Opening skit for QIPC'2006

Scott Aaronson and Dave Bacon

October 13, 2006

The Royal Society, London

Scott: Thanks very much, and welcome to the QIPC meeting! The reason I'm here is that a few months ago, Artur Ekert emailed me to ask, would I agree to open a meeting by doing a duet with Dave Bacon, where we'd crack dumb jokes about physicists versus computer scientists? Before I could read any further to see when or where this meeting was, I immediately wrote back: yes, I'll do it. Unfortunately, later I saw that the meeting was to be held at the Royal Society of London -- the very same Royal Society that Sir Isaac Newton presided over 300 years ago, a society whose birth was almost synonymous with the birth of science itself. And Dave and I that felt it would be disrespectful to the legacy of such an august institution to turn it into a forum for low, tawdry standup comedy. Indeed, we felt that the only person worthy of opening a meeting in such a historic venue would be Sir Isaac Newton himself.

Now you might say there's a problem, which is that Sir Isaac Newton has been dead for the last 279 years. And indeed he has. But as many of you know, Newton was a big believer in alchemy and prophecy and necromancy. And furthermore, today is Friday the 13th. So Dave and I thought that maybe we could summon Newton's ghost by ritual incantation of the Three Laws of Motion.

I realize it's early in the morning, but I'm going to need your help with this. Are you ready? Repeat after me:





[Dave enters, wearing a big white wig and carrying an apple]

Scott: Oh my god -- it's Sir Isaac Newton!

Dave/Isaac: Hast thou summoned me?

Scott: We hast! [falls to the floor] O greatest of all natural philosophers! I'm unworthy, I'm unworthy! I shall retreat from thy exalted presence. But please, Sir Isaac, enlighten the assembled multitude: what can physicists and computer scientists learneth from each other?

[Scott exits]

Isaac: What can natural philosophers learneth from computer scientists? Computer scientists?! Ha! What knoweth I of such things? Why, in my own time, I can't recall that there was a single one of these "computer scientists." Is computer science even a science? I should know, because I invented science! (There are some who say it was Francis Bacon, but no one with the last name Bacon has ever achieved anything of note.) Before what some have described as the "Newtonian revolution," the intellectual framework for these computing contrivances simply didn't exist!

[Scott reenters, wearing a big black wig]

Scott/Gottfried: Ach -- nein!

Isaac: Oh bother. It seems my would-be "rival" Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz has arrived.

Gottfried: Ja! [pointing to self] Ich bin Leibniz! Ein kleiner Gedanken Entscheidungsproblem Weinerschnitzel! [pause] Alright, I guess I should switch to English. You remember me, Isaac? Your old nemesis Leibniz? You say there were no computer scientists in your time? Bah! I ask you, who is it that dreamed of the calculus ratiocinator -- a mechanical device that would settle all disputes through systematic reasoning? Who is it that set forth the rules of propositional logic 200 years before Boole, Frege, and all those other clowns? Who is it that invented binary arithmetic?

Isaac: Binary arithmetic? Did you steal that from me as well?

Gottfried: I had no need, Isaac, I had no need. I simply invented it during all those years that you so fruitfully spent ... minting coins.

Isaac: I took my duties as Master of the Mint seriously! You see, that's the difference between you and me: you're so caught up in your abstractions, your computations, your monads or whatever they're called, that you forget there's a thing called the "real world" out there ... a real world that I discovered by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Gottfried: The shoulders of giants indeed! My own shoulders have been sore for centuries. You must've been eating quite a few of those apples, Sir Isaac [jabs Isaac's stomach]. Speaking of which, would you like a cookie? [Holds up a bag of "Leibniz" butter cookies]

Isaac: Well, even though the wrapper has your sorry name on it... [reaches for the bag]

Gottfried: All out! Sorry.

Isaac: Oh, now you've really made me angry. I challenge you to a duel of mathematical wits! Can you tell me the slope of a curve which has equal distance from two different foci?

Gottfried: Well let's see, d over dy of ...

Isaac: What is this "d" thing? What is this notation? This is mere symbol-twiddling! Is that all you so-called "computer scientists" know? Why, you're perfectly ignorant of calculus!

Gottfried: Ignorant of calculus?! I invented calculus!

Isaac: Did not!

Gottfried: Did too!

Isaac: Did not!

Gottfried: Did too!

Isaac: Maybe you invented calculus in the "best of all possible worlds," but not in this one! Haha!

[A fistfight erupts. Artur Ekert intervenes to break it up]

Gottfried: Well Isaac, perhaps this ... discussion is best left to a future generation.

Isaac: Yes. Perhaps relations between physicists and computer scientists will be more ... collegial in the 21st century.

Gottfried: Let us dewig, then.

Isaac: Indeed, let us dewig.

[Scott and Dave take off their wigs and bow. They then start the "real" part of the talk.]

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