Lunch With Freeman Dyson, in 196,883 Dimensions


I’d consider to fill airtime — and set off his silent but shoulder-bobbing giggle — with trivial bits, like recounting a tale relayed by his son, George Dyson, an author and historian of technological know-how, about an email the elder Dyson as soon as been given from a lady with a cleaning small business. Issue line: “vacuum — unsatisfied.” Cindy experienced put in $500 on the DC14 product and experienced come to detest it with a passion, she discussed in fantastic element. The suction on the rug was so robust that it threw “my shoulder out (NO LIE) getting to press so tricky.” She signed off, defeated: “I know that I will not hear from Dyson.”

Dr. Dyson, ever the trusted correspondent, hit Reply: “Thank you for the despise mail which I love looking at. I get very a ton of it due to the fact my title is Dyson. But I am sorry to inform you that I am the mistaken Dyson. My name is Freeman and not James. I suggest that you just take the difficulties to locate James’s handle and deliver the message to him. I wish you excellent luck and superior wellness.”

Sara Seager, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at M.I.T., lunched with Freeman when she was a prolonged-term member of the institute. In some cases, they talked about exoplanets and the fundamental physics. Dr. Dyson was generous with his time and perception, she said: “He was variety even when he requested really hard questions!” And very long soon after his lunches with other postdocs had been more than, she discovered, he would however be there, examining.

At our lunches, Dr. Dyson generally bestowed one thing surprising. A single working day it was a challenge he was toying with, which he identified as “Rank, Crank and Prank.” It dated back to his undergraduate times and pertained to “partitions” — sums of all the beneficial integers that increase up to a desired integer, for case in point 4, which has five partitions: 4, 2+2, 3 +1, 2 + 1 + 1 and 1 + 1 + 1 + 1. (The purchase of “summands” doesn’t issue.) “The Prank isn’t nonetheless uncovered,” he stated. “The Rank exists and the Crank exists. The Prank is just a dream” — the prank was just his taking part in all around with renewed investigations.

Another working day, leaping off the question of fact vs . natural beauty in science, he mentioned an essay he experienced just concluded on a linked dichotomy, “Is Science Primarily Pushed by Tips or by Equipment?” The essay, revealed in 2012, marked the 50th anniversary of “The Framework of Scientific Revolutions,” by the theoretical physicist and historian Thomas Kuhn. Dr. Kuhn’s favorite word, Dr. Dyson reckoned, was “paradigm,” a process of concepts that dominate a scientific era. “A scientific revolution is a discontinuous change from 1 paradigm to another,” he additional. “The shift occurs out of the blue because new strategies explode with a barrage of new insights and new queries that thrust outdated ideas into oblivion.” As a counterpoint, Dr. Dyson described Peter Galison, a physicist and historian at Harvard, whose do the job centered a lot more on experiments and devices. Dr. Galison experienced released “a fatter but similarly illuminating book” referred to as “Image and Logic” — a heritage dominated by resources, whereas Kuhn’s was a background dominated by concepts.

“Roughly speaking, Kuhn stands for magnificence and Galison for reality,” Dr. Dyson claimed. “My response is that we have to have them the two.”


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