From Eros To Gaia

From my notion template

From Eros to Gaia

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A rambling book by Freeman Dyson – some nuggets not seen anywhere else, some duplicated in his other books. It could have been a bit more focused but I think this was a collection of essays that did not fit elsewhere

How I Discovered It

I’m working my way through all of the more mainstream Freeman Dyson Books

Who Should Read It?

Freeman Dyson Fans – everyone else should start with his other works

How the Book Changed Me

  • The most interesting nugget of wisdom is the thought that the size of any human endeavor, while measurable quantifiabley, is inherently a qualitative trait/attribute – i.e. comparisons are hard to accurately make and very few things are “just” half the size of, twice as long as, 3X the weight of, etc”
  • If it involves humans everything should be measured by my dad’s definition of order of magnitude – which is to say that all comparisons are imprecise by definition and are comparisons of fundamentally different things that differ by more than just the size, even if the size is the only apparently different variable

My Top 3 Quotes

  • Humanity is fortunate in having such a variety of energy resources at its disposal. In the very long run we shall need energy that is unpolluting; we shall have sunlight. In the fairly long run we shall need energy that is inexhaustible and moderately clean; we shall have deuterium. In the short run we shall need energy that is readily usable and abundant; we shall have uranium. Right now we need energy that is cheap and convenient; we have coal and oil. Nature has been kinder to us than we had any right to expect.
  • The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes,
  • You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.

