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Surprising Science

The Mind of Freeman Dyson

In his Big Think interview, Freeman Dyson gladly discusses nearly the entire twentieth century: both its wonders (including almost miraculous advances in physics) and its horrors (for which, he says, science must accept part of the blame). Just don’t ask him to speculate too much about the century ahead—particularly when it comes to the environment. Dyson, who has ruffled feathers by taking a more cautious stance on global warming than many of his colleagues, maintains that we can’t predict climate changes decades in advance, and that it’s “absurd” to try.
Answering his critics on the issue, the celebrated scientist says that the controversy “doesn’t disturb [him] at all.” In fact, he welcomes it. Although he believes that human activity is changing the climate, he points out that “it could very well be the climate gets colder. Nobody knows”—and believes that scaremongering predictions only prevent our taking realistic steps to address potential problems.

Recalling a long and varied career, Dyson also explains his role in the midcentury Orion Project (the rocket design could have had us “scooting around the solar system,” but had to be scuttled due to radioactivity concerns) and offers his outlook on nuclear arms reduction 25 years after his book “Weapons and Hope.” The quantum electrodynamics pioneer even comments, with a smile, on having been denied the Nobel Prize in Physics all these years: “If people ask why you didn’t get the prize, it’s much better than if they’re asking, ‘Why did you get it?'”


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