But something compelled me to consider his writings, so the next time I was in the library at BYU I checked out two of his books, this one and Infinite in All Directions. So far I have not been disappointed. I was impressed by his fantastic views of the future. For instance he has proposed that "One should expect that, within a few thousand years of its entering the stage of industrial development, any intelligent species should be found occupying an artificial biosphere which completely surrounds its parent star.
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The Alfred P. While cynics may cavil that articulate scientists are by definition atypical, any attempt to demonstrate that scientists are human too can only be welcomed at a time when the heroes of popular culture seem bent on reviving the devil theory of science. In Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson certainly succeeds in presenting a fascinating account of the mind, work, and undeniable humanity of one scientist, but his particular experience and highly individualistic world view are not exactly representative of scientists in general.
Dyson, an Englishman who is a permanent member of the stellar Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, achieved professional eminence at an early age for his pathbreaking work in the esoteric and highly mathematical area of quantum electrodynamics.
Much of his career, however, has been spent far afield from mathematical physics, in such diverse activities as designing nuclear rockets, speculating on extraterrestrial life, and studying Soviet strategic thought.
The book proceeds in a roughly chronological fashion. As an adolescent, Dyson was fascinated with mathematics, and he describes how he spent an entire school vacation at age fourteen or fifteen working through a book on differential equations so that he could become adept at the basic technique needed to become a physicist.
The ecstasy of mathematics was accompanied by the agony of the approaching war. Like other sensitive adolescents, Dyson became a convinced pacifist, and, like most, he compromised his principles when called to serve.
In an environment where his contemporaries serving on active duty were flying out every day on suicidal bomber missions only 30 per cent of the crew members could expect to complete a single tour of duty , while standard bureaucratic operating procedures guaranteed that any proposed methods of reducing bomber losses had little chance of being implemented, it is no wonder that Dyson soon developed a strong case of survivor guilt, which he has still not exorcised.
They ended the war morally undefeated. We had given them at the end of the war the one thing that they lacked at the beginning, a clean cause to fight for. Among those who did not survive the war was Frank Thompson, a slightly older schoolmate. Captured by the Germans, Thompson astonished all present at his trial by making a rousing patriotic speech, in fluent Bulgarian, and died giving a clenched-fist salute. Where is the moral advantage of that regime over the flourishing democracies of West Germany and Japan, countries reduced to rubble by bombing?
In , he came to Cornell, where Hans Bethe had returned from Los Alamos, bringing with him a number of the gifted team of young theoreticians who had worked on the Manhattan Project. Dyson became very friendly with the most brilliant of them, Richard Feynman, who had developed a pictorial shortcut to making the elaborate calculations necessary to describe the interactions of matter and radiation.
Traveling across the continent with Feynman, Dyson talked at length about life, about science, and most of all about quantum electrodynamics. At summer school in Ann Arbor, Dyson heard Schwinger expound his theory, and absorbed it with the voracity he had shown for differential equations as a teenager. By the time Dyson arrived to take up a visiting fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, he had seen that the different approaches merely represented differences in perspective, and had developed a unified theory.
The director of the Institute, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was decidedly cool to both approaches to quantum electrodynamics. After an intellectual battle lasting through three seminars, Oppenheimer began to come around. After two more seminars he offered Dyson, at the age of twenty-four, a long-term appointment to the Institute. Though he does not mention it in his book, Dyson had never bothered to get a Ph.
As an emerging leader in his profession, he is more or less rapidly involved in a variety of activities on the boundary between science and society, serving on committees and having his advice sought on a broad range of scientific and technological activities, often related to national security.
An intensive summer sesssion was capped by a decision to go ahead with the design of a small reactor for training, research, and medical purposes. This reactor was to be totally safe, so safe that even if an attempt were made deliberately to put it out of commission by removing the control rods entirely, no harm could result. In short order the efforts of the design group, which was led by Edward Teller, were crowned with success.
Within three years, the first TRIGA reactors were built, licensed, and sold; they represent one of the few total success stories of commercial reactor design. Unfortunately, Dyson does not note that it was just such a safe TRIGA reactor which aroused intense opposition when it was purchased by Columbia University; one of the first results of the accident at Three Mile Island this year was to persuade the Columbia administration finally to surrender to the clamor of the anti-nuclear zealots.
