Oral History Transcript — Dr. Steven Weinberg
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Interview with Dr. Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg; June 28, 1991
ABSTRACT: Discusses how he initially became involved in JASON; comments on his motivation for joining JASON and what he learned while working on practical physics problems. Describes his anti-Vietnam war stance and working in JASON during the war. Systematically describes articles written while working on JASON, as long as they are unclassified. Describes how he thinks JASON work added to his work in physics. Explains why he quit working for JASON; discusses the lack of feedback concerning the impact of JASON work on defense problems. Comments on a possible amateur/professional distinction with JASON.
Aaserud:We are in Steven Weinberg's office on the 28th of June 1991, and I would like to interview you mainly about JASON, but, if we have some more time after that, I would like to go into other things as well. But let's start concentrating on JASON. But I would like to start out with a little pre-history in the sense that how you got involved and how you got interested in joining such an enterprise, whether you had previous experience that guided you to that kind of enterprise or whether it was something completely new.
Weinberg:I had never worked on any sort of Defense problems before I joined JASON. From the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1960 I was a Research Associate at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, and then I became after that an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at Berkeley. And a good friend, a more senior physicist, Kenneth Watson, told me about JASON, and asked at some point if I was interested in participating in the summer study that was coming up, and it sounded very exciting, very interesting. I think to a very young and junior physicist like myself, I have to say one of the main attractions were just the people who were involved in it. You know, people like, oh, Watson, and Brueckner and Gell-Mann and Goldberger, and then others came in, Dyson and many others. These were people who were of a generation senior to my own and people who had been leaders in theoretical physics, and I was absolutely delighted to join with them in anything.
Aaserud:A lot of people have said that it was mainly the attraction of the people involved rather than the problems pursued.
Weinberg:Yes. I knew that I would be learning, at least at first, much more than I would be doing anything, but that was alright. I felt that I would enjoy learning new things. But also there's another factor. I'm not sure how important it was, but I don't think it was completely negligible. You know, when you become a theoretical physicist you to some extent renounce the idea of playing a large role on the stage of history in the conventional way of, you know, you're never going to be a captain of industry or a political leader, and this was an opportunity to poke my nose a little bit out of the ivory tower and to participate in something that was going on that had to do with the world situation. And that was also very exciting, very attractive to me — probably I suspect to most of the people who were doing it.
Aaserud:But it was a unique experience to you at the time. Did you have previous experience with consulting for example?
Weinberg:No, I had never done any consulting. Well, I think I hadn't. There was one summer when I went down to Convair in San Diego, but I think by then I was already a member of JASON. I'm not certain, but I think I was. You know, it's traditional in America for even college students to take summer jobs, and I had had one summer job doing applied work at Bell Telephone Laboratories when I was at college at Cornell between my junior and senior years, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I was not at all put off by the idea of doing applied work. As long as it didn't interfere with what I most wanted to do, which is elementary particle theory, I was very happy to have the ability also to do some applied work.
Aaserud:You were an undergraduate engineer? Is that correct?
Weinberg:No, no. I was an undergraduate physics student, and I don't know why they hired me, but I was put to work in the switching systems department, which in those days was on West Street in New York, and for me it was a most wonderful experience, because before that I had always worked in the summers as a caddie on a golf course or a waiter or bell hop at a hotel, or a bookkeeper at an air conditioning company, and this was the first time that anyone was willing to pay me to do something technical. I still have a very warm feeling for that summer at Bell Laboratories.
Aaserud:I think among the JASONs I have interviewed already, it is only one who refers to an experience with you substantially before JASON, and that was Conrad Longmire.
Weinberg:Oh, he was my teacher. He visited Cornell from 1953 to 1954, which was when I was in my senior year at Cornell, and in fact he was my teacher of a course in quantum mechanics.
Aaserud:Yes, he said that.
Weinberg:But our interaction was just as teacher and student. I don't think we talked about Defense problems or anything like that. If I remember correctly, he was visiting from Los Alamos.
Aaserud:Yes, I think that's right.
Weinberg:That's nice to know that he even remembers me as a student. I didn't know that he did.
Aaserud:Yes, very much. I think it was you and Glashow who were in the same class he told me.
Weinberg:Yes, I think so, I think that's right.
Aaserud:He seems to remember that with great pleasure. Did you participate or even know anything about the developments leading to JASON?
Weinberg:Only — I heard very fragmentary things. Well, we were talking about this at lunch, and I got the impression you knew much more about it than I do.
Aaserud:Well you mentioned a conversation in a car.
Weinberg:Well, I remember I visited La Jolla and Keith Brueckner was trying to talk someone into joining what was then called Project Sunrise. At that point he wasn't trying to talk me into joining. I was of course a very young junior physicist, and the person he was talking to was much more distinguished than I was.
Aaserud:I think we agreed that that must have been in the late fall of 1959.
Weinberg:Yes, I think so.
