Freeman Dyson

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Freeman Dyson is an emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.

Widely considered one of the world's most distinguished scientists, he has 21 honorary degrees and is most famous for his work in quantum mechanics, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering.

Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Dyson agrees that anthropogenic global warming exists, and has written that "one of the main causes of warming is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from our burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and natural gas."

However, he has argued that existing simulation models of climate fail to account for some important factors, and hence the results will contain too much error to reliably predict future trends:

"The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world we live in..."

He is among signatories of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC and has also argued against the ostracization of scientists whose views depart from the acknowledged mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change, stating that "heretics" have historically been an important force in driving scientific progress. "Heretics who question the dogmas are needed... I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies."

More recently, he has endorsed the now common usage of "global warming" as synonymous with global anthropogenic climate change, referring to recent "measurements that transformed global warming from a vague theoretical speculation into a precise observational science."

He has, however, argued that political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change distract from other global problems that should take priority:

"I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans."

Since originally taking interest in climate studies in the 1970s, Dyson has suggested that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be controlled by planting fast-growing trees. He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere.

Dyson is well-aware that his "heresy" on global warming has been strongly criticized. In reply, he notes that "my objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much, but it’s rather against the way those people behave and the kind of intolerance to criticism that a lot of them have."


Contents

Biography

Personal


Dyson's father was the English composer Sir George Dyson. Despite sharing a last name, he is not related to early 20th century astronomer Frank Watson Dyson. However, as a small boy, Freeman Dyson was aware of Frank Watson Dyson; Freeman credits the popularity of someone with the same last name with inadvertently helping to spark his interest in science. Dyson's mother was trained as a lawyer but worked, after Dyson was born, as a social worker.

Dyson has six children, two of them (Esther and George) with his first wife, mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson, and the other four with his second wife, Imme Dyson, a masters runner who married him in 1958. Due to issues with some of his children not being recognized as British citizens he abjured his allegiance to Britain, and became a naturalized American citizen.

His eldest daughter is Esther Dyson, the noted digital technology consultant. His son is scientific historian George Dyson.; one of whose books is Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957–1965.

Friends and colleagues describe him as shy and self-effacing with a contrarian streak that his friends find refreshing but his intellectual opponents find exasperating. "I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice," physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said of him. His friend, the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, said: "A favorite word of Freeman's about doing science and being creative is the word 'subversive.' He feels it's rather important not only to be not orthodox, but to be subversive, and he's done that all his life."


Career


Although Dyson has won numerous scientific awards, he has never won a Nobel Prize, which has led Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg to state that the Nobel committee has "fleeced" Dyson. Dyson has said that “I think it’s almost true without exception if you want to win a Nobel Prize, you should have a long attention span, get hold of some deep and important problem and stay with it for 10 years. That wasn’t my style.”

Dyson was a Scholar at the renowned Winchester College, England's oldest public school, from 1939 to 1941. He then worked as an analyst for RAF Bomber Command at RAF Wyton for the remainder of World War II. There, along with Patrick Blackett (later Lord Blackett OM PRS), Cecil Gordon, C. H. Waddington, Owen Wansbrough-Jones, Frank Yates and Jacob Bronowski, he would come to create what would later be known as operational research. After the war, he obtained a BA in mathematics from the University of Cambridge (1945) and was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1946 to 1949. In 1947 he moved to the US, on a fellowship at Cornell University and thence joined the faculty there as a physics professor in 1951 without a PhD. In 1953, he took up a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. In 1957, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Dyson is best known for demonstrating in 1949 the equivalence of the formulations of quantum electrodynamics that existed by that time–Richard Feynman's diagrammatic path integral formulation and the operator method developed by Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. A by-product of that demonstration was the invention of the Dyson series. It was this Dyson paper that inspired John Ward to derive his celebrated Ward identity.

Dyson also did work in a variety of topics in mathematics, such as topology, analysis, number theory and random matrices.

From 1957 to 1961 he worked on the Orion Project, which proposed the possibility of space-flight using nuclear pulse propulsion. A prototype was demonstrated using conventional explosives, but a treaty which he was involved in and supported, banned the testing of nuclear weapons other than underground, and this caused the project to be abandoned.

In 1958 he led the design team for the TRIGA, a small, inherently safe nuclear reactor used throughout the world in hospitals and universities for the production of isotopes.

