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A Note to The Granddaughters
I am back into my "physics/quantum theory" phase. I thought I had gotten physics out of my system for a year or so having read several biographies, anthologies, histories of quantum over the past year, but it seems there was at least one more book to read: Freeman Dyson's Disturbing The Universe. I am not keeping up with the notes but I hope to eventually update the post.
As mentioned earlier, I had picked up this book some time ago, and vaguely recall "trying" to read, but found myself not interested. Now, having read all the other books recently (with very fond memories of Louisa Gilder's The Age of Entanglement).
I think I was turned off by Freeman Dyson's book, initially, by his occasional "preachiness." But for some reason, his musings on morality do not bother me. I think the secret was knowing more of the background of the men involved and r e a d i n g t h e b o o k v e r y s l o w l y.
I have just completed chapter five of the Freeman Dyson book which was mostly a chapter on Richard Feynman. Dyson talks about the impact WWI had on the Europeans, suggesting that Americans did not experience a like experience until the Vietnam War. I understand what he was saying: WWI was the great turning point of history for the Europeans, just as the Vietnam was the great turning point of history for the United States. With a bit of reflection, one can argue this is not quite true, and the analogy is inadequate, but I understand what he was trying to say.
Chapter 5 ends with a story of Hans Bethe receiving a package from Japan in 1948. Hans Bethe had been at Los Alamos and was instrumental in building the bomb. By 1948 everyone knew the names of the personalities involved. Hans Bethe had taken as many Los Alamos physicists as he could to Cornell, Ithaca, New York and reassembled the team there.
In that spring of 1948 there was nother memorable event. Hans received a small package from Japan containing the first two issues of a new physics journal, Progress of Theoretic Physics, published in Kyoto. The two issues were printed in English on brownish paper of poor quality. They contained a total of six short articles. Thefirst article in issue No. 2 was called "On a Relativistically Invariant Formulation of the Quantum Theory of Wave Fields," by S. Tomonaga of Tokyo University. Underneath it was a footnote saying, "translated from the paper ... (1943) appeared originally in Japanese."
Hans gave me the article to read. It contained, set out simply and lucidly without any mathematical elaboration, the central idea of [quantum electrodynamics].
The implications of this were astonishing. Somehow or other, amid the ruin and turmoil of the war, totally isolated from the rest of the world, Tomonaga had maintained in Japan a school of research in theoreticl physics that was in some respects ahead of anything existing anywhere else a that time. He had pushed on alone and laid the foundations of the new quantum electrodynamics, five years before [the Americans] and without any help from the experiments [being carried out at Columbia University, where experimental physics was centered at the time].
He had not, in 1943, completed the theory and developed it as a practical tool. [To the Americans] rightly belongs the credit for making the theory into a coherent mathematical structure. But Tomonaga had taken the first essential step. There he was, in the middle of 1948, sitting amid the ashes and rubble of Tokyo and sending us that pathetic little package.
It came to us as a voice out of the deep.On another note, Dyson provides the background to fire bombing of Hamburg and Dresden in WWII, the latter made "famous" by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade.
It sounds strange, but is just very possible that all of this is made more poignant simply by having watched (twice) Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman the past two nights.
And re-reading the wiki biographical sketch of Grace Slick.