Aaserud:Yes, because Sunrise was a very short-lived name. It became JASON around the turn of the year there. Well, what was the developments leading to your own joining JASON?
Weinberg:Well, as I think I said, Kenneth Watson I believe it was, who had taken a kindly interest in me when I was at Berkeley — he was a faculty member at the university — talked to me about it and asked me if that sort of thing would interest me, and I said, "You bet," and so I was invited to join the first summer study. Now, I believe the first summer study that I was participating in was in 1960, and it may have been at Berkeley. Maybe you have the records of where that was. Or Santa Barbara? I'm not sure where it was.
Aaserud:I don't have it with me. I can't tell you right now.
Weinberg:No, it wasn't Santa Barbara. I think it was Berkeley. And, well, that may have been one of the reasons I was asked, because I was already there, and it was convenient. I was already there at Berkeley, so it was very natural for me just to move from one building to another for the summer. I think that's what it was, a summer study at Berkeley in 1960.
Aaserud:Well, if we look at the list of reports that I also think I sent you at one point, the first report with your name on it, and it has only your name on it, is from 1960, August 1960.
Weinberg:Alright, that's right then. Then my first summer study was 1960. And I believe it was at Berkeley.
Aaserud:Well I would like to go through this list with you in some detail a little later. But first a little more general questions. On your Vita under consultantships you list Institute for Defense Analysis and Stanford Research Institute. Is that identical to your JASON involvement?
Weinberg:Yes. That's right. IDA, the Institute for Defense Analyses, was the first sponsor of JASON, and the second one was the Stanford Research Institute. Now of course it's the MITRE Corporation.
Aaserud:And you also have the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency here on top of the consultantships list. Does that mean that that preceded the others?
Weinberg:No, no. I don't know why it's on top. I don't think there's any significance to the order. I was actually only a consultant there rather briefly, and on my way out of Defense consulting — it was practically the last thing I did. Well, maybe you want to come to it later, since it is later chronologically.
Aaserud:Well we might as well do it now.
Weinberg:Well, in the early — I'm trying to remember when this was. At some point I became very much involved with the debate over whether to build a version of an anti-ballistic missile system which was previous to the so-called Star Wars or Strategic Defense Initiative. It was a system proposed by the Nixon Administration, called Safeguard. I of course had worked on problems related to ballistic missile defense when I was a member of JASON, and I had no objection to a research program of fairly modest scale continuing to explore possibilities just as a hedge against any breakthrough by the other side, but I thought it was a terrible idea to go ahead with a large scale deployment of an anti-missile system. And so I joined forces in the Boston area, this must have been the early 1970s, with Abram Chayes and Jerome Wiesner and George Rathjens in writing the long introductory article for a book that Senator Kennedy was sponsoring — a book that provided technical background for people who were opposing the anti-missile system. And the book was published; it's edited by Chayes and Wiesner.
Weinberg:Yes, that's right, Senator Edward Kennedy. Because of that, I became very much interested in issues of arms control. I don't know how it came about, but at some point I was invited to be a consultant for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, ACDA. This was during the SALT talks, and I was providing technical background for some of the issues that were raised in the SALT talks. And I consulted very briefly, and then there was a house cleaning by the Nixon Administration, and they fired virtually all the consultants at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agencies. So I was terminated at that time. I always like to say that I was fired by the Nixon Administration, but in fact it was just part of a general letting go of a lot of consultants. So that was a very brief involvement. It was fun — I mean, I was reading the telegrams, the diplomatic cables coming back from the SALT talks, and I felt that maybe I had a chance to really accomplish something. But I was there too briefly to really have any impact.
Aaserud:The years were — ?
Weinberg:Well, in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, I believe it was just about one year, and it must have been somewhere around 1972 or 1973.
Aaserud:Okay. Well, back to joining JASON. When you joined JASON, did you consider that this might mean a severe change in your career at all?
Weinberg:No. I wouldn't let it be a severe change in my career. My career, I've known since high school, was going to be in fundamental theoretical physics, and I would not have joined JASON if I felt that it was going to get in the way of that. There were people in JASON whose work shifted in the direction very much of applied physics and defense problems, and some people who started out at elementary particle theorists turned into full-time defense scientists, but I certainly would never have allowed that to happen to me.
Aaserud:I think Sid Drell is probably the clearest case of that.
Weinberg:Well, I don't know if he would accept that description, but —.
Aaserud:Oh, he does. Okay, so in fact it's the opposite: it was the knowledge that JASON allowed you to continue in theoretical physics that attracted you.
Aaserud:Was that part of your motivation for joining, or did it come as a surprise?
Weinberg:I don't know. I don't remember whether it was part of it, but if it wasn't it should have been, because that was certainly one of the best things that it did for me.
Aaserud:Yeah. Well, the answer to my next question might be similar to your answer to my question about Longmire, but I'll ask it anyway. I just noticed that items 10 and 11 on your publication list were articles with Sam Treiman, and he of course was a prominent JASON member from the start. Is there any connection there at all?
