Infinite in All Directions
In 2013, Freeman Dyson celebrated his ninetieth birthday and also marked his sixtieth year as a Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, the longest tenure of any Faculty member in the Institute’s history. When Dyson first arrived as a Member in 1948, the Institute was less than twenty years old. “Dreams of Earth and Sky,” a conference and celebration conceived by Dyson’s colleagues in the School of Natural Sciences and held September 27–28, provided a perspective on his work and impact across the sciences and humanities. The program featured a range of talks on mathematics, physics, astronomy, and public affairs that reflect both the diversity of Dyson’s interests and his ability to open new dialogues.
The son of composer Sir George Dyson and Mildred Atkey, Dyson was born in Crowthorne, England, on December 15, 1923. He worked as a civilian scientist for the Royal Air Force in World War II, and graduated from Cambridge University in 1945 with a B.A. degree in mathematics. He went on to Cornell University as a graduate student in 1947 and worked with Hans Bethe and Richard Feynman. One of Dyson’s most notable contributions to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. Dyson then worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics, and biology, looking for problems where mathematics could be usefully applied. Author of numerous articles and books about science for the general public, he has also been heavily invested in human issues, from arms control and space travel to climate studies. Dyson once remarked that he was “obsessed with the future.” His keen observations and sense of wonder, which have inspired generations here at the Institute and beyond, are powerful testaments to the freedom provided by the Institute to follow one’s future, wherever it may lead.
Freeman Dyson’s family, friends, and colleagues from around the world gathered at the Institute on September 27 and 28 for a birthday celebration that featured a two-day program of talks and a special dinner. Dyson’s granddaughter, Clara (pictured below), read the following poem “You and I” at Dyson’s birthday dinner.
You and I
by Mary Ann Hoberman
Read by Clara Dyson (above) at the Institute Dinner Celebration for Grandpa’s 90th Birthday, September 27, 2013
Only one I in the whole wide world
And millions and millions of you,
But every you is an I to itself,
And I am a you to you, too.
But if I am a you and you are an I
And the opposite also is true,
It makes us both the same somehow,
Yet splits us each in two.
It’s more and more mysterious,
The more I think it through:
Every you everywhere in the world is an I,
Every I in the world is a you.
Recommended Viewing: Videos of the talks given by George Andrews, Kathrin Bringmann, Sidney Drell, William Happer, Russell Hemley, Joseph Kirschvink, Joel Lebowitz, Amory Lovins, William Press, Martin Rees, Sara Seager, and H. T. Yau during “Dreams of Earth and Sky” may be accessed at https://www.ias.edu/video/dyson-dreams. Additional images from the event are available at http://www.ias.edu/news/dyson-dreams.