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Interview of Joshua Goldberg by Donald Salisbury and Dean Rickles on 2011 March 21, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/34461
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In this interview Joshua Goldberg discusses topics such as: his family background and childhood; early interest in physics; undergraduate schooling at the University of Rochester; served in the United States Navy in World War II; special relativity; graduate work at Syracuse University; Johanna Brunnings; quantum physics; general relativity; James Anderson; Robert Penfield; Leon Rosenfeld; P. A. M. Dirac; Peter Bergmann; quantum field theory; Richard Arnowitt, Stanley Deser, and Charles Misner and the ADM formalism; Ralph Schiller; John Wheeler; Ernest Bergmann; Bryce DeWitt and Cecile DeWitt; Armour Research Foundation; working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base extention at Ohio State University; Oscar Klein; International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation.
…I wanted initially just to try to understand the development of constrained Hamiltonian dynamics, and then I got further into more of Peter’s work and Syracuse’s work, and then it just kept expanding, until finally I was working on Rosenfeld.
Yeah, you sent me that, and I started to read it and I figured it was just too hard for me at this point. I’m sort of out of it, and I just didn’t feel like doing the kind of work that that required.
There’s another thing that I read through, which I think you would enjoy, which is the story of Rosenfeld in Zurich, and his work on quantum electrodynamics. I think that’s quite readable, and it’s got a lot of historical quotations. I’ll leave you a copy of that.
Yeah, the Rosenfeld is still tough actually, isn’t it? The original Rosenfeld paper — It’s still hard going.
The original is tough, yeah.
The one on gravity, yeah.
I started to read it. He sent it.
The 1930 paper I sent you, “Annalen der Physik”, is Rosenfeld’s attempt at incorporating everything that was known at the time, also in tetrad formalism, in interaction with spinorial fields.
Yeah, it is interesting that he did it at that time, since that was way ahead of the rest of them.
Yeah, it’s amazing. So my first work that I did, trying to research the Bergmann family… and then they extended even to the Bergmann family, right, because I started looking at the Max Bergmann and Emmy, and Clara Grunwald, and the whole family.
Oh, you went that far back.
In fact, I hear they’ve been teaching courses about this recently at Austin College. There’s still much to do there, but I’ve collected a lot of archival resources on the entire family. And that’s just stuff that I’ve had to continually put aside because there’s so much more to do. Because the main thing now is that about a year and a half ago, Jürgen Renn was who I’ve been working on for many years, because I go to Berlin now almost every summer.
Okay, I didn’t that you had switched to that point.
Yeah, I have. I spent my last sabbatical in Berlin, also. So Maria Cecilia and I were there for eight months, and so I’ve been collaborating with Jürgen now for some time. We’re doing a revision and further elaboration of the popular-level books that he wrote on Einstein’s path to general relativity.
I see, okay. That’s a useful thing, since the big volume that they’ve got is almost unreadable.
The four volumes?
A condensed version of that would be nice.
Oh that! Well I’m talking about something else that he knows, a four-volume set.
Right, right. I’ve got it on disk because I gave the volumes to special collections at Syracuse University Library, so they have that.
I see. Excellent, yeah.
Yeah, that is a monster, isn’t it?
One of the things that I did when I was on sabbatical, Jürgen asked me to review that while I was there, and I produced what I think is a nice, short overview, which I published in General Relativity and Gravitation.
He asked me for a comment, and I gave him what I thought.
Oh, Jürgen sent you the four copies then, right?
Yes. Yeah, you think I’m going to pay the $800? [Laughter] Anyway, I wrote a reasonable discussion of it. So, all he wanted was one sentence that he could use in advertising.
Well, he wanted more than that.
Well, I gave him more than that, but all he used was the one line for advertising.
Well, I did a fairly lengthy book review. My intention was to try to make this accessible to relativists and just to all kinds of basic…
You know what those are? Those come from the exhibit in Berlin.
Oh, yes. Yeah, I know them.
I should pick up a copy of that next time I’m there.
Oh, I think he’s giving them away.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. I forgot to pick one up.
Yeah, there are a lot of interesting things in there.
I have a thing in there about Peter and Einstein. Did you notice that?
No, I confess I did not. I obviously didn’t read that page by page, but flipped it. But it’s really very nicely put together. It must have been a nice exhibit.
It is, it is. In fact, now I’m part of a new project that will be celebrating 1915. We’re not exactly sure what form it’s going to take yet, but it will be something in celebration of the genesis of GR.
Ah-ha. Okay, 2015. Well, send me an invitation, but you might have to send it via séance — four years is a long time [Laughter].
Well, I’m almost at the end of this introduction, because what happened then about a year and a half ago was that Jürgen decided he wanted to focus on early history of quantum gravity, in part because we wanted to incorporate this in this book. And so we have now a core group, and Dean is a part of this thing.
Okay. Now, before we go any further, because my memory is getting very bad, your name is Dean Rickles, and you are at Austin?
You’re from Sydney, Dean Rickles. You’re from The University of Sydney; it’s called that, okay.
So I’ll be using this for a forthcoming book, an Oxford University Press book that deals with pre-1957 quantum gravity research. There is surprisingly a large amount now that I’ve started going through it all. So what I’d like to talk to you today is your work behind the scenes with the ARL funding and those kind of issues.
Whatever I can remember I’ll be glad to tell you.
And I want to also talk to you a bit about your work in ’50s.
Well, yeah, that too. Well, do you have any objections to us recording this? We’ve been recording all the interviews.
No, I have no objection, because I couldn’t malign anybody! [Laughs]
Ah, damn, we may as well go. [Laughter]
That’s the dangerous part. Well, I’ll ask you to turn it off. [Laughter]
So if they do get put into the American Institute of Physics Archives, which they likely will, you get an opportunity to review the transcript. And if you don’t like anything you said…
I can cross it off. Of course like everything else in this world, it’s already been put in a blog. [Laughs]
Probably. I don’t think I can Tweet it — it would take quite a while.
And this is what date? What date are we talking about?
Today is March 21st.
Okay, let’s see, so we have to go another month before… No, we’ve had the solstice haven’t we?
Oh, wait, that would be tomorrow or today?
It’s around this time.
It’s one of these dates, that’s right, yeah. We should be more attuned to those events — they have significant effects on our lives, don’t they?
They sure do, and how. After all, there was the giant moon the other day, which everybody was sure going to cause another tsunami.
Because it’s so much closer, you know, it must be — it’s bigger.
Okay. All right, so what we’ve been asking the rest of our interviewees about their very, very earliest life as well. Especially since these will be going on the oral history archives, it’s nice for future historians to be able to know whom the people were as well as where they came from, so I’ve been asking for some kind of background information about parents, schools, these kind of things. So all we know — there’s not much available. I found a CV that I think you’ve written, so we know that you were born May 30th, 1925 in Rochester, NY, and that’s about it from your early life, so there’s a bit to fill in.
Okay, all right. As far as parents are concerned, they were Rose and Isador Goldberg. They both came from what was then Russia. In fact, my father arrived at the age of 16 in 1905, and my mother arrived at the age of 16 in 1906, and they married in 1910.
Did they know each other at that time?
No. My father was living with her older brother.
Did they come from the same area of Russia?
No. My father came from small town around Kiev, near the main city in Ukraine, and my mother, well there’s some arguments about where she came from. A cousin of mine and I have disagreements. He says they came from White Russia, but my side of the family said that they came from Latvia, so I don’t know.
Do you know much about the circumstances behind their decision to?
Well, Tsarist Russia was not a happy place for Jews to live! [Chuckles] My father’s father was killed. Well, it wasn’t even a pogrom. It was one of his unpleasant neighbors who decided that it was time for him to go, so they just came to their home and stabbed him. My mother came over with a 12-year-old brother. Her older brother had come earlier to avoid being drafted into the Russian army.
Just those two?
So what did they do, your parents?
Oh, well, my father… well, this is a history of Jews in the United States. They either settled in New York or they were helped to find work elsewhere. There was a committee,—the acronym for it is HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. This was made up of primarily of German Jews who came over in the mid-19th century. Gloria’s grandfather was here and voted for Lincoln. He came over in 1848. So this whole period was a German exodus. There was the brief revolt in Germany around that time, which was put down.
I hadn’t realized what a large percentage of the Jewish population of Baden left immediately after the revolt was put down in 1848. It was something like 30%, I’ve read.
Yeah, that was a big exodus.
Was her grandfather from that area, from Baden?
I don’t know. I think you’d have to ask her, and she probably doesn’t know, but I don’t know. Or was that a great-grandfather? I think that may have been a great-grandfather, 1860, because she did know her grandfather, who had a farm outside of Rochester. So there was a general exodus from Russia. Obviously it wasn’t the legal route out of Russia to Hamburg, and then you board a boat in Hamburg to get to the United States. And I don’t know where they got visas or how they managed to pay for their fare. I have no idea how that worked, because they clearly had no passports and they were illegal immigrants in that sense. But then they got through Ellis Island, as did lots of other people.
Did they come through Ellis Island with no change in name?
No. My mother came through with no change in name. My father came through with a change in name. His original name was Sclaroff.
Sclaroff, I’ve never heard that before.
Yeah, that was his original name, but at immigration he was given the name Goldberg. Which is typical; I mean that happened to a lot of people. He probably didn’t know what they were asking when they wrote down Goldberg.
Actually, did they have English speaking skills?
My parents? Definitely not. They spoke Yiddish. They learned it by force. [Laughs] My father was quite proficient, even though he never went to school. Well, I mean, he never went to school here.
So what was his profession in Rochester?
Oh yes. In New York he met up with my mother’s brother, as one does. Through HIAS, they got on a train to go to Rochester, which was a clothing center. They needed lots of workers, and so they got into the clothing business. They were both tailors. My uncle become one of the best, I don’t know the right word for it these days, but he was cutting from the patterns, and that was his skill eventually. And my father put everything together. Eventually my father had his own shop, but then at the Depression, that went by the board. Like everything else, life changes.
What was his education? They must have been quite well educated to get out of Russia the way they did, I suppose.
No, their education, my father’s was a standard… I don’t think they went to any Russian school; I don’t think they were allowed to. So they went to normal religious schools in their communities. And since women weren’t educated particularly, I don’t think my mother had much at all, and my father obviously went through the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, and probably went beyond that a bit. But basically they were self-educated when they came to the United States, which this is typical. That’s why I say it’s nothing terribly unique.
But what was also not unique was the fact that the importance of education was made clear to you by your parents.
Yeah. Well, of course I’m the youngest of what was originally five, so I had an older brother who kind of introduced them to the United States. In fact, it was five or six years after they had arrived that he was born, so it took a while before… And he was a dominant figure in their relationship to the United States.
So I was going to get to schools.
My schooling? [Yes.] Fine, okay. Obviously I went to the grade school in Rochester and high school in Rochester.
Was it a technical high school or just s standard school?
No, it’s a standard high school, Benjamin Franklin. At the time in Rochester, Rochester high schools were really exceptionally good. This was in the ’30s. They were well equipped. I think almost every school had a swimming pool, at least the two I went to had swimming pools, that is the high schools, not the grade schools. Teachers were tested not only in subject matter, but also in language and proper pronunciation. Today’s radio and TV announcers would not have been allowed in a classroom.
Kodak was a major force.
Kodak and Bausch and Lomb were the two big forces there, but there were also some specialty industries there — e.g., the clothing industry.
Do you think they had some effect on the technical scientific education in the high school?
