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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of David Bohm by Maurice Wilkins on 1986 July 7,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Relation of the individual to the whole; California Institute of Technology (1939-1940); negative experience at Caltech; interest in Chinese and Japanese culture; Thesis – calculate scattering of light from a nebular gas cloud; University of California Berkeley (1941-1943); political interests and activity including Marxism, socialism, communism; better social, educational and natural environment at Berkeley; compute scattering of protons from deutrons [sic]; Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (1943-1946); electrostatic focusing, electric arc, nature of plasma, particle spin; effects of the atomic bombs on science and society; Research associate for J. Robert Oppenheimer (1946-1947); superconductivity; intuitive problem solving frowned upon by scientists; disillusionment with scientists; Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study (1947-1950); wrote Quantum Theory; structure of elementary particles; renormalization problem; meeting of theoretical physicists in the Pocono Mountains circa 1948, attended by notable scientists including Julian Schwinger, Victor Weisskopf, Niels Bohr, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman; hierarchy of scientists; end of his U.S. career.
I thought you said something in your last time when you were talking about being an undergraduate at Penn State that you’d begun to think about this matter of you as a human individual being part of a whole cosmos.
In that sense I was thinking about it even before high school because I was thinking as a model of the cosmos.
You mean at high school.
Yes. Because I had the four-dimensional model where each atom was a three dimensional tomb and a four-dimensional stair reaching toward the center. I had the idea that each of us was built out of these so that I too was a four dimensional tube. In other words I had sort of a place for myself in this whole model.
You were a four dimensional tube.
Or actually I could be made of atoms that were four-dimensional tubes.
You mean that every part of the universe fitted together to form a whole.
It was one complete structure.
Yes and they interconnected in the fourth dimension because although they may look separate they would also meet at the origin.
So there was an underlying unity which wasn’t apparent through a limited view of the system.
That’s right. We were only aware of the three dimensional cross sections.
I meant to ask you about this earlier model, because I wondered if that was the — I think that’s very interesting. So that was roughly at the age of what?
17. Doing what we call sort of A levels.
Yes. I was doing solid geometry at the time, physic knowledge.
I mean presumably it was a somewhat philosophically satisfying notion to have about all this unity and things fitting together.
The idea was I wanted to make a theory of the whole sort of having Einstein connecting at the hip of a person. That probably set me off on that track. I understood he made a higher mathematical theory, but I wanted to make one that was more evenly imagined. I didn’t understand his theory when we studied it, but I realized that if I’d stayed in mathematics then.
Then at Penn State you were learning about quantum mechanics and so you began to —
Well no, it was really classical mechanics, which raised the question about whether they had any choice or not. The idea was that we didn’t really take quantum mechanics all that seriously at Penn State. We learned a few of the rules, but the spirit was still classical mechanics. And I was thinking these atoms could be deterministic and we’re made of those atoms. The question is did people have any freedom. I think that — I don’t know how I could put the answer. But as long as each one of us was able to fulfill himself, to fulfill his potential in creativity — I wouldn’t use those words, but I didn’t worry about whether it was deterministic or not. That was the solution I came to; that whether it was determined or whether it was some of something else.
In a way you mean the notions of creativity sort of transcended any moral sort of primitive notions about determinism.
Yes. I guess I sort of felt that freedom could only be freedom to be created and that’s what I felt.
I must say I certainly feel that this was a truer way of approaching things. You sensed that the — you had a feeling for the general nature of creativity and you saw this as being the essential aspect to human existence. And all these intellectual notions about whether there was causality or determinism or free will, to some extent you saw as being not so basic because these were somewhat artificial sort of intellectual concepts.
I didn’t see it in those terms then. I just felt that one didn’t know, but whatever it was the main point was creativity.
But I mean you still had a general feeling for looking at it that way even if you didn’t articulate it. I mean, this is surely the thing that any ideas which are worth anything generally speaking are preceded by sort of a general kind of feeling about the nature of the solution. Which is only then put in some parity in a form of sort of intellectual propositions and thoughts and so on. So it was a later stage, wasn’t it?
Yes. Penn State didn’t really concentrate so much on the total nature of the universe. It was learning more of different things. But I had in mind that eventually I would get on to that thing, again later.
Get onto what?
This whole profession of the wholes.
When you were at Penn State you —
Yes. Reserved the fact at the back of my mind that I hoped that maybe I’d in graduate school or later get on with that. I had to learn more first.
So you had a general formed ambition at that stage that this might be the sort of problem that you might like to almost devote your life to studying this idea of the relation of the individual to the whole.
But you would realize that you would need probably quite a lot of education and training and knowledge and so on to be able to work effectively on that problem.
Now look, what I’m going to say now is indulging in a little bit of psychological speculation. But what I wonder is what you feel about this in that most of your childhood was spent in a state, I was going to say somewhat painful suspended existence where you were not really very effectively integrated into a family or social scene. That your both parents were somewhat, your relationships were not very close or effective, that you certainly didn’t have the feeling that you strongly belonged within your family. I think that’s true, isn’t it.
Nor did you feel you strongly belonged within the Jewish community. Maybe you had some feeling of belonging amongst your friends, the other boys.
Yes, but that vanished as they got older and each went their separate ways.
So that you as an individual, you might say, I mean would you say it was a somewhat painful existence as an individual being not belonging to these other things which people normally tend to belong to, to family and social group and so forth?
It’s hard to say. I didn’t get a very favorable view of the family either in my family or in the other families.
Not only your own family, but the other families.
I used to get a picture going into the kitchen of some of these boys and just sort of warm and friendly and laughing. But one could see that it wasn’t really all that good once you got to know them better. Especially as I got older. I didn’t actually see the great family life anyway. There’s one memory I can remember. I was probably about eight or nine, but it was a memory of a much earlier period when it would sometimes come to me a memory of something happening at my grandfather’s house and everybody getting together in a wanting to learn environment.
Was it some special occasion?
No. I can’t remember. It was just simply a lot of people who were there who were from New York and different places. It seems that it was a lively close relationship, but that sort of faded away and those people separated and got older and so on.
Was this really rather a sort of strongly pleasant impression you had of all these people getting together and being friendly and warm in some sort of home?
Yes, that’s right. Also, being very free and easy.
Coming out of themselves to some extent in the home as people say.
I think some family get-togethers can be very nice.
They weren’t even formal get-togethers, but there happened to be those people around.
But anyway, they were there.
There were quite a few people around who later had to separate.
People happen to be there and were together.
I think it was a residue of the older European environment where the family was much closer. And America tended already to be much less close.
Yes. You mean that the European culture people had more established roots, where the root is of being belonging because you’re rooted in the soil. In a sense you belonged to the soil.
They belonged to the family. They were not peasants or anything.
When I say soil and roots I mean socially and not necessarily of the land, but in the culture.
In the culture, they were rooted into the culture — in the Jewish culture. So you see, people who came from Europe often remembered — You see, my father had similar memories of his European childhood and he would say it was something tremendously — I was at least ??? to what was going on in America.
You mean he did feel it was something very valuable that he’d left behind.
Yes, that was gone. When somebody came from Europe they would come tremendously alive in some way. He had memories of tremendous friendship and people taking trips in high mountains and all sorts of things.
A great deal of vitality.
It was taking all these forms within that cultural tradition.
Yes. He had memories of that and I used to feel uneasy when he felt that Europe was so much better than America.
You felt a bit undermined — you weren’t in Europe.
But he used to also look to the past. He used to sing a song quite often, which was to turn back the universe to yesterday.
I suppose on the other hand he was — I mean, after all he’d come to the United States because it wasn’t all the joy —
No. It was impossible to live there.
Yes, quite. Even if they had a good spirit there, there wasn’t enough material to live on.
He never felt that the United States equaled that, though he liked it in many ways.
I must say I got the same impression with the Indians and Chinese in Malaysia. I think I said this before. I’ve heard it was tragic the ruthlessness of these people. The young people growing up there, there’s nothing but skyscrapers and guta [?] factories. Now it’s got no sort of cultural base. Very thin at least, the traditions which carry over.
Yes. I understand that in America the cultural [inaudible].
Yes, but on the other hand, of course given time, these countries built up their own culture. I mean, the Australian’s are building theirs up and the Americans have gradually built theirs up. But I think probably it is still tends to be thin compared with the European stuff. Incidentally, did you watch any of the television program comparing Dorset Village in the country?
No. I’ve heard about it.
It’s quite interesting. The main thing that they don’t bring out, which I think is really silly, they don’t bring out a lot of the differences due to the French Revolution — all the egalité business. Or the lack of domination by the local landowner, which is the case in the British. I think it’s a shame because it was a very interesting comparison, but the background political-social history isn’t brought out.
Anyway, I felt that the American family, particularly as it went toward the lower class, one of my older uncles was living in a lower class district and I felt that the whole area was cold. Whereas some of that warmth was still left in the workman’s class, occasionally at my grandfather’s, but he was getting older, and the whole thing. My grandmother — but you see, as they got older they didn’t have that vitality anymore. People getting [???]
You mean people’s behavior or passions tend to persist, you mean, into a historically changed situation.
I don’t know how you feel about it, but I sometimes feel that people like myself; we’re a product of pre-World War II university students. Universities like Cambridge with sort of left wing ideas and a whole sort of structural environment there, which has in a way determined our general approach to life. And the younger people growing up now, they approach things rather differently. I know it feels in a way a little bit like that. We’re like this sort of dying breed. It’s the same when you go Hampstead [?]. You see all the very old people crawling around the streets and some are barely crawling now. And you realize that all this great European refugee culture which came out of Europe with the rise of Hitler pre-war that all these people are dying out. And the newer generation that follows that is not the same. They’re much more matter of fact young sort of British people. A special quality of that theme is gone. I think it’s tragic in a way. I mean, it just hit me the other day walking around Hampstead. I’d always taken these Jewish refugee elements for granted. What fine, you know all this wonderful European culture? It’s going to die, a lot of it.
It’s dying in Europe, too, because of naturalization.
Yes, it’s dying. And of course to some extent I suppose in history the cultures are always dying to some extent and reforming in other ways. But there’s certain periods where you seem to have particularly harmonious and creative cultural passions operating and at other periods they seem much thinner and weaker. Oh well, I should talk. They’re all fuddy-duddies when they take the past, but I’m correct when I say lamenting the past just as your father lamented it. In a sense he was right.
Yes. Well its part almost in the Jewish religion. There were these prayers where the Jews were scattered, they were conquered thousands of years ago and taken to Babylon in captivity. So they lamented their old lives and that’s part of the whole.
So that was a very standard, sort of general principle.
Anyway, that was sort of one of the threads to lament a better past in which I probably reflect to a certain extent. But I also picked up the idea that the future would be radiant and glorious, you see. More from the heart environment.
So your four-dimensional model was putting threads between the present and the past and the future and making everything up as a whole.
But he was linking it with so to speak invisible threads, which are in another dimension.
Whereas in the real cultural world, of course, people were linked by visible threads in a way. You could readily see what the cultural persons were. I think more what I was getting at was this, that I was wondering to what extent going through a certain adversity in some degree a deprivation of unity within the family and the community, that the creative reaction to that deprivation is to turn it into something positive where you have a stimulus to build up general thinking and theories which are going to transcend the deprivation.
Well I’ve been here and also the political interest was in a similar line to say that the future would bring people together in a way.
In harmony, right. So that first of all the science would help end poverty, which I then regarded as the principle problem. Second, it would make people rational and then through proper politics people would get together to build a better society.
I suppose it was just as well at that time that some demon didn’t come along and give you a view of the present as far as it wants to cope with. They got Reagan parading all the battleships in front of the Statue of Liberty to show what big strong boys we are or he is — the liberty to destroy the Nicaraguan government.
Anyway, I think that that was merely most of it I could say about Penn State. Toward the end, the last semester I remember I took it a bit easier. I cut down the number of courses I took because I’d probably never been able to go and I took more time for just thinking about things. But you see, where I had to apply for the universities for graduate assistantship to be able to go on — As I said I applied to quite a few of them and got negative replies from most. But later I found out as I told you that the head of the department that recommended me had said we wanted to take Jews and so on. You see this place in Rochester happened to have a Jewish head of a department and money to lend, and of course it didn’t bother them. So I did get an assistantship at Rochester.
Why was it do you think that they had this aversion of this —
You see that’s part of the whole background.
Some sort of fear.
Well there was fear of their possible abilities, but also feeling that they were pushy and aggressive and they projected all these things, and of course some were.
Some were because I mean the discrimination sort of always makes it that the discriminated people —
And some people have religious residue of religious prejudice, which [???] given up religion, but it still holds. I remember one evening toward the end of this last semester I couldn’t sleep. I [???] surge of energy, you see, and I didn’t sleep at all. In the morning I went for a very long walk at sunrise. When I got back there was a letter waiting for me saying that I had received this White Fellowship for $600, which was more than enough to cover a year’s expenses then. We decided to go do away with a year of our life. Also, meanwhile I received an offer from Caltech for just tuition, so I decided I would go to Caltech. The reason for that was, we’ve already gone into this whole dream of the West and so on. So I had read that Caltech had had Einstein and a lot of people there and you must have —
Oh, Einstein being at Caltech?
He was there for a while and some others as well. So I thought it must be a great environment and extraordinary place. It had a very good reputation wherever you asked them, therefore I thought I might as well go there and because I wanted to go to California any way. That was the decision. I remember them, I set off the following September for Pasadena. Somebody had advertised that they had half of a bus ticket that they hadn’t used so I went and bought it for about $30. I got on a bus one morning and that was the morning war was declared. I remember that people were talking on the bus about it.
What about your parents? Didn’t you go home to see them first?
Actually I stayed home during the summer. The semester ended in June and I had this fellowship, but I stayed at home until September. In September I bought this ticket and got on the bus.
From your home area.
From that home area, Wilkes-Barre. That was the day war was declared. Well then people talked a bit about it, but gradually interest subsided. So we were off on this bus crossing the country and on and on and on. I don’t remember how I finally arrived at Los Angeles and Pasadena. Then people would say go to the YMCA and get a room. Then I went to Caltech and see what they were suggesting. Finally I met a fellow called Leon Katz and we sort of got along well. So he said knew of a small two room apartment there, which we could share for $5.50 a week. I said, “Okay.” I didn’t like California when I got there. It was a desert. The trees would only grow if you watered them, and we discussed that.
You mean you like the wild growth of the trees.
Yes. Later I discovered they were growing wild in the mountains, but as far as you could see it was a desert. Mount Wilson had the lowest stubs that had apparently been burned off so it like quite as much as a desert. It was very hot for a while. But we got started with ??? Caltech and it was quite a different the atmosphere. First of all there were courses, we took an enormous number of courses and they gave problems to solve all the time.
These were graduate studies.
Did you still have all the lectures?
Yes. We had lectures and also problems to solve and put on the board and so on.
But you didn’t in the first year or so do any actual research. Is that right?
No. On the first semester I was rather busy and not too unhappy. There was some sign that I wasn’t going right. It wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. There was a fellow there named Smythe [?] who taught a course in electricity and magnetism from his own book. It was just full of problems and we used to solve them. I used to keep on trying to work out the theory of these problems and sort of talk about the work of this fellow Katz. But one day Smythe said to Katz, I wasn’t there at the time, “I don’t see why you fellows are bothering with the theories.” He said, “This year you’ll solve the problems and next year at this time we’ll give a course on the theories.”
Epstein. There’s a different there. I didn’t think much of that. Instead of saying you just make me just right. Without knowing what you’re doing you find a technique for solving problems and then you find out what you’re doing.
Very anti-educational. It’s still quite that these tendencies still persist didn’t it. Somehow you learn to use tools, but you don’t know what the tools are or something. Very strange.
That sort of worried me, but that still was only the beginning. I remember in the mathematics course, it was a course in mathematical analysis. It wasn’t as hard as Whittaker and Watson’s book, but we found it quite interesting. There was only one thing that I can remember. There was a problem where you had to prove some theory about spheres. So I proved that by rotating the sphere, giving it a rotation and rotating the sphere in another direction, you know, rotating the sphere, rotating it again, rotating back in three steps. Instead somebody else had gone through a tremendous amount of trigonometry to prove the same thing. But I felt it was — what I wanted to so do was see the answer directly rather than through a long process of calculation. That’s something I’ve always tried to do. I don’t trust a long process of calculation. There’s too many chances of a mistake or a false assumption of something. We were kept quite busy. The one thing that had a profound effect on me, I picked up Eddington’s book in the library there. The Relativity Theory of Electrons and Protons in which he claimed to make a complete theory of the universe that was completely defined and really captured my attention. I couldn’t understand what he had done there was so much mathematics.
A modern counterpart of Euclid, you mean, in some absolute solution.
Yes. As mathematics was evidently a level beyond me, but what he said seemed very interesting and I tried to understand as much as I could. I tried to sort of write out some sort of nonmathematical version of the theory. I brought it over to Richard Tolman, he was a well-known physicist there, to discuss it. We discussed it and he said, “Well nobody could understand that [???] and it’s not clear there’s anything in it.” I was somewhat disappointed in the whole thing, but I sort of felt I’d made a fool of myself in getting so excited about. Then I wrote to this friend of mine at Penn State. We used to talk things over together. I trust him. I told him about it and he wrote back. He was a bit skeptical about anything, but the most striking statement I think he made in there was that he could deduce the nature of the reality unambiguously from epistemological consideration alone. Now this fellow thought we had to do a skit on that or something. He said we had to write something on that [???] to the devil, you see. So he wrote it in part, but since that time I’ve gone over it again and again. There’s a little [???] I’ve never written, which was a story went something like this, that making third [???] and Eddington, you see. So the idea was that Eddington was sitting in his study one night and suddenly he had a visitor with a beard and a long tail and so on. Eddington looked up and said, “Why — how did you get in?” So he says, “Well as a matter of fact I’m the devil.” So he said, “What do you want from me?” Well the devil said, “We would like to buy your soul.” And he said, “We’re going to offer you everything. We’ll offer you money, power, anything you want. We’ll give you the works, everything.” And Eddington thought for a while and said, “No.” The devil was astonished. He said, “This is very surprising. Most scientists will sell their souls to me for something much smaller like a Navy contract or something, but we were offering you the whole works and you won’t sell it. So, can you at least explain yourself?” Eddington said, “If you’ll read my book Relativity of Theory of Electrons and Protons on page so and so you’ll see that I can deduce the nature of the universe unambiguously from epistemological considerations alone. If I wanted all those things I could have them.” The devil had to admit that it was very logical. Then he said, “But we really need to understand your book. I’ve had my best scientist working on it and they can’t understand it and we really have to understand it with this war with God. It’s very urgent. What can we offer you just to help us with your book?” So the devil thought of all sorts of things. But finally the devil said, “Well can I offer you my soul?” Eddington says okay. That’s provided you’ve just to explain your book to us and you can have my soul. So the devil gave him his soul and I think that he explained this book. So now if you want to understand Eddington’s book you can go to the devil. That was sort of making fun of his claim of Eddington had gone too far.
That was after the war began, so that was 1939.
Probably 1939 or early ‘40.
‘40, yes. Because I had an encounter with Eddington, which I may have told you about that in my college johns of Cambridge as an undergraduate. I forget which year it was. Maybe it was the first or second year, possibly 1936. But he was giving a talk in one of the college rooms, just a room where some member of staff or presumably some college lecturer or someone had this as his study and the informal meeting was held there. Any undergraduate could go so I went along and we sat on the floor. At question time, I said this before, I asked him, “Professor Eddington, do you think that this working on this 137 and all of these?” I called them magic numbers, but the whole thing was somewhat mystical. This incredible conjuring trick that he was trying to put across and it made a great impression. He impressed me probably possibly in the same way he did you. So I asked him whether he thought this was the most important thing that a scientist like himself could be doing. Of course he said well, he wasn’t quite so sure of that thought. But it did, that Eddington stuff was put across in a sort of rather fantastic way, wasn’t it?
Well he sort of got something across. I think, although I realize it didn’t make too much sense the way it was, but the aim sort of stuck anyway. Trying to make something in the universe and clearing up.
He was a Quaker, a strange man. He had a very deprived life, too. I think he lived with his sister for a time. His main recreation was cycling by himself all over England. They found a map he had of England and he had practically every road, all of England sort of marked out where he’d cycle journeyed. He had drawn all over the whole thing. Strange solitary existence.
I remember I used to do a lot of cycling in Pasadena, but nothing to that extent. The roads were fairly empty at that time.
Were they? Oh, the war I mean.
Yes. Well there weren’t many cars there anyway.
But they war made it emptier still, didn’t it?
The war hadn’t hit America yet. America wasn’t in it.
You mean when I was there, you mean there was no restriction on petrol in those days.
So there was less traffic anyway.
You could really walk on most of the roads and cycle.
You see this thing — I mean, obviously the general principle is right, that strong deprivation or negative event in somebody’s life can be taken in two ways. It can either be taken as a challenge, which one rises to and you do something very creative as a result of this so the negative taken in one’s life becomes transformed into something positive. Or of course you can just wreck one’s life. I wonder how many lives have created people there are in which one can point to possible negative situations, which have been transformed by the creative people? I mean I think the idea that placing people in harmonious surroundings where they are encouraged to be creative and so on and so forth. One might even say that this may, well that’s what they’ve done, but I mean it could be quite destructive couldn’t it.
Depends on whether it’s really creative or not. I mean, I don’t know if creativity requires this sort of deprivation, but probably it’s one response to the deprivation. Evidently Newton did. He had a very bad childhood. His father died very young and his mother married somebody else who had pushed him off on a foster father. Her new husband didn’t want him. It was very disturbing to him. He had made a notebook when he was an adolescent, which was just for guilt and so on, the hatred for himself.
So all the religious sort of feeling for the unity of God in the universe and universe of gravitation and all of that you mean could’ve been built up as a kind of reaction to all these splits.
It’s an attempt to solve the problem of —
Indirectly. It’s only a partial solution. Evidence is that about the age of somewhere in middle age Newton became very depressed and was unable to work from there on and that’s why he went into the mint. His friends got him a job in the mint. He was depressed precisely at the feeling that he was no longer creative.
Or maybe his existence was becoming too comfortable. I really ought to read something about Newton. Ratansi — you know Ratansi at University College, The Story of Science — he said he’s writing a little book 80 pages or something like that. I met him at a meeting the other day and I said, “Jolly good. I think your little books are the best books.” I think he doesn’t find it easy to write a book. He hasn’t really ever written one, except for The Story of Science, he tends to write books, he hasn’t. But I think the interesting thing about Ratansi he starts off with Newton’s religion and moves from that onto the science. It was very interesting to see what view he comes up with about Newton’s science that way because it’s normally quite the opposite way, isn’t it? People start with the science.
Anyway, one of the things that struck me about Caltech was the intense spirit of competition. They held exams every quarter. They were intensely competitive in the sense —
Were people turned out if they did badly?
Yes, if they didn’t do well. The whole spirit of the place was very competitive and it wasn’t friendly really. I mean, I was a friend with this fellow Katz and we roomed together, but there was not a great many — there was only one other friend I really had and that was a Chinese fellow. Another point I should say was that I was fascinated by California as a place where one might meet another culture like the Chinese. Which I gravitate, not exactly, but I read enough to make me interested. The Chinese have sort of a reputation in America for being very clever and hardworking and settled. I also felt their culture was different over there. Picture of this sort of very impressive and sort of aerobic mystic [inaudible].
Had you heard about their holistic philosophy?
No I hadn’t, but I sort of picked up something in what was said.
You mean in other words their philosophy was somehow implied in other aspects of the culture.
Yes. And also possibly some of their pictures. Like the Chinese saying, “A picture is worth 10,000 words,” or whatever it is. I found this fellow, Mao [?] his name was, and I used to say after studying during the evening I would walk over to his room for an hour or so and talking.
Where did he come from?
Somewhere in China.
So he came directly from China.
That must’ve been very interesting. Here’s a real Chinese and he wasn’t a Chinese American.
But he spoke English quite well. Naturally anybody able to do that was from the upper class, but we used to have long talks. Later when Katz left for the summer vacation I stayed a while longer. I took a room in this place. I rented a room in his house.
In the house he was rooming in. I remember once he cooked a meal there which didn’t fairly agree with me at once. I told him let’s go for a walk. I said, “Let’s climb Mount Wilson.” He asked me how far it was and I remember I said, “Oh, about 20 miles.” So he said, “Okay.” When we got there he said, “When is this going to end?” Apparently the Chinese man was thoroughly an Englishman. It took him awhile to get over that. I felt that it was important to come in contact with the different cultures. Probably that was a continuation of my childhood experiences with several different cultures. Here was a very strikingly different culture.
Very interesting, I think, this thing about — presumably the Chinese who came to the United States were fairly exceptional people. As you say maybe they were reasonably well off economically, but presumably they had good educational backgrounds and family to take that sort of initiative.
He used to tell about how it was in China. I can’t remember too much, but one thing was they would sit endlessly over meals eating a little bit at a time. They could spend a whole afternoon almost at one meal and be ready for the next one in an hour or two.
Well what were they doing then?
Just talking and eating. It was a very —
Talking and eating.
Yes. It was a very leisurely kind of life. It was very different from our Western life.
