Iniverse Essay, Research Paper
Observing the Universe – Freeman Dyson Disturbing the Universe, the autobiographical work by renownedphysicist Freeman Dyson, is a profound piece that offers insightinto the human qualities of the author. Although “it” doeschronicle his career as a scientist, the scope of the book isgreater than that. Dyson reflects on his life work as pertainsto public knowledge. In many ways Dyson’s story resonates tosome extent or another, in all of our lives. Dyson’s personalityis earmarked by his keen abilities as an observer and ananalyst, and by his struggle between conformity andindividuality. Early on in his life Dyson took typical youthful views of theworld. He was a simple-minded idealist. Pondering the upcomingwar he concluded, “…the basic cause of war is injustice. Ifall men had a fair share of the world’s goods, if all of us weregiven an equal chance in the game of life, then there would beno hatred and no war.” Dyson also noted, “The war for me was anunconditional evil”. The prime example of his attitude was hissimple yet all-encompassing theory called Cosmic Unity. “Enlightenment came to me suddenly and unexpectedly oneafternoon in March… in a blinding flash of inner light I saw the answerto the problem of war and the problem of injustice. The answer was amazinglysimple. I called it Cosmic Unity. Cosmic Unity said: There is only one ofus. We are all the same person. I am you and I am Winston Churchill andHitler and Gandhi and everybody. There is no problem of injustice becauseyour sufferings are also mine. There will be no problem ofwar as soon as you understand that in killing me you are only killing yourself. He later laments, “I must find a way to convert the world to myway of thinking”. Most people at some time have been extremelyegocentric. Witty young people such as Dyson are quick topinpoint the world’s many problems, and possible solutions. Observing the habits of most young people, Dyson’s youthfulexuberance is not uncommon. Many youth act with great fervor onthings they feel passionately about. Dyson was no exception. Freeman Dyson was a very bright young man. When he was ateenager he became engulfed in Piaggio’s Differential Equations. During one Christmas break, the restless and inquisitive Dysonwould spend nearly every waking hour pressing his bright youngmind in “Examples for Solution”. Of his Christmas break henoted, “Never have I enjoyed a vacation more.” This episode inDyson’s life is can be considered another example of hisdevotion to something of which he feels strongly. Freeman Dyson’s parents noticed that their son was becoming toonarrow-minded, thus tried to broaden his outlook. His motherwarned young Freeman that he would ruin his health and burn outhis brains if he did not change his ways. She lectured to him,”Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto.” “I am human and I letnothing human be alien to me.” Of Dyson’s passion for scienceand mathematics she warned him to save his humanity. You willregret it deeply, she said, when one day you are a greatscientist and you wake up to find that you have never had timeto make friends. It is quite evident that, if not immediately,this talk struck a chord somewhere in Dyson’s formidable psyche. His mother was also understanding of his notion dubbed CosmicUnity. She answered his view by saying that she has thoughtsomething quite similar for quite some time. The fact that Dyson was finally starting to broaden his outlookforeshadowed the events of the next stage of his life. Dysonwent from being a follower of Gandhi, to a civilian scientistworking at Bomber Command headquarters during World War II. This
radical change was not made without some deep thought on Dyson’spart. He had to rationalize. “At the beginning of the war I believed fiercely in thebrotherhood of man, called myself a follower of Gandhi, and was morally opposed toall violence. After a year of war I retreated and said, unfortunatelynonviolent resistance against Hitler is impracticable, but I am still morally opposedto bombing.” He goes on, “After I arrived at Bomber Command I said, unfortunately itturns out that we are after all bombing cities indiscriminately, but this ismorally justified as it is helping to win the war… I could no longer find anyexcuses. Mike had fought single-handed the battle of the escape hatches andindeed saved many lives. I had saved none.” Dyson learned firsthand, in a deeply meaningful way, the adage:there are no laws, only circumstances. He was conforming. He hadto approach things in a different way. In an effort to gainself-respect, Dyson considered enlisting in the army himself. His mother brought him back to his senses, convincing him tostay at Bomber Command. Dyson had become less assertive. While at Bomber Command, Dysonconcluded quite assuredly that removing the gun turrets from theairplanes would increase speed and obviously save the lives ofthe would-be gunners. In order to realize his notion Dyson wouldhave involved Wing Commander McGowan in a major beauracraticbattle. He would have had to rustle some feathers. Change ofteninvolves confronting one’s adversaries. Dyson backed down. His colleague Mike O’Loughlin was a different breed. Mike wasupset about the narrow escape hatches in the bombers. Heconcluded if the hatches were widened by just two inches manylives would be spared. Mike spent two years lobbying BomberCommand to widen the escape hatches. Ultimately he succeeded. Itwas an admirable triumph of one feeble young man overcoming theconservative military establishment. Frank Thompson, an friend of Dyson’s, is a second example of anindividual that would fight for a cause. Thompson went toOxford, joined the Communist Party and proceeded to enlist inthe army. In an undercover mission to German-occupied Yugoslaviahe was captured as a prisoner of war. Asked why he had come to aforeign country to wage war Thompson replied, “I came becausethis war is something very much deeper than a struggle of nationagainst nation. The greatest thing in the world now is thestruggle of Anti-Fascism against Fascism.” “They” replied, “Do you know that we shoot men who hold youropinion?” Thompson retorts, “I am ready to die for freedom.” Frank Thompson was the embodiment of individualism and cause. Freeman Dyson was more of a thinker than a doer. He was thekind of person that had to gather his thoughts before acting. Aprime example of his calculated action involved a buildingcaretaker named Dover Sharpe. Dover Sharpe was injured in abooby-trapped bomb explosion. Dyson could have saved him. Hehesitated, paralyzed by the intensity of the moment. DoverSharpe died. Dyson knew nothing about Dover Sharpe save hisname. Freeman Dyson had difficultybringing his thoughts and ideas to fruition. Dyson’s style wasto lay back, observe the world, analyze and profess. This washis nature. Dyson was a humanist. The consequences of hisscientific work did not elude him. Dyson was aware of theinterminable nature of scientific conclusions. He knew thatwhimsical ideas could turn into a “Magic City”. From the tone of this autobiography one can tell that Dyson’sCosmic Unity was a theme throughout his life. He was careful tochronicle the influence of the various people, places, andinstitutions in his experiences. One cannot help but construeCosmic Unity in this way. You have made an impression on me,therefore I am you. The opposite is true. When one considers theweb of human interaction, we are all one. We are all cosmicallyunified.