Freeman Dyson – Dreams of Earth and Sky – CSPAN

So I was flipping along looking for something else, and landed by the sheer power of integer jumps when paging on CSPAN-2 that was running an interview with Freeman Dyson per his book “Dreams of Earth and Sky”. Captive, I had channel stickage and was unable to move on until the event was over.

http://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Earth-Sky-Freeman-Dyson/dp/1590178548

In this sequel to The Scientist as Rebel (2006), Freeman Dyson—whom The Times of London calls “one of the world’s most original minds”—celebrates openness to unconventional ideas and “the spirit of joyful dreaming” in which he believes that science should be pursued. Throughout these essays, which range from the creation of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century to the scientific inquiries of the Romantic generation to recent books by Daniel Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell, he seeks to “break down the barriers that separate science from other sources of human wisdom.”

Dyson discusses twentieth-century giants of physics such as Richard Feynman, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Paul Dirac, and Steven Weinberg, many of whom he knew personally, as well as Winston Churchill’s pursuit of nuclear weapons for Britain and Wernher von Braun’s pursuit of rockets for space travel. And he takes a provocative, often politically incorrect approach to some of today’s most controversial scientific issues: global warming, the current calculations of which he thinks are probably wrong; the future of biotechnology, which he expects to dominate our lives in the next half-century as the tools to design new living creatures become available to everyone; and the flood of information in the digital age. Dyson offers fresh perspectives on the history, the philosophy, and the practice of scientific inquiry—and even on the blunders, the wild guesses and wrong theories that are also part of our struggle to understand the wonders of the natural world.

Just as a ‘teaser’, there’s one point where asked to take an essentially political suicide position on Global Warming in front of the audience, he deftly sidestepped by saying that Climate Science was, essentially, limited to a fluid dynamics problem while in reality it was the ecology that really mattered. So in one swoop disarming the predictable attack on character for not “caring about the world” while at the same time implying that those idiots are looking at the wrong things and have it wrong… Just delicious.

During Q.& A. he has this exchange. Freeman Dyson is “guest”:

Unidentified Speaker
UP TO THEM. BUT THE QUESTION I’D LIKE TO ASK IS TO THINK ABOUT YOUNG SCIENTISTS ENTERING THEIR CAREERS TODAY AND WHAT HAS CHANGED OR HOW MY CAREER AS A SCIENTIST OVER THE NEXT SO MANY YEARS MIGHT BE DIFFERENT FROM THE CAREER YOU HAVE TAKEN.

>> Guest: THE OBVIOUS THING THAT HAS CHANGED, OF COURSE, IS COMPUTERS. THE TOOLS THAT ARE AVAILABLE ARE VERY LARGELY BASED ON COMPUTING, AND THAT’S TRUE IN ALL BRANCHES OF SCIENCE. BIOLOGY OR IN CLIMATE SCIENCE OR IN PARTICLE PHYSICS OR ASTRONOMY. EVERYBODY USINGS BIG DATA. EVERYBODY USES ESSENTIALLY THE SAME TOOLS TO HANDLE DATA. SO THE CONSEQUENCES IS MUCH EASIER TODAY TO SWITCH FROM ONE FIELD TO ANOTHER THAN IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO. SO I THINK THAT’S A BIG PLUS. SO IF YOU’RE A YOUNG SCIENTIST TODAY, YOU DON’T REALLY HAVE TO DECIDE IN ADVANCE WHICH BRANCH YOU’RE GOING TO DO. IF YOU’RE WELL EQUIPPED WITH COMPUTING AND A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF SKILLS IN WRITING AND READING, THAT’S GOOD ENOUGH. YOU CAN DO ALMOST ANYTHING. AND SO YOU CAN DECIDE TO BE A NEUROBIOLOGIST AND THEN YOU DON’T DO VERY WELL, YOU CAN SWITCH TO CLIMATOLOGY. [LAUGHTER] >> OTHER QUESTIONS. >> Guest: I DON’T SAY YOU SHOULD GO TO WALL STREET. [LAUGHTER] >>

Video here:

http://www.c-span.org/video/?325632-1/freeman-dyson-dreams-earth-sky

Though some of their attribution of who is speaking in the text below the video was a bit off. For example, I trimmed a bit where they made part of Freeman Dyson’s answer attributed to “unknown speaker”; as when I’d seen it broadcast it was clearly Freeman speaking.