I think in the United States coming from England I was particularly impressed by the high speed, this whole fast food or whatever it’s called came from the states. I was impressed by the way in which the workshop people on the Manhattan Project ate their sandwiches sitting at their machine tools, at their lathes, in half an hour I think it was. It horrified me that, you know, it was like stoking up a boiler. It lacked any kind of cultural relaxation and then went back on the job again. Really, I see. I feel a bit happier about — Which parts of Europe? Hear about the current cultural educated Chinese people. Who were the two American Chinese? It wasn’t the American Chinese who did the thing on parity.
No, it was Lee and Yang.
Were they educated in the United States?
I don’t recall. I think at least one of them was educated in China I think.
I thought there was a quote from one of them saying that all this was pretty obvious because the Chinese thought differently about complementarity or something like that. I was never quite convinced whether this —
It’s not clear, but they influenced that.
I feel in many ways what people are afraid of Japanese science, too, but I mean the different cultural backgrounds of the Japanese don’t seem to have affected the way in which they did science at all.
No. I think that having —
It was completely Westernized.
Yes, but they adopted Western technology and have gone better.
Found ways of thinking.
I think that it was inevitable to adopt that way of thinking and to adopt that technology. Anybody can adopt certain technology and use some levels. It takes the same way of thinking.
You mean that the technology is somehow an expression of a philosophy to some extent and it tends to guide you.
Yes. They may have reserved their old way of thinking for various ceremonies and special occasions, but when that time comes to do a technology they don’t see [???].
I think the Japanese are very good at keeping certain cultural strands going in their lives quite separate from other aspects of their lives which are more Westernized.
I remember I was beginning to become a bit unhappy at Caltech. I got rather nervous at some of our exams. They kept giving one after another and I got worn down. I found out later, a few months later, they said they wouldn’t give me an assistantship or a fellowship the following year.
How many years had you been there?
Half a year.
Only half a year.
But how long was your money for?
One year. I remember I was becoming a bit discouraged about the whole business. I used to take long walks up Mount Wilson to [inaudible]. The point was I wasn’t really happy there at Caltech. The whole atmosphere of sitting around. They’re not interested in science. They were more interested in competition and getting ahead and mastering techniques and so on. The whole teaching was directed that way. Apparently that was the dominant feature and probably had brought in people like Einstein as a [???].
So they were really interested in techniques and not so much interested in the fundamentals of the science.
No, not at that time. Maybe they work like that now. But later on about a few months later I think after the second set of exams and I did better, then they offered me an assistantship for the following year. But by that time I’d lost all my enthusiasm for the whole thing. In general I felt that what was going on there was not what I had thought I expected, would hope science would be. There was more like a business atmosphere that I had more or less rejected from the Wilkes-Barre. And possibly the thought come through my mind there was no point in having come this long way to go back to the same thing with less money than I could’ve had there. I think that sort of dampened me a great deal. I remember when I got back that summer, I went back to Wilkes-Barre. I didn’t know all that much. I remember before going back while I was in that house where Mao was staying at I was very happy. I remember spending about three weeks studying [inaudible].
You were working on your own.
Yes. Then I left and went to Wilkes-Barre. I think one of my friends, this Polish fellow, his mother commented I wasn’t as bubbling as I had been before. I felt somehow that I wasn’t quite what I thought.
When you were at Penn State, you mean you began to bubble again.
And also in high school and so on.
In high school, yes. You mean you began to enjoy your work both at high school and at Penn State.
Yes. Now everything was more subdued and the feeling was that — I got the feeling that — I began to look at the whole set of American dreams and so on, you see — brought the whole West. I had the notion that the Orient had sort of gone through a very disciplined period and that they [???]. So I’d come into a philosophy which devalued activism because they were not allowed to take it real easy. So I said maybe the West is going through the same thing. It’s going to enter the same thing. It really looks like a mess, too. See the world is developing and — Let me think, now, that was 1940. 1940 was the invasion of France, wasn’t it, and Holland?
By the Germans, yes.
By the Germans. That also affected me a great deal to see them caving in like that. I felt the whole structure was collapsing. The British were holding up by the skin of their teeth and could do nothing. Apparently nothing could stop the Germans because I felt there was no will to resist. I felt that in America you had potential sympathy for Nazism and had a great deal of it. Because first of all nothing succeeds like success, and secondly there were a lot of people who were fascistically oriented. I could see that all this talk about freedom and free enterprise was not to be taken very seriously, that these people wanted freedom to make money for themselves and they didn’t care what happened to other people. They used very repressive measures against whoever. They created an atmosphere which was very conformist. I saw in Caltech this sort of atmosphere which was actually very tremendous pressure towards conformity and then being in competition for this conformity. People were too frightened to do other than try to conform. The people who talked about individualism and freedom were not individualistic. They were the most collective people I knew. They had no thoughts of their own. They were afraid to have them. They didn’t want anybody to have them really. In general I was so disillusioned or disenchanted about the whole thing. Then probably I exaggerated it because of my own personal experience.
I suppose that physics was your big enthusiasm. Then you went to what was regarded as one of the best places for physics, a sort of pinnacle. You then found it was sort of pretty dreadful. It must’ve been a really frightful disillusionment. I suppose you might say it was like sometimes when we’re climbing up a mountain. You would pass through a number of smaller, lower peaks, which are very fine and you get very exciting views and want to go on further. You get up to the top of the peak, it sometimes turns out the view from the top is quite disappointing. I suppose in your case it was very disappointing.
It very disappointing, yes.
That must’ve been dreadful. I knew one young man in Berkeley who was always talking about the things in the house where we were who had been at Caltech. He was not sort of limited thing, always yacking on about how wonderful Caltech was. I think one gets the feeling that it encouraged idolatry for established Caltech thinking. That was the impression that he gave. That it was a somewhat technocratic — I got [???] impression, but he couldn’t —
It was really a very cynical environment. I remember students were very cynical of the undergraduates. They used to hold student elections, but they were just parodying these elections. Nobody would ever take them seriously. Caltech had a series of sub-basements, sub-sub-basements, sub-sub-sub-basements. You would go down, down, down. You finally get to the lowest sub-sub-basement. They held their political meetings down there smoking cigars making smoke filled rooms. Each candidate would often make absurd promises, obviously absurd promises, and then he would distribute cigars and condoms. Then in order to make fun of the whole thing they would show blue movies. I think the whole thing didn’t impress me. I thought these people, what are they up to? They’re so cynical about the whole structure of what they’re doing why do they bother to do it? All they cared about was making money and getting ahead.
Where are the higher values in physics, the universal harmony and [???] innovation?
These people were pouring scorn on the whole thing. The only thing that counts is making money and getting ahead in society.
You’re really pouring scorn on physics as such.
Not on physics, but on the whole political structure of America.
The political structure, but they still had some degree of respects for physics in —
Yes. In rather their limited way in which they looked at it.
Limited way. So they were still technologically, technically sort of fascinated. They like the puzzle solving and all the other scientific stuff.
And also they knew they would get ahead that way and make money and take care of traditional society.
But of course there’s a big element of that now throughout the whole world in physics, isn’t there? It’s not altogether like that, but this is a sort of a [???] emphasis.
But that meant to me primarily their total was going for all the values that America had stood for. I saw the businessmen are looking at it, they must pick it up. And parents and businessmen are looking at it that way. They don’t believe in this stuff at all.
But presumably part of course was due to the extraordinary power which the institute of Caltech had that everyone that was desperate to get on that ladder. The power I suppose and prestige of Caltech sort of destroyed the higher morality in the science they did there.
It sort of implied to me that this whole business, the whole mentality which must be characteristic of business as a whole, the power structure as a whole. The students didn’t ??? them for themselves. Therefore it’s the gestures and the tremendous cynicism which was current in America and that that way they could quite readily offer fascism if it were successful.
That sort of free enterprise society could move into fascism without too much difficulty. And also you mean that you felt that science at least had a better aspect to it in which one would be encouraged to do the work, return and creative sort of emphasis.
But there was no time for creativity there. They were just competing, solving problems, and working out techniques. In fact, if you tried then the teacher said next year you’ll get it in theory and that theory you just go get it. There was no creativity there either.
In fact you can say if you’re in a good creative atmosphere in science you will be — naturally tend to be led into somewhat more creative ways of working whereas in this place it was the opposite. I suppose you could see that there were certain outstanding laboratories. I think the Cavendish laboratory and —
I didn’t know too much about them. I knew that the [???] was an outstanding place.
I think there have been, well Bohr’s lab, I suppose, is another one where people have maintained that a scientist of a certain sort of general quality game there would achieve very much more than if he went to some other laboratory which didn’t have that special quality. But you say that in Caltech the special quality was one that was sort of go get up the ladder, cynical business type.
Yes, that was the general quality and people were of course into it. I did get this assistantship for the second year and I had to stay in a place called the Atheium. It was a — once a week there I had a room, some sort of little dormitory. I wasn’t happy there and people could see that. I remember once we went out for a walk in the mountains at Mount Wilson and I came back quite happy. See the fellow who was sort of the administrative head sort of commented on it to me. He said, “You’re always looking so unhappy. The first time I’ve seen you coming back from the mountains and you look away.” That is he was sort of annoyed that a person should go around there with actually going in there with such a —
You should be glad to be in Caltech, you mean.
Yes. Then I tried to find somebody to work, but Rhea and Epstein were the only theoristic—
Was that to do a Ph.D.?
Yes. We never hit it off. He proposed a problem which consisted of trying to calculate the scattering of light from a nebular, from some sort of gas cloud. I kept on trying to find an analytical way of doing it because the thing was a dreary business if you just had to complete it. Nothing very interesting, so for several months I tried to find analytical expression and couldn’t succeed. That’s when I met this fellow, this relative of mine called Milton Plesser. He’s a very distant cousin on my mother’s side. He was there for a year. We used to talk about this problem and trying to find an analytical solution.
He was doing physics as well?
He was there for a year. He was already beginning to go into medical physics. But finally I couldn’t get on with that. I mean, there was nothing for it but to slug it out with a computer. It was computation. I didn’t see the point of doing it, you see, and the?
Which means you didn’t have computers and it was sort of an extremely laborious configuration.
Yes. But it seemed pointless. I mean, I said why should I, you know, be able to calculate this thing out and then someone’s going on to use my results, but that really wasn’t what I wanted to do in physics. I didn’t get on with it, and then actually they didn’t offer me anything next time. But I remember doing more and more, just more reading at the library and walking up the mountain. I used to climb Mount Wilson about twice a week. In general I was getting a little bit, not exactly depressed, but probably a little low. But then I talked with this fellow in Oakland Press. He said, “Look, you should try Oppenheimer [?]. You know Oppenheimer comes down every now and then to Caltech for a little while.”
Where was he based?
At Berkeley. He said Plesser knew Oppenheimer. He says well I’ll introduce you. So when Oppenheimer came down we were introduced and it was suggested I’d like to go up there. And he said, “Okay. We’ll see what we can do.” So when mid-term was over at Caltech I moved up to Berkeley. I didn’t know really what was going to happen so I stayed in the YMCA while Oppenheimer was waiting to see if he could arrange something. But after a little while, I can’t remember how long, but he came to me and said okay, fine. That’s how I started up in Berkeley.
Were you doing some sort of job?
Assistantship, the assistantship. It used to pay like $500 - $600 a year. It was less than I had when I had whenever I fellowshipped, but the standard assistantship.
Enough to live on.
Yes, not really all that, necessarily, but we got enough to eat, anyway. I didn’t need much in the way of anything else in the time of this. Anyway, so when I got started, let’s see that was ‘41 wasn’t it. Yes. So I got started in Oppenheimer’s group and got along better. But in general this whole Caltech thing had finally gotten me down about physics, but I probably still had the idea that perhaps it was only Caltech, that other places might be a lot better. I think it had a profound effect on me about the whole, not only the American dream, but the whole possibility of improving society. More and more as I went through college I used to think about a better society. I felt somehow this society was not a good stopping point, that I used to think somehow there would have to be a better one, and I used to like to talk about it to whoever would want to. In the end it sort of produced a better [???]. I remember there was one fellow I used to talk about these things like Caltech and a second year Quaker and we used to talk together about it. I began to feel it had a hollow ring. It no longer looked plausible. I could see the nature of the society so clearly there in Caltech and Pasadena.
You thought the Quaker was being a big unrealistic.
Well, so was I. We both were being unrealistic and just trying to cheer ourselves up with dreams.
What was the problem you were working on with Oppenheimer?
That came later. I’ll have to explain that. Anyway I suppose I had reached a stage where I didn’t, you know, I’d seen the collapse of Europe in front of the Nazis and the possibility of fascism marked with a cynicism and money centered most of the goals of society. I think it had the effect of greatly weakening the kind of youth side of one’s health about the whole situation. I sort of couldn’t quite see where things were going. You know, I had this notion of people like the Orient, people would [???]. Sort of give up when nothing could be done. The Depression obviously was still continuing although the war industry was good and going. Then I got up to Berkeley. From there first of all Oppenheimer’s group they were much more lively. They had a real interest and even had an interest in science as such.
Yes. We really didn’t have a great deal of that competition there. Also I very much liked the whole nature, you know, just to be able to walk the hill there up to the Grizzly Peak in that area.
Natural surrounds are much nicer.
Yes, they’re much nicer than Pasadena. In fact they were the most beautiful I had seen so far and being able to look over the bay and from [???] and the bridge and all of that. I hadn’t had that in Pasadena. I had to go all the way to Mount Wilson to get that and that’s a long walk.
You mean in Berkeley you were so to speak a bit on top of a peak all the time.
Yes. Or you could just walk up a little way and you would already be overlooking the bay.
Yes, I’m certainly very glad I went there and not to the Los Angeles region. The natural environment as well as the cultural one was different.
And he held seminars, Oppenheimer, like once a week or twice a week. Everybody would participate and people gave talks and everybody talked about it. One night there were people that could maybe talk about physics. So the whole thing went in a more lively way and I began to read on my own. I thought I would take some courses although I didn’t find any of interest. I went to Oppenheimer’s course in auto mechanics, but most of the others came in at a lower level than those I already had. The courses were fairly high level at Caltech and I’d studied quite a bit at Penn State. Technically they were in a high level. People talked about all sorts of things and politics and other things. It seemed a more lively environment and also it was cooler, which I sort of found oppressive, that area often much too hot. As I said, I can’t remember what the order of things was. Oppenheimer suggested a problem, which I shared with somebody else there, another fellow who wasn’t that competent. It consisted of trying to compute the scattering of protons from deutons. We were looking up all sorts of ways of doing it. I remember we had to read a paper by Massey and Hokenen [?] and we couldn’t make sense of it. It made some sort of mid-calculation of it, plus it didn’t make sense. I don’t think we ever did make sense of it. It may have been right or wrong, I don’t know, but I had the feeling we made some distinction between using isotropic spin [?] and not using it, though I can’t remember it. I got on with it. We had to make a lot of proximations to be able to do anything with this thing. We worked on it and we got it as far as we could. I think I was reasonably happy there. But I remember December 7th, 1941 I came back from a walk up the hill and I saw in the paper the war impending there.
Was it the United States entering the war?
Where was Pearl Harbor then?
That was Pearl Harbor, December 7th.
It was all done in one day, wasn’t it?
Yes. It probably had been building up, but I hadn’t picked it up because I was sort of too busy with physics. I mean, I knew war was likely, but I hadn’t been watching it that closely. In general I felt it would probably be necessary, otherwise Hitler would never be stopped.
Incidentally, have you ever read the history the Pearl Harbor business? It’s incredible the number of warnings that the Commander at Pearl Harbor was given that the Japanese were planning to attack.
Yes. There is a story that Roosevelt ignored the warnings on purpose because he wanted to bring the country into the war and I think there’s a good chance that it’s true. You see there was a lot of opposition to going into the war, not so much from the peace movement as from the more right wing people, you see. There were quite a few Germans around that were somewhat favorable to Hitler and the Hitler German ancestors. It was primarily on the East Coast the people who had this English background that were more interested in helping. It was kind of a potential split there.
I think the Japanese said the same thing that they were set up, so to speak, lured into the —
Yes, into attacking us. So, because I think Roosevelt was clear that for six months that Roosevelt was [???] a policy of intervention as far as he could. He wasn’t making [???] sending help on the ships across the Atlantic and so on. I mean, he was obviously taking every step short of war. On the whole I felt that from the point of view of logic that it was necessary to do this.
But I was a little worried about the whole idea of war busting out, so I had another [inaudible].
When did you hear about the Manhattan Project first?
I don’t think I’d heard about it at that time. I heard about that a bit later. In the beginning we sort of kept on with our work, but Oppenheimer became more and more involved in war work, harder to get a hold of. I can’t remember whether it was before or after, you see I had been working on this problem for a while. He asked me to give a seminar to the whole physics department and so I gave this and I prepared it very intensively for two weeks. I gave the seminar and it went extremely well. I could tell it was going well. I could feel a sort of contact with all the people there. I felt tremendous elation. Afterwards everybody came up and said how good it was and they kept talking about it. Even for several days they’d comment. But basically the problem for me, I think it must’ve been several months after the war was declared. It created a problem for me. I felt putting so much energy into this preparation it had built up to a tremendous pitch of energy and it seemed to build up again in that seminar to a pitch that I’d never seen before. Suddenly it was kind of a letdown. It was almost a transformation of the mind sent to another order.
You mean having reached this peak and you come down the other side and you don’t know what to do then.
Yes. It was sort of a letdown, so everything was ordinary and stupid. I even said what was the point of all these people saying how wonderful it was because it was all pretty [???] now. Also, I began to look at all the calculations and so on and I could see that they were full of holes and that I’d sort of anchored much to a vital picture. I sort of got a tremendous let down that gave me a depression.
It didn’t lead anywhere then.
No. That affected me for about a year. It was hard for me to get on with any work and I didn’t get on with the research or with passing exams for the Ph.D. I think Oppenheimer was becoming very discouraged about me.
Do you mean he wasn’t really paying much attention to your work anyway. I mean, he was involved in other things.
You’re right, he couldn’t. He taught very well at that time. In fact he took what I was doing as a reproach to him for having suggested this problem, which didn’t have so much in it. Nothing could be done with it that it required such approximations that you couldn’t roll up in a — In other words, it was something just doing the calculation at that point and whether the approximations were meaning anything.
You mean that he felt that your work and your reaction to these calculations exposed him as having chosen a rather sterile study.
Yes. So he was a bit apologetic.
Well that at least was sort of a decent reaction where some people would’ve just taken it out on you having showed their mark or something — blame few for not having done a proper job.
Oppenheimer was a peculiar fellow. At times he could be very generous and very good and other times he was quite the opposite, very nasty.
It has been said that he felt frustrated because he had a lot of great talent, but he never really achieved anything.
No, not at all. The first thing I heard about him was from Plessett who said exactly that, that people were divided. When he came back from Germany in ‘32, they regarded [???] American Physics. But then he never really achieved very much for himself. He was really best as somebody who inspired others in the school to work. I think he became discouraged about it. He took up Sanskrit. He became interested in politics, [???] politics. I think all is a way of trying to achieve something great. There’s an interesting conversation that Weinberg had with an actor (Jill Weinberg) after he joined and after it was clear he was in this Manhattan Project. They were talking together and Oppenheimer had said that he wanted to influence history. He felt that he would try physics, it didn’t work. He tried in politics, it didn’t work. Now he tried it here in the Manhattan Project and maybe it would work. See he gave the impression of being far more brilliant than he was. He was very good. He had tremendous charisma and he built a [???] he impressed people so much they thought something wonderful was going on. When you analyzed it, it wasn’t that much. For example, this fellow Richard Tobin [?] was a very good physicist. He used to worship Oppenheimer. He said if Oppenheimer were studying a physics book and doing something else at the same time and busy doing something else at same time and so on. It was just he studied with somebody else. There were people around him who really worshipped him, regarded him as extraordinary. And he sort of played the role. On the other hand he could turn very nasty and become very scathing and sarcastic, which he did sometimes in his seminars. Many of the people were afraid of him.
Do you think that he was taking it out on other people because he felt unhappy about himself?
Well that may be. It came out later that when he was a child his parents had expected great things of him, tremendous things because he was so bright. And he didn’t feel that he could do it and he used to walk on the shore of the beach there where he lives and he would “[???] himself out” because he couldn’t make it.
How dreadful these pressures that parents — I was afraid the parents thought they were encouraging him.
Yes. Well they weren’t sort of German immigrant parents. They were quite wealthy. So he had independent means.
Trying to ensure they did the best for him.
Well, he used to hold parties and song, which were supposed to be fabulous. I only managed to get to one before he left. None of those things really impressed me, but by that time he’d gotten married and so on. He used to hold parties where he’d invite the physics department and a lot of other people of sorts. He would begin with everybody with a very large glass of scotch, I remember, then traditionally end with Beethoven’s C Sharp — Quartet in C Sharp Minor.
Who would play that?
The piano guy. I think to some extent it was kind of an expectation and culture, but it was sort of a fabled sort of thing.
You mean in a normal sort of accepted range of cultural appreciation.
Yes. He also Sanskrit, but apparently some of those who knew Sanskrit could say he wasn’t extraordinary in that. He was extraordinary enough to impress other people with his knowledge. But he could pick things up very fast. He could pick up the essence of a situation very fast in physics or somewhere.
Well he was learning the Sanskrit so he could read Indian philosophy.
And poetry I suppose.
And poetry and so on, I guess.
It’s sort of a hippie tendency beginning to show itself.
But the whole atmosphere was stimulating, anyway.
You mean there were lots of ideas, political ideas, philosophical ideas as well as physics.
Yes. There was a group of a number of people who used to talk politics and philosophy together. Weinberg was one of them. He was sort of a person who was very good at mathematics, at doing special mathematical techniques and so on. He had a very sharp precise mind. I felt that although he was very stimulating finally he was just sort of wearing me out. I would get so tired of him because I felt that [???] always sharp precision went nowhere. He defined issues so sharply that it seemed as if it just absolutely must be that way, but it was overlooking [???] things.
You mean there was too much emphasis on the intellect as distinct from a more sort of general feeling, physical truth.
Totally feeling. And tell it to fit under the sand because it’s a politics.
Yes, the same type of mind.
He saw things in such sharp categories.
You mean everything was capable of definition, his part of it you mean.
Yes. Is there very much left?
No, there’s not very much left.
It makes time also have to go into the politics, you know, philosophy because that sort of led to a lot of what followed later.
I was just thinking if I look at my watch I realize if I go quickly I can just catch a train, otherwise it’ll be one track half an hour. Shall we do that?
Yes. Well, I’ll just introduce it by repeating again that — Saral — I listened to this with Saral and she felt that I wasn’t getting a fair picture of my relations with Oppenheimer and my feeling for him in the early days that was distorted by the negative feelings that came later. And that really we should go over this and try to make it more objective.
Yes, well, what were your feelings at the time about Oppenheimer?
When I first arrived I felt a great admiration for him and he was a very stimulating person. He could make one feel tremendous interest in things, that things are very worth doing and very worth — everything he talked about seemed to be exciting and interesting. And other people felt the same. I could see that. In fact, I could see some people were practically worshipping him. I could see that was going too far. But I think that nevertheless I had a lot of affection for him and admiration for him. I think he was taking the role for most of the people in this seminar (in fact, in a much larger sphere than that in the university) as a kind of father figure who would be a kind of ideal father who would be very helpful and very interesting and very sympathetic.
Stimulating and helpful. Stimulating and also helpful in trying to do his best for his children.
Yes, I think.
Having their welfare at heart and so on. At the same time, some people had an absurd degree of worship for him. Like Richard Tolman (I had mentioned him before), who felt that he could be doing four or five different things at once and then doing physics at the same time and he would be about equal to any other physicist at that point. I could see that there were a few other people who sort of worshiped him, not quite so extravagantly, but I could see that there was some distortion going on. But in the whole, I went on along with it a little bit perhaps. Probably partly because you’re — it seems obvious that perhaps there was, at the back of my mind, the notion that he was going to fulfill the role of the father, which was not fulfilled.
In your own personal case and probably to some extent in other people’s cases, too.
Yes, that’s right. Probably nobody’s father really was quite right.
Yes, to one’s hopes, yes.
With my father, as you know, there were many difficult problems and he often discouraged me and made fun of what I was doing and he wanted me to do something else, really. Here was somebody who would encourage me and appreciate what I was doing and try to help in any way he could. And at the same time he was a very intelligent and capable person full of energy and vivacity and ideas. His seminars were always lively.
What do you think he felt about these people who seemed almost to worship him? Do you think he encouraged this?
Well, I think he had an ambivalent attitude toward it. In some sense he liked it, but in another sense he could see through it. He felt he didn’t like it. He wanted to be worshiped in so subtle a way that it would not appear —
Even be aware of it. Yes, I know, yes, yes. He would like to be worshiped, but he would like to retain his humility at the same time.
Yes, or at least give all the appearance of that. He didn’t give the appearance of being proud at first. It seems he would come in talking with you on an equal basis and so on. It seemed very different from some other professors. In one sense, I think this was genuine on his part. It wasn’t that he was putting it on.
