Weird Science

Weird Science
How to Interview the Dead

Colin Rowsell | 18 Mar 2008 10:03
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Richard Feynman hangs in the air before me, just above the dirty dishes in the sink. He shimmers, shifts, the famous eyebrows drifting like smog. Behind him floats the Trinity nuclear test site, a swarm of nanobots, a sensory deprivation tank, the rubber seals of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Bongo drums. Topless bars. The hallucinatory curves of delectable young graduate students. Nobel Prize-winning scientists sure know how to pick 'em.

"Happy 90th Birthday, Dr Feynman."

He glares, wreathed in plutonium yield equations. The impertinence of summoning a great, rational atheist into a séance occurs to me, but it's too late to stop now. I already paid the psychic.


"You're one of them, aren't you?" he growls. "You're media."

He says it with the same tone a Wellington housewife might reserve for child molesters.

On January 28, 1986, I had lived in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, New Zealand, Australasia, The Southern Hemisphere, The World, The Solar System, The Milky Way, The Universe, for 11 days. We'd moved in an orange truck from Whitianga, three hours away on the Coromandel coast. I was 7 years old, and I was fascinated by tuataras.

A tuatara is somewhere between a lizard and a snake. They only live in New Zealand. They haven't changed much in a quarter of a billion years, and in 1986 they were known as the last living dinosaurs on Earth. How do we know it's a dinosaur? Were Grandma and Granddad still old back then? Did they have a pet brontosaurus, too, out by the compost?

I'm almost certain I had never heard the name Christa McAuliffe. I'd certainly never heard of an O-ring seal in the right rocket booster. At the time, the idea of blowing a teacher up might have seemed like a bit of a laugh. Both my parents were teachers.

I loved space. Space was Up, and up is always the greatest direction in the world. But I loved dinosaurs more.

Richard Feynman Interview, Take 1

CR: Dr Feynman, you were a great scientist.

RF: I'm not quite sure what that means.

CR: You received the Nobel Prize for your work in quantum electrodynamics; you contributed to the Manhattan Project; you played a key role in the Challenger investigation; you created a brilliant and accessible lecture series on basic physics; and you explored many esoteric areas of science and technology. Wikipedia says so.

RF: Yes.

CR: So do you think Britney should have custody of the kids, or is Kevin really a good father?

RF: What?

CR: What're the last three songs on your iTunes playlist?

RF: What?

CR: vs. 2 girls 1 Cup - which is worse?

RF: What the hell are you talking about? This is journalism?

CR: Hey, Freeman Dyson reckoned you were good with media. Wikipedia says so.

His spectral face flares, bouncing off last night's pasta remnants. The tiny saucer of burning rosewood stirs as he makes for the window.

He looks, stops.

"What's that 'goat cup' thing?"

Yes, I have the video. Never show internet porn to a dead Nobel prize-winner. All that Swedish food gives them weak stomachs.

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