Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two parties

Nope, not the political kind. A couple of weeks ago I was at a graduate student's oral qualifying exam. After we had all asked questions and it was clear that the the student had passed with flying colors, one of the other faculty asked the following question (accompanied with the qualifier that the student's answer's had no bearing on whether or not they passed):

You are going to hold two dinner parties. For the first you can invite any four scientists, living or dead. For the second, any four famous people who are/were not scientists, living or dead. Who would you invite and why?

I forget the student's precise answers, and for this post they're not important anyway. The first party was a test of the student's breadth of knowledge of science in general (including it's history). The second had to do with the student's knowledge of topics other than science. The faculty member wanted to stress the importance of knowing much more than just your own narrow little area of research.

I think I would invite the following (putting aside all potential communication issues):

Science soiree:

Josiah Willard Gibbs - he was the most under-appreciated theorist of his time. Perhaps ever.
James Clerk Maxwell - not just a famous theoretical physicist, but also a poet! Albeit not a great one... And a contemporary of Gibbs.
John Edsall - a protein chemist's physical chemist. I had the pleasure of meeting him once. A wonderful gentleman.
J. Robert Oppenheimer - someone who went from being the most influential scientist of his time to a victim of McCarthyism has got to be worth a dinner party. And he hiked around Corsica with John Edsall when they were both young.

Hmmm, obviously I have a thing for the physical sciences...

Celebrity carouse:
Ludwig von Beethoven - how he wrote his Ninth Symphony while deaf is something that has always fascinated me.
Picasso - no doubt he would keep the conversation interesting (and wine flowing).
Euripides - of the few authors of Greek tragedies whose work has survived, he is my favorite.
Charles Dickens - despite the best efforts of my high school English teachers, I really enjoy his books and their insight into Victorian England.

So, dear readers, who would you invite and why?


JollyRgr said...

Science soiree

Isaac Asimov, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Dawkins

Celebrity Carouse

Stephen Fry, Douglas Adams, Henry Rollins and Edward Teach

Odyssey said...

Ummm, wouldn't Edward Teach be a bit... risky? No doubt fun.

yolio said...

non scientists:

1) Queen Elizabeth I, how bad ass was she?
2) Josef Pilates, he invented his own excercise system as a child essentially as a form of sports medicine. Then, when in the concentration camp, he used his exercise system to keep everyone around him healthy, physically and mentally. How cool is that?
3) J.S. Bach---because western music is still pretty much all variations on Bach.
4) Alfred Hitchcock---a man who understood a few things about the secret side of people.

1) Alfred Courant, he was that rare thing, a leader in science. How did he do that?
2) Marie Curie, what must it have been like for her?
3) R.L. Fischer, famously difficult man but he figured out practically everything. He has to be interesting.
4) Leonardo Da Vinci, this one doesn't require explanation.

Anonymous said...

Alan Turing, Francis Crick and James Watson, Pierre de Fermat, and Raymond Smullyan for the first evening.

Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen, Mstislav Rostropovitch and Victor Hugo for the second one.

More details in my post here:

JollyRgr said...

When not in a 'berserker' rage he could be quite the gentleman.....I guess I'd just have to pick a good day...:-)

anon said...

Cool question, hopefully you will find my answers to be. But tough to limit it to 4 people at each party.

Science Soiree:
Isaac Newton
Charles Darwin
Albert Einstein
Craig Venter

Non-Science Soiree:
Marco Polo
Thomas Jefferson
James Taylor (the singer/songwriter!)
Michael Phelps

Odyssey said...

It's not whether or not I find your choices to be cool (I do), but rather whether or not you do. :-)

Anonymous said...

Scientists (Dead)
1. Richard Feynman
2. Howard Florey
3. Richard Doll
4. Ernest Rutherford

Scientists (Alive)
1. Ian Frazier
2. Ian Wilmut
3. Jared Diamond
4. Marvin Minsky

Others (have to be alive)
1. Billy Connolly
2. Gordon Ramsey
3. Colin Powell
4. Bono

anon said...

In my estimation the cool factor is quite high! the conversations that would arise with anyone of those folks being present would have to be fantastic.

Goose said...

I've really been wanting to reply to this, but I really feel like I haven't put a lot of thought into it... Here goes:

Science Dinner -
1) and 2) Newton and Einstein (the discussion between classical and modern physics would be fascinating)
3) Dr Karl (he'd keep it lively!)
4) Terry Quickenden (my PhD supervisor wasn't a famous scientist, but I'd love to hear him espouse his opinions to Einstein and Newton!)

Celebrity Dinner -
1) Billy Connolly (Always makes me laugh!)
2) Dickie Bird (A great after-dinner speaker)
3) Morgan Freeman (I think he'd be an interesting and knowledgeable guest)
4) Ben Franklin (for his sheer variety of life!)

Jeff Seale said...

science - George Rose ;o) Kaj Linderstrom-Lang, Oppenheimer, and Venter

others - James Madison, Robert Kennedy, Barbara Jordan (Congresswoman from Texas), Thomas Wolfe