Dinner with Dyson

Paul Halpern and Freeman Dyson at the Institute for Advanced Study in 2016
Photo courtesy of the IAS
IAS Director Robbert Dijkgraaf, EPS President Christophe Rossel, APS President Homer Neal, APS CEO Kate Kirby (Photos courtesy of the IAS)
Freeman Dyson receiving an Honorary Degree at USciences

Did you ever visit the Herschel Museum in Bath?

He said:

No, but I visited the Maritime Museum in Bath.

I said:

I didn’t know Bath was by the sea.

He replied:

Bath, Maine!

We both laughed.

The Herschel Museum in Bath, England. Photo by Paul Halpern

Here is your vegan appetizer, Prof. Dyson!

After we each consumed our respective appetizers, his the vegan version, the next course was fish soup, which I noticed that Prof. Dyson was eating too. I was puzzled, and said to him:

I thought you were vegan.

He replied:

I was!

Once again, we both had a laugh.

Don’t tell my wife, but I’d rather be eating at McDonalds!

At some point, I reminded Dyson about the book I was working on at the time, The Quantum Labyrinth, about the lives and works of Richard Feynman and John Wheeler. He told me a Feynman story I hadn’t heard before. As I recounted Dyson’s story in my book:

One time, a friend of Feynman’s daughter Michelle, whose family was going on vacation, dropped off their pet boa constrictor at the Feynman house for a month of “babysitting.” Much to Feynman’s consternation, the snake’s diet was live mice. After he managed to procure some, he was dismayed to see that the boa constrictor was too languid to catch its prey. Instead, the mice began nibbling on the snake’s skin, disfiguring it. Feynman had to stand guard to protect the pet. Michelle’s friend’s parents were very upset when they returned from vacation to find their “baby” with nibble marks. Never again, Feynman swore.

Also seated at the dinner was Freeman Dyson’s son, historian George Dyson, who gave an excellent talk about the history of the IAS. Freeman Dyson proudly noted that while he never received his PhD, George did him one better by having never received a high school degree. George had fled the USA for Canada during the Vietnam War because of the draft and returned only years later. Nevertheless George (like many other members of the Dyson family) was extremely successful.

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Paul Halpern

Paul Halpern

Physicist and science writer. Author of Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect