[ExI] Freeman Dyson is dead

spike at rainier66.com spike at rainier66.com
Thu Mar 5 21:31:24 UTC 2020



From: extropy-chat <extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org> On Behalf Of John Clark via extropy-chat
Sent: Thursday, March 5, 2020 12:09 PM
To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
Cc: John Clark <johnkclark at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [ExI] Freeman Dyson is dead


On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 1:35 PM William Flynn Wallace via extropy-chat <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org <mailto:extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> > wrote:


> I can top that, Spike:  I shook hands with George H and Barbara Bush 


The best I can do is Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, co-inventors of the H-bomb.


John K Clark



John, we had Edward Teller come down to Lockheed Palo Alto Research in about 1997 to give us a lecture.  It was one of the few times we had a packed house for one of the physics seminars there.  He was already almost 90, but I can assure you, he was as sharp as ever.  That guy really surprised me: he was funny as hell.  He gave us a lecture he called “Tales from the Dark Side of Physic.”


Unlike most of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, Teller came across as jovial, lighthearted, not a trace of introspection that any of us could see, completely different from what I expected.


This what I remember from his lecture.  He and his group did some calculations which convinced them there was a largest possible nuclear fission bomb.  After that, the efficiency dropped off so quickly it wasn’t practical.  As I recall he said they thought the largest possible nuclear weapon would be about a gigaton.  That might not be big enough to scare Russia into behaving themselves.  Russia is a big country, you know.


They added in the nuclear fusion element and discovered that there was no clear upper limit on fusion weapons.  He and his group did the calculations for a compression shock wave sufficient to ensure killing every human on earth (not much point in going higher than that, ja?)  They discovered that it would be theoretically possible to make such a device, depending on your definition of the term “theoretically.”  There was no reason to stay awake worrying if some crazy dictator would do it.  Since it was going to kill everyone on the planet, there was no need to haul it elsewhere.  You could build it in your own backyard, not bother with a rocket or a guidance system.


When he sprung that one on us, he did this kind of odd characteristic laugh, which I now realize Peter Sellers might have been channeling for his Dr. Strangelove character.


It was a fun lecture.

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