Weinberg:Well, my Ph.D. thesis at Princeton was done with Sam Treiman. He was my thesis advisor. And we're still very good friends.
Aaserud:But I mean did he have any kind of influence?
Weinberg:He wasn't one of the people who brought me into JASON, I think just because he was in Princeton and I was in California. We had worked together. We had co-authored two articles on elementary particle physics when I was still in New York after graduating from Princeton, and so we got along well and enjoyed collaborating with each other, so it was quite natural for us to collaborate with each other in JASON. He wasn't that much older than me, you know, even though he was my Ph.D. thesis advisor. I don't think there's that much difference in our ages.
Aaserud:Okay, to get a little more meat on what we are talking about, I would like to go through this list of reports that I sent you, and maybe you could expand a little bit about what you said about learning physics in JASON. Maybe that comes out from going through this list.
Weinberg:I don't know if I can really help you very much with that, because I did look over the list when you sent it to me, but most of those articles I've long forgotten, and also to the extent that they were written for defense purposes, even though the articles may be unclassified, I couldn't discuss the purposes for which they were written. So it's not going to be I think a very useful conversation. But I'll be glad to tell you whatever I can.
Aaserud:Okay, good. The first one as I said was from 1960, from that summer study probably that was your first one. It's called "Multiple Scattering in Arrays of Small Objects," and it's you who are the only author of that. It was an unclassified article, I should add.
Weinberg:What do you want me to say about it?
Aaserud:Well, I would like you to talk about to what extent that was a new approach to physics for you.
Weinberg:Oh no. None of these articles made permanent contributions to physics. A few of them actually may have, as minor contributions, and those are published. I would say that of that list two or three articles did something sufficiently original so that I published it in a physics journal, and I can tell you which ones they are. That was not one of them. I don't remember the details of the article, but I suspect very strongly that it and a lot of the other articles there were autodidact; that is, I was describing a situation, putting together things I read, in a way that would allow us to solve some problems, but nothing I really did was original except the way I put it together. Whatever was done was not sufficiently original so that it was worth publishing in a physics journal. So I really don't remember what it was.
Aaserud:No. Did the problem come from the outside, or was it a problem that you designed.
Weinberg:All of these were problems that emerged in the course of the summer study, obviously. They weren't just pure physics problems, but I do remember what the purpose of that was, but I don't think I can go into it.
Weinberg:You know, these articles were written in cases where it was possible to have a purely scientific article without discussing any defense application. Those articles were written and unclassified. But discussing its defense application would be classified. It's probably silly because, you know, it's all so far in the past, but as long as I don't know that it's been declassified, I wouldn't take the chance of talking about it.
Aaserud:No. But there are in fact cases where you can make such clear distinctions.
Weinberg:Obviously there were, since we did. We tried to keep as much as possible unclassified simply because when things are classified it becomes that much harder to work with them. For example, you can't take it home to work on. If you write an article, someone else can't take it home to read, it has to be logged in. It's a terrible nuisance to deal with classified material. So wherever you can cut off some part of it and say, "Well, this part is unclassified," it's convenient to do that.
Aaserud:But of course what is interesting in a study of JASON would be to be able to make that connection at least in some cases.
Weinberg:You know, I think it's possible that a lot of these things have been declassified, but I just don't know what's been declassified.
Aaserud:Right. And unfortunately I am not completely aware of that either, to say the least.
Weinberg:I think that's a problem you are going to have.
Aaserud:Well the next article on the list is one of those articles you were talking about: It is also on your publication list. It is an article with Goldberger, Watson, Frieman and Rosenbluth called "Two Stream Instability in Finite Beams." And that's also unclassified. It was published in The Physics of Fluids in 1962.
Weinberg:Right. Yes, I did a lot of work on instabilities. There are also some papers there about the hose instability. These are instabilities that occur when a beam of charged particles creates a magnetic field which under some circumstances can hold the beam together, and this is a somewhat unstable situation. The two stream instability, if I remember correctly, occurs if the beam is passing through some medium. Then in effect you have two beams penetrating each other, and this is an unstable situation. And with all these instabilities the question is how fast they grow, and, well, that's the sort of thing we studied, tried to find out. It was linear perturbation theory mostly. It was sort of — how can I say it? Maybe this is just another reason for enjoying working in JASON. Physicists like to solve problems in mathematical physics where you have differential equations and can manipulate equations and, you know, get an answer. We learn these skills. But if you are an elementary particle physicist you don't use them that much; you go from one year to the next very often without any idea that leads to a really juicy, meaty calculation to do, something you really get your teeth into. And here, you know, we were able to take equations and solve them and figure out what the eigenvalues were, and that was something we had all learned to do in college, and it was fun to be doing it.
