Freeman John Dyson

Freeman John
Dyson
1923

British-born American Theoretical Physicist and Mathematician, famous for work in Quantum Field Theory, Solid-State Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Engineering

Author Quotes

Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions.

To talk about the end of science is just as foolish as to talk about the end of religion. Science and religion are both still close to their beginnings, with no ends in sight. Science and religion are both destined to grow and change in the millennia that lie ahead of us, perhaps solving some old mysteries, certainly discovering new mysteries of which we yet have no inkling.

The principle of maximum diversity says that the laws of nature, and the initial conditions at the beginning of time, are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth. This is the confession of faith of a scientific heretic. Perhaps I may claim as evidence for progress in religion the fact that we no longer burn heretics.

I do not claim any ability to read God's mind. I am sure of only one thing. When we look at the glory of stars and galaxies in the sky and the glory of forests and flowers in the living world around us, it is evident that God loves diversity. Perhaps the universe is constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity.

It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom. The universe as a whole is also weird, with laws of nature that make it hospitable to the growth of mind. I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. So I am thinking that atoms and humans and God may have minds that differ in degree but not in kind. We stand, in a manner of speaking, midway between the unpredictability of atoms and the unpredictability of God. Atoms are small pieces of our mental apparatus, and we are small pieces of God's mental apparatus. Our minds may receive inputs equally from atoms and from God. This view of our place in the cosmos may not be true, but it is compatible with the active nature of atoms as revealed in the experiments of modern physics. I don't say that this personal theology is supported or proved by scientific evidence. I only say that it is consistent with scientific evidence.

I am content to be one of the multitude of Christians who do not care much about the doctrine of the Trinity or the historical truth of the gospels. Both as a scientist and as a religious person, I am accustomed to living with uncertainty. Science is exciting because it is full of unsolved mysteries, and religion is exciting for the same reason. The greatest unsolved mysteries are the mysteries of our existence as conscious beings in a small corner of a vast universe.

God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.

The biggest breakthrough in the next 50 years will be the discovery of extraterrestrial life. We have been searching for it for 50 years and found nothing. That proves life is rarer than we hoped, but does not prove that the universe is lifeless. We are only now developing the tools to make our searches efficient and far-reaching, as optical and radio detection and data processing move forward.

There is no such thing as a unique scientific vision, any more than there is a unique poetic vision. Science is a mosaic of partial and conflicting visions. But there is one common element in these visions. The common element is rebellion against the restrictions imposed by the locally prevailing culture, Western or Eastern as the case may be. It is no more Western than it is Arab or Indian or Japanese or Chinese. Arabs and Indians and Japanese and Chinese had a big share in the development of modern science. And two thousand years earlier, the beginnings of science were as much Babylonian and Egyptian as Greek. One of the central facts about science is that it pays no attention to East and West and North and South and black and yellow and white. It belongs to everybody who is willing to make the effort to learn it.

I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics, which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce.

We cannot hope to either understand or to manage the carbon in the atmosphere unless we understand and manage the trees and the soil too.

The total disorder in the universe, as measured by the quantity that physicists call entropy, increases steadily over time. Also, the total order in the universe, as measured by the complexity and permanence of organized structures, also increases steadily over time.

The success of Apollo was mainly due to the fact that the project was conceived and honestly presented to the public as an international sporting event and not as a contribution to science. The order of priorities in Apollo was accurately reflected by the first item to be unloaded after each landing on the Moon's surface, the television camera. The landing, the coming and going of the astronauts, the exploring of the moon's surface, the gathering of Moon rocks and the earthward departure, all were expertly choreographed with the cameras placed in the right positions to make a dramatic show on television. This was to me the great surprise of the Apollo missions. There was nothing surprising in the fact that astronauts could walk on the Moon and bring home Moon rocks. There were no big scientific surprises in the chemistry of the Moon rocks or in the results of magnetic and seismic observations that the astronauts carried out. The big surprise was the quality of the public entertainment that the missions provided. I had never expected that we would see in real time astronauts hopping around in lunar gravity and driving their Rover down the Lincoln- Lee scarp to claim a lunar speed record of eleven miles per hour. Intensive television coverage was the driving force of Apollo. Von Braun had not imagined the possibilities of television when he decided that one kilohertz would be an adequate communication bandwidth for his Mars Project.