Now, he came from a German background.
A German-Jewish background.
Well, what age was he left Germany?
No, he never — his parents came from Germany. He was born in America, New York.
I see. Because this nonhierarchical attitude would have been a little difficult to expect if he had been brought up in the German educational system, wouldn’t it?
Yes. No, I think that he was clearly showing American background there. Also, I told you last time that he had a very difficult childhood. He was very bright and his parents expected him to be a genius. He felt he could never fulfill these expectations. He writes that he once walked on the beach and felt like rubbing himself out.
He said that?
Yes, that’s written somewhere.
Oh, I see, but he never spoke about that?
Not to me, but I’ve read it somewhere.
So evidently his whole life was like that. People around him had tremendous expectations, which he never quite fulfilled. When he went to Germany to study under Borin [?], he came back with a glowing reputation and they felt there had never been — now at last it would be a good American theoretical physicist. That was the sort of feeling in the circles there in America.
They felt in real need, you mean, of somebody better?
Well, Americans felt that they were okay on experiment, but they were very weak on theory, you see.
I see, oh.
In those days it was probably true.
I see. And they had lots of people like Lawrence and so on.
Well, they had a few any way. They weren’t really exceptional. The Europeans really were, on the whole, far ahead of them in physics at that time. They were more connected with industry and practical things. Things going on in Bell Telephone Labs. Somebody like Langmuir, for example. That would be more like the American type.
Yes, you mean the good science sort of sprang out of the practical problem solving work?
Yes, or Milliken, Michaelson, Morley. Gibbs — the only really great American theoretical physicist had been Gibbs.
You mean he was very much an exception you mean?
Yes. So I think that they keenly felt that they were behind the Europeans, and they thought here was somebody brilliant enough to get the American physics out of that situation. So therefore, he was the great hope of American physics, as this fellow Placit [?] had told me. For several years it was hoped he would be that way. He came to Berkeley and everybody expected it of him. He had the personality and the charisma and the whole manner and everything, which would back that up. But he did not do a great deal of original work. He did manage, during that period, to set up a school, which inspired — a lot of good people came out of it.
You mean the school in the university of physics?
That’s it. Theoretical physics.
Yes, it was really essentially a leading theoretical physics group in America. People like Schwinger [?] and a lot of other people came out of it. Serber [?]. There was a whole bunch of people. These people then went out and taught so it probably had a big effect. You could say that he inspired that, but his own achievements were not up to what people would have expected. As I said before, he got interested in Indian philosophy, and to do that he studied Sanskrit. I could never judge any of that, but I’ve heard some people say that his knowledge for Sanskrit was all right, but not that great. In other words, it was not an exceptional sense, great scholar or something like that, but he probably was good enough to read the Vedas and things, the original, and he evidently had a great interest in the Vedas.
Did he have a very quick intelligence?
Very, very fast. He could see the essence of a point very, very quickly. So that was another thing which impressed me very, very much.
Do you think he was able to see a really profound meaning in things or did he go down sort of ninety percent of the way and very quickly —
Well, I think he saw things pretty profoundly at times. The difficulty was that he didn’t have a lot of capacity for — he could see what other people were seeing, the essence of it, even when it was profound. He could appreciate that propensity.
He could operate at all levels of the profundity?
Yes, but somehow, I don’t think he produced anything profound himself.
Yes, and you don’t know why this was?
No. You see, at that time I really had a lot of affection for him, almost love you would say and everybody around him felt that way in that group. Others must have been far more than me, you see, because kind of the worship they had.
Yes. But last time you said something about sometimes you feel agnostic. I mean, that was what you think sort of you saw this more in hindsight?
Yes, more in hindsight. Well, he was seldom nasty with me, you see, but he was sometimes nasty in a seminar with people and if he disagreed he would say things were stupid. He would really get very nasty. And Serber, I saw him on a program on TV saying that many of the students were terrified of him. They were almost afraid to talk.
I wonder if he might have picked this up from the American background. Because Delbrück apparently used to do this sort of thing. And he was of course brought up and educated in Germany as a theorist or physicist and I think he had the tradition, but believed that it was a very good thing in discussion. You could be absolutely ruthless in chopping to pieces anyone who had silly ideas.
Well, I think Oppenheimer may have looked at it that way. Saying that here’s somebody with a silly idea. Let’s chop it down. Let’s chop it down right now. At the same time there was a little bit of trouble. I didn’t see it at the time, but there was probably a little bit of animosity in there. Not maybe chop down the idea, but put this idiot in his place.
Yes, you mean that one might still sort of be able to encourage the person without —
Without making it personal. Saying here is an idea that’s wrong, but I’m not going to imply you’re an idiot.
Yes, yes. You can always say, well, yes, this is a very interesting idea. It’s a good thing you brought it up, but let’s look at it.
Let’s look at it and solve it together. It has its attractive points.
And soon the person who put it forward more or less sees himself valueless. Yes, quite.
But see, Oppenheimer couldn’t resist the wish to triumph over idiocy. Perhaps he was once — he must have been frustrated in the sense he was so quick and other people were often so slow. He really could see a lot of things very fast. He felt he could see, perhaps, more than he really could.
Yes, he may have been very frustrated that he couldn’t turn these special abilities to some more effective purpose in doing something.
He felt these idiots were just blocking him. And later on when he did this with powerful military people this was a very dangerous thing to do.
Oh, he did it to them did he?
Admiral Strauss, you remember — Strauss they called him. He was the head of the AEC or something and Atomic Energy Commission. He was a physicist, but he apparently didn’t know a lot, but he sort of really swept the floor with him.
This may have added to the whole —
Oh, I’m sure it did. One idea is that Strauss was the main man behind all the trouble.
Interesting point there. You mean it just wasn’t pure McCarthyism. It had personal elements for getting him.
Well, some people just plain wanted to get him, and once they set that process in motion then the McCarthyist environment provided the machinery to do it.
Eventually, I’ve got some book at home about Oppenheimer. I forget what it is. Maybe it’s got letters. Maybe you’d be interested —
Yes, I probably would be.
It’s a new book, which came out recently. I mean, I got the general impression just by reading old things here and there that he was really a bit sort of mixed up somehow. That he didn’t have any fundamental clarity of vision.
Well, I wouldn’t — I don’t think that’s quite fair, you see. No, he was very, very clear and sharp and perceptive in certain ways. Especially his ability to listen to somebody else and see exactly the meaning of what that person was saying.
Yes, but was he able to put all these small bits and meanings, so to speak, in a sort of a bigger overall scheme?
Well, he didn’t put it himself, but for example when he was running Los Alamos, all the people there agreed that he had a hold in this tremendous complex operation at his fingertips. He knew exactly —
Yes, well it was all operating on one sort of level wasn’t it?
Scientific, technical job to be pushed forward. I mean, well, it seems to me, and of course I knew nothing about it, was that when he got the relating of the scientific and technological to the moral and philosophical questions he seemed to —
I don’t think he could bring it all together at that level. He was trying to. He probably didn’t manage it.
This is where I got the feeling that all this sort of communism and philosophy and everything that he was finally — he wasn’t very good at sort of connecting it all up. Why did he get in such a silly mess as he did finally?
Yes, I don’t know. See, I had the feeling that he somehow was — well, perhaps, this may have been just a feeling, but he was somehow not going all the way with what he was doing. You see, he would sort of hold himself back in some funny way. But that’s — I mean, I can’t quite —
Yes, well, what you mean is that he may have lacked the ability to go the whole way and really get his feet on the ground in the broader sense of science and morality sort of overall. He was sort of not quite getting down to rock bottom and therefore he — someone like that is very clever is likely to become a bit unstable.
Well, I would rather put it the other way. That he wouldn’t rise to the greatest heights.
It’s all right. Put your feet on the ceiling, you reach for the ground.
He wouldn’t climb the highest peaks, you see. That he would sort of somehow stop somewhere in the middle.
But also, you might say the only way of operating in such areas is to be able to reach right to the top so that you reach some sort of ultimate kind of Godlike kind of principle.
Well, that’s what he wanted to do. In fact, that’s what he was giving the impression that he was doing to other people.
But you feel that he did sort of lack the ability to reach the last ten percent?
Yes, and I think, that’s not an intrinsic lack of ability, but somehow it was almost a matter of his own principle that he wouldn’t do it. But see, I don’t know why.
Yes, you mean it could be kind of an obsessional neurosis thing that he —
Yes, he mustn’t do it.
And so he held himself back a bit.
Yes, he was perhaps afraid to do it. Perhaps going back to his childhood. This was too much to expect of him.
I would have thought that was quite a reasonable kind of thing that he was afraid to demonstrate how much ability he really had. Because I suppose if you really tried to demonstrate your abilities one hundred percent you would then have to face the risk that maybe they weren’t as good as you thought they were. So you always — I mean, I’ve known research workers like this that deliberately hold themselves back and do secondary hum-drum work all the time precisely because they don’t want to take the risk of doing anything ambitious because they then might have to face the fact that they weren’t as intelligent as they like to think.
Well, somehow it’s hard to know why he didn’t come out with original ideas. I think he had this background? he was expected by his parents and by American physicists, this situation constantly reoccurring, expected by people to perform something wonderful.
That’s a pretty difficult way to grow up.
Then somehow he tried it and it wasn’t quite wonderful enough and he, at some stage, he sort of concluded I’m not going to ever be able to do this. I’d better try to bring it out of other people or perhaps I’ll study Sanskrit or perhaps I’ll become — he probably had to do something great, world shaking, and so on. Perhaps I’ll do it in politics. At a certain stage, see, it wasn’t he went in for politics on the left. Obviously, there was very good reason to go in the sense that a critical situation was developing. Fascism was winning in Europe and Spain and so on. There was danger of war. So that it wasn’t just a purely subjective question. But he went into politics quite far to the left. His brother was known to be a member of the communist party. I don’t know whether he was or not.
Because I met Frank a bit a few times in Berkeley. He was there when I was there.
Yes, I met him a few times, too. But it was never clear how far Oppenheimer had gone, but he was quite far to the left. He had the same charisma in politics that he had in everything else he did. I unfortunately had very little contact with him on those issues. I never talked with him about it. I could only know what other people said.
Why was that?
There was very little chance, first of all, because I came to Berkeley about June of 1941 and December came America entering the war and not long after that he began to get involved in war work. In addition, he seemed to be reticent about discussing these things with me. Or, perhaps I was with him. I don’t know. Somehow I picked up he didn’t really want to talk about it with me. At least that was my impression.
Well, presumably this political work you mentioned was more in the nature of intellectual discussion.
Well, I really don’t — it’s not known what it was. He may have attended meetings of the Communist Party and talked with them about different things.
This would be discussion. I mean, he wasn’t the icon public platform.
No, I don’t think so. Not that I know of. I think that he must have inspired some of the students to left wing activities. See, I came just about the end of the whole era where a lot of them had left and only a few remained.
Where had they gone?
Well, they had gone out for jobs. They had finished their degrees, post graduate work, and their post-doctoral work, whatever they were doing. And there were still a fair sized seminar, but some of the best ones which had most interest and gone. So anyway, when I got to Berkeley I got out of this miasma, which I’d been in Caltech and I began to — I felt much more active and energetic, you see, as soon as I arrived at Berkeley. The climate was better for me, too. Then there were the hills of the back, which I used to walk in and revive my spirit whenever I got down.
What on the hills was it that enlightened your spirit?
It was the whole beauty of the whole thing. The hills, the bay, the bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge. The nature, the trees, climbing up the Grizzly Peak.
The general just? it was also the trees growing themselves.
Yes, everything. Berkeley itself was a rather ugly city. Not nearly as nice either as State College where I had been or Pasadena. But these hills made up for it. The point is there was — I was staying in a house there where various people were staying, rooms. Next door to me was a couple who lived there and the woman was — there was a road that went up toward Grizzly Peak or up from Strawberry Canyon, and she called it Storybrook Road.
It went up beyond the Strawberry Canyon?
Well, you climbed up beyond Strawberry Canyon. You got up to a road. It was the top of the panoramic —
Yes, there wasn’t a road going beyond the Cyclotron [?].
Well, the Cyclotron didn’t have — no, there was no road then at all beyond the Cyclotron. No. It went up beyond Panoramic Way and got onto a higher road, which sort of circled around toward Grizzly Peak.
How far, roughly, was Grizzly Peak?
Well, a few miles I suppose. I don’t know. It was about 1800 feet. And there you could get a view of the bay and also look the other way toward Mount Diablo and the land. This woman used to call that road Storybrook Road that is that like in the storybooks of childhood, a fairyland.
I see, along the tops of the hills.
Moving around. Not to the very top, but the road which sort of climbed up down there. So I think that greatly revived my spirit to be able to do that. And also, the whole environment and the seminars around Oppenheimer was stimulating.
Yes, well what is this thing about the story?
Storybook Road. Like a magic road —
Ah, that’s the word I was after, magic. Magic, mysterious, but he’s magic, yes. So, it’s somehow out of this world.
Which has a special quality. I think it was interesting when I raised at the Physics [???] where they were doing demonstrations of physics. I said, “How is this related to magic?” And he immediately thought I was referring to conjuring tricks. It indicates the limit of these people that they couldn’t — what I was really after was how science is related to magic proper, you see. But anyway, so there was this extra dimension of magic, which to some extent, in some degree sort of tends to transcend science a bit.
Science should have been part of it, but it transcended this rather limited atmosphere of the city, which was sort of very ugly and restricted and so on. This rectangular grid.
Yes and the flat.
The flat. The great view and also the wind blowing through the trees and the freedom, the sense of freedom.
Yes, there was magic up there. And you mean magic implies some degree of freedom because it provides you with special opportunities, which are not available in ordinary life.
Well, you’re not restricted the way you are in ordinary life.
I mean I think if I remember rightly, magic is defined as doing things with the world with the aid of spirits, isn’t it? The unnatural forces.
That’s one way of looking at it, yes.
I think that’s the kind of —
Well, the other view of magic is sympathetic to say that things connected not by mechanical contact, but even distant things are connected by sympathy, similarity of form and structure.
You don’t postulate any spirits, but just a principle of connectedness.
Yes, of connectedness through some form other than mechanical.
Ah, you mean the sciences confined to the mechanical.
Right, present anyway. I wouldn’t have said so much in the beginning myself, but at least the way it’s developed.
Yes, because I think obviously people say there is magic in science.
Well, there is in a way. It tends to move in such a way as to people try to get rid of it.
Right. It seems to me that this whole question of magic in science? Well, anyway, come back to it. I must give some attention to this because I feel there’s something in relation to all these higher values of science. I mean, the question of magic is relevant. However, getting back to your story. Yes, you are getting an extra freedom of the spirits on the hills with the wind and the breeze.
And the view, the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tamalpais.
The whole vista.
The cloud, the brilliant sunsets and the clouds.
Now, would you also say that sort of view where you’ve got this great sort of vista, in a way has conveyed some feeling of unity?
Yes, it was all — I was clearly a vast unity.
You have one sweep of your vision and you encompass this whole thing in an instant.
Yes, that was unity, but also beauty and freedom. It had really been the most beautiful place I’d ever seen to date.
Yes, I think the — I was talking to the young physicists here to cheer them up so they’d be prepared to think about weapons research as well. It’s perfectly true. This element in science, isn’t it? When you have any sort of level of achievement you get a special exhilaration, don’t you? Because you like getting to the top of the mountain peak. I don’t know how many of them have felt it at that age, but I think they might imagine it. But I think it’s the right way to talk. I think it goes rather beyond the ideas of beauty because I think when scientists talk about beauty they often have, in my impression, is they have a rather limited idea of aesthetic beauty, aesthetic pleasure. And I feel that this is rather more like food tasting nice.
Yes, they wouldn’t say that looking at the bay gives you aesthetic pleasure. It was something more than that.
Yes, so you are putting the term aesthetic pleasure on a rather lower level that this experience has a more profound meaning and satisfaction. You would say the satisfaction you get from aesthetic pleasure is a rather limited kind.
Yes, but this is a kind of total involvement.
Yes, exactly. Total involvement, whereas aesthetic pleasure relates to rather some special or specialized sort of sophisticated pleasure sort of channels. I think this is very important because I think that most scientists, when they talk about beauty in science, I think they tend to look at it in a rather limited way. It’s very difficult to get them to face this fact. They really do have, I think, most of them, I mean deeper down, stronger feelings than this, which they don’t like to admit. Anyway, you got that.
A sense of being totally involved, of being free to move around.
I think that’s a good, necessarily total involvement implies —
Yes, and also no holding back, as it were. In a sense that?
No holding. Yes, you risk all, which is to some extent what is always involved in created activity.
Well, I didn’t even see it as a risk. Just a sense that saying I was totally involved and was not holding back my feelings toward that scene. So evidently a lot of people must have felt that way if this woman called it Storybook Road and magic.
And I suppose that probably — I mean, what do you think yourself about your whole career in relation to risk? Have you ever felt any holding back when you had unorthodox ideas, which you felt might be popular with other people?
Not really, no.
You mean that’s never really hold you back. But when you put it the other way that sometime, to some extent, you even have found it somewhat exciting and exhilarating that you had ideas that other people might really find rather might be a little bit resentful about?
Well, I don’t know if that would have exhilarated me. I think that it was the sense of the scope of the view. Like seeing this tremendous view, this tremendous —
Yes, it’s the breadth and magnitude.
And the beauty of it and the freedom and so on.
I was looking up the actual meaning in the dictionary the other day and one of the meanings it said was importance.
Yes, that’s true.
Sheer sort of importance that the — of course, one immediately says important in what sense?
Well, it doesn’t matter what sense of the state you see, but?
Any importance. So your whole spirit was sort of raised up.
Yes. Even when I got discouraged I could go up there and get out of it.
Yes, you mean it was a little bit like the devil who took Christ and put him up on the mountain where he saw this thing. Of course, he made a specific offer there of power or something. But the symbolism of being raised up on top of the mountain is the same thing, isn’t it?
Well, yes, the other point was that it was the view. As I sort of tied up with this old American dream of the West. Even the name Berkeley comes from Bishop Barkley who said westward the course of empire flows or something. This was as far west as you could get.
Oh, you mean it was named because Berkeley had referred to the West?
He said, “Westward the course of empire flows.”
I see. You think that this westward quote was the reason?
Yes, that was the cause of the name.
Really? Oh, very interesting. Do you have anything that — but isn’t he called Bark?
Barkley, but they just rechanged. Called it Berkeley.
Really, gosh. And it was really like that at the time.
Yes. I suppose when they arrived there and looked down on it they said, well, that’s it.
Yes. So in some ways it was the sort of experience which people got in the ‘20s when they went to work on under Rutherford in the Cavendish that there was a sort of special sort of spirit there which raised people up so they could do work which was much better than what they’d do in other circumstances.
There was a spirit that gave you energy. Oppenheimer had a lot to do with it, but also the area at Berkeley itself in some way did it. Not necessarily — at that time it did. Maybe now it wouldn’t. I don’t know. It’s all built up now and probably would be much less?
Yes. You mean there are fewer trees.
Yes, well, they’ve got all the Cyclotron building and they’ve put up radar towers at the top of Grizzly Peak. So I don’t know. The whole thing has a different aspect.
But it seems to me you’ve been a little bit hard on the flat part of Berkeley down below with this rectangular grid. I know there are very pretty gardens.
Oh, there are very nice parts to it. Yes, I agree.
How did all these pretty flowers growing in the gardens —
Well, that’s fine, yes. That’s good, but it didn’t affect me as much as —
Well, this is really what I’m getting at. The nice flowers growing in the gardens didn’t really impress you. What impressed you was the freedom of vision on top of the mountain?
I think this is important.
The freedom of the things growing wild and so on.
Yes, yes. Because I think the — I mean, some people, their minds operate in different ways. Some people can tune in to the sort of grandeur and beauty of nature by looking at little flowers or something in a garden. Other people tune in, rather on a different level, and they need to be on tops of mountains. Actually, you said the same thing around the Penn State. Because you said it was the trees and big plants, which impressed you.
The trees growing wild, yes.
Yes, the small plants, I think, didn’t make much impression on you.
Well, it was all right. I liked them, but they didn’t make that deep an impression.
It was the big things. It was the magnitude of the things, which had a lot the impression. Incidentally, about big trees, do you know the enormous London Plagues in Lichiten [?] Fields? But if you don’t know those you ought to go and look at them because they’re not — I’ll show you where it is. Really, they’re terrific. They’re about the biggest trees in the whole bloody London. In fact, some of them are so big that the branches go out thirty degrees horizontal and some of them are supported by great steel wires because they’re afraid that — how they can stay up at all, I don’t know. Immensely impressive looking at these enormous trees. I think you would like it. It’s really worth a look.
Where is it anyway?
Lichiten fields is just about five minutes from here. I could show you on the map or we could go up if I didn’t have to get back this evening. We could go up there.
Well, maybe another time we’ll look at them.
It really is a terrific experience because you know what it’s like when you’re in the redwoods or something to look up and it goes up and up and up and up and up. There seems no end to it. It’s like that. Very big. And it’s interesting to find that in the middle of a city because normally you don’t find it in a city. The whole thing is more sort of — it’s got manmade limits to it. Yes, so the big idea, the big sweep?
Well, and also, Oppenheimer gave a sense of a big sweep, too, and he —
All branches of culture, you mean?
All his parties he had, and presumably at the party you say they had classical music or something like that?
Yes, well, he ended it with Beethoven’s Quartet #14 in C sharp minor. It was a tradition.
Did he have Melase [?] as well?
I don’t know. Probably in between. I only attended the very last one somewhat later when everything had — it was not really the same thing anymore. See, I arrived when most of that had finished. I was the last student of Oppenheimer. The last one he ever had.
Except — well, in so far as he may have had — I don’t think he had any students as such in Princeton. So anyway, the whole was going very nicely and then I got very interested in — we had these friends with whom I discussed politics especially. There were a lot of discussions with physics with many people and probably a bit of philosophy. But we began to talk about politics. Around Oppenheimer and that group there were several people who were really quite far to the left and oriented toward Marxism.
These were sort of academic Marxists?
Well, no, I think some of them were more — like Ross Lomanitz used to engage in, helping to organize some sort of union there and to do other things. I don’t know what all he did.
So there was political organization and action to some extent?
Yes, I think I remember people interested in anti-racist questions.
Well, they put out — they did various things. I think some of these people took part in student affairs. There was a very active group, very vocal group in the left wing then. By the time I arrived I was in a right mood for listening to them because this long, long period through the Depression reading slowly about how America, the West in general was not living up to its ideals, but was backing dictatorships quite often. In Spain they didn’t come forward to help the democracy.
You felt that did you?
Interesting. I hadn’t taken in this point in Europe that there was a feeling about the position. You mean that with a feeling amongst left wing Americans that it would be the natural thing for United States?
Well, not necessarily United States, but there should have been some way to help the democratic government in Spain not to let it go under. The feeling was that perhaps many people in the American government didn’t mind that it went under because they didn’t trust democratic movements. Reading in the left-wing journals like the New Republic, one got the impression that they would back up dictatorships in South America. That they had more confidence —
This was historical fact.
Yes, they had more confidence in dictatorships than in democracy. The very protestation of democracy there was not serious or was reserved for only some places.
Yes, they were afraid of Communism.
Yes, they were afraid of Communism. They were afraid even of democracy, that some of the profits would be reduced or whatever. They were afraid of loss of order. I gradually got the impression that they were not serious with regard to the American values. At Caltech I got that impression even more because I saw these very cynic students that I told you about. That they were parodying these values and pouring scoring on them. Maybe they were just doing it as sort of a rag of some sort, but the very fact they would do it was already a sign of something.
Yes. Do you think their attitude was a bit equivalent to that of a young Russian scientist I met who had been doing research for possibly six or eight years? Very well established as having a research group and so on and when I got to talking with him he more or less admitted I believe in nothing. When I said what? Can I bring you anything from London the next time I come to Moscow? And he said yes. Well, first of all, he said no. But I said, “Look, what about a book or anything?” And he said, “Well, could you bring me, possibly, the Guinness Book of Useless Knowledge?” You see, so I had to go and find this. And of course when I bought the book I felt so silly I had to explain to the book seller that I was buying it for a Russian and not for myself. I felt such an idiot.
Well, that’s the kind of cynicism that —
Do you think that this was —
Well, it wasn’t that strong, but it was a certain element of that in there of saying that they didn’t really believe in the American political system. They were making fun of it. In a way, they did believe in their technology and science, but anyway I felt that such people would not find any difficulty in accepting fascism if fascism came. The same with a lot of people who backed all these dictatorships and allowed the Spanish democracy to go under.
So the Caltech people, you say, had rather narrow interests in science and technology?
Rather than putting the science and technology in a broader sort of political and moral perspective?
Yes, they were rather cynical about that broader view as to whether it makes any sense.
Yes, but you think that the sort of jokes they made, you think possibly weren’t quite as negative as they way these Russians were?
No, it wasn’t that negative. There were again certain features of the system, but they weren’t totally negative.
I think, actually, the Russian may well have been half joking about this, but he didn’t want to get trapped in political discussions or something because it’s probably embarrassing. So he preferred to make a joke and leave it at that.
