CIMRMAN - a Pioneer of Theoretical Physics

It is a well-known fact that theoretical physics underwent two major revolutions at the beginning of this century, which radically changed the way we look upon the Universe. Yes, we are talking about the Quantum Theory and Relativity. It may seem a strange coincidence that both of these theories were born almost simultaneously in the first years of this century, after the scientific world had slept for more than two centuries in a LaPlace-Newtonian deterministic dream. For the reader acquainted with the person of the Czech genius Jara da Cimrman, such a coincidence is not surprising at all, because the beginning of this century is considered to be Jara's most productive period. It is the intent of this text to illuminate the peculiar role Jara da Cimrman played in the development of The Quantum Theory and The Theory of Relativity.

It is a common misconception among physicists that both theories originated from different sources, evolved separately and only recently have scientists tried to unite both in what is known as Quantum Gravity. As a matter of fact, both theories originated from a single experiment performed by Cimrman in the fall 1898 in a small town in Northern Bohemia, where Cimrman held a teaching position in a local elementary school. The fact that both theories lived separately for so long can be explained by Cimrman's decision to communicate only certain aspects of his experiment to other physicists, while the remaining aspects were lying dormant for some time until they were stolen from Cimrman by one of his pupils.

Cimrman's fascination with wave propagation has been well documented in the literature. But as usual he wasn't satisfied with the passive recording of the discoveries with subsequent communication of them to his pupils. He wanted to be at the forefront of science and felt that his pupils should be there with him, since he realized that mere memorization of obsolete facts from textbooks could not satisfy their childish curiosity. Since kids loved the way in which he demonstrated that light propagates much faster than sound, (see Appendix 1) he decided to start original research on measuring the speed of light, whose exact value wasn't quite known at that time.

For this purpose Cimrman devised an ingenious experiment, whose basic layout was as follows: before the dawn he placed a pupil on each of two neighboring hills. Pupil A with a lantern and a curtain and a pupil B with the same simple equipment. Cimrman would then stand beside the pupil A, who at his signal would drop the curtain and expose the lantern, whose light would rectilinearly propagate across the valley and reach the pupil B. He (or she) would then expose his (or her) lantern and Cimrman would record the time elapsed between the two events. From the knowledge of the time of propagation and the distance between the two hills, he could compute the speed of light from elementary formulas of classical mechanics.

At this point we have to remark that during this experiment Cimrman-physicist was greatly helped by Cimrman-inventor. For the purpose of an extremely precise measurement of time Cimrman invented what is today known as Cimrman's Digital Hourglass. In a common hourglass, as the reader may recall, the stream of sand is more or less continuous and the only way to know the elapsed time is to visually estimate the size of the sand heap in the lower compartment. That, of course, was too rough for Cimrman's purposes, so he placed two specially designed fans in the upper compartment whose purpose was to blow the sand so it would go down the neck one grain at a time. Behind the hourglass he would then put one of his pupils, who counted the grains fallen into the second compartment and simultaneously wrote the results on an adjacent chalkboard, thus recording the time digitally. Later, when Cimrman's experiments became popular among the pupils he would even have several sand-counters behind the hourglass and the exact time was then determined by taking the arithmetic average of all the current counts. We may mention here that for this purpose Cimrman invented a slide-rule, but that's just an aside.

Since he had such a highly sophisticated devise at his disposal, Cimrman felt that the use of ordinary sand would jeopardise the results of his light-speed measurements and persuaded the principal of the school to have a few fistfuls of sand delivered from the Sahara desert where sand is unusually homogeneous. After taking all these precautions, Cimrman finally conducted an actual experiment, which he repeated several times with different pupils to exclude human error from his data. Thus it is not surprising that he came up with a value that shocked the whole physics community. Indeed, some of the leading physicists wouldn't even believe it. Based on many evenings of tedious computations, Cimrman found that the speed of light must be bigger than 238 km/h (cca 150 mph). Needless to say, for the computation he used his freshly invented slide-rule, which he greased with olive oil for better accuracy. Finally, let us remark that the modern measurements of the speed of light, making use of all the laser technology available pinned the value down to 299,792.456 km/sec which (however incredible it sounds) is in accordance with Cimrman's measurement from 1898 (!!). From then on, in Cimrman's honor, the speed of light has been denoted by c.

