Philip Morrison, "Remarks of an Equinox” - The Worlds of Philip Morrison Symposium (Day 2)
MORRISON: Naturally I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and warmth at the sense of pleasure that was expressed in the years that I've worked or done something with many of the people who were here and many of you, especially grateful for the last 20 seconds, which I recognize is also not only very warm but also free from hyperbole, which was not true of all the other-- I wish I'd done some of those fine things that people said I did. But anyway, I might have tried but I don't know. They put a very golden glow on the past hints and ventures and efforts which, as everyone knows, are never quite what the reflective theorist says about them later on.
I want to make one very early comment, quick comment, and that is that physicists are very poor at dates. For example, I myself can't get over the feeling that the 20th century began, in physics, 20th century physics, on the 1st of January, 1896. Well, it's only four years off, to be sure. But that is the date, of course, which Roentgen's famous paper discussing the x-rays was printed, circulated through the world and began the tremendous impetus which we still feel from the turn of the century events, the radioactivity, electron, and Roentgen's rays. So the physicist missed that by four years, which was not bad for a whole century.
And I must say the organizers in celebrating my 70th birthday on this date are, again, taking a certain liberty by debating how to calculate they're only 10% off or only 1.5% off. And either of those results is probably good enough in our trade. Something else for the benefit of the people who were present last night and who took part in our splendid dinner, which will exclude many of the people who come this morning to these delightful talks, which as Professor Lo said to me-- and I won't steal his idea-- represent two pools of excellence in our public communication, so as to say a technical, brilliant, clear and powerful talk and a wide ranging commentary of the greatest importance to every auditor from Carl on the one hand, from Hans on the other, a remarkable demonstration of what the community does include.
But people who were there last night will have taken part and also witnessed a very generous gift which people gave me, a superb, high-frequency receiver and transmitter box of enormous technical-- the latest thing, state-of-the-art, quite a marvel. And I wanted to justify a little bit by saying I really am saturated with that strange attitude towards radio, which is characteristic of-- I'll say more about it in a moment-- many other technologies in our present world. They attract people who have no particular professional concern with them because of the remarkable experiences they offer and challenges.
For me, it goes back very far. And perhaps this anecdotal material is worthwhile. I think that's appropriate to such an occasion. My father, who was a most active, alert and intelligent man with very little or no technical training or interest and not very much formal education, knew his way around the world extremely well and could calculate wonderfully mostly the flow of the cards, bought me, for my fifth birthday, a remarkable device then that had been on sale for two weeks, just two weeks, in one of the big department stores in downtown Pittsburgh where I was growing up, Joseph Horn and Company, who sold, in those two weeks, something like 3,000 crystal sets which we called Areola Junior.
They're made by the Westinghouse Electric manufacturing company and they were intended to attract an audience to the first broadcast station anywhere in that part of the world. Of course there were lot of disputes who was first, but KDKA Pittsburgh was widely held to be the first commercial broadcasting station in the United States. Perhaps that's not even true, but it's a worthwhile tradition.
They broadcast from the Westinghouse plant and we lived about three or four miles from that place in a place called Wilkinsburg, PA and they were in Pittsburgh. My father knew I'd be interested in such a thing. And sure enough, for my fifth birthday I got this remarkable affair with a little crank-like dial. It's two coils which mutual inductance was variable to tune it and it's an early solid state device called crystal of galena and a hardwire which you touched against it which made it possible to hear the election returns of the Harding election, which was not something very exciting to me, but quite a lot of other things as well.
And I became glued to that and quite a radio enthusiast from the age of five. And maybe that's responsible for whatever else happened to me. I don't know. We know that bending twigs inclines trees and was certainly a severe bend to my particular twig.
I remember about two years later I organized the neighborhood kids to build in the wastelands of high grasses and discarded tires behind our house a hidden, secluded nest in the woods, which many kids do at that age. And we fitted it up with a powerful radio receiver and transmitter according to my own design, the chief ingredient of which was a broken fever from a clinical thermometer which had a wonderful calibration. And you felt it was really a fine device. It was quite nice, too. I can't say that it worked, but it looked quite impressive.
And I did become, of course, a devoted radio amateur from about the age of nine and was a radio amateur for many, many years until I became a graduate student and I had to work too hard and gave it up. And I hope to go back to that if I ever can get out of making television programs and working too hard doing that. But we'll see.
In any case, we turned the set on last night. It has marvelous, 40 or 50 push buttons and leavers and so on. Even to read the manual would take two hours. So we just played around. I did coax a few signals out of it. And when I left this morning, I'd already heard quite a lot of the usual powerful broadcasters.