But anyway, then of course when France and the West, Holland and Belgium, they all caved in and Britain was holding on just barely, I felt that it was more of the same. That they had not been really whole hearted in their opposition to the Nazi’s and many of the people there and that they wanted to turn the Nazi’s against Russia. I mean, in the beginning when the Nazi’s made this Nazi Soviet pact I regarded the Russians as really — I thought that was very destructive.
Compromising with evil, you mean.
Well, it was a bad compromise with evil. I said well perhaps it was only natural a dictator like Stalin would do it. So I didn’t have much hope from that. When the West caved in it seemed the only people who were resisting the Nazis at that moment were the Russians. Therefore, there was a more favorable attitude all around toward the Russians.
Yes, there was.
I had begun to get the impression that with all the corruption and all the half-heartedness in this western or American system that had no solution, not only to fascism, it had no solution to the Depression or to the economic problems and only a war would allow it to function in a full way.
Oh, yes, you mean this was a piece of political economic theory that capitalism had to get — in order to get rid of it’s contradictions through war?
Well, but it wasn’t only a theory. It was clear that things were picking up because once the war started in Europe — [???] that they had put people, they had mistreated people and had some trials where —
The show trial.
The show trials.
Were very sort of peculiar, weren’t they?
Yes, and also the Nazi Soviet pact and the invasion of Finland. All sorts of things disturbed me, but on the other hand I said if you’ve got the civilization, which is sort of caving in, it’s much worse. That’s the way it looked. As least as bad and maybe they had a new idea, which would meet the problems in spite of all these negative features. That was the sort of attitude. Then I began to listen to these theories of Marxism and dialectical materialism. Philosophically, the ideas excited me and I was sort of ready to listen to new ideas anyway and it meant sort of getting out of a rut that I had been in before in some way.
But they’re a very holistic aspect really.
Yes, that’s right. Again, that vast vista of the whole was sort of again?
All joining together all aspects of culture with politics, economics —
And religion and everything being comprehended somehow in one brain.
And also, the dynamic moving nature of it in dialectics and to say that it wasn’t fixed. The a unity of opposites excited me in saying that all these opposites, things which seemed opposite were actually underlying unity and that out of them would emerge creatively new synthesis.
It was alive.
Alive. It seemed that the other ideas, other philosophy was very limited in static. I remember having a talk with one of the physicists there, Stanley Franco; we were trying to discuss dialectic. He said, “I can understand the need for flexibility, but I don’t see what you mean by dialectic.” I felt that was a sign of the difficulty. Flexibility meant only some adaptation within the existing framework, whereas there was something really dynamic and creative and revolutionary involved.
Yes, of stepping out of creating new framework.
I felt that was what western society needed to do anyway. That framework somehow was becoming exhausted.
Yes, you mean the idea of political revolution by force was to some extent dependent on the philosophical idea of revolution in thinking, revolution of new idea.
Yes. Well, you can have a physical revolution without that, but then it’s scope is very limited. The major point was to say that there would be a creative liberation of human life and ideas and thought and everything rather than a mere political change. So this dialectic, yes, I thought a lot about the unity of opposites and to some extent it inspired some of my work in plasmas, as we’ll come to that later. I don’t think at the time I understood it all that well. I mean, we discussed it as well as we could and read some things, but it was more getting excited about it than actually understanding it.
Yes, mind you, if you got excited about it you must have been getting something real out of it then. I must say that when I was in Cambridge as a student, when I had a certain amount of discussion with Marxists who were scientists and other students, there were certain aspects I found. Unity of opposites thing, I must say, I could have really got stuck on. No one succeeded in making it sound at all interesting. Quantity into quality.
Yes, that was another thing — quantity versus quality.
That was a real simple concept. But that seems to me to some extent rather a banal one. I mean, that doesn’t seem to me the same profundity of interest.
There was quantity and quality and there was — I don’t think that Marxist generally had a very profound notion of the whole dialectic process. Or even of what Marx had done, or Engels or Lenin. I think we were discussing on a rather superficial level, but even that level was enough to give overtones that were enough to arouse my energy.
Yes. What was this about unity of opposites in your plasma work?
Well, I’ll get to that later. I wanted to try to keep some time sequence. But I felt that this unity of opposites was a very important idea. Quantity into quality was obviously there. I can’t remember all the details exactly how we thought of it. And the socialism. I began to feel — it was a changeover from my earlier individualism and democracy. In socialism we would have another new idea of people working together. One began to feel that leaving it to the individual initiative was too chaotic. I mean, people had their own particular interests. There was no reason why satisfying their interests would work to the general good, or even to any rational end.
Did you feel that science in any way was a cooperative, common activity, which in a way could be a model for society?
Well, I don’t know if I felt it that strongly at the time. It was clear that it wasn’t principle communal activity in a sense, but it was contributing to something greater than himself. At the same time, everybody wanted to make his own individual contribution and put a lot of emphasis on that. I think it was more the idea that you couldn’t trust a whole bunch of individuals, each one doing his own thing, to come out with anything coherent and sensible over in the whole. That people had to get together and look at the whole and make some plan together and work it out. The purpose of the whole thing was to allow each individual to fulfill himself, but you had to get together. People had to get together and form some whole plan to be able to do it. Even with Roosevelt a touch of that was there. So you have to carry it very much further and more systematically and deeper. That was the feeling I had. The socialism, therefore, began to make sense to me in a way that it hadn’t before.
Yes. You mean needed state intervention to try to coordinate the —
Yes. So I didn’t even think of it as state intervention, but you needed to have an organizing body of some kind to bring it all together.
But when Roosevelt used state intervention —
Yes, I wasn’t against it at all. You needed some state intervention to keep at least — but he said you at least needed to keep things fair. That people who have accumulated money have such an advantage that only the state can help those who don’t. That was the sort of philosophy. So the state intervention was needed to sort of maintain certain fairness. This was much further to say this — the collective action, not maybe intervention, but the collective action was necessary to organize the whole thing to make it so that it would all work and be creative.
Yes. You mean that the action comes from inside rather than from outside, being imposed by the state.
Yes, it was really the will of the people that they would work together while leaving as much freedom as possible to the individual. But see, the idea was individual clearly couldn’t manage in front of all these big corporations or in front of big government organizations. So you had somehow for people to get together in a different way so that they would all really work together and be able to organize properly. But the whole thing had to be organized rather than just having it have to piece meal and so on.
Well, I mean this is a very important problem. Say, in respect to the Labor Party and its policies right now here in Britain. So this is precisely where socialists haven’t been able to do any really adequate thinking, isn’t it? I mean how do you, in a very large nation, get people working together so all their energies can contribute to joint enterprise? Did you have any ideas at that time?
I thought about it a lot, but I don’t know if I? the idea, which was current at the time, was first you establish socialism, but in the capitalist framework it was not possible. That was the idea.
What was the main characteristic of socialism? Was it state ownership or what?
Not exactly state ownership. The main characteristic of socialism would have been to have a society in which everything was done basically with the welfare of the whole as the primary?
Yes, but I mean this is a general philosophical principle rather than a formula for political structure or action.
I don’t know if we thought it out very well. The Marxist view was you had to have dictatorship of the proletariat as an intermediate phase, which would wither away eventually. The idea was eventually socialism made no sense if you had this big state bureaucracy. Most of it would have to be a temporary affair.
It never worked out in the ideas about how it would wither away.
No. Well, they made excuses. If you asked them why it hasn’t withered away in Russia, they say, well, Russia has been under attack all the time and how could you expect it to wither away.
Well, there’s obviously a good sense in that, but I don’t think it’s a sufficient answer because I think this is the big sort of gap in socialist political thinking, isn’t it? That the actual forms, which socialist society will take, haven’t been adequately formulated, have they?
No, and there may be much — by now of course, and much later hindsight, I see there are much deeper problems than anybody was considering at the time. But I think that my attitude now is to try to put it the way I saw it then. I don’t think that I was raising such deep questions then. I had them in the back of my mind. As you’ll see I think that my tendency was to put such questions into sort of a scientific form, which sort of was a scientific representation of the social problem. I saw the plasma as that.
But in a way, I think you’re not being fair to yourself when you say you didn’t put them in deep questions. Because in a way the general principles, which you enunciated, devalue everything we’ve done in the interest of the whole community. I mean, these are deep principles, aren’t they? But they’re general principles, whereas presumably what you and the others lacked at that time were clear practical ideas about how these principles might be put into action. That was what was —
Particular lack of profundity.
Yes, but I think that actually there’s no way to be put into action without going into the nature of human consciousness. Even Marx recognized that, but he looked at it in another way.
And now you’re talking from your present position?
From the present position. I think at that time I was not able to see it, but I had a vague glimpse of it. Or even Marx would say that consciousness will be transformed when — See, the basic attitude of Marx, as I took it, was that people would change when society was organized differently. I had talked with my friend Mr. Weiss, the father of my friend. Endlessly when I was in Wilkes-Barre. And he would say, “People will only do things if you frighten them. They won’t work, they won’t do anything unless they’re frightened either by lack of money or by being put in jail or by being tortured or something.”
Fear is the only motive that you can count on. I said, “No. That may be the case at present, but if society changed that would be all different.” So that was my feeling at the time. Now, that was more or less what Marx was saying. He was saying that as long as exploitation of classes is the basic structure, human consciousness cannot be anything but at a very low level. When society changes it will be all different and work won’t be a burden, but it will be a creative joy thing. I sort of more or less accepted that. Now, I don’t think that the picture is entirely right now, but we’ll come into — that we should discuss later.
There’s more to it.
There’s more to it than that.
But presumably you weren’t, at that stage, particularly worried about the lack of concrete political policies, which if put into action, would be sort of working according to these basic principles?
Well, I think the idea was that if you ask why it’s not been possible to do this in Russia, they said first of all it was in the primitive condition. Secondly, it was being attacked all the time. The assumption was that once you raised the technical level and once you got rid of this danger of war people would naturally start to do all this.
Yes, but you mean you were to some extent satisfied with this current apology for the lack of greater success in Russia?
That’s right. They quoted something like this. Lenin said that, “Communism equals Soviet power plus electrification.”
Yes, I remember that.
The minute I said, “Okay, that seems plausible.” Because it tied up with my earlier view that poverty was the main cause of human suffering and that if you got rid of poverty then things would change.
Didn’t he say something about American efficiency at some point?
Yes, he may have said something like that, yes.
Well, certainly I remember this electrification. As a physicist this was very impressive.
It was impressive applying science in everything and then we would come to a state where human consciousness would change.
Yes, very seductive thing. But you were not unduly concerned with the fact that the left Marxist thinkers were not putting forward concrete plans for how things might —
Well, I thought that it was not the time. We were in the middle of the war. The first thing was to get through that.
Well, I think that was of course perfectly reasonable. Yes. So that one of the things that was another factor, what interested you in Marxism, was that Lenin would refer to the role of science in helping to enlarge you in consciousness.
Yes, and Marx, in a way, less so, but it —
Yes, he thought his whole approach was a scientific one, didn’t he?
Yes. The idea was that through rationality science, more generally through a rational approach one could solve these problems. Whereas it seemed that the West had given up that idea. They were sort of tacitly saying these things will stay with us forever and there’s no solution. Somebody like Mr. Weiss had more or less said so openly saying that only fear can drive people and from now on, forever. Therefore, everything was going to be irrational from now on and you can’t do anything about it.
Yes, you mean that in Europe as a whole the idealism of the French enlightenment, a lot of it had got very thin.
Yes, with the collapse of the resistance to Hitler. The fact that Europe had, to some extent, encouraged it or in the hope that he would attack Russia. And then they had collapsed in front of him.
But even before it wasn’t all that strong.
Well, it was never all that strong, but I hadn’t realized it until later, of course.
Well, I mean it was strong in certain circles in the eighteenth century in France, wasn’t it?
Yes, but still they couldn’t stop the excesses of the French Revolution.
That sort of caused them extra [???]. When you added Wordsworth and all sorts of people going over to Paris during the Revolution because they thought this was such a wonderful guide to the whole of humanity. That’s so, isn’t it?
But they didn’t really want that all keyed on results.
Anyway, in a way it sustained my hope that something could be done. All this discussion. That perhaps humanity was not doomed to irrationality and a fear and hate and just going on and on with this mess forever. But rather there might be a way out. It seemed that people like — if I say people like these Caltech students had shown just plain cynicism about the ideals of the West and evidently didn’t believe in it and some people did. But it was clear that it was getting thinner and thinner, as you say. So I think that was a very important — that phase gradually took hold of me.
This was also an idea about the whole, wasn’t it?
The basic principle, as you say, of this type of socialist thinking or communist thinking was that every individual’s actions should be contributing to the interest of the whole.
Yes, and the whole should be supporting every individual in his creativity.
So this is essentially a holistic, organic philosophy of unity and creative change.
Well, unity within diversity and so on, you see.
But you’re back to this whole question of the relation of the individual to the whole. The one which you’ve been with all your life, so to speak.
Yes. So, anyway, that was the political content. But meanwhile, of course, the war was extending and Oppenheimer was getting less and less involved in physics there. He eventually went off to Los Alamos and he asked that I come along, but as I said, they gave an excuse and I wasn’t allowed to go.
Who? What was that?
That was my parents. I had relatives in Europe and Czechoslovakia. It was obviously an excuse. I knew it was. Because by then I had become fairly close to these left wing people and I knew that the reason was that they did not like my left wing views.
Oh, I see. So when Los Alamos was set up and you were already known to have left wing views —
Well, I’m sure that they were watching, you see.
So they didn’t want — they felt you were a doubtful security risk at Los Alamos.
Yes, but they didn’t seem to mind my staying there at Berkeley.
Yes, because Berkeley was a lower priority from a military standpoint.
The result, though, but since not only Oppenheimer, but practically the whole department, all the people went, except for two or three. This was a sort of a blow to me because most of the activity so much had been so involved in it was gone. So I kept on with these two or three who were also left wing people. Probably didn’t get there for the same reason. We talked about different things. Even these, you see, this began to fold up. This fellow, Lominitz, was drafted. I was rooming with him in an apartment and he was drafted suddenly and he went to the draft board for an explanation. They couldn’t give him one. Although, he was in priority work.
He was just put in the Army?
Yes. After he got into the Army he was given basic training seven or eight times. They didn’t want to send him to Europe. They didn’t trust him. The sent him finally to Japan toward the war in the Pacific where they felt he could be trusted.
His scientific training was sort of thrown away?
Was ignored, yes. The other fellow I used to know, Freidman [?] (I forget his first name), he was told by somebody that he’d better leave Berkeley quickly and get a job somewhere inland or further away or else the same thing would happen to him.
You mean Berkeley was close to the coast?
Well, no, because if he was in World War — he was told to take a job somewhere else and get out quickly because somebody had his interests at heart said, “You’d better go away quickly or the same thing is going to happen to you.”
You mean Berkeley was too much a focus of war work?
Well, yes. Also, they didn’t want him around. So he left.
So they knew him?
Yes. I was left with Joe Weinberg. He was a fellow who had very definite views. It was very exciting at times, but I found him difficult at times because his views were so sharp and hard. Both in science and in politics.
Is that the well-known Weinberg?
No, no, that’s Steven Weinberg. So anyway, I used to visit his house and we’d listen — see, one thing he did for me was he brought me in contact with classical music. He had a big record player. Gradually, I began to find him difficult and he was about the only one left.
What sort of difficulties?
Well, I couldn’t really — when we argued — we had such different temperaments. Our basic argument was along these lines that he tended to get a very definite mathematical view. A very sharp and very hard and clear. I wanted to have a more intuitive view. That really was it. Where I would feel that I had the thing inside of me. So he said that was mysticism. But I said his mathematics was mysticism, it’s just Pythagorean mysticism. He had to agree with that.
You didn’t really convince him; he had to agree with you.
Yes. Marxists tended to use the word mysticism as an epithet. So everybody had to defend himself against accusations of mysticism.
[Inaudible] use it as a?
Yes. So had I understood better I would have said, “Well, what of it?” I wouldn’t have attempted to defend myself. So anyway we didn’t really get on. Sometimes we would get into quarrels. So it wasn’t a relationship that was terribly helpful. I was getting very isolated. The other point was something I think I mentioned last time, but before everybody had left I gave this talk in my work to the whole department, which went very well. This talk sort of depressed me. I’m trying to explain why. I felt during the talk a feeling of tremendous energy of being in contact with everybody and then afterwards a sort of a letdown, which lasted for about a year and I often found it very hard to work. People came up for days afterwards telling me how they like the talk, but this didn’t help. It may have even depressed me some more.
They’d come and say they enjoyed your talk, but they didn’t say anything interesting.
No, it wasn’t that. They said it was a wonderful talk and so on and so on, but somehow I tried to get hold of — At that time I was unable to say why it depressed me. In fact, I first explained by I went over it later and I said there were also some weak points in what I had said. I told Oppenheimer about it, and as I said before, he apologized for posing this problem, which had all these difficulties and insoluble features. But I think that wasn’t the real problem. I was unable to really verbalize it. I think I began to see it later as a sense of meaning. This goes back to what I said before about earlier childhood of seeing light as reaching out and all the lights reaching out into the darkness and contacting everything. I felt at that moment — I remember seeing a program on BBC, which was “The World of Shadows” about C.S. Lewis. It referred to Plato’s allegory of the cave, really, where the world of shadow was the people watching the shadows inside and they go out into the world of light and are blinded. This seemed to be the meaning of it that I felt at that moment in giving that talk with that state of high energy; I sort of entered the world of light. Then I sort of was sinking back into this world of shadows and people praising me for the talk was like saying, well, I could now become a pillar of the physics establishment and cast a bigger shadow than some of the others. But it seemed insipid. So the whole thing began to depress me and it took about a year to get over that or maybe more. But that tendency toward being let down combined with the fact Oppenheimer was withdrawing from the physics and eventually moved away, other people were moving away, and I was being left isolated. And then finally when they drafted Lomanitz and Freidman went away? Morris Freidman, I think. I can’t remember his first name. So I was almost — and Weinberg I couldn’t really get along with. This led to a rather difficult phase.
But if I could just return to this. I’m not very clear. I mean, if while you were giving your talk you got this vision of these lights giving —
Well, I didn’t see it as — I see it now as a vision of light. It was a kind of sense of light. Remember also that I did this very intense light that I always imagined, which would get so intense it would become invisible, like ultraviolet and so on.
You had some remarkable feeling of uplift and illumination, you might say, during the talk.
Or rather unclear nature. Well, you felt uplifted.
Well, not only that, but in contact with everybody with tremendous energy and clarity. As a child I’d also had the notion that I wanted a super intense awareness. That I felt the ordinary awareness was a bit sort of dull and dead. When I read about adrenaline I thought maybe that would give it to you.
What age were you then?
Fourteen, fifteen maybe.
I see. So right from an early age you’d been especially interested in matters of especially strong on special types of awareness.
Yes, I felt the ordinary mode of awareness was rather foggy or weak. Somehow it wasn’t really what would be really the one we were suitable to.
What kind of thing was it that made you think about this limits to awareness you wanted to do better?
I can’t remember. Possibly, the general feeling was — see, if you take the general feeling — it’s best expressed by this term, the world of shadows. That the world of society was a world of shadows.
You felt you were living in a world of shadows?
Well, I couldn’t put it in those terms. It’s only now that I see that expresses the feeling.
So living in a world of shadows stimulated you to think about or conceive of a world of light?
Light, yes. Light and life.
It seems again an example of how your adversity, in a way, stimulated you into creative activity. And one might (I’m sorry to harp on this) say that the adversities of your parental relationships may again have stimulated you to investigate possibilities of enhanced awareness. Did you sort of feel, incidentally (I don’t want to go on about this much), but that in your family life there was a sort of lack of awareness?
Yes, yes, it seemed dull. The whole thing. My father and mother were so involved in their hatred for each other they couldn’t have been very aware. I often felt that I had to even seek dullness in order to avoid becoming disturbed.
Positively negative, you mean. A strongly negative sort of thing.
Right. Sometimes I wanted to become dull in order not to get involved in all that. And also, not only there, but in the whole society around it also.
You mean you saw considerably strong negative forces, and one way to prevent/avoid these sort of hurting you was just to become dull.
Yes, apathetic in certain ways.
Perfectly natural reaction. And yet at the same time it was also stimulating. You to try to find some other form of —
I had this vision of super intense light awareness of something more real.
Yes. Don’t you agree it’s rather sort of interesting about the — I mean, you seem to be more or less agreeing with my suggestion that the real adversity of your family life may have stimulated you to this kind of searching.
It doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened in another way.
Yes, quite. I mean, there’s no proof whatsoever, but at least it is consistent. It’s a hypothesis, which at least is consistent with the facts.
I remember, even when I was fourteen or fifteen, this notion of a super intense light could excite me tremendously — would really raise my blood pressure.
In the Middle Ages, I was told by a well-known southern medievalist, who was a very good man that I visited once very briefly at Oxford, when I showed him the picture of the Virgin Mary squirting the milk from her breast into the eye of the kneeling monk or something, he said he’d never seen this before and it was rather interesting. He said, “Well, this wasn’t divine illumination that was going into his eye.” It was spiritual — normally these rays, which you’ve got in a lot of these medieval prints, rays of light or rays of milk, in this case, was symbolic of spiritual salvation. So it might be that your rays of light spreading out were symbolizing spiritual salvation.
Well, something. I don’t know exactly — spiritual life, you see.
Yes, well, in a way it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Because you couldn’t have salvation without life and so you don’t have much of a life without salvation.
But also, the rays spreading out from the setting sun had another sort of a feeling of promise of something.
Okay, well, promise is like [???]. See, I think the thing is we normally tend to think today about rays of light as giving intellectual illumination, don’t we?
It casts light on something and it will enable us to figure it out. So it’s an intellectual thing. Whereas I’m not sure about all this and I may have gotten it a bit muddled, but certainly some of the rays then in the Middle Ages symbolized spiritual salvation. And I think maybe there wasn’t much spiritual salvation in your parent’s relationship, was there?
Nor anywhere around me.
Yes, outside. You mean that your parents were grinding each other down and that you felt society as a whole was tending to grind everybody down.
And not raise them up spiritually. This thing you’re standing on top of the mountain and looking out over the bay, as I said, this is what Jesus did in the New Testament. That was mainly a spiritual matter, wasn’t it? It wasn’t an intellectual matter.
Oh, no, if you want to say it’s a spiritual — the meaning of the whole scene in Berkeley was spiritual, yes.
Well, I think this is — so really you can say that these physical systems of being on top of a mountain, of seeing light, of rays of light reaching out into darkness, all these you might say, symbolize spiritual.
But also, the notion of the super intense awareness would have been of a pervasive light in which everything could be seen as it is.
Presumably, that was what you might call a kind of spiritual illumination.
Yes, but also, being seen as it is, everything was in contact. Somehow it sort of tied up with this early picture of the universe as a sphere. A four dimensional sphere with tubes, everything being tubes that met at the center.
I do feel that since a lot of your imagery is visual in these matters, that some kind of, even if you only did diagrams yourself — the roughest diagrams, I think, would tend to reinforce the meaning.
To some extent, it seemed to tie together when I heard this music of Beethoven and Mozart. It had some sort of related meaning.
You mean you had a spiritual uplift?
Yes. But when I first heard Beethoven’s Concerto #5, I felt that it was a sense of rising up to the absolute top. And I had the thought that this was what was wrong with Oppenheimer. He wouldn’t do it
I see, at that time.
But see, the other thought I had was in this slow move in, this is of religious intensity, which rather surprised me because I was anti-religious.
Well, you were anti-religion.
I was very surprised to use religious as a word of praise. I found this confusing.
Yes, I see. But evidently the spiritual sense was very much alive in you at that time and was brought out by the music and the experience of standing on the hill.
Presumably, this chap Weinberg, was lacking in spiritual sense and liked to believe in the absolute truth of mathematics.
Yes, that’s right. He also had the notion; he tended to focus on particulars. He had the idea that every problem had a specific weakness. So he would find the specific weakness of each problem. I think he was very good at it. In fact, he went into industry when he couldn’t get a job.
He was a very good technician.
More than a technician. He was really able to use mathematical analysis in a powerful way. He found the specific weakness of each problem so that he could express in analytic form, a very difficult problem. Which I could see was very good because once you have an analytic form you can understand a great deal more about it. But that was not something I was apparently able to do very well.
He was sort of a technical master, technical mastery of mathematics.
Yes. He had some originality in the ability to solve these things. It wasn’t purely technical, but he had a certain approach to it, which was against this sort of intuitive spiritual involvement.
Now you’re coupling intuitive with spiritual.
Yes, I think they have to be coupled.
Yes, you mean both concerned with overall feeling for something. You mean they came to be not very clearly defined, is that right?
That whole involved something pervades and suffuses the whole, rather than something you can focus on.
And they also are concerned with meaning and value.
Which again is a sort of very holistic sort of concept. Yes, what the hell intuition is. Because the psychologist apparently sort of hate it because it’s a thing they can’t measure or study.
Well, another word for it to be insight. A feeling, not really insight in a sense of visual imagery, but a feeling.
You mean feeling into things.
