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.
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”:
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] >>
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.