Well, there was one high school that was a technical high school, in fact that still exists. It’s called Edison Technical High School. I did not go there. It really was for technical training, so that it was not expected that those kids would go to the university, but some did.
I see. They would go to a trade.
They would go to work for Bausch and Lomb [laughter] or Eastman Kodak. Both are still big in Rochester, and of course Xerox came in much later, having developed from little Haloid Corporation.
So do you recall being interested in physics at this stage or science?
In my junior year in high school, was where I was introduced to physics, and I had a fantastically good physics teacher in high school, whose name I was just trying to remember with somebody the other day and I can’t remember his name and I feel bad about it.
When it comes to you, you can communicate it to us.
He really was very good. He tried to convince us that there were atoms and that we could see the effects of atoms. I’ve never forgotten that. He had a pair of microscope slides sealed on the edges. It contained air with the usual amount of dust in it, and you looked at that under a microscope and you saw the dust jiggling around. And he said, “See, there are molecules. There are atoms. They jiggle the dust.” You know, those are the kinds of things one remembers.
Was that the first mention of Einstein?
Let me think. That’s a good question. When was the first…Well, at that point I had started to take books out of the library.
Were they kind of popular science books?
Yeah, they were popular. They were quite elementary. One was by Millikan that I recall. I don’t remember the others, but there was at least one by Millikan.
This is time for your standard question, Lieber and Lieber.
Oh, yeah, everybody keeps saying that they read the…
Oh, well that’s very interesting.
You have a copy?
Yes, at home. It’s a stolen copy. I was at somebody’s house, and he was enthralled with this book, absolutely enthralled with it. He insisted that I read it.
When was this?
This was 50 years ago. He insisted that I read it. I said, “Don’t give it to me. I never return books.” And he insisted that I had to take it, and I still have it. But I did read it.
But it didn’t influence you in your…
You were already on the track.
Yeah, well I was past that. I was well past that point. In that subject, I was not the common man on the street.
So you had an interest in science in high school? Was that common amongst your peers?
They knew enough, but they didn’t know anything of where we were going. Most of us came from immigrant families and had no particular sense of what the opportunities were. My brother, interestingly enough, had one year at Syracuse, and then finished up at The University of Rochester as a Chemistry major. He got a master’s degree in chemistry, and they wanted him to go on and get a Ph.D. and he refused. He didn’t want to be an academic. And eventually, he became a rich man! [Laughs] He formed the Nalge Corporation and manufactured plastic laboratory supplies (Nathalie Levy Goldberg).
He saw sense just at the right time.
So he had some influence on you, though, in going into science?
Actually not. Let’s see, he is, or he was 14 years older, so we grew up… He tried to influence me, but it didn’t work out. I don’t know why. When I say he tried to influence me — when I was in my early teens he bought me one of these toy microscopes and a book to go on with it. And I had a lot of fun with the microscope, but it didn’t move me in the direction of biology or zoology, which I think he thought it should.
So you mentioned the Depression.
You’re making me think about things I don’t usually think about.
After the Depression, did your father restart the same business or did he move on to something else?
No, no. He had his own shop from around 1921, ’22 to ’38, and he lost the business and he went to work for a large clothing manufacturer. It no longer exists, but some of you may remember the name when you were little kids, Bonds, Bonds Clothes.
I think I remember that, yeah.
I think when you were, maybe, three years old or something like that, I don’t know. It’s been gone for about 30 or 40 years. They were big. They were one of the large — Rochester was really a major center of clothing, and some of the premium clothes. There were three clothing factories in Rochester, which were premium. One was called Michael Stern; and another was Timely - my aunt and my uncle worked for Timely — and the third, which is still in existence, and that’s Hickey Freeman. You’ll see them advertise sometimes in The New York Times. That one still exists.
So, maybe now we go on to college?
I think so, unless we’ve missed anything.
Well, you’ve missed the year of my graduation from high school. I graduated in ’42, so it was just after we entered the War. So my senior year was…
Did you serve in the military?
Yes, in the Navy.
US Navy. So you must have gone straight into the Navy from school?
No, no, no, I went straight to The University of Rochester as a physics major.
So in 1942…?
I entered The University of Rochester, and we were on an accelerated program, which meant that we went in summers as well.
Oh, yeah. We’ve heard a few people have that.
You weren’t subject to the draft then?
I was subject to the draft.
You were too young.
No, I wasn’t too young. I was subject to the draft. No I was too young in the first year; the second year I registered for the draft. Then I was deferred as a Physics major. After all, technical people were important. But then came D-Day, and after D-Day nobody was important, except people who went to Oak Ridge or places like that, and I wasn’t far enough along to go to Oak Ridge. So in ’44 my education was broken. By then I was a junior. And I went into the Navy. In the Navy I went to the electronics training program, which was known as the EDDY program after Commodore Eddy, who had designed the program.
Was that based in Rochester?
Well, where was that?
Well, Eddy was all over the place.
Oh, it’s just a general place.
My basic training was at Great Lakes in Illinois. The EDDY program, there was a four-week program in Chicago that was in some junior high school. And then I went to Stillwater, Oklahoma for three months where we learned circuits, how to calculate all kinds of resistance circuits and things of that sort. That was followed by six months on Navy Pier in Chicago where we learned how to repair radar and sonar equipment.
Well, I should have asked you, I guess, while you were still at The University of Rochester you had some introduction to physics.
Oh, yes, of course, I was a Physics major. Whatever physics you took up into junior year, I had.
So the accelerated program, was that a standard thing or had you shown prowess?
No, it was everybody. Well, those of us, when you say prowess, those of us who could continue, we’d just continue. Up to that point, as long as the university could say we were doing good work, the draft board said, “Fine. Stay put.”
Can you remember what courses you took during that period?
Oh sure. Mostly I can remember introductory physics the first year with calculus, those were the main. You don’t want the other stuff particularly. Besides, I probably don’t remember.
If you remember, actually, that would be interesting.
Did you do any math, or was it just all in the Physics Department?
No, no, no. I said I’d studied calculus.
That was in the Mathematics Department?
In the Mathematics Department, yeah. And then after that it was whatever the course was for second year. There was a modern physics and there was a mechanics course using Lagrangians and Hamiltonians.
Oh, in your sophomore year?
No, probably that was in the junior year.
Did you see any special relativity, any quantum?
No, except for modern physics we talked about that. I’m trying to remember where that happened. I may have learned about the Bohr atom, and I think I may have had to write a paper on that, but I just don’t remember that in detail, where that happened.
But no exposure to general relativity, I would imagine?
No, but an interesting thing did happen in my freshman year, now that you ask. Oh, what was his name? He died a couple of years ago. Herb York. Does that name mean anything to you?
Herb York was my TA in my freshman year.
Oh really? But he was already involved in the war efforts…
Was he in charge of Livermore?
He was your TA?
He was my TA, and he was really great. He just enjoyed his students. The University of Rochester at that time had a cyclotron, and he was himself a first- or second-year graduate student, and they put him I charge of the cyclotron. Well, I don’t think he was in charge of experiments on the cyclotron, but he had access to the cyclotron. He was able to turn it on. [Laughter] And he took us down there and he showed it to us, and he made us all very excited about it.
So at least special relativity there.
Right, no we didn’t… I’m trying to remember now. No, I’ll tell you about special relativity in a moment. Okay, so I’m off and studying electronics with the Navy, and the War ends in May of ’45, well not quite ends, but sort of ended. It ends in August of ’45. My program with the electronics program finishes up in August, I think just after the Japanese surrender, just after the atom bomb was dropped.
So you were training the entire time?
Well, except that I get shipped off to the Philippines. So I’m in the Philippines and using my training to drive landing craft. They had to keep us busy somehow. You can’t imagine. It’s unbelievable how many people went through that electronics program.
Was it Jim Anderson who went through the same thing? One of the people we spoke to went through the same circuits training.
No. I can believe that, because there was really a tremendous… Jim had — First of all, I think he was younger. I think he’s a couple years younger.
One year younger? Okay. But he also had problems.
Health problems, yeah. It was Louis Witten I think, yeah.
Yeah, Lou could easily have been, because he’s a little older than I am.
He’s 90 now.
Yeah, so he’s more than a little older. Well, not that much more. It’s four years. Let’s see, where am I now?
The landing craft in the Philippines.
Oh yeah, okay. And I came back in June of ’46 and entered The University of Rochester in the fall of ’46.
Do you remember any change?
Oh, yeah, it was fantastic. There was an incredible change. When I went to The University of Rochester there were probably fewer than 500 students at the beginning, and suddenly there was an influx. I don’t remember how many there were in the post-year —
500 undergraduate and graduate?
No, undergraduate. And of course the faculty. There was nobody of note there, although I think the fellow who taught me mechanics, his name I do remember, it was Lengyel. He was a Hungarian, and his first name was Bela. And he has written the book on lasers. So that much I can tell you, but I can’t remember… Interestingly, there was a professor there, whose first name I don’t remember, who I liked very much. He was German, so I guess he couldn’t go any war work. His name was Gerhardt Dessauer. He’s not the Dessauer who was connected with the developments at Xerox.
What did he teach, you said?
Well, in my case, he taught the modern physics course, and then I think I had him for E&M as well, using Page and Adams.
So were you back in Rochester in ’46?
So you just did one year to complete then at Rochester?
I had a year and a half to complete, but I completed it in one year.
Was that just the bachelor’s degree or the master’s as well?
No, no, that’s just the BS.
So still no general relativity?
No, that’s where the interesting thing takes place. I was taking German. It was scientific-German, because I had three years of German at the University. So the German teacher wanted us to translate a scientific article. This was after coming back. So I spoke to Julius Ashkin, who was teaching me mechanics and thermodynamics and theoretical physics and a few other things at that level, and he said, “Gee, it would be a great idea. Why don’t you translate Einstein’s paper?” The 1905 Special Relativity. So I have that somewhere in my files, my translation of that paper. I think I did that one and the one on photoelectric; I did both of those. I remember Ashkin hadn’t realized that Einstein had written three papers in 1905.
Was there a language requirement at Rochester then?
At that time, no, but I expected one in graduate school. And I had French under my belt in high school, I had Latin and French.
Jim did the same German course. He said he thought it might be useful later on.
Yeah. I came to SU with the GI Bill. It covered tuition and books as well as a stipend of $60 per month. When I wanted to buy Courant and Hilbert as well as Frank and von Mises in German, the university administrator balked. But I convinced them. He said, “Can you read it?” I said, “Well, you’re going to test me on it.” [Laughter] So, he had no fall back. I still have those in German on my shelf, and I did read them, in part.
So you were able to absorb also this substance of those two papers. I mean that was familiar enough to you to…
Well, when you say absorb the substance, that’s hard for me to say, but you know I translated them. I read it through at that. Let’s not go too far.
I know. But it must have at least elicited your interest in…
Oh, yes, very much so. And it was really fortuitous that I eventually came to Syracuse and studied with Peter. But it was strictly fortuitous. I did not know anything about Peter. Nobody guided me to come here in that respect. I just applied to a number of places, and at that time there were just so many people coming back. Physics was suddenly so popular because of the atomic —
Was it in air?
Oh, yes. So it wasn’t so easy to get into grad school.
It was the physicists’ war, right? It was won by physics.
Yeah. It was incredible.
So how were you supported during your degree? Did you have to pay fees, or was it paid by the government?
No, no. Right, the government paid the tuition, and I had a stipend in addition.
At Rochester, we’re still talking about?