Aaserud:Well it was very interesting I think that when Goldberger was talking about establishing not a JASON group but a Project 137 group with Wheeler, he was talking about to what extent theoretical physicists were the right kind of people to join such a group. And he said in general, no; he said that you also needed that kind of desire or skill for solving more practical problems. And he pointed to only a few persons who had that skill. Those were very good, but in general he didn't think theoretical physicists were the best suited. He preferred experimental physicists with theoretical skills actually.
Weinberg:Well these days experimental physicists have to learn so much theory as well as experiment that they are really much more universal scientists than the theorists are.
Aaserud:But how typical was this desire that you had towards solving more practical questions?
Weinberg:It wasn't untypical. I think a lot of us enjoyed that sort of thing.
Aaserud:Because this is essentially a group of theoretical physicists, of course, dealing with this problem. But again, this article fits into a national security problem that you wouldn't get into.
Weinberg:I can't talk about anything like that.
Aaserud:Yes. Next article, you alone again, the "The Eikonal Method in Magnetohydrodynamics."
Weinberg:Yes. That was also published. Yes, that I rather enjoyed, because I learned the general formalism for the propagation of waves. Of course there is a well-known formalism for the propagation of waves in in-homogeneous media, but it is usually discussed in terms of waves with just a single component, like a sound wave. And here you have a wave that has many components — that is, an electric and a magnetic field, and maybe a pressure, so three or four, maybe six or seven different numbers characterizing the wave. And the wave propagates through a medium which is not isotropic, so you have a matrix equation describing the propagation. It wasn't clear to me when I started — and the people I spoke to in JASON didn't seem to know — how you talk about that in terms of rays — the kind of ray tracing that you do with sound waves. It wasn't clear how you would apply that in this more complicated situation. And this article explained how to do that, and described the application in magnetohydrodynamics — although that was really just an illustration. I was proud of having formulated the general approach, and I was very proud of the fact that Thomas Stix, in his book on plasma physics, quoted this paper. Because most of these papers that I wrote did not have an enormous impact, I have to say.
Aaserud:I think it was Hal Lewis who told me in an interview that he may have introduced the eikonal equation from optics to you.
Weinberg:That's possible. I certainly didn't know about it before I joined JASON, so someone probably did.
Aaserud:Well, he took credit for that in an interview, so that may be.
Weinberg:Chandrasekhar liked this work. Chandrasekhar was briefly a member of JASON, and I remember that he approved of this sort of work — because it was somewhat in the Chandrasekhar style, where instead of solving a specific problem with all of the numerical corrections and everything done to the last decimal place, you try to make a general statement that can be applied in a lot of different contexts. That's the Chandrasekhar style, and this I think fit that style.
Aaserud:But your method was developed completely independently of him probably.
Weinberg:Well, we talked about it there. I did that work I believe in the summer study in Maine, in Brunswick, Maine in 1961, if I remember correctly.
Aaserud:Yes. 1961, it was for sure. Then it's two years and we come to a confidential report called "Radar Analysis of Waves by Interferometer Techniques."
Weinberg:I have to pass on that. Not that I think it's necessarily classified anymore, but I just don't know.
Aaserud:Well, on that note let's just turn the tape.
Aaserud:The next one is also from 1963. December. It's co-authored with G. Carrier, M. L. Goldberger, N. M. Kroll, and K. A. Brueckner, and it's called "Instability of an Intense Optical Beam." It's also confidential.
Weinberg:I can't say anything.
Aaserud:Okay. And then we come to the hose, in 1964, April, "The Hose Instability Dispersion Relation." Unclassified. You alone.
Weinberg:Yes, well, that's plasma physics. It's similar to the two stream instability in that it has to do with the instabilities in a beam of particles. Actually, there is something amusing with regard to the hose instability; I gave a series of Loeb lectures — this is a series of endowed lectures at Harvard University — in 1966 or 1967. They were about elementary particle physics, and I made a little bet with someone, it may have been Francis Low, who was a member of JASON and was attending my lectures, that I could mention the hose instability in a meaningful way in my lectures. And I managed to do it because in fact the hose instability is an example in classical physics of what has come to be called in elementary particle physics a Goldstone boson. That is, if you have a beam of particles going through a uniform medium, the beam in a sense breaks a symmetry of the medium, which is translational invariance. And because it breaks the symmetry, there is a normal mode of the system where the beam moves very slowly back and forth almost uniformly with a very long wavelength along the beam. And that is precisely a classical analog of the Goldstone boson of elementary particle physics. So I was pleased to be able to make that connection, although that wasn't the motivation for the paper.
Aaserud:Well that article was also published.
Weinberg:Yes, that was published.
Aaserud:In Journal of Mathematical Physics in 1964, and the former article in Physical Review. I forgot to say that. Well, you have a good number of articles — I think more than most JASONs — and the next one is Watson and Weinberg, "Some Aspects of Hypersonic Airflow Over Cones" in 1965, March.
