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Interview of David Bohm by Maurice Wilkins on 1986 December 22,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
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University of Sao Paolo, Brazil (1951-1955); work with Ralph Shiller, Walter Schutzer, Mario Schoenberg; causal interpretation of quantum mechanics; probability theory - Pierre Simon Laplace’s theory; causality and chance, necessity and contingency; Hegel’s philosophy; lecturer at the Technion (Technical University), Israel (circa 1955-1956); marriage to Sara; problems in Israel; University of Bristol, research associate (1957-1961); visit with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, 1957; negative experience at a conference-scientists interested in formulas but not the philosophy behind them.
Well, it has been several months since we discussed these things and it is not fresh in my mind, but I thought I would sum up a little bit on Brazil and try to get on through Israel and Bristol and what I am doing during that period. I think we have discussed that I came to Brazil in 1951. I think we discussed some of things that happened in Brazil. They took away my passport and I decided to stay there anyway. In the beginning, I was working with a few people and it looked as if maybe we could do something, but gradually, many of these people left, and also the general chaos in the department and university and in the whole area was such, that and also my difficulty with my digestion and was wearing me down. I found the climate too hot. All around, I began to think of leaving. Before that, I would like to sum up some of the things that I was doing there. When I first arrived, we discussed this causal interpretation of quantum mechanics with Tiomno. We developed an extension of this to spin. And later a fellow called Shiller came from America. We got him here and I worked with him on this spin and on several other questions.
Why did he come from America?
Because we invited him and he was interested, and we managed to get a fellowship to cover his costs. After about two years he left, of course. While he was there, that was somebody. And there was Walter Schitzer who was one of my assistants. We worked on probability, working out an idea about probability, which is really close to modern chaos theory, that is, there was always some doubt about the interpretation of probability. What does it mean? One idea is that it is a subjective estimate of likelihood that people say gamblers make.
If the coins are balanced you will estimate that they will be equally likely to come either way. The gambler used to form some notion of the odds before any theory existed and professional gamblers could get a feeling for what the odds were and could, therefore, work and win in the long run. I think it was Lapla who worked out the theory of that. That began the theory of probability. But that was on the basis of a subjective notion of probability.
You mean Lapla did not put it on an objective...
No, he just put it on a mathematical basis, but he took their assumptions, still subjectively. Later, during the 19th and 20th Century, people began to try to put it on an objective basis and Famesis [?] tried to say probability was the relative frequency after an infinite number of events.
You mean that Lapla did not go that far?
I do not think he did. I do not think that he tried to give a philosophical ethical basis for probability theory. He was merely interested in the calculus work, trying to deal with these odds as the gamblers used them. When they began to extend the thing to all sorts of statistics, then people began to feel the need for a more objective basis, like medical and social statistics.
This idea of relative frequency is also not terribly good; because it is not clear why this relative frequency does not exist in the individual thing. Now why a bunch of the examples should produce a certain relative frequency is not clear, and in fact it never is exactly right. There is no guarantee that if you have thrown the coin a hundred times and it has come close that half will remain close. The whole idea of a random distribution is that is can change and move away from the right probability for a certain period. The thing was not at all clear what probability meant.
Popperate [?] developed an idea of probability as a propensity or a tendency. For example, if you have a coin that is well balanced, the tendency is equal for heads and tails, but if you were to weight at the tendency would favor one or the other. It is a disposition he called it. I tried to give it an objective meaning, but again, it is not too clear. Probability was playing such a big part in physical theory, and yet it was not too clear what it really meant.
We thought of an idea, people have been thinking that when you have a sufficiently unstable motion, a small change of initial conditions producing a big change in the result. This favors a sort of a random kind of trajectory. You can imagine a lot of hard spherical balls colliding with each other, so a very slight shift in the initial position of one of these balls would greatly shift the angle of scattering. That would greatly shift the next particle and hit and so, so the whole thing was very sensitive to initial condition. Also, you need something, which we call a chaotic tendency in the motion, not to favor any one part in the long run and not to repeat sequences in a regular way. The idea is that certainly determinant laws, which have this unstable character, favor a kind of chaotic motion. We gave some examples of that which worked out through the phase angle up to isolators whose periods were not commensurable. You can show the phase angle jumps all over the place and fills up the space. More, or less uniformly in the long run.
When you say that it is all over the place, it did not really when you look into it precisely...
That is always true in each case and every probabilistic experiment, too. It sort of explains why in the long run on the average you tend to get a certain result. We were proposing that this chaotic notion could be an explanation of probability. Since that time, this chaos theory has more recently been developed in many ways quite a bit further along those lines and a little more precisely. That was one of the lines of work I did with Walter Schitzer which we published in [inaudible]. The thing with Shiller was the causal interpretation of the quantum theory.
Then there was Mario Schoenberg, who came back from Belgium while I was there. He had been a professor. He had left because he had been in trouble with the Brazilian authorities. He had been in jail for a short period. He left and worked in Belgium for a while, but then he came back while I was there. We discussed a lot of physics and philosophy. He was, of course, a Marxist communist really, at that time. I do not know what he is now. We discussed, I had been very interested also, when I left America, going into the philosophical notions around causality because the quantum theory had raised that issue and I had proposed the causal interpretation. I wanted to understand better what causality is. I began to write sort of a series of essays on it, just for my own purposes. I gave a copy to Mario Schoenberg. Essentially, his criticism was too one-sided. It was taking causality and ignoring chance. The two were so inseparably related that you could not discuss one with discussing the other.
You mean that is kind of complementary...
Dialectical relation. He would not have used the word “complementary.” You can use it if you like. But I mean the ideas?
It was similar. I am not sure. If you take complementary in Bohr’s sense, it was not same. Since the word is somewhat ambiguous, it would better to say a unity of opposites. The idea is that these were inseparably united. Essentially he said that if you take and generalize to necessity and contingency, necessity is what cannot be otherwise and contingency is what can be otherwise. These are too opposite. They are clearly opposites, because you just put the word not to distinguish one from the other. The notion now is that absolute necessity would say — you know, justice on the side of necessity and no contingency, or absolute contingency, if we could ever imagine it, would be to say there was no necessity, no rule whatsoever. Both of those extremes are impossible in a dialectical view. The point is that every necessity takes place in a context of contingency. It depends on all sorts of conditions and factors that are beyond or outside that context and therefore, its necessity is limited by contingency. The word contingency is essentially touched together. You know what touched together means? It is touched by something. If it is independent, it remains necessary, but as soon as it is touched by something beyond, it is contingent. On the other hand, necessity is limited by contingency and necessity is relative. But then yet contingency is not separable from necessity. First of all, in the theory of probability, the law of large numbers says that the average behavior of a large number of contingent events has a certain necessary average in the long run. Therefore, contingency gives rise to necessity. It becomes necessity.
