Book Club Picks Physics

Freeman Dyson, Maker of Patterns

 

“My tastes have always been perpendicular to my skills.” —Freeman Dyson

Physicist Freeman Dyson, today 94-years- and 4-months-old, joined Lisa Randall last night at the New York Public Library to celebrate his memoir Maker of Patterns. These days, he tells Randall, fields like molecular biology and neurology are speeding up while physics is slowing down. Physics tools of today are big and slow whereas tools of biology are small and fast. Dyson switches tastes to follow the faster-moving fields, regardless how much training he has in them.

 

“We’re an international brotherhood or sisterhood that communicates across barriers.”
—Freeman Dyson

John F. Kennedy had two halves of government: one half for war (which had millions of people working for it) and one half for peace (which had one hundred people, ten of which were scientists). Although the claimed reason scientists were invited to join the team is because they knew about how bombs work, Dyson claims that the scientists’ real power came in having worked with scientists from all nations. Science crosses those borders that politics can’t. They had experience with “the enemy.”

 

“Whether something works correctly depends on the will power of the people working on it.”
—Freeman Dyson

Dyson, something of a prophet, estimates in 50-100 years we will be able to design plants to do what we wish, and in 200-300 years, space travel and space colonization will be affordable and attractive.

 

“A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.” —Godfrey Harold Hardy

Freeman Dyson’s new book is Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Lettersnamed after a quote from G. H. Hardy. It is a transcription of letters he wrote to his family from 1936 to 1978 (with annotations), charting the everyday life of a young physicist on a path to become the renowned Freeman Dyson we know today.

 

 

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