Quotes

  • The pilgrimage from Eros to Gaia is a good metaphor for the life of a writer, beginning with a joyful fantasy of interplanetary fireworks and ending with a serene fantasy of green leaves and peaceful death.
  • You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.
  • Plan B gave the political authorities in Moscow what they wanted, a tangible symbol of Soviet greatness. Plan A might have been better for science. Plan A might have saved a whole generation of astronomers from frustration. But with plan A, the political authorities would not have had the satisfaction of building the biggest telescope in the world, and there would have been no hundred-foot wall for the visitors to write their names
  • In science, as in the quest for a village water supply, big projects bring enhanced status; small projects do not. In the competition for status, big projects usually win, whether or not they are scientifically justified. As the committees of academic professionals compete for power and influence, big science becomes more and more preponderant over small science.
  • Fortunately, the American academic system is pluralistic and chaotic enough that first-rate small science can still be done in spite of the committees. In odd corners, in out-of-the-way universities, and in obscure industrial laboratories, our Fulanis are still at work.
  • One of the main differences is that accelerators have short working lives, whereas telescopes last forever. An accelerator usually does its most important work within five years of being switched on. At the age of ten it is ready to be scrapped or converted into an injector for a larger machine. Telescopes are still young at forty. The forty-year-old 200-inch at Palomar is still as productive as it has ever been. The seventy-year-old 100-inch at Mount Wilson was recently retired, not because the telescope itself was obsolete but because the growth of the city of Los Angeles had made the sky too bright for serious astronomy. Almost all the major telescopes that have ever been built are still in use.
  • A high-visibility accelerator project, driven by political prestige rather than by scientific need, usually sets back the progress of particle physics in a country by about ten years.
  • This is another criterion for deciding the right size for a scientific project. The right size means a size at which you can afford to take a gamble. If you are too big to gamble, you are too big to do creative science.
  • The success of Apollo was mainly due to the fact that the project was conceived and honestly presented to the public as an international sporting event and not as a contribution to science. The order of priorities in Apollo was accurately reflected by the first item to be unloaded after each landing on the Moon’s surface, the television camera. The landing, the coming and going of the astronauts, the exploring of the Moon’s surface, the gathering of Moon rocks and the earthward departure, all were expertly choreographed with the cameras placed in the right positions to make a dramatic show on television.
  • The history of the shuttle is a typical example of a generic problem that occurs frequently in the development of science and technology, the problem of premature choice. Premature choice means betting all your money on one horse before you have found out whether she is lame. Politicians and administrators responsible for large projects are often obsessed with avoiding waste. To avoid waste they find it reasonable to choose one design as soon as possible and shut down the support of alternatives. So it was with the shuttle.
  • In science and technology, as in biological evolution, waste is the secret of efficiency. Without waste you cannot find out which horse is the fittest. This is a hard lesson for politicians and administrators to learn.
  • It occurred to me then that there might be a connection between the wastefulness and the flourishing of science at Cornell. If you want to do well in science, you had better not be too much concerned with saving envelopes.
  • The moral of this story is clear. Even a smart twenty-two-year-old is not a reliable guide to the future of science.
  • From a military point of view the attack was more costly to England than to Germany. Like many other such follies, it was a public-relations triumph and was made into a successful movie.
  • He chose to keep his squadron busy with operations which were technically brilliant, emotionally satisfying to the British public, and not too dangerous to his crews. Bert Harris, usually a hard man to please, loved these cheap and spectacular victories. The cheapest and most spectacular of all was the sinking of the Tirpitz. So it happened that Tait achieved the ritualization of strategic bombing operations, even before the war was over. And the operational exercise at Fairchild was only the same process of ritualization carried to its logical conclusion. I
  • The reason why LeMay succeeded while Bert Harris failed was that the Japanese did not have effective defenses. LeMay was able to ignore such defenses as there were over Japan. The fact that the Japanese defenses were negligible is well known. Another fact is not so well known. The Japanese might have had an effective defense when LeMay attacked. It was, like the Battle of Waterloo, a close-run thing. The Japanese had a twin-engined night fighter, called by them the Gekko and by the Americans the Irving.
  • While I was inspecting Tomahawks at various stages of their manufacture and deployment, I could see the pride and joy which these weapons inspire in those who handle them. That is the tragedy of the Tomahawk. It is a genuine work of art. It is an expression of human genius. Thousands of talented and dedicated people are devoting their lives to it. My friend and colleague Sidney Drell said, after visiting one of our cruise missile assembly plants, “these people build cruise missiles the way Stradivarius built violins.” Why must our skilled craftsmen and engineers find their fulfillment in building such lethal toys? Why can’t they build violins?
  • Physicists talk about two kinds of fields: classical fields and quantum fields. Actually, we believe that all fields in nature are quantum fields. A classical field is just a large-scale manifestation of a quantum field. But since classical fields were discovered first and are easier to understand, it is useful to say what we mean by a classical field first, and to talk about quantum fields later.
  • Quantum field theory is a theory of the behavior of field strengths averaged over finite regions of space and time.
  • Some ten or twenty different quantum fields exist. Each fills the whole of space and has its own particular properties. There is nothing else except these fields; the whole of the material universe is built of them. Between various pairs of fields there are various kinds of interaction. Each field manifests itself as a type of elementary particle. The particles of a given type are identical and indistinguishable. The number of particles of a given type is not fixed, for particles are constantly being created or annihilated or transmuted into one another. The properties of the interactions determine the rules for creation and transmutation of particles.
  • For any speculation that does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.
  • Energy of a higher form can be degraded into a lower form, but a lower form can never be wholly converted back into a higher form. The direction of energy flow in the universe is determined by one basic fact, that gravitational energy is not only predominant in quantity but also highest in quality. Gravitation carries no entropy and stands first in the order of merit.
  • I do not say that the experts are giving us wrong answers. I say that they are frequently not asking the right questions.
