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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

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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:

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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."

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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.

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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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