Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crazy or Faking It?

So there were 6 of us at journal club today when some guy peeked his head in. It's prefrosh days at Brown and he showed up talking to a professor, so even though he looked to be in his mid-twenties, the assumption was that he was a prospective student. He apologized for interrupting and asked if he could introduce himself and ask a question. We asked him what the question was and he launched into a halting and rambling spiel. He apologized for having difficulties talking because he English wasn't his first language ... because he was an alien ... from the future. I should point out right now that he was a mostly ordinary looking white guy except that he had long blond hair maybe in some sort of braid, a Russian hat (suede looking, not fur), and an animal skull hanging around his neck. At some point, one of the students interrupted him and asked him what his actual question was. What I could pick out of his statement had to do with H.G. Wells and building a time machine and wanting to discuss it with some sort of theoretical astrophysicist, and who could he talk to? Another of the students suggested that he needed engineers not theorists if he wanted to build something, but he was adamant that he wanted to discuss theory. Eventually I told him that he had to decide: he could sit down and join the meeting (and presumably, listen to some student describe a paper) or he could leave. He chose to leave.

We actually finished the rest of the meeting before talking about the little visit. Most of the reactions were 'how crazy was he?' But I'm fairly convinced that the whole thing was an act -- maybe some sort of weird performance art. If I had thought he was truly crazy, I think I would have been nicer to him. But, instead, these 3 things struck me as he was speaking:

1.) His origin story seemed to be cribbed from Scientology. I don't remember exactly what he said other than that he was from googols and googols in the future, but it had a distinct Scientology bent to it.

2.) He said that he didn't speak English very well and spoke haltingly. But he also looked down a lot and seemed to be reading from at least notes and quite possibly a script.

3.) I feel like crackpots usually try to ingratiate themselves with people they think either can help them or need their help. He seemed more interested in making us uncomfortable than ingratiating himself with us.

Now there are all valid crazy person explanations for these three things: crazy people often crib from other sources and are not known for their social skills. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to find out there's some sort of 'musings from a time traveling alien' blog with today's post being 'interacting with Brown University astrophysicists.'

An aside, what about that professor he showed up with? Our visitor must have accosted him in the hall and when the professor saw that he was distracted by us, slipped away. He totally dumped the (possibly faking) crazy guy on us. Not cool, not cool. ;)


Tim said...

If it was a performance you'd think there would be like a hidden camera or something (and maybe there was!)

Jackie said...

Yeah, the camera or lack of it issue did occur to me -- although I hadn't thought of a hidden camera. But I guess sometimes the performance is its own reward, audience or no?

Doug Rudd said...

Performance art with no record seems creepier to me than simple everyday crazy.

I'm impressed you offered him the choice of participating.

Jackie said...

I understand what you mean, but I feel like I've encountered plenty of people whose modus operandi seems to be 'just trying to mess with you.' So that happens. And that's kinda analogous to performance art. Right?

And I'm happy to open scientific meetings to all. ;)

Tim said...

Maybe that's what he had to do to get to the next level in Scientology... gotta go speak truth to the sheeple down at the university. Or something.

Jackie said...

Heh. Although he wasn't actually describing Scientology, just using a bunch of Scientology-inspired ideas. I think.