Feeling into things along with seeing into them.
Rather than reasoning into things by succession of steps.
I think people tend to suggest that intuition tends to be fairly instantaneous and not as a result of a series of mental processes.?
Yes, I think that’s so. It’s a kind of direct apprehension at a level which is beyond the ordinary logical level.
And of course then some people say it might be a little bit like our instinct in being of a rather known intellectual quality, but it might still..
Well, I don’t know if it’s anything like — I mean, I don’t think that comparison is appropriate. I think that goes beyond the intellectual.
Oh, yes, sure, but there’s no reason why. I think it’s Bergson — I don’t understand what he talked about. He definitely talks about instinct in this relation.
I don’t think instinct is what’s already standing within. It’s something — this was a perception of what has never been seen.
Yes. Well, I don’t understand what he means, but I think maybe what he means is that it’s using parts of the brain, so to speak, which are not concerned with the intellectual —
Yes, I don’t see why we should call it instinct.
No, I agree. I’m a bit puzzled by that. Actually, I think I did have a thought about it somewhere, which did help. I forget it now, but insight —
Well, insight is good, but it leaves out that feeling element. It’s implicit there, but it doesn’t explicitly bring in the feeling element. Einstein said his perceptions began with feelings.
I think that one of the things about feelings is they often tend to be — I don’t think vague is the right word, but they came to be rather undefined.
Ambiguous, not clearly defined, as you say. They’re dynamic — they’re moving.
That’s a point. You think they’re moving.
They’re like feeling out fingers. I once had a dream where I had the notion of millions of little rays of light, which functioned like fingers that were feeling out. It combined the visual and feeling that the fingers were feeling out something inside of me. Millions of fingers working out, finding out what, probing?
So you’re really connecting intuition with the notion of play then?
Play takes time.
Well, the perception — there is a stage, which takes time.
I wouldn’t have thought it reasonable to suggest that intuition is immediate.
Well, there’s a time process and then there’s an insight, which is immediate.
Yes. You mean that the — it’s an interesting point if you think it is to do with play. You said you had this image of the fingers probing?
Yes, millions of them. They weren’t exactly fingers. They were rays, but they were functioning like fingers, probing. But they were also rays of light at the same time.
Yes. That’s working all right. So now we’re starting. Go ahead.
Well, there are a few points that we discussed last time I think should be added to them. We were talking about at the end, I think, about this dream I had with these fingers of light sort of probing the brain.
Yes. What about the light?
There were a lot of fingers of light. A very large number of very fine rays of light sort of probing. I had the sense they were probing the brain or something.
Probing into your brain?
Yes. Maybe that was a kind of model of attention, you see, that’s what I thought, that sort of scanning the brain.
You mean things are coming from outside into your brain?
Well, from the general space into the brain.
Not your brain probing out into what was around?
No. It’s the other way around. That the fingers of light were probing the brain. If you take an object that you can’t see and handle it, you’ll gradually form an image of it as you move it around, touch it, and handle it. And simultaneously, this movement brings you information and simultaneously changes the object, moves the object. That was the kind of impression I had in the dream.
How did it move the object? Do you mean it gives you a different view of the object?
Well, no, but if you’re handling an object.
Oh, handling the object. Turning it ‘round.
I see. Looking at it from different angles.
Yes, but the fingers are touching the object in different ways, you see.
Yes. Your fingers are touching.
Well, these light fingers were touching.
It’s almost like a blind person feeling an object they have in their hands.
That’s right. The idea was light is like the blind man, actually.
I see. So your brain is probing into the?
Or something is probing into the brain, you see, into whatever information the brain has.
You mean there is another level of self, which is operating on the brain.
Yes. This instrument is sort of a space; it’s in a space that includes the brain.
This is a model of consciousness. You are conscious of the thoughts going on in your brain, so you were conscious of the probing into your brain.
Yes. The probing was necessary for consciousness, you see. It’s attention, a kind of attention. For example, it’s been shown that to see something the eye has to scan the object in a pattern. One might suppose that some sort of scanning is going on of the brain as a whole in what is called attention. Now the model was suggested that what is attending is beyond the brain, you see.
As Niels Bohr says, “What is looking at that.” There is something beyond that.
We won’t say that. There is a mind. That was one of the points. Now, one of the notions that light is simultaneously — It goes back to this childhood feeling that light was sort of rays reaching out and touching everything. These rays would not only act on things but carry information back. It was simultaneously, just like the blind man, probing. Simultaneously doing something and getting information.
Yes. That’s fine.
It’s going well.
I think also we were discussing the other time this experience I had at this seminar, that went well, and I had a feeling of letdown afterward. Or this notion of feeling, that thought was expressed by this phrase of a world of light and world of shadows, which would represent Plato’s allegory of the cave. Now one of the points was that I felt that this was not only a world of light for me but actually it was everybody was in it. That this was the essential point there would be light that would be shared by everybody, bring everybody together. In other words, at the highest state of being would be one in which everybody would enter this world of light so they would all be related, would form one.
Coming out of the shadows.
That’s right. And in coming out of the shadows, they would all be united by this light, you see. Which is sort of these rays reaching, touching everything, connecting everything. So, I think that theme began to reoccur later as you’ll see, so I thought I’d go over it a little bit now. Now, there’s one other point. In discussing how I came to Berkeley, and had all these new things happening with Oppenheimer, and all the students discussing physics and politics and so on. We discussed some of the new political ideas like Marxism. But I neglected to say that with Weinberg I had intense discussions of Bohr on complementarity, you see, which Weinberg regarded as a form of dialectic.
Was Weinberg a Marxist?
Yes. At least he was very interested in Marxism anyway. We discussed the whole notion of complementarity and the fact that the conditions of the experiment would bring out the one form or the other, momentum or position or wave or particle. And they were in opposition that the conditions which would bring out one were incompatible with those that would bring out the other. Therefore I think we were regarding it as a kind of unity of opposites; that they were to some extent in conflict but yet united. They were at least in opposition but yet united. That had a strong effect on me. At that time, I was convinced that Bohr’s approach was the right approach and for many years I continued with Bohr’s approach until, you’ll see later, I began to question about 1950. All this discussion was taking place around 1941 or 1942. So I think that began to get me interested in philosophy. You see, my first real introduction to philosophy was in this discussion of Bohr and then Marxism, it’s relation to Marxism and so on. The primary example of unity of opposites, which we had in mind then, was complementarity, though of course, things like quantity into quality were in our minds. But in my mind, the major question was the individual in the society, you see. In fact, even that experience at the seminar was an example of it, the sense of an individual somehow being related to the whole group in the seminar.
When you were giving the seminar, you mean, you felt something very valuable was happening while you were talking in this special relationship to the whole group.
Yes, something unusual was happening anyway. And in fact, it seemed to show up because people talked about it for several days.
You got an impression of something new happening, a new type of experience which you hadn’t had before, which occurred when you were speaking to the audience.
Yes, with that great intensity and with that extremely thorough preparation.
You felt that you had put yourself into this talk and when you gave the talk to the audience, it had some special effect on them.
On both of us — on me and on the audience.
Yes. So there was a totality of interaction which was something new for you.
Yes. A oneness, you see, a wholeness. Then to go back to the ordinary state was a very great let down. I tried to explain it to myself by criticizing what I had said. I was let down because I felt that it really wasn’t as good as I had said. But that wasn’t the real explanation because if that had been all there was to it, I would have gone on to something else, which didn’t have these defects, to do some more research. I would have looked for something else. But I think that actually the letdown was that I felt that there was another state of consciousness which was not only mine but which was a common, which was the whole. And that this was better, this was the state which I called the world of light. Not then, but now in view of what I heard later. Whereas the ordinary world compared with that was the world of shadows.
Yes. I get you. So that you and audience entered a new state of consciousness during the process of you talking to the audience.
That seems to me to make very good sense because it’s somewhat equivalent to a group of musicians playing together and they suddenly find they’ve attained some new level of musical activity by the nature of their interaction as a group.
I don’t want to get back to it, but it seemed from our previous discussion about Bohr, that Bohr’s thing was not really a unity of opposites because out of his discussion did not emerge any new concept of the totality. All you would say was, “Oh well, this is the totality. Full stop.”
Yes. I think, probably, that’s more or less the thought I came to later. But at the time, though, I was really carried away by this whole atmosphere.
So that in fact, you mean, that you felt was the weakness in Bohr’s position.
At that time, I didn’t see it. But later I began to see it.
It’s interesting. It refers to our discussion some time ago when I was writing that little thing. That Bohr’s idea doesn’t really correspond to a unity of opposites and what you were after was the emergence of a new phenomenon.
Yes. Something new. All Bohr did was to explain. He would have said that this new quantum phenomenon was the unity of opposites is the way he would have looked at it.
You can say the new wave mechanics or something all emerges out of it. But it’s not really a very convincing statement.
No, at the moment I was carried away with it because Weinberg was a very intense, convincing person and since Oppenheimer was also behind it that gave it a lot of weight in my mind and so on.
Yes, I must confess when I first started thinking about the complementarity, I mean, I fell into this sort of trap and I think most writers on this do. Capra and all these people always trot this out as though Bohr’s complementarity between momentum and position has precise — Well no, maybe they don’t go into unity of opposites so much.
They think of it as a creative, new synthesis of some kind.
But it isn’t all that creative, is it?
I mean, that’s your point.
No. I think, I thought of it as creative but I gradually began to feel it was blocking me. For many years, I thought of it as creative, you see.
Yes. Well it is creative up to a point.
Up to a point, but I probably got through that point.
Yes. I suppose it must have been an immense relief to Bohr, and Heisenberg, and others once they got as far as they did.
I gather from the writing on it they were in a state of enormous frustration and misery over the lack of any kind of coherence in thinking.
Yes. They might have been better if they had stayed with the frustration. This frustration is a challenge which gives rise to creativity if you stay with it. But if you too quickly remove it?
It is an inadequate approach.
I think that was a matter of finishing up a few points that were raised last time. What I can say is that after having this experience and the let down and a long period of not being able to work, I gradually got back to work. But by that time, Oppenheimer and all these people had left for Los Alamos and I wasn’t allowed to come. I was rather isolated. I did manage to finish my Ph.D. degree doing a more restrictive problem that Oppenheimer had suggested. The scattering of neutrons and protons which involved a fair amount of numerical calculations. But I finished it and he apparently found some use for it at Los Alamos. It was branded secret. But I got my degree out of it anyway on his word in 1943.
I got my Ph.D. in similar circumstances. I had the great advantage, I didn’t have to go to a graduation ceremony.
I didn’t even have to write a thesis. I just used the—
I had to write a thesis. I took two paper manuscripts and put a few sentences in between and that was my thesis.
I think Oppenheimer more or less just had to sign a paper.
So, you took it without even writing it out.
No. Oppenheimer signed a paper saying that it had been done.
I think our exposure is a fraud, Dave. A big scandal that this great Dr. Bohm hasn’t got a proper degree.
Because the document was classified. They probably were not allowed to look at it.
You heard about this recent case of the most successful entrepreneur/industrialist in Sweden, Dr. So-and-So. And it recently came out that he didn’t have a degree and there was a big scandal. He was the big hero of free enterprise society in Sweden. Had you heard about it?
Oh, yes. Apparently he was doing enormous things in biotechnology and God knows what, and I’m not quite sure what happened. They think it may have been that he confessed himself that he hadn’t got a degree. So evidently, his reputation is ruined or seems to be.
I don’t think it makes any sense.
I don’t think it really matters very much. The man could do a successful job. I suppose, something to do with public morals.
I don’t think it makes any difference.
I don’t think you need worry.
Well, anyway I got my degree and I began to work for the Radiation Lab. I can’t remember when I did. I call it the Lawrenceberg Free Lab. But at first, I was not clear what I should do. They were working on ion beams, focusing ion beams to separate Uranium 235 in the Cyclotron.
Were they only just beginning that?
They’d been doing it for several years. And in fact, several people in Oppenheimer’s group had apparently worked out a formula for what they called “shims” to alter the magnetic field with little things they stuck in there to reshape the magnetic field so it was focused better. Actually, they were worked out mainly by Stanley Frankel and Alfred Nelson. They seemed to have done quite a good job while they were still here in Berkeley. They were off, however, by then to Los Alamos. People began to ask questions: could you use electrostatic focusing and I tried to work something out? But I couldn’t. There were a couple of questions. I studied the plasma during this time but I didn’t know what to do because there was nobody else around that I could talk with.
What was this plasma problem?
Well, it was merely that the arc was the source of the ions as an electric arc. And this arc was highly unstable and had all sorts of difficulties in it and never worked. It always fluctuated and never worked exactly the same. It was felt to be the major cause of the lack of focusing its irregularities. The ion beam had enough intensity to be space charged, but if it were steady, that would have been neutralized by negative ions gradually being chopped. But because it wasn’t quite steady, it never did. As a matter of fact, the beam never quite focused as well as the Shim Theory suggested it should.
I see. The thing is that the space charge thing which prevented the beam spreading, was not fully operative because the?
It was fluctuating.
The arc was fluctuating. I didn’t know that.
That’s how I recall it; I may be wrong. But there were attempts to think of electrostatic focusing and also just generally to think about the arc. But there was nobody around to suggest what I should do at all and I merely tried to find something to do. But during this period I was somewhat discouraged anyway and there was nobody around. There were several people who were left, however, who had been mostly in the Royal Calculating thing. They didn’t have anything for them to calculate. I don’t know what they did.
When did Massey and those people?
That was a bit later.
That was before they came?
Before they came. I can’t tell you. But shortly after I got my degree they must have arrived along with you, right?
Um hmm [yes].
When did you arrive? Do you remember?
No, I don’t remember. I think it was wintertime.
It could have been about the winter of 1944, couldn’t it?
It was probably before that.
More likely. Yes.
I suppose if I tried hard, I could work it out. But, you mean, when the other people like Massey came who were mathematical physicists, did this alter the situation as far as you were concerned?
Yes, because then I could begin to talk things over. Also, Massey had a team and was able to set up some experimental equipment. Tomlinson or somebody was there and he had other people. He had some access too. He came along with more authority and he could get things done, you see. So, Burrup [?] was there. With Burrup I got along quite well. The whole thing began to pick up with Massey. They began to set up probes. They had an experiment where they set up electric arcs with argon just for studying it by putting probes in of all sorts, and finding out how it fluctuated and so on, and began to try to make theories of it. The plasma began to interest me. Plasma behaves like a substance which tends to maintain its state. If you put a probe into it, the probe is surrounded by a sheath that neutralizes it in a short distance. It seems the plasma is trying to prevent itself from being changed internally. It’s almost like a living thing that maintains its internal state.
You mean it’s a little bit like an indeterminacy principle?
No, not that. Just simply, if you have positive ions that are quite heavy and electrons that are free and move easily. Now anytime you produce any change of potential, the electrons move so easily, they neutralize it. And therefore, you cannot set up a change of potential in the plasma. Now, if you do try, what happens is that the electrons near the probe are pushed away, leaving an excess of positive ions coming in and these neutralize the probe within a millimeter or a fraction of a millimeter sometimes.
But presumably, if you put a very low potential indeed on the probe, then you might not disturb it much, is that right?
There are two possibilities. If you put a positive potential on the probe then you start to attract the electrons in and push the positive ions out and therefore you have an excess of charge. It’s space charged limited. But then the probe will, in a short distance, be neutralized whether you put positive or a negative potential on it. If you put a negative potential on it, it will repel the electrons and the positive ions will come in. It’s very hard to get a positive potential on there because the current will flow —
From the electrons.
Yes. But you can hold a negative potential. It will be surrounded by a very thin sheath. The plasma itself is almost unaffected inside. So, the plasma almost seems like a living organism that prevents foreign bodies from coming in, it surrounds them, and encapsulates them.
The plasma then is simply an assembly of heavy positive particles and light negative particles.
Yes. The light negative particles generally have a temperature of about 10,000? or 20,000? or about 2 or 3 electron volts. The heavy particles are at a much lower temperature. Usually they don’t come to equilibrium. There isn’t time because the whole thing will be swept away and new stuff created before that happens.
Why are they swept away?
Up to the walls. The stuff is drifting and the walls will eventually take it up. So you have to renew it all the time by electric discharge.
Yes. You mean the whole system won’t just sit there. It has to be maintained by constant renewal.
That’s right. There’s recombination. But even more, there’s stuff sweeping to the walls. Now, the plasma had been worked out by Langmuir and other people for plasmas which are not in strong magnetic fields. Not a great deal had been done with strong magnetic fields, so this really was a new problem. The point is, in the vertical direction along the magnetic field, the theory would be much the same as in the ordinary plasma because the electrons move freely in that direction. In the other direction, something very new occurs.
The electrons can’t move very easily.
Yes. Neither the electrons nor the ions, and both are restricted but the electron is much more because their mass being small they move in much smaller circles. Now according to the simplest theory, they ought to move in extremely small circles. And therefore, diffusion would only occur if an electron going in a circle hit an atom, and then a new circle was started with a different center, and it would gradually diffuse. But the diffusion coefficient calculated that way was very small and the actual diffusion found in these arcs was very much bigger; hundreds or thousands of times bigger than that. So, that was the first extraordinary feature. In addition, it was highly unstable. One found there was always some sort of potential going on inside. Sometimes regular isolation and sometimes very irregular ones which were called hash. Whenever the arc became hashy, then that was the end of the focusing because of the space charge problem.
I’m trying to remember whether I remember the word hash. Maybe I didn’t. I mean, I was only working on the experimental systems.
The experimenters used the word “hash” all the time. They were watching the oscilloscopes and saying, “Now we’ve got hash.” Then they had to twiddle the knobs and try to get rid of it.
I see. Do you remember that nice chap Allen? Did you ever run into him at one of the English parties?
I don’t recall him.
I met him several years ago at Redding when I went to give a talk down at Redding. He met me down at the railway station. He came up to me, and it was just as though he had only seen me yesterday, and he started talking about the gravity waves he was working on. It was very nice after forty years or something to suddenly meet a chap again and there being no time interval at all. Sorry, I was interrupting what you were saying.
There were problems with these arcs. We did not directly try to deal with them but we were trying to build up a knowledge of how the arc works from which it was hoped that something could be gotten.
To improve the operation of the equipment that was already being set up in large numbers at Dogpatch [?].
It was Dogpatch, wasn’t it?
Was it Oak Ridge?
Yes, I think it was Oak Ridge.
But it was called Dogpatch, wasn’t it?
I didn’t know that name myself.
No? It was some sort of derogatory term.
We just said Oak Ridge. I don’t know. But the idea was that we would study this arc systematically. Massey was quite interested in studying the thing systematically and without immediately thinking of getting results. We had quite a good relationship. We would have experiments going on and watch them, and then go out and come back with some calculations a little later and we could test our ideas. It was on a small scale so the whole thing could be done very easily.
The equipment was very small.
Yes. It wasn’t even compared with the Cyclotron, things like that. I mean, it was something you could get into this room quite easily.
You mean you weren’t putting your equipment into the big magnets?
No. We were doing things with arcs, first of all, using argon. There were smaller magnets around. I can’t remember.
You would make a model for the big system with a small magnet.
I didn’t know that.
I can’t remember how we did that, you see. The thing became more interesting to me. And then there was a fellow there called Bacchus [?] there, John Bacchus.
Yes, I remember him.
He had some ideas about ion drifting. The point is, if you can get an electric field going across the arc, this will cause ions to drift perpendicular to the electric and magnetic fields much faster than they would move just by collision, changing the center.
What makes them drift?
Because the electric field causes them to go in a cycloidal path in the presence of the magnetic field. And that cycloidal path is proportional in strength. It’s only inversely proportional to the magnetic field. Whereas the diffusion probability is proportional to the square.
So, you’re putting electric and magnetic fields together, you get an especially fast diffusion.
A much faster diffusion, yes.
Of the positive ions.
No one had realized that?
Yes. Both the positive ions and the electrons. It was well known that electrons would cross this magnetic field if they had tremendous currents of electrons flowing around the edge of the arc. But the positive ions will do the same in their own way and then there’s a constant instability, so that you’re getting electric fields due to the unstable plasma oscillations. And therefore the thing is drifting back and forth and around and getting a kind of diffusion. So, that diffusion was almost unpredictable. It could go into a hashy state when it was more into a regular state. This was the limit on how strong an arc you could get because the stuff would diffuse out too fast for you to get too intense an arc especially as it becomes unstable. There were regimes of stability and instability by changing various potentials. But there was no sure way to do it. This was so complex you could never be quite sure what was going to happen.
In fact, this was done in the hexafluoride, right?
Yes. They did it and then people became skilled at operating the knobs so as to try to get rid of this instability. As a way of producing uranium, obviously, it had its drawbacks because this was difficult to do.
But they already had mass production of this narrowed to Oak Ridge?
They went ahead anyway and the thing did work, actually, well enough to produce some uranium. But obviously, that was not the way which they followed up.
No. They made one bomb out of that, didn’t they?
I’m not sure where the source was. There was also a diffusion project to make it.
So, you think the Hiroshima bomb was uranium.
Yes. But I don’t know how it was made.
It could have been diffusion.
And not this one.
I didn’t know that.
I once knew that but I have forgotten it.
Not that it really matters much. The diffusion process was on some other site?
Somewhere in Washington, I think. I can’t remember. Maybe it was somewhere else. But we didn’t know about any of this at the time, at least I didn’t.
You had heard of Oak Ridge, of course.
I had heard of Oak Ridge but not these other things.
Yes. For secrecy reasons, only the very top people knew what was going on in the total project.
Yes. The plasma became very interesting to me. I could see that this was a kind of analogy to the problem of the individual and the society. You had in the plasma what I called collective behavior, that is, oscillations. Every plasma can oscillate. When all the electrons move together, they produce an electric field that draws them back so that they’ll oscillate. They oscillate in a coherent way which belongs to the whole. I call that a collective movement.
Yes. You mean to some extent it’s a little bit like a liquid drop oscillating.
The difference is that it’s not due to contact but it’s due to long range forces.
Electric forces at a distance. Yes.
And therefore the frequencies are different and so on. Now, you had the plasma oscillations which were discovered by Langmuir. You also had the ion plasma that could oscillate but these had a different way oscillating because they were highly modified by the electrons. But the electrons are not normally anywhere near rest. They were moving in a random way with quite high random velocities corresponding to 10,000(?) or 20,000(?) K.
You mean the random motion was the heat motion.
Yes. The electrons had a fairly high temperature because they were liberated from the discharge. Therefore, it wasn’t quite so simple to make a theory of oscillation. It was not quite so simple as thinking of an electron in a certain position. And any oscillation, the electron could move quite far. The question was how was this collective motion maintained in spite of the random basis of the electrons? You see, this was the kind of interesting social question. It was rather like society, everybody moving in his own way and you have certain social, collective tendencies still exist.
Yes, yes. I suppose Mrs. Thatcher would say that everybody’s moving in their own different personal directions and it will all add together.
Well, that was the theory which I made. The point is, every electron moved on its own but it was somewhat influenced by the collective whole, the whole field, which was long range. And the sum of all these influences produced the long range collective field. So, it was a self-sustaining motion in such that each electron had its freedom, apparently, to do whatever it would do. But nevertheless, because of the effect of the collective long range effects, each electron was modified a bit and was able therefore to add together to produce the very collective motion that we have assumed in the first place.
So the key thing was the nature of the collective, long range effect.
Yes. That’s right. So, I saw that as a model of society where I wanted to begin to understand the relation of the individual and the collective. Where one did not greatly interfere with the individual freedom and yet one could understand collective action.
Yes. But I mean, in a society, what is the nature of this force?
Well, you can see the nature of it as people are affected by each other, by whatever they do, the information, the ideas, all sorts of ways they’re influenced by the state of the society. So each person is somewhat affected by the general state, which he becomes aware of, and he moves somewhat directed toward that.
One can see that there is this sort of general attitudes and things in society. But surely the point, the essential difficulty about society is that these forces don’t act in a sufficiently clear way to guide people sufficiently so that they will work together. I mean, that’s the essential weakness, isn’t it?
Well, this was the beginning. To say that one found in the plasma that it was only necessary because of the long range effects to have a slight effect on the particle and to add up to produce a large collective effect. Now, that would be a model for some forms of collective action.
Yes. But in the physical model which you have there, you have defined electrostatic interactions and so on, and you could see that you could get a large degree of coherent behavior, couldn’t you?
Yes. But that result was coherent though the individual behavior was not.
Yes. But I think the point is that in the physical model you can hope to attain a large degree of coherence in spite of the individual movement. Whereas in society?
Well, in some phenomenon in society you do. For example, all the statistical measurement and trends and tendencies. I mean, people doing all sorts of complicated things but a certain coherent tendency emerges and the very existence of that tendency influences the people enough to sustain it.
I suppose you’re right. It is wrong to say that society is simply a lot of chaos and fragmentation. There is the other element a degree of coherence. You mean simply, like running a railway system or something. There you have a large degree of coherence that everybody’s somehow aware of the fact that their jobs, their individual thing will fit into it, won’t they?
