Tag Archives: Great minds

Dyson on Oppenheimer

Fantastic Freeman Dyson's review of Robert Oppenheimer: His Life and Mind (A Life Inside the Center) by Ray Monk. 

A few excerpts:

"The subtitle, “A Life Inside the Center,” calls attention to a rarer skill in which Oppenheimer excelled. He had a unique ability to put himself at the places and times at which important things were happening."

"He was driven by an irresistible ambition to play a leading part in historic events."

"Einstein never imagined and never accepted this consequence of his theory. Oppenheimer imagined it and accepted it."

- Note: to accept you need to imagine, so Einstein never imagined, full stop, no?

"After learning this, I went to see Oppenheimer and asked him directly why he had thought that tactical nuclear weapons were a good idea. This time, he answered my question. He said, “To understand why I advocated tactical weapons, you would have to see the Air Force war plan that we had then. That was the God-damnedest thing I ever saw. It was a mindless obliteration of cities and populations. Anything, even a major ground war fought with nuclear weapons, was better than that.”

"The real tragedy of Oppenheimer’s life was not the loss of his security clearance but his failure to be a great scientist."

"I believe the main reason why he failed was a lack of Sitzfleisch. Sitzfleisch is a German word with no equivalent in English. The literal translation is “Sitflesh.” It means the ability to sit still and work quietly. He could never sit still long enough to do a difficult calculation. His calculations were always done hastily and often full of mistakes."

"He always wanted to be at the center. This quality is good for soldiers and politicians but bad for original thinkers."