Yes, the whole concept of a long run or something like that.
Well, even if we are admitting that it is a bit vague, but still if you admit it.
That is the general idea.
A great many of our physical laws are of that nature. If we accept quantum mechanics to the present view, all of them are, in fact. Therefore, all necessity seems to rise out of contingency. But on the other hand, that seems one-sided. Does not contingency arise out necessity? That was the work I did with Walter Schitzer to show how something like chance could arise out of — close to chaos could arise out a necessity. Therefore, necessity can be contingency and contingency becomes necessity. Each one reflects the other and ultimately, in the totality, they are identical. They are just two sides of one process.
That led me to the idea of the infinity of levels, to say that every necessity is limited by a contingency, which is in turn a necessity in a broader context, which in turn as a contingency. Every law is an abstraction of some relatively independent domain of necessity. It is in the context of some contingency. Every law involves necessity and contingency. Classical physics is that way. The laws of motion are necessary, but the initial conditions are contingent. No laws exists which does not unite both. I included this is my essays, and then I sent these essays when they were finished, I also included a causal interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the idea led me to the qualitative infinity of nature, to say that nature is infinite and we abstract some domain of necessity and contingency, which we may extend, but we will always find, however, for it goes that there is some context from which we have abstracted. Therefore, I said that the nature is qualitatively infinite, not just quantitatively in this dialectical way. I sent these essays to Eric Burrup and he apparently transmitted them to Newman Franklin and they suggested I could put them in a book, so I organized them, finally, into a book which they accepted, which is Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. That was published in 1957 by Rutledge. That was one of the key ideas that developed while I was in Brazil was this infinity of nature.
I think that it had already been implicit in some of my feelings before that in America, which we discussed. One was that science fiction story that I had told you which was about the beings that came from this planet being civilized for millions of years. One of the features of the beings was that they gave some of their science to beings. Remember some of them saw tremendous power in it and wanted to use it for power, and then they tried to bring in this scientist, remember? He was considering this plot, but then he could see that nature is all infinite and interwoven, and therefore it makes no sense to take power. It is really basic, but not only infinite, you cannot take power, but also you are not separate from that which you want to take power. You whole being is the same fundamentally. Therefore, I had that view in 1950 that there was infinity of nature. And I remember seeing there was a film made in Czechoslovakia just before the Russians went in there, which was The Emperors Nightingale. I cannot remember the details. It was about a mechanical nightingale the emperor had. One of the images I saw in there was sort of water in which they made sort of a little disturbance of a wave. It got the idea of an infinite depth to the water, some infinite subtlety of movement. That notion had been there to say that matter was infinite inwardly. That was what I was trying to say in the book. I think that notion has sort of stayed with me since then.
Are you arguing then about the power that somehow there is — are you suggesting that some fundamental irrationality in the whole idea of power?
No. I am saying that merely to try to take power over something else just for the sake of power is meaningless, because it is not that it is irrational, your view of it is irrational if you think the thing over which you are taking power is different from you. Because of this infinite depth, we are all going to have the same ground and you will find that as you try to take power, you are controlled by what you are trying to control.
You mean that it is the attitude towards your power, which is irrational?
Yes. The power itself may be useful, but you are trying to use power as a supreme value and the real reason for being, rather than some purpose, some good purpose. If you say power is to gratify the ego, then it is destructive.
You mean if your own power that you are using —
Or your country or whatever. In that case, the power of the human race. It does not matter. The power of some particular segment is taken as the supreme value.
What you say is that if you use power in the sense that you are kind of plugging into the power of the whole sort of universe, which makes sense?
Its makes sense, but you must understand the nature of the universe to be able to do that. It is all interrelated in one and opposites are united and so on.
This is like all these environmental ecological notions, they sort of work with nature.
That is right, because, ultimately, if you ignore the nature of which you try to control is the very basis of yourself. If you do not do it right, then you yourself will go.
Actually, I would like to ask you whether you have read anything on this Gaia Hypothesis.
I read a bit about it, not detailed.
I do not want to get onto this off the point, but I want to go and look at it a bit more, because the whole idea begins to attract me. Originally, when I first heard, I thought it was all a bit pithy. There was something in The New Scientist about it the other day. Apparently the man, Lovelock, who is a [???] with the world society started it all. It was a serious science. Anyway, we will get back to get it. That is a similar sort of notion?
That is related, the idea. It was the idea that everything would be basically, deeply, internally related to everything through this infinite depth of the ground of matter from which it comes. I think that those are some of the ideas I worked on in Brazil. One point that struck me was that Schoenberg had said that Lenin had told the communist to study Hegel. Schonberg had done some study of Hegel. Very few others, only a few others, have done it. Perhaps they found it too hard, or too unattractive to them.
You mean Hegel in general or Hegel on...
On logic especially. But I mean Hegel in general, but especially his logic.
I think that Hegel on the science presumably is very difficult because the science was also up the creek.
Yes, but that is only a side issue. The details of the science change anyway. Almost anybody in the science of that time would have been very limited in value. The point is that the depth of his thought rather than the particular content.
Yes, fundamental notions.
Yes. I remember also, before leaving the United States, I picked up something in the Princeton library, some Soviet publication which mentioned Lenin saying that the electron was inexhaustible. He had apparently done some work...Lenin had written an article on modern physics. He was interested in it. Apparently, he had some sense of things to say about it. One point he made was that the electron was inexhaustible. That sort of struck a chord because I said, “Well, not only the electron, but everything, all matter is inexhaustible.” It seems that not a great many people took Lenin’s advice to study Hegel or to go into this inexhaustibility.
No. And they would not be locking people up if they believed in a good thing.
I thought Schoenberg had a deeper view of these things than most of the left-wing people. In a way, he helped to show me that I had been approaching the thing in a narrow way, by just looking at causality, without bringing into the opposite side of chance.
