This morning Mrs. Pontiff read me a review out of the New York Times for the film “A Serious Man.” The opening paragraph of the review gives you an idea why she thought it might be relevant to me:
Did you hear the one about the guy who lived in the land of Uz, who was perfect and upright and feared God? His name was Job. In the new movie version, “A Serious Man,” some details have been changed. He’s called Larry Gopnik and he lives in Minnesota, where he teaches physics at a university. When we first meet Larry, in the spring of 1967, his tenure case is pending, his son’s bar mitzvah is approaching, and, as in the original, a lot of bad stuff is about to happen, for no apparent reason.
Cool, a physicist playing Job. But then she read me the second paragraph and it all soured for me:
At work, Larry specializes in topics like Schrödinger’s Paradox and the Heisenberg Principle — complex and esoteric ideas that can be summarized by the layman, more or less, as “God knows.” Because we can’t. Though if he does, he isn’t saying much.
Egads New York Times (okay maybe that should be a singular “egad” given the context) what are you trying to do to this old physics curmudgeon and literature major pedant early in the morning, give him a heart attack?!?
Dear Mr. New York Times reviewer A. O. Scott, the proper words you were looking for here are “Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox” and “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.” If you’re going to take a mocking tone in your review about “complex and esoteric ideas” it would be useful, you know, if you actually got the names of those “complex and esoteric ideas” correct. Second isn’t it sad how a film critic can get away with calling these two ideas “complex”? Compared to what Mr. Scott? Compared to the proof of the PCP theorem? Compared to doing a calculation in quantum field theory? Um, I don’t think so. And finally, because standing on this upside down can is getting kind of wobbly, isn’t it a little presumptuous of you to say that God knows the position and the momentum of a particle? I mean might it be that even God doesn’t know the hidden variables of our universe. Or even, heaven forbid, that there are no such variables, and that *gasp* he is not in control of the universe that he supposedly created?