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Littlewood's Tauberian theorem and Dyson's ferromagnet paper


GH Hardy and JE Littlewood's lectures
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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With [GH] Hardy and [JE] Littlewood I wasn't personally close, but I went to all their lectures and the lectures were wonderful because they were so small. The number of students then was tiny. I mean the University was almost closed down because of the war, and so we had these lecture-classes in a room which was smaller than this office where we're now sitting, with a little table in the middle and four or five chairs, so Hardy would sit at the end of the table and four or five students around the table, and that was it. So we were just a few inches away from him. So it was very intimate but both Hardy and Littlewood never opened up as individuals, and I only learned since that they both of them were going through great psychological turmoil and Hardy was in fact himself a pacifist, which I only learned later, and we never talked about that.

[Q] Nor about the fact that you had Winchester as a common background?

No. But he gave these superb lectures which were works of art and very, very polished, about Fourier series and Fourier integrals mostly. And Littlewood gave lectures which were totally different. They were extemporised and he would always get stuck in the middle of a proof and then try to find his way through, and that was in a way more fun. So I loved Littlewood's lectures too, and each of them in their own way, but he also didn't open up and we only learned later that he had gone through big psychological...

[Q] Turmoil...

Well, more than turmoil, he'd actually... I mean he had really bad depressions and had to be hospitalised from time to time. And when he was 80 years old he came to Princeton and we were talking about his health problems, and he said that it was funny that all his life he had thought that he was very unhealthy, and was worried about getting sick and dying, and only when he reached the age of 80 he discovered he was actually quite healthy.

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: Cambridge University, WWII, Princeton University, GH Hardy, JE Littlewood

Duration: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008