Yes. There is also another way. Let’s say you take what’s called market forces. People who buy, each one is interested in his own purpose and they buy various things. Now, all sorts of different people buy in different ways. But they may be somewhat affected by certain common things, not only including advertising but also the common needs and so on. Also, trends arise when a lot of people buy certain things and other people start buying it just for that reason. And therefore, you may find a systematic trend in the market, though each person has no apparent compulsion to do anything. Or even in choosing political leaders, again, you find that sort of thing going on.
You mean forms of behavior, mental attitudes.
Yes. I think that was the model for quite a few activities of society where some collective tendency existed and yet, there was no compulsion on the individual to follow the collective form. Now, the point is not to say it was a complete theory of society but it was rather my first attempt to see how the individual and the collective are related.
Yes. But on the other hand, you would now, of course, emphasize that the problems of society are due to the fact that there are levels on which this type of process does not operate.
Well, society is obviously far more complex than a plasma. Even in a plasma there are maybe limits to how this analysis can go.
But presumably, the utopian thinkers are always looking for some kind of principle which will operate in society which will join people together with a much higher degree of cohesive behaviors.
Yes. Although I was strongly considering Marxism, there was still remnants of the earlier individualistic approach. So I had reached a stage. I thought of this as a certain opposition between the individual and the collective leading to a synthesis. The long range forces tended to favor a completely collective domination of behavior if they won out. Now, the random motions tended to break that up and favor the individual. And so, a synthesis came out in which you had the individual moving fairly freely and yet the collective appeared.
You mean the model, in effect, was an example of a unity of opposites because it had special plasma properties emerged out of this system.
Yes. Dynamic plasma properties of all kinds. The oscillations being only one of them. There were a great many others which began to come out. One of the interesting questions that came out was this: how can these plasma oscillations be excited? Because this had to do with stability or instability. In other words, if it’s unstable, if a small plasma oscillation would tend to grow the system is unstable which would be disastrous from our point of view. People wanted to focus the beam. So, the point was that if you had special beams of particles at a certain velocity going through the plasma at a speed close to the speed of a plasma wave, then they could excite the wave.
By plasma wave, you mean, is this other type of coherent motion.
That’s right. So most of the particles which are supporting the wave are going this way and that way and not related to the wave at all. But now suppose some special particles come along that happen to be moving near the speed of the wave.
Like pump priming. You put a little bit in to set the whole motion going.
Yes. These special particles will play a special role because they will stay in phase with the wave and keep on pushing on the wave and building it up or else damping it depending on how they are put in. And therefore, it was an interesting question saying that there could be individuals in a special role to the collective which would arouse the collective motion or else damp it. So I found it an interesting point that some individuals in a special relation to the society could play a particular role of starting to energize the social dynamic or else de-energizing it. This was also the idea of creating motion patterns and motion. A little bit like the idea of the tornado being a pattern of motion created.
Yes. It’s a little bit like quality emerging out of quantity.
This was a kind of dialectic between the individual and the whole or the society, rather.
Had Weinberg gone by then?
He wasn’t in the radiation lab. They hired him for a little while and then they sort of didn’t hold him and he went back to teaching physics.
They didn’t like his politics, was that it?
Yes. So I never discussed this stuff with him anyway. But I don’t know how interested he would have been. I worked out some sort of formula for the diffusion coefficient in a plasma as a function of the electric field, the magnetic field, and the temperature of the ions and so on. Eventually I worked out some theory of sheaths formed in the plasma and the tendency of the plasma. I went further into the theory of how the plasma screens any disturbance and so on and protects itself. That was eventually published a number of years later. We put it in a report and that was all. But some of that material was published in a report later and this was taken up by the people working on fusion because they faced exactly the same problem.
They wanted to contain the thing.
In the magnetic field wouldn’t stay because of this instability. They found this formula, which I — By the time it came out, that part wasn’t included.
If you had been publishing an actual paper that you might well have thought of making him a co-author. You had done the bulk of the work.
Well, at least we could refer to him as having helped to suggest the idea.
The fact that you had done most of the work on it, his role rather got lost sight of.
Yes. But anyway, it doesn’t make any difference to me because I never pursued that line further anyway. See, that was a period where I was feeling quite interested. As you recall, we went on this trip to the Sierra’s during that period. Was that Emerald Lake or something like that?
No. It wasn’t Tahoe. It’s near Tahoe. It’s a small lake near Tahoe. Emerald Lake, I think it was called.
It was near Tahoe?
It was not Tahoe itself. Tahoe is a much bigger lake.
I see. It’s like this thing. We couldn’t find where to turn the water on. Do you remember that?
It’s always a matter of getting something to flow through pipes or along wires or something.
That was quite an interesting period. Finally, however, the English contingent left but I don’t remember exactly when.
That was after —
After the bomb went off.
When was it? In 1946?
It was August 6th.
1945 was it?
But they didn’t leave until a little later than that.
Yes. Well, we went on for some time. After the Japanese surrender which was very soon after the Hiroshima bomb, the whole thing began to grind to a halt, didn’t it?
I still have some of the newspapers, you know, from San Francisco area saying about this immense trial and all the scientists being congratulated on this immense success they had.
Yes. I remember the general feeling at the time. I think everybody did feel really good that it was a success. People still hadn’t thought of its implications yet. It was felt that it had helped to end the Japanese war. Originally it was done because we had thought maybe Hitler would have it. But then it was said that it would end the war more quickly, which I’m sure it did. And of course, I think there was this pride in having liberated this energy. Because what I can recall is that in the early days, especially before the war, physicists were looked down on as rather inconsequential beings who didn’t deal with any serious, practical things. They could never do anything.
You mean, that was in American society?
Maybe this was less so in Europe with Albert Einstein and so forth.
Yes. It probably was less so. They looked at it with awe in one sense. They were dealing with such difficult things. But on the other hand, I think people said, “We are the practical ones. We really do things.”
Yes, engineers and businessmen and so on. And remember that Lawrence told me that when this bomb went off in Alamogordo in New Mexico, General Groves was around and he was surprised. He said, “By God, the long hairs have done it!” Apparently he didn’t really think it was going to work.
The long hairs.
Yes, the intellectuals. There was the general impression among the Army and many practical people that people who were intellectual were up in the air, they couldn’t really do anything.
Yes, intellectuals would be knocked down to earth.
Yes. So I think that physicists must have felt glad that at last this shows that we can do something. It really works.
The other thing, I suppose, was that we were all very heavily conditioned at that time to thinking in terms of military victories being a good thing. And I remember looking at newspapers, which I had at various times in the War, I think, or one following the Russian front. And when you saw headlines about two hundred thousand soldiers being killed in a battle or something, you didn’t feel any special feeling of horror, you just thought, “God, was it a victory or was it a defeat?” Was the frontline moving this was or that way?
Yes, that’s the way one looked at things. I remember in Stalingrad, I was watching that line in the newspapers all the time and feeling good if it was moving westward and bad if it was moving eastward.
I remember that, these diagrams round Stalingrad. And I think that one had got immune after several years of following the War to thinking about the horrors of what was happening. You were just looking at how the line was moving. And I suppose a little bit like a surgeon who very soon is no longer upset by the blood. That they have a job and they get on with it and they don’t get upset. I think this may have been part of it, you know. But look, can you remember at that time after you heard the bomb had gone off because presumably we heard about the Hiroshima bomb before we heard about the test in the desert, didn’t we?
Yes. I never heard about the test in the desert.
That was kept secret through the Los Alamos people.
It was only a few weeks before, in any case, wasn’t it?
I don’t know.
I don’t think it was terribly long.
Did you have any particular feeling of horror or anything?
No because you see in that context, as you were saying, battles involved tremendous numbers of people being killed. We knew of firebombs in Germany which must have produced real horrors too.
It killed almost as many people.
Yes, so it didn’t seem there was any fundamental difference. If it would win the War quicker, it was legitimate.
Yes. And I think that the firebomb raids in Tokyo might have already —
Yes, I think they had probably taken place already.
They had taken place, yes.
It wouldn’t have taken place after the atomic bomb.
No, not after. There had been firebombs in Tokyo and then Hamburg.
I think that actual number of people killed was bigger in Europe than in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
So, there had been firebombs all through in Germany and in Japan. So, it seemed it was really just an extension of what had been going on.
Yes. And the actual numbers killed were no less than in previous raids.
One didn’t realize the full implications of where it would lead. And therefore it wasn’t unduly alarming and it was felt, well, at least this would end the War.
Yes, I am interested in what you say because I, you see, have a very distinct memory. Do you remember Ken Simpson?
The philosopher? He was the one who designed the big vacuum pumps and he had been a philosophy teacher at some university. A nice chap. I got to know him quite well. And I remember that day after the newspapers were full of all this news, going down to see him at his house, he and his wife, they didn’t have any children. And I found him in a pretty depressed state. He said, “This is Black Monday.” It was a Monday. Actually, strangely enough, the desert test was on a Monday too. Then I remember sort of adjusting to these things, thinking, “Well, yes, he’s right, isn’t he?” And I felt slightly ashamed of myself that I hadn’t been upset too. I had a respect for his general judgement, and so I got the message from him but was quite quickly converted to his point of view, that this was really a very horrifying business. And that the idea that the project had been successfully completed and the bomb had worked and done its job and so forth fairly quickly tended to recede into the background. This whole visit to him because I don’t know that I had any particular reaction to it at all, the bomb had gone off and there was relatively little value judgment involved in my reaction. This was a fact and I was aware of this fact. But, was it a bad fact, was it a good fact, or what. It was from him.
Did he realize not only the question of radioactivity but also that proliferation was at stake?
I don’t remember. But I think that he had some sense of the enormity of the whole thing that I think he must have a little bit like Niels Bohr, who came, of course, very late on the scene. That he wasn’t so involved that he saw the wider social, political implications and also possibly strategic implications of the bomb. Now this would be in the nations’ arsenals and so on and God knows what might happen. But the other thing I think about it is, why was Simpson especially [upset]? Clearly, I had talked with other people on the project during that day before I saw him. Why was he different from the impression I got from the others? And I think it might have been two things. One, he wasn’t a professional physicist, you see. He was a philosopher and he was just doing engineering work in designing vacuum pumps. The other thing was that he may have had a wider sense perspective, moral and political and philosophical, than I had. And I think he was that type of person anyway and I think that’s why I found him interesting. And we used to talk quite a lot over lunch. I remember one discussion I had with him when I said I had always felt a bit aggrieved that my father was a very good swimmer and high diver and everything and never taught me to swim. He had various sort of worldly sophistication about wines and evening dress and things like this that I had all been left completely in the dark about these things and felt a little bit deficient. But he had spent a lot of time taking me out in mountains and the air and walking in the country. And I learned a lot from him in that respect and Ken Simpson said, “Well, maybe it was really much more important to you that he educated you in relation to the mountains and the air and the sky,” then he did about the evening dress and wines or even learning to swim. And I thought maybe he had a point. But I think the point that I’m going on a little bit is the nature of one’s overall mental set, how one will react to a particular piece of news. And once I had gotten the message from Ken Simpson, it was pretty clear in my mind that there was certainly a very negative aspect, the Black Monday aspect to it. What was your own impression? After a few days or weeks went by and discussing it with other people, it was in all the newspapers, did you start realizing the very negative aspects of the whole thing.
I don’t know that I got very far in that.
Even if you didn’t analyze it. I mean, he just said, “Black Monday” and this was an overall attitude. Somehow, this is dreadful without necessarily defining it.
There are two things. One realized that the scale was very bad. We didn’t know about how radioactive the thing was really. There was a feeling of danger that this would, say, tempt some people to go to war to defeat the Soviet Union quickly. But you see I think that we were thinking in terms of trying to get some sort of international cooperation on this. It wouldn’t be that dangerous if people could agree. Remember, the Russians were still allies and so on and it didn’t seem out of the bounds of possibility that there could be some cooperation.
Yes, I see. So you weren’t too alarmed by it. I think, incidentally, about the radiation that Peierls and Frisch in their original paper calculating that a U235 bomb could be made without very much uranium, did set out and gave a proper discussion about the biological effects of radiation. It was really serious.
Also the fallout, which one hadn’t thought about.
Yes. I don’t know. Maybe I should look it up; presumably it’s been published.
I think it would have been impossible to predict the degree of fallout.
You mean the two elements to the radiation. You mean the instantaneous radiation and the longer term.
And then also there was a feeling that nuclear power, its peaceful uses, might open up great possibilities. It wasn’t, at least to most of us, clear that it was necessarily a tragedy. One could see there were dangers there.
Yes. I think it might well be partly that Simpson wasn’t a physicist. We were the big boys, the physicists. We showed what we could do. As a philosopher, he wouldn’t have felt quite like that, would he?
Well, I think it would have to do with some assessment of the human situation. It would not be dangerous except given that human beings cannot be stopped from going to war. Otherwise, there was no reason that we didn’t think of the dangers of peaceful atomic energy at the time.
I think that’s quite true. Nobody, I think, thought about that. They thought there was going to be free electricity.
There was a sort of a feeling maybe at last this whole business of going to war could be stopped. The reason why atomic energy was so dangerous was just because human beings could simply not control themselves no matter what they decided to do, they end up doing things they have no notion of how they got into it.
We saw it as a decisive weapon.
Yes with all sorts of decisive possibilities for peaceful uses. There was still the feeling that poverty was the main cause of the trouble and if we could eliminate that, we could have peace.
I don’t know. With a European background, one had rather less optimism about that than possibly American intellectuals might have had. I don’t know. But look, tell me another thing. I have absolutely no memory that with the fall of Nazi Germany anybody raising the possibility that one ought to stop working on the project.
Yes. Well, some people apparently did.
Who? Anyone at Berkeley?
Not at Berkeley but I mean Wilson and people at Los Alamos. A few people objected to going on, I think.
There were very few. I think the only person who went off the project was Joe Rotblat of Pugwash. Margaret Garrity in her history of it states that that was because he had never been on a good research program anywhere. He had been sitting around there feeling frustrated.
I think there was the momentum of the project and also, you know, the argument was, I suppose in the back of the mind was, that it would be used in the war in the Pacific. I mean, it was implicit, wasn’t it?
You know, Groves is definitely quoted and there seems to be no doubt about this. Rotblat swears that Groves said to him this, that they had to finish the bomb quickly because it was against the Russians that they had to —
Well, I remember Frank Oppenheimer had that notion later. He said that many people felt but there was also another aspect to it —
He was sympathetic to the Russians, you mean?
Yes, Frank Oppenheimer was. But Frank Oppenheimer was afraid, possibly, of his brother that the bomb would not be used, would be kept entirely a secret, and then would suddenly be used in a new war.
You mean against the Russians?
But Groves was very definitely looking forward to the opportunity.
I’m sure there was quite a few who thought of using the threat. One can understand. The fear of the Russians was behind the reason why the Nazis had been allowed to get as far as they got, really. They could have been stopped quite easily in the early days.
Yes. If they hadn’t feared the Russians, there would have been a united front against fascism and could have been stopped in its tracks.
But it’s a very complex thing in the sense that the Russian behavior did not inspire a lot of confidence.
You can put it another way, they simply were, on a simple class basis, I mean, the capitalist countries didn’t want abolition of their system which they saw the soviet system as a threat to it. That’s an odd way of looking at it.
Yes. These people didn’t want the soviet system. Now the point that people are more liberal who might have taken a different view when they saw what was going on, some of the nasty things one heard about the soviet system. There was very little opposition to these people, you see. In other words, there might have been people who would have felt, we must oppose this, but the opposition was halfhearted at best because there had been so many nasty things, even in the early years, long before the revelations of the 20th Congress.
Yes. Well, I think the position in Europe was, ‘round about 1935, the show trials were beginning and some people were beginning to have doubts about the whole system under Stalin. I think it was those things that were worrying. I think a lot of people, left wing people in Cambridge that I knew, including myself, the general attitude was that it was very difficult to understand all this extraordinary business of these people making confessions and one still can’t really understand.
There was enough pressure to make them confess. Partly it was their duty to confess, they were told, to propagate socialism.
It is still a peculiar phenomenon. But anyway that was beginning. And of course, some people were ready to accept the evidence for what it turned out truly to be. But people who were more committed communists were very reluctant to do this and were prepared to go along with this and cover up for these deficiencies which were beginning to appear in the soviet system. But it varied about how generally sympathetic, some people, of course, were completely attached to the soviet model and thought it was the solution for all human problems.
I think, you see, you did get a considerable decrease in the enthusiasm for people to try to do something different. Even in Spain, there were statements that the communists were fighting the others. And also that they had the attitude when the Nazis were coming, it was better not to help the center but let the Nazis win and then they’d take over later. You know, that there was such, that all these things going on, it left a bad impression.
Well, the Nazi German-Soviet pact made a bad impression and I think quite a number of people who had been communists in England just gave up at that stage.
There were things I used to read in the New Republic saying that the Soviets, the Communists in Germany had sort of not really resisted Hitler in the sense they thought that if they could let this thing weaken, the center, and then it would speed up the revolution, you see.
Yes, the communist revolution.
There were a great many things which meant that they had very little support except from the extreme far left.
Yes, I think it’s difficult to assess this. I mean, they’re now arguing in the newspapers about what happened in Greece and to what extent the communists were sensible there. And of course, it goes on and on about who really fought Franco in Spain, was it the communists or was it more the anarchists and so on who were put down by the communists. But I think, at least what one knows in the occupied countries during the war, I think, the communists did take a leading role in anti-fascist control there.
At a certain point they did but when it became clear that there was no other way. The whole thing was such, the theory was such that the thing of bringing about socialism was the main point and therefore any move that would favor that, they would do. Now one of the ideas was the principle barrier to socialism was, say, the moderate left or the middle. And therefore, they wanted to bring that down. But at the same time, they had a policy of a united front which was not entirely compatible with that. By these sort of contradictions after a while, it began to make them loose their credibility, you see.
Yes. Going back to this whole question of the scientists being hooked and addicted to the pleasure of intellectual pleasure and satisfaction of doing their work. Brian Easely in his book about the history of this gives extensive quotations from people on the Los Alamos project. And he seems to have assembled a very good case there that for this addictive element. Mind you, it may be better to say obsession because addiction means you can’t stop and you also take too much of it. But the important thing was they couldn’t stop rather than they were working too hard, they couldn’t stop to think. And I think the various accounts that people have given about the euphoric reaction to the successful test down there do seem to point to that. My own feeling is that this phenomenon does link up with the question of the weapon scientists today that they do, to an extent, find their work exciting. The challenge of the work and this does tend to intoxicate them a bit. So, they tend to become blinded to the wider issues. And it’s a bit similar, I would say, to drug addiction. But I think you have to be rather careful in putting it in abusive terms like that to scientists or you get their backs up. But I think it is a real problem. And it does seem to me, to a fair extent, that my own experience in Berkeley and from what you say, it does give some degree of support to that thing. And the fact that Niels Bohr was supposed to, when he went over there and found out everything they were doing, it’s been claimed that he was rather horrified that no one was thinking about the long term consequences of the whole thing. When people raise doubts about the morality of working on the bomb, one of the things I always say is, “Well, at least one thing is certain, was the scientists working on the project were deficient in not giving more attention to the long term implications of the work. But at the same time, I think to be fair to them, it wasn’t very easy under the pressures of all that work for them to be sitting down thinking so far ahead.” But I think if you want to criticize them, I think one could make that criticism.
Well, yes, certainly that’s so. There was the fascination of the work and the realization of the dream of power and so on, which carried people.
I think what you say about the physicist being looked down on and wanting to show they were big boys and valuable members of society and so on, this is a slightly new angle which I hadn’t appreciated. And I think you’ve probably got a good point there because so many American universities had grown out of agriculture/engineering colleges and so on. And what you say also about Oppenheimer being a great, white hope as a theoretical physicist that these more esoteric aspects of physics were less developed in the United States than the more practical experimental side. It is a sort of a cultural difference.
Anyway, that was the end of that era. I left out one point, during the War period while Massey was there, there were several problems that I was working on. One problem that Oppenheimer had left me with about trying to understand one of Dirac theories. Dirac had made a proposal about a theory to deal with the infinities of quantum electrodynamics which had negative energies and negative probabilities. I spent most of the War years in my spare time, pondering over that trying to make sense of what Dirac did. I think I got it fairly well organized because after the War I put out an abstract for the Physical Society. On the basis of the abstract, I think Wheeler became interested in me and I got an offer from Princeton. But of course, just about that time after the War, Oppenheimer said, well, Dirac was no longer interested in it so it’s not worth pursuing. And I felt a little uneasy about that, why I didn’t feel that was quite a good enough explanation of why it was not worth pursuing. I mean, I still had such admiration for Oppenheimer that I didn’t really question him on it. That was one line I worked on.
Was Dirac still at Cambridge then?
Yes, I think he was. The other line I worked on, I was very interested in infinity as a field theory. The fact that field theories give infinite results. You know, you had so many problems there. So, I had an idea that if you use the perturbation theory, you’ll find not only energies and various properties come out infinite, but the wave function itself is infinitely changed. It should be normalized. Say it’s indrick [?] was one, but it turns out it’s not normalized after you use this theory, these approximations. So, I made a proposal that suppose in each stage of the approximation, you renormalize the wave function to 1 and then you would come out with a finite results. So, I sent this off. I wrote it up. Massey seemed to like it and also Weinberg liked it. And I sent it to Physical Review and finally received an answer which was very negative saying, “There’s this problem.” They didn’t like this, they didn’t like that. “If you’ll correct all this, then perhaps we’ll publish it,” instead of saying it’s not terribly significant. So I felt that if they felt it was that uninteresting, I didn’t feel that I wanted to bother rewrite the article. But I mean, Weinberg told me later that he thought that was a mistake. He thought that was the germ of this renormalization theory, which people went in for later.
Which Weinberg was that?
Joe Weinberg. This fellow at Berkeley. So, I think probably I shouldn’t have paid that much attention to the criticism; I shouldn’t have taken it that seriously. I somehow learned something which suggests that Pauli had been responsible for that. When I wrote the article, I had no idea what happens to these articles in the Physical Review and what basis anybody would do anything. It was the first one I had ever written. But I learned later that it was probably Pauli because there was nobody else who wasn’t working on War work.
You mean, Pauli was the man who —
— refereed the thing. It was negative?
Yes, but since then, he’s been negative to all sorts of good ideas including Salam and a lot of other people. But I thought I’d mention that, it sort of completes the line of things that I was interested in during the War years. But I was maintaining an interest in quantum and properties of quantum theory and particle electrodynamics at the same time that I was interested in working on the plasma.
Coincidentally, you said earlier about how you always felt with any sort of idea in physics to be valuable, you had to have some sort of general, more or less, physical sense of the thing. And the fact that you could write down a formula and manipulate it and it made mathematical sense, didn’t impress you necessarily all that much.
Now in that connection, do you remember what Einstein said? He certainly said that his new ideas often came to him in the forms of images. For example, visual images. I think I may have a note at home but did he say something about muscular images?
Yes, the feelings in the muscles was one.
The feelings in the muscles. Yes, because I was talking with an American philosopher in Moscow about this and he said, “Well, that’s very funny. Very strange. I can see how if you were excited about a physical idea that you might have a feeling in your muscles. But for there to be an isomorphism,” was the word I think he used, between the feelings in your muscles and the intellectual idea, interested him very much. And it seemed to him a very strange notion. And I said, “Well, to tell you the truth, I can’t remember the exact words,” and I’ve been meaning to check up on this by going back and looking, because it is strange, isn’t it?
Well, not necessarily. You see if you think of the nature of thought, which is that it is a reflection back of the impulse to act, you see. That the first thoughts must begin with images formed by the infant which are not merely visual images but muscular. You see, you have what is the called body image. For example, if somebody’s arm is cut off, he still feels he has it, right? So evidently there is in the brain an image of the whole body.
Okay, that sounds very reasonable. I agree with you that you mean the whole relation between the thinking and the bodily sensation is derived from analyzing the way in which thinking develops as the child develops.
Yes, that’s right. His first thinking is, as Piaget says, it’s sensory-motor thought, he calls it.
He does, does he?
So the idea is there in Piaget. But I think, you see, this philosopher didn’t know that and you can see how many philosophers would think that you have the body and the mind being very separate, you see. And in that way, they would find this isomorphism very odd.
But it’s very natural. The point is, the thought has begun there in the image of the body.
All I’m saying is, you can see how philosophers who hadn’t thought through some of these things with the mind/body dichotomy would think it strange. But I agree with you. My own general reaction was, well, I didn’t feel this dichotomy was all that real anyway, so why should it be such a problem. But I can see that for some philosophers. But anyway, you say this thing had been thought through by people like Piaget.
Well, he says the childish first thoughts are sensory-motor. They have to do with the senses and the motor activity and it’s only later that he forms abstract thought after he gets language and so on.
Yes. You mean that the thoughts are controlling the movements.
No, they are the movements. The thoughts and the movements develop together; they’re a part of each other.
You mean it’s like learning to ride a bicycle or something.
But I think it’s interesting the way the philosopher reacted that I think he was still sort of stuck in this dichotomy thing. I had been meaning for some time in various discussions to check up on this whole business. But I think what Einstein says is a little bit different from what you say because I thought that the way you felt more was that you wanted to be able to have some kind of image of say billiard balls running around or clouds of dust moving or something like that. Whereas Einstein was saying much more it was a matter of internal muscular feelings in his own body.
