On Feynman’s observation on maths, physics, sex and masturbation

Re-working of an old post; now even more tasteless!

* * *

“Physics is to mathematics like sex is to masturbation.”

—Richard Feynman, a physicist

Let us assume Feynman is correct, and then grossly misinterpret his comparison. That is, as

physics \approx sex

and

mathematics \approx masturbation.

This is not as far-fetched as you might expect or hope.

Read on.

Clearly physics is something many dream about, and some (mostly young men) place posters of its famous idols on their walls, and struggle to “get”; but on getting there they often find it overhyped and more difficult than they expected (damn those inaccurate movies!), and they then end up tied to their choice and doing the same grind over and over again. While co-practitioners often claim they’d like some variety, they equally often find some variations a big turn-off. (“Honey, how about doing it with strings and membranes?”)

Oh, and those that try to popularize their personal proclivities often are regarded with amusement and suspicion by both their fellows and the general public. (Also, as related by Stephen Hawking, there may be problems with sales if one gets too explicit.)

Also, many boast of their prowess in physics, but few really get as much action as they claim. With mathematics, it’s quite the opposite: few boast of it, and even those who do, often do it more than they’re willing to admit. (Also, everyone does it, one way or the other.)

Now, doing mathematics, while not such a hot word on the street as physics, can be mentioned at parties to shock and awe (well, just shock) others, is often claimed to ruin your eyesight, and is generally, though grudgingly, admitted to be good for you but still somehow icky.

Also, it can be done whenever and wherever you want with no equipment except your mind, though more modern practitioners use a computer as well. Some more applied types use other tools, true, but they’re regarded as freaks even by the computer-users.

Mathematics used to be a solitary activity, but nowadays it’s practiced more and more in groups; this and all the associated computer-using tomfoolery have some purists up in arms; outsiders usually don’t want to think about details like this.

Also, while you might get something to show for a good spell of work, it’s not something to brag about on the street, and thus for most doers the rewards are in the pleasurable process itself. (They certainly don’t get paid for their contributions to “trade magazines”; and those magazines seem to generally be published by rather shady types, like Elsevier.)

Honestly, some days I am afraid of myself.

Also: in most bookstores there are many, many titillating books that are more or less about physics, but the books on mathematics, if there are any, are quite invariably dry, dusty and unthumbed. Also, most movies like to hint at physics though they tend to grossly misrepresent it, but few hint at mathematics, and even those that do are often humorous.

And, oh, if you tell someone you’re a mathematician, they often respond with “Oh, it’s a nice pursuit, I’m sure, but I just never got into that myself.”

And then you will be shunned.

(Not tasteless enough yet? How about this: If you do just mathematics, there’s no chance of getting anyone blown up. With physics, it’s one Big Bang and then there’ll be all these little baboons running around.)

14 Responses to “On Feynman’s observation on maths, physics, sex and masturbation”

  1. akira Says:

    hahaha!! this is waaaaaayyy to funny!!! one of my good friends is a physics major and he was quoting this, so i decided to google it, and look what came up!

  2. Jeffrey Schmidt Says:

    Physicists are well known for masturbating a lot, more than any other profession in fact. They never ever have actual sex. They only have theoretical sex, imagined in their minds. Most physicists are so ugly that is all they will ever get. Thank god too, who would want those ugly creepy weirdos to reproduce in the first place.

  3. Doctor Love Says:

    Do physicists ejaculate on copies of Physical Review?

  4. Ed Darrell Says:

    Got a citation on where Feynman said that?

  5. Masks of Eris Says:

    Ed: Oh, darn. I’ve assumed it’s a Feynman quote because I’ve seen it attributed that way and it fits his character, but a quick googling seems to show that a) in generic contexts it’s given as a Feynman, without any citation, and b) in Linux sysadmin humor circles it’s attributed to a Paul Tomblin, without any citation. (Or to P.T. and Malco(l)m Ray, but the first seems to have said the quote, the second added “They’re both messy, but physics can get you in much more trouble.”)

    Seems likely I was snookered by the old tendency of quotations to fall towards more and more famous attributions, because the process doesn’t usually work the other way.

  6. Ed Darrell Says:

    Drat. It’s a good line in any case — makes one think. I wonder who actually said it first?

  7. Mohammed Says:

    found you when verifying the original quote. great writeup man, i laughed my ass off. :)

  8. Andrei Says:

    We can speak many things about Nature and GREAT Physicists, but ladies of mathematics let be serious:
    It is written: “You will recognize them by their fruits”.

    Thus what fruits mathematics brings: only theory that is equivalent with thoughts moreover the theory without application(practice) is only thoughts about sex or in the better case is a simple masturbation)

    Fruits of Physics:
    All that you see around you is due to physics(nowadays medicine or chemistry or army, computers, cars, buses, airplanes…)
    And don’t tell me that Electricity was discovered by mathematicians!
    Now, can you imagine one day without electricity?
    Moreover, now the physicist work in order to obtain quantum computers, By the way the simple word of quantum it is so far for all mathematicians, also theory of groups, differential equations (in fact all mathematical analysis belong to theoretical physics!!!) all this things was started from physics and are developed also by physics!!!

    Conclusion:
    1 Each physicist from the start is a greatest philosopher (see history of philosophy)
    2 A theoretical physicist can solve any problem of mathematicians but not inverse(mathematicians cannot solve even a simple problem of physics)that’s why we have many mathematicians and a few of physicists(in order to get insight in physics you must be very wise because that is not easy at all, and it is not given for all ordinary people(I mean mathematicians)). It follows that a real physicist are a genius.
    3 Physics is more than sex.
    “Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” – R. Feynman

  9. Ben Says:

    ^You are wrong… almost all of theoretical physics belongs to mathematics :) . Also, it is incorrect that “all this [sic] things was started from physics and are developed also by physics!!!”; for instance, Lorentz figured out the mathematics essential to Einstein’s theory of relativity years before he used it. The RSA encryption method, used by all major banks, cyber-security firms, and anyone who uses the internet, is one example among many of “pure math” (in this case number theory) serving an extremely vital function in the “real world”. Physics is merely an interesting subset of applied mathematics which happens to apply to our particular universe; pure math such as the theory of primes can be said to exist in any universe, or even independent of physical reality, thus being universal truth.

  10. La physique, une affaire très sexy (enfin presque) « Tous les insolites Says:

    […] : transposé en partie de https://masksoferis.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/on-feynmans-observation-on-maths-physics-sex-and-masturb… (amusez-vous à traduire ça de l’anglais, et vous pourrez dire que c’est du […]

  11. on Math, Physics, sex and Computer Science | IIT Voice Says:

    […] Most ideas have come from this earlier post: https://masksoferis.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/on-feynmans-observation-on-maths-physics-sex-and-masturb…. It was early days for this blog, and I should have acknowledged where I got ideas to write this […]

  12. aniketphysics Says:

    Reblogged this on S=k log W.

  13. amateursexpicture.blogspot.com Says:

    This has been an excellent read. I found myself captivated, something
    rare for me nowadays.

  14. freelatinapussy.tumblr.com Says:

    I think it was the truly amazing Walt Disney who claimed that curiosity directs us
    down new paths. I am curious to try this path together
    with you and find where it goes.

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