Weinberg:Yes. If I remember correctly, that was Watson and me teaching each other, or probably more Watson teaching me, boundary layer theory. I found that one of the most intellectually exciting things I learned in JASON, that a flow of air over a body like, say, a cone, would not be any solution of the equations of hydrodynamics that was continuous in that situation but instead the flow would automatically develop a discontinuity so that near the cone there was a region where the flow was dominated by viscosity and outside that region there would be another region, which is the rest of space, where viscosity is unimportant. And this was not a gradual transition; it was a sharp transition from one domain to the other. I mean, the fact that there was a sharp boundary layer in aerodynamics was amazing to me. Watson probably already knew all about this, but it was entirely new to me. And this was just a little article to try to explain it and understand what the scaling laws were and things like that, putting together what we could figure out about it. Obviously nothing original, except maybe the presentation.
Aaserud:That was not published, was it?
Weinberg:I don't think so. No, we didn't have anything original to say, I don't believe. But you know, that's a typical thing. I learned about Prandtl numbers and Nusselt numbers and things like that, and I had never heard of any of those things.
Aaserud:And that's all in the article. Well of course going through this list makes for a very uneven presentation — because the topics change. Maybe we should have done this by topic instead, but let me just go down the list anyway. The next one is secret. It's with Bengston, Drell, Dyson, and Munk, and it's "Commenting on Limited Nike- X Deployment Proposal."
Weinberg:Yes, well I can't comment on that except to tell you, as you probably know, that it's not classified that Nike-X was an early anti-ballistic missile system.
Aaserud:But you remember that one.
Weinberg:Actually I don't remember anything about what we said in that paper. So I'm not in any danger of giving away any secrets.
Aaserud:Well, you were probably negative, but that's another matter.
Weinberg:I really don't remember. It may have been more technical than that. I don't know.
Aaserud:Next one, alone, unclassified, "Relaxation Processes in Gas Streams."
Weinberg:Well again, that was like the paper about boundary layers: it was teaching myself something, putting together things from books and articles so that I understood the subject. I don't remember any more what the content was. It certainly wasn't anything original.
Aaserud:"Hose Results," the same year, 1966, unclassified.
Weinberg:Well, you know, we've talked about the hose instability. That must have been some summing up of results, but I don't remember it.
Aaserud:But you were able to maintain some continuity there in your studies, so to speak. Next one, same year, same month, May 1966, unclassified, you alone, "General Theory of Resistive Beam Instabilities." That's in the same ballpark, right?
Weinberg:Yes, that's the hose instability. The hose instability is a resistive instability in the sense that if you didn't have collisional processes that dissipated energy, you wouldn't have the growing modes, which is somewhat paradoxical. You would think dissipation would damp modes, but in fact some cases they produce the growth, the instability.
Aaserud:Yes. And that's where this comes out.
Aaserud:Okay. Gomer and Dyson and you, August 1966. "Technical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia." Now we're in Vietnam.
Weinberg:Yeah. Well, I can't speak for my co-authors, and I certainly can't talk about the content of the article. I believe that that's listed as classified, isn't it?
Weinberg:I can say what my motivation was for studying that problem at all. I had heard rumors — and I don't know whether there was any truth to the rumors — that there was some talk within the administration or within the Pentagon of trying to get out of the stalemate in Vietnam by using tactical nuclear weapons. And I thought that was a horrible idea, and I didn't think that I could accomplish very much by just saying it's a horrible idea. So I thought — and this may also have been true of Gomer and Dyson, but I am not saying it is, because I can't speak for them — that one way of dealing with this would be to try to study it from a purely military point of view, because before I undertook the study, just on the basis of general information, it seemed to me that this even in a purely military way might do more harm to our position than good, let alone the obvious other reasons for not wanting to do such a thing. And so that is why I embarked on that study. Now what the study found, I can't go into.
Aaserud:But I think that the title of the article was one of the things that aroused a strong sentiment on campuses.
Aaserud:Because of course if you're in that mode you easily draw the conclusion that that's what you proposed, of course.
Weinberg:I can't say what the article was, because the article is classified, but I can say my motivation in doing that work was to try to present something that would provide military reasons why that was a bad idea.
Aaserud:Well I remember interviewing Charlie Schwartz at Berkeley. He told me that you once pointed out to him that you were a Vietnam War opponent, long before he ever thought of it.
Weinberg:Yeah. Well I'm glad that he remembers that. Charlie has not always been so kind to me. But I'm glad he said that. Yes, I felt very strongly against the war in Vietnam. Generally speaking, I think the United States, like any great power, has to have a military, and I don't feel any sense that it is a moral compromise in contributing to it, but there were some things that we did that I felt very strongly we shouldn't do, and at the top of the list was Vietnam.
Aaserud:Well, the next one is confidential, and it's called — it's a word that's very hard to pronounce, it's L-d-i-h-m-g.
