Videos uploaded by user “Web of Stories - Life Stories of Remarkable People”
Donald Knuth - My advice to young people (93/97)
Donald Knuth (b. 1938), American computing pioneer, is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humour. [Listener: Dikran Karagueuzian] TRANSCRIPT: If somebody said what advice would I give to a... a young person - they always ask that funny kind of a question. And... and I think one of the things that... is... that I would... that would sort of come first to me is this idea of, don't just believe that because something is trendy, that it's good. I'd probably go the other extreme where if... if something... if I find too many people adopting a certain idea I'd probably think it's wrong or if, you know, if... if my work had become too popular I probably would think I had to change. This is, of course, ridiculous but... but I see the... I see the... the other side of it too... too often where people will... will do something against their own gut instincts because they think the community wants them to do it that way, so people will... will work on a certain... a certain subject even though they aren't terribly interested in it because they think that they'll get more prestige by working on it. I think you get more prestige by doing good science than by doing popular science because... because if... if you go with... with what you really think is... is important then it's a higher chance that it really is important in the long run and it's the long run which... which has the most benefit to the world. So... so usually when I'm... when I'm writing a book or... or publishing a book it's... it's different from books that have been done before because I feel there's a need for such a book, not because that... there was somebody saying please write such a book, you know, or... or that other people have... have already done that... that kind of thing. So follow your own instincts it seems to me is better than follow the... the herd. I... my friend Peter Wegner told me in the '60s that I should, for Art of Computer Programming, I shouldn't write the... I shouldn't write the whole series first, I should... I should first write a... a reader's digest of... of it and then expand on the parts afterwards. That would probably work for him better than... much better... but I... I work in a completely different way. I have to see... I have to see something to the point where I've surrounded it and... and, sort of, totally understood it before I'm comf... before I can write about it with any confidence and so that's the... that's the way I work, I don't... I don't want to write about a high level thing unless I've fully understood a low level thing. Other people have completely different strengths I... I know but... but for me, I... you know, I wrote a book about the... a few verses of the Bible, once I had... once I understood those verses and... and sort of everything I could find in the library about a small part of the Bible, all of a sudden I had firm pegs on which I could hang other knowledge about it. But if... but if I went through my whole life only under... without any... any in depth knowledge of any part then it all seems to be flimsy and... and to me doesn't... doesn't give me some satisfaction. Well the... the classic phrase is that liberal education is to learn something about everything and everything about something and... and I like this idea about learning everything about... about an area before you feel... if you don't know something real solid then... then you never have... have enough confidence. A lot of times I'll have to read through a lot of material just in order to write one sentence somehow because... because my sentence will then have... have... I'll choose words that... that make it more convincing than if I... than if I'm... than if I really don't have the knowledge it'll somehow come out implicitly in... in my writing. These are little sort-of-vague thoughts that I have when reflecting over... over some of the directions that distinguish what I've done from what... what I've seen other people doing.
Freeman Dyson - Fermi's rejection of our work (94/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: So I was in a high state of enthusiasm and I decided I would go to Chicago and show these results to Fermi and tell him how well we were doing. We wanted to have Fermi's blessing on our efforts as he was really the prime mover in this whole subject, and it was a good opportunity for me to get to know Fermi. Anyway, I arranged through Hans Bethe to go to Chicago and tell him about what we were doing. So I arrived at Chicago and knocked on Fermi's door, and he was very polite. I came in, and he said, 'Yes?' and I showed him the graphs on which our experiment, our theoretical numbers were plotted and Fermi's experimental numbers were plotted, and the agreement was on the whole pretty good. And Fermi hardly looked at these graphs, he just put them on the desk, just glanced at them very briefly and he said, 'I am not very impressed with what you've been doing.' And he said, 'When one does a theoretical calculation, you know, there are two ways of doing it. Either you should have a clear physical model in mind, or you should have a rigorous mathematical basis. You have neither.' So that was it - in about two sentences he disposed of the whole subject. Well then I asked him, well what does he think about the numerical agreement, and he said, 'How many parameters did you use for the fitting? How many free parameters are there in your method?' So I counted up. It turned out there were four. And he said, 'You know, Johnny von Neumann always used to say, "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." So I don't find the numerical agreement very impressive either.' So I said, 'Thank you very much for you help,' and I said goodbye. There was nothing more to be said. The whole discussion took maybe 10 or 15 minutes. And I came back to Cornell to tell the team the bad news. So that was another watershed in my life, and I think it was profoundly useful what Fermi did. He had this amazing intuition. He could spot what was good and what was bad right away. I mean, we might have worked on these calculations for five years if Fermi hadn't given us the red light and, as it was, Fermi was absolutely right because in the end of course it turned out that the theory on which we based the whole calculation was an illusion. There is really no such thing as a pseudo-scalar theory of pions. In reality 10 years later, or whenever it was, quarks were invented and the whole theory of the strong interactions was totally transformed into a theory of quarks, and it's only when you represent the pion as a compound system of two quarks that you can begin to have a real physical theory. So our whole physical basis was wrong, and so it was perfectly true that any experimental agreement we found was illusory, but it took Fermi to see that and he could see it without knowing about quarks - of course nobody had dreamed of quarks at that time - but he felt in his bones that this theory was no good. And he was right. So he saved us maybe five years of blind work and so I'm extremely grateful to him for that. But it was a tough situation for us, especially because we had some graduate students involved in this project. They depended on it for their PhD thesis, so it was difficult. I mean I simply had to tell the team, 'Look, I'm sorry, but this is not going anywhere, so all we can do is write up what we've done and publish it but it's not going to go any further, and you'd better find some other line of work.' So it was not a very pleasant experience for the graduate students or for me. But in the end, of course, it was for the good of us all. But that's the kind of genius that Fermi had, and I think that showed me very clearly that I wasn't a particle physicist, that I didn't have that kind of instinct. I mean, that my gifts are in mathematics and not basically in physics. So when there's a theory that is well based on physics, as it was in the case of quantum electrodynamics, then I can do marvellously well with using it, but I'm not able to invent a new theory, and what was required for the strong interactions was an invention, and that clearly wasn't my cup of tea. And so from that time on I didn't seriously try to solve the problem of strong interactions... Visit http://www.webofstories.com/play/freeman.dyson/94 to read the remaining part of the transcript and to view more of Freeman Dyson’s inspiring thoughts and life stories.
Freeman Dyson - How difficult was it to understand Schwinger? (73/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: So in the meantime, going back now a couple of months, there was a meeting of all the leading physicists at Pocono in the spring of '48, where I wasn't invited but there were then all the leading people, Schwinger and Feynman and Bethe and Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr and Rabi and Lamb, all those people were there. And that was where Schwinger then presented his new version of quantum electrodynamics, which was also getting the right answers. Schwinger had in fact been able to calculate the magnetic moment of the electron and get the right answer, which was a great triumph. That was another of the Columbian experiments done by Kusch and Foley, where they measured the magnetic moment of the electron very precisely, and they found that it was not the Dirac value, but differed from the Dirac value by a certain finite amount, which then Schwinger was able to calculate. And then - so that was a big triumph for Schwinger - and his method of calculating was much more conventional. It was essentially just a relativistic version of Hans Bethe's method. It involved things that Schwinger called Green's Functions, which again I found rather incomprehensible, but Schwinger was very obscure when he described the things he was doing. He loved to make the - as Oppenheimer said, most people when they explain something, they're telling you how to do it; but when Schwinger explains something he's telling you that only he can do it! That was roughly the way it was, I mean, so from Schwinger one only had the impression that this was so difficult and so elaborate a way of calculating, only Schwinger could possibly do it. So people were not too happy with that. But then later on Feynman also was able to calculate the electromagnetic moment and he also got the right answer with his completely different method. So that was also very impressive, that both of these methods somehow must be doing the same thing in some fashion, but nobody understood really the connection. So that was the background in which I came to Ann Arbor; and in Ann Arbor in June of '48 I learned the stuff from Schwinger himself. I listened to his lectures in the morning and I spent the afternoons working very hard, just simply going through the Schwinger lectures step by step and really understanding what he'd been saying, which was very hard work because he just had this wonderfully baroque style of lecturing in which everything was dressed up to be as complicated as possible, and the answer somehow came out miraculously at the end. But I managed to figure out what he'd been doing, so what was clear at the end of this was that actually the Green's Functions that Schwinger was using were really the same thing as the commutators in quantum field theory, that in a way what Schwinger was doing was basically quantum field theory, and that was something I knew, because I'd had it from Kemmer, so I was able to translate Schwinger into the language of quantum field theory and that made sense of it. And then the problem remained whether one could connect that with Feynman, whether one could reduce Feynman also to quantum field theory, and that remained a problem after I finished at Ann Arbor. It was clearly the next thing I had to try. And you actually could talk to Schwinger, I mean... I talked with him very well, in a very happy way. I mean Schwinger was actually very friendly to me. [SS] And very approachable on a one to one..? Yes. When I had him alone, I mean, all this public performance, this disappeared. He actually told me quite plainly what he was doing. No, he was very pleasant, and I always felt he was really a great gentleman because afterwards I sort of stole his thunder, and he never made any complaints.
Stan Lee - What if Stan Lee had created the DC universe? (20/42)
The creative genius of US writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) generated 'Spider Man', 'X-Men', 'The Hulk' and other complex characters. Marvel Comics with Lee at the helm became hugely successful. In January 2011, Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Listener: Leo Bear] TRANSCRIPT: People often ask me which of the DC characters would I have liked to have written, and it really doesn't matter to me 'cause I like writing anything. I think if I had done Superman I would have done him differently. I would have made him more vulnerable. I think the idea of being able to do anything makes you a little uninteresting. Batman is a good idea. It's interesting, the writer of Batman… the fellow who… created Batman — Bob Kane — was a friend of mine, and he was a funny guy. Just the opposite of me. He would go to a restaurant with me, we'd have dinner. Minute the waiter came over: ‘Do you know who I am? I'm Bob Kane. I created Batman. Here, I'll draw you a picture’. I wanted to crawl under the table. I would never say anything like that. But he was so happy that he… and proud of what he had done, and he… and he was always late. Every time we had dinner with our wives, if the appointment was for 8 o’clock he's get there a quarter after. And we tried to top each other. Joan and I would say at the next dinner, you know what? Let's be 20 minutes late, we'll show them. So we'd get there 20 minutes late but he won, he'd be a half hour late. And we'd say, let's get there three quarters of an hour late. He'd be there an hour late. I mean, I couldn't beat this guy. But anyway I… there was a time about, I don't know, six, seven, eight years ago, when DC comics asked me… they wanted to do a series of books called: What if Stan Lee had created the DC universe, or something like that, and they asked me to write Superman, Batman, the… Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern and… I don't know, 10 or 12 of their books, as if I had created them. So I changed all of them around. I made Batman a black man. I made The Flash a female. Just for fun, just to make them different. I really enjoyed doing it.
Freeman Dyson - Richard Feynman and his work (58/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: I immediately heard people talking about Dick. I mean Dick was - everybody called him Dick, 'What did Dick say?' and 'What did Dick think of that?' and so on and so it very quickly became clear that this was somebody noteworthy. And then, the first time I actually got to know him was we went to a seminar at Rochester. At that time the Rochester Department was led by Marshak, and Weisskopf I think was also there, maybe at that time, I'm not sure. [SS] I think he was at MIT already. No, maybe he was - yes, it was Marshak was at Rochester... anyway. So every second week we had a seminar at Rochester and then a seminar at Cornell and people would drive back and forth. So I drove up with Feynman to the Rochester seminar one day, and that was when I first got a real chance to talk with him and it was very exciting in both the conversation, and the driving. He was a reckless driver and I was... [SS] Scared? Well. I was wondering whether we'd get there alive. I don't know that I was actually scared because I had faith in Feynman, but... Anyway, and he talked, of course, a lot about Los Alamos and about the things he had done with his life. He loved to talk, and he was also interested in me and on what was going on in England. So we hit it off right from the beginning. And then, as the year went by, I became a sort of just an interested spectator, watching him work out his version of quantum electrodynamics, as he was in the middle of that and he was just getting it together and struggling himself to understand what was going on. He had these amazing ways of calculating with diagrams, where you didn't have to have equations but you simply wrote down the answers, and instead of solving equations the way other people did, he just wrote down the answers by looking at the pictures. So it was all very incomprehensible, but it gave the right answers. So that was a big challenge for me, and I decided fairly soon that this was the most interesting thing that I could be doing - was to make sense of Feynman. [SS] And your own way of doing mathematics and physics was not visual up to that point? It never was, and I mean I was always analytical in my style, and of course quantum field theory is highly non-visual too. I mean quantum field theory is purely analytical. So I came to Feynman definitely like an anthropologist trying to see what the natives were doing. I mean, I was clearly not his kind of animal. [SS] And the language was strange. It was totally strange, and of course, but I found it all very fascinating and the amazing thing was that it gave the right answers. It had some physical basis. I mean, it came originally from Dirac, his style of doing things, but of course he had transformed it totally. Dirac never had pictures in the way he did. He didn't understand it himself, at that time. I mean it all became systematised fairly soon afterwards, but he was still making up the rules as he went along, and was sort of guided by the answers. And one of the big questions which he never really settled was closed loops. When you had diagrams involving electrons going around in circles and coming back on their own tails, what do you do with those? So he had rules for doing that, but there was essentially an ambiguity in whether they should be plus or minus, and so he made up rules so that the answers would come out right, but without any real physical motivation. So we talked a lot about these questions. The general rule was if Feynman was sitting in his office he would keep the door open and anybody could walk in, and then if he wanted to talk he would say, 'Fine, let's talk.' And if he didn't want to talk he'd say, 'Get out!' But you didn't take it personally. No, you never took it personally, and the nice thing was then, if he said, 'Let's come and talk,' you knew he meant it and, and wasn't just being polite. So we got along. [SS] And he didn't know any field theory either? He wasn't even interested in learning. He said, right away, you know, he said, 'That stuff isn't for me. That's a hard way of doing it, but I can't do it that way.' He knew his way was better.
