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My friendship with Oliver Sacks


Rocky relationships with institutions and people
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I've never had very good relations with institutions and... so... I mean I'm just definitely not a... person who likes institutions or works well with them, so I've never had very happy relations with the Institute for example. I mean I've always... in all our squabbles in the Institute, of which there have been many, I've always been in the minority. And I detest the National Academy of Sciences, only I didn't have the guts to resign as Feynman did. Anyhow, so I've nothing to say about institutions. About people, I think I have... I mean my mother always used to say that I had a gift for friendship with little girls and old ladies, everything in between was more difficult! And that still remains true in a sense, that I mean I love old people and I love young people and in between it's not... it's not so simple. But I've had many very close friendships and I still do, and a lot of them by correspondence. There's a wonderful Mormon lady in Idaho whom I've never met, whom I've had a lengthy correspondence with simply because she read Disturbing the Universe and wrote me a lovely letter, and she has seven kids and she wanted... said she wanted to live lightly on the earth and she was feeling bad because she had seven kids and could I give her some advice. And anyway, so I've got very close to this woman whom I've never met, and that's the beauty of writing books. I mean that, to me, is what writing books gave. It was a way of making friends which has been extraordinarily powerful and it still works. I'm astonished that... to what extent people still read books and write letters though it's said... I mean, everybody says books are not being read any more, and... and letters are not being written, but I know that's not true.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Institute for Advanced Study, National Academy of Sciences, Idaho, Disturbing the Universe

Duration: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008