But this is only the beginning of the story. What has been said so far wouldn't shake the foundations of physics too much. Fortunately, as we said earlier, Cimrman used to rotate the pupils A and B and one day the turn came to Tonda Nezbeda, who wasn't quite what you would call a morning bird. He overslept and only at the last moment rushed onto the experiment site. While still running, he dropped the curtain thus setting off the whole procedure. Cimrman was angry at him because he felt that Nezbeda's extra velocity v would add to the speed of light c to make the value v+c. This was not what Cimrman was trying to measure, not to mention the fact that he didn't know Nezbeda's velocity v in the first place. Cimrman, nevertheless finished his experiment as usual and you can imagine his shock, when in the evening he found out that Nezbeda's mischief yielded the same results as the regular measurements. Cimrman spent a sleepless night trying to explain this strange phenomenon and around 3:30am (Central European Time) came up with the epoch making conclusion: the speed of light does NOT depend on the velocity of the source.

In the next few months Cimrman, of course, repeated the experiment, assuming himself the role of the pupil A (he was a renowned Austro- Hungarian runner at that time), but no dependence of the speed of light on the velocity of the source was ever detected. Cimrman was certain that something must be wrong here, since classical physics teaches us that if you throw a ball with the speed c from a train moving at the speed v, then indeed, the speed of the ball relative to the ground is always v+c. Yet light absolutely disregarded this rule. And to make things even worse, it also disregarded Cimrman's slide-rule. After a few days spent on thinking about how his new principle would fit into the current laws of physics, Cimrman decided to go ahead and patent his new discovery, so nobody would steal it as was almost always the case. Knowing how obscure and lengthy the patent procedures were in Vienna, Cimrman sent his discovery to Bern, where his letter was intercepted by a young clerk named Einstein. Einstein wrote Cimrman a polite letter which said that he thinks the light speed paradox is merely illusory and that he would explain it away by the so called ether-theory, which became very fashionable at the turn of the century. The irritated Cimrman replied that the paradox is really there and that if Einstein wanted to spend some time doing physics, he should take the "constant speed of light" as a basic principle and derive some theory from it, no matter how contradictory it seemed to his common sense. Einstein followed Cimrman's advice and wasn't sorry. When few years later in 1906 he shocked the scientific world with his Special Relativity, only he and Cimrman knew who sparked this brilliant work. Before we comment more on the Cimrman-Einstein relationship, we would like to return back to 1898, because Cimrman's experiment had one unexpected side-effect.

As we said earlier, the success of Cimrman's measurement relied on the exact knowledge of the time and distance the light had traveled. The time wasn't a problem. Neither was the distance when the pupil A was standing still. Once the pupil A was set into motion, however, Cimrman ran into troubles because he had difficulties finding WHERE exactly the curtain had been dropped. As a matter of fact the faster the pupil ran, the more uncertain Cimrman was about the position of the curtain-drop. Cimrman was quite vexed by this problem and tried to estimate the size of the error which distorted the quantitative part of his work. But it seemed that some error was always there. The puzzled Cimrman finally gave up and in his final report wrote the following words:"it seems that one cannot measure the exact position and the velocity of pupils simultaneously. If the error associated with one quantity is relatively small, the other one seems to be almost unmeasurably huge."

These words would almost certainly be forgotten if it wasn't for the fact that among his pupils was the nephew of a German mason (who were quite common in Northern Bohemia then), Werner Heisenberg. Young Werner was one of Cimrman's most talented students and, as a token of his appreciation, Cimrman gave him a copy of his report. Many years later (in the late 20's) when Werner was a professor of physics in Leipzig, he found Cimrman's report under the sofa and realised that what it said about the pupils can be generalized to all elements of matter, and in a few weeks came up with the famous "Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle". How Cimrman felt about this plagiarism is not known, since he disappeared from the public life in 1914 and hasn't been heard of since (see Appendix 2).