Oh, I see. You mean here is an example of Hegelian Marxist thinking? You mean being a stimulus to developing your ideas?
Yes. I was getting into sort a fixed channel by just looking by trying to analyze causality by itself.
Yes. It is an interesting point, because it is really the whole question. Are Hegel’s ideas of any use? Here is an example of where it was, apparently.
I think that people have not understood it sufficiently for us to answer the question. Very so few have understood it and it has not been put to test as to whether I am going to use it or not. There is no adequate way — the few people, who have understood it probably — you cannot really tell. But certainly Marx regarded Hegel’s ideas as valuable, he just that he turned them upside down and Lenin thought they would be very worth studying, especially the logic. Certainly, these are two of the great leading lights of communism, so the testimony should carry some weight.
Yes, but, of course, a lot of people would not take this view because they would say, “Where did it all end up with the right wingers who now say that any form of state action necessarily leaves to authoritarian totalitarianism.”
That is not directly connected to what Hegel — You cannot look at Hegel that way, but you cannot necessarily say that anybody, even Hegel, was not entirely consistent and, so far he emphasized the universality of thought, but he said, “I remember reading that the person should regard the thought of his nation as the universal and the will of his nation as the will which overrides his own will, and the child must regard the will of the parents in that way.” I think Hegel was bit parochial at that point, because it led him to say the parish and state was the highest form of human achievement.
I think I read something about that putting it in rather a different light. You know this whole sort of Prussian state being a kind of some final form of perfection. It is not really what he had in view. I suppose if you take this electron being inexhaustible notion, I suppose — I had said about Randall that he used his personal ambition as a vehicle for carrying through his ambitions for programs for the general good. Assuming this is a kind of dialectical relationship between the personal ambition and the wider ambition of general ideas for science and education. And presumably to some extent, the two are never separable, are they?
No. The question is really, and we will have to discuss what is meant by personality that would lead us into a long discussion, whether the person — Perhaps when we get to Christian [???] that sort of question would come up more naturally.
The real thing is whether you look at the person as some sort of isolated thing or whether you look at it as some kind of focus in the totality of the thing.
Yes. Do we look at the person correctly is the question. I think that Hegel was wrong in saying that the will of the nation was to be regarded it as the genuine universal and that you really had to submit your will to it under all circumstances. Because he failed to see the concept of the basic unity as humanity and indeed the whole Earth, the Gaia Hypothesis.
I think one would probably have to look in it. It sounds so bloody stupid that one feels that maybe people are somewhat misunderstood [inaudible].
I read it directly in his logic and I don’t think I misunderstood it. I mean, it was part of his?
You mean you think it was quite clear?
It had been translated hadn’t it?
Well, but I don’t see that that — It was difficult to translate that sort of idea.
You think he was saying it to —
He repeats the idea in several places. He has the assumption that society is completely right and when the criminal is punished, and this is a sign of the inevitable rightness of things going on. He really felt society was right, the individual had to fit in. I think his mistake was to say that society was basically right and good, when it was really corrupt and destructive. I do not think that we have had a good society in recorded history that I know of. That is the basic mistake which many of these people make. If society were good, then it would be right to, for society would, generally speaking, take precedence. This society was basically criminal as it is in the case of nation’s states, which plunder each other and kill and destroy. The wealth has come in that way. It does not make any sense.
If he had some — by speaking of a Prussian state, he really meant something rather different from what people would normally, normal meaning of the term, Prussian state. If he meant some kind of general background of sort of common interest in social relationships.
He meant that the soldier had to follow exactly the orders. That was part of the whole thing. He believed in the military. He believed in the soldiers. He believed in the power of the state. He just simply swallowed all that stuff, which everybody swallowed in those days. Or most people.
Maybe one just says that he was a man of his time and condition and he could not escape from this sort of?
He might have escaped, but he did not. Other people did. The Quakers did not accept all that, for example.
That is another matter. It is all [???] the same, is it not, that a man with a mind like that should have, if he really did fall into that trap. It is odd, however.
I think that he was limited in many ways, but still there were certain points, a lot of things which are worth looking into in the nature of thought. I sort of got an interest in Hegel that way and later I pursued it.
That is one of the important things about a man’s idea and not things which were wrong, but which were right.
Well, both are important really. It is a matter of trying to evaluate the whole thing.
They can be related, but ultimately, it is what you can make out of the things, which were?
For example, he regarded the Christian religion as the highest form of religion. He looked down on the Hindus and all that as rather primitive. On the other hand, he did not notice that the Christian religion was a religion of love, because, he says that you have to stick to your nation, the soldier has his duty to kill the other Christians, and so on, when he is told to. These inconsistencies were not seen by him as inconsistencies. But that was part of his age, which all the Christians believed that they were following the will of God as they slaughtered other Christians and non-Christians and so on.
Except the minority, right?
Yes. He was not able to get out of the general spirit of the age, but he nevertheless had some valuable insights.
It is the same with Freud and I think Darwin regarding women as being all sorts of inferior beings, and when you read these things that they said now it sounds as if they were some sort of anti-feminist monsters, which they were not.
No. They were just mouthing the things that everyone accepted. It is just that it is just one of the things that people do. What I learned from Christian [???] helps point to that and some of the things that can be done about it. This conditioning, also from Demarie’s [?] ideas.
I do not know if we discussed it, but remember that I said that I decided to leave Brazil. I did not feel that I would be safe to go to the American Embassy and ask for a passport because the whole McCarthyism was going on and I did not know what to make of it. I thought that instead, I would apply for Brazilian nationality, which I did. One was allowed to get it after three years if you were in the university teaching. I got this passport and I left. I had this offer from Israel. I knew David Fox, whom I had known in Berkeley. He as there in [???] He put me in touch with Nathan Rosen. There was also a fellow called, Quitcity [?], who had come independently to some power, and he had just gone ahead of me to Israel. He was not Jewish. He had come from Germany and he had some trouble with the American authorities. He told me that they wanted him to engage as an agent against the other side, and he did not want to do it. They began to make trouble for him. I do not know what the whole story is.
Anyway, I got this offer and I went to Haifa in March of 1955. In general, I was finding it hard to get on in Brazil for all these reasons, this chaos. I did not feel that it was a place that I — especially since all the people I knew whom I had worked with were gone. As a place to live, it was not attractive. There were so many problems there, so I thought that I would try Israel. In Israel we got started in a Technion there and we had a few friends there?
