Although I was present at a talk David Mermin gave at MIT in the 1980s, I do not recall the exchange with Victor Weisskopf over the quote from Aage Petersen. I do recall that Weisskopf was sitting in the front row of the audience. After the talk, he said something to the effect that Bell’s theorem is not so surprising, since it only says that quantum mechanics is inconsistent with a local hidden variable theory and that quantum mechanics is intrinsically nonlocal. Much of what people consider the weirdness or paradoxical nature of quantum mechanics, he said, was really due to its nonlocality; people thought that it ought to be local.
What I remember most, however, is not Weisskopf’s comment, but a story told by Stephan Berko, my freshman physics professor in 1966–67, who was also in the audience at that talk. After listening to the rather inconclusive discussion among Mermin, Weisskopf, and others, Berko recalled something that Bohr said to him—in fact, the only thing Bohr ever said to him directly. Berko had been visiting the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen in 1958 and attended a holiday party, which featured a magic show. After watching some particularly baffling magic tricks, Bohr turned to him and said, “It’s all done with smoke and mirrors!”