Knowing how that works, it works fine. It's a wonderful device. And it's full of severe phase lock loops, which give a powerful way to pick out frequencies. And I tried it on WWV, the father of time in Fort Collins, Colorado, the official station. I noticed with considerable admiration for the designers that the frequency recorded in this 10 mega cycle carrier was 10000.0 when I dead beat the-- so they have their act together between Fort Collins and the firm.
So I do thank you all who took part in that and those who were just willing to listen to it. It was an exciting, wonderful gift for somebody who has quite a lot of things and doesn't need much more. But this was splendid.
Now, I want to talk for a little while. And I think my task-- I'm going to make a rather brief talk. But I want to talk for a little while about community because that surely is what we are celebrating discussing here, a community of shared tasks and mutual interests of widespread, commonly felt concerns of experiences, positive and negative, attractive and repulsive, which we've all come to in the many bilateral and many body exchanges which occur in a professional group like ours.
I am speaking to the physics community and especially the subbranch of it, mostly people here who have drifted a little bit from the purist physics into astronomy, including, of course, from the beginning, Hans Bethe who couldn't stay away from the stars once nuclear physics could be powerful there and is still dealing with the same old star after all these years.
I had a hard time thinking of how to order this thing and I thought that was a wonderful cosmic order which I would use, was the fact that we share world lines. And though we know our times are distinct, because our emotions are not zero, they are pretty small. And, therefore, I think we will say there is a public time which we on earth, and even people in orbit or in the solar system, share to high accuracy, good enough for all everyday purposes. And we can deal with that.
So I tried to orders things a little bit in that order so to make you feel something of the experiences that I want to tell about. I'm going to try to stay away, for the most part, from giving you wonderful things to say about some of the people who are here. But if you send a self-addressed and stamped envelope, maybe I could fill those in.
It is true that a community is built not only by the things that I talked about or the real things that are behind it, the day-by-day and year-by-year reading and talking and arguing and exchanging letters and fighting and agreeing and so on and contesting for this and that and agreeing for this and that, but also by tradition and record, that is to say by things that are expressed and made public. This is a necessary part of it, publication the most formal and barred conversations the least formal, both of great importance, as everyone knows.
So I want to say a few of those things, mostly by people you don't know of. But they reflect-- if you don't know about them, you will at least see me saying them, and that provides a kind of relevance to the situation. And I first want to say that I never can face such an account as we had this last day or two, as I have even 10 years ago, a similar related thing without thinking of the first time I listened to a talk by the distinguished and wonderful American physicist/astronomer Henry Norris Russell from a different generation, but also a man who had a great to do with the magazine of which I worked so happily for many years and a man whose name is carved firmly into the physics of atomic spectroscopy let alone the stars and their nature, which was his real study.
The first time I saw him Henry Norris Russell, I was a rather callow sophomore. He was president at a meeting of the Astronomical Society in Pittsburgh at Christmas time when the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science met there. And many scientific organizations met in their ambience, in their halo, more than do now from the physical sciences, though the biological sciences are strongly represented there.
And I remember thinking to myself that, which I had already gathered this view from literature-- so it was an original idea. I imputed something to the world-- astronomers must be people of great longevity. Here was this vigorous man saying very nice things a little bit of which I could understand, not much, but clearly a man of full possession of all his powers. And he was formidably, I thought, of geological age. He was, according to my research, about 61. So again, the relativity of perception is made very clear.
In order to add, to steal, a certain distinction in the past, I was reminded of my two encounters with the most famous name in 20th century physics, the name of the wonderful Albert Einstein, that man. I mention it because it's the very same occasion in the Christmas season '33, '34, I think-- yes, I was a sophomore-- that Einstein came to Pittsburgh, exactly as Russell did, for the same general purpose, to attend the AAAS meeting. That was a time when Einstein had not yet realized fully that dreadful social malady which affected him in America, mainly, if he walked down the street to buy a newspaper, he would acquire an accompaniment of 300 people if you were not careful, except in Mercer Street in Princeton and little bit in the neighborhood.
This made his life, as he said repeatedly, written, difficult because he couldn't do the normal thing. He couldn't go to the theater. He couldn't go to the beach without making a kind of strange situation. So he hadn't learned that yet, but learned it in Pittsburgh.
He announced the talks to the section of the Physical Society which was meeting there, quite a straightforward, pleasant, elementary, pedagogical talk deriding the Lorentz transformations for momentum conservation by a new method which he had just thought of. I don't remember the details, but it's published and it was quite useful for people who taught about relativity. And he gave his little talk to a meeting expected of 150 people or so, the registrants of the Society.
Well, of course you know what happened. The place couldn't hold it. And so those huge demands were getting in. And so AAAS hired the largest theater available at that hour and then began to give out tickets because they couldn't control the crowds.