Who was paying you?
What is that?
That is the technical university it means.
I see. You had a kind of official [???] post?
I came as a lecturer, but they raised it to an associate professor and then to professor. I just took any old position to get there and did not want to waste time negotiating. In Israel I found, of course, it was the summer and the heat. It was much harder than in Brazil during the summer.
You arrived in March?
It was all right in March, but by May it was getting pretty hot, and June — I had the same problems with food, almost the same. The salaries were extremely low. You had a few perks, but they got you an apartment for very cheap. Basically, I was using up more money than I was getting.
What were you spending it on?
You are not the sort of person?
I mean just simply pay enough to, got reasonable food in restaurants. During the whole period there, it cost just a little bit more than I got. I met Sara there, almost a few weeks after arriving, at some sort of a party. Then I went to Europe that summer and I visited Jean Pierre Vigier. I did not mention to you that while I had been in Brazil, we managed to get this fellow Vigier invited. We also did some work on the quantum theory and the causal interpretation. He had been in deBroglie’s group. He had written to me about some of my publications. Finally, we managed to get a grant for him to come for a few months.
Was deBroglie in Paris?
Yes. So, we did a little bit of work, some work there and came out with a paper extending the causal interpretation to assume some sort of Brownian motion in addition to the regular trajectory due to a sub-quantum mechanical level that would give further Brownian motion. It was sort of in line with this idea of contingency and necessity to say that instead of making it exactly causal, we left room for contingencies.
When I arrived, I went to Europe and visited Vigier in France. He was very active in the communist party there. In fact, I began to find difficulty with him, as he was so busy there, in the beginning, we had got together, but later he began to get so busy with their activities, that we did not really have enough time to work. Then I went to Israel, as I said. That summer, I went back to Europe and I visited Holland, France, and England. That’s when I visited Vigier. I think we did another paper. In Israel, I did not do a — I cannot say that I did — I did a certain amount of work, but primarily it was a period when my ideas were developing. It was a bit hard to actually — the things were a bit hectic there, so it was a little hard to actually proceed with the kind of concentration on work that I had done before.
What kind of things?
I do not know. I cannot quite explain it. Partly, it was a matter of the climate being hot at first. Then, I was a little bit unsure about my plans. What shall I do? I had an offer from DeBroglio to come to Paris and I was very unsure as to whether that would be a good thing. Price had made an offer to come for a year to Bristol. There was a professorship vacant and I could have come during that year. I did not know?
You mean for one year?
I did not know whether that, he said it might open up to some more. I did not really know what to make of that. I liked Price when we were at Princeton. We got on quite well. I think I did visit him. Yes. No, I did not. I went through a period of wondering what to do. Let me think. It was very unclear, because I was not all that happy with Israel. It was unknown. The people who had come. There were two people, David Fox and Paul Zills [?], whom I was working with. From America they had come. They were unhappy there at the Technion. They were thinking of going back.
Why were they unhappy?
Because the Technion was such a mess, the organization. Everything they tried to do got into such a terrible mess. We came demoralized.
What kind of mess?
Administratively. I cannot remember the details. It was sort of chaotic.
Do mean that possible the whole of the Israeli society was somewhat disorganized?
It was not terribly well organized. All you can say is that the Arabs were far worse. That is the reason they won.
They were a bit like the Arabs and soldiers.
Instead of being?
They were more European than the Arabs, but they were not terribly well organized. They were a bit corrupt, some of them.
Kind of mucking about, as you might say tendency to.
This would be hectic, you mean, and make it difficult [inaudible].
Yes. You do not really know what you can count on and who was going to stay there. The climate was a bit against me.
Yes. During that time, I got started working with — let me see, not quite yet. It was very unpredictable. Should I go to Europe? Should I go to England? Should I go to Paris? Should I stay there? Meanwhile, Sara and I got married in March and it took some readjustment.
Which March. Was that a year later?
Yes. That is right. I was not at all sure that I really wanted to stay in Israel, so we went off to Europe that summer. While we were there, there had been all sorts of rumblings about the disclosures that were coming out of Russia about how bad things were there.
Which year was that?
Stalin had gone. Had he not?
No, but then there were all these people following and it was beginning to come out, what he had done.
He was not in there, yet. Khrushchev came out just while we were in Europe in 1956, just after getting married. Khrushchev came out with the 20th Congress.
You mean the disclosures about Stalin were several years after he died?
Yes, because a whole bunch of people came in between.
I had not realized that.
They were not able to manage it.
I can remember one day — Stalin died in March, 1953, which was when the DNA Doublenelix. I remember it that way.
Then, there were a series of people who came in and they were thrown out. They were going through some mess.
All this great exposure of Stalin was about two years later?
Yes. It was beginning to come out before. People were talking about it in bits, but one did not realize how far it went, but then suddenly it all came out. This was a tremendous shock to me. I had always hoped that socialism would be a way to approach these problems that humanity was unable to solve.
Yes, but you mean that until the Khrushchev type of revelations came out about Stalin, that you have been somehow able to not pay attention to the things that people had been saying.
I knew. I paid some attention to them. But first of all, it was said that maybe they were exaggerating. Maybe some of them were lying.
You were still uncertain as to what the significance was?
Yes. I said, “Well, maybe socialism is the way, but it was beginning to look more dubious.” But then the revelations of Khruschev that it came clear that they were really in a mess beyond imagination. I mean far worse than czarism or anything.
I knew they were worse, but after that [inaudible].
Well, they killed millions of people.
The czars killed many, many people.
No, not millions. The czars were unable to do what the communists could do. Let us take Lenin as an example. Lenin was sent into exile to Siberia with his books and his wife. These people are sent to gulags were they are starved to death and beaten up and come to the very edge of dying, like this woman who just came out. They are kept frozen and unfed. I think they are doing it far more systematically and far more pervasively.
That may be right.
And also far more ruthlessly. They justify themselves far more. That was an interesting thing. About ten years after that, I talked to Vigier and he said that he did not think the revolution was of any great value. He thought that it did not even produce a higher material standard, because he thought that without the revolution, they would have got it anyway, like the Koreans. They could have gotten what they got materially without all this tremendous upheaval.
