Monday, April 27, 2015

The Making of the Atomic Bomb - the Dane of Twain

I assume we’ve worked through “Moonshine” and “Atoms and Void”, and now will tinker with “Tvi” and “The Long Grave Already Dug”. Two historic take-a-ways from the first two chapters would seem to be Leo Szilard’s idea of nuclear chain reaction, and, of course, Earnest Rutherford’s famous gold foil experiment. 

Chapter 4 appears to me a mishmash of scientific war stories, while 3 is the story of Niels Bohr. I don’t think Poul Martin Moller’s The Adventures of a Danish Student is available in English, so it probably will not be the next book here. Is it strange that Niels Bohr, perhaps the most famous Dane after Hamlet, apparently relied on another famous Dane to work through the disabling reflective self? Bohr became consumed with humanity's most incredible blessing or nightmare: our ability to contemplate our own contemplation. Consciousness or awareness must be mankind’s defining trait. For Bohr it apparently arrived like Cougan & Dark’s Pandemonium mirror maze reflecting oneself into infinite eternity. Rhodes credits the other famous Dane, (no, not Hans Christian Andersen, although elf-land has worked for some) Soren Kierkegaard, with enabling a ‘leap of faith’ as the individual personally makes his ‘either-or’ decision. More practically, it seems that throwing himself into to hard work helped. And, while Polanyi’s view that quantum jumping is similar to the Virgin Mary, except with a hell-of-a-lot-more observational ‘clues’ for the former, the strong reliance of a real outside world in science allowed Bohr to focus externally instead of internally.

I also found it remarkable that Niels Bohr, Moller, Harald Hoffding, Bohr’s father’s friend and common house guest, and Kierkegaard all traveled in the same circles. If you want to be famous, find some famous friends, or ones who seem like they should be. 


James R said...

Perhaps we're already bogged down, but here are some other considerations from chapters 3 and 4: (5 and 6 for next week?)

•The scientist as athlete
•The scientific views of vitalism versus mechanism
•The similarity of Sherlock Holmes’ Irene Adler and Neils’ mother Ellen Adler.
•“We are suspended in language”, Bohr liked to say.
•Matter, as in electrons, not behaving as we “see” things, but jump to a place rather than travel—discontinuous ‘leaps’ (of faith?).
•Causal, if only probable, state changes vs. non causal, individual “free-choice” transitions
•Bohr: “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”
•The role of morality in science.
•Science and the death machine.

Big Myk said...

I actually have not read these chapters. But there is a curious town in Santa Barbara county that we visited a few days ago. Called Solvang, it was originally a Danish settlement, and many buildings are constructed in the traditional half-timber style.

I felt certain that in this town built but the sons and daughters of Denmark that there would be some tribute to the Dane who had such a profound effect on history, Niels Bohr. No such luck.
We found a bust of Hans Christian Anderson publicly displayed but nothing for Bohr.

James R said...

I looked up Solvang—what a strange town. Did you find it quaint or kitsch? Danish-land or Disneyland? Perhaps it didn't have enough substance, even a quantum worth, to recognize the great Dane.