Freeman Dyson - Why I don't like the PhD system (95/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: [SS] You stay in Cornell for two years and then you go to the Institute. Do you want to say a few words, besides the experience of meson nucleon scattering at Cornell, about life at the university there, and what made you decide to come to the Institute, to accept an invitation to the Institute in '53? Yes. This was a hard choice, because I was spiritually much more at home at Cornell. Cornell is a much warmer place. It's a real community, partly because of Hans. I mean Hans made it like that, but even without Hans - it's a place which commands enormous loyalty. I mean the friends that we made at Cornell 40 years ago, a lot of them are still there. These people just never leave, including Hans himself, who's now been there for 60 years. And so I felt very much at home there and sort of spiritually I still feel more at home in Ithaca than I do in Princeton. So there were these strong forces keeping me at Cornell. Cornell had always been my vision of America, whereas Princeton is not. Princeton is definitely an alien growth in America. Ithaca is the real thing. So from that point of view I would have preferred to stay in Ithaca, and also I love the people there. But I hated the PhD system, and that was what - I felt basically out of tune with the main job I had at Cornell, which was to train PhD students. The whole PhD system to me is an abomination. I don't have a PhD myself, I feel myself very lucky I didn't have to go through it. I think it's a gross distortion of the educational process. What happens when I'm responsible for a PhD student, the student is condemned to work on a single problem in order to write a thesis, for maybe two or three years. But my attention span is much shorter than that. I like to work on something intensively for maybe one year or less, get it done with and then go on to something else. So my style just doesn't fit this PhD cycle. What would happen, a PhD student would want to go on working on a problem for two or three years, but I would lose interest before he was finished. And so there was a basic mismatch between the way I like to do physics and this straightjacket which was imposed on the students. And so I found it was very frustrating, and of course this meson nucleon scattering was a part of that, but it wasn't only the meson nucleon scattering; all the PhD students had these same constraints imposed on them, which I basically disapprove of. I just don't like the system. I think it is an evil system and it has ruined many lives. So that was the down side of Cornell, whereas at Princeton I was offered a job at the Institute for Advanced Study which works on a one year cycle. We have only post docs at this Institute here, so the post docs arrive each year, then they can decide what they want to do. I can collaborate with a post doc for a year, I don't have to keep him fed for the next two or three years after that. So at the end of six months or a year we can say goodbye and I can go and do something else, he can go and do something else if he likes. It's a much more flexible system, and it suits my style much better. So that was a strong reason for coming to Princeton. In addition to that, of course, there was the question of salary, which is never negligible since by that time I had a wife and three kids, and when I arrived at Cornell as a professor, I thought I was rich. I had a salary of $8,000 a year, which to me at that time seemed great wealth. But after living in Ithaca for two years with a wife and three kids, or the third kid just arrived at the end of the time in Ithaca, we found $8,000 dollars wasn't really much, and at Princeton I was offered twelve and a half. So that was a big consideration, that twelve and a half was real wealth, and so that was a good reason to move, and I don't make any bones about that. And in addition, of course, the Institute was a great opportunity. It was something that I had in a way dreamed of, of becoming a professor at the Institute. It carried a certain amount of glory even then, and - anyway, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. And I think it did work out for the best for everybody, since my job at Cornell was taken by Ed Salpeter who did magnificently there, and he's still there and he was certainly more appropriate for the job than I was. So I think I did a favour to Cornell by leaving, in a certain way... Visit http://www.webofstories.com/play/freeman.dyson/95 to read the remaining part of the transcript and to view more of Freeman Dyson’s inspiring thoughts and life stories.
Murray Gell-Mann  - Fermi (37/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: He kept a little notebook with useful formulae, which were all exact–perfect. Every factor of two correct, every sign correct, every dimension correct, everything was right. He never put anything into his little notebook that he carried around with him without making sure it was perfectly correct. And that made it possible for him to do a lot of practical problems just on being asked because he had worked them out before and some of the critical formulae were in his little book. Most things he had thought about before in some form or other, most questions in physics were questions… were… were new forms of questions that he had already answered. And so if you asked him something he would begin at the top left of the blackboard and write line after line and then later on, perhaps at the bottom right or else before that, he would get the answer and put a box around it. And the answer was always correct; he never made any mistakes. A greater contrast with Viki Weisskopf could not be imagined. Everything Viki wrote was modular powers of two, powers of pi, powers of i–the numerator and denominator could well be interchanged. I remember when in a nuclear theory class he tried to derive the resonance formula… [GW] The Breit-Wigner? The Breit-Wigner formula? The Breit-Wigner formula, which in atomic theory was called the Weisskopf-Wigner formula. Breit and Wigner sort of generalized it to nuclear theory, but it was exactly the same formula as the Weisskopf-Wigner formula in atomic theory. Well, he got it all wrong, just completely wrong. The… the numerator was in the denominator, the denominator was in the numerator, the sign was wrong, the values, there were factors of two and pi floating around. So he said ‘Well’, he said,’ this time I haven't prepared, I have to admit, I haven't prepared this lecture, so… but next time I'll come in prepared and I'll derive it correctly’. Well he came in next time and again he tried to derive it and failed again. Now of course every student in that class learnt how to derive the formula. So it was much more effective than Julian Schwinger's smooth presentation, which really didn't leave you learning anything because he glossed over all the difficulties and presented only a very smooth picture of what was happening. Really didn't leave you with much of an idea of how to do it yourself, whereas Viki's mistakes were very educational. Now Fermi got everything right, but he wasn't a formalism person at all. He just calculated things usually with arithmetic, and got the answer by some trick that was very, very simple. However, it was a trick, and it was based on the fact that he had solved the problem several times before in different guises and put the… put the answers in his little notebook. So that it was a little hard to learn from him also because you would–if you were to do the problem yourself— you would have to invent that trick, which was not necessarily so easy. He didn't do it in, he didn't do a problem in a general way so that you would immediately recognize that that was the same way that you would do the problem. He had his own little twist, which you would have had to invent if you were to do it yourself. Anyway, it was all fine. But if you asked him a question to which he didn't know the answer, then things got much more difficult. He was not so happy about that and the discussion became difficult, and very interesting, but difficult. And of course I asked him fairly often things that he didn't, questions to which he didn't really know the answer, and we had some very interesting discussions as a result.
Brendan Ingle - 'Fame and glory is only a twinkle in the eye': Naseem Hamed (11/15)
Brendan Ingle (1940-2018) was a former professional boxer and boxing manager. He used to mentor Herol Graham, Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson, Clifton Mitchell. In total, he trained three world champions, six European, 15 British and six Commonwealth champions. [Listener: Christopher Sykes]
Freeman Dyson -Talking physics with Feynman: path integrals (71/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: And he talked about physics, of course, a great deal and there I argued with him a lot because I still had strong resistance to his way of doing things. [SS] His way of doing things now being path integrals.... Yes. I said to him, 'Look, you've got to get the mathematics right otherwise it doesn't make any sense. You've got to have some solid foundation in mathematics. It's all right to draw the pictures but...' [SS] Could I interrupt you? Yes. [SS] I mean, could you... when were you introduced to path integrals and his way of thinking about quantum mechanics? Maybe you could say a few words about that. Well he talked a great deal about integrals, but he didn't really use them. You see, there were two aspects to Feynman - I mean the way of doing physics. There was the path integral which gave him sort of the fundamental view of the physical world - before there were propagators this is. The path integral doesn't have propagators, the path integral simply says that you sum all the histories, that the world just does everything it can, there are no laws, there are no rules. You start out with the world in a certain state and then it does everything it can, it can move in all sorts of directions, all the particles can jiggle around as much as they want in all possible ways, and then at the end then there's a certain probability amplitude for finding a particular state in the future, and you find the probability amplitude for that future outcome by simply adding together all the paths. That's it - that's the recipe. And that makes sense, and so each path contributes an amplitude which is just got by integrating the Lagrangian over the volume, and that was his recipe. But he never really used that, but it gave him the physical basis. And then out of that he concocted these working rules which were sort of a crude approximation to the path integral, in which you simply gave each particle a straight line trajectory - instead of having a real path integral you just got a schematic approximation to it by having a straight line track for each particle, and then joining the tracks together at vertices where they interacted, and then you had propagators telling you how the particles got from one place to another. So in order to get the probability amplitude then you just added up the propagators. And that was sort of a crude version of a path integral, but it wasn't the same thing.
Marvin Minsky - The beauty of the Lisp language (44/151)
The scientist, Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, having founded the MIT AI Lab in 1970. Since the 1950s, his work involved trying to uncover human thinking processes and replicate them in machines. [Listener: Christopher Sykes] TRANSCRIPT: John McCarthy was a good programmer; I was a… not very good programmer and he had invented this wonderful language called Lisp, which was based on the nice language that Newell and Simon had invented called… no, it’s called IPL, Information Processing Language. IPL is made of little atoms and it’s very tedious, and McCarthy’s invention was… it was more like FORTRAN, which was… which is a language… IPL just had little instructions, FORTRAN has statements, make this true, and Lisp had statements with a very clean syntax. It only had… it basically has five basic verbs, whereas FORTRAN has a big mass of arbitrary… has a big library, and so McCarthy’s was a very elegant cleaning up of… of computer science. And thereafter, there were two kinds of languages, the algebraic language FORTRAN, and this recursive language call… based on Lisp, which… they’re now dying out because of… in a Lisp program, you can write a program that writes Lisp programs so it has a kind of open future; now, no… no-one actually does that yet, but it’s still possible. In the other languages, it's almost… you can’t write a C program that will write a C program, it’s just… there aren’t any verbs of the right kind, so to me programming hasn’t changed much in 50 years because they got locked into this… strange set of limitations.
Freeman Dyson - Could gravity vary with time? (109/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: The question was raised by Dirac, I think in 1936 or thereabouts: Could gravity be varying with time as the universe evolves? And the motivation for Dirac was he didn't like the fact that gravitational interaction is so weak as compared with other kinds of interactions, so if you take a dimensionless ratio which is Gm2/hc, where G is the gravitational constant of Newton, m is the mass of a proton, h is Planck's constant, and c is the velocity of light - that's a dimensionless number; it happens to have the value 10-39, and Dirac considered that to be ugly; that in the laws of physics there's this enormously small quantity which appears to be just arbitrary and put in by God into the laws of physics, and he said any self-respecting god wouldn't have done that, so that there must be some reason for this very small number appearing. So Dirac's argument was that if you assume that gravity goes down with time, like 1/T from the beginning of the universe, and you measure time in units of the proton Compton wave length, which is sort of the natural unit of time - no, not the Compton wavelength but the Compton frequency, the Compton wave length divided by velocity of light - then the unit of time is about 10-22 seconds, and the universe has existed for about 1017 seconds, so the ratio between the present age of the universe and the natural unit of time is 1039. So that's an interesting fact. So Dirac's hypothesis was that - so this small number merely is indicating the particular age at which we live in the history of the universe; in the natural units we are 1039 units from the beginning of time. So if you assume that gravity goes like 1/T, then you don't need to write this small number into the laws of physics. Well that was a very attractive notion to Dirac. He had this very strong belief in the power of aesthetics to divine the laws of nature, but then it's a question whether that's experimentally true. Well after that, then... Dirac's hypothesis remained a hypothesis for 40 years. Nobody had good enough observational data either to confirm it or to contradict it. So it remained quite possible that Dirac was right. In the meantime I think it was Edward Teller who proposed that the same thing might be true for the fine-structure constant, since that's also a rather small number, not as small as the gravitational coupling constant, but it's still... it's e2/hc, that's 1/137, and that looks like a logarithm. If you take the logarithm of Dirac's number, the natural logarithm of 1039 is about a 100, so it's about a 100 powers of e, so you might imagine that 137 is the logarithm of the time. And so Teller proposed the hypothesis that the electromagnetic interaction is also weakening with time, but going like 1 over logarithm. So that was also a very interesting question and that... Teller proposed that, I think - I don't remember exactly when, around 1950 or so - I mean it was some time after Dirac. And that was clearly much easier to test because we have much more accurate information about the electromagnetic interaction than we do about gravity. So... attention then was immediately concentrated on the fine-structure constant rather than on gravitation. And the first response to Teller, I think, came from Denys Wilkinson and he showed that in fact Teller couldn't be right, and he did that by looking simply at the decay rate of uranium in ancient rocks. That if you observe isotopes of uranium and isotopes of lead into which they decay in ancient rocks you can... by - it's a fairly circular argument, but you can in fact more or less prove by looking at these different kinds of rocks that the decay rates have remained pretty constant over the last 109 years or so, within 10%, something like that. I mean, there hasn't been a huge variation in the decay rate. Well, if you take the rate of the outer decay of uranium 238, it's actually extremely sensitive to the fine-structure constant because it... the alpha particle has to come out of the nucleus over a very high Gamow barrier, and the Gamow formula for the lifetime has an exponential with the fine-structure constant in it, since the fine-structure constant determines the Coulomb interaction between the alpha particle and the rest of the nucleus. So you... the lifetime goes like the exponential of something proportional to the fine-structure constant with a big coefficient. And so if you change the fine-structure constant by a small fraction, you change the lifetime by the 500th power of the fine-structure constant. So it's actually a very sensitive test for variation of the fine-structure constant, and so that by itself was enough to demolish Teller.
