Tibor's Musings

Pompous Fools

Ponder the following sentence. "The individual member of the social community often receive his information via visual, symbolic channels." Thumbs up or thumbs down?

One of my favourite stories on "glorious ways of communicating" comes from the pen of Richard Feynman. He once participated in a cross-disciplinary kind of conference on ethics and wrote the following on his experience.

* * *

There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read - something he had written ahead of time. I started to read the damn thing, and my eyes were coming out: I couldn't make head nor tail or it! I figured it was because I hadn't read any of the books on that list. I had this uneasy feeling of "I'm not adequate," until I finally said to myself, "I'm gonna stop, and read one sentence slowly, so I can figure out what the hell it means.

So I stopped - at random - and read the next sentence very carefully. I can't remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: "The individual member of the social community often received his information via visual, symbolic channels." I went back and forth over it, and translated. You know what it means? "People Read."

Then I went over the next sentence, and I realized that I could translate that one also. Then it became a kind of empty business: sometimes people read; sometimes people listen to the radio," and so on, but written in such a fancy way that I couldn't understand it at first, and when I finally deciphered it, there was nothing to it.


There were a lot of fools at that conference - pompus fools - and pompous fools drive me up the wall. Ordinary foolks are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompus fools - guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus - THAT, I CANNOT STAND! An ordinary fool isn't a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible!


There was only one thing that happened at that meeting that was pleasant or amusing. At this conference, every word that every guy said at the plenary session was so important that they had a stenotypist there, typing every damn thing. Somewhere on the second day the stenotypist came up to me and said, "What profession are you? Surely not a professor."

"I am a professor," I said.

"Of what?"

"Of physics - science."

"Oh! That must be the reason," he said.

"Reason for what?"

He said, "You see, I'm a stenotypist, and I type everything that is said here. Now, when the other fellas talk, I type what they say, but I don't understand what they're saying. But every time you get up to ask a question or to say something, I understand exactly what you mean - what the question is, and what you're saying - so I thought you can't be a professor!"

Quoted from Richard Feynman's "Surely you're joking, Mr Feynman!"