Well, I don’t think it was all that different because I had the feeling of how these things move, not merely visually. A sense of their inertia and so on. For example, that’s something I would say after I learned quantum mechanics, all throughout this period in Berkeley, an image kept on coming up to me about spin of a particle. Say it could 0, 1, or -1 but then by some linear combination of those wave functions it could be a spin in another direction somewhere in between, that was a basic quantum mechanical feature.
A change in direction?
You could say the spin could be +1, 0, 1, or -1 in the Z direction, but if it’s measured in another direction there’s no way to visual how that could be, you see. But formally, mathematically, if you make a linear combination of the wave functions, you combine two wave functions of spin 1 and -1 and you can get a wave function of spin and definite spin, in say, the X direction instead of the Z. Now, it seems that this was a very creative principle in the sense that from two very different things, like two opposite spins in the Z direction you got something new, a spin in the X direction. Then I used to get the feeling of that in myself. To say I got a feeling of something that spin in the Z direction and combined with a minus Z and then becoming a spin in another direction. See, I had the feeling that internally, you participate in the movement which is the analogy to the thing you’re talking about.
Can you articulate the nature of this feeling you had in your body, so to speak?
Well, I can’t really articulate it. It had to do with a sense of tensions in the body and the fact that two tensions in opposite directions could be the equivalent of suddenly feeling that it’s something else.
Does the fact that the bimetal strip, does this help at all? Is that an analogy, where you have two forces acting, contraction and an expansion, but a displacement. The fact that they’re displaced means the thing curves but, I mean, is that an equivalent?
Well, it could be a vague analogy. You see, the spin thing, you can’t reduce to classical physics. The idea was that two feelings in the mind combine to produce something else which is of a different quality. I got the feeling of it.
Isn’t that a bit more a unity of opposites, then?
Well, it’s not unity of opposites in the usual sense, no. It was something which I can’t explain but the idea was that the constant in mind was going spin up, spin down. I got the feeling spin up; I was sort of spinning up. Then spin down. And then I was bringing them together and then spinning in the X direction.
I must confess I don’t understand the thing up and the thing down. If you were spinning and you say something about the wave function.
There’s no way to understand it. I was trying to get an intuitive feeling for it.
Yes, but I don’t understand the mathematics of wave functions which do this. But can you say something more to try to make that?
You see, it’s very hard to get an analogy. It’s a kind of transformation that takes place. The nearest analogy would be that two rotations in different directions combine to form a rotation in a third direction.
All right. What about a gyroscope then?
Well, no, that won’t do. You see, you can’t really.
It’s doesn’t help. That moves in right angles to the direction you think it is going to move in.
Yes, but it isn’t a very good analogy.
It’s not a good analogy.
So, you think that essentially there’s no everyday?
Essentially, I was trying to produce in myself an analogy to that in my state of being, as it were.
Something about your own mind/body relationships which could not be articulated very well.
I see. So, if it were possible to give a straightforward analogy like a bimetal strip or a gyroscope or something, then everyone would have done that.
That would have been the end of it. So nobody’s got it, so that presumably that sort of analogy doesn’t exist.
Oh, well. You would be able to write down the mathematics and this thing just comes out of the mathematics, is that it?
On the interpretation, you see. It isn’t just the mathematics. That’s where the problem is.
The interpretation comes out of the mathematics.
No, it doesn’t. It’s assumed on top of the mathematics. That’s the whole point of the quantum theory.
This is a little bit beyond me. This is the end of the tape anyway.
I would put it that in a way, I am trying to become an analogy to that. Whatever that means, right?
Forgetting all about you, how does the ordinary physicist, conventional physicist, thinking about this spin problem, think about it?
Well, essentially, I don’t know how. I mean, Bohr has complementarity. He would say that the spin in the X direction and the spin in the Z are complementary if you define one, you undefine the other. The conditions needed to measure one will not —
Yes, but how did he deal with the fact that you’ve got in the Z direction a plus and a minus and out of that you get something else.
He said that there’s no way to imagine anything, that’s the first thing Bohr say. You merely have a language which enables you to talk about it consistently.
Okay. But look, the other thing is that you say that how does one arrive at a conclusion that the plus and the minus in a Z direction gives you something.
That’s by using the interpretation of the mathematics. The idea is — I think last time we just got to the point of discussing the implications of the Hiroshima bomb.
I think we got a definition.
One point I wanted to add. You asked me what I felt about, whether I had some premonition of the real meaning of it, the danger in it and so on.
The wider meaning.
Yes. I said, in general, not but because of various the reasons we gave. But [inaudible] called about a month or two after I’d had a dream, which I was walking in some sort of valley, which should have been in California. Although it wasn’t exactly any valley I knew. On one side there was a very high ridge, a long high ridge, like a mountain. Not quite as big as a mountain. And on top of it were a lot of concrete buildings out of which a sort of cold, blue flames were emerging. It did not consume the building, you see.
Which were consuming the building?
Were not consuming it.
Not consuming the building.
Yes. It sort of suggested radioactivity to me. Then I saw that that was a ruined city as I was walking along. But the building resembled laboratories, you see. Concrete. They were sort of concrete with the cladding destroyed and the windows blown open or something. And out of it was coming the cold, blue fire. So, I must have had some premonition. If you think of the laboratory as representing science that the thing was the ruination of science, you see. That’s my interpretation, at least the one I thought of.
What was the feeling that you had about it?
Well, generally, sort of a very poor feeling, depression.
You felt there was something rather bad.
It was very bad. There were ruins, you see. They were ruined. When I had been a child, my father used to drive us around. We used to pass along the hill overlooking what they used to call concrete city, a whole bunch of concrete buildings that were never quite finished because they ran out of money or something. And it sort of had a very ruined, a rundown, ruined appearance. This was a similar feeling. While I was giving myself on the surface why nuclear energy would good and so on.
You did on the whole feel very optimistic.
I felt it could be used. I remember Lawrence was extremely optimistic.
I thought there was no reason why it shouldn’t be a very great benefit. I could see the dangers of nuclear war but there was still hope. Oppenheimer was still talking in terms of some sort of international agreement. The breakup with Russia hadn’t fully occurred yet and so on. I think that one could see that underneath the thing wasn’t looking good.
What wasn’t looking good?
The whole thing wasn’t looking all that good. That dream must have meant that.
This feeling that you had, did you feel it was evil or not so strong as that?
Well, it was a kind of evil but it was ruined, it was destroyed. Something destroyed it.
It was a negative feeling about the whole thing?
A very negative feeling.
Yes. That all the possibilities in it were gone. It was just ruined, destroyed.
The fire was an evil fire.
Yes. The cold, blue fire.
The implication was there had been a lot of positive possibilities in the whole thing represented by the idea of buildings.
But that all this was now destroyed.
Yes. And that this cold, blue fire, which evidently was radioactivity, destroyed it.
Had taken over.
Like some sort of disease that killed it all off. Interesting.
So, probably there was the sense that it was really destroyed underneath. The meaning as I see it was the destruction of science and the destruction of all these possibilities.
Positive things that might come out of science.
Let me just check. That’s okay now, so I’ll go on recording. I might mention, not a dream, but a conversation that we had in the Staff Club at Berkeley, which I don’t whether I told you about around lunch. There were several scientists there and one of the American scientists was holding forth about how in the future all humanity would have to live under the ground in the Bay Area and so on. Everyone would be living in enormous sort of cavities under the earth to be safe from the nuclear war. And he seemed to find this quite exhilarating, working all the technical problems of this type of daily existence. And I was horrified at the idea you wouldn’t be able to see the sky, and the clouds, and all the natural things on the surface. How could he be so insensitive? This always stuck with me very strongly. The attitude or the type of mental makeup which some scientists have. They seem to revel in technical solutions to problems without any wider feelings for the whole thing.
No. They sort of narrowed themselves down. But I remember Lawrence was talking about how there would be very cheap energy, some tremendous advantages in terms of the United States becoming far more wealthy and so on. I can’t remember the details. But you see, there were some people who felt that it was going to be a tremendous nuclear age and cheap electricity and unlimited power.
Almost free electricity was sometimes spoken of.
Yes. After the War, what I did was I worked on these machines for a while. They went back to the peacetime construction of Cyclotron and so on. Serber [?] came there. The first thing was MacMillan [?] wanted to have some theory of the synchrocyclotron. First called the synchrotron, which was a fairly simple thing where there was a certain property of phased stability. He wanted to look at the stability of orbits and so on. That was fairly straightforward. And then they had the synchrocyclotron, which was a little more complicated where it was for protons rather than electrons. They were a little worried. They had to inject these electrons into the orbit and they wanted to know if they would be captured. The reason there was a problem was that somebody at General Electric, working on an analog computer, had shown that it was not sustainable, that the orbits would have run away and not been captured. I was going back to visit Pennsylvania so they sent me back to visit General Electric in Schenectady. I looked at the machine and they had a lot of backlash in the machine. I could see right away it would grind along, and then turn around, and you could see maybe there was a backlash.
It was a mechanical thing.
Yes. So I should by means of a simple argument that if there is backlash, then this will introduce instability. So therefore I said there is no instability due to the machine, due to the computer.
The fact that you could transmit mechanical backlash and divert it into electrical —
No, no. It was a matter that the machine would move along and have to turn around; there was a slight backlash as it turned around.
You mean that you accounted for the existence of the instability —
Through the machine.
— in terms of the mechanical backlash.
So therefore I told them not to worry about it.
Yes, but that didn’t prove that there couldn’t be other instabilities.
Well, we proved as far as we were able to analyze it that they were stable. The trouble was here was this computer that says it’s unstable, so what are you going to do? They sent me to Schenectady.
But did the computer take into account the mechanical backlash?
No. Obviously they didn’t know about it, you see. That’s why they predicted instability. So I told them it would be stable which it was. We worked on problems like that for a while. And then I gave up the Radiation Lab and I went back for a half a year to work as a research associate with Oppenheimer where I mostly interested in superconductivity.
Was that in Berkeley?
Yes. I made an intensive study of superconductivity but I didn’t get very far with it. But one thing that I can remember about that time was that I was getting more contact with theoretical physicists. I was beginning to be disturbed that they all seemed to think equations were the truth and they were not really terribly interested in the physical understanding or intuition or anything of the kind. They’d say, “Okay. If you want to do it, do it but it’s not really important. Don’t bother us with it.”
To some extent, they may have thought that mathematics was a higher type of thought.
Yes, that was truth. The proper vehicle for truth or something.
A sort of Pythagorean notion.
Yes. Others, I couldn’t quite make out what they were thinking. I think others thought that all you really wanted to do was to find some way of calculating results and comparing with experiments, so why worry about all these other things.
And that really disturbed me a great deal. I couldn’t talk it over with them because they would have said I was crazy, or “Why are you worried about it?” I remember thinking over and talking with a few people saying, “What can I do? Can I get out of physics?” This was intolerable.
As strong as that?
Yes. But I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Were there any other things you can remember considering?
No. Well, I thought of becoming an experimental physicist but then I said I didn’t really want to do that. And then, I said that actually doing these calculations in this spirit is less interesting than being a businessman, at least you have contact with people. I said, “Why did I bother to go so far when I could have had something more interesting?” If all you’re doing is calculations, mathematics — Well, I liked mathematics and so on, but just to do it in that spirit seemed hardly worth doing.
You mean it was rather like just cranking a handle?
Some people would have said using problem solving, using your ingenuity to solve problems.
Yes, there was ingenuity in it but on denying it, there was no real, what would you say, thinking?
Intuition or perception. As a matter of fact, I never really trusted these mathematical steps. I would always see ahead to what the answer was and then put the steps in which meant that the steps were often wrong, but the answer was right.
Yes. Didn’t someone say, or was it you who said, Fineman was like that. People couldn’t understand him at first because he apparently always saw the answers before he had done the calculations.
So they thought he must be unsound.
Yes. See, there was a general feeling that going through these steps was the way to be really sure of things and have them be true and have the truth and so on. And I didn’t really believe it. I thought it was a rather unintelligent and ugly approach.
You were really handing over the responsibility for the process to some kind of more or less automatic —
Yes. So, you were functioning as a computer.
Except when you had some ingenuity in solving a problem.
I was thinking about this problem about repugnant for too much reliance on mathematics because I must say that all throughout my own career, I felt rather like this. I always felt slightly apologetic about it because I thought I wasn’t any good at the mathematics and maybe I didn’t recoil from the math because I couldn’t do it, kind of sour grapes attitude. But I remember I had a supervisor as an undergraduate at Cambridge, he worked on cosmic rays. I remember him once telling me, this was just one student, one research worker having a discussion one-hour a week. That was the system there. It was very good and so, you got to know a good research worker. And he once said, “When I read a scientific paper,” he said, “When I come to the mathematics, I just skim over it, skip all that. And then I come to some words again and I read those words and I go on and read a few more. And then I try to sort of guess what all the mathematics means.” That always stuck in my mind and I thought, “Well, that sounds sensible.” But I think what you’re saying goes further. It’s made me realize, in a way, that my negative feelings towards people who were very agile in shooting out all these masses of paper covered with math, and being rather suspicious of the whole thing, that in a way this was probably quite a sensible approach then. I hadn’t realized it.
I could see that people who didn’t know what they were doing with these equations could say all sorts of stupid things.
Yes. This was my feeling these people didn’t know what they were doing. Yet they seemed always so damned cocky about it. They calculated all this as though there were some —
There are all sorts of assumptions in there. They treated it as if it were just plain truth once you put it as a formula; it’s not an assumption anymore.
Yes. I must say I always felt very suspicious. So in a way, presumably, then my sort of instincts were reasonably sensible. I never considered this enough. I thought it was just my lack of mathematical ability.
Yes. I think a lot of these people who are skilled at mathematics tend to look down on others and try to say that the highest form of thought is mathematics and so on. And that the reason you’re not doing it is you’re not up to it and so on.
I think basically I felt I probably was right but I still felt a bit apologetic about it.
A lot of mathematicians, people who are skilled at mathematics, are often very arrogant. I discovered that. In Princeton, they’re very status conscious. You see, the people, the Institute, the math department, I was told by a few mathematicians, spent about half their spare time establishing the pecking order, talking about the pecking order. Who’s the best, who’s the second best, who’s the third best.
You mean the best mathematician?
Yes. Who’s the one that’s going to get the best job and so on. You see, there’s an exceptional sense of pecking order among those mathematicians.
So, there was a very clear notion of quality inherent in mathematics? Those who had the biggest amount of quality were the best mathematicians.
Yes. They were at the top of the pecking order. The others felt miserable as they got toward the bottom.
So in a way, it was a little bit like the Pythagorean notion of virtue somehow of being in the numbers.
Yes. An ability to handle them and so on. Anyway all of this didn’t attract me. I felt rather repulsed by it. I was really seriously thinking should I go in for biology or this or that. I didn’t really want to change.
Did you do any reading in biology at all?
No. I knew some people, you see. But I didn’t really feel attracted at the moment.
There weren’t any particular biological problems you thought about at all? You hadn’t read anything about Bohr and biology?
He never wrote anything, did he?
No. And I think I was just pestering my mind. I was really dissatisfied with physics and I couldn’t quite see what to do instead. I probably came to the conclusion that I better stay in physics and try to find some way of getting on without some modus vivendi. I think the sort of approach I developed came up later in Princeton, perhaps. We’ll discuss it as we get there.
So this not liking physics was not in any way directly due to the explosion of the bomb. It might possibly have had some indirect connection but you weren’t conscious of that.
No. It might have had some indirect affect.
It must have been an unconscious, underlying thing that was affecting you. One doesn’t know.
But the main thing I was aware of was that this problem, the mathematics.
That seemed a good reason, anyway. Do you want sugar in the tea?
No sugar. I think that’s nearly all I have to say about that period. As I said before, because of this paper I’d written on some of Dirac’s ideas, it was really an abstract. Then Wheeler came to see me when he was in Berkeley and he offered me a job at Princeton and I accepted it and I went there. I think it was January 1947.
Was that a center for theoretical physics?
Right. I went to the university, you see.
Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study. No. I learned at the same time that I went there that Oppenheimer was coming to be the head.
Of the Advanced Studies?
That’s right. I think he came a little after I did.
But was the Advanced Studies largely theoretical?
It was theoretical stuff.
Yes. And so, I arrived in Princeton in January. At the beginning, I was there for a few months, not too happy because all I was doing was teaching undergraduate courses. There weren’t a lot of people around yet. But I did what I could. The following year was better. It took a little while. Princeton was somewhat of a letdown from Berkeley. It was not quite as nice, not to me, anyway.
You mean the physical surroundings and the climate.
That’s right. Rather than worse, good. Although it’s a nice town, but still it’s flat and it’s in this industrial area near Trenton. Although the area around Princeton is quite rural. The only fellow who was there was a Japanese, the only theoretical man, a young theoretical physicist called Kwesaka [?], who was from Canada originally. He had been, had had some unpleasant experiences during the war. He had to leave the West Coast and go to Massachusetts to teach in some small school.
What kind of unpleasant?
Well, he’d gone to Massachusetts and then apparently while he was there, a crowd of people gathered around his house and made all sorts of threatening —
He was Japanese, yes. He was interned but he was allowed to teach there in Massachusetts.
I see. It was just this wartime, anti-Japanese activity.
Yes. He was a difficult person. I went back to Berkeley during the summer and then I think we had agreed that he would, he found an apartment and we would share it.
Yes, in the town. While I was there in Berkeley, he went swimming on the Atlantic coast with some people and he apparently drowned. But I still had the apartment which I shared with somebody else. Anyway, this first few months between January and June was a rather confused period, getting used to the place and so on. The following year, I began to teach, I insisted on teaching a graduate course along with the undergraduates. So, I taught quantum mechanics. I began then to try to teach the course in a way that a person would learn about it because I really wanted to understand the subject. Then I tried to teach it. I think it was an attempt to resolve this problem of mathematics where I would try to weave together the physical, intuitive ideas and the mathematics. Sort of try to combine the two rather than focusing on one or the other.
So having the teaching job then made you get to grips with trying to understand the subject.
The quantum mechanics. And also to approach this question of mathematics by saying it must be woven together with the physical idea intimately rather than seeing one or the other.
Yes, but this was part of getting to grips.
Yes. I taught that course for several years, making notes on it for the class and gradually putting it into the shape of a book.
This was your well-known book called what?
Quantum Theory. In that book, I tried to explain Bohr’s idea and a lot of other physical ideas and also some new material, a new approach to the question of what was called the Paradox of Einstein. Rosen Poldovosky [?], which I don’t know if we’ll explain that a little.
Was that the spins in different directions?
Yes. Well, originally it wasn’t that. But I proposed to put it in a spin.
You proposed to put it in a spin form?
Yes which in principle made it possible to test it.
I see. But to what to extent was that book widely used? Was it widely used as a textbook?
Well, apparently it was after I left America for a number of years but I never revised it. It gradually fell out of date.
Yes, quite. But what interests me is that it was apparently the approach to the subject was somewhat unorthodox.
Well, what does orthodox mean? I don’t know.
What I mean is that you had developed a certain amount of new approach to the subject and what surprises me a little bit is that the scientific community as a whole apparently were quite receptive to this.
Yes. Well, at least a great many were.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t have used it as a textbook.
It was used in quite a few places. Also, I sent the book to various physicists including Pavvy [?] and Deborwy [?] and Einstein and Bohr. I got a very enthusiastic answer from Pavvy who liked the way I was weaving the physics and the mathematics together and also raising philosophical questions. Bohr didn’t answer; I don’t know why. Some people told me later he had so much stuff coming on he never read it. Now, Einstein liked the book very much and wanted to discuss it with me. We’ll come to that later. I got comments from other people but afterwards, it was adopted in a number of universities, a fair number. Some people didn’t like it, they wanted more mathematics. But there’s a fair number who did like it.
But presumably, the physicists who weren’t especially caught on mathematics probably welcomed it.
Because they could get a feel, they could get a grip on quantum mechanics without having to have too much mathematical facility.
Yes. There was one review which pointed out that I was weaving the physics and the mathematics together, which this fellow liked. In other words, not everybody in the physics community was happy about this emphasis on mathematics. There were a lot of people who felt pushed out.
Yes. But I think presumably the point was that the people who were developing the theory of quantum mechanics tended to be in the main mathematical.
And so those people probably didn’t like your book especially, but they weren’t the majority in the physics departments.
So in a way, you were out of the stream and a bit unorthodox from the mainstream of mathematical physicists but you were doing something which quite a proportion of the not so mathematical physicists positively welcomed.
Yes. And this probably went back to my earlier wish to sort of present physics in a way that people around me would have understood, the ordinary people, you see.
Now, just a minute. You haven’t said very much about that.
That was as a child. To present it as close as possible to the common language. In a way, it was sort of answering some of my father’s objections saying, “Oh, this scientism was way, way up in the air,” you see.
I see. I don’t you think you spoke about this very much. Was this connected with the Amazing Stories and the Popular Science?
Not so much that but rather, you see, around the general attitude of both my father and people like him, and of the working people who were very down to earth. They would have thought this sort of stuff is so far up in the air that it couldn’t have any significance.
Yes. So the idea was to present it, I couldn’t actually present in language they could understand, but as far in that direction as possible. To make it close to the common sense language and so on.
So presumably the motivation to communicate these latest developments in physics to ordinary people had two roots. Your father’s reaction poo-pooing the whole thing.
Also other people of all sorts, both working class and middle class.
But also presumably you felt some kind of general, political type of feeling about the need for communicating, educating the masses.
I felt that the culture should be, that science was part of the culture if I put in the language I now use. Everybody should be accessible to everybody.
Yes. That the culture should be based in the common people.
Yes. At least it has to be accessible to it.
Accessible to them. Yes. Even if it’s not based in them at least accessible to them so they can, to some extent, participate.
Yes. I thought that was very important and some of these super esoteric people who didn’t think that was of any importance.
I think you found it repugnant the people who would extol the esoteric aspect of mathematics and in some way took a delight in having science so that it could not be accessible to ordinary people; it made them feel superior.
I felt I didn’t want that at all.
The common bond between all human beings and that science is part of culture, should be accessible to all people.
That’s right. And the other point was, which I probably didn’t formulate, was that I wanted say that to weave together the more esoteric with the more common, ordinary concepts.
But that was a kind of internal attitude towards physics as such that you felt you ought to have a proper integration of mathematics with physics. There was, of course, at that time, if I may mention it, quite a lot of feeling amongst scientists about the need to make science accessible. In this country, you had a number of leading scientists, rather leftwing people like J. B. S. Haldane writing books. And he was even the editor of the Daily Worker in this country, the communist party’s thing. I don’t he spent much time editing but he officially was the editor. And he wrote excellent scientific stuff which was intelligible to ordinary people. When I was an undergraduate, I was writing a certain amount of stuff for leftwing journals a little bit. A big feeling before the War but you’re not speaking of after the War. But I think it still persisted. I think there was a big feeling amongst somewhat leftwing people that this new and very extraordinary developments in science should be made accessible, I think is probably the best term.
So anyway, the book was an attempt to make the ideas accessible to include philosophical discussion and extended it in certain directions, a new treatment of the question of measurement.
Physics, mathematics, and philosophy if you want to make the division. Then all those three, especially, would have been emphasized. It didn’t get political?
But politics were implicit.
Yes, it was implicit saying that culture should be accessible to everybody.
Yes. Einstein, I think, went on record saying that he thought that any piece of science, however sort of esoteric, one could make the essential, a fair degree of feeling for the essential nature of the problem to any uneducated, intelligent person.
But the other point was from the side of physics to teach people to weave together these different ways of thinking rather than focusing on one.
Yes. That was a matter for the professional scientist, but it was related to this wider question of culture.
It was sort of the idea that if you present it in a way which is more accessible you also have the advantage of a better way of thinking.
So, really the whole idea of a scientist and politics have joined up, a unity between the whole thing there. Because to do good science you had to be doing it not good only from the point of view of the internal view of science but also from the point of view of the external relations of science, wasn’t it? Interesting point that. Yes. It’s good in two different senses that they’re related.
It took me all my time there, three, say about four years to finish the book.
Incidentally, if you can interrupt again in this connection, it’s interesting that I’ve skimmed through a biography of Thomas Henry Huxley. His feeling apparently was that it was more or less a criterion of scientist truth that it had to be based in the, not necessarily based, but at least it had to have proper connections and have some rooting in the common people. And that was one of the reasons he went up and gave scientific lectures at the Working Man’s College in Camden Town. Now, that was, I suppose a bit after the middle of the nineteenth century. But the idea for a leading scientist to have the feeling that the science wouldn’t make any sense somehow if it didn’t have the social relation seemed to me a very interesting one. In some ways, I mean, that was a very enlightened view. But it’s roughly equivalent to what you’re saying.