Stan Lee - Creating 'The Hulk', 'Spider-Man' and 'Daredevil' (16/42)
The creative genius of US writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) generated 'Spider Man', 'X-Men', 'The Hulk' and other complex characters. Marvel Comics with Lee at the helm became hugely successful. In January 2011, Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Listener: Leo Bear] TRANSCRIPT: I think the next one I did was The Hulk. Funny thing, I wanted to get a… I always liked Jekyll and Hyde, and I always liked the Frankenstein movie — the old one with Karloff. And in the Frankenstein movie I always felt the monster is really the good guy. He didn't want to hurt anybody. All those idiots with torches were always chasing him up and down the hills. So I thought it would be fun to get a monster who was really a good guy, but nobody knew that, and to take a leaf from the Jekyll and Hyde thing where he could change from a normal person into the monster. And I did The Hulk. Now since the kids seemed to like costumes, I couldn't think of an excuse to put a monster in a costume so I figured I'd do the next best thing. I'll make his skin a different color. I did not think of green originally, I made it grey in the first issue. I thought, that will be scary-looking, a guy with grey skin. But unfortunately when the book came out the grey was a different shade on every page. One page was light grey, one page it was dark grey, one page he looked black, one page it was white. And I realized the printer was having trouble with the grey color. So when you're a cartoon editor and writer you're like God, you can do anything. I said: ’I'll change his skin color’. So in the next issue I made him green. Turned out wonderful, the printer was able to do a good job with green but more than that, it gave me a chance to come up with little cute sayings like… I called him the Green Goliath, the Jolly Green Giant, and Old Greenskin — I love using expressions. So that's how The Hulk was born. And then we were now on a roll. The Fantastic Four was a big seller, The Hulk was doing well, so Martin said: ‘Stan, dream up another one’. So I did Spider-Man. And when you do a superhero strip the first thing you have to think of is, what super power will he have? And I was trying to think of a new power. We already had The Thing who was the strongest guy, and The Hulk was strong. We had a guy who could fly – The Human Torch – we had The Invisible Girl, we had… everybody could do everything. So I… I was… I've told this story so often that for all I know, it might even be true, 'cause I really don't remember exactly, but I think I was watching a fly walking on a wall, and I said: ‘Gee, wouldn't it be cool if I had a hero who could stick to walls like an insect?’. But I think I'm lying. I probably didn't say wouldn't it be cool, 'cause I don't think the word cool was in usage. I probably said: ‘Wouldn't it be groovy’. I want to be nothing but totally accurate here. At any rate I thought, I'll get a guy who's like an insect. So I figured okay, what kind? What’ll I call him? Insect Man? That didn't sound dramatic. Mosquito Man? No. I went down the list. When I got to Spider-Man — Spider-Man — oh, that sounded dramatic. So I figured I'd call him that, and then we had him shoot webs. That was great. And again, I tried to keep it realistic. In order not to make him a typical hero I made him an average guy who was kind of unpopular. He was sort of a nerd. The kids didn't like him; they thought he was a bookworm. He didn't have enough money, he had to support his old aunt. He was an orphan. He was shy and so forth. And it turned out he was somebody that the readers could relate to, so he became very successful. He became our most popular character. And then came the others, then… I don't even remember the order in which they were, but I was told later — I didn't realize it at the time — but people would say to me: ‘You gave all your characters handicaps’. And I realized I guess it's true I was trying to make them realistic. Everybody's handicapped in some way. I'm handicapped, I talk too much. But the next one I made blind. I thought it would be fun to have a blind superhero 'cause I had read somewhere when you lose your sight all your other senses become magnified. So I thought it would be great if we have a guy, even though he can't see, he can do anything better that anyone else. He'd have a radar sense, a sonar sense. He could tell if you were lying 'cause he could hear your heart beat change — the rhythm. He could read by running his finger over a newspaper 'cause his fingers are so sensitive. Like with Braille, he could actually feel the newsprint on the paper. And he'd be the world's greatest gymnast because you get your balance from your ear. So I loved Daredevil, he became very popular.
Freeman Dyson - The Feynman diagrams (72/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: So Feynman has this path integral picture of the world, as if the world was a kind of a tapestry in which all kinds of things could go on and all you had to do in order to predict the future was start with a known state in the past, allow everything to happen in the intermediate time in all possible ways, every particle or every field could jiggle around as much as it wanted in all directions, and then at the end, in the future state, you want to calculate the probability amplitude for a particular configuration in the future, you simply add up the contributions from all the histories in between. Each history contributes a certain probability amplitude and the amplitude is just the integral of the Lagrangian over the space time volume between the past and future. So that was Feynman's picture and it made sense, it was understandable as a physical picture. But then he had a practical version of this which was a sort of a crude approximation which was the Feynman diagrams, which were very different actually, although they were supposed to be an approximation. The Feynman diagram just consisted of a set of straight line tracks which were supposed to be individual particle tracks, and joined at, vertices where two or three lines would intersect, and each vertex corresponded to an interaction and each straight line corresponded to a particle track. And then you had propagators which were telling you the probability amplitude for the particle to move from A to B, and then instead of a path integral you had just a sum over the propagators. And that was supposed to give you the answer, and the amazing thing was that it did, the amazing thing was that this very simple diagram method gave you the right answers although the connection between that and the path integral wasn't at all obvious. So what I was always trying to persuade Feynman was that it's not enough to get the right answers, you have to understand what you're doing. And so we had big arguments about that, and I told him that he ought to learn some quantum field theory if he wanted really to understand this, and he said it just was a language he never would learn and he didn't think it was worth it. As far as he was concerned he thought in pictures and he didn't think in terms of equations. I thought in terms of equations and not in pictures. So we never agreed, but we just had fun talking.
Freeman Dyson - Early work on Ramanujan and the continued relevance of mathematics (147/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: My first piece of real research was in number theory, directly inspired by Ramanujan, who was this Indian genius who lived in the early 20th century and died in 1921. And, so he had left open a lot of conjectures and I found some fresh conjectures very much in the Ramanujan style and I published those in the student magazine at Cambridge called Eureka. And so that was the earliest work I ever did, and the beautiful thing was that one of these conjectures called the crank conjecture was actually proved 45 years later and that's... so I was very delighted I lived long enough to see this conjecture proved; it was done by... by Frank Garvan who is a young Australian. And so that subject is still very alive, and in fact the whole subject of what I call 'Ramanujanology', which is the sort of number theory in the style of Ramanujan, is now rejuvenated, mostly the result of two people, George Andrews and Bearnt... Bruce Bearnt, two mathematicians who have taken up the systematic exploration of everything Ramanujan conjectured. They've gone through all the notebooks of Ramanujan, proving all the statements that he conjectured, of which there are thousands, so it's been a life work for Andrews and Bruce Bearnt, and so in... and they've attracted a very large number of graduate students over the years so there's now an army of young people involved in this kind of number theory, which is great fun, and of course Frank Garvan is one of them. So the ranks and cranks that I worked on as a student in Cambridge are still very much alive. So that's... that's a big joy for me; it's the beauty of mathematics, as opposed to physics, that it's forever. I published my selected papers recently in one volume, and I found out that when you publish your selected papers most of the physics is ephemeral, that you don't want to publish stuff that was written 10 or 20 years earlier, but the mathematics is permanent. So essentially everything I've ever published in mathematics is there, whereas only about a quarter of what I published on physics was worth preserving.
Freeman Dyson - Hans Bethe (65/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: I was immediately impressed with how friendly he was and how much he cared about students, just that we were just a friendly bunch in a way that I'd never experienced in England. Well, the very first afternoon when I walked into this freezing cold building and I met Bethe, the thing which I noticed first was extraordinary muddy boots he was wearing. It was one of these hot steamy days where the ground was very muddy and no professor in England would be seen in such muddy boots. And the other thing was that all the students called him Hans, and that was something completely new to me, I mean, even, I can't imagine calling even my best friend, Besicovitch, I never called him Abram and it just wouldn't have occurred to us to call a professor by his first name. [SS] Nor Kemmer? No, Kemmer was always Kemmer. [SS] Dr Kemmer? No, not Dr Kemmer. No - he was Kemmer, I think, but that's the way it was. I mean - family names. And, anyway, so Hans was very different and his whole style was different. He had this intense love of doing physics collectively. I mean that it wasn't really physics if you did by yourself, it was something you did with a group of people. And so I just loved it from the beginning and became very much a part of it right away. And then, of course, his way of work was actually quite unique, I mean if you compare Bethe with anybody else I knew. First of all, he had total command of the facts, that he absolutely just - you never needed to look up a number in a table because he knew them all. He knew all the energy levels of hydrogen and he knew the atomic weights of the different elements and the density of lead and gold and uranium, all these just physical quantities, he knew them all. In addition of course, he had an extraordinary ability to sit down and calculate and just simply go at it. He would have a problem, he would simply sit down and do it, and that's rather unique I think. I mean he went on calculating all day long whenever he wasn't interrupted, and he almost always was interrupted, but that didn't matter because he would get to page 352 in his stack of pages and then he would be interrupted by a student, and then as soon as the student went out of the door he'd go back to page 353, and he would just continue without a break. So he used his time with amazing efficiency. So he was able to do really hard calculations without spending too much time, just by working so efficiently. And he was, of course, also just extraordinarily reliable: if he said something, you could believe it. He was very careful about everything he said. So just a thoroughly solid person. Very different from Feynman, because Feynman was far more imaginative. I mean, one thing Bethe did not have was imagination; he never really invented anything, he just used the theories that were there to explain the facts, and he knew the facts and he knew the theories, so he just put them together; whereas Feynman was always inventing things and he didn't believe the theories that were taught in the textbooks, he had to make them up for himself, so he had a much harder time; but still, of course, in the end you need imagination too; I mean, both kinds of physicists are needed. But for me Hans was just ideal because what I needed was just guidance in doing some real calculations and as a guide Feynman would have been useless to me. In fact, he was not good with graduate students at all. He always said he didn't like graduate students and if he had a problem that would be of interest to a student he would do it himself, and that he just wasn't able to supply the kinds of problems that students needed because everything that he worked on was generally so imaginative and beyond the reach of students. So for me, it was far better that I was working with Bethe, but at the same time I could learn a hell of a lot from Feynman.
Richard Wilbur reads 'Love Calls Us to the Things of This World'
http://www.webofstories.com/gl/richard.wilbur for more of poet Richard Wilbur's life stories. Twice Pulitzer Prize winner and former US Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur reads his poem: 'Love Calls Us to the Things of This World'.
Choose to be optimistic! - Alice Herz-Sommer
Alice Herz-Sommer (1903-2014) was the world's oldest survivor of Hitler's holocaust. But what really made her stand out was her extraordinary optimism and forbearance - her conviction that despite all the terrible things that she witnessed, she could not and would not bear any trace of enmity or hatred. Watch... and get inspired! Visit http://www.webofstories.com/people/alice.herz-sommer for more of Alice Herz-Sommer's life stories.
Freeman Dyson - The S-matrix paper that made me famous (80/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: I wrote the S-matrix paper over Christmas. Because the S-matrix paper needed a lot more work. It was a much more ambitious programme. It meant proving the whole series could be done all the way. The original radiation theory paper was only to second order and I had to prove that everything worked to all orders of perturbation theory and so on. So that took a while. [SS] But it was already in your mind to try to do the general problem? Yes. It became clear that it was the S-matrix that we were talking about, so then, it was in probably October, November, December, I worked out the S-matrix theory and then wrote it up over Christmas, and I remember going to a tea party with Wigner - I never really got to know Wigner well, but he invited me to tea which was nice and his wife was very hospitable. I think, again, Cécile and I were invited and I was going out with Cécile a lot at that time, although I never had the slightest romantic feelings about Cécile but she was such a great person, so we got along very well. Anyway, so we went to tea with Wigner and just as we were walking in at the door, suddenly I realised that divergences could overlap, that the whole S-matrix technique depended on divergences not overlapping, but in fact they did overlap and so the whole thing was no doubt completely wrong. So I walked into Wigner's house with this sudden... [SS] Insight... Realisation the whole bottom had fallen out of it! So I was rather inattentive during the tea party. And then, afterwards, I came home and tried to work out the overlapping divergences but I never really got them straight, so it remained a loose end. So I wrote the S-matrix paper without really settling the problem of overlapping divergences, which afterwards Abdus Salam actually did. So I left it for him actually to clean it up, and so it was a matter of faith whether you believed that it was going to work. But I wrote the paper anyhow and published it because I couldn't deal with the overlapping divergences. They really were very hard to do. And then, so after that paper was published, then suddenly I became famous and my life changed, from ever afterwards...
