Why Does the Unicorn Curb It’s Wrath in the Embrace of a Virgin?

I could claim that this is an exploration of deep issues in the philosophy of science. It is. But the real reason for offering it – it’s funny.

Early in my overly long career as a graduate student at CCNY,  Dan Zwanziger came up from NYU to talk about magnetic monopoles. You’ve never heard of a magnetic monopole? It’s not really a gap in your education.  In 1928 Paul Adrian Maurice Dirac, a British physicist, took the newly discovered basic equation of quantum mechanics and found a generalization consistent with Einstein’s special relativity. It predicted the anti-electron a.k.a the positron which was observed in 1932. Another discovery of his theoretical work was the magnetic monopole. An ordinary magnet has two poles – a dipole.  Dirac said a single –  mono – pole could live alone on his particle.

Mike Arons, from the high energy theory group, introduced Dan as the world’s leading expert on magnetic monopoles.  Dan reprised the old joke about an expert being a person who knows more and more about less and less. Since there was not one shred of experimental evidence for the existence of the magnetic monopole, he graciously claimed the title of the world’s leading expert – on nothing.  He compared the question of magnetic monopoles to some of the big questions of the past. In particular, “Why does the unicorn curb it’s wrath in the embrace of a virgin?”

Dan then described Dirac’s argument about why the magnetic monopole ought to exist. At the end of the talk,  Danny Greenberger put up his hand. “I have the answer to your question. It is an ill-posed scientific question, because, after all, a virgin is a mythological entity.”

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