Weinberg:L-d-i-h-m-g. I wouldn't tell you what it is if it's confidential. You know, I really don't remember what that is. Now you've got me wondering, "What the hell was that?"
Aaserud:That's good. Then with Gomer again, "Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia: Questions Requiring Further Study."
Weinberg:That's more of the same.
Aaserud:That's more of the same. It's in November 1966, the other one was in August 1966. Then it's a secret one, so I don't —
Weinberg:I do remember what those articles said, and I wish they had been declassified so that I could tell you, but I can't.
Aaserud:Yeah. No, of course not. Well, maybe they are. Who knows. I should really look into that.
Weinberg:Yes. If they are, I invite you to look at them.
Aaserud:Steven Weinberg, secret, April 1967, "The Airplow."
Weinberg:Well, I remember, but I can't tell you.
Aaserud:It probably has to do with beam work. But I'm not going to press you. Then it's another secret one — of course if you have something to say about motivation again, I mean, you are welcome to do it. Keller, Salpeter, Watson, Dyson, Peterson, Martin, Bengston, and yourself, "IDA JASON BMD Discriminant Physics Study," January 1968.
Weinberg:BMD stands for Ballistic Missile Defense. I don't, I can't say anything about it.
Aaserud:And the same again, well, that's a series of articles obviously, a series of three articles.
Weinberg:You said that I had an unusually long publication list in JASON. I was surprised at that, because I thought there were people who were much more effective than I was. Maybe they were effective because they weren't writing so many papers.
Aaserud:Yeah, that's possible. Well, I think Watson might be more prolific, although I haven't counted, I have to admit. But yours is one of the longest lists. Now we're in 1970. Drell, Chairman, then Berman, Flatte, Kroll, Nolan, Ruderman, Zachariasen, and yourself. "Considerations of SAM Upgrade to ABM." Secret.
Weinberg:Mm-hmm [affirmative]. You know what SAM is: Surface-Surface-to-Air Missile.
Aaserud:Yeah, right. Then again, same series of articles of 1971, "Some Considerations of Moscow ABM Radars and SAM Upgrade." It's also secret. It's the same authors essentially. Then alone, secret, "Critique of Proposed Modifications of U.S. Offensive Missile Systems."
Weinberg:I don't remember that at all.
Aaserud:There is an unclassified one again in 1972 with Munk, who was chairman, and then Callan, Nierenberg and Rosenbluth and Zachariasen and yourself. "Internal Surface Wave Interactions and Related Problems." Unclassified.
Weinberg:Yes, you know what internal waves are. Actually, it was amusing how I first learned about internal waves. These are waves in the ocean, but not water waves on the surface, but actually waves where, because you have a density gradient or a salinity gradient, the water itself moves up and down internally in the ocean. I remember I went to a meeting in La Jolla to discuss these and learn about them, and Carl Eckart was explaining it. He was a person who had participated in the early days of quantum mechanics and had then moved into oceanography, and some of us didn't understand what he was saying. And he explained it by an analogy with the Schrodinger equation of quantum mechanics — which is amusing, because many people might do it the other way around. But for us that was very good, because we were very familiar with the Schrodinger equation, and didn't know anything about internal waves. Well, okay, I mean internal waves of course are very well known and it's no secret that they exist, and it's an obvious question: how do they interact with the surface of the water. And that's what that studied.
Aaserud:That's a Navy problem probably. Monk did a lot of that of course. He was on the Navy side, right?
Weinberg:Well, he is an oceanographer.
Aaserud:Yeah, he is too, so it's natural. Then it's you and Flatte, secret, "Draft Number One: Vulnerability of Submarines to Underwater Nuclear Explosions." Secret. So we're getting into underwater studies now.
Weinberg:I found that fascinating. That was really one of the things I enjoyed most in JASON was learning about the sea. Yes, I think there was a transition in the interests of JASON from things having to do with ballistic missiles to things having to do with submarines. And I loved it. I thought the scientific questions were fascinating. Oceanography of course is a science in its own right; it's not just applied physics. And learning something about the oceans was very mind-expanding. So I thoroughly enjoyed that. Also it was a way of avoiding having anything to do with the Vietnam War.
Aaserud:Yes, yes. I guess JASON expanded also in the non-Defense domain after Vietnam.
Weinberg:Well, it did. I don't think I participated in that. At the point you are talking about now I am almost at the end of my tenure in JASON.
Aaserud:Yes. Now we are at the project that Garwin encouraged me to ask you about. He was chairman of a study about nuclear arms control for the Navy I suppose it can be called. I think that is what this is. "Effect of Various Arms Limitation Options on SSB and Survivability." Garwin is chairman, Berman, Callan, Case, Flatte, Munk, Nolan, Richter, Zachariasen and yourself. It's unclassified.
Weinberg:It's unclassified, really?
Aaserud:One of them is unclassified. The other one is secret.