A seminal work by Dyson came in 1966 when, together with Andrew Lenard and independently of Elliott H. Lieb and Walter Thirring, he proved rigorously that the exclusion principle plays the main role in the stability of bulk matter. Hence, it is not the electromagnetic repulsion between electrons and nuclei that is responsible for two wood blocks that are left on top of each other not coalescing into a single piece, but rather it is the exclusion principle applied to electrons and protons that generates the classical macroscopic normal force. In condensed matter physics, Dyson also did studies in the phase transition of the Ising model in 1 dimension and spin waves.

Around 1979, Dyson worked with the Institute for Energy Analysis on climate studies. This group, under the direction of Alvin Weinberg, pioneered multidisciplinary climate studies, including a strong biology group. Also during the 1970s, Dyson worked on climate studies conducted by the JASON defense advisory group.

In 1998, Dyson joined the board of the Solar Electric Light Fund. As of 2003, Dyson is the president of the Space Studies Institute, the space research organization founded by Gerard K. O'Neill. Dyson is a long-time member of the JASON defense advisory group.

Dyson is a regular contributor to New York Review of Books. He published there 47 articles (correct March 2011).


Honors and Awards

In 1952 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Dyson was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1966 and Max Planck medal in 1969.

In 1977, Dyson supervised Princeton undergraduate John Aristotle Phillips in a term paper that outlined a credible design for a nuclear weapon. This earned Phillips the nickname The A-Bomb Kid.

In the 1984–85 academic year he gave the Gifford lectures at Aberdeen, which resulted in the book Infinite In All Directions.

In 1989, Dyson taught at Duke University as a Fritz London Memorial Lecturer. In the same year, he was elected as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

Dyson has published a number of collections of speculations and observations about technology, science, and the future. In 1996 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science.

In 1993, Dyson was given the Enrico Fermi Award.

In 2000, Dyson was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

In 2003, Dyson was awarded the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology in Telluride, Colorado.


Concepts

Biotechnology and genetic engineering


“My book The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet (1999) describes a vision of green technology enriching villages all over the world and halting the migration from villages to megacities. The three components of the vision are all essential: the sun to provide energy where it is needed, the genome to provide plants that can convert sunlight into chemical fuels cheaply and efficiently, the Internet to end the intellectual and economic isolation of rural populations. With all three components in place, every village in Africa could enjoy its fair share of the blessings of civilisation.”

Dyson cheerfully admits his record as a prophet is mixed, but "it is better to be wrong than to be vague."

"To answer the world's material needs, technology has to be not only beautiful but also cheap."


Dyson sphere


“One should expect that, within a few thousand years of its entering the stage of industrial development, any intelligent species should be found occupying an artificial biosphere which completely surrounds its parent star.”

In 1960 Dyson wrote a short paper for the journal Science, entitled "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation". In it, he theorized that a technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization might completely surround its native star with artificial structures in order to maximize the capture of the star's available energy. Eventually, the civilization would completely enclose the star, intercepting electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths from visible light downwards and radiating waste heat outwards as infrared radiation. Therefore, one method of searching for extraterrestrial civilizations would be to look for large objects radiating in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Dyson conceived that such structures would be clouds of asteroid-sized space habitats, though science fiction writers have preferred a solid structure: either way, such an artifact is often referred to as a Dyson sphere, although Dyson himself used the term "shell". Dyson says that he used the term "artificial biosphere" in the article meaning a habitat, not a shape. The general concept of such an energy-transferring shell had been advanced decades earlier by author Olaf Stapledon in his 1937 novel Star Maker, a source that Dyson has reportedly credited publicly.


Dyson tree


Dyson has also proposed the creation of a Dyson tree, a genetically-engineered plant capable of growing on a comet. He suggested that comets could be engineered to contain hollow spaces filled with a breathable atmosphere, thus providing self-sustaining habitats for humanity in the outer solar system.

“Plants could grow greenhouses…just as turtles grow shells and polar bears grow fur and polyps build coral reefs in tropical seas. These plants could keep warm by the light from a distant Sun and conserve the oxygen that they produce by photosynthesis. The greenhouse would consist of a thick skin providing thermal insulation, with small transparent windows to admit sunlight. Outside the skin would be an array of simple lenses, focusing sunlight through the windows into the interior… Groups of greenhouses could grow together to form extended habitats for other species of plants and animals.”


