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Sci Tech

Freeman Dyson, A Brilliant Scientist Who is an Unabashed Optimist About Biotechnology Research - Part I

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Freeman Dyson is the British mathematical physicist who famously drove cross-country from New York to California with Richard Feynman in the late 1950's and helped him work out the mathematics enabling him to formalize the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, for which Feynman shared the Nobel Prize in 1965. Along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman was and is the most beloved American physicist of all time. He had a wonderful sense of humor, was admired without reservation by a whole generation of Cal Tech students, and he died in 1988.


Richard Feynman at Cal Tech, by Emilio Segre Visual Archives, at Flickr Commons

Besides having been a lifelong friend of Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson has published several physics books for laymen; and he is a devout Christian, which is not common among physicists. But to my way of thinking above all, Dyson is an optimistic scientist when it comes to biological research involving creation of new organisms.


Freeman Dyson in 2005, by Wikipedia

To view a previous OEN article of mine quoting from a book by Freeman Dyson, published on August 6, 2010 (Hiroshima Day), click here.

This article is in two parts. Both parts are based on Dyson's most recent popular book, A Many-Colored Glass. And both parts will quote extensively from the book, published by the University of Virginia Press, copyright 2007. The title of the book is taken from two lines in the poem "Adonais" by Percy Bysshe Shelly:

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,/

Stains the white radiance of eternity.

The subject of the book, broadly, is conveyed by its subtitle: "Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe."

This first part of my article is really introductory. It simply illustrates in 540 words what one brilliant physicist thinks is a very important consequence of entropy.

The words are in Chapter 4: A Friendly Universe, beginning on page 77 with the subtitle, The Expanding Universe:

"The fact that the universe is expanding rather than stationary was discovered by Edwin Hubble in the 1920's. The discovery came as an unwelcome shock to most of the theoretical scientists at the time, and especially to Einstein. For reasons that are now difficult to understand, Einstein had a strong prejudice that the universe ought to be stationary. This prejudice did not arrive from the theory of general relativity, which he had discovered a few years earlier. The theory of general relativity actually runs into difficulties if the universe is stationary. Einstein had decided to change his theory by adding an additional term, the famous "cosmological constant," which made the theory more complicated, just in order to allow the universe to be stationary. After Hubble's discovery, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant and resigned himself to living in an expanding universe. But the old prejudice in favor of a stationary universe was still strong. It was shared by many other great scientists besides Einstein. It probably arose long ago from the ancient Greek view of the celestial sphere as a region of unchanging and perpetual peace. It was this prejudice that caused the scientists of the 19th century to take seriously the idea of universal heat death. And the idea of the heat death remained fixed in many people's minds even after Hubble had made it unnecessary.

How can it happen that in an expanding universe we can have increasing order and increasing disorder at the same time? From an intuitive point of view, the answer to this question is almost obvious. The expansion gives more space for the separation of the order and the disorder. Order can increase in one part of the universe and disorder in another. The physical separation between the order and disorder allows each to increase without coming into conflict. As a practical example to illustrate how this works, consider the planet Earth. Order increases on planet Earth when water and carbon dioxide and minerals are converted by the energy of sunlight into rice and fish and humans. To pay for this increase of order, disorder in the form of infrared heat radiation is radiated away from Earth into space. To satisfy the second law of thermodynamics, the amount of disorder in the outgoing heat radiation is always greater than the amount of order in new growth here on Earth. But the disorder in the heat radiation does not disturb us because it never comes back to Earth. If we lived in a stationary nonexpanding universe, the whole universe would gradually become filled with heat radiation, and the radiation emitted by Earth would ultimately come back to haunt us. After a very long time, the sky would become filled with heat radiation at the same temperature as the Earth, and we would be stifled by our own heat waste. The heat death would then be a reality. But because the volume of the universe is continually expanding, the heat radiation becomes more and more dilute as time goes on, and its temperature decreases. The amount of disorder in the heat radiation is constantly growing, but its temperature and its density in space are diminishing so that it will never do us any harm."

I will submit the second part of this article in the next few days.

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 
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attempting to summarize or even paraphrase Freeman... by GLloyd Rowsey on Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010 at 6:38:46 AM
It is difficult to get a man to understand somethi... by Ned Lud on Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010 at 11:17:41 AM
This part just illustrates the present thinking of... by GLloyd Rowsey on Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010 at 11:39:43 AM
I had a book by Richard Feynmand by my bed for yea... by Allan Wayne on Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010 at 10:06:07 PM
I had a book by Richard Feynmand by my bed for yea... by Allan Wayne on Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010 at 10:10:44 PM
"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" was an auto-bi... by GLloyd Rowsey on Friday, Aug 27, 2010 at 6:17:22 AM