Weinberg:Well I really don't remember it well enough to sort out which is classified and which isn't. And I really don't remember that work very well, even apart from any question of classification. So I don't think I can say anything.
Aaserud:Well, Garwin was very pleased with that work when I spoke to him. He saw it as one of the rare attempts to call for a concrete arms limitation proposal for the Navy.
Weinberg:Garwin was one of the really strong spirits in JASON, somewhat of a gadfly to the military — especially to the Navy — but really one of the most powerful and original minds that I've ever met. And he was one of the people whose participation in JASON made it exciting to be there.
Aaserud:But also frustrating at times perhaps.
Weinberg:Yes. I gave a talk here in Texas a little while ago where I was rather forthright and impolite in some respects, and one of the Texans told me afterwards that they have an expression here, "He sure got the mush out of his mouth." And Garwin was like that: he never had any mush in his mouth.
Aaserud:No. That's nice. But I think, well, if I count which JASON member is most often mentioned by other JASON members in my interviews, I think it's Garwin. And it's always, not always, but it's most often the question of whether you should talk or keep your mouth shut. I mean it comes up all the time.
Weinberg:Garwin usually comes down on the same side of that question.
Aaserud:Nobody ever claims that he's broken security.
Weinberg:No, not at all.
Aaserud:Well, some in the military perhaps try to make that point.
Weinberg:I haven't even heard that as an accusation.
Aaserud:Okay. You alone, unclassified, 1973, "Final Stages of Wake Collapse in a Stratified Fluid."
Weinberg:Well, if you have a body passing through a stratified fluid, that is a fluid where you have different densities at different levels, it leaves a wake of course and then eventually the wake dissipates and the wake collapses and you eventually get into a small perturbation. And you can study the final relaxation, the final disappearance of the wake through methods of linear perturbation theory in a way that you couldn't study the details of how the wake is formed, say, or the early stages of turbulence. If I remember correctly, that's what that paper was about.
Aaserud:Well as far as I can see that's the last report of yours in JASON. It's from January 1973.
Weinberg:Yes. I believe I visited the summer study in 1973 very briefly, for perhaps two weeks. The 1972 summer study was probably the last one that I had attended for a good part of the summer. Yes, I am pretty sure of that. We attended the 1972 summer study, and that was the last one where we spent most of the time there. 1973 I was there very briefly, and then I never went to another summer study after that.
Aaserud:Well, going through all these articles is of course a little tedious, and I'd like to use it for something. And I think what's striking, particularly in your case in JASON, is the way in which there is a combination between your JASON work and your physics work, and that there is not only a question perhaps of how your JASON work affects National Security decisions and National Security questions, but also a question of how your work in JASON affects your own physics and perhaps even physics in general. I don't know if you have a comment on that.
Weinberg:Well, I mentioned the hose instability as an example of a Goldstone mode which occurs because you have a broken symmetry. In that case it's the symmetry of translation in variance. There I think that didn't have any effect on my work. It was just amusing to me that at a time when I was deeply involved in the late 1960s in exploring the implications of broken symmetries for elementary particle physics an example like this would crop up in plasma physics, it didn't affect what I did in elementary particle physics. I don't think the JASON work had much effect on my work in elementary particle physics, but it did have a big effect on my work, such as it is, in cosmology and in writing my book about gravitation and cosmology. Because, you know, for example, in an article I wrote in 1977 Ben Lee and I solved the Boltzmann equation in a situation where you have heavy neutrinos colliding and gradually disappearing. And I wouldn't have known what the Boltzmann equation was if it hadn't been for JASON. In the book on gravitation and cosmology as I mentioned earlier, there's a long chapter, I think it's chapter 11, about stellar structure, where I discuss the applications of general relativity to various kinds of stars like neutron stars and super-massive stars. And I could not have done any of that. I wouldn't have known what the equations of hydrodynamics were. And the whole idea of a linear instability analysis I wouldn't have known anything about. So I don't think I could have made any contributions at all in cosmology. Well, they certainly would have been much less if I hadn't had the JASON training. As far as elementary particle physics is concerned, that's less so. Well when I teach quantum field theory I use the optical theorem to show that scattering at very high energy has to be confined within a very narrow cone around the forward direction, and the argument for that is the same argument that I learned in connection with radar antennas in JASON. But these are odds and ends. I would say that the bulk of my work, leaving aside cosmology and astrophysics, would not have been very different if I hadn't been a member of JASON. And in fact when I left JASON, part of the reason was just that my own work in elementary particle physics was getting so exciting that I no longer wanted to give even the time I had been giving to JASON. And that's why I haven't gone back to it for these years.
Aaserud:I know that time is getting short.
Weinberg:Yes. I'd say 10 more minutes is all I could give you.
Aaserud:Okay. I have two big questions for those 10 minutes.
Weinberg:Five minutes a question.