That was really one of the things which occupied me during that time. I had several alliances. When I got there, I began with a few students. I had always been interested in the problem of the structure of elementary particles. If you say they’re mere points, which is one of the waves theories I had been working, then you get these infinitives. Around each point there’s an infinite field which gives rise to infinite properties like mass and other properties, which I worked on, as I told you last time, to renormalize the wave functions, to try to make them finite. But which was, in a way, an anticipation of this renormalization theory although in a very simplified way. The idea I always had in mind was to say that these particles must have some small, extended structure which would get rid of the infinities. It was hard to make such a structure because of the Theory of Relativity which, you see, makes it impossible to define, to have any sense to any rigid structure. In other words, the Theory of Relativity requires every force to be transmitted at a speed not bigger than light. Therefore, you cannot assume a rigid structure which would turn force at an infinite speed. If you say the force is not rigid then you raise the same problem again which you were trying to avoid, namely the structure. If you say a rod or a particle extends out over a small distance but it can move every bit, it can move with waves inside. You have an infinite possibility of exciting internal motions which is essentially the same problem you had before outside an infinite number of field variables could be excited. So you haven’t avoided the infinities that way.
I see. It takes time for a disturbance to get from one side of the particle to the other.
And that gives it an infinity of degrees of freedom, which is just what you were trying to avoid, which is the source of the problem in the first place. You’ve just put it in another place. In addition, it’s very messy, extremely messy once you do that, far messier than anything you can imagine, and very hard to perceive. So, I kept on thinking up ideas of what we used to call finite distance interactions. That something would interact directly, over, across a certain region of space rather than having to depropogate it. The idea was that this would only hold for very short distances. But it was not possible to make it consistent. So you see, you could get rid of some of the infinities but then you discovered other infinities emerge somewhere else, or other inconsistencies. Like you would discover that charge was no longer conserved. It seemed you fixed up one thing here and something was wrong there. In other words, it was too simple an approach.
You were trying to reject what people call the almost mystical notion of action at a distance.
No, I was using it but finding that it led to these problems and therefore it wasn’t clear where to go. I wanted to say there was an extended structure.
Yes, but if you had the things in context and so on, then you didn’t have action at a distance.
No, but then you had infinities. If you assumed that all action took place in contact it led to all sort of infinities, you see, which I was trying to avoid. By saying it’s an extended structure but then if the extended structure was relativistic and internally mobile then it would have infinities of another kind. And on the other hand, if it were rigid and therefore a finite distance on local interaction at a distance then it led to still other kinds of infinities or other problems, such as non-conservation of charge. So it seemed you could fix it up in one way and you would just put the problems somewhere else. In other words, the whole approach was to restrict.
You mean like sitting on a hot water bottle, you put it down one place...
Yes. But I spent quite a bit of time thinking of that. This notion of structure. I didn’t greatly emphasize the idea of structure, the structure of the totality of the whole universe had a profound effect on me in spite of the fact that I’d been put off by these people who said you couldn’t understand him. I told you about that.
Couldn’t understand what?
That nobody could understand him.
You hadn’t been completely put off by them?
The basic idea. I said it was truly you couldn’t understand what he said when you looked into it but there were crucial points. But I felt there was something in the basic idea which he proposed, the spirit of it.
Although he wasn’t able to articulate in any clear way, you felt he still had something.
Yes. So I was very interested in the notion of structure. At the Institute for Advanced Study, Oppenheimer was organizing a group which was approaching this whole question in another way, which was to try to plummet it so it was independent of structure. It eventually came out as renormalization. To try to put it in such a way that your conclusions don’t depend on any assumptions of structure. The spirit being, you don’t know the structure that’s tied to it, to draw conclusions that don’t depend on structure. You see, the point particle gave these infinities. Weisskopf [?] even before the War had already shown there were, in a rather straightforward way, he had shown that there are such infinities and so on. This was one of the problems what do to with them. After the War, this became one of the major, immediate problems confronting theoretical physics. Now, my approach was to say let’s assume a finite structure. Well, it got into those difficulties that I explained. Now, the generally accepted approach was to avoid the question structure and to try to find a way of getting results which essentially monitors some system of subtracting off these infinities. I don’t know when it was, probably 1948, there was a conference in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania where all these physicists came, like Schringer and Weisskopf and Bohr and Oppenheimer. They were all there.
A real big international meeting. Just everybody that mattered.
Yes. And Schringer came out with a very long talk that lasted about eight hours explaining his method of removing infinities by, in a relativistic we call variant way. It was what he called manifest covariance. Essentially, he had a way of doing it. He had calculated a certain effect. If you take the interactions of the field and the particle then the particle is no longer moving, if you want to think, in the line it would move. But because the field is fluctuating quantum mechanically, the particle fluctuates a bit in its movement. And this changes the energy level slightly, very slightly, say hydrogen.
Inside the atom?
Yes. And this shift of the energy level is calculated and compared with experiments. It was okay. There are various ways of calculating other effects of that nature. There are only a few of them done. By now, there are a large number which are verified. So it seemed that if there is a structure, the results of this nature are highly insensitive to that structure, so that there isn’t showing up at this level, there is a deeper structure. But you see, Feynman got up and gave his stuff. And Bohr got up and objected because he thought Feynman didn’t understand quantum mechanics, but Feynman was talking about tracks and so on.
This was part of the whole thing about people feeling that Feynman didn’t know what he was talking about.
Yes. I think a year or two later, Feynman and Brandt talked together. Bohr agreed. At that time, Bohr felt that Feynman was just talking nonsense. It was only a couple of years later that when Dyson came along, a year or two later, Dyson came along and showed them mathematically equivalence of Schringer and Feynman. He was working at the Institute, Dyson. That was essentially the only thing he ever did in physics at that level anyway. And then from then on, everybody went on to Feynman because it was so much easier. That Schringer stuff was really difficult to calculate. To calculate an effect heaven knows how long it would take, 50, 60, 70 pages. Going that way, you see.
You mean he was trying to run the whole of Los Alamos as well?
Yes. Also I found this concentration on mathematics very much. People didn’t really want to think of these physical ideas very much. There was one or two people there who said, all these ideas, they liked them. Window dressing or frosting on the cake. You can have them, if you like, but the main point is the equations, you see. Also I could see that the math department was also even more arrogant in its way, constantly comparing with each other and establishing their pecking order. I suppose they had their pecking order in physics too but it was more subtle.
It might have been more difficult to compare one experimental physicist with another.
They were theoretical. They were all theoretical physicists.
Yes. What I mean is, if you’re doing mathematical physics, it might be easier.
Especially if they’re all working on the same thing. But the pressure was to work on this renormalization problem. I was interested in this extended structure that I explained and also in the plasma. Now, Oppenheimer never asked me about the plasma, he must have known I was doing it, so he wasn’t interested. He must have thought I was an idiot to play around with this extended structure. I mean, he felt, you know, you should get on the bandwagon, and get in there, and get going, and get ahead and become a big shot or something.
I suppose that fits in with Los Alamos. That was very much getting in on the bandwagon, wasn’t it? Being a big shot.
Yes. Well also I think he was very much impressed. You see, I told you about this thing with Dirac last time, that he said, “Well, this problem I’ve been working on Dirac isn’t interested anymore, so it’s of no use.” You might as well give it up. The idea was that the value of a thing depended to some extent on the magnitude of the physicist who was doing it. At least you had to get tied up in that way with somebody. There was a sort of general feeling that only a few people were geniuses and could really do something original and the rest should do good solid work to back it up.
Really a kind of snobbish.
Yes. It was also somewhat masochistic in the fact that most of these people would say they’re not geniuses. But it was sort of a kind of a prize. See, Weisskopf came up to me once and said, I can’t remember how it put it, but you should really get down to the, there were a few geniuses who do these great things, you should get down to the ordinary stuff. He was trying to be helpful. He wasn’t really being nasty.
Well, I suppose this is a basic point because there are some scientists who are very ambitious to do big things. And yet, they haven’t got the abilities and sometimes they need to accept what their limitations are. But I suppose the point is, who can ever say or who can ever know themselves what their limits are? I suppose that’s the essential point, isn’t it?
The other point was essentially to get down. I don’t think he understood that my real objection was that these people were just turning out mathematical formulae. Essentially the idea was you should get on doing with what everybody else is doing and whether you regard that as the thing that’s worth doing or not. For example, I was working on the plasma which couldn’t be regarded as unduly ambitious. But they didn’t even pay any attention to it. I found there were some more interesting points in there than what they were doing. I wasn’t necessarily trying to do something big, entirely, but rather I wanted to do something in a way which I thought would be interesting and worth doing.
Does the word “meaning” come in.
Yes, it would have some meaning but to them it had meaning to turn out stuff. The meaning was that they would be on the bandwagon. Everybody would agree with it. The bandwagon would decide if it had meaning.
It was a bit like belonging to a certain religious church or cult, wasn’t it? That they were all in on the same thing and you had to confirm. The virtue was embodied in this particular cult.
They would have thought that plasma is not to do with it. In a way, they were ambitious too because they said they want to be working on fundamentals, which is these basic particles. So they said, “Plasma doesn’t interest us.” But then they said, “Physical ideas don’t interest us. The thing is to produce formulae so you can compare with experiments.”
They’d given up as a hopeless task trying to think in terms of physics.
Yes, in effect, they had. And so far as they said structure doesn’t matter, all that was left was to try to find formulae.
Do you mean to some extent Eddington, although he was very mathematical, was trying to have a feel for the physical aspects.
He was, yes. He had physical ideas in there, you see, in the mathematics. The thing like renormalization has very little physical ideas. It is a matter of adjusting. Not a great deal of good mathematics either because it’s not mathematics in the sense of deducing consequences. But if you subtract infinity, it’s not mathematics. It’s trying to find some procedure of changing the formula you’ve got so as to get a reasonable experimental result, reasonable predictions of experimental results. So, it’s neither physics nor mathematics in a way, you could say. But it’s becoming proficient at various methods of trying to get results. So, I felt that was really very dull. It was heavy and boring. I didn’t see why I should do it. Again, I would have said, I think that Oppenheimer also regarded my work on the book as of no great value because as I told you before at some party he had said, when I finish this book, I should dig a deep hole and bury it.
No, I don’t think you said that.
I said that last time, I think. One of the times. You see, I wasn’t there but somebody had been at the party.
It wasn’t in your presence?
No. Somebody heard it and they told me. So, you see I was rather hurt by that. But essentially he was trying to say, you know, for your own good, give this stuff up and get on with the stuff we’re doing, which is what counts. Get on, make your contribution. He once made a talk at Princeton. Everybody brings his little brick to build up this structure of truth. So, this was not one of those bricks.
Yes, but there was one boss on top to some extent who was designing the whole building.
Well, there were a few bosses. There were others on top of him. Von Neumann had said physics is organized, he was one of the leading people. He had said physics was organized like a church. He said, we’ve got a pope, and you’ve got cardinals, and bishops. I think he called himself, he said, I’m a cardinal.
Who was the Pope?
I don’t know. Bohr.
He was being humble.
Didn’t Von Neumann develop some really rather unpleasant sort of interests in getting ahead in the world in social attitudes.
I don’t know anything about that.
I think Vronofsky [?] said something about this. I’ll look it up.
Yes. You might look it up. I had very little contact with Von Neumann, though he was at the Institute. His approach didn’t interest me very much.
Vronofsky was saying how he was so friendly and he little Von Neumann and he seemed to be saying that he developed in rather an undesirable directions that his work proceeded. I’ll look it up and see what he says.
Yes. I don’t know exactly. He went into computers and things.
Yes. It was sort of commercial things. He seemed to be very much the opposite of your interest in making scientific knowledge accessible to ordinary people.
Yes. I would have felt at that time, you know, that if I had the qualities which enabled me Oppenheimer join the bandwagon and do what the majority were doing, then probably I would never have become a physicist. I would have become a furniture man. I would have become a businessman and perhaps one of the leading furniture dealers in Wilkes-Barre.
Returning to Von Neumann’s thing, it really is ghastly. You mean that the idea of the church was that the priesthood were intermediaries who had special access to godliness and God.
Well, they would say, to truth, perhaps.
But I think the whole thing was that you had this special privileged elite that was somehow handing, connecting ordinary people up to the higher truth.
That only through them it could be done.
The people further down really worshipped those above as Tolman [?] worshipped Oppenheimer.
I see, it was in the attitudes.
Yes. And saying, “We are merely little people compared with them. We’ve just got to do our little thing.”
How peculiar. So you mean, it was a real, conscious hierarchical system.
Yes, that’s right. And then they regarded that as virtue. The idea of trying to get out of that, they thought of as going beyond your station and really being not virtuous.
It does seem to me that Von Neumann put his finger on it in this thing about, like a church, then didn’t he? How unpleasant. I suppose if you’re switched on to Aristotle’s idea of, what was it called, all the different levels, it’s all very well. But I mean, it’s funny to find this. I don’t think this was quite around, I don’t know, in the nineteenth century.
People used to sort of look up to Newton, I think.
Yes. Scientists were looked up to but I don’t know there was a structure in the scientific society itself. All the different levels all looking up to the one above. I mean, that’s what’s odd. Yes, scientists were the special elite, a superior being.
I think people were a bit afraid to talk freely, you know, if they saw their betters there and so on. In this Pocono Conference, the atmosphere wasn’t free and easy. Even Schwinger, people objected, at first, to what he was saying. After a while they said, okay. We accept. But then they really thought Feynman was an upstart. They treated him that way.
But I think you know that it’s worth bringing this point out because how well known is this? You see, there is a lot of sociological study of the nature of science today. I mean, sociologists have been going at this a great deal and if from the inside picture you can bring this out clearly, it seems to cast quite a significant light on the whole sort of, what you might call, moral content of physical sciences at that time.
Is there more to be brought out?
Well, I think that if what you’ve said and I think you have made it clear in what you’ve said but I think all the detail you’ve given, I think, every bit of detail you’ve given ought to be put in. About A regarded B as better than him. Well, I mean, was it like the army. Did B sort of kick around A down underneath him?
Well it was more polite than that.
But did he treat him somewhat condescendingly?
At times, yes. You see, people at least felt constrained. They didn’t feel free if B was below A, they didn’t feel really free in the presence of A. Except that they tried to be more informal about it, to create an atmosphere as if it all weren’t happening.
Yes, but it was still sort of active under the surface. The surface idea that they played lip service to, to some extent was that you had an international community of scientists. There was a community of scholars in open debate.
It was all open.
Yes. Whereas in practice, it was a highly hierarchical thing permeated by this slightly unconscious —
And they didn’t want anybody to come up from below with new ideas. You see, they wanted him to sort of fit in. When he reached a suitable, or if he were an especial genius, that if he got classified as a genius, then they would say, it’s okay. It’s all right.
You push him up quick. This happened in the Middle Ages. If you got a very bright boy in a cathedral school, then he could go up and end up as a bishop. There were always those sorts of safety values for the special people.
Yes. But in the beginning, such people tend to be treated as upstarts but then finally at some stage, they’re recognized as geniuses and up they go and then it’s all right.
Yes. But the rigidity of the system had to have some in-built looseness. I think it’s quite interesting. And what you say although in one sense it was like officers and men who couldn’t properly exchange views socially.
They actually would eat together.
Yes, they would eat together.
And talk about ordinary things together.
Yes, but still sort of in spite of all this equality, there was this hidden element of the fairly rigid hierarchy. And you say that sometimes this became explicit in people actually stating that they looked up to somebody up there.
Yes. You should not try to rise above your station.
Keep in your place.
Explicitly saying there are geniuses who belong up there.
And you should know your place. But of course, if you can be sufficiently successful, then you may be recognized as a genius and elevated.
Yes. Elevated to the bishop or the cardinal.
Like standing on a cloud, like Christ is risen or something, you’ll go up to him.
Yes. So you see, Feynman was quickly elevated and everybody knew he was a bit odd but then they said, that’s okay because he’s a genius, you see. And his unusual methods can now be accepted.
I think everything you said is very interesting. Because it sounds to me more clearly hierarchical than in many fields of society. You see, the whole picture that Europeans have is that the American science was essentially democratic and the hierarchical system or authoritarian thing was characteristic of Europe. One thinks of Germany or France.
But don’t forget a lot of the scientists that came over from Germany, from France. That is most of the American theoretical physicists either came from Europe or had been trained in Europe.
Yes. But on the other hand, you see, an Oppenheimer was an important element. He certainly, he was trained much in Europe. He was basically American, wasn’t he?
Yes. In a way, my first impression of him was he wasn’t hierarchical as I said, when I arrived at Berkeley. But that was compared with Cal Tech where it was obviously far worse.
Which was very hierarchical.
Well, it was very rigid, you see.
Cal Tech at least was really an American institution, wasn’t it?
Yes, but I meant that one sensed a very rigid structure there. Now it seemed that Oppenheimer was open, was accessible, you see, to all the students. He talked on a more human basis. But compared with that, he seemed a tremendous improvement. But as you got to know him better, you could see that there was a more subtle hierarchy there nevertheless.
Yes. And I think the other element is presumably related to this whole competitiveness spirit. Less competition meant you were going up the ladder.
Yes. And you see the Institute had a tremendous competitive spirit. That competition produced conformity because the only way to get up the ladder was to conform.
Yes because you only were permitted to go up the ladder if you got approval from other people.
Therefore you had to work on ideas that were respectable. Unless you were so unusual, like Feynman, that you broke through. But that was the case in many, right?
So, you were constantly seeking approval in order to be permitted to go up to the next rung.
Well most people would think, well, we’re not going to go all the way up the ladder.
Yes, their natural place as Aristotle might say. Find their natural level. God, I find this rather fascinating, this.
As I said, the mathematicians were just openly, constantly comparing themselves for the pecking order.
Do you think things have got worse or better if you take the whole field of comparable areas of physics today?
Well, I should think that there, you know, it’s very hard to make a comparison. You don’t have the supreme geniuses that they looked up to. But at the same time, you have a much more rigid institutional structure.
Also the economic situation is harder thus the pressure to conform is far greater. At least those that didn’t conform could find inferior jobs but now there are no jobs.
Yes. So the whole thing is on rigidity of career structure and institutional structure now rather than the idea of levels of quality within the community of scientists. Yes, so it’s changing that way. I certainly think you ought to bring this out because I think it will interest some people a lot because I think they have a sort of a vague idea of those early days before science was highly professionalized and institutionalized about the free world of scholarship and independent thought.
I had far more independence in the university because I never saw any of the theorists. I had very little in common with Wigner, I never saw him. Wheeler I talked to occasionally.
Where was Wheeler?
At the Princeton University and so was Wigner. I was fairly independent probably on the basis of the book and research, I would’ve got ahead. I was an assistant professor. The next step would have been tenure.
Your book had helped you career wise.
It would have but actually it didn’t because it never had a chance to because it came out at the very end of this whole period.
The McCarthy period.
Yes. And also the research on plasma would have helped me career wise enormously but again, it never had a chance to.
Because of the McCarthy era.
Did the book help you financially?
When I left America, I made out the proceeds of the book to my mother who had separated from my father. And I know, she didn’t actually use the money so I got it later. So, at least in the beginning, it was of no help financially either. The plasma work, there were two students I had, Gross and Pines.
Were they working for Ph.D.’s?
Yes, that’s right. There was a third, a Norwegian fellow. I can’t seem to think of his name now. At the very end. Staver, Tor Staver. He got killed after I left America. He got killed skiing in Massachusetts. So, Pines wrote up his thesis. After I began to work on plasmas along with this extended structure of electrons, I continued my previous work on plasmas and applying them to gases. Trying to work it out more systematically the conditions for propagation and excitation of plasma waves and so on.
I’m sorry. Isn’t a plasma a kind of gas?
Yes. But later I applied it to the metal. I will explain all that. We began with gaseous plasmas which were the common plasmas. I had become interested in the conditions that exciting plasma waves and maintaining them and propagating them and getting a better physical picture of them and so on. See with Gross, we wrote several papers and he got his Ph.D. on that. Then with Pines, we worked on another direction. I said the electrons in metal must be regarded as a plasma. There are free electrons and very high density neutralized by the positive charge. Therefore we should look at that as a plasma. The plasma frequency is then very high because the density is very high. It gets up close to the optical region, I don’t know. So, the idea was that we should discuss plasma oscillations and how the electrons can be excited and so on. How you can treat them quantum mechanically. But in addition, there was a puzzle in the metal. The electrons have long range Coulomb forces. T electrons scatter each other. Now, when they calculated the scattering due to these long range Coulomb forces, they found that it was enormously greater; the calculated scattering was far too much to fit any sort of experimental values of resistance and so on. So, I had the idea that the plasma neutralizes every potential so that the plasma must neutralize the Coulomb potential of each electron in a short distance called a Debye radius. This idea had already been proposed by Debye for the electrons in an electrolyte. He said every ion is surrounded by a cloud of opposite charge which neutralizes it in a short radius. So, I said that must be true in the metal too. Now, therefore it gets neutralized and that explains why the scattering of electrons on electrons is much less than the theory seemed to predict.
It’s got nothing to do with the fact that the ions cannot move in the metal.
No, no. It’s due to the electrons moving. When it was necessary to work that out quantum mechanically and dynamically, to work out the theory of plasma, a theory in which simultaneously you got plasma oscillations on one side and the dynamic variables developed a certain number of collective variables as if they were a field of oscillations. And what was left were the individual particle variables which were screened. So the whole system sort of divided in two parts, individual and collective with the next connection between them. There was the possibility of exciting these plasma oscillations and this was verified later by somebody who passed electrons through thin films of metal and excited them. But see, there was a loss of energy at this point, there was loss of energy according to the plasma frequency.
Does it amount then, roughly, that although the electrons could move about very freely in the metal, yet they still were constrained in certain ways to be associated with the ions.
But not the ions, the electrons with each other. They not only screened the ions, they screened each other.
But didn’t they only screen each other by their relationship to the ions?
No. By the relationship to each other.
I don’t quite follow that.
Essentially, around each electron the other electrons as they move in random, they get pushed away a bit and they leave an excess of positive charge there.
I see. So you have an electron-electron interaction which is somewhat equivalent to the way in which you get the screening of the field around a positive ion.
And then you’ve got the opposite sign. Yes, I think I vaguely see what you mean.
Yes. It’s screened but it has to be done in a very dynamic way because then the electrons are moving so fast.
Well, you have to have the positive ions in the metal, but that’s not what this thing’s about.
Yes. Essentially, I used the mathematics that Schwinger had proposed for the renormalization and using that and making a canonical transformation. We worked out how to handle the whole thing. In a sense, it was a kind of renormalization applied to the plasma but it led to new phenomena such as oscillation and screening and so on.
Mind you, when you hear me say, “I see,” of course I don’t see this at all clearly. But I see that you’re linking up ideas from one type of thing with another which I think is probably sufficient from the point of view of general reader. If they get the vague feeling for what’s going on in the one kind of thing, you can then say, well, this was somehow equivalent in this other area of work. So you have the general and the particular, the individual and the whole again.
Yes. I could combine that with the book and with something also coming out later. The third point was following the interpretation of quantum theory. After I had written the book and I began to question the interpretation of quantum theory—
After you had written the book?
Yes. Because I began to think, I had written it from Bohr’s point of view, what I regarded as Bohr’s point of view anyway. But then I began to be a bit dissatisfied afterward.
Presumably if you hadn’t written it from Bohr’s point of view, it might not have been so acceptable.
No, it might not. At least, I said it was Bohr’s point of view.
At least people might have the impression that it was Bohr’s point of view.
In that sense it was fairly orthodox.
Philosophically. Except that I went into much more of the physics and physical ideas and philosophy. Most books would put about a page and they would get on with the formula.
But as we said, many experimental physicists would probably be extremely grateful to you to have done that. But they couldn’t stand the mathematicians either.
I will discuss that later because most of that came out about the time when I had this trouble with McCarthyism and so on. So I think with all of those things together it could have gone ahead in a career. Because Pines who worked with me became quite well known on the basis of that work and went on. When I visited him in Illinois they seemed to look at him almost with awe.
You feel that you were all set up, in effect, for an extremely successful career.
When I got back, Pines said that was the case.
I think you have to accept their opinion. It sounds to me what you said seems to make a very reasonable case. If your work was setting up other people very well, it would all fit together. But you mean having to leave the country and go to Brazil, you weren’t on the American academic scene and so you weren’t available for going up the ladder, were you?
You’d been turned out of the monastery so to speak. In fact, you say that you’re a case of political victimization.
Well, yes, except that I’m not sure that it is. You see, I mean, I have not gained more than I lost.
Like being turned out of Princeton.
Yes. Because when I did go back and visited some of these places, including Illinois where Pines was teaching, I went through some of the classrooms, there was nobody there, they were graduate classrooms. And they were just boards all around the room just covered with equations. And I said if I had stayed there, that is what I would have had to do. In other words, it would not have been very interesting. I don’t think I could have stood it, actually.
You might have found yourself being absorbed into the ladder race of the scientific, physics community and so you might have found it more difficult to do your own thing.
Yes. As a result of going to Brazil and Israel at the time, there were so few people around that I was really quite free. And also, later getting back to Bristol back where there were so few people, again, I was free.
How long were you in Bristol?
For three years and a half. Maybe four. 1957 to 1961. Four years, I’d say.
I’m just thinking about the time. We’ve done most of this, nearly all this other side. I wonder if we might possibly, if it might be a natural place to stop.