Speculation, but probably they could. They had enough invested.
Because they have not produced magnificent results from the point of view of standard of living. Anyway, it was a very big shock. I was in Paris at the time. Sara had just gone to England and I was sort of alone there. I remember walking around?
Did she have relatives in England?
Yes, she had relatives. I remember walking around Paris for hours on end. Finally, I went to England to meet up with Sara. What did we do then? Perhaps we did go to Bristol to have a bit of talk with Price. No, we did not. I looked around to a few people to see if there were some jobs. Some people at King’s College. I think I told you. One of the fellows was called, Wolfarth in the physics department. He had been working on plasma. I talked with a few people, but it did not look as if there was much available around. I do not think Eric was very encouraging. Then came the thing that came this, Suez while we were still in Europe. The Suez invasion with Israel, France, and England.
Which year was that?
1956. It was a big puzzle. I was really disturbed. Should we go back to Israel or shall we stay here? Finally, I began to see that the thing was getting settled, so we decided to go back to Israel, just about. It was clear that they had pulled back from this more, so we went back to Israel. This whole thing had been a tremendous strain that summer. In this atmosphere, which had been building up all around, it was hard really to ??? nation in one direction and the second photon perpendicular. So one model would be that the two photons were correlated, but their directions of polarization were distributed at random. We distinguished that model from what the quantum mechanics predicts and the quantum mechanics have that much higher correlation than that model would give. We therefore said that this already was a strong indication that you could not explain these results by that sort of simple model, but that quantum mechanics had something more in it.
How were the photons being produced?
By the decay of positronium [?]. The annihilation of the positron electron pair to produce a pair of photons of opposite polarization.
You mean mass was going into energy?
Yes. That is right, but in this process, each photon would, if one were polarized in one way, the other would be right angles. We said the simplest model would be that one be polarized this way and the other that way, but let the direction itself be distributed at random. We show that that produced considerably smaller correlation than the quantum mechanics predicted, and that the experimental results were in agreement with what the quantum mechanics predicted.
Experimental results were being?
Yes, in agreement with quantum mechanics and therefore against the simple classical model. So we show that this is the first time we had said this was not a hypothetical experiment, but there had been an experiment.
You mean people have not noticed the significance of those results?
Yes. I do not know if I published any other papers, then during that period. I became interested in Hegel and read so; I began to read his logic. I felt that there must be something in there. I read it again and again. At the beginning, we just picked up little bits of it. Then I met this fellow, Michelon Roe, who had worked for the kibbutz movement there. He was teaching philosophy there. He was the left wing kibbutz movement, it was called Isuhmer Hatsieer [?]. They had the kibbutz seminar in Tel Aviv. He held several seminars there every few weeks. I went down to Tel Aviv. He discussed his ideas in dialectic about the universal and the particular, and so I knew him. His basic contradiction he considered was between the universal and the particular. I gave some talk and later, and when we visited Jerusalem I went to see him with Sara. I spent a whole day talking Hegel with him. He did not speak much English, but he was primarily German speaking and he spoke Hebrew and Sara spoke Hebrew, so she did some translating between his Hebrew and English. I could pick up some German. He did a little bit of German. I found that he had a great deal of insight into Hegel, he had thought about it a great deal. He felt it would be very, this particular part, what is called the theory of essence, especially the theory of actuality, would be very significant for science and for physics. Therefore, we talked over that part a great deal. It sort of set me going more intensively. It is very hard to explain, because you have Hegel as one system and you cannot really — Essentially, it is important to say that Hegel was dealing with the properties of thought, but thought considered as an actual process to which you would pay attention. You see, not just the content of thought, but the process of thought. So in a way, Hegel was considering thought as a real process to which you would pay attention.
You mean that he was talking about the way in which thought moves?
It moves, yes. It moves through its contradictions. Thought is essentially movement. It is only a limiting — thought which holds still, apparently still, is only a limiting case which holds only a little while. Thought cannot hold still; it has to be in movement.
I think this whole idea is foreign to most Western thinking, is it not? That people think about facts and thoughts as being sort of isolated things which [inaudible].
What he thinks of as a process, which one becomes the other. First of all, the opposite one becomes the opposite, then the opposites reflect each other. That is the theory of essence. And the theory of the notion of the idea of the opposites are each other.
You mean the movement of the thought sort of this corresponds to the sort of the struggle of the Marxist?
Yes. He does not take it as a struggle. I think Marx brought that in. It is a kind of movement that develops that when you pursue this thought to its limit, it turns into its opposite as part of its movement.
That is quite true, but there has got to be something keeping it moving, is there not?
The movement is the move to understand.
Okay, but there is some sort of motivation, there is some sort of energy there all the time.
Yes. That is right.
The thing is sort of alive, so to speak, floating about.
Yes, it is moving to understand.
It has activity.
It has got activity. We do not necessarily emphasize the idea of struggle of one side trying to stop the other.
No, struggle as a particular form of activity, is it not, pushing against something.
I mean overcoming resistance and so on. The first part of Hegel was the theory of the immediate being, which begins with being and becoming. It goes on to quality and quantity. The union of quality and quantity, as he calls it “essence”. It feeds onto essence. He shows how quality becomes quantity, then quantity becomes quality at a higher level and as the change of quantity leads to another quality, and on and on. What remains constant in this continual change? In this continual change, there is a deeper level remaining constant, which we call, essence. Therefore, this change is kind of appearance. It is at least something not a — So, you come to the idea of essence, which is the idea of two levels of being, the true being and the superficial being, the show. The basic property of essence is to be able to show and to have a show or a seeming or an appearance. Without appearance, essence is pointless. Essence, which never appears would not?
You mean it is the only way of getting a view of the essence? You mean it is the [???]
Not only that, but it is one of its major functions to produce appearance in thought. We are not thinking of the reality or anything like that. We are thinking of the way thought works. The essence of essence is to shine as appearance. In other words, it is the one essence behind a range of appearance, constant show of appearance.
I think I see what that means.
