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Political feelings in the '30s: Communism and pacifism


Mother's influence on my relationships
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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My father was always a much more remote figure in a way. I mean, he enjoyed having a bright son and he would boast about all my exams and all the prizes I won and so on but I was for him more of a source of pride but not so much a personal friend. But my mother was very close and she taught me a lot about life and, of course, she taught me that friendship and human relationships were more important than books, and that if I buried myself in books all the time and did nothing but mathematics, I'd miss out on what was most important in life, and in the end I would be sour and disappointed if I discovered too late that I had missed out on love and affection and all the other things. And so she taught me about other kinds of literature, and in particular she was very fond of quoting Goethe's Faust; that was for her one of the main sort of sources of wisdom, this fellow who makes his pact with the devil for knowledge and power and neglects his friends and his girlfriend in particular and just uses people instead of understanding them. So he, Faust, was held up to me as what I should not become, which was quite appropriate. So anyway from her I got, I think, the best kind of education in the human aspects of life.

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: Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Duration: 1 minute, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008