Hans Bethe - Freeman Dyson: An excellent graduate (107/158)
German-born theoretical physicist Hans Bethe (1906-2005) was one of the first scientists to join the Manhattan Project, later strongly advocating nuclear disarmament. In 1967, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: Then there was another young man who was with me, namely Freeman Dyson. He was an Englishman who had studied mathematics in the Tripos at Cambridge. And, GI Taylor, who was a professor at Cambridge, not in physics but in hydrodynamics. GI Taylor, whom we... I knew very well from Los Alamos, who had consulted for us, wrote me a letter. 'Well, I have here a graduate student,' in typical English understatement, 'who is not entirely stupid. It would be nice if you would take him on as a graduate student.' So I wrote back that I would be glad to take him on. And it turned out that Dyson knew everything. I gave him a problem, namely to do the Lamb shift now, not for an electron which has spin a half, but for a particle of spin zero. And I thought this would be a thesis problem. Well, he came back in... in about two weeks, asking some questions which I couldn't answer, but he found the answers himself, and in two more weeks, he came back with the answer. The Lamb shift was very similar for a particle of spin zero, and I told him 'Well, OK, now you write this up and publish it.' He was astonished that this was enough to be published. But it was, I think maybe it came just about the same time as... as the publications by the... by Schwinger and Feynman, maybe it was a little earlier. So Dyson was very much interested in Feynman's work, and talked to Feynman constantly, following Feynman's developments. And he... knew about Schwinger's work, he went to... to Ann Arbor to listen to Schwinger at the summer conference. And then Dyson was able to show that Schwinger's approach and Feynman's approach were really equivalent, which was not at all obvious because they seemed totally different. Dyson, after spending a year here, went to the Institute of Advanced Studies, on my suggestion, and Oppenheimer gave him a hard time. Oppenheimer had really not understood Feynman's work. And it took a long time before Oppenheimer recognized that Dyson was a really excellent physicist. In fact, it took an invited lecture by myself to present Feynman's theories to Oppenheimer's seminar, I think only after that, Oppenheimer came around to Dyson and said 'Well, maybe you are right, and maybe this is a good theory.'
Freeman Dyson - Meeting Feynman with Cécile DeWitt-Morette - the proof needed (77/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: There were two problems which Cécile and I took along for Feynman to deal with... were the scattering of light by an electric field, and the scattering of light by light; especially the scattering of light by light had been a sort of a notoriously difficult problem. It had been more or less done by Euler and Kochel before the war with old-fashioned methods. It was a formidable calculation and it wasn't at all clear that we could do it by the new methods of Feynman. And it was something we had to get straightened out before this whole theory was really complete. So we asked Feynman about this, and he said, 'Let's see about that.' And he sat down and he just worked through it; in about three quarters of an hour he'd done the whole thing and it was the most amazing performance. He just - with his lightning calculations, it all came out very beautifully. It turned out that the third order effect was zero and the fourth order effect was finite and everything worked exactly the way we wanted. So after then, it meant that the theory really was consistent. And we talked about other things there and Feynman had an amazing proof of the Maxwell equations from quantum mechanics which I published after his death. He didn't want to publish it, he said it was just a joke, but finally after he died I decided it was time to have it published. It was something so clever and cute and it is in fact a rather illuminating idea, although I mean Feynman was right that it didn't lead anywhere, but still I'm happy that I was able to publish it in the American Journal of Physics some time after he died. So he told us about that, and other things. He was just bubbling over. He was so happy to have somebody to talk to, and so Cécile and I had a great time. And we came back to Princeton just bubbling with enthusiasm for Feynman and his way of doing things.
John Archibald Wheeler's crazy ideas for a crazy world [video]
Visit http://www.webofstories.com/gl/john.wheeler for more of theoretical physicist John Wheeler's life stories. American theoretical physicist, John Wheeler, talks about his crazy ideas for understanding this crazy world.
The Space Traveller's Watch - George Daniels
Recognised as the greatest living horologist and one of the greatest watchmakers of all time, George Daniels is known for his invention of the co-axial escapement. This was the first major mechanical improvement in watch design for 500 years. Visit http://webofstories.com/rp/george.daniels for more of George Daniels's life stories.
Freeman Dyson -  Edward Teller: Like a spoilt brat (114/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: And the interaction with Teller was delightful, because we fought like cats. He's a very emotional guy, as is well known, so when we disagreed he would very often just go off in a huff and throw a tantrum and say, 'I'm going to quit if I don't get my way,' and then Freddie de Hoffman would be scared because he didn't want to lose Edward Teller, so Freddie would then decide that things had to be done the way Teller wanted. So he would always win the argument by throwing a tantrum. But I was quite happy because I knew it would all pass over in a couple days, and it was just an interesting human spectacle to watch Teller in action. So I never took it personally, and then in two days Teller would have forgotten or would have had a new brilliant idea and we'd all be happily working together again. [SS] I mean, as you said, this is 2 years after the Oppenheimer resolution, of severing his ties with the AEC and the community... the physics community was certainly unhappy with Teller's behaviour. Did it manifest itself at San Diego during 1956? No, the people there were all Teller's friends, more or less. I mean, Freddie had been very close to him, Freddie de Hoffman who was the boss, and I think everybody there was basically on Teller's side. I mean not that they approved of what he'd done in the hearings, but we all found... I mean, we knew Teller was a spoilt brat, that was all, I mean, that he was power hungry and he was unscrupulous and... and he would behave in a brattish way, but still he was somebody you could work with and, and he always produced these brilliant ideas. So we could tolerate him very well, whether we agreed with his politics or not.
Murray Gell-Mann - Collaborating with Feynman (84/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: In the summer of ’58, Dick Feynman and I worked together on another little paper which he presented in Geneva at the–not at the International Meeting on Particle Physics, but at another meeting which was on the uses of atomic energy or something like that. But at that meeting there was a little session on pure physics and there he presented a little paper by the two of us on various issues in connection with the strong and the weak interactions. After that we didn't collaborate very much any more. I like the situation where one thought in terms of 'we'; we do this, we do that. And I am… under those conditions I am willing to be very generous about credit and so on, pooling ideas and joint responsibility; whereas Dick kept thinking in terms of what I did: I did this, I thought of that, I thought of this, I thought of that and so on. And actually he thought very highly of me and of my contributions, that wasn't the problem. It was just the… the way in which he operated was very much–what shall I say–was one of being very self-contained, even though we were collaborating. And I didn't like it very much. I didn't… I don't think we did very much collaboration after that. [GW] Did you talk much physics after that? Oh yeah, we continued to talk about physics for quite a while and off and on we did until the very end. Just before he died we had a conversation about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, for example, on which we had very similar views, and... no, we had… we had quite compatible views on a lot of things and we did talk from time to time, but it's just that I was so irritated by his constantly speaking about what I did, meaning himself. And this despite the fact that he did not really depreciate my contributions to anything. I know that he didn't, but somehow he was incapable of a… of a collective approach to anything.
Murray Gell-Mann - MIT or suicide (17/200)
Visit http://www.webofstories.com/people/murray.gell-mann for more of Murray Gell-Mann's inspiring life stories. New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann is known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.
Freeman Dyson -  'God appears to be a mathematician' (148/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: I find it a miracle. I mean, I don't pretend to understand it and I think it is absolutely marvellous that nature somehow thinks like a mathematician, that was what James Jeans said that... that God appears to be a mathematician. And it is astonishing that somehow all these weird mathematical ideas which we have invented for purely aesthetic reasons, essentially just as works of art, as intellectual constructions, turn up then unexpectedly to be used in nature. There're so many examples of this, of course. Of course the classic case was differential geometry which was invented by Gauss for very practical purposes, just for projecting maps from the spherical earth onto a plane, onto a piece of paper, so he invented this differential geometry as a way of representing curved surfaces on a flat plane. And then 50 years later Riemann applied that to a description of space and conjectured that space itself might actually be curved, but it was still sort of purely an intellectual hypothesis without any kind of physical basis. And then another 50 years later it turned out to be the essential tool for Einstein to understand gravitation. It is in fact what Einstein used for general relativity. So it's built... it's built deep into the structure of space-time. It's a miracle how that happened. So Gauss had developed this tool for totally other reasons. And that's happened again and again. Of course Lee invented Lee groups to understand classical dynamics, and it turned out to be, 100 years later, exactly what you need to describe particles, and I don't know why, but... so the world has deeply built into it these mathematical structures and there seems to be a kind of rule that anything mathematicians can invent, God somehow can use. So we hope that's also true of the Riemann hypothesis. We haven't yet found the Riemann hypothesis verified in nature, but maybe we will one day.
Murray Gell-Mann - Scientists I've known (197/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: I've known a number of prominent, physicists especially, quite well. [GW] But who have you been most impressed with? Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Szilárd... Leó, Wolfgang Pauli, and I knew Niels Bohr slightly and I knew Heisenberg. I didn't think much of Heisenberg as a researcher after the war although I understand he was a really great researcher and great person before the war. I don't know, many of these people I knew, and a certain number of stories about them, but... [GW] I was trying to elicit... ... I don't think, I… I don’t think I can give a very good appreciation of their roles. I just gave the Oppenheimer Lecture, the first one, at Berkeley, a couple of days ago, and there I gave some impressions of Robert, whom I liked very much despite the fact that he could occasionally be difficult. And I was so sad that he was a victim of such injustice as a result of adopting the army position on nuclear weapons instead of the air force position on nuclear weapons, even though the air force position wasn't that bad, I didn't think that people should be persecuted for taking a different position. Enrico was extremely funny, and... We had a great time at Chicago, I must say. There was quite a lunch table we had almost every day with Fermi, Yuri, and other people who were quite good like Mullican, and sometimes Szilárd. The conversation wasn't quite as fascinating as one would expect from listing these people, but it was sometimes quite amusing. Enrico was much taken with the funny papers, especially Li'l Abner. He spent a lot of time quoting Li'l Abner, of which he was inordinately fond. His friend, Gian Carlo Wick, whose mother was a novelist and who was very literary in his tastes, I think got him a subscription once to something like the Virginia Quarterly [sic] or the Sewanee Review, but Enrico much preferred L'il Abner. [GW] How about people in more recent times? Well Dick Feynman and I, of course, had offices just about next door to each other for 33 years, so I knew him pretty well. A great clown who was also a good scientist, although not quite the giant that some people make out, he was a very good scientist, and… and we had a lot of fun together, at least in the early years.
Murray Gell-Mann  - Einstein (33/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: Einstein was around. We saw him most days, he would come in. He would walk in sometimes with Gödel, but they looked like Mutt and Jeff, tall Einstein and little tiny Gödel. They were deep in conversation about something or other, I don't know what. I never spoke with Einstein except to say hello, and you know, 'Good morning', or something. And I suppose he would answer, 'Guten morning' or whatever. [GW] He was not involved, or interested, I should say, with... I know he wasn't involved He showed no great interest in sort of what was called particle physics at the time... No, no. He didn't believe in any of it. And that's why I didn't interact with him. I thought it would be pretentious and artificial to cultivate a relationship with Einstein when he didn't believe anything that we were doing, because he didn't believe quantum mechanics, and he didn't think that all these elementary particles were of any importance. He thought they would all be derived some day from a theory of electromagnetism and gravity. So I knew that there wouldn't be any real overlap in our work, and this idea of... of striking up a friendship or a relationship with this distinguished old man for the sake of historical associations struck me as the kind of thing that people I didn't like did. Today I would feel completely different. Today I wouldn't have those ideas. I would want to know this important, interesting figure. [GW] He died not so long after that. He died in ’55 when I was there on my second visit. And if I remember correctly, the newspaper people were taking pictures of Fuld Hall with the flag at half-staff in connection with reporting his death. And they wanted some human figure in the picture, preferably a pretty young lady, and so my fiancé Margaret was the one they asked to pose, with her legs crossed in front of the Institute for Advanced Study, so that... so that they could have a... they could have a human figure in the... in the picture of Fuld Hall with the... with the flag at half-staff. [GW] You didn't interact with him on your second visit? No, I didn't... He was probably... ...I didn't ever... well, then he was quite ill, by then he was quite ill. In ’51 he wasn't that ill. I had missed his last seminar. His last seminar was given about a month before I arrived and everybody was still talking about it. If I had not delayed so long in writing up my dissertation I would have been there and seen and heard his last seminar at the institute. He talked, of course, about his attempts to construct a unified theory of gravitation and electromagnetism. It was an entirely unsuitable theory and of course one knows that it should have been a theory including a lot of other particles and a lot of other forces, and it should have been quantum mechanical and so on and so on. We know that and we even suspected it then of course. And the theory just wasn't... didn't make a lot of sense. It didn't have very sensible interactions between gravity and electromagnetism. But it had nice formal properties which appealed to Einstein. And by the way Schrödinger, at just about the same time, came up with just about the same theory except for using i equals the square root of minus one in his equation, so in other words instead of an unsymmetrical metric he had... or connection... he had a... a complex one, a Hermitian one. [GW] Did you interact with Oppenheimer much? Oh yes, oh yes, a great deal, but... no, but I was about to say something... oh, about Einstein's last seminar. What they were talking about was not the content; what they were talking about was that they weren't able to concentrate on the content because of the presentation. He was dressed in the costume that he conventionally wore after his second wife died, and he neglected himself very much after she died. He had on a pair of baggy trousers unpressed, and shoes with no socks... just to have more time for work I guess, and... and a sweatshirt, an old, grubby, grey sweatshirt. But the particular additional feature when he gave the seminar was that the fly of the trousers was open and the sweatshirt protruded obscenely through the fly, and they were all looking at that and concentrating on that feature, and they were unable to follow what he was saying about the mathematics. Anyway, I didn't know him, and now, of course, I regret it. It would have been very nice to get to know him in 1951.