Therefore, the qualities of essence and appearance are correlative qualities which require each other. But ultimately, if you follow it through, through actuality and causality, the inner and the outer, you will find that essence is itself a kind of appearance. In fact, the movement between essence and appearance is an appearance, which is in an immediate actuality. This leads on to the idea of the idea, the notion, which is a self-determined idea. In essence, the opposites stand against each other. There are three levels. In being, when the opposites become each other, they turn into each other by movement. In essence, they are stabilized and stand against each other in relation. In the idea of the notion, they unfold and they are each other. Each opposite is merely the unfoldment of the other. He used the word, it was translated as development, but in several places, the word, unfoldment, is used. One will have to check the translation. In the sphere of the idea, movement is unfoldment, and that is where the universal unfolds into the particular. It took me a very long to realize it. One’s habit is to always say these thoughts are thinking about real things. But it was very important to understand Hegel to say that he was not thinking about any real things, primarily, he was thinking about thought. That is a real thing, but is a peculiar kind of real thing.
You mean because of all this materialist thinking that one was —
Yes, that is right, but even if you say that thought is a material process, we could say that it a subtle material process and Hegel was thinking about that.
I see. You would put it in those terms.
Yes, it you want to be a materialist. If you do not, we will put it in Hagel’s term, which is that thought is the primary reality, and that matter itself is like the thought of God. Matter itself is the symbol of God’s thought. Not God, we want to say the universal thought or whatever you would like. It took me many years to get that point, because the whole tendency as a scientist is to see it the other way.
You mean that this is an illustration of how difficult it is to get out of a very highly ingrained type of thought process?
Yes. One could say. I realized by the time that I got to Israel, I began even in Brazil, but by the time I got to Israel I realized it was very important to understand thought because everything depended on thought. If our thoughts were not straight, the whole thing would go wrong. Everything we did depended on thought. Therefore, I said that it was very important to understand thought above all, and it was one of the ideas that came to fruition in Israel.
What about this whole business of saying that thought in any case cannot be isolated, because it is only, it has a complementary relationship to say, feeling?
Thought includes feeling. The same way with Descartes, Hegel gives various quotes from Descartes. He said, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes included all sorts of thing in thought, including feeling. In fact, he meant consciousness.
I see. So, he is using it in a more general sense.
Yes. If you say it — if we would put it that we do not understand consciousness, the whole thing would go wrong, because if our consciousness is working wrongly, everything else will work wrongly.
I see. So, it is not thought [inaudible].
No, but Hegel himself says Descartes meant consciousness when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” He could have said, I am consciousness, therefore I am, then would have understand it.
If he had said [???] I am conscious?
No. It would have been clearer, because? He did not mean it as a syllogism. He quotes Descartes to say that therefore, I did not mean it was a prove. It was merely a way of saying that was the essential quality of the self.
You say that what Descartes meant is made more clear by saying, I am conscious, therefore I am?
Yes. My essential quality?
I was always puzzled by this Descartes thing, about, Thinking, therefore I am. You think that is what Descartes really meant?
He quotes Descartes, saying that Descartes really meant consciousness.
You think that if you look up what Descartes said, you mean you think that it has been wrongly presented?
They use the word “thought”, but he meant by the word thought, consciousness.
Krishnamurti does the same.
I see. It depends, you mean, what meaning you are attach to the word.
If you say the whole of consciousness? I am saying that we have got to understand consciousness as a whole. Everything is within consciousness.
I was not aware of that about Descartes. I had never sort of heard? I thought it was some kind of naïve?
Intellectualism, or something.
Yes. Quite. It did seem a bit odd.
I was feeling that — I called it thought, but I meant by it all the other stuff. I was using Hegel as a language. I sort of absorbed Hagel’s language. I became interested, for many years I used to reread Hagel’s logic again and again, during the whole ten or fifteen years. Sara used to ask me, “What in the world are you doing reading that again and again? Have you not finished with it?”
It is a bit appalling when you think of what happens to university students who are supposed to go to a lecture and then sort of have learned something. I suppose what they are normally doing is just sort of their trivial rearrangements of previous ideas, is it not?
I was also developing along the sort of a kind of intuition for the mathematics, developing a kind of unified cosmology. I cannot describe it exactly and I have seen it all as a whole, understanding the role of mathematics. I used to talk to Sarah about a bit, about the conical transformations about one thing turning into another but remaining invariant. Eventually she made a piece of sculpture on that basis of some sort of a surface that is turned around. She made it in clay, plastipeen, or was it, it was clay really. She had baked it. It was quite a ??? I used to be fascinated by the idea of the constant transformation from one thing to another, while remaining invariant in some deeper sense. I think that was part of the dialectic, too, to say that the dialectic between the variation and the invariant.
Presumably, the whole notion of dialectic, you mean, there is not a — I mean one is saying that he is a type of process, is not one So, that is saying something is not [???]
In this process of change, there is the invariant, but then the invariant varies in a broader context, then you have to have a new process, a bigger process. There is no limit. The law is the invariant. This is an infinite law. The variation of the form and the invariant — you take an object and turn it around and go around it, it always looks different, but you have the idea of the invariant shape of the object. Then later on, the object varies if something is done to it. That may follow the law which is invariant, but then eventually even that law will vary. It is the same as camacessity [?] and contingency, that at every stage we have got both the variant and the invariant. It is not possible to have any stage of thought without the variant and the invariant, but what was invariant will be variant and what was variant will be invariant, as we change the context. That was an idea of an infinite law.
I was sort of developing those ideas of an infinite cosmology and infinite laws, trying to get a feel for it during that period in Israel. I did not feel that Israel was the place for me. These people left, the people I knew, and I felt rather isolated at the Techneion. I did not really want to work at Weitzmann Institute. Somehow, it did not attract me, nor did the people of Jerusalem. I thought that maybe I had better try to get to England, to Europe. Finally, I decided that Price’s offer? I missed that professorship, but he offered some sort of research associateship for five years. I thought I would try it. In 1957, we came to England and went to Bristol in the fall of 1957. On the way there, I stopped in Copenhagen in the Niels Bohr Institute.
Had Bohr died by then?
No. He was still alive and I had a talk with him.
He died soon after that?
No. It was about ten years after that.
We had a talk together. We went to his house. I tried to discuss my cosmology with him, to try to understand the quantum mechanics more deeply, this dialectical cosmology, this dynamic cosmology. He did not really quite appreciate it. He said the ideas are beautiful, but they were on the wrong track. We tried to talk. He always stuck to his presentation. It was often hard to really talk seriously with him. It was not very clear, how he talked. He sort of, I think he often tried to throw the discussion off the track. He would start to smoke his pipe and light it, then he dropped a box of matches and spent a long time picking them up, and get his pipe lighted again. By that time, we had sort of forgotten where we were. I think he had methods for getting the discussion off a certain track onto his track. He was very friendly.
