Lived Too Long?
POSTED — January 5, 2014 — Miscellany
Forty-odd years ago I had to take a final exam in Thermodynamics in order to be exempt from taking the course itself, and in order to graduate with my PhD in Physics. Bob Litzenberger, later famous for finance, set the exam, which consisted of one question he taped to a store window. The question involved writing an explanation your mother could understand for why something about the Gibbs Free Energy did something or other. I had been sick all day and only discovered the question taped to the glass store window late in the day, and ran to the library to look up textbooks. One of my high school friends was using one of them and lent it to me for a short while but I couldn't really remember enough Thermo to understand it. He recommended looking up Landau and Lifshitz's Statistical Mechanics book, which I own, but couldn't find at that point. I realized that if I didn't answer this one question, I wouldn't satisfy the requirements for my PhD, and everything might go down the tubes. Then miraculously I suddenly realized that I didn't actually need to take the exam -- I had in fact taken and passed Statistical Mechanics given by T.D. Lee in 1969, and so I didn't actually need an exemption. I was incredibly relieved.
It took more than a few minutes after I woke up to realize that none of this mattered, and that, except for having taken the Statistical Mechanics course and genuinely owning Landau and Lifshitz, the rest wasn't true.
P.S.1. Lev Landau was an interesting man.
P.S. 2. I received a mass Xmas letter yesterday from Bob Litzenberger, which may have something to do with this.