Today, a very respected professor of ours, uttered a scattering reply that instilled within the hearts of my colleagues greasy distaste for him.
It all started when one colleague of mine, when the topic had dramatically went from discussing physics to discussing the potential of a 21st century physicist to imitate the work of Newton/Einstein, asked the question "Is it possible for a lone wolf to exist in today's era, a lone wolf who can give us revolutionary insight onto nature?", and suddenly as this question ended, another colleague could not maintain patience and asked in succession, "Are all of us capable of revolutionizing physics, just through hard work, creativity and extreme diligence? Or perhaps, is this ability rare and impossible to achieve?"
My professor smiled and said what would later lead us to contemplate the idea of reporting him to the department;
Einstein and Newton were godlike geniuses. They had it by birth, and it was something which cannot be obtained by practice. I am sure that there are many geniuses today, perhaps more than ever, but none of them is a godlike genius. You have Witten, Hawking, Hamed and many others, but I think they can be considered to be extraordinary geniuses perhaps, but not godlike. And regarding whether a single individual can revolutionize physics today, yes.
That is possible but unlikely, just as it was possible but unlikely for somebody to revolutionize physics before Einstein published his papers in 1905. But for many reasons, I believe that if such a lone wolf would exist, he would not revolutionize physics within academia but rather outside it. Academia has too much noise for him to do so. And regarding the fact that physics is now too vast of a field to revolutionize single-handedly, I think this too is misplaced. Only 45% of it you need to revolutionize physics.
In fact, I believe it is impossible for one to turn physics upside down within academia. None of you will ever revolutionize physics, but do not be disheartened, for only one within a billion men are capable of doing so. But what you can do, what we can do, is that we can atleast contribute, however minor it may be, so that it may be a part of some other revolutionary work.
Yes, I agree it is extremely difficult, to a degree where it becomes almost possible, for "normal geniuses" like me and everybody else in academy today, to revolutionize physics single-handedly but this put off some students in the class, and it effected me too.
For example, he said that only "one in a trillion men" are capable of revolutionizing physics, excluding women, and there were 4 female students present who got very angry at the end of the class, saying things like "A sexist idiot!", "What does he know?!", "Women are as capable of doing good physics as men, what he says is nonsense."
The female students were mainly suggesting that we should report the "sexist" to the department, but not only them, many male students were too saying so. Almost all of the class is angry, which I believe only for the "You will never revolutionize physics." remark.
It could be true, perhaps it IS true, but what should be done about it? Should it be just pushed aside? Or should it be reported?
And I must also add here that the professor is very famous and respected and if you are in physics, you probably know him. We were all surprised to hear such a thing from him.