Space colonies


“I've done some historical research on the costs of the Mayflower's voyage, and on the Mormons' emigration to Utah, and I think it's possible to go into space on a much smaller scale. A cost on the order of $40,000 per person [1978 dollars] would be the target to shoot for; in terms of real wages, that would make it comparable to the colonization of America. Unless it's brought down to that level it's not really interesting to me, because otherwise it would be a luxury that only governments could afford.”

Dyson has been interested in space travel since he was a child, reading such science fiction classics as Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker. As a young man, he worked for General Atomics on the nuclear-powered Orion spacecraft. He hoped Project Orion would put men on Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970. He's been unhappy for a quarter-century on how the government conducts space travel:

“The problem is, of course, that they can't afford to fail. The rules of the game are that you don't take a chance, because if you fail, then probably your whole program gets wiped out.”

He still hopes for cheap space travel, but is resigned to waiting for private entrepreneurs to develop something new—and cheap. “No law of physics or biology forbids cheap travel and settlement all over the solar system and beyond. But it is impossible to predict how long this will take. Predictions of the dates of future achievements are notoriously fallible. My guess is that the era of cheap unmanned missions will be the next fifty years, and the era of cheap manned missions will start sometime late in the twenty-first century.


"Any affordable program of manned exploration must be centered in biology, and its time frame tied to the time frame of biotechnology; a hundred years, roughly the time it will take us to learn to grow warm-blooded plants, is probably reasonable.”


Space exploration


“A direct search for life in Europa's ocean would today be prohibitively expensive. Impacts on Europa give us an easier way to look for evidence of life there. Every time a major impact occurs on Europa, a vast quantity of water is splashed from the ocean into the space around Jupiter. Some of the water evaporates, and some condenses into snow. Creatures living in the water far enough from the impact have a chance of being splashed intact into space and quickly freeze-dried. Therefore, an easy way to look for evidence of life in Europa's ocean is to look for freeze-dried fish in the ring of space debris orbiting Jupiter.”


Dyson's transform


Dyson also has some credits in pure mathematics. His concept "Dyson's transform" led to one of the most important lemmas of Olivier Ramaré's theorem that every even integer can be written as a sum of no more than six primes.

Dyson series


The Dyson series, the formal solution of an explicitly time-dependent Schrödinger equation by iteration, and the corresponding Dyson time-ordering operator \mathcal T\,, an entity of basic importance in the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, are also named after Dyson.


Views

Metaphysics


Dyson has suggested a kind of cosmic metaphysics of mind. In his book Infinite in all Directions he is writing about three levels of mind: "The universe shows evidence of the operations of mind on three levels. The first level is the level of elementary physical processes in quantum mechanics. Matter in quantum mechanics is [...] constantly making choices between alternative possibilities according to probabilistic laws. [...] The second level at which we detect the operations of mind is the level of direct human experience. [...] [I]t is reasonable to believe in the existence of a third level of mind, a mental component of the universe. If we believe in this mental component and call it God, then we can say that we are small pieces of God's mental apparatus" (p. 297).


Global warming


Dyson agrees that anthropogenic global warming exists, and has written that "[o]ne of the main causes of warming is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from our burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and natural gas." However, he has argued that existing simulation models of climate fail to account for some important factors, and hence the results will contain too much error to reliably predict future trends:

"The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world we live in..."

He is among signatories of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC and has also argued against the ostracization of scientists whose views depart from the acknowledged mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change, stating that "heretics" have historically been an important force in driving scientific progress. "[H]eretics who question the dogmas are needed... I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies."

More recently, he has endorsed the now common usage of "global warming" as synonymous with global anthropogenic climate change, referring to recent "measurements that transformed global warming from a vague theoretical speculation into a precise observational science."

He has, however, argued that political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change distract from other global problems that should take priority:

I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans.

Since originally taking interest in climate studies in the 1970s, Dyson has suggested that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be controlled by planting fast-growing trees. He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere.

Dyson is well-aware that his "heresy" on global warming has been strongly criticized. In reply, he notes that "[m]y objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much, but it’s rather against the way those people behave and the kind of intolerance to criticism that a lot of them have."


