On The Job For 60 Years: Physicist Freeman Dysan
The distinguished quantum physicist, who worked with Einstein at Princeton, tells Charles Nevin three things he’s learnt …
Freeman Dyson, 88, is a pioneer quantum physicist, pure mathematician, metaphysicist, beady examiner of such givens as global warming and tireless explorer of our future as bio-engineering space colonisers. A Fellow of the Royal Society for 60 years, he left Britain at the age of 23 because he believed “Americans held the future in their hands and that the smart thing for me to do would be to join them.” When he took up his post at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Einstein was still working there. Startling propositions and inconvenient arguments are the signature of this human neutrino, widely regarded as one of the Nobel Committee’s glaring omissions.
His father, Sir George Dyson, was a composer and director of the Royal College of Music. Freeman has six children, including George, a historian of science, who is about to publish a history of the digital age, and Esther, an internet analyst and entrepreneur dubbed “the first lady of cyberspace”.
I e-mailed to ask him: (1) why he remained hard at work; (2) what were his strengths and weaknesses now compared with earlier in his career; and (3) what advice would he give to those who have been working for (a) one year, and (b) 30 years? This was his reply, received the next day:
Thank you very much for your friendly invitation. I am delighted to share with Her Majesty the distinction of hanging on longer than expected. Here are brief answers to your questions.
1. I continue working because I agree with Sigmund Freud’s definition of mental health. To be healthy means to love and to work. Both activities are good for the soul, and one of them also helps to pay for the groceries….