Against all odds, the country bumpkins of Bear Creek Elementary School, lost somewhere in the middle of Appalachia, win
the National Prize in Science. Their project consisted in discovering the 12th dimension, something the mathematical
physicists had been searching for without success since String Theory pushed Quantum Mechanics aside. As part of the
spoils of inter-school competition, celebrities of Mathematical Physics present and past converge upon the rural town to
honor the students. The spotlights of the world are on them. The press is there. The television crews from every three letter
broadcasting company in the world is there. Stephen Hawking is there and Kip Thorne is there. Richard Feynman is there,
and so are Penrose, Wheeler, and Glashow. So many have come that the entire local population, students and panel included,
gather at the football field where a makeshift podium has been set up. Ms. Jones, the host and 6th Grade teacher, greets the
Ms. Jones: "Oh, we're so exited that all of you have come, and I confess that it’s a personal dream come true. I speak for the
students when I say how thrilled we are to have you here today. I’m so nervous that I think that I’ll just go ahead and start the
ball rolling without further adieu. We had initially planned a traditional shindig, with potluck and square dancing at the gym,
but the students voted and decided instead to have a field day where they would ask our illustrious guests some questions
about fundamental Physics. They decided they would rather take the opportunity to get answers to questions that they don't
understand very well rather than waste the occasion on a frivolous party. I think this is a marvelous turn of events, don't you?
So, if there are no objections, I ask that all our guests shout 'yes'."
The crowd roars with a mighty 'yes'.
Ms. Jones: "Okay. Since it appears that there are no objections, let's get on with it. Let's have some fun and learn from this
body of scholars, these men of learning who have come here today from all over the world to honor our school. The first
person to come to the microphone is our star student Johnny Smith. He will ask a question and then other students will
Johnny: "Yeah. If I may, I would like to ask a question to Professor Hawking. Dr. Hawking, in your book, A Brief History of Time,
I couldn’t find a definition of the word time, which is what your book is about. You have a glossary at the end of the book, but
I couldn’t find the definition of time there either. Can you please tell me what you mean by time?"
Stephen Hawking: "Oh dear! Hmmm. That's rather a toughy. We don't really have a formal definition of time, but let's see if we
can say something about how we measure it..."
The crowd senses that Hawking is in trouble and students begin to whisper and move uncomfortably in their seats. Many are
smirking. The distinguished British visitor also realizes that he's in trouble and tactfully shifts the spotlight from himself to
relieve the pressure: "...but perhaps Dr. Davies sitting here next to me can provide a more formal answer. He has written a
book about time too, you know. Dr. Davies?"
Paul Davies: " Well... uh... thank you Stephen... I uh... This is a little unexpected... ha, ha... But uh... It's a pleasure to be here
with y'all... ha, ha. Mmmmh. That's really Texas talk, huh? Maybe I should have said Hee Haw, ha, ha, ha... Hmmm. Time?
What is time? Well... Mmmmhhh..."
The crowd gets impatient. The eerie silence generates goose bumps. Davies also gets the message.
Paul Davies: "Well... uh... time...? Mmmmh? Yes...? Well... It is a little bit embarrassing, but I must confess that we don't really
know what time is."
Johnny: " Well then, how can we talk about space-time and all these dimensions and be certain that our theories are correct
if we don't know the basics? Isn't time a fundamental part of space-time and relativity theory?
Ms. Jones: "Johnny. (Whispering) You're embarrassing our guests in front of the networks. (Clearing her voice in the mike)
Mmmmh Mmmmmh! Next student, please. Sally Hatfield... Sally... please..."
Sally Hatfield: "I have a question for Dr. Feynman. Mr. Feynman, we use the word energy to answer many questions in
Physics. My daddy pays for energy every month. Dr. Einstein said that he could convert it into mass. Could you tell me what
Richard Feynman: "Ah... yes... energy! That wonderful word. Yes. Well... To tell you the truth, uh, ... How can I put this, Sally?
It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is." (p. 4-1) 
An anonymous physicist in the crowd stands up and says...
Sally? Just to add a little to Dr. Feynman's eloquent synthesis, " Energy is so fundamental that it is not easily defined in terms
of anything more fundamental. For a general audience, rather than worrying about the details of a formal definition, it is far
easier and far more useful to understand what energy does in various situations. This is called the ‘energy is as energy does’
school of thought." 
Sally Hatfield: "It sounds to me more like the 'I don't know' school of thought!"
The crowd roars with laughter!
Sally Hatfield continues: So you're telling us that you don't know what energy is? Then, what is my daddy paying for every
month? What are we getting for our money? What turns the light on in my bedroom? Nothing?"
Richard Feynman: "Well... uh... that's a good question, Sally. I am a little bit embarrassed, but I must confess that... the more
you see how strangely Nature behaves, the harder it is to make a model that explains how even the simplest phenomena
actually work. So theoretical physics has given up on that." 
