Freeman Dyson

I don’t want to turn this blog into an “obituary blog”, but I want to put up a post about Freeman Dyson’s passing. Not because I know that much about him, but because I’ve stumbled across a bunch of interesting stuff about him, after reading a few obituaries. So I guess I’m going to have two obituary posts in a row. (And maybe three, since there’s one more person I want to blog about.)

First: here are links to the obits from the NY Times, Washington Post and NPR. From the Times obit, I like this quote: “Life begins at 55, the age at which I published my first book.” (I’m not quite 55 yet, so there’s still hope for me!)

The Post obit has some interesting stuff about his experiences in World War Two:

Mr. Dyson witnessed how technology had “made evil anonymous,” as the bombers dropped incendiary explosives that ignited firestorms, destroying whole cities. He wondered later “how it happened that I let myself become involved in this crazy game of murder.”

And observations on religion:

“I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension,” he wrote.

And the Hacker News thread about his death led me to some interesting YouTube videos:

You could really fall into a deep rabbit hole, just watching Freeman Dyson videos on YouTube.

Of course, his views on some subjects, including climate change, were probably wrong, but it’s not a bad thing to have an educated, civil, contrarian expressing his opinions. There was a profile of him in the NY Times Magazine, back in 2009, titled “The Civil Heretic,” which seems like a pretty good description for him.

He lived in Princeton for many years, and died there. I’m really not far from Princeton, but it generally doesn’t occur to me to seek out interesting people and events that might be happening there. I’m sure he must have had a number of public speaking engagements at Princeton over the last 20 years, and I could probably have made it to one or two. So I guess that’s a missed opportunity. (But hey, I can still watch all of those YouTube videos, so that’s something.)

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