Sure, at Rochester, also. Oh, this was after the war with the government. Before the war my family paid, and also I had some help from the University. But after the war it was all government scholarship, GI bill. I’m trying to remember now whether that went all the way through my… I’m trying to remember whether that was limited. It may have been four years that it was limited to four years. And since I had one year at Rochester, only three years at Syracuse — But then New York State also had a scholarship program, and so for the last two years I was supported by New York State.
So you got three years of graduate support through the GI bill?
Through the GI bill, and then another two years through New York State. Well, right, through New York State, but at the same time in those two years I was working with Peter and I had a TA, or an RA, I don’t know.
You recall whether you were teaching or not?
That should settle it.
Right. Well, I know that in the summer I was teaching. Peter paid me through the summer the following year. Yeah, I was a TA or an RA.
It doesn’t prove anything. Our research students have to teach as well.
Well, the last year probably did not teach. It was probably before that.
Let’s see, so you came to Syracuse, which would be in…
And that was for an MS initially?
Well, as far as I was concerned, I was going for a PhD.
I noticed your first publication was in the theory of molecular beams, with Peter though.
Well, that’s an interesting story. In my first year of graduate work, what did I take, was it electricity? I think mechanics and first semester of quantum mechanics. And Syracuse was very advanced and had a woman teaching.
Is that Johanna Brunnings?
Johanna Brunnings, right. No, Mel Lax was here as well, right. Well, Peter and Mel Lax, and I don’t know whether Johanna came. I guess Johanna came in also at that time. Who else came at that time? I’m not sure, but anyway, those three came in ’47. Before that or at the same time, Henry Levinstein came. This department was a nothing department until ’46, when it started to build up.
Was Peter in part responsible for that build up?
No, Fredrickson. Some key people came here because Peter was here, but Fredrickson was the driving force. He knew what he wanted, and he went after it, and he’s just such a great guy, just an incredible person, absolutely incredible
I remember him of course, yeah.
No, he was the person who did it. Sheer personality.
Did he have a particular style that he wanted to pursue, or a particular set of topics or anything?
Well, there were particular topics, yes. He wanted atomic physics, he wanted quantum mechanics. Well, once he met Peter [laughs], he wanted relativity, and he wanted nuclear physics.
They wanted to push all the latest things.
That’s right. He wanted to be at the top.
Peter approached him first, though, and then he developed it.
I don’t know how they met. I’m sorry to say that I never asked Peter that question, because that would have been interesting. My guess is that they met at a scientific meeting.
What about Woods Hole?
Peter was connected with Woods Hole for the last year or two of the war. He actually had an office in New York City, but he was getting data from Woods Hole. He did a couple of very interesting papers on hydrodynamics.
I would imagine that Peter sent out numerous applications at that time.
I would assume that, and you know, one of the attractions as far as coming to Syracuse was that he was allowed to live in New York City. Not every university would have accepted that. But I really don’t know enough about that. I just know that he and Fredrickson had a very close relationship.
But upon meeting Peter, Fredrickson determined that relativity also ought to be one of the disciplines that should be included.
You know, you’re putting words into your mouth, not into mine!
I am indeed. I do that frequently.
Oh yes, I was talking about Johanna Brunnings. Right. So she taught the quantum mechanics the first year, and I decided that for my master’s degree I wanted to do a thesis making use of quantum mechanics. So I approached her, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with that.
In fact, do you know anything about Johanna Brunnings?
Yes. She’s a student of Casimir from Holland. She was his student. But she was not interested in doing research. Peter tried to get her interested, and she just wasn’t interested. She was interested in teaching, and she was a good teacher, but she was not interested in research. So that’s when I approached John Trischka, actually, not Peter, and John said that he was interested, that he could formulate a problem but he couldn’t help me in any way.
I have the fondest memories of John Trischka. He was one of those...
Oh yeah, great guy. So he said, “Why don’t you ask Peter if he would do the theory part?” So that’s how Peter and I got to do that particular piece of work.
Had you by this time had some exposure already to quantum physics?
Not at that time. I barely knew what a wave function was! This is 1947. This isn’t 1970 stuff. By 1970s kids were learning quantum mechanics as undergraduates.
Yeah, that’s right. But it hadn’t become yet a standard part of the undergraduate education at Syracuse?
Mel Lax was doing mostly nuclear physics. On the other hand, Feynman and Dyson visited us from Cornell, so we were talking about quantum field theory probably in our third year of graduate study.
There wasn’t yet a quantum field theory group of researchers?
Well we were it.
You mean Peter, yourself, John Trischka?
No, not John.
No, she was not. Mel was clearly interested, and he was the only other theorist at that level. But Jim [Anderson] and Ralph [Schiller], sure, were here, and Henry Zatzkis and Bob Penfield. I don’t know, these are names that don’t mean anything to you.
Oh they do. Of course they do.
Oh, all of them actually.
They’ve all come up in our conversations, and I’ve read their papers.
Well, Penfield deserves a fair amount of credit because he was the… See, we did not know at that time, this was critical, and we did not know about Dirac’s papers at that time, the ’48 papers in the Canadian Journal of Mathematics. So we did not understand at the beginning the notion of secondary constraints. We did not know that, but Penfield recognized that that was that case. He was the one who recognized that.
He recognized that in the context of electrodynamics?
No, in general relativity. So he pointed out that the first four equations of GR are constraint equations, and he understood that they came from the propagation of the primary constraint. So he understood that was the beginning. And then Peter and Jim Anderson did a generalization of that argument, which went beyond that.
Wasn’t he also the first to abandon the parameter approach?
He was the first at Syracuse.
He explicitly put it into print that you can do without this parameter approach…
Right. Well, you have to really understand that Peter had a different vision, and the parameters were supposed to play a very important role in that vision. His idea was that if we had additional degrees of freedom, we would be able to control or describe matter. Until we understood constraints better, he didn’t fully realize that the parameters did not introduce additional degrees of freedom.
Yeah, if you can explain to us how he arrived at that position, because it is not clear to us.
It isn’t at all clear how he came to that, but he did. He thought that you needed some way… Since you already had the metric tensor telling you what gravity was, he wanted some way of introducing particles and seeing their motion, and he thought that the way to do that was to use these additional parameters.
Well, I’ve tried to reason this through, and I’m trying to see how you respond to this argument. Of course it was known, the consequence of EIH [Einstein-Infeld-Hofmann]…
Oh that’s right, he knew that. That’s why he went in this direction.
But then the idea, the best I can come up with here is that somehow when it’s forbidden — If you’re actually working with space time coordinates rather than viewing the space time coordinates as being determined by parameters, if you work directly with space time coordinates, then somehow a conflict could arise in setting up initial values?
Well, remember that what his goal was… He was not looking for solutions of the Einstein equations; he was looking for a way to introduce quantum theory.
Yeah, by the way, when I say coordinates I mean coordinates of particles.
That’s right. So if you wanted to describe particles, and you wanted those to be described quantum mechanically, they have to be functions of something. Well, if you had coordinates, they were coordinates. You couldn’t have coordinates being functions of coordinates, so he had to introduce another set of coordinates.
But I don’t see how you escape from that requirement that the particle positions have to themselves be functions. How do you escape from that by parameterizing the particle positions?
Well, now your X, Ys, and Zs can be functions of the parameters, and they can be quantitized. They’re functions of something else.
Oh, I see. I think I see. I mean it’s not entirely clear.
Oh, it’s not clear at all because it’s false! [Laughter]
But these are things that you and the other members of the group must have discussed together at that time, or did you just simply accept Peter’s perspective?
I think at the beginning we accepted Peter’s perspective, but once Robert Penfield did this other bit of work, we realized that it was false. And we understood more clearly that the role of the parameters, it was kind of hiding what was going on. It made everything so much more difficult. It really did make it difficult. If you look at the paper with Johanna Brunnings, I mean that’s a brutal paper.
Oh, yeah, that’s true. I remember when we spoke previously and we recorded our previous conversation, you mentioned that Penfield had made this discovery and that you communicated it to Peter. Can you tell us a bit more about how that transpired?
It happened over the summer. I was working here, and he was working here. We were talking, and he pointed out this result. And I wanted to talk to Peter, so I hitched a ride with I think Eric Harth and went to New York. It was at that point that I told Peter about this result, yeah.
And he was immediately excited?
Of course! This opened up a whole new way of thinking about it. I’m trying to remember at what point we learned about… Oh, I know what happened. Roughly ’51, maybe it was even ’50, I’d have to think about that, Schild and Pirani wrote their paper, and that’s when we learned about Dirac. It was an absolute shock; first of all, that somebody else was working on the problem, because we didn’t know anybody else who was working on it, and to have them come up with the Hamiltonian.
Okay. That was the first shock, and then came Rosenfeld later, right?
No, Rosenfeld we knew about.
I don’t think Rosenfeld was cited in the first two papers. I think the Anderson paper was the first.
Yeah, but I think it was known that Rosenfeld did something, but we felt it was irrelevant because we knew that he didn’t go anywhere with it.
But he did.
Did you know anything about this guy Paul Weiss?
Only that he was the one that Peter leaned on for using these parameters, introducing the parameter formulas and the geometry that went with it, the fact that you were lead to constraints and all of that. That’s the only thing I know.
Were they ever in contact? Because he was in Schenectady at General Electric at that time.
They may have been. If so, I don’t know.
Because Pirani and Schild used the same method, right, the Weiss method, in their 1950 paper?
Yeah, actually, a related question, and Dean has been impressing this upon me, I haven’t fully appreciated it, that Weiss — I haven’t worked through this entirely yet to be entirely convinced. But he was at least looking at curved surfaces in flat space time, parameterized surfaces. And one other thing which he introduced, which played an important role later, and I don’t know whether there’s a link, is with his introduction of perpendicular and tangential variations of these surfaces.
See, I hate to say it, but I’m not sure that Peter appreciated that. The person who really taught us about — you know, maybe Weis started it, I don’t know, but the person who really taught us about that was Dirac.
Weiss was a student of Dirac. Did you know that?
No, I did not know that. It could be that he taught Dirac for all I know, or the other way around, I don’t know; I won’t deny that. Peter somehow, for all his insight and his intuition, missed a lot in the geometry.
Do you think he had a four-dimensional view mind and the 3+1 split was foreign? DeWitt mentions that the reason he used parameters was to keep covariates manifest in the problem.
That’s another reason for it, but I think that basically… Well, I think you’re right that he had the four-dimensional vision. And I think, you know, some of us get trapped by formalisms.
Yeah, and unfortunately. And I think that Peter, for all of his brilliant insights —and he did have a lot of them — he just did not have that ability, that geometric vision, that Dirac, and hate to say it again, that John Wheeler had. Some people have it and some don’t.
Or maybe, as you say, earlier he had a different vision. I mean he wanted to get particles from this EIH kind of method and reproduce quantum effect.
Oh, that he definitely wanted — there’s no question about that. But even more that, if you’re thinking about space time and propagation in space time, if you’re really thinking about that, this notion of tangential and perpendicular transformations, it sort of hits you in the face. I think he never thought about that until he was forced to. Note, that we didn’t know about Lichnerowicz’s work until later.
Yeah, but on the other hand, I have the impression the Dirac himself never fully comprehended the implications of that. In fact, I think I can state this with certainty that he didn’t fully comprehend the implications. Once Peter had seen that, that notion of which he invented of D-invariance played a prominent role in everything that he did in the future. My impression is that Dirac himself didn’t fully appreciate the implications.
Well, I don’t speak for Dirac.
Yeah, I shouldn’t be either. I’m only judging from…
I won’t speak for Peter either. I’m just trying to make some judgments, since you’re asking me; it may be an unfair judgment. But if I look at the way Peter worked, this was not his way of working. Some people work with pictures, and I don’t think Peter worked with pictures.