Freeman Dyson - Oppenheimer (83/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: I must say that from every point of view that was a disappointment. I mean, first of all, the fact that he wasn't willing to listen, that was a shock. But in addition to that, that he wasn't really a good leader, and I'd been told so much about how wonderful he was at Los Alamos. I mean at Los Alamos he was like the great conductor conducting this big orchestra of people and that they all felt so intensely grateful to him for leading the operation so well. And I'd expected something like that at Princeton, but there was nothing of that at all. He hadn't any kind of detailed interest in what people were doing, and he was remote, and the real problem was he was spending about two thirds of the time in Washington and he was so absorbed in public affairs. So for him - I mean he liked to come to the seminars and show off how much he knew about things that he didn't really know. But he never gave us really any sort of leadership. So that was a big disappointment. And then of course thirdly the fact that the things that he actually had done himself, the best contributions he made to physics, were the description of black holes, the work in gravitation which he did just before the war with Snyder and Volkoff; two papers, one on neutron stars and one on the black holes, which I considered really the most substantial contributions to physics that he had ever made. And I was deeply interested in black holes, in fact, at that time, and he wasn't. That came as a great surprise, that he refused to talk about black holes. He thought of that as something any graduate student could have done and it wasn't really worthy of him. I don't know why, but he was basically not interested. I found that very strange. Of course it was even more true of Einstein. Einstein was actively hostile to black holes. It's very hard to understand from our present view point, black holes being now by the far the most profound consequence of general relativity. [SS] But for... I mean for Einstein it's understandable because he wanted a theory free of singularities, right? Yes, but why be so dogmatic? I mean there was solid evidence that black holes exist and he wasn't able - he wasn't even willing - to consider it as a question. [SS] And during your stay at the Institute you actually had the occasion to be able to talk to him? Not to Einstein, but to Oppenheimer. [SS] You never spoke to Einstein? Never spoke to Einstein, but I did talk to Oppenheimer, and that was also very disappointing. So, I think from every point of view he was a disappointment. I only got to like him a bit later on his life when he'd been battered and when he was dying especially, I mean, then he became quite different.
Freeman Dyson - The seminar series: convincing Oppenheimer (79/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: And the first seminar was a complete disaster because I tried to talk about what Feynman had been doing, and Oppenheimer interrupted every sentence and told me how it ought to have been said, and how if I understood the thing right it wouldn't have sounded like that. He always knew everything better, and he was a terribly bad organiser of seminars. I mean he would... he had to have the centre stage for himself and couldn't shut up, and we couldn't tell him to shut up. So in fact, there was very little communication at all. [SS] And a great deal of frustration on your part? Well, I felt terrible and I remember going out, after this seminar and going to Cécile for consolation, and Cécile was wonderful, I mean, she was really like a mother to me at that point. [SS] And your feeling was if you couldn't convince Oppenheimer, then it was hopeless or...? I don't know whether I ever felt that. I always felt Oppenheimer was a bigoted old fool. I mean I was arrogant enough to be confident that I had the stuff and sooner or later it would be accepted, but it was very irritating and frustrating not to be able to get a hearing. Anyway, Cécile was very comforting, and then that night I was walking around by myself in the dark and there was a huge aurora in the sky, it was the brightest aurora I'd ever seen and the whole sky lit up red and green and somehow that looked as though God was saying something! So after all things aren't so bad, if God is with me I'm okay! And then... so, a week later I had the second seminar and it went a little bit better, but it still was pretty bad, and so I still didn't get much of a hearing. And at that point Hans Bethe somehow heard about this and he talked with Oppenheimer on the telephone, I think. [SS] I think he came down to Princeton and he heard, he saw you in action... Yes, but that's after the telephone call, I think. [SS] I see, OK. I think that he had telephoned Oppy and said 'You really ought to listen to Dyson, you know, he really has something to say and you should listen.' And so then Bethe himself came down to the next seminar which I was giving and Oppenheimer continued to interrupt, but Bethe then came to my help and, actually, he was able to tell Oppenheimer to shut up, I mean, which only he could do. [SS] Then Oppenheimer would listen? Then he finally began to listen, yes! [SS] I mean, I'm saying, he would listen to Bethe and shut up? Yes! So the third seminar he started to listen and then, I actually gave five altogether, and so the fourth and fifth were fine, and by that time he really got interested. He began to understand that there was something worth listening to. And then, at some point, I don't remember exactly at which point, he put a little note in my mail box saying, 'nolo contendere'.
Marvin Minsky - Having intelligent friends (6/151)
The scientist, Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, having founded the MIT AI Lab in 1970. Since the 1950s, his work involved trying to uncover human thinking processes and replicate them in machines. [Listener: Christopher Sykes] TRANSCRIPT: I mean, all this is about the question of whether I ever felt particularly intelligent, and once I got to Harvard, I had somehow selected a group of four or five friends who became close friends for many years, and they were terribly smart. But generally when I wandered around the University most of the students seemed pretty mediocre; and after a long time I realized that a lot of them were good at something else, like social organizations or… or other maybe intellectual but not technical subjects, and it was rather disappointing. But I was very lucky, and I quickly found myself with some friends who were fantastically advanced. A young mathematician named Andrew Gleason who had come in first in a national mathematics competition three years in a row – that had never happened before – and he knew a vast amount of mathematics; and every time something came up he… we had lunch very frequently, and I’d ask him some question and he would tell me, that’s a whole field and here’s how it works and... I also ran into a couple of wonderful young psychologists, Joe Licklider and George Miller who were pioneers in cognitive psychology and… some biologists and… I just found myself in an atmosphere where my friends were young professors rather than colleagues and students. And it’s always been like that, except that when I became a professor, by some collection of miracles at MIT, I attracted a really quite large population of… of exceptional inventors and… as computer science was just being developed, the kind of young people who are often called hackers – which is a term that has two meanings – one is, hobbyists who are very good at exploring new concepts of computation before anyone else, and then there’s the sort of safecracker hacker type who’s somebody who tries to penetrate computer systems and break them and… unfortunately the same word was used for both communities. And the people in both communities were somewhat similar, because to… to unpack a complicated system and understand it and find its weakest parts and break them takes the same kind of skill it takes, at least in many cases, to invent such systems. So maybe it’s not an accident that the same word was used for both the constructive and destructive elements of that society. Anyway, when I finished graduate school and… moved into the university as a teacher, it was sort of a continuous development, and still having very advanced older friends and having very advanced younger friends… so, it was heaven. It was just any… it was being in an environment where everything seemed possible, and if I had an idea, I could either try to do it myself, which I might be able to, or I’d mention it to one of these kids, and three days later a system would appear that today would take a couple of years if some commercial company tried to do it.
Stan Lee - The Silver Surfer: my philosophical outlet (19/42)
The creative genius of US writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) generated 'Spider Man', 'X-Men', 'The Hulk' and other complex characters. Marvel Comics with Lee at the helm became hugely successful. In January 2011, Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Listener: Leo Bear] TRANSCRIPT: The… the other character that I liked was called The Silver Surfer. I worked with an artist who was the greatest, named Jack Kirby. I don't think my stories would have looked as good if Jack hadn't done some of them 'cause he… he was brilliant. In fact, all the artists were brilliant. There was John Romita and Steve Ditko and John Buscema. I… I was the luckiest guy alive 'cause… I think I could have done a mediocre story, they made them look as though the stories were great 'cause they were so beautifully drawn. But Jack one day… One of the most important things is to come up with villains. The heroes are… you know, you come up with a hero and you've got him, and every month he's the same hero. But you need a new villain every month, and you're always trying to top yourself. So I had done everybody as a villain, and one day I said, ‘We ought to do somebody who's like a demi-god’, and I came up with this character Galactus — really kind of silly but Jack made him look good. He's a guy who travelled through the galaxies and he destroyed planets, and he wasn't a bad guy. He only destroyed planets 'cause they provided him with his nourishment. He would drain all the energy out of a planet to keep himself alive. He was huge and he had this huge space ship, and he didn't want to harm anybody but he had to live. So it's like us catching fish. If we're starving we catch a fish, we eat it, we don't want to hurt the fish but we need to live. So I had this character Galactus, and Jack drew the story, but in the story, he drew a fellow on a flying surfboard flying from planet to planet and ‘Who the hell is that?’ and he said, ‘Well, I figured anybody as big and powerful as Galactus ought to have a herald who flies ahead of him to find planets for him’. Maybe that's not a bad idea, but I loved the way he drew this character. This character looked so heroic, and so noble, and so dramatic that I gave him the name The Silver Surfer. And instead of just a guy flying around finding planets, I made him a philosophical observer of the world and the universe. And I had him talk in semi-Shakespearean and biblical language, and… he became my mouthpiece for how I feel about a lot of things. I told Jack: ‘I want to use this character a lot’. And he came to Earth and he would say things like – and I don't remember the exact words, I'll just paraphrase it – but he would talk about the fact that we live in the greatest planet we could ever want. It has everything: it has clean fresh air, it has sunlight, moonlight. It has all the water we could need, most of the planet is water. It has beautiful growing things, all the food we could want, room for everybody. Why do we fight each other? Why do we hate each other? Why is there… what's the matter with us? Are we insane? And all the… and the kids loved him. And whenever I would lecture at college… I don't know if I mentioned this but I probably lectured at colleges more than any human being. When I… I became publisher in 1970 or thereabouts, from '70 to '80 I don't think a week went by that I wasn't flying to some city in Canada, America, England… somewhere, lecturing about Marvel Comics. Or life in general. And during these lectures, inevitably — mostly at colleges — some kid would get up: ‘Stan, tell us about The Silver Surfer, and do you equate his Judeo-Christian philosophy with that…’ and they'd get into all of this deep stuff, which I loved. Speaking of that, I had a character called Doctor Strange who was a magician — master of the mystic arts. He was another one who was popular. And when he would do his magical thing I couldn't just have him say abracadabra or something, so I made up incantations for him. Like he would say… if he wanted to throw a bolt of lightning at a villain he'd say, ‘By the hoary hosts of Hoggath so let it be’. Or things like that. ‘By the shades of the shadowy seraphim’, I had dozens of them. Well, when I would lecture at colleges inevitably a kid would get up and say, ‘We've been studying the various incantations of Doctor Strange and it's obvious that you got them from ancient Druid writings’… or from this, or that. And I hated to have to disappoint the kids by saying no, I dreamed them up. So after a while I'd say, well as a matter of fact I did do some heavy research. But I found… you can't write anything that people aren't going to read things into, that you didn't even think of, you know, which is one of the nice things about being a writer. You can often be thought of as being much deeper than you really are.
Freeman Dyson - The betrayal by Klaus Fuchs (90/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: Fuchs came to the house several times while I was there, and he was always a welcome guest and he was very, very nice. I mean we all felt very fond of him. He was very gracious guest and he was a lonely fellow. He was at Harwell at that time running the theoretical division, and he liked to come to Birmingham and he and Peierls, of course, had been old colleagues. So they were very close, and he loved the Peierls children. He was very good with the children, altogether just a sort of a friendly uncle type of person. And so we enjoyed it when he came, and Genia liked him too, so he was one of our favourite guests. And then, of course, I don't remember exactly the date at which Fuchs was arrested, whether I was still in Birmingham or not. Yes, I mean it was in January... It was January, yes. So it happened while I was there. Anyway, that was a terrible shock of course, and suddenly it turned out he was not only just a spy, but the spy, I mean he was the number one spy, and for Peierls personally it was a terrible betrayal. I mean Peierls had been responsible for bringing him to Los Alamos in the first place so it meant that sort of England had become untrustworthy, not just Fuchs, and that was for Peierls a terrible blow, which I think in a way was more of a blow for him than the Oppenheimer affair was for Oppenheimer. I mean I always thought Oppenheimer never really - I don't think Oppenheimer really was suffering from the public disgrace as much as Peierls did. Anyhow, that's my impression. But it was certainly a disaster for Peierls in many ways. For both of them. And Genia took it very hard too. I mean Genia was absolutely vitriolic that a man could do that to his friends. She always said, 'In Russia we know how to suffer. We don't betray our friends.' Anyway, that was very hard. And Peierls went to visit Fuchs from time to time, but Genia absolutely refused to have anything to do with him.
Philip Roth - Not wanting to be a writer
Visit http://www.webofstories.com/people/philip.roth for more of inspiring stories of Philip Roth. The Man Booker Prize winner's fame rests on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrays in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he writes, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth has received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011. Here, talks about his early life and becoming a writer. Listen to him recall his career decisions.