And of course all of us physics students who lived and worked at the Carnegie Tech campus, which was 1,500 feet from the Carnegie Theater when this was held, couldn't stand the fact that we had no chance of getting in anymore because we had no right to those tickets. They were given out to all sorts of dignitaries. And so the whole place is going to be filled with 2,000 people, 25 of whom we were interested in the topic.
And the rest were interested in saying they had seen Professor Einstein, which was not an unworthy thing. I'm not trying to run it down. But obviously it had its price, its price on Professor Einstein himself and a little bit of its price in the currency of science.
But students, undergraduate, as this university knows very well, are not easily constrained by the architects and the formal rules and the police and all those things when they want to do something. And so the place was a theater. And Carnegie tech has this drama school. And drama school is for people know a lot about theaters, and quite a few who had rehearsed in this very theater.
So it didn't take much of looking around to find someone who said, OK, we'll get you in. Don't worry. We'll all go there together. And of course, I ended up-- well the place is too small, but in a place way up there--
And by looking, my angle of view is very small and it contained the rear of the stage. And so I could get a very good view of the edge of the blackboard, but not the blackboard, and an occasional view of the top of Albert Einstein's head. And we couldn't hear a word. And we were in some peril of falling out of the fly onto the stage, which we avoided.
But anyhow, that was my first encounter with this great man and great physicist. And it's only rather amusing to talk about it. But I did want to add another story, another authentic, genuine eyewitness account of Einstein's sense of humor and repartee and understanding, which I'll make very brief because it's not my job to do that.
There are only a few people now who are witnesses of Einstein, but one of the best is here, Professor Peter Bergen. And I said I would just allude to that. So if you want to know the real goods, ask him. But if you're want to hear a story, I'm good enough for that.
And I was introduced by a mutual friend who lived on Mercer Street to Professor Einstein very late in Einstein's life, only a couple of years before his death. And it was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon. I went over, just as any guest would go to a Princeton household on Sunday afternoon. We chatted and had tea and all that. And we talked about the political situation in 1953 or so, which was not very good. And we had mutual understanding on that.
But I don't want to say all that about the conversation, but I only want to mention one remark. Einstein asked me what I was doing. I was then a young professor doing cosmic rays sort of things. And he said, I realize, said Einstein, that there are two great enigmas in the world which I myself have not given any time to study. But I think they're very important, and they will contain in them something of great value.
One of them, he said, is the origin of the Earth's magnetic field. And the second, he said, is the origin of the cosmic rays. We don't understand these two things and I'm sure that there is a deep piece of physics in the solution to these two problems.
Well, this was a gift, I must say, because I knew something about those problems. I didn't know the answer, I'm not sure I know yet, but I knew something about those problems. So I said, as diplomatically as I could manage, well, Professor Einstein, I don't think it's fair to say that these are really big enigmas going deep into the heart of the fundamental physics. They might have been at one time, but it's not true any longer. We do have a general idea of how both of them work.
We don't know where or when or in detail, but they seem both to be related to what I will call, for short-- I said it a little better then-- hydro magnetics. That is the idea of magnetic fields in fluid conductors which are capable of translating bulk mechanical energy to charged particles by this interaction between a current which is locked to a big mass of fluid and a single particle which to respond to the moving magnetic field. And this is probably in some way related to the Earth's magnetic field and in some way related to the acceleration of cosmic rays.
And he asked a question or two and I satisfied him. He had never heard of Alfvén or magnetohydrodynamics or any of those matters as far as I could tell, unless he was being very polite. And finally he smiled a little bit and said, well, he said, I see. In any case, Morrison, you can rest assured that in your work, Einstein is no competition. This was pretty good assurance.
I can fairly go ahead a little bit. So I said he was doing it at the tea sequence. I jumped that. I made a slight mistake. But let me go back a little bit because I was thinking so much in my student days that I put the two Einsteins stories together.
As a student, of course, I was a fairly ingenuous graduate student. I arrived. I came from Carnegie Tech, a good school with excellent interaction with the physicists who, by the way, had, by simply being there, seduced me away from the radio engineering that I was planning to take up when I became a freshman. I only had to go to six lectures in electrical engineering and six lectures in physics to see that my heart belonged with the physicists.
The subject matters might have been much the same, but the attitude, the community into which I see myself working was so different, exploratory, seeking grasp, not satisfied with mere compact results, unexamined to go to the next step and so on. and it was so much more my style that I became, for better or worse, a physicist. I never did become a radio engineer, but I worked at it a little bit in my college days.
When I went to Berkeley in 1936, I began to become interested in nuclear physics. And, of course, what I had was the wonderfully clear and powerful article always known as Bethe and Bacher, and especially part A. The theory was Professor Bethe's work of the time. And it was a good, thick, compendious object which I didn't understand very well but which I studied and studied and studied and kept around and finally got to know quite a bit from inside it.