A reader acquainted with the history of physics knows, however, that the Uncertainty Principle doesn't represent the very beginning of Quantum Theory. Its foundation was actually laid 20 years before by Max Planck, and again we have to say that it was Cimrman who prodded Planck into considering brand new ideas on how to explain the radiation of a black body. How did Cimrman come about these ideas which subsequently made Planck famous? To find out about this we must skip one year and have a look at Cimrman's activities in the fall 1899, when he was very interested in psychology. Cimrman's excursions into psychology and his correspondence with Sigmund Freud are currently a subject of research, so we will limit ourselves only to the part relevant to Cimrman's physics career.

Jara da Cimrman was very interested in human stupidity. He felt that history was written by idiots and that only by careful study of stupidity can we understand the history of human race. In 1899 he made a very important discovery related to this topic. He noticed that stupidity always comes in discrete quantities called morons. Sometimes you can find only 1 moron, sometimes you see 3 of them and sometimes hundreds of them, but you never see 3.7 morons. Cimrman wrote in his diary:"...stupidity always comes in discrete packets. I will call them quanta of stupidity and these cannot be further divided." The word "quanta" which was later popularized by Planck wasn't actually invented by Cimrman. He heard that expression when he was doing stupidity related research in the town of Pardubice (east Bohemia). One day he strolled into a local bar and asked if there were any idiots present that he might investigate. A bartender told him: "Yep, we've got quanta of morons here" (in Czech: "jo blbcu tady mame cely kvanta"). Cimrman liked this expression a lot and since it was relatively unused in the scientific world, he didn't have to be afraid of offending anybody by using it in his idiocy research.

After a few months of research, Cimrman found out that stupidity can have very tangible and material results. He saw bridges fall down, people killed, books burned, the malfunction of devices and many other results of human idiocy. This lead him to the conclusion that stupidity is a form of energy. As a matter of fact, Cimrman was sure that it is a form of internal energy and he found many interesting things about it. For instance he discovered that the total stupidity of the Universe is increasing (just like the entropy) as a simple consequence of the fact that new quanta (that is people) are being produced (born). Cimrman even coined a phrase "fundamental law of sociology", but the scientific community didn't accept his theory and the name fell into oblivion. Cimrman also found that during the elastic collision of two or more idiots the total stupidity of the system remains constant and he insisted that this rule should be considered as basic as the conservation of matter, energy and momentum.

He was slightly bothered, though, by an accident he witnessed in Pardubice. One of the morons he questioned hit a brick wall with his head during a walk with Cimrman. Jara noticed that after this occurence, the conversation was much brighter than before. Cimrman thought about this surprise for a long time because it didn't fit in his theory. At first he thought that part of the person's stupidity was transformed into the thermal energy of the brick wall, but then he realised that an idiot and a brick wall do not constitute a closed system (from the point of view of thermodynamics) and decided finally that the whole problem was just an experimental anomaly and gladly disregarded it.

The final step in Cimrman's discovery of Quantum Theory came with his observation that if one form of energy (namely the stupidity) comes in discrete quantities, then the same should be also true for all other forms of energy. Excited by this discovery, he sent a letter to prof. Planck who was the contemporary expert in energy transfer problems. Planck followed Cimrman's ideas and postulated that energy is transferred not continuously, but only in discrete quantities, whose name (quanta) he stole from the Cimrman's letter. He compared the new theoretical results with experimental data and they matched. Having already stolen the name, he decided to go ahead and steal the whole Quantum theory as well. Even though Planck (as we might expect) did not credit Cimrman for a single idea, Cimrman remained deeply interested in Quantum Theory and in 1913 built world's first particle super-accelerator in an old half-fallen-down barn in the Czech village Liptakov. Unfortunately, a pair of retired cows didn't provide his robust construction with enough energy and so the only things which ever came out of his invention were strange noises, one localized fire and lots of manure. Once again it was insufficient funding which prevented Cimrman from discovering new theories, elementary particles or even quarks.