Murray Gell-Mann - The eccentric Gregory Breit (12/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: Gregory Breit arrived from Wisconsin, and he was supposed to bring the latest in physics and I, as an undergraduate, I took his graduate courses, but he was so strange. He was very bright, Breit. Breit was very bright, but he was extremely strange, psychotic really. And it was very difficult to deal with him. He permitted no questions. If anyone asked a question he left the room and wouldn't come back until some of his students that he had brought with him from Wisconsin went out into the hall and begged him to return, saying, ‘Well, these Yale students don't understand the rules, they don't understand how wrong it is to ask a question, and they promise never to ask any more questions. Please, come back and teach some more’. Then he would come back and teach. Another thing that wasn't permitted was reading books. Sometimes after class, when it was permitted to ask a question, someone would ask him a question, and he would say, ‘I can tell! You've read a book!’ For example Bethe's Little Book [of Scientific Principles] was forbidden and… another thing you mustn't do was to learn about general relativity. He said it was very bad for young students to learn about general relativity. They get all sorts of big ideas and they want to combine general relativity with quantum mechanics and so on and so on, and they get led off into paths that lead nowhere. They… they go off on paths that lead nowhere and it’s very bad. And so, if anybody asked him a question connected with general relativity, he flew into a rage. A very strange man. [GW] So by the time you graduated there, did you feel you were a physicist? Well, I didn't know, I didn't… no, no I certainly didn't feel I was a physicist. My father had always filled me with this idea that really understanding things was way in the future, because he had struggled so hard to understand Einstein and so on and so forth, and he gave me the impression that these things were very difficult. Just the opposite of Margenau who said they were all very easy – and showed us that they were all very easy. [GW] So that must have been very important, I mean Margenau's role seems like it was extremely important in your development. And who were the other students in that class? Paul MacCready, my best friend, Harold Morowitz, whom I see all the time now at the Santa Fe Institute, and so on.
Freeman Dyson - The Dyson sphere - hijacked by science fiction (138/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: And in the meantime, unfortunately I used the words, in my paper in Science, 'artificial biosphere' to describe these possible alien activities, biosphere just being an inhabited region, and I called it an artificial biosphere as being something that would radiate in the infrared band. And the science fiction writers got hold of this phrase and imagined it then to be a spherical rigid object and the aliens would be living on some kind of artificial shell, a rigid structure surrounding a star, which wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but in any case that's become then a favourite object of science fiction writers. They call it the 'Dyson sphere’, which was a name I don't altogether approve of. But anyway, that’s... I'm stuck with it. But the idea was a good one. [SS] But you had indicated the possibility of advanced civilisation taking planets apart, and... it's possibly that idea that, so to say, resonated with science fiction, I mean the notion... That's also true, yes. I mean, that was a different paper. I published another paper in a Marshak memorial volume, I think... [SS] In the Bethe Festspiele. Oh, that's what it was. Anyway, that was about taking planets apart, demonstrating that, as far as the laws of physics are concerned, it's quite possible to take planets apart simply by spinning them up; you can... you can apply a homopolar generator to a planet and spin it up faster and faster until the equator flies away and it becomes a disc, and so in principle you can do that. I wasn't advocating that, but merely pointing out that the aliens might in fact have done that and that would be a good way of getting material if they wanted to do large scale engineering. [SS] But it's... I mean it's... as the editors commented in the introduction, there are very few people who would have dreamt of doing something like that, except for you. Well, Olaf... I got that idea from Olaf Stapledon. Olaf Stapledon is one of my favourite writers of science, he does... he wrote excellent science fiction and, very imaginative, and he also was a professor of philosophy, so he was thinking big.
Freeman Dyson - Linking the ideas of Feynman, Schwinger and Tomanaga (76/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: So I got on the bus in Berkeley and I always loved these long Greyhound bus rides, especially because I never stopped on the way. In those days of course it was very different from Greyhounds today. They had these long rest stops where you could go to the bathroom and get meals. They didn't have bathrooms on the bus. And so you could actually see a lot of the country as you went across. You'd have usually half an hour or an hour at the rest stops, so I saw a good deal and, and I remember Wyoming and I remember Salt Lake City and I remember Kansas. But anyway, somewhere around Kansas, after about 48 hours of being sort of half awake, half asleep, suddenly everything fell into place and I understood Feynman and Schwinger altogether; how they fitted together, and... Feynman was essentially talking the same language as Schwinger, only putting the time in a different order, and... so the Feynman propagators were simply time ordered Green's functions and they were also multiple commutators, so all three languages actually were the same. [SS] May I interrupt you? Then this was done without paper? This was really done on the bus? Yes, it came absolutely just in my head only, and I knew very well that I couldn't write on the bus; I knew very well that once I got to Chicago I could write all this down and it would make sense. And the equations were sort of already well-formed in my head. So we droned on through Iowa and finally ended up in Chicago. And there I stayed also in the International House in Chicago, spent a week there, and walking the sand on the shore of Lake Michigan, I explained all this to Christopher Longuet-Higgins, drawing diagrams in the sand like in the style of Archimedes! We had a great time, and I was able to make it all clear, first of all on the sand and then afterwards on paper. [SS] And clearer to yourself? Yes. So the first, then the first written account of it was done in the International House in Chicago. I also learned a lot from Christopher about what's going on in chemistry. He was doing the hydrides of boron which were really interesting because it has, you know, it has anomalous valences and the normal rules don't apply. Nevertheless it has a lot of stable hydrides. So he was able to understand that. And then, after a week in Chicago, I took another Greyhound bus to Princeton and settled down here and then wrote up the official version of this work, which was the paper called: The Radiation Theories of Tomonaga, Schwinger and Feynman. And meanwhile, of course, we'd heard about Tomonaga's work which was, I think, also in the spring of '48, when Tomonaga sent his first two papers from Japan, and these came as an absolute total surprise, that somebody in the rubble of Tokyo was actually able to do physics. I hadn't heard of Tomonaga previously and he wrote to Oppenheimer from Tokyo and Oppenheimer sent a copy of the papers to Hans Bethe in Cornell, and so we saw them there. And these two papers of Tomonaga, it was called, I don't remember... on the many... [SS] So he sent you - I mean so you had available a copy of The Progress of Theoretical Physics? Yes. This was the new Japanese journal which was published in English. It was published on brown paper which was all they had in Tokyo at the time, and it was just like a voice from the deep. I mean we thought of Japan as being a total ruin and there was this man who had somehow or other kept physics alive all through the war, and there it was. And he'd in fact done all this long before Schwinger and essentially arrived at the same results as Schwinger three or four years earlier, with more or less the same techniques. I mean, his techniques were very similar to Schwinger, but actually crystal clear, much, much clearer that Schwinger. So that helped again. Anyway, so I wrote up the paper and just explained why all these things were the same and the time ordering was essentially the key to it and wasn't all that difficult really. And so once you had this time ordering method you could translate Feynman into equations, and then... so anybody could actually do it. I mean, all you needed was to write down the equations in the way normal physics is done, and then the Feynman rules would follow. So that was published in the Physical Review around November '48. And... [SS] And did you communicate that to Feynman? Yes. I made a trip with Cécile Morette, who later became Cécile DeWitt. We... we went up together in the train - those days they.... Visit http://www.webofstories.com/play/freeman.dyson/76 to read the remaining part of the transcript and to view more of Freeman Dyson’s inspiring thoughts and life stories.
Donald Knuth - "The Art of Computer Programming": underestimating the size of the book (38/97)
Donald Knuth (b. 1938), American computing pioneer, is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humour. [Listener: Dikran Karagueuzian] TRANSCRIPT: I had the Table of Contents sketched out, the 12 chapters, from the first day, and I started filling in, chapter by chapter, and writing more material, and computer science is growing. And I… it turned out I'm very bad, not only at estimating how long it's going to take to do a job, but also I wasn't very… at all good at estimating how large a book I was writing. I looked at my handwritten… I – my manuscript was all written out in hand – and I looked at my handwritten… you know, and my letters seemed a lot bigger than the letters in books. And I'd looked at books, and I've certainly read a lot of books, and so it seemed to me that what I had written would be a fairly reasonable sized book. In fact I had… I got to the end of chapter 12, and after chapter 12 – I think it was ’64… '65 – of this handwritten draft, and I had 3000 pages. I had accumulated 3000 handwritten pages. Which I still have – the manuscript. And while I was working on these 3000 pages, I had written to Addison-Wesley saying… they said, ’How's it going?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I'm writing… stuff is flowing. Do you mind if I, you know, if I make it a fairly complete, you know, I find these other materials?’ They said, ‘Go right ahead’. So I accumulated 3000 pages, and then I took it to my typewriter, and started typing. Now, I typed up chapter one, which was 400 pages of typescript, or something like that, of manuscript, that's double-spaced. I may say, incidentally I got myself an IBM Selectric typewriter. This was very new at the time. I think they said… they told me later that I was the first private individual in California to buy one, instead of a company buying one. This was the typewriter that had a little ball, that would rotate and strike the page, but the important thing to me was the touch was much better than any other typewriter I had ever felt. When you hit… when you struck a key on the Selectric typewriter, it would transmit a signal, saying to the ball, to go this way, but it…you could strike several keys ahead, and the machine, internally, would buffer this, and remember where the keys that you had done, and then they would be sent to the ball. You know, you type t-h-e real fast, and you can get to the e even before the has finished printing, but the Selectric was designed so that you could do that. So I could type really… I mean like the first time I saw a Selectric typewriter in an IBM exhibit, I typed, you know – now is the time for all men, good men, to come to the aid of the party – faster than I had ever typed anything before. I looked at it came out perfect. And so I said, ‘I've got to have one of these typewriters’. And so I bought myself a Selectric typewriter, and I had a… I used it to type my thesis, at Caltech, and I had been a, you know, a keyboard person, I'd been playing piano for a long time, and I learned machine shorthand the way court reporters do, and so I was… I had played a lot with, you know, a saxophone player and things like this, so this was just another, typewriter. I could use this very well. And so I started typing it, and I typed up my chapter one of the 12 chapters, and sent it to Addison-Wesley, saying, here is, you know, here is the first chapter of my book. And then I got a letter from a person who actually had been the first editor who came to talk to me in 1962. But this was 1966, I think, by the time I had gotten to this point 3000 pages plus typing the chapter. And so now I heard again from this same guy, but he had been promoted three levels in the company meanwhile, so now he was way up. And, you know, he was saying, ‘What's going on here? You've got this book. Don, do you realize that your book is going to be more than 2000 pages? You know, and…’, what? I thought I had a six or 700 page book. I said, ‘You know, I thought, you know, I know, I've read books for years. How can you tell me that this book is going to be so long?’ So I went back to Thomas's Calculus, the original book that I had loved as a Freshman in college, and I typed out, you know… They said, ‘Don…, I had felt five pages of my typing would go into one page of book, but they said, ‘No, no, it was one and a half to one’. And I couldn't believe it, so I took Thomas's Calculus, and I typed out two pages of Thomas's Calculus on my typewriter. Sure enough, three pages of typescript went into two. So here I had a book that was more than three times as big as I, you know... Visit https://www.webofstories.com/play/donald.knuth/38 to read the remaining part of the transcript and to view more of Donald Knuth’s inspiring thoughts and life stories.
Freeman Dyson - Other tutors at Cambridge: Dirac, Jeffreys, Eddington (27/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: Yes there were several, actually, other people I had lectures from. [Paul] Dirac's lectures were a terrible disappointment. He just read verbatim from his book, and when anybody asked him if he could explain it more clearly, he would say, well, it's already explained clearly in the book, so what more do you want? So it was very unsatisfying and so I learned quantum mechanics only much later. I mean, I did not learn it from Dirac. It was his... that way of reaching quantum mechanics, just... to me was incomprehensible. He took... he takes, so much for granted. So I had no concept of the physics which led to quantum mechanics. [SS] And you had not read Dirac before? Oh, I had read his book, that's why it was so disappointing. So I learned absolutely nothing new and even Dirac's book is a very bad way of learning quantum mechanics, at least for me. It didn't work. [SS] There were no problems? Exactly! It didn't give you any idea of what you had to do. So I finally learned quantum mechanics from [Leonard] Schiff, which is a much more practical textbook. I also went to the lectures of [Harold] Jeffreys which were great fun; he is a geophysicist who was still there - he was quite old. So he was there and he gave a course of lectures on geophysical dynamics in which I was the entire audience, and I found that wonderful, that he would take the trouble to give these lectures, and so I faithfully turned up every time and he would appear in cap and gown and stand at the blackboard and lecture. And there was Eddington, who was also exciting. He taught general relativity; although I'd also read his book, but his lectures were more interesting because he went beyond his book and talked about all sorts of crazy things that he was doing himself. [SS] And this was now - he was beyond fundamental theory and things like that? Yes. So we heard about his crazy stuff, but he was very fair. He always said, you know, he made a clear distinction between what was generally accepted and what wasn't. So he would say, 'Now, what I'm going to tell you now is my own stuff, but it's not part of general relativity as normally understood.' [SS] Was he a pacifist? Yes, he was a Quaker so for him it was sort of just a normal part of life. It wasn't so much a political pacifism; it was religious pacifism. [SS] And anyone else that comes to mind in terms of.... Of lectures, no. I think those were the six that I remember. There may have been others. But it was a great time, but quite brief because we really were only there for a year and a half, then in summer '43... [SS] You go to... I went to Bomber Command.