Well, that’s interesting. There’s a question of visualizations, but then communicating ideas, also. And I guess you got the impression that that was not his mode of representation of his ideas.
That was not his mode of doing things. At least from my point of view I didn’t see that. On the other hand he must have, because I know that at that time, at least, I was certainly thinking in terms of pictures and very geometrical.
Yeah, the whole equation of motion business is…
Right. He must have, in some sense, but I think that his working with Einstein for five years on unified field theory inhibited the way he preceded. Because in working on that unified field theory, you’re more interested in the formalism of what you’re doing, and you’re trying to change the formalism in order to get at something else. And I think that you do what you learn, at least at the beginning, and sometimes you don’t learn anything else. Although he certainly did — I mean I don’t want to belittle what he did.
There’s a related question here that has to do with his interaction with others, his openness to…
Oh, Peter was extraordinary in that way. He drew people in. He could also be hypercritical, but he tried to draw people in. He was very, very warm. Anyone who wanted to talk to him, he was happy to listen to and took seriously.
Well, another thing that comes to mind that has to do with this interaction, and what I’ve always perceived as a conflict was the different perspectives on the challenge of quantum gravity. In particular, I’m thinking of covariant approaches of Deser, and even various different forms of canonical quantization, even path integral approaches. I never heard as a graduate student much within this group about those competing approaches to quantum gravity.
Well, that’s an interesting question. Let me start with another formalism, set aside Arnowitt, Deser, Misner for a moment.
Right, okay. In fact when I speaking of various different forms canonical approaches that was one of them I had in mind.
I think that Peter rather liked but I don’t think he did any work with the Ashtekar stuff. By the time that that got developed, to the point that you had the loop integrals and things of that sort, Peter was out of it. That wasn’t really his end. But by the late ’80s he was no longer in a position to do anything major, although he still worked with… He got hung up on something that he shouldn’t have done. I forgot his name now…
With Garret Smith?
No, no, he did some very fine things with Garret, but that had to do with measurability. There was somebody else here at the time, who I can’t remember his name. He got hung up on trying to look at spatial infinity.
Was it Matt?
Matt Alexander, right. He got hung up on that, and nobody could understand why he got hung up on it, but he did. So he did a lot of work and a lot of analysis on spatial infinity, and since spatial infinity splashes everything… I mean the whole universe is out at spatial infinity.
Was it to get a good formulation of quantum field theory?
The idea was to do quantum field theory on spatial infinity, and nobody could understand why he did that. That was his last push. But you know, now maybe with this whole notion of, what do you call it in string theory where you do projections, and the projection is everything… holomorphic.
Right, now if you want to think of it in those terms —
So he was doing it on the boundary, right?
That’s right. So in a sense maybe he was ahead of his time, doing spatial infinity.
That’s right, they do it on anti-de Sitter.
That’s right, that’s right. So in a sense, maybe he was ahead of his time.
So we’re particularly interested in this period from ’50s and early ’60s.
Well, I can come back to a comment about ADM, if you like? Peter did not like ADM. He liked the individuals, but he really hated what they did.
What was his principal objection?
Well, they brutalized a beautiful four-dimensional theory. I mean, they made it into what looked like ordinary Lorentz invariant theory.
So did he think it really chose a preferred foliation?
Well, did he distinguish it from Dirac’s approach, then? Because then one could make the same claim.
How could you do the same for that?
Well, because you chose a space time foliation in both. In fact, the two approaches are equivalent, as far as I can tell.
What the ADM and Dirac.
Gee, I would never say that.
Hua. Well, then that’s something we’ll have to discuss in more detail.
No, I probably don’t know anymore. How could you say that? They use locally, and almost everywhere, they use the Minkowski metric.
There was an initial paper, the linearized approach, in which they used the Minkowski.
Even when they were doing…?
But the later approaches, no, that’s fully…
Maybe I should withdraw my comment, maybe I should stop.
No, I think it’s fine, but it’s at infinity they have boundary conditions.
Well, yes, for much of their work they do assume asymptotic flatness, but that’s not quite the same thing.
Yeah, that’s not quite the same thing. That’s the limit in terms of what they want to talk about. Okay, I’ll withdraw my comment, because I may have stopped reading them at that point. It took me a while to understand what they were doing even at the beginning. Are you sure that they did…?
That must have been later.
’62 was the culmination.
Yes, so the first one was this linearized approach, right?
DeWitt had a similar issue, right? He thought it brutalized the covariance.
DeWitt thought the foliation route.
Yeah, I mean it’s the same…
But as I understood Dirac, you had to do things in a frame if you’re going to do anything, but how you choose that frame was irrelevant.
That’s right. Well, it’s the same with ADM.
I mean you can have arbitrary translations.
Yeah, it’s true. The difference is, though, in the ADM approach — this is something we asked Deser in our first meeting on this trip — that since their approach from the very start was Schwinger’s quantum action principle… They were able to produce what we would recognize at the classical level and they also recognized at the quantum level as generators of diffeomorphisms. But on the other hand, since they from the very start were interpreting those objects as operators, then they had from the very start these operator ordering difficulties. And so they were apparently never concerned about explicit application of these generators to produce what we would interpret as active transformations of the variables. They just didn’t see this as an effort where one should devote one’s energy since one couldn’t be certain that it would have a direct bearing on the eventual quantum theory.
Which is true.
Which is true, which is true.
Well, maybe I ought to… well, no; I’m not going to do it. Ten years ago I should have come back and looked at those again. [Laughs]
Well, let me share with a remark that Stanley Deser made, and this followed apparently when he presented this linearized work at Neuchâtel and that was in 19…
That’s when I remember most distinctly, because I was at —
Were you at Neuchâtel?
Oh, you were, okay, good. We really want to pursue that a bit with you.
So was Arty Komar, but you can’t talk to Arty. Sorry
Yes, yes, I’m sorry to hear that. But what Stanley Deser said was, and I hope I cite him accurately, that Deser interpreted what happened in his interactions with Peter was that Peter felt as though he owned the subject.
Oh, by that time Peter didn’t own the subject. I mean after all, by that time John Wheeler was in it full force. Charlie Misner had already done something that Peter should have done, which was to discover that the Hamiltonian could be set equal to zero.
Yeah, this is something else I wanted to ask you about, when that realization occurred.
Well, the reason is very simple. Why did Einstein have so much trouble finding a Lagrangian? He was not interested in R as the Lagrangian density. He wanted a first-order Lagrangian. Well that —
It won’t work. It at least looks initially as though it doesn’t work.
It’s hard work to find it. It’s not trivial. Well it is now, because we know how to do it. But at the time that wasn’t so easy. So he had a hard time. And Peter took that first-order Lagrangian in order to build the Hamiltonian. Well, if you do that, you end up with the pseudotensor, T00 as the Hamiltonian instead of G00. So it’s obvious that T00 is not going to be zero. So that was something that Misner was able to see. There again, you have your teacher who’s telling you something, and you wouldn’t know better. But it took us quite a time to realize that all you had to do was add a divergence, and there you are.
So, you say that Peter’s personal relationships with all these people were amiable.
As far as I could tell, it was. He may not have liked their work, and so he may have said some nasty things about their work. After all, Dick Arnowitt was on the faculty with him here. Maybe the one person who he may have felt a little bit negative about is Stan, because Stan has a very aggressive manner, and Peter may have been offended by that. But with Dick and Charlie, I don’t think there was any animosity at all. And in fact, I don’t even recall him expressing anything negative about Stan either. But I can see that Stan’s brusqueness…
Yeah, brusqueness I would call it, not so much…
I remember in Chapel Hill we would sit at his feet, and he would lecture us.
Well, of course, we’re interested in this exclusively from the perspective of how this interaction influenced —
I wasn’t supposed to tell you things like that! [Laughter]
You always have the option to remove anything we write. But I do want to say it’s not that we’re interested in personality, but our exclusive interest though is in understanding the dynamics of the evolution of understanding of this discipline at the time.
I’m really sorry that Arty isn’t in better shape, because I think that he and Peter… See, I left in ’52, and Arty came around ’56 and stayed until ’63, and then I came and took Arty’s place. But it was in that — well, it was before that I guess.
But he was Wheeler’s first general relativity person, right, PhD, Komar?
Oh, probably. But it’s interesting that Arty felt closer to Bargmann, Valentine Bargmann, than he did to Wheeler. In fact, I don’t know. I may even be telling you wrong. But I think Arty was quite independent.
Yes, of course. Wheeler had this forceful geon vision at the time, and he was trying to stamp it on quite a lot of his students.
Yeah, and I don’t think Arty liked that at all. It wasn’t his kind of work. It wasn’t the way Arty thought.
When did he come to Syracuse?
Gee, now you’re pushing me on dates. It had to be roughly ’55, but I don’t remember. Peter and I met Arty at an APS meeting.
Were you back in Syracuse by that time?
No, no. I’m trying to remember whether I was in Chicago or at ARL at the time, because I was in Chicago working for —
Illinois Tech was it?
Well, essentially Illinois Tech. It wasn’t Illinois Tech.
I wanted to ask you about this. It was the Armour Research place, right?
Yeah, it was Armour Research Foundation, which was separate from Illinois Tech but which was then incorporated into Illinois Tech.
So you had an affiliation with Illinois Tech?
No. I used their library, but I had no affiliation with it.
Anderson started off at Illinois Tech for one year for a degree.
It’s possible, I mean, I don’t know. You mean for his Ph.D.?
Just for his undergraduate work.
Oh, I didn’t know that. He went to The University of Chicago.
Afterwards, I think. He did one year at Illinois Tech, hated it there, and then moved.
There was nobody there at the time.
But there certainly were in Chicago!
Well, in Chicago there were, right. Now, where did he do his undergraduate work? I don’t even know.
That’s what I would have thought, and then he came to Syracuse…
’50 to ’52 he was there.
No, no… Oh, yes. ’50, sorry. Didn’t he come before that?
Well, he told us ’50.
He told you ’50? Okay, about ‘50. Well, Schiller came in… He wasn’t coming before ’50…
In may be ’49, thinking about it. He got his Ph.D. in ’52, so either he did it very quickly or he did it in three years, which is still quick.
Have you spoken a bit about the conferences with, I think, it was the Chapel Hill first?
First, can I just work out how you ended up started doing general relativity, because you were doing this molecular beam stuff?
Oh, well since I was working with Peter, and who were my friends? I mean, Ralph Schiller, Jim Anderson — that’s why I’m sure that Jim was here before. I mean these were my friends. Some salesmen were coming by passing out Peter’s books. I must have one of the original copies of Peter’s books lying around. Peter was obviously a very exciting person.
These were the lectures, or are you talking about the…because the relativity text is from much earlier. These are the introduction to theoretical physics.
No, no, no, this is relativity. Maybe I have it at home. I must have one copy of it here somewhere.
It’s there, look.
Right. Look at that.
It looks like an antique.
It looks like my copy of the Bern Conference, actually.
Yes, this was about the same thing that I have two copies of. This is third printing.
When was the first printing? It was ’42, wasn’t it?
’42, and this is March ’47. And then a salesman came around and was handing them out, which was very nice.
Did you read that book beforehand, incidentally, before you got a free copy?
No, no, because I got it in ’47 or ’48, and I wasn’t ready for that yet.
So had you been checking up on Peter Bergmann’s other work or anything?