In connection with the TRIGA story, Dyson discusses the reasons that nuclear power has not fulfilled its early and much heralded promise. He ends on the upbeat note that when the need is great enough, the technology will be developed. He spent a year working with Theodore Taylor on the concept of a rocket which would propel itself by means of a series of small nuclear explosions.
Ultimately, the prohibition of nuclear explosions in space under the test-ban treaty forced Project Orion to be cancelled, but Dyson still believes that it would have worked.
He now believes also, however, that the nuclear rocket would have left behind unacceptable levels of radioactivity. Dyson maintains great enthusiasm for the concept of space flight, preferably carried out by techniques superior to the present, chemically-fueled rockets.
The characteristic approach of the physicist to any problem first of all involves quantification, and Dyson provides a chapter expounding on the economics of space exploration. His preferred approach involves colonizing the asteroids which dot the solar system. As an ACDA consultant, he immersed himself in the study of Soviet nuclear strategy, in which endeavor he was aided by his fluent reading knowledge of Russian, a legacy of his adolescent mentor, Frank Thompson.
Later, he served as faculty adviser to John Phillips, the Princeton undergraduate who achieved fame for designing an atomic bomb using only publicly available information. Dyson points out that while Phillips had indeed acquired a startling amount of information, he had not really designed a working bomb, a fact which neither the news media nor Phillips himself have taken pains to expose.
That Phillips has subsequently used his credentials as a bomb designer to attack nuclear power is; a point Dyson does not mention. He reflects on the relation between the past and the future, the burden of his remarks echoing C. This leads him to offer some visions of the future of the type most commonly found in science fiction. Dyson describes a truly post-industrial society based on robot labor and a highly advanced civilization able to manipulate the resources not merely of a whole planet but those of a star and ultimately even a galaxy.
He draws correlations between cultural and biological evolution, and suggests by analogy that successful societies will allow the greatest degree of flexibility to individuals and small groups. Dyson indulges in a facile classification of the world and its works into two opposing styles, which he terms gray and green.
Physics is gray, biology is green. Plutonium is gray, horse manure is green. Army field manuals are gray, poems are green. One recounts a visit by Dyson to his son George, who lives in the Canadian wilds, and of whose somewhat recondite skills in dealing with nature in the raw Dyson is inordinately proud.
The concluding chapter describes a dream Dyson once had in an Israeli hotel room, in which he was invited to heaven and found the divine throne occupied by an infant. The creativity which in more conventional scientists is focused on going continually deeper into one subject has in his case been used largely to reconcile what others would regard as opposites.
This is most clearly shown in his seminal achievement, the unification of the opposing approaches to quantum electrodynamics, but the urge to reconciliation seems also to be the driving force of his personality. Yet one feels that the Duke of Wellington, who knew that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, would have a simpler explanation. Not only as a pupil but also as the son of a teacher, Dyson was powerfully influenced by his schooling at Winchester, the most intellectually aristocratic of the English public schools.
The Alfred P. While cynics may cavil that articulate scientists are by definition atypical, any attempt to demonstrate that scientists are human too can only be welcomed at a time when the heroes of popular culture seem bent on reviving the devil theory of science. In Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson certainly succeeds in presenting a fascinating account of the mind, work, and undeniable humanity of one scientist, but his particular experience and highly individualistic world view are not exactly representative of scientists in general. Dyson, an Englishman who is a permanent member of the stellar Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, achieved professional eminence at an early age for his pathbreaking work in the esoteric and highly mathematical area of quantum electrodynamics.
Disturbing the Universe, by Freeman Dyson
His father, a prominent composer, was later knighted. His mother had a law degree, and after Dyson was born she worked as a social worker. At age 17 he studied pure mathematics with A. The budding English physicist recognized the brilliance of the flamboyant American and worked with him. He then moved to the Institute for Advanced Study — , before returning to England —51 , where he was a research fellow at the University of Birmingham. He was the first person after their creator to appreciate the power of Feynman diagrams and his paper written in and published in was the first to make use of them.
Disturbing the Universe