Freeman Dyson - Opening the gates of mathematics (12/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: We had this library at the school which is - I visit there from time to time - the library is still excellent. It's in an old building with the right kind of musty smell of old books and there was there a great treasure house of books which, as far as we knew, nobody was aware of except us, I mean just the four boys. And Lighthill actually discovered this Cours d'analyse, which is a classic text book of analysis written by a French mathematician, Jordan, about 1900 I suppose, in three volumes and they are still there in the school library - I verified that recently - and nobody knows how they got there. It seems very strange for anybody to put such a heavy text book, all written in French, for English schoolboys - but anyway, it was there and Lighthill discovered it, and so we worked our way through the three volumes, one after the other. And that was opening the gates of mathematics in a way that very few people had that chance. And only many, many years later we found out that Hardy [Godfrey Harold Hardy], the great mathematician whom we afterwards got to know in Cambridge, had also read Jordan's Cours d'analyse as a young man and been inspired by it, and it also happened that he was a boy in the same school. So almost certainly it was he who put the books there, because, typical of Hardy, he did that anonymously. There was no record in the library that he had given it. There was also the Principia Mathematica of Whitehead and Russell which was not so illuminating but also great fun to go through. And that's also three fat volumes, and it's trying to reduce the whole of mathematics to logic. It's extremely pedantic, just full of enormously complicated constructions to reduce complicated things to the simplest components. And it was a monumental failure. It was demolished in the end, of course, by Gödel's theorem [Kurt Gödel]. The idea was that one could construct a consistency proof for mathematics by reducing it to logic, and Gödel proved that that is impossible. The whole thing was based on an illusion, but nevertheless it was fun to go through. So it gave us a feeling for what the foundations of mathematics were all about. And with an inkling that this is probably not the way to do it? Yes. We certainly understood that, I think, after going through the three volumes. There was clearly a difference between Whitehead and Russell on the one hand, and Jordan on the other. Jordan was really doing real mathematics, and Whitehead and Russell were not.
Murray Gell-Mann - The experimental confirmation of quantum mechanics (165/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: The widespread foolishness associated with the Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen, Bohm effect and its experimental… the experimental confirmation of quantum mechanics; I treat that at some length in my book. It's very strange. It has to do perhaps with the fact that John Bell, although he did very good work and didn't make any mistakes, as far as I know, actually didn't like quantum mechanics and introduced words that are sort of prejudicial like 'non-local', and when people say that the EPRB effect is… shows that quantum mechanics is non-local, what they mean is that a classical interpretation of what's happening would have to be either non-local or involved negative probabilities or both. That's not the same as saying that it actually is non-local, but that's the vocabulary that has been introduced, to say that quantum mechanics is non-local. And sort of—it's… it’s a matter of giving a dog a bad name and hanging him, as far as I can tell. When the quantum mechanical predictions for this experiment were fully verified, I would have thought everybody would say, great and go home. Instead they say, there is something seriously peculiar here. Well the only thing that's seriously peculiar there is quantum mechanics! Now, as I explained in the book, when you have a situation in which say, two photons are produced in a single event, for example by a spins decay of a spin-zero meson, they move in opposite directions. An observer makes a measurement on one of them and thereby learns some property of the other one even though the other one is far away. That's not any sort of affront to locality or special relativity or anything. The point is that classically this could happen to… to a single kind of measurement and John Bell referred to this as Bertelsmann's socks, talking about a mathematician who I assumed was fictitious but apparently was a real mathematician who wore one pink sock and one green sock, and if you saw the pink sock you would know that the other foot had a green sock. Well, similarly with these two photons: since you know their correlation, if you measure a property of one, you learn the property of the other. There's nothing peculiar about that. As John Bell emphasized, in quantum mechanics the entanglement of the two photons can be deeper than it can be classically, in the sense that you could then, you could instead measure a different property of one of the photons and you would learn that property of the other photon. Well that's peculiar to quantum mechanics, but it still doesn't give rise to any sort of non-locality. People say, loosely, crudely, wrongly, that when you measure one of the photons it does something to the other one; it doesn't. All that happens is, you measure a property of one and you learn the corresponding property of the other one. Now, what these people who try to confuse us will say is, yes, but you choose which property and thereby you choose what state the other one will be in. Well, the point is that the different measurement, say, of linear polarization of one revealing the linear polarization of the other, or circular polarization of one revealing the circular polarization of the other; those measurements are made on different branches of history, decoherent with each other, only one of which occurs. So it's simply not true! And Einstein's point of view, which was that if some variable could ever be measured with certainty it should have some sort of physical reality and a definite value, that's just wrong, that's just in contradiction to quantum mechanics. When two variables at the same time don't commute, any measurement of both of them would have to be carried out with one measurement on one branch of history and the other measurement on another branch of history and that's all there is to it. I… I presented that in my book, and of course Jim and I have argued for that, and some other people, but it doesn't seem to get across. People are still mesmerized by this confusing language of non-locality. What they do isn't necessarily wrong, lots of people do correct work on this subject, but the vocabulary makes it sound like something very different from what it is.
Murray Gell-Mann - Heisenberg (58/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: Heisenberg–who of course had been a very, very great physicist a long time ago after the war, after his working on the Nazi uranium project–was not so good as a physicist any more. Heisenberg came up with a kooky idea that… about which he made a tremendous fuss. He wrote down the equation: Gamma.psi = psi psi psi and said that this equation–which didn't have much meaning actually since it was so singular-this equation somehow contained the key to elementary particle physics. He had to cope with the fact that theory was very singular and he postulated that somehow in the presence of a lot of interactions maybe the propagators went way down. And Harry investigated the spectral representation in order to see whether this would be possible or not. But by that time Heisenberg had had another screwy idea of a negative metric and how he could have a negative metric without having negative probabilities. I never figured that out. He also had some other screwy ideas. He didn't believe in strangeness. He thought there were only two fundamental objects: something like the neutron and proton, or perhaps they were the neutron and proton; and that the strange particles weren't really there. He got them by doubling the vacuum, so that the neutron had another state, the lambda particle. Presumably if he had two neutrons he would have to quadruple the vacuum in order to get nn, n lambda, lambda n, and lambda lambda. The whole thing made essentially no sense. At first Wolfgang Pauli somehow was prevailed upon to sign up with him and to investigate this theory in collaboration with him. Pauli then came to the US and spoke in New York where he was rather severely criticized, and then he came on to Pasadena where Feynman and I both worked on him. Feynman said, ‘Your theory is as indefinite as your metric’, and I gave him some more specific criticisms as to why I thought the theory didn't make any sense whatever. And from Pasadena, I believe, he wrote the letter renouncing his collaboration with Heisenberg, and after that he attacked this foolishness.
Freeman Dyson - Trying to convince Oppenheimer that the old physics works (78/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: And then we met Oppenheimer and I wanted to talk about this in the seminar at the Institute, and somehow or other Oppenheimer wasn't enthusiastic at all. It came as a big shock to me that we'd done this wonderful stuff and I desperately wanted to tell Oppenheimer about it, that was the whole point in coming to Princeton. And Oppenheimer just brushed us off and said, 'Well, you know, that's not leading anywhere,' and he had somehow got convinced that you couldn't do physics at all with these old methods. He considered this all old stuff and what physics needed was something radically new. This is of course a common situation; that the people who have failed to clean up a subject then don't believe that it can be cleaned up, so they're looking for something totally different. And then if somebody comes along and says, 'Look, it works,' they don't believe. So that was how it was, and so we had a very hard time to get Oppenheimer's attention. And I think Niels Bohr had a very bad effect on Oppenheimer too, because I mean Niels Bohr, at that time, was convinced that physics had to be radically different if it was going to work; and Heisenberg, all the old gentlemen of those days, they'd lived through this radical revolution of quantum mechanics which was so successful, they wanted to have something like that again. They thought a new revolution, like 1925, was needed. All the old people tried to do that, including Max Born and Heisenberg and Schrödinger, I mean each of them had radical proposals which turned out to be totally useless, and in the meantime it was the young people who actually were the conservatives; from this point of view even Feynman was a conservative. I mean he went back to the old physics and made it work, and that was what Schwinger did too, and what I was doing. So we were conservative in the sense that we used the old physical concepts of quantum electrodynamics exactly the same as Heisenberg and Pauli in the 1920s, and actually made the mathematics work and got the right answers. And that came a surprise to Oppenheimer. It was very hard for him even to listen to it. [SS] Was there also a partiality toward Schwinger, in contrast to Feynman? Well, Oppenheimer was even hostile to Schwinger at that time. It was strange. Schwinger had been his student and earlier he had been very enthusiastic about Schwinger, but somehow he came back from Europe that summer, or the fall of 1948, convinced that the whole thing didn't work, that you had to start completely afresh, including Schwinger. Schwinger was not good, I mean, he was clever but he wasn't - he wasn't deep. Anyway - so finally Uhlenbeck interceded with Oppenheimer. Uhlenbeck had come to Princeton for that year, and Uhlenbeck persuaded Oppenheimer, 'Let's listen to Dyson,' and so Oppenheimer put on a seminar series for me to talk about the new stuff, and so I had the chance at least to talk.
Stan Lee - Creating The Fantastic Four  (15/42)
The creative genius of US writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) generated 'Spider Man', 'X-Men', 'The Hulk' and other complex characters. Marvel Comics with Lee at the helm became hugely successful. In January 2011, Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Listener: Leo Bear] TRANSCRIPT: While I was working for Marvel, the first 20 years or so I was just doing regular comics. Then after a while I really wanted to quit, 'cause I felt while Martin Goodman was a great guy and a good publisher, I didn't like really what he wanted me to do. He kept… he… he felt comics were just for young kids or stupid adults, and he used to say to me: ‘Remember Stan, don't use words of more than two syllables, don't have too much dialogue. Get a lot of action and don't worry about characterization’. And that was fine. I was doing it and the books were doing well, and I had a steady job, but it wasn't satisfying, 'cause I really think of myself as a reasonably good writer. I like to write. So I really wanted to quit and to try something else, and I remember Joan said to me: ‘You know Stan, if you want to quit, before you do why don't you do one book the way you would like to do it. The worst that happens is Martin will fire you, and so what? You want to quit anyway’. So coincidentally, at that time he had found out that our competitor, DC Comics — which called itself National Comics in those days — they had done a book called The Justice League of America — a group of superheroes — and it was selling very well. And he said to me: ‘Stan, why don't you do a book about a group of superheroes’. So I figured this is my chance to do it my way. So I came up with something I called The Fantastic Four about four superheroes, but instead of making them heroes who wore costumes I figured, I'm not going to give them costumes, 'cause I always felt if I had a superpower, why would I want to put on a costume? First of all, I'm too much of a show off. I'd want everybody to know it's me I would never wear a mask. And why would I need a costume? If I could jump over a building, I don't have to wear a colorful costume I'll just jump over the building. At any rate, I didn't give them costumes and I tried to make them real characters living in the real world. The hero wasn't just a perfect guy; he was a fellow like me. He talks too much. He's a scientist — quite boring — he was always boring the others 'cause when he explained anything he went on forever, and one of the other guys was always saying, ‘Will you shut up’. And the obligatory teenager in the group, instead of just… like Robin with Batman who just runs around and fights the bad guys with him, I made this teenager a guy who didn't want to be a super hero particularly. He wanted… he was like I would have been when I was a teenager. He wanted to go out with girls and ride a sports car and so forth. And the… and the girl, instead of an obligatory female who always has to be rescued and doesn't know who the hero really is, she was the hero's fiancée. She knew who he was, the all knew who they were, and she also had a superpower that was as good as anyone else's, so she was a fighting member of the team. And the fourth guy was a monster. They… something had happened to him and he became very ugly and incredibly strong, and I used him for both pathos and humor 'cause he was always fighting with the others — not physically but verbally. Always insulting them and yelling at them, and he was hot-tempered, and he was always picking on The Human Torch — that was the teenager — who was always picking on him, and I got a lot of comedy out of them. I called him The Thing, and he became by far and away the most popular member of the group. Well at any rate… Oh, and another thing, Instead of having them live in a… fictional place like Metropolis or Gotham City, I plonked them right down in New York City and… 'cause I knew New York City, I could write about New York City and I figured, why not let them live in a real place? And instead of driving a car like an 8-cylinder Whizz-bang, I had them drive… I had Johnny drive a Chevy Corvette, and I had them live on the East Side, and the… I forget where, near Madison Avenue. And when they went to a theater they didn't go to The Bijou, they went to The Radio City Music Hall... Visit http://www.webofstories.com/play/stan.lee/15 to read the remaining part of the transcript and to view more of Stan Lee's inspiring thoughts and life stories.