Being friendly is no bloody use if you are not able to discuss what you want to discuss with him.
He did not take it very seriously.
I wondered to what extent Bohr really was very open minded in discussion. There was the case of when he drove Heisenberg almost mad and Heisenberg had to go off and go skiing. He felt he was going out of his mind if he had [inaudible].
I think Bohr was very insistent, and he could, he stuck to it. He was probably passionately convinced that he was right and it was very important?
Yes, but I think, I wonder whether he really listened to the other people enough?
When they were not on the lines he wanted, I do not think he listened.
Why do I suppose that it is very difficult for people to listen to something which they [???] That is partly the whole trouble with the world, is it not?
I remember, just before leaving Copenhagen, I got an idea which was about the infinity. I thought of a tremendous number of highly silvered spherical mirrors reflecting each other. You had an infinity of reflections because each one would reflect on the other and the reflections would reflect. One could say that every atom was reflecting everything in that way, so that the infinity of everything was being reflected by each thing.
You mean every particular thing was a reflection of the whole?
Yes. An infinite reflection of the whole, because it was a reflection of a reflection, and so on.
I do not understand this thing about Bohr. What was it precisely about Bohr that enabled him to have this enormous influence on everybody?
I think that he had such an intense conviction of his rightness.
Presumably, he must have been right, sufficiently at least, otherwise people would just get fed up with him.
He had been right, obviously, in a great many things. Most people were not very strong on philosophy anyway, so they did not want to argue. It was very hard to argue with him. Not only was he very insistent, but he is very subtle and very difficult to follow. I think that at some stage, most people gave up and said, “We cannot argue with you, it is too difficult.”
People could not have been all going to this laboratory and these meetings and all these discussions unless they got a lot out of it.
I think he was very inspiring.
What was the form of his inspiration?
He was very interested in certain questions, which would fit in with his approach. He would be very avid to accept suggestions of all kinds, but as long as that was sort of not challenging his central approach.
You mean that the other scientists who went there, their interests had enough frequently fitted sort of attempted to gear to?
They were more detailed. Their interests were in more of some details of mathematics or technical details or experiments. He could fit that into his general philosophy. He was very free in accepting these people’s ideas and encouraging them.
You think he did have an exceptional ability for sorting these sorts of problems out that the people brought?
Yes, he could sort of sort them out, encourage them, and see their points and point out things. He was very open to those things as long as his central position was clear.
So it was this exceptional ability to listen and to make suggestions to other people.
Also, to adopt their ideas with real enthusiasm. When it came to the central thing, he could not shift. That is not uncommon.
You mean that was like the Einstein relationship?
Yes, that is right. Also, with Heisenberg, he was sort of hitting hard on that central? That central core of philosophical ideas which touches a person deeply. I do not think Heisenberg ever fully accepted Bohr. He went along with him, but he came out with an approach which was sort of subtly different. He retained his essential philosophy.
I suppose this would fit in with this story about what Bohr said about his wife, about how they had the argument about what sort of peram to buy for their baby.
What was it?
They argued and argued for hours, apparently, about which brand perambulator to buy. Finally, the wife agreed with Bohrs’ idea about the right sort of peram, and then Bohr was not content with this. He was really very disappointed that although she had adopted his position, that she had not really apparently adopted it for the right reasons, which were his. He still was not content. I think when I told Pat this, he thought Bohr must have been a bit of a monster.
I do not know.
Suppose he was magnificent, within certain limits. It is like the scientist who is open-minded within the limits of the paradigm, but not outside. This is a general I suppose characteristic of all human beings, that they operate in one way up to a point, and then the whole thing can change.
At some point, come the key ideas, the key assumptions which a person defends. It ceases to be open. Let’s take the case of a religious person of good will. He is going to be very open and friendly to people, helpful and charitable and so on. But until his basic religious assumptions are questions, then he can become quite difficult.
The same in free speech. They say in the universities, we must have free speech on everything, but then they say that someone wants to speak against free speech, they say no, we will not have that. They are always setting limits to what free speech should be. Are they not?
That brings us to Bristol. Bristol was also a difficult period, although we did get some things done there.
What was difficult about it?
When I got there? First of all, there was a tremendous status consciousness there. When Price was in America, he seemed very open and very democratic or whatever you want to say, but in Bristol he was very conscious of his status as head of the department. There was a sense of hierarchy which showed in subtle ways of difference and all that. If somebody at work, people sat at seminars? The teas [?] had a very stilted constrained atmosphere. It did not have that sort of feeling? I felt that it was more so than other places, I think.
Do you mean that people felt that they had to be minding what they said to make sure that Price was happy about they said?
Not only Price, but each other. There was a sort of general sense of people watching each other. I had a feeling.
Not just him, but you mean everybody.
No, I would not say that it was everybody who did it, but a lot of people did it. There were a few I think who did not.
That is rather unpleasant, is it not?
I think Sara found that in the sense that there was a lot of gossip about people in the community there, in the university. They were watching each other. There was not an easy — See, we found it, first of all, very hard to find reasonable accommodations with the money we had. One of the things typical about Price was that he could have offered me the job at the highest scale, but somehow he did not. He offered it lower. He had certain discretion for this job, a range of scales. Somehow, perhaps it was his own personal thing, but I think it was all the general atmosphere, all these things went together. People who came to visit, one of my students who came to visit me said the he thought Price was jealous.
Jealous of you?
Yes, that it what he said.
I think that? And, you think that possibly the other people also may have picked up some of his [inaudible].
They could have picked up these cues. Some of the others were not and I talked quite freely with them. There was a sort of atmosphere around, which was a little bit constrained.
People used to say that Bernal was vain and was always careful to never have any people in his laboratory that might challenge his position as being the brightest person. Have you heard that?
No. I have not heard that, but it could be true.
I think it probably is true. It fits the facts quite a bit. It does not mean that he was not an extraordinarily able man. Interesting.