No, but he was right there so I was checking up on him actively. We knew what he was doing. We were more interested in what he was doing then, because before that, you see, none of us had any interest in following up on the unified field theory. So none of us, I think, read any of those papers. Although when Einstein put out I think what was his last version, I did send away to him for a copy of that.
So for no other reason, then, you were basically drawn into this…
Well, I had this from my undergraduate translation of special relativity and running into Peter, and the activity, the excitement of the work with people who I knew and liked and were my friends, I got drawn into it. But it wasn’t something that I felt I had to work on. I think that it’s entirely possible that if someone else had been around, I might have continued doing molecular beams or something like that. But the choices that I had were to work with Mel Lax or to work with Peter.
And you probably all knew that he was Einstein’s assistant.
Oh, we knew that, first of all. And also, Mel was a really difficult person if you… Well, you don’t know.
I don’t know him, no.
He had his own peculiarities, and I don’t know if I could have worked with him. He had other students, Bob Rosenberg and a couple of other people who I know from that time who were perfectly happy with him, but he was not somebody I could have worked with.
So had you already been picking up general relativity before your PhD thesis, or did you pick it up along the way?
No, I picked it up along the way.
Did you have a research topic specified at the beginning, or was it just go look at something and…?
No, we all worked together, and we each went off in different directions without any assignment. We each picked areas that we found interesting separately.
And did you choose the EIH stuff? In fact, I don’t have a title for your thesis.
No, no. I was interested in the conservation laws and the relationship to invariance. Instead of doing a very subtle and more general calculation of what the limits of the constraints were, which Jim did in his dissertation, which was really quite a beautiful piece of work, and I kind of did a brute force kind of calculation of that result, and it worked. [Laughs] But in hindsight, it was not a pretty piece of…
Actually, do you have a copy of that anywhere?
I may have. I’d have to look.
I don’t have it. I wonder if we could get it from the library or something?
Well, it’s in the Physical Review in ’52 or ’53.
I think it’s ’53. So it’s pretty much exactly what was submitted for the thesis?
Yes, it’s almost exactly what was submitted for the thesis. Some people wrote up lots of background, but I was lazy and essentially took my dissertation and made an article out of it.
In fact, once again, Jim said a similar thing: he could have done his thesis with somebody that would have taken possibly 700,000 words or submit a paper to Bergmann, so he went with Bergmann.
Yeah. I think Ralph Schiller wrote a long one. But nonetheless, there’s another difficult paper to read, the one that Peter and Ralph Schiller wrote, Ralph’s dissertation. See, in those days you rarely published work — That isn’t quite true, because Ralph and Jim both had papers before their Ph.D., as is I did. I mean Ralph was part of the big calculation using parameters, and Jim was part of another invariance paper I think, before the dissertation publication.
Yeah, I think that’s right. Is there anything else from your Ph.D. days that you think was influential or interesting? Any speakers? I mean, you mentioned Feynman and Dyson came to speak. Was that during your Ph.D.?
Do you remember what they spoke of, or was it just the QED stuff?
Well, that’s when he first had the idea of going backward in time in order to describe positrons.
The absorber theory, the paper he did with Wheeler.
No, no, this was long after that. The paper he did with Wheeler was ’42 or so.
I mean the Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory with the electrons going backwards in time.
I don’t remember Wheeler being connected with that. Was he?
Okay. I always visualize only Feynman drawing pictures.
Wheeler was there, too. It was Feynman’s idea.
This was after the war, and I think that he had broken his connection with Wheeler at that point, so maybe they had the idea before that.
Possibly. It’s a ’47 paper.
So that sounds like something they could have left over. Because those papers… was it of those papers with… there were two or three papers.
Rev Mod Phys I think.
Right. That was earlier. I’m pretty sure that that was done when he still a student at Princeton. He may not have gotten published because of the interference of the war and the war work that they both engaged in. You’d have to ask them.
Well, we it be checked up on them.
No, no, publication date does not mean that’s when the work was done.
No. We can check in the archives to see when he was working on these ideas. There’s a Feynman archive in Caltech.
Yeah, we may have that information already, because we did search him in the Feynman archive this past summer.
So was it his idea that you could make do with particles, not fields?
It was his way of thinking about it, yes.
So what impression did it make, because it’s sort of opposite to the nice geometrical fields theoretic approach that was going on?
Well, we were terribly impressed with it. [Laughs] I’m trying to remember now whether Joan was here at the time or not. His sister got a PhD from Syracuse under the name of Joan Hirschberg, but she goes by the name of Joan Feynman now.
Related to the work you were doing here in Syracuse in the ’50s, was there any sense that the things that you were doing, either with the equations of the motion or with radiation, had any bearing on the quantum gravity question? Initially your impression was that there was no implications of the work you were doing were in the quantum gravity.
Well, from my point of view — I don’t know what Peter thought — we weren’t doing particle physics and we weren’t going to get involved in the kind of calculations that people do in quantum field theory were doing. And from Feynman’s point of view, he thought we were stupid for not doing that, you know? I mean he said as much.
Was there no thought of the de Broglie kind of relation that if you’ve got a field and you’ve got a wave, then you must have a…That’s strange.
No, that didn’t… Well, when you have a field and you have a wave, well obviously you were thinking of quantum field theory. But I think that for me, at least, and I think also for Ralph and Jim (although Jim probably has spoken or will speak for himself), I think we were still mostly trapped in the classical theory. What hung us up at the time was this whole notion of observables, what constituted an observable? So probably the last couple of years, the last year anyway, that we were together was taken up with the discussion of what was an observable…
I suppose Komar, his central thing was trying to get a notion of observable.
That came later. The idea that you just need intrinsic coordinates came later.
Right, right. That was much later. So that discussion began around 1952, what constituted observables.
And exclusively in the classical context.
And also exclusively in the classical context. You know, the so-called DeWitt equation, we had written that down many times, HΨ = EΨ, and the Hamiltonian was supposed to be a general relativity Hamiltonian. We know that writing that down that didn’t say anything. In fact, I thought Peter had published that somewhere before, but I never found it. I’d have to say that they went with the first person that published it.
Did Bergmann have a notion of the domain space or anything, though? The idea that the Wheeler-DeWitt equation was involving 3-geometries…
That idea sprang out of Wheeler. That’s what we started talking about before, that we had a four-dimensional view.
Yeah, it’s a very different version of the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, if it was.
I don’t think that at that point that this group understood that as much as they should have. Jim may tell you something different.
No, no, very close to what Jim was telling us, too.
And Ralph, unfortunately, or fortunately for him, left general relativity.
I interviewed Ralph and him together four years ago.
Yeah, well Ralph went off to work with Dave Bohm in Brazil, and he’s written… he had some very deep thoughts about Dave Bohm.
I think I’d quite like to read some of that. I had no idea.
In fact, he wrote it up, so if you were to ask him about it he would send you a paper on it. I may have a copy of that somewhere, but don’t ask me to look for it.
We heard very forcefully expressed by Cécile DeWitt that… Well, first she noted, “All those people that you are talking to are very close friends of mine, and I’d love to see them again.” And then she said, “We ought to have a reunion.”
Yeah, Jim Anderson said, “Get the ‘ol fogies together.” [Laughter]
Well, you know, that’s what we do here. There a bunch of us who are retired who go to lunch every day.
Oh yes but we could widen the surface perhaps.
Oh, that would be interesting. That would be fun. But I don’t know, who’s going to pay for it?
We just need to know who will be interested first.
But aside from the question of finances, assuming that were solved, would it be something you’d be interested in doing?
For a day or two.
It would be a maximum two-day event.
Yeah, well fine then. I’d find that interesting, especially when Cécile says they were all her friends! [Laughter] We are, actually. You know, I’ve been in their home.
Okay, I wanted to show you some pictures. This is from Ernest Bergmann. Do you recognize these people?
Oh, well this has to be Peter.
That’s Peter, yeah. Did you ever meet either of them?
Esther I met. She was in Kibbutz in Israel. But I didn’t meet his father. She lived with Esther on the Kibbutz.
Well, did you work on Kibbutz for a bit?
No, but I spent several months at the Technion.
I should have shown you these, too. That’s Peter and Max Bergmann.
Well, I didn’t know Max either, although he had a very high reputation there at the Rockefeller Institute.
Oh, yeah. He was the leader in protein chemistry in the 1920s and the 1930s.
Oh, yeah. That’s Peter, in his lederhosen!
That’s Max again. There is some resemblance.
There is some resemblance. It’s not strong, but there is some resemblance. Where’s his mother? Do you have a picture of her?
I do. Well, actually Emmy I have. This is Max again.
There’s the two of them. Oh yes, that’s a famous picture.
That was taken just down the hallway.
Let’s see, when were you here, in the ’70s?
I got my degree in ’77.
Okay, so that would have been too late. You asked me if Asher Peres was ever here, and he certainly visited and gave a talk here. That I do remember. But I think if he were here as a postdoc, it would have been just before I came in ’63. And it’s not impossible, since Nathan Rosen and Peter were close. So it’s not impossible.
That he might have been here for the postdoc. We must be able to get records somewhere.
But if I were to guess, I would say no. So I don’t know. There’s a gap of time when I just wasn’t… And there’s the other question: was he here not as a postdoc but was he here just for a short visit?
This is Peres?
Yes. You know, people do come to spend a month rather than a whole semester or a year. All I can say is that during the time that I was here, the answer is that he visited and gave a lecture with his family. He never spent an extended period of time during the time I was here. I don’t know why, because he really had some interesting things to say.
There were close connections as well, right?
Close connection with Nathan Rosen, both through Peter and through me. Well, by that time, Asher was his own person anyway.
Did you risk getting drafted for the Korean War?
Oh, no. By then I was… Let’s see, the Korean War was ’52, I would have just finished my PhD. It never came up. I don’t know. I think that those of us who had been discharged… I don’t recall that ever being an issue. The other thing was that in ’52 I was married and almost had a child. No, I don’t think that was ever an issue. When people were burning draft cards, I don’t think I had a draft card.
Would you have burnt your draft card?
I don’t know. I wasn’t involved.
There’s another related political context at that time that would be mighty interesting, having to do with McCarthy. Did that have any impact?
Speaking about that, I would recommend a book to you, which is very interesting, which has something to do with that, but only towards the end. It’s called The Lacuna by a woman by the name of Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a book that deals with the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish by a young man growing with parents with one father in the United States and mother in Mexico. It’s fiction, and involves Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and Trotsky and the whole works. It’s very interesting.
It’s curious; actually, I have one of her books on my bookshelf, which I have never read, because she also wrote a novel dealing with missionaries in the Congo. I don’t remember it, The Poisonwood Bible I think it was called, something like that. It was recommended to me long ago, because I was a missionary in the Congo, in fact apparently I was in similar locations where she was, but I confess I’ve never read it.
Well, she writes very, very well. She draws you in, and she knows her history. When she’s doing these historical novels, she has really gone into them. So this one, since it involves Cortez, Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky, and who was the guy before McCarthy?
No. No, no, no, you’re right. He was part of that, but he wasn’t a big shot then. It was somebody else who was the big shot when he was on the Un-American Activities Committee. That was in the House, where as McCarthy was in the Senate.
Anything occur at Syracuse that was related?
Oh, yeah, there was. There was a professor in mathematics by the name of Galbraith, something like that, and he was called up, or charged anyway, and the University backed him up. Tolley and Fredrickson both spoke in his favor. This University has a very good record in that.
Yeah, I don’t know, when was Joe Weinberg hired?
Oh, that was much later. Let’s see, I met Joe when I was working in Chicago, so that was somewhere in the late ’50s.