  • To indicate the crucial nature of the nonclimatic effects of carbon dioxide, it is sufficient to mention the fact that a field of corn plants growing in full sunshine will completely deplete the carbon dioxide from the air within one meter of ground in a time of the order of five minutes.
  • We scientists must share the blame. It is much more comfortable for a scientist to run a computer model in an air-conditioned supercomputer center rather than to put on winter clothes and try to keep instruments correctly calibrated outside in the mud
  • Up to a point, the computer models are useful and necessary. They are only harmful when they become a substitute for real-world observation.
  • The moral of this story is that for plants growing under dry conditions, enriched carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a substitute for water. Give a plant more carbon dioxide, and it can make do with less water.
  • But the snobs at our Institute could not tolerate the presence of electrical engineers who sullied with their dirty hands the purity of our scholarly atmosphere. Von Neumann was like Bragg, strong enough to override the opposition. But when von Neumann tragically died, the snobs took their revenge and got rid of the computing project root and branch.
  • We are trying to strengthen and extend in our own era the scientific conspiracy of nations.
  • “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
  • intelligent enough to tell the difference between a challenging intellectual adventure and a welfare program for holders of the Ph.D.
  • Complementarity says that nature is too subtle to be described from any single point of view.
  • Perhaps that is why, during all those years when the schools were teaching Latin and Greek and totally neglecting science, England produced so few great classical scholars and so many great scientists.
  • At Cambridge I learned that it is almost impossible for a Russian, even a Russian with wide knowledge of the Western world, to grasp the idea of a government being unable to do whatever it decides to do.
  • One fact of human life is nationalism. In all parts of the world nationalism is the strongest political force. In most places it is the only effective force making possible the organization of people’s efforts for peace or war. Where nationalism is weak, as in Nigeria or Belgium, it is usually because a smaller political unit, a tribe or a province, has usurped the place of the nation in people’s minds. The strength of nationalism in the world as a whole has steadily increased during recent centuries, and is probably still increasing.
  • In the pure white English society into which I was born, having at that time no racial problems to worry about, we developed our famous class system instead. As a middle-class child, I was unable to communicate with most of the children of my neighborhood, since they were “Oiks” and spoke a different dialect.
  • This is human life the way it is, my son wearing his hair odiously long because I dislike to be seen together with it in public, and we of the older generation fulfilling our duty as parents by keeping our hair short and marijuana illegal.
  • We all have a psychological need to feel identified with a group, preferably not too large a group, with a common purpose and a common enemy. Countries as big as the United States are already far too big to fulfill this need satisfactorily. Countries as small as Holland or Switzerland generally handle social problems better than big countries do. Nationalism is most genuine and spontaneous in countries which are both small and threatened, such as Finland or Israel.
  • People will prefer to live in filth with the threat of annihilation hanging over their heads, rather than allow foreigners to tax them.
  • After a government kills one thorium-breeding reactor project, nobody has the heart to try to begin another.
  • Inventive spirits rebel against such rules and leave the leadership of technology to the uninventive. These are the hidden costs of saying no. To mitigate such costs, lawyers and legislators should carry in their hearts the other lesson that Blake has taught us: “One Law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression.”
  • He fails to understand the historical background of the 1940s and 1950s because his interpretations are dominated by the ideological clichés of the 1960s and 1970s. I am not saying that history ought to be morally neutral. I am saying only that history ought to understand before it condemns
  • He came closer than any later historian can come to answering the crucial question, “Would Japan have surrendered if the atomic bombs had not been dropped?” I asked Butow this question explicitly when he was visiting Princeton. Butow replied, “The Japanese leaders themselves do not know the answer to that question, and if they cannot answer it, neither can I.” Butow went on to explain that the Japanese government in 1945 was delicately balanced between the civilian leaders, who were trying to open peace negotiations through the Soviet Union, and the military leaders, who were preparing to defend every inch of Japanese soil with the same suicidal ferocity with which they had defended Okinawa.
  • preventive war in 1936, when Germany was still effectively disarmed and incapable of serious resistance against invading forces, might have overturned Hitler’s regime in a few days and saved the 50 million human beings who were to die in World War 2.
  • a free society needed superior military technology to withstand the superior discipline of a totalitarian enemy, and the military establishment needed a free society to allow scientists and soldiers to work together in an informal and creative style that a totalitarian state could not match.
  • When Heims writes of von Neumann and of the arms race without discussing the notion of “Fighting for Freedom,” that grand illusion that lies at the root of the turmoil and tragedy of our times, he is plowing a shallow furrow in the rich soil of history.
  • The healthy growth of science requires that both traditions be honored. Bacon without Descartes would reduce science to butterfly collecting; Descartes without Bacon would reduce science to pure mathematics.
  • Tolstoy’s uniqueness lies in his profound understanding of the ordinary, and in the very ordinariness of his profound understanding. In his view, truth is not buried but camouflaged. Unlike most thinkers of his time and ours, he rejected philosophy’s prevailing impulse to locate meaning in the distance, in a concealed order. Tolstoy was instead a philosopher of the present, of the open present, with all its unrealized opportunities and wasteful carelessness. (Steve Note – i.e. the god of the open spaces)
  • My friend and colleague, the physicist Chen Ning Yang, told me once that when he was a boy of six in China he looked up at the stars and asked what are the laws that make them move across the sky. But when I was a boy of six in England, I looked up at the stars and asked what are their names
  • When fear of death assails me, as it assails everyone from time to time, I take courage from that memory of green leaves and blue sky. Perhaps, when death comes, he will once again come as a friend.
  • Just as no single termite knows how to build a nest, no single human knows how to build a culture. A single termite alone cannot survive, and a single human being alone is not human. Termite societies are glued together with mud and saliva; human societies are glued together with conversation and friendship. Conversation is the natural and characteristic activity of human beings. Friendship is the milieu within which we function.
  • The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes,

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