Who’s At Your Table?

“If you could have dinner with four people, historical or living, who would be at that table?”

A common interview question but every answer I’ve heard ignores the premise of a dinner: A five-person dinner isn’t about you, it’s about the interaction of all five. Somehow this question gets translated to: if you could have four one-on-one conversations, who would they be with? Maybe that’s the question the interviewer wants to ask, but that would be a terrible dinner.

Here’s one idea: Ever heard of the Bronx High School of Science? Eight Nobel Prize winners went there. The next most for one high school is four. And four of the eight winners were there at the same time, two in the same class (classes of 47, 49, 50, 50) and all four won for physics. What the hell happened there? Extraordinary group of teachers that was in place only for a short time? Competitive students raising their game to match their peers? Something else? I’d put them around a dinner table and encourage reminiscence to try and understand what went on.

Here’s another idea that’s a bit more fantastical: let’s have a series of dinners with historical scientific figures, like Newton or Euclid at, say, age 40 or something, and drop them into a table with three experts in the fields these guys once dominated. How would they react to suddenly facing a series of people with far greater domain knowledge than they could possibly imagine? Could they handle being so inferior? Here’s a better idea: a series of dinners with a few figures at various ages: Newton at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60. Einstein the same, etc.

The point here is that historical figures are all people. I’d like to explore their humanity a bit. And mine, for that matter.

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