The Boring World of Niels Bohr


The espionage scandals in the news prompts us to revisit how physicists have been under surveillance by the US government, to sometimes hilarious results. During World War II, Niels Bohr (and his son) visited Washington D.C., where they were under secret surveillance. The following declassified report confirms the standard suspicion of quantum physics.


I type here the relevant part of the report on Niels Bohr:

Both the father and son appear to be extremely absent-minded individuals, engrossed in themselves, and go about paying little attention to any external influences. As they did a great deal of walking, this Agent had occasion to spend considerable time behind them and observe that it was rare when either of them paid much attention to stop lights or signs, but proceeded on their way much the same as if they were walking in the woods. On one occasion, subjects proceeded across a busy intersection against the red light in a diagonal fashion, taking the longest route possible and one of greatest danger. The resourceful work of Agent Maiers in blocking out one half of the stream of automobile traffic with his car prevented their possibly incurring serious injury in this instance.

In conclusion, yes, quantum physicists are very dangerous, but to themselves.

The Sins of Isaac Newton

I just came back from a delightful vacation where I reread The Baroque Cycle. The Baroque Cycle is a series of novels published in three volumes Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World in the genre of historical fiction about the rise of natural philosophy, important developments in economics and politics during the enlightenment. It is insanely ambitious, imitating literary styles from the era. It is insanely detailed. One of its major characters is Isaac Newton, both in his roles of the greatest natural philosopher ever, and as the master of the Mint, reforming the financial system in England.

Through out the books, references are made to a list of sins that Isaac Newton kept. In this list, he detailed every sin he ever committed. Curiously, the real documents including this list has been found by historians, and published on the internet. Check out the real list of Isaac Newton’s sins here.

Royal Society Podcast

The Royal Society has a podcast! Both in Audio and Video versions.

Each podcast is well produced and features a famous scientist or popularizer giving a short but entertaining lecture, or a scholar discussing the history behind some famous member of the Society. I love them!

it comes first to fluidity, then to orbiculation, then fixation, so to angulization, then crystallization, from thence to germination or ebullition, then vegetation, then plantanimation, perfect animation, sensation local motion, and the like
-Gimcrack, making fun of Robert Hooke

Dirac and Quantum Mechanics

Dirac invented quantum mechanics as we know it. He unified everything, adding much along the way into the modern formalism. His book from The Principles of Quantum Mechanics feels completely modern,although it was first published in 1930. However, he was also very humble, giving a lot of credit to others for things he himself discovered.

Kurt Gottfried posted a paper in arXiv:1006.4610 where he carefully examines the history of quantum mechanics by going to the original papers and getting the record straight. This highlights the central role Dirac played through out this. This cute paper is nice, with tons of references, some fun anecdotes, and just enough equations to get the details right. I highly recommend it.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
-Groucho Marx

Werner and Paul Adrien Maurice on a Steamer

Is this the interaction picture?
Is this the interaction picture?

W. Heisenberg and P.A.M. Dirac, two of the founders quantum mechanics, were on a steamer boat from America to Japan. Heisenberg, a social butterfly, would participate of all the social activities, while Dirac, always very shy, would just sit quietly and watch.

“Heisenberg, why do you dance?” Dirac honestly inquires. “Well, when there are nice girls it is a pleasure to dance.” Heisenberg responds. Dirac turns silent for a few minutes, involved in deep thought. He finally questions, “Heisenberg, how do you know beforehand that the girls are nice?”

According to Heisenberg, this is a true story.

Lord, grant me chastity and continence… but not yet.
-St. Augustine

Solvay Conference Style Pictures

Most probably you have seen that famous Solvay Conference Picture, the one with Einstein, Dirac, M. Curie, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and many other famous physicists.

The famous Solvay Conference picture.
The famous Solvay Conference picture.

We decided to take a group picture in the courtyard of our building in Harvard imitating that picture.

Group Picture Imitating the Solvay Conference
Group Picture Imitating the Solvay Conference


“If I understand Dirac correctly, his meaning is this: there is no God, and Dirac is his Prophet.”
-Wolfgang Pauli