Just a wonderful man and with wit, charm, and intelligence.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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8 Responses to Freeman Dyson – Dreams of Earth and Sky – CSPAN

  1. M Simon says:

    I once wanted to be a scientist. But events moved me to engineering. Well I like engineering. You can definitely tell if your answer is wrong. These days I get to combine both:

    http://protonboron.com/portal/

  2. omanuel says:

    Thanks for this reminder of the time I still believed in the merits of science.

    I first met Freeman Dyson at the 1976 Gregynog Workshop on Isotopic Anomalies. He seemed very astute, but aloft and I was unable to excite him about local element synthesis with these two slides:

    1. Primitive carbonaceous chondrites formed directly from fresh supernova debris, even before isotopes of a given element were throughly mixed:

    http://www.omatumr.com/Data/1972Data.htm

    http://www.omatumr.com/archive/XenonInCarbonaceousChondrites.pdf

    2. All primordial helium in the Allende meteorite was accompanied by excess Xe-136 from rapid neutron-capture in the outer part of the supernova that birthed the solar system:

    http://www.omatumr.com/Data/1975Data.htm

    I mostly wanted to have a private conversation with Sir Fred Hoyle at the 1976 Gregynog Workshop, but Hoyle spent almost all of his time there being filmed by the BBC. [In hindsight, I suspect BBC did not want me to spend time with Fred Hoyle.]

    After Dr. Dwarka Das Sabu and I had been ambushed by members of the Geophysics Section of the National Academy of Sciences at the April 1976 AGU meeting in DC, I wrote almost every member of Congress to say that the National Academy of Sciences should be removed from budget review of federal research agencies.

    Somehow my letters to members of Congress came to the attention of Caltech’s Willy Fowler. He rode with me on the van from Cardiff to the castle at Gregynog, Wales and used the occasion to lecture me on NAS work protecting science from politicians. Below is a picture of Professor Fowler sitting in front of me at the Gregynog workshop. Professor Fowler went on to become President of NAS and to win a Nobel Prize for promoting Fred Hoyle’s 1946 suggestion that the Sun and other ordinary stars are made of hydrogen and generate energy by fusing hydrogen to heavier elements.

    http://www.omatumr.com/Photographs/Photo1976GregynogWorkshop.pdf

    We now know that all stars generate and discard hydrogen to interstellar space, and Fred Hoyle is the one who successfully reversed the story in 1946.

  3. Gary says:

    “Climate Science was, essentially, limited to a fluid dynamics problem while in reality it was the ecology that really mattered.”

    Precisely. Michael Mann trained as a physicist and consequently misunderstood tree rings. The modelers can’t incorporated the biosphere into their programs except at gross average levels. Climate scientists had skills looking for a problem rather than first defining the problem and then gathering the right skills to address it.

  4. Pingback: Freeman Dyson – Dreams of Earth and Sky – CSPAN | Climate Collections

  5. David A says:

    I enjoyed the quote from the link,
    ====================================================
    “And he takes a provocative, often politically incorrect approach to some of today’s most controversial scientific issues: global warming, the current calculations of which he thinks are probably wrong”
    ===================================================
    Any comparison of the models to the real world observations removes the “probably”.

    Goddard, in his usual cut to the chase manner has a number of posts on Dyson. I like the title of this one.
    https://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/white-house-wants-infinitely-smart-skeptic-silenced/

  6. gallopingcamel says:

    If the human race is to survive we have to get off this planet. Freeman Dyson put forward some ideas for travelling between the stars even if the journey lasted for thousands of years.

    His Orion project rested on nuclear rockets. He proposed Dyson Spheres surrounding small suns (cf. Larry Niven’s Ringworld). He envisaged rotating cylinders 40 km long with farms enjoying “one Gee” of artificial gravity on their inside surface.
    https://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/bussard-revisited/

  7. omanuel says:

    If the human race is to survive we must accept reality: Human life originated and evolved 1 AU (astronomical unit) from the pulsar that made our elements, birthed the solar system, and still controls every atom, life and planet in the Solar System today.

    If the human race is to thrive, we will merge scientific and spiritual insights into a Higher Level of Evolution, as Nobel Laureate Max Planck explained the matter that now orbits the solar pulsar in his 1944 speech in Florence, Italy:

    “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such ! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together . . . We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”

    http://www.greggbraden.com/additional-resources/

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