Freeman Dyson

This article is pretty well-balanced for the New York Times, and very interesting. This particular paragraph had me chuckling:

At Jason, taking problems to Dyson is something of a parlor trick. A group of scientists will be sitting around the cafeteria, and one will idly wonder if there is an integer where, if you take its last digit and move it to the front, turning, say, 112 to 211, it’s possible to exactly double the value. Dyson will immediately say, “Oh, that’s not difficult,” allow two short beats to pass and then add, “but of course the smallest such number is 18 digits long.” When this happened one day at lunch, William Press remembers, “the table fell silent; nobody had the slightest idea how Freeman could have known such a fact or, even more terrifying, could have derived it in his head in about two seconds.” The meal then ended with men who tend to be described with words like “brilliant,” “Nobel” and “MacArthur” quietly retreating to their offices to work out what Dyson just knew.

And this comment got to me too:

His older sister Alice, a retired social worker still living in Winchester, remembers how her brother “used to lie on the nursery floor working out how many atoms there were in the sun. He was perhaps 4.”

Dyson is a genius, but also a contrary and original thinker and, it seems, of a kind that we just don’t see so many of now. Where are the upcoming people like Einstein, Feynman, Oppenheimer and Bethe now? I wonder why we don’t see them? Maybe something to do with politicized consensus science? Being brilliant and original doesn’t really work in the groupthink that so much science has become.

Update: And here are some of his heretical thoughts…

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