Somehow, the atmosphere, there was strain on me, as well as on Sara. We also had trouble getting housing and we finally? Price had to move out of his flat, which was upstairs in some house, because his aunt had a heart problem, so we took that flat. It was very unpleasant because there was a landlady downstairs and we had to go up the stairs. She was sort of a bit difficult. She was a very narrow person.
How had Price managed that?
He did not mind it, apparently. He got along somehow. For example, she? I cannot remember her attitude too foreigners, but she regarded me as a foreigner, and she told Sara that. Sara said, “Well, he comes from America.” She said, “But his is not really American, is he?” She said, “He was born there.” She says, “No, he is not.” She was saying that only the English settlers were Americans, apparently. What Sara said was, “Well, do you mean the American Indians were the real natives?” She had been a Protestant, she had married a man in Catholic Ireland and she had a terrible time. She hated Catholics. She was suspicious of all foreigners, but Catholics a bit more. We did get along, but she was sort of always upstairs there. It was not a good situation to have a landlady downstairs who was sort of very fussy. Rather not a person you really want to be close to.
You did not have anything to do with Pauli.
I had talked with him, but I had no close relation to him.
You mean his interest did not really?
He did not have sort of philosophical interests.
He had a little bit, but not very strong. There was a man called Stephen Curner, who was in the philosophy department and I talked with him a lot. Paul Feyerabend was there for a while; I used to talk with him about philosophy.
What was he like?
Very interesting and quite lively. I think that Price has a mean streak of some kind. Also, there was this fellow, Aharonov, who worked with me. He did a paper with me on this line of flux in a magnetic — the interference of electrons effected by a line of flux if they do no touch. You understand? It was a new affect which first surprised people. Many people would not believe it existed. In fact, for ten or twenty years, people were still not believing it existed, though you had experiments. Somehow Aharonov found out later that Price had given him a poor recommendation for some reason, though he should have got a very good one.
Why was that?
I do not know. I think that somehow Aharonov said something that offended Price.
You mean that Price may have felt that he had been taken down a peg?
Yes. It did not do any good to do that because he felt that it was too much.
I think if people feel they are not appreciated, some people can get enormous resentment.
When I visited him later, after I got this job in Bizkbeck, he was very much more at ease. I think that he felt uneasy about me being there. What I did was I did this work with Aharonov and then with Carmi we worked further on the plasma. I think Carmi did some good papers, but they were not appreciated by the physicists. They were highly mathematical, but still I think that most physicists did not quite see the point, which was this relationship between the individual and the collective, that we discussed before, to separate them. There was a subtle somewhat philosophical point, which did not really catch their attention.
I think, as you said, that scientist are generally less interested in calculating how things will behave, lot of engineers.
During that period, I went to a conference, I was invited. There had been my, a former student, David Pines, who meanwhile had become very well known in the field on the basis of this work we had done together.
Where was he working?
He was in Illinois. He was now very well-known and he had gotten me invited to a conference. I think he talked in terms, it sort of got around that he was the one that did most of the talking, as if it was mostly his work.
You mean things that you had put him up to?
Or, had done with him?
Yes. He sort of felt a little bit guilty. He gave a talk. While he was talking, he sort of gave a talk allotting all my work. I began to feel uneasy about that, why he felt it was necessary. That conference sort of disillusioned me. I could see?
Nothing did go down into print, did it?
It did not cost him anything, so to speak.
No, but I meant the whole conference; I could see the very shallow nature of these people. They were really watching each other all the time. First of all, I tried to talk about deeper issues of collective and individual and understanding it physically and there was no interest in it whatsoever. I could see that what they wanted to do was to put formulae on the board and talk about them and hope to predict an experiment. That was all. I could see that there was no way of communicating this deeper thing with them.
Also then Bogolubov came along. He was a well-known Russian physicist. You could see the Russians were together in a little huddle there and never talked to anyone else. People were watching each other all the time, wondering who was going to be the influential one. Sara thought that they were watching, they did not know what to think about me. You see they said maybe I will do something and they better be on my good side, but then maybe I will not and may I do not count. They were constantly eyeing each other hoping they could get something out of each other and getting positions and trying to get them.
Of course, you want to get formulae and predict things and so on, too. Don’t you? But you are viewing it in a wider sense.
Yes. For example, when I wrote my book Quantum Theory, I had an interweaving of the mathematics and the physical ideas and some of the reviewers pointed that out in a favorable way. In fact, students who took the course liked it. But once they get a bit older and they get conditioned to these formulae, then they get to the point where they do not care about these things. I gave a talk around 1970 in Tel Aviv to the physics department and one of my students was there, former students was there. I started talking about the implicate order. He says the standard form of a talk is that for ten minutes the physicist gives his philosophy. Everybody falls asleep, because the philosophy is just bunch of arbitrary assumptions anyway. Then, when the first formula appears on the board, everybody wakes up. I talked about twenty minutes, half an hour, three quarters of an hour, there are no formulae, then they suddenly realized there was not going to be any and they missed the talked because they hadn’t been listening. The point is that the standard opinion of physicists is that philosophy is just a bunch of arbitrary assumptions and that the real thing is the formula. Everybody understands the formula and agrees with it and says that is what gives the results.
I suppose they think the formula expresses the philosophy.
Yes, but they do not have any — nobody takes the philosophy seriously. They don’t really think it counts.
The formula is an expression of the philosophy, so ultimately, if they want to understand what the formula means then have to sort of understand the philosophy.
There are all sort of further assumptions, which are behind the meaning of the formula, which people do not examine. They do not even know that they are there.
And, taking a very short term view of the matter, you mean, essentially.
My view is to say that mathematics and the physical ideas, the intuition and the philosophy should all go together. In the earlier days that was more common. But now as time went on and physicists get conditioned. Each generation goes further in that direction. They get text, which they present you which shredding is equation and say, “This is it,” and say a few words about it and then say, “This is what you do with it,” and that constitutes understanding. I think that each generation goes deeper and deeper into this thing and the quality of teaching gets worse and worse. It gets more and more technical, and a technical virtuosity is regarded as understanding.
Occasionally, there are a few things in the other direction, but not very many on that.
I think it is part of the spirit of the age, which is not interested in — I see which finally boils down to cost effectiveness and things like that. No real value for money and getting results. What results can you get?
It means cost effectiveness in a very short time limit and sense. It is sort of geared to the whole business of politicians being in for three or five years or something. This is the sort of the ultimate?