Sally Hatfield: " I'm disappointed in all of you. I can't believe that you can't answer a simple question."
Ms. Jones: "SALLY!"
A great murmur spreads like a wave through the crowd and Feynman's face turns red like a tomato.
Ms. Jones: "Thank you, for sharing that with us, Sally. (Whispering: Let go of the microphone, Sally!) Next student please.
Joey Springfield: "I have a question for any of our guests. I would like to know what mass is. As I understand it, mass is the
quantity of matter of a substance and different from weight. Can anyone help me?"
Marshall Brain "mass is defined as the measure of how much matter an object or body contains – the total number of
subatomic particles (electrons, protons and neutrons) in the object." 
John Wheeler: "I'm sorry to contradict you publicly, Marshall, and I'll be blunt. You have no idea what you're talking about!
Nature does not offer us any concept as ‘the amount of matter.’ History has struck down every proposal to define such a
term. Even if we could count number of atoms or by any other counting method try to evaluate amount of matter, that
number would not equal mass." (p. 248) 
Christoph Schiller: "He's absolutely right, folks... What is mass? What is matter? General relativity does not provide an
answer; in fact, it does not describe matter at all. Einstein used to say that the left-hand side of the field equations,
describing the curvature of space-time, was granite, while the right-hand side, describing matter, was sand. Indeed, at this
point we still do not know what matter and mass are." 
|Kids have a field day with
Copyright © by Nila Gaede 2008
|I think we'd better get out
of here. This lynch mob
doesn't seem to be very
happy with the snake oil
we peddled here.
The crowd: "YEAH! ICE CREAM! "
Ms. Jones: "Okay now... Next student. Harry Stanley."
Before Harry can ask his question, a little man with white hair hobbles down the field. Everyone recognizes him and the
crowd begins to stand up. Many of the celebrities pull out their cameras to record the once-in-a-lifetime scene. Others take
off their hats as a sign of respect. It is Albert Einstein. He has arrived a bit late.
Harry Stanley: "I was going to ask Dr. Glashow a question, but I would rather address a different question to Dr. Einstein,
now that he's here, if I may."
Ms. Jones: "Yes. Go ahead, Harry. I don't think that Dr. Einstein would mind. Would you, Dr. Einstein?"
Albert Einstein: “ No. Not at all. First, I vant to apologize for being late. Please understand. I have a bit of black hole lag. I
came through the time tunnel this morgen and there was a terrrrible accident at the 131st Vormhole pinch-off. It was awful.
A voman had her legs on Monday, but her Kopf was alrrready on Tuesday. She probably keyed in the wrrrrong time
coordinates. So now, vat is your qvestion, Harry?"
Harry Stanley: "Dr. Einstein, in 1919, Dr. Eddington confirmed your theory that says that the path of light is deflected as it
travels around stars. Does this mean that light consists of particles?
Albert Einstein: "Before I answer your qvestion, Harry, I would like to say that: Meine theory iz corrrrect. Dr. Eddington
confirmed that and there is nothing more to argue."
Niels Bohr: "I’ll field that question if you don’t mind, Dr. Einstein."
Albert Einstein: "Not at all, Niels. Go right ahead. You always had all the answers anyways. Keine Problem."
Niels Bohr: "Thank you, Al. Hmmhh. Hmmhh... The quantum postulate forces us to adopt a new mode of description
designated as complementary in the sense that any given application of classical concepts precludes the simultaneous
use of other classical concepts which in a different connection are equally necessary for the elucidation of phenomena." 
The crowd: "Huh? You what?"
Carl Oseen: "What Dr. Bohr is saying is... that light is at once a wave motion and a stream of corpuscles. Some of its
properties are explained by the former supposition, others by the second. Both must be true." 
Harry Stanley: "But how can it be both? Does light change back and forth from particle to wave and to particle again?
How does Quantum Mechanics live with this contradiction?"
Richard Feynman: " I think I can safely say that no-one understands quantum mechanics, Harry... Do not keep asking
yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, but how can it be like that?… Nobody knows how it can be like that... " 
Niels Bohr: " There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find
out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature... If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked
you, you haven't understood it yet." 
Harry Stanley: "So are you shocked by it Dr. Bohr? If so, why can't you answer my simple question?"
Bohr mumbles something to himself and shrugs his shoulders. The crowd is now really getting pissed.
Ms. Jones rushes to the microphone fearing that it won't be long before things get out of hand. "And now Terry Holden...
I think has a question for um... um... yes... for Dr. Linde, I believe. Terry?
Terry Holden (now in a condescending tone): "Yeah. 'Doctor' Linde. I have a question for you. Maybe one that someone
can finally answer. Could you tell us what a force is?"
