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Returning to England


Oldstone conference: Renormalization of theories
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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[Q] There is another conference, I mean the third of the series of conferences, Shelter Island, Pocono and Oldstone, where you come, where you are invited.

Yes. And I remember that conference rather vividly. It was fun and there were a lot of interesting people there, but there was very little actual progress to report. Everything had already been done by that time.

[Q] Except for one thing which is, if I remember correctly, you give a talk on the notion of renormalisability and put forth the notion of renormalisability as a criterion for selecting theories.

That might be true. Yes, I don't remember, that's quite possible. You already know more about this than I do.

[Q] I mean it's in the notes of Pocono...

OK... of Oldstone. What I remember from Oldstone was that it was a great disappointment to most of the people there, that there was really nothing new and that's why they decided that they wouldn't have another conference.

[Q] And the interest had shifted from electrodynamics to meson theories and things like that.

Right. Yes. So it was in fact the sort of the end of the game rather than the beginning of something new. So it was fun to be there but it wasn't exciting in the way the earlier conferences were.

[Q] No, I raised the issue of renormalisability because it does become a central feature of how theoretical... I mean that as a selection principle it becomes important in terms of what people like Weinberg do, and etc etc... namely, whether theory is renormalisable or not is a central question to be asked and you're not going to consider theories which are not renormalisable.

Yes, that's true, and of course, it turned out to be very simple to calculate whether a theory's renormalisable or not.

[Q] Right.

Yes, so that was certainly a step forward.

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: Shelter Island Conference, Pocono Conference, Oldstone Conference, 1947, 1948, 1949, Steven Weinberg

Duration: 2 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008