Now that we have clarified Cimrman's double impact on Quantum Theory, we can return to his relation with Albert Einstein. After the success of his Special Relativity, Einstein became one of the leading physicists and, in 1910-1911, gave a series of lectures in Prague. Cimrman, of course, could not pass up such an opportunity to talk to a fellow genius and asked Einstein if he could have a dinner with him some time. Einstein, who owed Cimrman for essentially all his fame, couldn't say no and the two great men met November 28, 1910. Cimrman noticed that Einstein was not yet quite familiar with Prague and since it was getting cold he dragged Einstein into a famous Prague brewery "U fleku". Einstein evidently liked their black beer, since every now and then fell off his chair, hollering "Damn gravity!!" across the whole brewery. The observant Cimrman readily deduced that Einstein must have been struggling with the theory of the gravitational field and immediately became interested in the subject. After he chugged down another dozen half-litres of the strong Czech beer, he leant over to Einstein and mumbled: "..listen, Albert, I just can't get over the impression that this f*cking space- time continuum is curved. Wha'd'ya say?...hick!" Einstein didn't say anything at the moment, but only squinted blankly up and down the room. After a while, he agreed that this was a very interesting idea and on their way home both men made a series of experiments which fully corroborated Cimrman's impression. Cimrman felt the effects of the curvature of the space-time so strongly, that he expressed an opinion that there might be a space-time singularity (so called "black hole") near the abovementioned brewery. Einstein later corrected his opinion by placing the nearest black hole at a distance of a few thousand light years rather than within the city limits of Prague.

Upon arriving home Einstein sobered up a little bit (we wish we could also say that about Cimrman) and without hesitation started to work on the theory of gravity, while all of Jara's ideas were fresh in his mind. He worked hard all night, ignoring Cimrman's loud snoring from beneath his desk and in a few hours the basic outline of his General Relativity was finished. In the morning, the exhausted Einstein woke Cimrman up and told him: "Cimrman, on my desk you will find a key to the understanding of the structure of space-time. You can take a look at it if you want. I am too tired and am going to bed." And these were the last words Cimrman ever heard from Einstein.

When Cimrman looked at Albert's desk (and here we have to admit, that the curtain of 19 beers in his head wasn't quite raised yet) he saw Einstein's violin on it plus some papers beneath it which he didn't pay much attention to. He stared at the violin and wondered what that thing could have to do with the structure of the space-time. But then he slapped his forehead with big "AHA". Strings! It must be the strings! And quickly he pulled the strings off the violin and promptly returned to Liptakov.

There Cimrman immediately started to work on what he called a "String Theory" while at school he simultaneously ran a workshop in Applied Strings, so that his pupils could enjoy being at the vanguard of science with him. The most favorite activity in the workshop was making models of black holes out of various kinds of strings. Kids just loved it. One of his students, Rudolf Kolben, the son of a rich Czech capitalist, once brought to school an extra durable set of superstrings which his father had brought him from Switzerland. Cimrman noticed that these produced models of black holes which were more accurate than all the models they made before. Cimrman was fascinated with strings and even took some home with him. Soon after this he wrote the revolutionary paper "Superstrings - a key to the understanding of black holes" and had its colored copies sent to all the prominent physicists and mathematicians of his time. Unfortunately, HIS time turned out to be too far ahead of the time of the rest of humankind. None of his contemporaries gave his paper a serious thought and it took modern physics more than 70 years to fully catch up with Cimrman's work on Superstrings.

Cimrman's workshop on String Theory was the last time he had living contact with his students. After his succesful demonstration of the Big Bang on the school yard, the envious director of the School Board did not renew his contract. That shouldn't come as a surprise if we take into account the fact that parts of the roof of the school building were found as far away as Amsterdam.

