4Jun/11Off

Just look for something interesting

I was totally jazzed to hear Freeman Dyson speak at the last Perimeter lecture of the season. But before we could get to the main event, they sideswiped us with a full half hour of speechifying from politicians and announcements on recent funding. The geeks were about to revolt by the time Glen Murray (Minister, Research and Innovation) took the stage. Tip: coming up to an election, if you want to win the vote, don’t go to geek central and give an evangelical speech whereby you equate the $50 mil from your government to a blessing from god, and make innovation sound like the catechism of technology.

Anyway, we survived it and Dyson was entirely enjoyable. At the age of 88, he took the liberty of doing whatever the hell he wants. So he put up a slide of luminaries for four different “cycles” he’s lived through – like nuclear, about which he has lots of opinions, and since he’s helped the government on projects that are SUPER ASS SECRET, especially to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons, he’s got some inside scoop.

One of the funniest stories he had was about how Hitler didn’t really understand about rockets, so he asked a rocket scientist for a million of ‘em during WWII, and the making thereof (a thousand of them) sufficiently diverted resources from the German war effort to help the good guys.

But what stayed with us was Dyson’s humility. The man has been there, on the scene, for a shitload of seminal moments in scientific history, and written some papers that changed scientific thinking. But when asked about his success, he says he’s a math guy, and he just went to find things that were interesting, and once in a while he does some math that helps solve something.

Oh, and the Dyson sphere, really the idea came from a novel called Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, but Dyson says don’t bother reading that one. …It’s not very good:)

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