What was he doing at the time in the ’50s?
At the time he had relatives who were in the optical business making lenses and eyeglasses, and he was designing lenses. I have always admired him for that. I don’t think I could have done it.
But my recollection is that the Syracuse position was the first academic job he was able to…
No, it was the second one. His first job was at, what was it called then? It’s now part of Cleveland State.
Yes, it was at Case with Gerald Tauber, and then Syracuse hired him. So let’s see, it must have been late ’60s that he was hired. It had to be after Fredrickson retired, because Fredrickson was a Kenan professor, and then the Kenan professorship was offered to Joe, so it had to be after Fredrickson retired, not just from the chairmanship but from the Department.
Yeah, when I came here, the Chairman was Nathan Ginsberg. That was ’68.
Yeah, because he became Chair around ’68 afterFredrickson stepped down. Fredrickson was Chair since ’38. He certainly was the Chairmen through the War years. That’s why I think it was ’38. I can look that up. That’s something I do know.
Are those your own biographical notes?
These are notes I’ve taken from the archives. I know I have it somewhere.
We could track that down. So we’ll follow up on how you got into your first position. Were you approached to do that?
Oh, no, no. I made a number of applications, and at the time…
So you were married by now as well?
I was married and a child on the way. The child was born in Chicago. I just applied to a number of places, and did not get an academic position and was offered this position at the Armor Research Foundation, the head of which at the time was… I think he got his master’s degree here at Syracuse and was a friend of Fredrickson, so he had written to Fredrickson saying there was an opening.
Where is the Armour Research Foundation?
Well, I don’t know where it is now, but the building that we were in was a couple of blocks away from —
The guy wasn’t Winston Bostic by any chance was it?
Winston Bostic, no. His name was Humphreys. I know I have a picture of him somewhere, because I found it in somebody’s files.
What were you expected to work on? Were you free to do your own…?
No, no, no, you had to get government contracts. It was a non-profit research institute, but we were given time to do our own work. I interviewed there, and I had a couple of offers and I chose that one. There was someone by the name of Hans Eckstein, who you probably don’t know and probably never heard of, but he was a theorist who was interested in quantum field theory and had a peripheral interest in GR, but his main interest was in quantum field theory. Eventually he had a position at Argon National Lab. But he was the person I went to be with, and fortunately he and I became good friends.
Was there a bit of a general drop in the job market at that time?
At the time, I think so. Well let’s see, well Jim got a position at Maryland, I think it was.
Rutgers first and then Maryland, yeah. He was teaching at Rutgers, right?
Yeah. Then Ralph went to South America to work with David Bohm.
So as soon as he left Syracuse he went to… I didn’t know that. I really need to follow that up, actually. I had no idea.
And I guess he spent three or four years there, and I went to the Armour Research Foundation, which worked out well for me. But we had time there to do other things. Hans ran us kind of a weekly seminar in his flat, and would invite people from The University of Chicago to come and talk to us. Murray Gell-Mann, for example, after The Eightfold Way came up and talked with us about that, and somebody by the name of Bill Davidon.
How long were you at the Armour Research Foundation?
Four years. Well, we were very free there. We would come in late; we would stay late. They were very kind to us. Then, a new pharaoh arose over…
Oh, dear, spoiled everything. [Laughter]
Right, and so people got upset and began looking for other positions.
How many were in the group, and who was in the group?
There were four of us. There was Hans, Tom Gilbert, and who I’ve forgotten his last name now, and, oh God, I’ve forgotten his whole name now. The one who’ve I’ve forgotten went to General Dynamics to work on eventually something related to hydrodynamics and nuclear fusion. And Tom did work on ferromagnetic materials, and Hans went to do field theory and published a number of papers on scattering theory. And I went to the Air Force to work on whatever it was that I worked on.
But you were still working on general relativity, right? You produced at least one paper while you were at Armour?
Yeah. I consider that my most successful paper that I unfortunately didn’t follow up on.
Wait, which paper was that?
Gravitation radiation. Okay, so were you aware of the projects that you were working on? Did they have military applications, or were you just given a small task?
Oh, no, no, no. One of the programs that I worked on was on one of the aircraft. It was on a project related to heat-sensing missiles. It was that kind of project. And one of the late programs, that I didn’t get to do very much on because we left at the time, was to try to figure out how to protect aircraft from radiation, but I never did any work on that. Well, I never did any serious work on that. So it was military work.
Did this then lead into the Wright-Patterson stuff? Was that your next position?
Well Wright-Patterson was — Yes, but no, no, that was totally irrelevant. The only thing that was relevant was the publication of the paper on gravitational radiation. There were people, and I don’t know who — this is one of those hearsay things that nobody can verify, so I will say it, but it’s totally unverified — that some officer in the Air Force, thinking about the next big thing that the Air Force needed, was an anti-gravity device. And so they needed somebody to work on general relativity, and there was at Wright-Patterson a pretty nice small laboratory doing fairly basic things called… oh what was it called at that time? They changed the name afterwards, but at the time I think it was called the Aeronautical Research, but it came to be called the Aerospace Research Laboratory. They changed the name. So there was somebody on who was the chief scientist who was in that laboratory. He wasn’t the head of the laboratory. The head of the laboratory was… I guess he was a civilian, not a military man. And this next fellow down, who was the chief scientist, was a mathematician, and he knew Peter. And since they wanted somebody to do —
How did they have contact?
I don’t know. You know, he may have known him only from the book and then called him up on the telephone. I just don’t know that relationship. It wasn’t close, but he did know of Peter, let me put it that way. But he contacted Peter, and Peter suggested a couple of names, including mine, and he contacted me. And so I worked there for six or seven years with a year off on an NSF senior postdoc.
Where was that?
That was in London.
Oh, in Bondi’s group, right.
Wait, so let’s see. You began work at Wright-Patterson in ’56, and you were there until…?
I wonder if the guy who mentioned they needed an anti-gravity machine was Agnew Bahnson, because he was in with the military.
That’s the one from the gravity prize?
No, that’s Babson. Bahnson was the guy who started the Institute for Field Physics with Bryce and Cécile DeWitt in Chapel Hill, and he was in with the Glenn Martin company, so maybe he…
Oh, yeah, right. Now I remember that. You’re thinking he knew something about it?
It’s possible, because that was his vision; we can get some anti-gravity devices, and he was in with the military so it’s possible.
Did you come in contact with him?
No. Well, Bahnson I came in contact with at the Chapel Hill meeting. He was kind of responsible for the Chapel Hill meeting. Well, not responsible for it, but I think he put up some of the money for it. I mean, the Air Force did, too.
In fact, in the end it was entirely externally funded because Cécile got all this money from founder’s memberships.
No, it wasn’t all externally funded. The Air Force funded quite a bit of it.
Oh, externally to Bahnson.
Oh, external to Bahnson.
Not external to the Air… they put up $5,000.
That sounds about right. That was a lot of money in those days. Can you imagine, in those days you could do a weekend in New York $100. Try it for $1,000!
Was it already at the Chapel Hill conference that the Air Force provided funds for MATS for transport?
To bring some of the people from Europe, Lichnerowicz and Bondi. Gold was already in this country. Who else did they bring in? Laurent and what’s her name, Yvonne Foures.
And a lot of that, it really was truly international, right?
Was Mercier there?
Kervaire? He was there. Maybe you didn’t find him.
Didn’t know him. Obviously at that time, well, not only at that time, we could not bring over Infeld.
Did you get Pirani and Bondi over?
Pirani was back in England and did not come to Chapel Hill.
Pirani is in the Chapel Hill.
Is he? You’re probably right. You’re just showing what’s happening to my memory.
It’s a shame. We should have had another copy of the book. This would have made everything much easier.
Well, let’s see just a moment. It must be on that pile of stuff over there. To my recollection, Pirani had his copy out.
I can get it right here. [Searches on computer.] So there’s the list, if you want it.
Well, let’s see. That’s where I met Fred Ernst and Brill. Oh, I thought that Charlie was there?
He was. A lot of Wheeler students were there.
Look at all these there, okay. Well, it was a nice small meeting.
Do you have recollections of interactions with Rosenfeld?
No, no. I think at that… Let’s see, Wolfgang Kundt wasn’t there… nobody from Jordan’s group was there. They were all younger.
Actually, it’s interesting that Jordan himself was not there.
I don’t know why, since I wasn’t on the inviting list. Nobody asked me.
Yeah, we asked about that. We were surprised also that Gupta was not…
Well, Gupta, I don’t think he was doing any work at that time in relativity.
He kind of stopped, but then he wrote this thing at the Warsaw conference, Quantum Theory of Gravitation. So he has these two early papers, 1950 and 1952, on the quantum theory of gravitation. He gives a linearized version and then a non-linear version in ’52.
Oh! I thought I knew his work.
Yeah, it doesn’t seem to have made a big impact.
It was published in Physical Review?
You know, maybe I did read that in ’52, okay. Maybe, again, this group, which was not interested in that way of looking at it… And yet that’s exactly what Feynman did on the back of his envelope as he went to Warsaw.
I mean, apparently there were lots of mistakes in the way Gupta did it, but still, it seems strange that he wasn’t invited. I discovered a letter that showed that he was one of the first people they tried to get at the Institute for Field Physics, at Cécile and Bryce’s Institute in Chapel Hill. He was on the list with a few other people as one of the main people, and then he disappears.
Well, he was at Detroit.
Yeah, still is.
I met him there one time, but I didn’t talk about quantum gravity. As I recall, I talked about using Newman-Penrose formalism in discussing E&M.
Where was that?
Do you know roughly when that was?
Must have been ’70s. No, maybe not. It must have been the ’70s, because the Aspen things didn’t begin until the late ’60s, right? [Yes.] And it was after one of those Aspen meetings where I met, somebody else whose name I would remember if I saw it but am now blocking on it, and he invited me to Detroit.
So both of these Gupta papers were published, both the linearized and the general in 1952.
I must have. See, my memory is going, too.
But the point is it didn’t really make any impact, even at the time. That’s the strange thing.
One was in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, and the other one was Phys Rev. The Phys Rev was the linear. But people were certainly aware of the Proceedings in Royal Society in this age.
Well, I could go into my file and see if I have a file on Gupta. I probably do, and I probably have commented it. Except, you know, in those days we didn’t have Xerox.
Right. I don’t know how everybody coped and did anything in the olden days.
You must have pointed this out to me before but it’s escaped my attention, that Rosenfeld communicated both papers?
Yes, I did mention it.
Communicated both of these.
Yeah, the Gupta ones.
There’s a follow up on his work in a way. Now, what you sent me was not Rosenfeld’s original paper? You sent me the one that he did with Bohr, didn’t you?
No, no. I sent the 1930 “Annalen der Physik” paper, which he did alone.
Yeah, well I don’t know why I didn’t follow up and help you.
Well, you did. Our conversations were very useful.
No, no. But I didn’t really read those papers.
Well, they’re huge.
I just was no longer capable, and I am no longer capable, of that kind of concentration that’s required.
I don’t know if I sent you the final version, but it’s available as a pre-print. It can be downloaded if I give you the address.
It is a tough read, though. It still is a tough read.
Yeah, I know what I can and can’t do these days. This kind of chitchat is easy. [Chuckles] I don’t have to think very hard.
Well, it’s still very useful for us. So did you have a research group at Wright-Patterson?
