Thursday Interview: E = MC²

You’re quite a phenomenon, E=MC². Everyone’s heard of you, but very few people could describe you very well. How do you explain that?

Well, I have a rather complex personality, I must admit. Hidden depths, you might say. So it takes quite an effort to get to know me. And I’m a bit of an introvert. Not very big on social media, so people would actually have to want to come looking for me.

Doesn’t it bother you?

Not at all. You could say I’m the Howard Hughes of physics. Influential behind the scenes but no wish to hog the limelight. Besides, as a profession, we’re intrinsically not very sexy. Much as some of us refuse to admit it – I was speaking to pithe other day, and she was in her usual huff. ‘You’d think by now they’d get beyond the first two decimal points’, she said. ‘After all, I’ve been around since Archimedes.’ Well, frankly, in my opinion, she has only herself to blame. I said to her, ‘Look, if you want to be in the Daily Mail sidebar, you need an hourglass figure, not some higgledy-piggledy thing that goes on forever.’ But that’s pifor you – struts around on those pins of hers as if she was Taylor Swift.

All the same, perhaps she has a point. Don’t you think you ought to be better known to the general public?

There’s little chance of that though, is there? Only yesterday, I was asking the-fourier-transform if I ought to open a Twitter account, and he said it wasn’t worth it. No one reads equations these days. According to the-navier-stokes-equations, most people don’t even know she exists. So I consider myself lucky in that respect.

Coming back to that point you made – you are indeed quite young. Do you remember when you first appeared?

Oh, yes. It was wonderful! There I was in this dormant state thinking, ‘I could be here forever at this rate’, then suddenly, pop! I’m out in the open. Like going from a chrysalis to a butterfly. All thanks to Albert, of course. If he hadn’t come along, I might never have been discovered.

You got on very well with him, I believe.

Naturally. He was great fun. He took me a lot more seriously than he did himself. Of course it was tough on newtons-universal-law-of-gravitation, who’d been ruling the roost pretty much till then, but Albert knew his onions all right. I was here to stay.

You mean forever? Won’t you be replaced one day yourself?

Well, never say never, of course. I don’t know what’ll happen to me if string theory really takes off. Although, to be honest, I’m not that worried. I can’t see Picture-6 upstaging me for a while. But I won’t be too upset if he does. It’s nice to be seen as influential, but I don’t let it go to my head. Everything’s relative, after all.


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