Postcards From Quarkwood, #1: ‘Tin-Foil Hats’

by Hari Sriskantha

Daphne Russell was walking home from campus one day, when she saw Uncle Jim standing in front of his house. He was holding an unusually large quantity of tin foil.

“Hello, Uncle Jim! What an unusually large quantity of tin foil.”

He wasn’t her uncle, and she was fairly confident that his name wasn’t Jim. But ‘Uncle Jim’ was what everyone else in the village called him, and Daphne had learned long ago that correctness is inversely proportional to the number of people who willingly talk to you.*

It didn’t help that she was doing a PhD in particle physics, which meant that every time she explained what she did to a hairdresser/cab driver/humanities student there was a non-trivial probability of them replying something along the lines of “that’s impressive” followed by “I gave that all up after secondary school since I’m not that clever”, forcing her to explain that a PhD is a measure of the ability to do a PhD rather than inherent intelligence, and that it’s only because she was lucky enough to have a really good physics teacher at A-Level, and that she would be rubbish at hairdressing/driving cabs/being a humanities student, and not be ambiguous about how much she means it all lest the balance of the relationship be lost forever.** Which is especially important for people wielding scissors near your head/driving you places/not so much for humanities students.

If she was then to point out that it should actually be “because I’m not that clever”, because ‘since’ refers to time rather than causation, then the ensuing silence would be as painfully awkward as the time that happened once.

“I’m selling tin-foil hats! Would you like one?” asked Uncle Jim in the main narrative.

“To stop the government from reading my thoughts?”

“No! To keep out all of those ridiculous conspiracy theories. I heard this helps.”

Ironically, that was actually a myth propagated by the tin foil industry.

Welcome to Quarkwood.


* As is the number of inverse-proportionality relations you point out.

** But not in a way that was too convincing, either. After all: doing a PhD and all the associated assumptions of intelligence and worthiness pretty much defined her existence.