A physics professor at Columbia University began a quantum mechanics lecture for fresh-faced freshmen on Monday by stripping down to his underwear on a stage. He ate a banana. A remix of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” played fairly softly.
The Ivy League prof put on different clothes (and sunglasses). He hugged himself. Then, he got into a fetal position.
Next, two people in ninja outfits sallied on stage and placed large stuffed animals — lambs — on stools on the stage. The ninjas blindfolded the lambs. One of the ninjas impaled and thrashed one of the lambs with an impressively long sword.
At the same time, an image of an airplane hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings flashed on a screen in the background.
“Is this real life?” one female student asked as images of Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein crossed the screen. “How does this relate to anything?”
A rapid-fire series of frequently violent images followed on the screen.
The wacky, obviously well-choreographed episode lasted less than 10 minutes. Afterward, Hughes began his lecture.
“In order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain and start over again,” he explained. “Everything you do in your everyday life is totally opposite of what you are going to learn in quantum mechanics.”
The Columbia Daily Spectator, the campus rag, reports that Hughes’s performance art didn’t go over all that well.
“It was very disturbing, and I don’t think anyone in the audience got what he was doing,” said one student.
The Spectator also recalled that Hughes’s performance Monday was not his first rodeo of shocking weirdness. In a similar 2011 lecture, he displayed photographs of naked people at Woodstock.