Benford Recalls Sidney Coleman


Grant Canfield’s cover art for eI #36.

Gregory Benford has posted a compelling and entertaining profile of the late Sidney Coleman, physicist, fan and wit.

A reputed Einstein-look-alike, Coleman’s accomplishments included co-founding Advent:Publishers, and devising “wormhole calculus.” As for his wit — here are two examples:

When his physics department suddenly needed someone to fill in for an ill colleague, they asked Sid if he could teach a field theory class that the energetic colleague had scheduled for 8 a.m. Sid was a notorious night owl who often had to rouse his dinner guests to go home at a mere 3 a.m. He relished the pleasures of watching the sun come up while putting on pajamas and others stirred. Still, he considered. He felt that he did have an obligation to his department. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, “I just don’t think I could stay up that late.”

He wrote a great sendup of the space program: “Once I gained access to Pioneer 10, it was the work of a moment to substitute for NASA’s plaque my own, which read, “Make ten exact copies of this plaque with your name at the bottom of the list and send them to ten intelligent races of your acquaintance. At the end of four billion years, your name will reach the top of the list and you will rule the galaxy.”

The tribute first appeared in Trap Door 25 in 2008.

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3 thoughts on “Benford Recalls Sidney Coleman

  1. Coleman (who I sometimes gave rides from CalTech in to LASFS meetings) also said “The LASFS has more people whose actions I can predict, but whose motivations I cannot in the least understand, than any other group with which I’ve ever been associated”.

  2. This was a great article, so thanks for the link. But there is an ancient high school in Philadelphia (I think Central High School) that has the power to award high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania simultaneously, and gives one or two a year since the 1850s.

  3. Coleman was interviewed by _Harvard Magazine_ some time ago. I remember his LoC in response to the front matter describing his “purple polyester jacket”: “That was not polyester; \all/ my purple jackets are wool.” I can just imagine how that went down at a staid university….

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