Marvin Minsky - Freeman Dyson proves what I couldn't (71/151)
The scientist, Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, having founded the MIT AI Lab in 1970. Since the 1950s, his work involved trying to uncover human thinking processes and replicate them in machines. [Listener: Christopher Sykes] TRANSCRIPT: [CS] Right, so you... you were haunted by the fact that you couldn’t make this work for any old triangle. Right, but it seemed, if it was true for a... equilateral one and a right angle one and a pentagon... triangle in a pentagon, then it must be true for all of them, but I couldn’t prove it and then... somehow I got a message... I don’t remember how I learned but... that this fellow Dyson had extended this and managed to prove either that or a similar thing about four points on a big circle, a square. Anyway, it was clear to me that, if it was true for these three kinds of triangles, it must... there’s an extra degree of freedom here, that it’s true for a whole class of things and so maybe it’s also true for a particular set of four points instead of a lot of different sets of three points and Dyson proved that in a paper that I actually retrieved yesterday and... But there was another mathematician who proved something similar around the same time. But anyway, when I read Dyson’s paper I was so impressed that anybody could actually produce such an amazingly complicated proof of something at all and my reaction was not to learn how to do that, but to say: 'Oh he has a different skill set from me and I don’t have that particular skill set so I’ll stop trying to push this anymore because there’s somebody in the world who’s better at it.' So I’ll... I'll get... I’ll print out that part of Dyson’s... Dyson actually mentioned me and Kakutani in his paper of... as having started this thing. And... so... anyway, it was one of my early experiences of saying: 'Oh look, I would like to do this kind of fixed point topology, but since there’s someone better at it, why...' It’s the cowardice principle: Why bother to do something if somebody else is already better at it? And so I’ve always been excited to see what Dyson does next and I’ve followed his career quite a lot so I did read some of the early Orion things, but I never actually saw the final result of the theory and the politics that must have gone into getting it dismissed. Of course once you’re on the moon you can do it, because there’s nobody to kill, but it’s pretty hard to get a lot of people up on the moon.
Murray Gell-Mann - How I ended up studying physics at Yale (10/200)
Born on Manhattan Island in 1929, Murray Gell-Mann is a theoretical physicist. His considerable contributions to physics include the theory of quantum chromodynamics. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. [Listener: Geoffrey West] TRANSCRIPT: When I filled out the application form for Yale, I consulted my father – not something that I usually did but in this case I did – and… I said, ‘There's a blank here for… the probable for the major subject. What do you think?’ And my father said, ‘Well, what were you going to put down?’ I said, ‘Well, if they permit it, I would like to put down linguistics or archaeology, something of that kind. Or maybe some form of... some kind of biology that's related to natural history’. What I meant really was evolutionary biology. He said, ‘Oh that's absurd – you'll starve!’ because he was so much influenced by the Depression and the problems that he had had in providing for his family. It was only for a very few years when the school flourished that he was… that he felt at all secure financially. And that ended just when I was born... I said, ‘Well, what do you think… what do you think I should put down?’ He said, ‘Engineering, then you'll be able to earn a living’. I said, ‘Well, I don't like engineering. I'm not good at it. If I designed something it would fall apart, and besides I really don't like it. I'd rather starve than be an engineer’. So he said, ‘Well, why don't we compromise on physics?’ And then I explained what I thought about the physics course, physics textbooks and physics courses that I had… with which I had come into contact, and he said, ‘Oh, it'll get much better. You don't understand, advanced physics will include relativity and quantum mechanics, and those are beautiful subjects and you'll love them’. So I thought, well, why don't I just write down physics and please the old man. If I'm actually admitted to Yale, if I really receive the one scholarship that would permit me to attend Yale – the Medill McCormick Scholarship – then I can look into this matter again and I can always change my mind when I get to Newhaven, and major in… use as a major subject whatever I want. But then I was admitted to Yale and I did get that one scholarship that would permit me to attend and when I got there I was too lazy to switch. So I took physics courses and pretty soon I got to quantum mechanics and relativity and my father was absolutely right, they were very exciting.
Stan Lee - Publicity stunts: KISS and the red ink (42/42)
The creative genius of US writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) generated 'Spider Man', 'X-Men', 'The Hulk' and other complex characters. Marvel Comics with Lee at the helm became hugely successful. In January 2011, Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Listener: Leo Bear] TRANSCRIPT: Publicity is really one of the most important things in the world. You could have the greatest product in the world, if people don't know about it, it dies a'borning. So we… I love publicity, and as long as it's based on something. One day we decided to do a book based on the rock group KISS. I had met… oh it's great, I forget his name, the guy with the long tongue…Gene… Gene Simmons? Gene Simmons. Yeah. I had met Gene Simmons, in fact we had become quite friendly. And I remember, when they first started and he and Gene [sic] Stanley came up to my office, and they said:‘What do you think of our costume?’and they had these boots with soles this thick that made them six and half feet tall, and I'm looking at them and I'm thinking, these guys are crazy. Shows what I knew. But anyway, we decided to do a comic book based on KISS. And some publicity guy got the idea that they would go up to the printing plant where the books were printed, and each of the four members of KISS would take a pin and just prick their finger, and get a few drops of blood to come out, and drop those blots of… those blobs of blood… drops of blood, into the ink… into the red ink. I said, ‘You guys are out of your mind’. He said, ’No, no, it's great. It will get a lot of publicity’. The idea being that every kid, or everybody, who bought a KISS comic book, in some way was getting a little bit of KISS's blood in that comic book. That's brilliant. And sure enough, they chartered a plane, I went with them — like an idiot — we flew up to Buffalo where the press was, and I'll never forget this. The city of Buffalo had been told that we were coming, and there were policemen stopping… you know, two limousines were waiting. Policemen were at corners stopping traffic while we went to the printer, and all I could think of was these… this traffic that was stopped, there's probably some doctor going to save a person's life, there's probably some guy going to his job which is an important job. These people were being stopped while five morons — the four of them and me — are going to go and drop some blood in a printing plant. But anyway, we went there, and they put their little blood in there, and we drove back and… Tell you one thing, Gene Simmons has a photographic memory. On the plane going and coming, he was telling me — he's apparently a big fan — he was telling me, ‘Stan, do you remember that story you wrote in Spider-Man number 23? The third panel on the fifth page when you’… He remembered every… I've never known a guy… literally, a photographic memory. He… I was so impressed with him. He's really a nice guy and a shrewd business man. But he… a drop of his blood is somewhere in one of those comic books, and there it'll stay.
Walter Murch - Why I prefer nodal editing to matching action (72/320)
Walter Scott Murch (b. 1943) is widely recognised as one of the leading authorities in the field of film editing, as well as one of the few film editors equally active in both picture and sound. [Listener: Christopher Sykes] TRANSCRIPT: The other thing I came to on 'The Conversation' was that I don't like cutting on matching action. And this is the rule, mostly unexamined, mostly in films from America and to a certain extent Western Europe, where a character will be sitting let's say at a table, and then will stand up. And the matching action solution is, wait until the actor starts to get up and then cut to the next shot which might be a wide shot of the same action. And you choose that frame where he's sort of in the middle of that action, and you match the action. I don't... I tend not to like this. I do it, and it's a very good technique under certain circumstances, notably in fight scenes and action scenes where there's a lot going on, but I prefer to do something that I have my own analysis as I call it, nodal editing, like nodes. So the person is sitting at the table, and then I determine at this point, whatever this frame is, it is inevitable that you must get up even though you haven't even started the action. But the line of dialogue has been said, and the only thing that can now happen is that you stand up. Now I'm going to cut to the other angle and initiate that action in the next shot so that the cut point is the moment where a potential action has reached inevitability. And then the cut happens, and now that action reveals itself completely in the next shot. When I see matching action stuff, the problem for me is that the motion or whatever it is has been initiated and only partially completed and in the middle of that a cut happens. Which makes the audience have to say unconsciously, 'Where is this shot now? Oh, it's a wide shot from a different angle.' And using that analysis to also see the completion of the action. So it produces in my value a kind of stuttering that has a duh, duh, duh quality to it. Initiation, then dis-completion of that, change of angle which is another thing that you have to take on board, and then completion of action. I think it was initiated, I mean this is something that we've been doing since the 1920s at least. It's something that people were nervous, especially in the early years of film, about editing in general. Can you really cut from one shot to another? Will people accept that? In the earliest films, 'Life of an American Fireman', 1903, they had little miniature dissolves between shots, like four frame dissolves because [they thought] audiences need that. To actually cut from one shot to another would be disorienting, so little zip, zip, dissolves. So I think the idea of cutting on matching action is a kind of vestigial remnant of that nervousness about the cut. I think it actually achieves exactly the opposite effect of what... what's wanted. But, I don't know, this is an example of self-analysis that if asked what is your aesthetics, this is what I would come up with strictly in terms of how I determine which frame to cut on.
Stan Lee - Peter Parker (27/42)
The creative genius of US writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) generated 'Spider Man', 'X-Men', 'The Hulk' and other complex characters. Marvel Comics with Lee at the helm became hugely successful. In January 2011, Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Listener: Leo Bear] TRANSCRIPT: I was lucky with Peter Parker when I came up with that character because he seems to have struck a chord with… with so many readers, and I think it's because… he's probably more like a regular person, a normal person, than any other character. And I try to make him that way because I guess, until Peter Parker, no superhero — or no superhero's alter-ego — had ever had to worry about making a living, getting along well with girls, being popular, or… or have all the problems that… I tried to heap as many problems as I could on poor Peter because I feel most people — even people who seem to be happy — have problems and they have worries. One thing I loved from the point of view of writing the stories, it made it easy for me to come up… see, you have to come up with situations that interest a reader, where the reader is going to say: ‘How the hell is he going to get out of this?’. Now, I was always… I always enjoy doing things where Peter Parker had to become Spider-Man and go over there in order to save the world, or the city, or Mary Jane, or somebody, but at the same time Aunt May needed her medicine or she might die and the only place to get the medicine was in the drug store over there. But Peter had to do either the one of those in the next five minutes, and there wasn't time to do them both. And what would he do? And I tried to come up with as many situations of that type as possible. Because of the fact that he had… a regular life away from his superhero life that had all sorts of problems, I think people could relate to it. Even the idea of not being able to… well, for example, I had not read any other superheroes who very often felt they wished they could quit being a superhero because, it's not a normal life, and he's miserable, and maybe he's not doing the right thing. I made him a guy who is very introspective, he questions, why am I doing this? I gave him a guilt-complex; he felt his uncle had died because he hadn't captured this original burglar who ended up killing his uncle. So he was riddled with neuroses, and riddled with worries and doubts, and… there were quite a few stories I wrote where he wanted… In fact there was one story I know I wrote where he did, he threw his costume in a trash can and he walked away said: ‘I'm giving it up’. And John Romida drew the greatest cover of him walking away into the distance, and the trash can over here with the costume kind of hanging over the side. And… you hadn't seen that in Superman or Batman or anyone so… I… I'm rather proud of that. The fact that Peter — like any normal human being — had self-doubts and concerns, and he was just never sure. Am I doing…? Just like me now, I'm not sure. Am I talking too much? Am I talking too little? Do I look okay in the camera? Should I be…? My wife will say, ‘You should have sat straight, why were you hunched over this way?’ We all have these problems.
Freeman Dyson - Attempts to make quantum electrodynamics into a completely solvable theory (92/157)
American-British physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, was born in England in 1923. Aged 25, he relocated to Cornell University and has become known for his achievements in the fields of solid state physics, nuclear engineering and quantum field theory. [Listener: Sam Schweber] TRANSCRIPT: This was a grand programme. I had the ambition of making quantum electrodynamics into a completely solvable theory, a theory in which one could calculate everything precisely, in which all the renormalisations would be done, out of the way, and you'd have a convergent series so that it was not just an asymptotic expansion but a real convergent series, so it would be a mathematically well-defined theory and everything could be done in principle as accurately as you want. So I sat down and tried to do that, and the tactic that I developed was to separate high and low frequencies, or high and low energies, so that you'd first of all systematically go through a power... series expansion in the high frequencies only, which would be convergent, and so therefore could be, in principle, calculated rigorously. And so once the high frequencies had been done all the renormalisations would be out of the way. The remainder of the problem would just be ordinary physics, the low frequencies which would not present any problems in principle; it would just be a matter then of hard work to find the solutions of things, like the hydrogen atom where you'd have to deal with the low frequencies numerically. So essentially the programme was to do the high frequencies analytically, and the low frequencies numerically. Well, it failed, and I put two years very hard work into it. It was a more concentrated period of hard work, in fact, than I ever did on anything else. I think I worked really with high concentration for about two years, which I've never really done on any other project that I was involved with. And I thought it would actually succeed. I published four papers in which various stages or the programme were gone through and it seemed to work well; from a formal point of view everything worked. I was able to reduce the Schrödinger equation and the Heisenberg operators into the form which I thought would make them convergent and so as far as the formalities were concerned, everything seemed to work. And so those were done. All that remained was actually to prove the convergence. And then, when I was in Switzerland in the summer of 1951, the moment of truth happened: I suddenly found a very simple argument which showed that the series are divergent anyway, and no matter what you do, whether you separate high and low frequencies or not, the perturbation series in quantum electrodynamics simply diverges, and the argument to show that is a simply physical argument which is published in a one page note in the Physical Review letters. So that was the end of the story and that particular illumination was in a way a very joyful time. I mean, because suddenly I had this burden lifted, that the programme was a failure, I didn't have to think about it any more; that chapter of my life was over. In a way I suddenly felt a sense of enormous relief, that I wasn't having to fight this monster any more, which had gone on for two years and it was obviously something that would remain beyond my reach, and that was it. So in a way it was a great success although it was also a failure. At least it showed that was a dead end but in the course of reaching the dead end I found out something about quantum field theory which was important, namely the fact that the perturbation theory really does diverge.

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