The reason why new concepts in any branch of science are hard to grasp is always the same; contemporary scientists try to picture the new concept in terms of ideas which existed before.

The most revolutionary aspect of technology is its mobility. Anybody can learn it. It jumps easily over barriers of race and language. … The new technology of microchips and computer software is learned much faster than the old technology of coal and iron. It took three generations of misery for the older industrial countries to master the technology of coal and iron. The new industrial countries of East Asia, South Korea, and Singapore and Taiwan, mastered the new technology and made the jump from poverty to wealth in a single generation.

The game of status seeking, organized around committees, is played in roughly the same fashion in Africa and in America and in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the aptitude for this game is a part of our genetic inheritance, like the aptitude for speech and for music. The game has had profound consequences for science. In science, as in the quest for a village water supply, big projects bring enhanced status; small projects do not. In the competition for status, big projects usually win, whether or not they are scientifically justified. As the committees of academic professionals compete for power and influence, big science becomes more and more preponderant over small science. The large and fashionable squeezes out the small and unfashionable. The space shuttle squeezes out the modest and scientifically more useful expendable launcher. The Great Observatory squeezes out the Explorer. The centralized adduction system squeezes out the village well. Fortunately, the American academic system is pluralistic and chaotic enough that first-rate small science can still be done in spite of the committees. In odd corners, in out-of the-way universities, and in obscure industrial laboratories, our Fulanis are still at work.

Leaving aside genetic surgery applied humans, I foresee that the coming century will place in our hands two other forms of biological technology which are less dangerous but still revolutionary enough to transform the conditions of our existence. I count these new technologies as powerful allies in the attack on Bernal's three enemies [the world, the flesh and the devil]. I give them the names 'biological engineering' and 'self-reproducing machinery'. Biological engineering means the artificial synthesis of living organisms designed to fulfil human purposes. Self-reproducing machinery means the imitation of the function and reproduction of a living organism with non-living materials, a computer-program imitating the function of DNA and a miniature factory imitating the functions of protein molecules. After we have attained a complete understanding of the principles of organization and development of a simple multicellular organism, both of these avenues of technological exploitation should be open to us.

I believe that life can go on forever. It takes a million years to evolve a new species, ten million for a new genus, one hundred million for a class, a billion for a phylum—and that's usually as far as your imagination goes. In a billion years, it seems, intelligent life might be as different from humans as humans are from insects. But what would happen in another ten billion years? It's utterly impossible to conceive of ourselves changing as drastically as that, over and over again. All you can say is, on that kind of time scale the material form that life would take is completely open. To change from a human being to a cloud may seem a big order, but it's the kind of change you'd expect over billions of years.

It is characteristic of all deep human problems that they are not to be approached without some humor and some bewilderment.

You ask: what is the meaning or purpose of life? I can only answer with another question: do you think we are wise enough to read God's mind?

There's an aspect of things which I find amusing: the flow back and forth between science and science fiction, which has been an important part of my life. I started out reading science fiction and then became a scientist, and that set the slant on my scientific work. I like to make connections between life and cosmology and astronomy. Science fiction raises all these interesting possibilities and has had some influence on science in the last 25 years – not only in the area of SETI, but also in other ways.

Mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our understanding.

The public has a distorted view of science because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.

The conservative has little to fear from the man whose reason is the servant of his passions, but let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of passions. These are the wreckers of outworn empires.

Science is my territory, but science fiction is the landscape of my dreams.

Author Picture
First Name
Freeman John
Last Name
Dyson
Birth Date
1923
Bio

British-born American Theoretical Physicist and Mathematician, famous for work in Quantum Field Theory, Solid-State Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Engineering