Before we close this contribution, we have to go back to Albert Einstein again. In his response to Cimrman's first letter Einstein informed Cimrman that the similar experiment (about the speed of light being constant) was actually performed 10 years before Cimrman in 1887 by Michelson and Morley. Cimrman was, of course, embittered and blamed the obsolete technology in the rotting Habsburg empire for being beaten by the earlier and more precise results of Michelson and Morley. For a long time, he sought the opportunity to regain the reputation as the foremost experimenter in the world and after he was banned from the school premises in Liptakov, he felt that this opportunity had come.

He spent his last days in Bohemia in seclusion and only his house- keeper knew what he was doing in the dark cellar of his country house. Cimrman made an extensive search in the library and found that while there was a lot of experimentation going on pertaining to the speed of light, there were no experiments regarding the speed of propagation of darkness. This was also his allegorical way of criticizing Austria's reactionary government and some even think this was his vision of the future dark times on Czech soil. For this experiment he used his famous black bulb, which after being connected to a circuit, spread darkness all around it. Cimrman's dark bulb itself would be enough to give him a decent place in the history, but once again he wanted to astonish.

Using his Digital Hourglass, Cimrman found that the darkness does not propagate at a constant speed (as light does). In his cellar he installed a circuit with both a normal light bulb and his dark bulb. He was shocked to find that in the morning the light from the light bulb was a little bit faster than the darkness, while in the evening the darkness from his dark bulb was always a bit ahead of the light. For the sake of exactness, we will mention that the values Cimrman arrived at were the following: in the morning the darkness propagated at the speed of .867c (where c is the speed of light) while in the evening the darkness beat the light easily, making up to 1.283c (or 1.278c in the shadow). With these results at hand, Cimrman was the first man who provided a scientific explanation of the change of day and night. In the morning the light propagates faster and gradually spreads all over the earth, pushing the slow darkness away. In the evening, naturally, the reverse process takes place.

Up to this day, there has been no single reference to this discovery in the whole literature of physics. It is quite possible that for the full appreciation of this work we will have to wait til the 21st century, or maybe even til the 22nd. Or maybe we will have to wait forever. Such was the nature of Cimrman's genius. Sometimes he jumped 10 years ahead, sometimes he jumped 100 years ahead. And sometimes, perhaps, he jumped right off to infinity.

Appendix 1: For the reader's convenience we will recall a specific example of Cimrman's pedagogical mastery. He claimed that only the things which his students see are the ones which they remember. One day he picked two of his students and gave the faster one a lantern and the slower one a cow-bell. Then he asked both pupils to walk away 200 metres and, upon Cimrman's whistle, to run back. Of course, the faster guy, carrying the lantern always came in first and Cimrman would comment to his students:"...see, remember that light propagates faster than sound". For more details about his teaching techniques, the reader may want to consult the standard sources (Smoljak&Sverak).

Appendix 2: It is a sad fact that the beginning and the end of Jara's life are not known. He was born some time in the 1870s and was last seen in 1914 leaving the village Liptakov in Northern Bohemia at the age of approximately 40-50 years. It is not known what happened to him afterwards and it is possible that he lived elsewhere. Some people think that he was sent to Russia to cover the oncoming Bolshevik Revolution for a local newspaper and during the process got stuck in Siberia, where he may be frozen to this day in the state of suspended animation. Some other researchers (such as Ross Hedvicek, who is NOT related to Dr. Hedvabny) claim that he escaped to the USA, where he became a successful businessman and, under the name Jerry Zimmerman, begot a son named Robert Zimmerman who later became the famous Bob Dylan. Which of these two versions is true is still a subject of research. Taking into account that Jara played a lot with Quantum Physics in his last days, it is quite possible that from then on he might have existed at several locations at the same time and we will be only able to determine the probabilities of his being Here, There and Everywhere.

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