Crease’s quest: “Has big science killed ‘deep jokes’?”

Robert Crease writes, in Physics World:

…Physics, however, has a tradition of thoughtful joke-telling that uses humorous tales inquisitively – to deepen appreciation of a person, of the world, or of both.

Jokes revealing personal characteristics have covered everything from Albert Einstein’s childlike personality and Niels Bohr’s mystique to Wolfgang Pauli’s famously brutal putdowns. Abraham Pais, for example, heard Paul Dirac enthusiastically tell (on several different occasions) a joke about a priest who is newly appointed to serve a village and is doing the rounds to get to know his parishioners. Calling on one modest home, the priest notices that the woman’s house is full of children, and asks how many children she’s got. “10 – five pairs of twins”, comes the reply. “You mean you always had twins?” asks the astonished priest. “No, Father, sometimes we had nothing.” As Pais put it: “Precision at that level had an immense appeal to Dirac.” …

[And as] Pais, quoting Bohr, once put it, “Some subjects are so serious that one can only joke about them.”

(Thanks to investigator Hugo Hammarberg for bringing part of this to our attention.)