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Why I am an optimist


Friends and children
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I don't make many friends here at the Institute. That... I mean this has always been true, that I don't easily collaborate with people and when I do it's generally at a large distance. I've collaborated a lot with Mehta, for example, who lives in France and now we can collaborate by e-mail; in the old days we wrote letters back and forth, so I've always been good at collaborating at a distance. But of course a huge number of friends I've made through my kids... I have six children and each of them has a world into which I am able to enter and make friends there, so their friends are my friends. That's how a lot of my friendships arise, in fact, just brought through... through the children, and that's of course a wonderful way of keeping in touch with the younger generation.

[Q] And is there special satisfaction, for example, in seeing one daughter going off and becoming a minister, and another daughter becoming a doctor, another a son who becomes a writer? You clearly did things right or...

Well, at least I didn't make terrible mistakes. That's... it is of course an enormous satisfaction that every one of these six is doing something interesting. They're all happy people, fully engaged in what they're doing and... and that's for me an enormous joy and so, I mean, I'm... I'm lucky, but it's always a gamble when you have children but so... somehow or other it worked out.

[Q] And some other people would say it's more than luck.

Well, anyway, it's wonderful.

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 of Advanced Study, Princeton University, Madan Lal Mehta

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008