Nuclear Winter


From his 1988 book Infinite in All Directions, he offered some criticism of then current models predicting a devastating Nuclear Winter in the event of a large-scale nuclear war:

"As a scientist I want to rip the theory of nuclear winter apart, but as a human being I want to believe it. This is one of the rare instances of a genuine conflict between the demands of science and the demands of humanity. As a scientist, I judge the nuclear winter theory to be a sloppy piece of work, full of gaps and unjustified assumptions. As a human being, I hope fervently that it is right. Here is a real and uncomfortable dilemma. What does a scientist do when science and humanity pull in opposite directions?"

This foreshadowed his more recent statements on global warming.


Warfare and weapons


On hearing the news of the bombing of Hiroshima:

I agreed emphatically with Henry Stimson. Once we had got ourselves into the business of bombing cities, we might as well do the job competently and get it over with. I felt better that morning than I had felt for years… Those fellows who had built the atomic bombs obviously knew their stuff… Later, much later, I would remember [the downside].

I am convinced that to avoid nuclear war it is not sufficient to be afraid of it. It is necessary to be afraid, but it is equally necessary to understand. And the first step in understanding is to recognize that the problem of nuclear war is basically not technical but human and historical. If we are to avoid destruction we must first of all understand the human and historical context out of which destruction arises.

Freeman Dyson, in his capacity as a military adviser, may have prevented the US from using nuclear weapons in the Vietnam war. When a general said in a meeting "We should throw in a nuke once in a while to keep the other side guessing," Dyson became alarmed and obtained permission to write an objective report discussing the pros and cons of using such weapons from a purely military point of view. His report is of course classified, but it was sufficiently objective that both sides in the debate based their arguments on the report. Dyson says that the report showed that even from a narrow military point of view we were better off not using nuclear weapons. We don't know what's in the report of course, but when Dyson was on the Dick Cavett show, Dick kept badgering him to disclose the reason why nuclear weapons were a bad idea for the US, until finally Dyson relented and said "Well, our targets were big and theirs were small."

Dyson really did work on both sides of the fence, which gave him a uniquely valuable perspective. For example, he was one of the coinventors of the neutron bomb.

At the British Bomber Command, Dyson and colleagues proposed ripping out two gun turrets from the RAF Lancaster bombers, to cut the catastrophic losses to German fighters in the Battle of Berlin. A Lancaster without turrets could fly 50 mph (80 km/h) faster and be much more maneuverable.

All our advice to the commander in chief [went] through the chief of our section, who was a career civil servant. His guiding principle was to tell the commander in chief things that the commander in chief liked to hear… To push the idea of ripping out gun turrets, against the official mythology of the gallant gunner defending his crew mates…was not the kind of suggestion the commander in chief liked to hear.

Dyson opposes the Vietnam war, the Gulf War, and the invasion of Iraq. He supported Barack Obama during the election and The New York Times has described him as a political liberal.


The role of failure


You can't possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It's a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we've been building them for 100 years, it's very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works - it's even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential.


On English academics


My view of the prevalence of doom-and-gloom in Cambridge is that it is a result of the English class system. In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status. As a child of the academic middle class, I learned to look on the commercial middle class with loathing and contempt. Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher, which was also the revenge of the commercial middle class. The academics lost their power and prestige and the business people took over. The academics never forgave Thatcher and have been gloomy ever since.


Science and religion


Dyson strongly opposes reductionism.[citation needed] He is a non-denominational Christian and has attended various churches from Presbyterian to Roman Catholic. Regarding doctrinal or Christological issues, he has said "I am neither a saint nor a theologian. To me, good works are more important than theology."

Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions. Dyson disagrees with the famous remark by his fellow physicist Steven Weinberg that "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things—that takes religion."

Weinberg's statement is true as far as it goes, but it is not the whole truth. To make it the whole truth, we must add an additional clause: "And for bad people to do good things—that [also] takes religion." The main point of Christianity is that it is a religion for sinners. Jesus made that very clear. When the Pharisees asked his disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" he said, "I come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." Only a small fraction of sinners repent and do good things but only a small fraction of good people are led by their religion to do bad things.


References

http://www.heartland.org/about/profileresults.html?profile=1A23880A1405159A4BA99F3661B03778&directory=3B532E2483EE9165FD810C4DF38DBAEA

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson#Global_warming

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