Aaserud:Yeah, right. The first one, I think it would be very useful, especially if I am going to develop my work into a book, to develop a case study of the case study, so to speak. That is, to concentrate on one project or a series of projects that was pursued within JASON, and to follow that from the beginning until its implementation, say. I mean in JASON and then perhaps even in its implementation stage outside of JASON. Now there are huge problems with this course, and I should keep the security problems in mind. I mean, I am unclassified and I will continue to be unclassified. What would be your suggestion, if any.
Weinberg:Well I can't suggest a specific project, but I do think you have a problem there, and that is, to my mind one of the things that I've never really understood about JASON is the extent to which the work done in JASON was implemented or had an impact in the military. And I suspect that the work I did — because I was always biting off little scientific problems and writing papers or informal reports about them — probably was implemented less and had less of an impact on policy than the work of most other members of JASON. So I think that there are other people in JASON, like Drell and Ruderman and Goldberger and Watson who know much much more than I do about the extent to which anything JASON did ever had any impact in the military. And I would ask them. I'm the last person to ask, because I really never saw that.
Aaserud:Did you ever try to follow it up or care to follow it up?
Weinberg:Only very informally, and doing it very informally didn't get me very far.
Aaserud:Yes. Because one case in point of course is the North Vietnam bombing project, whatever was the content of it, but at least that was motivated for you from a particular point of view.
Weinberg:I didn't say North Vietnam bombing project. I said tactical nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia. That was the title. Is that what you are talking about?
Aaserud:Yes, it is what I am talking about.
Weinberg:Yeah, well that's an example that was motivated by a certain point of view, at least on my part. I can't say what the report said, and I have no idea what impact that report had. Absolutely none. If there was feedback that came back to the JASON group, I never got it. And in fact that was one of the reasons that I was willing to leave JASON in the early 1970s, because I had no idea whether what I was doing was useful or not. I knew some of it had been useful to me pedagogically, but whether it was useful or influential outside my own small circle of people, I have no idea. Tape 2, Side 1
Aaserud:How should one go about to decide to what extent recommendations were acted on or implemented?
Weinberg:Well, I was never a member of the steering committee of JASON, and the members of the steering committee would always know much better than I would. I would talk to people who had been members of the steering committee.
Aaserud:Yes. It seems to me that your articles consist of two basic kinds, namely those that it was a learning experience for you in physics, and those that contain much more specific recommendations as to ABM or what not.
Weinberg:Well the first kind almost certainly had no impact, except perhaps being useful to my colleagues working on the summer study. The second may have had an impact, but I don't know. I just have no way of knowing.
Aaserud:Well I guess that's my responsibility to find out if there's going to be anything meaningful in this. If we look at your projects, I mean, is there anybody who you interacted with, say, in ARPA or in other places, who you think might be a possible source?
Weinberg:Well one person you might talk to is Professor Al Carnesale. You know the name?
Aaserud:No, actually not.
Weinberg:C-a-r-n-e-s-a-l-e. He now has a high position at Harvard. He heads one of the Harvard research organizations on public policy. And he was a frequent visitor to the JASON group. He was not in the JASON group. I don't know exactly what branch of the government he was in, but he was one of the people who served as something of an interface between JASON and the government, and he is now quite influential. Well, if you see him, say hello to him for me. But he might be illuminating on the question, JASON as seen from a little bit of outside perspective. Other people who interacted with JASON — well, there's John Foster maybe, maybe in the early days Harold Brown.
Aaserud:Were there some more program managers types who had hands-on relations with what you were doing?
Weinberg:I'm sure there were, but I don't remember names. Of course there are some members of JASON who were full-time Defense professionals, unlike me or unlike most of the founders of JASON. There were people like Allen Peterson. And also Robert Lelevier. And they probably have a much better idea, because they've spent their whole working life at this sort of thing, not just summer studies.
Aaserud:I think it was Francis Low who made the distinction between the blue collar and the white collar JASON.
Weinberg:I guess so. I think in many ways that was one of the difficult things about JASON, that the white collared JASONs — if that's what you mean by people like Francis Low and myself.
Aaserud:Actually I mean the opposite. I mean the blue collars were the ones who did the work and didn't ask questions, whereas the other ones with the white collars were the ones who tried to manage some kind of relationship with the government.
Weinberg:Oh, I see, yes, okay. Well, oh I see. I was a blue collar JASON, but there were people who were professionals. I was making the distinction between professionals and amateurs, and counting myself as an amateur; there were professionals like Lelevier and Peterson. And one of the problems I think with JASON was that there was a mismatch in knowledge, and the professionals knew so much more than the amateurs that very often we had to slow the discussion down in order that the amateurs like me would know what they were talking about. And the professionals were much more result-oriented. They really wanted to know what would happen if you did something. And the amateurs like myself were interested in developing a general theory that would allow you to solve all such problems.
Aaserud:Would you go so far as to say that there were two different groups?
No. Because they did cooperate, and in fact some of the papers you mentioned have people of both sorts, but it was always in danger of becoming two different groups.