Well, not initially. But let me think the order in which we came. Roughly my recollection is that there was a research group there, but most of that group was in solid-state physics. There was a very active group in growing cadmium sulfide crystals, and then doing experiments like various other kinds of electrical measurements on the crystals. There was also a small Van der Graaf generator there, and they did analysis of various atomic nuclei. And there was a young man by the name of Paul Dorain who went to Brandeis doing electron resonance experiments. So there was quite a nice group of people, about a dozen people.
Didn’t you have a paper on electron resonance? Did I imagine that, a paper with Peter, in fact?
Right, but that was my bachelor’s degree. That was on molecular beams, the old fashioned kind. So I think the first person who came to work with me was Roy Kerr.
So you had an opening and you…?
I always have openings.
Yes, but you asked for applications?
You didn’t approach him?
Oh, no, no. My recollection is that at that time affirmative action was not required, and so I think Roy was postdoc with Peter, and he was also working on equations of motion. So I got him to come to Wright-Patterson, and that was a good relationship.
Was he there for about three years?
About three years, yeah, two or three years. I don’t remember the exact date.
Does the name Colonel Leyes mean anything to you?
Yes. He was the head of that whole research group. Very nice guy, but he was not a physicist.
This was exclusively civilian activity?
No, there were military personnel there, too. A lot of fellows who did ROTC in college would get assigned to that laboratory, and they were engaged in research.
So what was your role there, actually?
My role was twofold. One, the one that I enjoyed most, was to do research, and the other was to sponsor the research at wherever. So we were sponsored at several universities and at Bondi’s group and Jordan’s group. But we could not do it for Geheniau in Brussels.
So do these groups come to you and solicit funds, or do you approach them?
Well, Bondi I talked to and asked whether he would be interested and suggested that he send in a proposal. Jordan’s was an inheritance. Somebody in the Brussels’ office knew of Jordan and had talked with him and came back with the suggestion that he would be a good person to… Since I was aware of the name of Jordan, it was a useful thing. So when I first visited him, he didn’t think I knew anything, so we just had lunch. [Laughs] He didn’t introduce me to his group, you know? I had come down to find out what the group was like, and so he took me to lunch. Then he realized that I was a physicist because I was talking to him about physics and relativity. So the next time I visited, I visited the group and gave a talk.
Was Engelbert Schucking there with them?
No. I didn’t meet Engelbert until Royaumont.
Jürgen and Wolfgang Kundt were both there at the time.
What year was that?
It was either ’60 or ’61. Actually, I had met Jürgen the year before. Well, there were two places. The year before there was also a very brief meeting in Belgium, and then there was the meeting at Royaumont, and Jürgen was at both of those.
What was the meeting in Belgium? I don’t about this.
I don’t know about that either. Was it organized by…
Geheniau and Debever.
Oh, that’s something we need to copy.
Oh wow, what is that!?
I have to take a peek at that, if you don’t mind. I’ve never seen this thing before. 1959 is right.
Who was there?
Well, Ted and I were there, and Havaty was there, Debever and Geheniau obviously, Michel Cahen.
Is this where they presented their ideas about intrinsic coordinates?
No, it was way before.
It was much earlier.
Oh, so you have a talk on the measurement of distance?
Yeah, with Ted. Ted actually gave the talk. That was an interesting situation. Ted didn’t want to give the talk. He resisted it and resisted it, and he gave a great talk.
But where was he at this time?
He was at Pitt.
He was at Pitt already, okay.
Yeah, he was at Pitt. But he and I had worked on this the summer before he was at Wright-Patterson with me. He spent the summer with us.
So Louis Witten was there, too?
Yeah, it’s possible. I remember him at Royaumont.
He has an almost similar position to you.
He was at RIAS at the time, yeah. Yeah, I think he had offered me a position at RIAS to work with him.
I think he did. I think I’ve got a letter somewhere from Witten to you.
Okay, and then he was very helpful for me. When I was working for the Air Force at the University of Cincinnati, I wanted to teach a course on relativity, so he was one of the people who responded and said I could do it.
Wonderful. Did you spend a semester there in Cincinnati, or did you commute?
No, I commuted from Dayton. It was not very far. It was about 50 miles, so it’s an hour’s drive, and a nice hour’s drive.
What year would that be?
Oh, good God. So it had to be after I came back from England, so ’62.
Any students in the audience that might have gotten their start there?
There were only two or three students that took that course. I don’t know why it was so poorly attended. I thought that people would jump at the opportunity to have somebody talk about this subject. But at that time, relativity was a freak, kind of.
Did you write out your lecture notes?
No. I did at the time, but I never saved anything. I wasn’t one of those people who saved things, partly because I can’t read what I do afterwards. No, it’s not because of the hand writing, it’s just that the logic of the way of writing, it just doesn’t work for me.
I wonder if we all learned this from Peter, because he never kept extensive notes.
Well, I don’t think he took any notes in the first place.
Well, somebody mentioned the Wheeler students all keep books like Wheeler — they all have the same bound books name. They’re meticulous.
Yeah, well you learn that this is the way you do things, and I’m not so sure that that isn’t a good thing. But I’ve tried it many times. I’ve bought a book to get started, and I can’t stand it because I make so many mistakes — I don’t want anybody to see those mistakes. And you can’t tear pages out. It doesn’t look good, because what kind of record do you have?
Yeah, I came up with a solution. You do it in loose-leaf and then put it in a binder. Then nobody knows! [Laughter]
I managed to get a few letters. Cécile has kept all of your correspondence from when you were at Wright-Patterson. I managed to scan quite a few of the letters. They’re mainly to do with getting MATS support for all the various speakers and for people to go to all the various conferences. I see you tried to get Dirac, I think, at one point.
I’d say so, probably. That’s a bit of ancient history.
Yes, in fact as I mentioned, in one of Peter’s letters to Dirac referring that unfortunately Dirac was for some reason not able to come to the ’57 Chapel Hill meeting. He had been invited, but it didn’t happen.
Were you speaking much to Peter still? I think you were still consulting then.
Oh, Peter, yeah.
Wasn’t the MATS transportation Peter’s idea?
No. I think either Bryce or Cécile in discussing organizing the meeting suggested that, asked whether that would be possible. I don’t remember exactly, but that’s the logical thing since they really were the people who ran that meeting. They were the ones that one had to deal with. And they knew whom to invite through Cécile then Bryce both, I guess.
But you had no direct connection with events, flights? I mean that was a separate budget, was it?
Oh yes, that was a separate budget. I don’t even remember how I did that. I mean obviously I had to make a request, some sort of proposal that had to go to somebody who had to approve of it, and especially approve of the names that were on the list, and then get the orders cut and mailed out to them. It’s a fairly big operation, and as far as I know, there was no explicit budget from that air transport. I mean somebody in the Air Force cut the orders and that was it, the plane was flying.
Did you have any role in support for the Neuchâtel meeting?
I think that was MATS as well.
Gee, you know, I must have, but I don’t remember now. I really don’t remember. I may have had something to do with that. At the time, the Airforce was supporting Professor Klein in Stockholm and Peter in Syracuse. We did not support ADM as they got their money from another source. However, I don’t think MATS was involved except for my travel. I took MATS to Brussels where there was an Airforce office, met Geheniau and Debever, then to Hamburg to meet Jordan, met Gloria in Paris, and then on to Neuchatel.
By the way, you don’t have a record of any sort of what transpired at Neuchâtel? There’s no published proceedings of any sort.
No, there was nothing. It was just a research work group with ADM, Peter, and Arty, and then I came along, and, from Sweden, Oscar Klein. And then a Swiss physicist spent some time —
Pauli was there evidently initially, also [chuckles]. We heard a story.
Right. Pauli came by for a day or two days, I think. He gave a talk, and his big talk was that none of you people are going to be successful because your ideas aren’t crazy enough. Well, he’s obviously right. This is a few years later. But there was a very well-known Swiss physicist, it began with a B I think, but I can’t remember.
Alan Held comes much later, right?
Alan Held is later, yes. To my recollection, it’s just this very small group…
I wish we could just find a record.
Is this the meeting…?
It’s where Deser presented his linearized gravity.
Peter did not like the ADM approach and there was some heated discussion about that. Arty was also involved, but Oscar Klein and I were on the sidelines. But what happened afterwards is that a number of us moved on to a continuing workgroup. I don’t think ADM went there, though, in Italy.
Immediately following the Neuchâtel? I don’t know about that.
Immediately following. Not quite a week later; maybe five days later or something.
Can you identify the participants and a location?
Well, the location was Sestriere in the Italian Alps. And somewhere in my life I have photographs there. Lichnerowicz was there. But who organized it in Italy? That’s the good question.
Regge was too young. This was early ’60s.
Well, no, this would have been ’58. Neuchâtel was ’58.
’58, right. Cattaneo, is that possible? I don’t think so.
What about Corinaldesi? Was he Italian?
Corinaldesi is another possibility.
Would these people be identified in the photo?
Possibly. Maybe we should go home let Gloria look at that!
That’s true, that’s true, I bet she could do it. She was there, too.
Lichnerowicz was there. Arty was there. Peter. And I was there.
Was it a particular focus then determined for this follow up meeting in Italy?
Well, it was a further discussion of the same issues. That’s why I don’t think Lichnerowicz was at Neuchâtel. And he talked about the initial value problem, and some of the issues connected with hydrodynamics in my recollection.
Here’s another one of yours. Cécile apparently kept everything, an old telegram.
Oh, so this was for Bryce.
Okay. Well, I’m glad you have all that stuff. I don’t remember that.
So do you recall having come to some sort of resolution at the completion of this meeting?
The resolution was that the Italian food was good! [Laughter] This was an interesting tourist attraction. It’s a tower, and it had a staircase that spiraled around so that anybody sitting at the bottom could see and watch everybody who came in and out of the rooms. It was carefully designed by Mussolini. In this area when you went for a walk, you would come across where places were gun emplacements were located. The French-Italian border nearby. Gee, you know, I should remember who organized that.
Yeah, we might be able to Google it.
Yeah, I may be able to track that down.
Okay. There was no publication for that either.
Someone might have notes. Well, let’s see, none of the ADM crew were there, so they weren’t taking notes.
Yeah, they were note takers, any of Wheeler’s students.
I’m not even sure that Yvonne was there. In fact, I don’t think she was.
So it was probably more quantum gravity-ish, I would expect. But it’s interesting, he has two more meetings on general relativity issues that we had no idea existed.
Well, there were lots of meetings. Actually, just workshops there; they aren’t really meetings. These two meetings focused on quantum gravity and, as I slowly remember, Lichnerowicz’s remarks were also headed in that direction.
But they are equally as important.
Well, there must have been many more of them that you don’t know about.
Yeah, I’m sure there were.
Who paid for this escapade?
Maybe I did. Maybe the Air Force did. It sounds reasonable that we should have, but somebody said they wanted to get together to talk and work on issues of quantum gravity, and this is really a first-rate group. It didn’t have Wheeler’s people in it, but it had everybody else. I don’t think the Air Force had anything to do with it other than to pay my way.
And didn’t have far to travel from Switzerland to Italy.
Oh no, the Italian part was not this one. Neuchâtel was probably paid for by the Air Force.
I think it was.
The Italian part was not, but damn it, I can’t remember who organized it.
Maybe it wasn’t actually organized. Maybe you decided…
No, it was organized. It was definitely organized. Somebody was in charge.
Well, I bet I can track it down, and maybe I’ll send some names of people who were in that area.
Gee, you know, my head is bad on names. I’m trying to think of my Italian friends, and I can’t think of them. Bertoti, was he old enough to do that?
I think he was too young.
I think he was too young, also. It could have been Cattaneo. There was also somebody by the name of Finzi, but I think he’s later, also…
Don’t know that name.
