first but the crowd can clearly hear a definitive slamdunkish "Yes, Paul'" followed by  "You were not here earlier but there was no assumption about speed, so the derivation also works for these energy levels, Thanks for asking". Sensing that he is losing a bet he just made that one can always ask an insightful question at a presentation one has barely seen, Paul quips back "I guess I wasn't clear but I meant really really low speed neutrons".. Upon hearing those words, the presenter's face quite literally lights up "Oh you mean, ultracold neutrons, well this is interesting because in that case, one can still avoid a full quantum mechanical treatment of the transport equation by replacing this term and .....". The feverish explanation goes on for five extremely long minutes...All agreed Paul won his bet. 

What's the moral of the story ? Everybody has a different set of assumptions,

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