Andrei Linde: "Well, that's easy. A force is something particles carry around with them wherever they go. It's like a credit
card, ha, ha. Don't leave home without it!"
Terry Holden: "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that, mister. Maybe I just heard wrong. Could you repeat your answer?"
Sheldon Glashow: "You see, Terry. Forces are interactions that particles carry wherever they go, for instance... the photon
is the carrier particle of the electromagnetic interaction... the gluon is the carrier particle of the strong interaction... and so
on..."  "All four of the fundamental forces involve the exchange of one or more particles." 
William Kaufmann: "Allow me to add that the weak force occurs when particles exchange intermediate-vector bosons, the
gravitational force occurs when particles exchange gravitons, and quarks stick together by exchanging gluons." (p. 584) 
Terry Holden: " Quarks stick together by throwing rocks at each other? Particles carry forces? Do you folks take us for
hillbillies? I'm starting to think that all of you people are off your rocker!"
The entire stadium suddenly goes mute, and the scholars look all around wondering what the ominous silence means for
them. Something doesn't seem right...
Ms. Jones now gives up completely and doesn't even attempt to fight it anymore. She steps to the microphone with a shrug
in her shoulders and without any fanfare introduces Jeffrey Lane. "Jeffrey?"
Jeffrey Lane (in a facetious mood): "Yeah. I was wondering if any our 'ill us trious' guests can tell me what a field is?"
Brian Greene: "That's an easy one. A field is the presence of a physical quantity at every point in space." 
Jeffrey Lane: "Well I know for a fact that you are wrong there mister!"
Brian Greene: "But it's true, Jeffrey. A field is usually represented mathematically by scalar, vector and tensor fields." 
Jeffrey Lane: "Nope! A field is something else, sir... A field is where the cows poop... and where we picked these rotten
Suddenly, an egg smashes flat in Bohr's face. He hasn't finished wiping the slimy yolk off his nose when a head of cabbage
bangs Werner Heisenberg on the forehead, knocking the quantum scholar over backwards. The trickle turns into a shower.
Pumpkins, corn cobs, and dozens of empty moonshine bottles rain down on the celebrities while hundreds of kids bare
their hineys at the mathematicians and at the cameras. There's booing and hissing. All hell breaks loose. It's a free-for-all.
The startled mathematicians instinctively head for cover. A few remain seated believing the commotion to be part of the
festivities... that is... until they see Josh Mulberry coming out of nowhere with his tractor and mowing down the bleachers.
The panicked PhDs desperately jump out of his way to avoid being steamrolled by the clanking machine. Professors and
theorists run for their lives. Meanwhile, the school football team and marching band huddle in the center of the field and
quickly agree to reenact Pickett's Charge. A second later the column smashes the mathematical flank with trombones and
tubas. The dry sound of cracking bones reverberates through the open microphones. In the chaos, George Smoot drops
his Nobel Gold Medal, which he brought in case he needed to pull rank, and which now rolls somewhere under the
stampeding crowd. In his frenzy to escape Josh's tractor, Juan Maldacena unwittingly kicks the medal to the other side of
the field and into Mr. McCoy's pigpen.
A reporter who manages to maintain his composure during the pandemonium sees Einstein peacefully smoking his pipe on
what's left of the stands and approaches him to get the scoop.
"Dr. Einstein! Dr. Einstein! What do you have to say about what just happened here? Can you please give us your opinion for
Einstein looks at him with weary eyes and shakes his head.
"All these fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no nearer to the answer to the
question, ‘What are light quanta?’ Nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he knows it, but he is mistaken. … I consider
it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing
remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics." (p. 467) 
Joey McBride takes the opportunity to bean Michio Kaku with
a rotten potato.
WHAM! Got 'im!
Sureshot Tommy Blankenship slingshots the left lens out of
Alan Guth's spectacles.
Roger Penrose loses his trousers in the turmoil and leaves
the open stadium limping butt naked, pursued by a group of
hooligans popping his ass with paint guns.
The stadium gradually empties. The field is now a salad of smelly
carrots and half-peeled cucumbers. Millions of flies struggle for
the spoils of war. The party is over. The cameras
are red hot. The world is aghast!
The kids now realize that they have been taken for a ride
all these years. The textbooks of physics were giving these
celebrities much more credit than they deserved. There is a
general feeling of betrayal, of discontent, of disappointment
with the answers given so far. If hollering was bad, the
murmurs are deafening. Many begin to ask whether Sally
was right. Why are these celebrities so famous if they don't
know the first thing about physics?
Knowing her students, like she does, Ms. Jones senses
that evil is lurking in the dark. Disaster is in the brewing.
Revolution can come at any moment. She hurries to the mike
to quell the uprising: "Remember everybody. We have ice
cream at the gym afterwards..."