Oh, but he’s got other fish to fry, literally.
That’s right, yeah, that’s what I’ve heard.
His Sicilian seafood is fantastic.
So where are we at?
Well, we’re at Wright-Patterson soon. We are at Royaumont, and I’m sure that that actually follows these two meetings that…
Well, we have a series of these. I’m just wondering, there was a series of meetings, right? There was the Chapel Hill, and then there’s an exploratory research session in Copenhagen with just a few people.
Okay. I’m not aware of that.
It was just Deser and Laurent, Klein, and DeWitt I think.
Okay, that sounds like a possible group.
Did you know that Stanley Deser married —
Yeah, Oskar Klein’s daughter.
And then we have the Royaumont. Was this a kind of concerted effort to get a series?
Oh, after Chapel Hill, Bern comes first and that… Oh, what’s name from Switzerland? I mentioned his name earlier.
One of the editors was Mercier.
Mercier! Mercier was the principal organizer of that meeting, and nobody was invited that he didn’t approve of. I think Pirani went; I don’t know how he got in.
Well, you know Deser was in there as well.
Robinson was there? I didn’t think so.
Yeah, in the GR0 Berne. Yeah, we spoke to him. Stanley Deser’s name is in there at the beginning.
Okay, some of these they do it at the end.
It’s in the beginning of this one. I didn’t know that came in paperback.
Ah, here we are. Oh, Bleuler is the name I was trying to think of at Neuchâtel. Let’s see, I don’t know that person.
Yeah, Geheniau seems to have played a more central role than I thought.
It’s interesting that Von Laue was there. Fierz, Danzig, Fock, Moller, Klein, Costa de Beauregard sort of dropped out of the thing. Heckman. Heckman was Schucking’s thesis advisor. Robertson. Tonnelat. Klein again. Hoyle, Bondi, McCrea. Jost. Oh Jost was a young man then. Rosen. Komar. Fock. Infeld. Moller again. Van Danzig. Half of these people I’ve never met. Oh, here, sorry, there’s another list of participants. Okay, Deser, Ehlers. Bondi, Ehlers, Bergmann. Bargmann. Alexandrov, Geheniau. Heckman. Heitler. What a group of people! Jordan was there. Kevaire, though I can’t picture him, Kevaire, yet he seems to be everywhere. Who is it that you were…?
Is this the Moffat from Toronto?
John Moffat, the one who does variable light.
He’s very nice, but he’s a little bit… I’m not talking about his work. I think he’s very imaginative, and that’s okay, but there’s a certain amount of instability in him. I’ve met him; I think it was in Padua. He had rented a car, and he was annoyed about something. He took the keys; he threw them on the seat of the car, closed the door and walked away. [Laughs]
That’s one way of dealing with it.
We’re looking for Robinson, but I don’t see his name there. Oh, there he is! He is there indeed.
Ivor Robinson. Papapetrou. Stueckelberg was there also, Thirring. Good grief, that’s really quite a group of people. And Wigner.
And Einstein himself should have been there.
Well, he didn’t want to stick around.
Where should we jump to?
So you were about to say Chapel Hill, and then there was some…
Oh, at Chapel Hill, people decided they’d want to regularize it. But it was just the big shots, you know, telling us what we were going to do. So Peter and Lichnerowicz, and Wheeler effectively decided that the next meeting would be in Royaumont, and it would be in France.
Was this when GRG started…
No, this was just the informal part of GRG. It took about three or four meetings before they agreed that there had to be an organization. Up until that time, it’s going to be in your country, you be president. And it will be in three years, so it’s a three-year term for the presidency. Then after that it was Infeld’s turn. I think it was at… No, because after Infeld was London, and after London… Did it get started in England? I’d have to look that up, because ’68 was a disaster because then it was in Moscow, and there were two problems: one, the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets; the other, issues of visas for Israeli scientists. Those were the two issues, so a number of us cancelled at that point. I’m trying to remember what the timing was. I don’t remember the timing, but those two events, and Bondi sent a note saying that he decided not to go, and that sort of told the rest of some us not to go. I had tickets, I had a visa — I really hated not to go.
Did anyone attend from the US?
From the US? Oh, yeah. John Wheeler was there and his group. All his students were there. They felt that the science was more important than the politics, and he decided to go. Some of us felt that the politics were equally important. To some extent, it’s a group behavior as well, you know, because of the individual behavior. Any one of us could have gone.
Another meeting in that same sequence that was more informal was the Belgium meeting.
Let’s see, ’71, was Tel Aviv, because I had a sabbatical and spent time at Haifa. So somewhere in that range, there was a decision to draw up a constitution for a society.
And much of this is in fact documented in Peter’s papers in the archives.
In the archives, that’s right. I was just going to see if I had anything on it in my drawer though. I don’t think I do. I’ll take a quick look. Let’s see, the constitution for the International Society for General Relativity was finalized by the International Committee on GRG at its meeting place in Paris on June 22, 1973. That’s the committee; that’s not the society. So the vote had to come before that so that could have been in Tel Aviv. So this is a copy of the constitution as of that time. I don’t know if it has been modified since.
So did we discover who else was in the group? You mentioned Kerr came along.
Oh, we’re back at Wright-Patterson. Yes, we should go back to Wright-Patterson.
Yeah, there was a student of Arnowitt’s who was in that group, Stuart Fickler. His work was more on Yang-Mill’s theories. When I left, I think he took over as the head of that group. And Roy, when I left, went to Texas to work with Alfred Schild.
Was that the same year, in fact?
Did you fly Utiyama over at any point, Ryoyu Utiyama?
I don’t know. I don’t think so.
I’m wondering what his role was in the quantum gravity…
I’m trying to remember. He wasn’t at any of the meetings that I recall, at least the early meetings.
He was at Chapel Hill. He was one of the early people at the Institute for Field Physics, and he was a visitor at Institute for Advanced Study as well, very briefly.
Well, if he was there, then he didn’t have to travel.
Oh, well I’m not sure whether he was still around at that point.
Well, you said he was at Institute for Field Physics. That just got started the year before. That was a very new organization.
Yeah, because in retrospect, he seemed to do some very important work on constraints and other things.
I vaguely remember that, but my memory isn’t what it should be. You’re compelling me to remember things. I do remember those things, which I obviously found important.
So was there a main research focus in the group at Wright-Patterson?
Well, there was also a young man, a student of Hlavaty, who came into the group by the name of Joseph Shell. Let’s see, instead of the Petrov classification he developed another classification based on the holonomy group. He’s got a paper out somewhere on that. And that was at a time when Roy was present, and Roy and I jumped on that and did a couple of papers on plane wave solutions at the time.
Yeah, but using that as the focus that you had certain variables. You could set up a certain coordinate system based on defining certain geometric quantities… which is the way these arguments always work.
Did he then take over your role when you left?
He took over my role as head of the group then, as long as that lasted. That died, I think, around ’72 or ’73. Somewhere ’70 to ’73 and that’s because of Congress.
Yeah. You have to actually explain for what purpose you were…
Well, you had to have a military purpose. You could not sponsor fundamental research
Yeah, they spoiled it again.
We should have argued that gravity is important to flying airplanes or ballistic missiles.
It may be interesting to see what happened in Bondi’s group. You had a postdoc while you were still at Wright-Patterson. They gave you a year release or something, or were you still doing Wright-Patterson work?
No, I was not. Well, I did for the summer. No, even then I didn’t. I was traveling or orders during the summer, but I didn’t do any Wright-Patterson work. So that way I was able to extend my stay abroad for another three months, which was very nice, actually. I was out of the country for 15 months actually instead of just a year. What did we do? Well, there were several things that happened, but the main thing was the publication by Ray Sachs, his big paper on extending the work of Bondi and his group. Bondi’s paper was finally published in ’62, but the work was done in ’59 or ’60.
That’s the asymptotic symmetry paper.
No, not asymptotic symmetry. It was the full-blown… Bondi did a calculation using the null surfaces going out, and did it with axial symmetry. He did that with two other students, but basically it was Bondi’s work; Bondi, Metzner, and what’s the third name?
No, it wasn’t that. Bondi, Metzner, and Van der Burg. The transformation group was the Bondi, Metzner, Sachs group, the BMS group. Metzner has never been heard of since. Anyway, basically that was Bondi’s work, and that was in ’59 or ’60, because I heard him lecture on it in ’60. That was in Austin, Texas that I was visiting. I was visiting Alfred [Schild], and Bondi happened to be there, which was convenient because I was then scheduled to be in London in September.
So Sachs basically made that more rigorous.
Well, he did it fully, I mean, not just axial symmetry. The full thing is a beautiful piece of work. So that was the main accomplishment that year. I was working on equations of motion but didn’t get anywhere with whatever ideas I had. And then I did some work with Ray on this so-called Goldberg-Sachs theorem about the shear-free rays. It might have been called that, the shear-free ray theorem. And to some extent, the idea behind that came, remember, about that time there was the paper by Trautman and Robinson…
Shear-free null congruences.
Right. Was it that? I thought it was in the solutions of the Einstein equation where the Schwarzschild solution was a special case. Anyway, it was quite an important paper at the time. Some of the ideas that were important in how Trautman did — Ray and I used two things. One was we used the Bianchi Identities, but we only used part of the Bianchi Identities. We used the cyclic identity of the Riemann tensor plus the field equations for one part of the theorem. So we could get half of the theorem, and we didn’t know how to get the other half. So I went down and I had a long talk with Andrzej Trautman, who happened to be in London at the time, to figure out how he and Ivor went about getting their solution. Based on that conversation, Ray and I were able to prove the other half of the theorem. There are cleverer ways of doing that, where you can now combine both of the dual and the normal cyclic relationship into one complex relationship, and then you get the whole thing coming out when you apply that. That’s how Newman and Penrose get the theorem.
What was the first formulation in complex terms?
Well, as far as I know it was Penrose and Newman.
So it was spinorial.
Well, it didn’t have to be spinorial.
But that would be convenient, I would think.
Well, Ted’s original way of doing things was not spinorial. That’s why if you look at their papers, you can tell which part Ted did and which part… They work differently, but conceptually they were on the same track.
I think I need to look back at the Newman-Penrose, actually.
That’s incredible that they always worked that way, that Ted would come up with some crazy idea in his way of thinking, and Roger would figure it out spinorially. And it would look very different, but it’s the same. They really worked in parallel and independently.
We have taken up so much of your time.
Well, there’s nobody else here for me to talk to.
Well, it’s been a pleasure. I know for certain that we will have follow-up questions.
I’m especially amazed by that Belgium conference. I’ve never even seen this mentioned anywhere, and I’ve gone through so many archives. It’s amazing that we just keep stumbling across these entirely new conferences. What do you know about Geheniau and Debever?
Not an awful lot. I spent a little time with them, but not intimate time. I first met Geheniau in ’58 I think.
There was talk of getting him over to Chapel Hill right? There was some talk of trying to get him I think.
Well, the Air Force wouldn’t fly him. He was considered a communist.
Yes, that’s what I thought. That’s what it looked like.
But as far as I know. I mean I don’t know anything. In discussion with him I probably said that to him, and I don’t think he responded particularly one way or the other, and as far as I was concerned it was irrelevant. The Air Force didn’t object to my visiting with him; they knew I was going there to visit with him. Because the scientific research Air Force office was in Brussels, so when I came abroad, that’s where I went, I went to the office in Brussels. And they knew I was going to visit with Geheniau.
Actually, the main thing I think I want to get here is your article with Ted Newman measuring distance. [Take pictures of documents.]