And I am dazzled and delighted to be able to come back 50 years and still have such a sample of understanding about these things so nicely given us by Professor Bethe himself this morning. And it's a great pleasure of course. Hans is a second teacher of mine and we worked together for years. We wrote a book together , or he wrote the beginning and I modified it very happily. And I have to regard him as a lighthouse, not always clear, sometimes a little foggy out there, but definitely the direction you want to go. And there he still is.
I have to say that I was especially poor at neutron physics. I never figured out that part of the chapter very well until I was taking it at the University of Illinois a little bit later. I had my degree then. It was a electrodynamics QED degree with three or four papers in applications of QED to various nuclear atomic problems, very, very instructive, very pleasant. I liked it a lot.
I learned a great deal. I worked with my partners, Dankoff and Schiff Cooper and a few others. And we were a very cheerful part of that remarkable assemblage of my fellow students who were the students of Robert Oppenheimer in the last of the '30s. When I went to the University of Illinois, I found himself in an office. And the other man in the office-- I was a very junior instructor and he was getting ready to go away-- was none other than M. Goldhaber. And I knew he must know something about neutrons since, essentially, he discovered them and had kept up with it quite a lot.
And indeed he was, indeed, busily working on neutron diffusion problems for reasons I didn't quite understand, which I understood pretty soon when he went away to Chicago, where I felt there are lots of people who talked of that. But I was very, very little understanding about those matters. But I was understanding enough so that--
This was a repeated story all over the world. It's probably worth saying it has enduring historical meaning. In the early spring of '39, in the Le Conte Hall, Room 219 with a few other graduate students, we spent a long afternoon. It was Robert Oppenheimer's anti-office, the adjoining office. We always talked and argued about things there.
And that afternoon we were led to think about grave matters and we constructed on the blackboard an extremely naive but not wholly absurd model of a nuclear bomb. And this was, of course, February or March, I can't say which, of 1939, safely after the Frisch-Meitner articles-- so there was two about fission-- and in the hands of people who didn't know much about neutrons but knew some catchwords and some broad, qualitative ideas about what neutrons would do and how a reaction might propagate. And we weren't clever enough to think of delayed neutrons or that, but we understood what fast neutrons would do and it was good enough.
So that was a sign of the trouble which then caught me up in the war. I won't say much more about this. It's a long-discussed problem.
I do want to mention, though, when I look at this excellent group of people who were here yesterday, and a large group, sampling my whole world, there are very few people around who still go back to the Berkeley days that I recall. There are two or three I want to mention who are absent, Dale Corson who could not be here and Robert Wilson who is lecturing in Yugoslavia today. And they're about the last of the my fellow graduates whose location I can name.
Most of them are not here. The other one is Bernard and Hannah Peters, whom I knew in Berkeley in 1938. And I think that somewhat takes the record for longevity of association among people I've met.
Alvin Weinberg claims that he saw me at a Beethoven quartet in the late summer of 1936 in Berkeley, but we couldn't quite verify it. He claims I was fixing the audio equipment. But I don't remember that, though it was certainly possible and maybe he's right. That would antedate a little bit because I didn't do that long at Berkeley. I just barely got a room when I was still doing that job.
I also would like to describe, as part of this sort of anecdotal mélange that I'm just beginning here, I want to say a little bit more self-justifying stuff in a moment in a more generalized way, but it's nice to have a few such items. I very clearly remember but I cannot tell you the exact date or the exact place, but I remember it was a physical society meeting in the mid-sixties, and it will have taken place someplace where the spring sun was shining on the grassy lawns. And I suppose it was the Washington meeting of the Physical Society.
And there I was approached by Ray Davis whom I knew very, very slightly. But Ray had read something I'd written about doing neutrino astronomy and things of this sort. And he told me his plan for burying the cleaning fluid in a big tank in the bottom of the Homestake Mine and cleverly extracting from 20 tons of the stuff 20 atoms per month or whatever it was he was talking about to check the neutrino.
And did he think it was worthwhile? Most people said he that was all calculated. There was no need doing anything about it. But I said, don't believe that for a moment, that you don't know anything about it. I said wait to look inside the sun and do it. And on his behalf, with many people, I did what little politicking one could in favor of the experiment, which I must say was brilliantly supported in the end by the Brookhaven Laboratory of the authorities beyond that and got us this long, rigorous series of month after month disappointing answers that never fitted all those clever theorists' work.
And he stuck to it, as Hans said. And out of that sense of integrity will perhaps come, already has come, a remarkable study of the interior of the sun that seems to verify, probably will, our picture of the stars but also, as Hans has opened up to us, considerably more that we can look at which we never imagined. It was no use having a result that is popular for the moment but does not endure. It's much better to have result, however unpopular, however frustrating, that endures because it is, I think, right. And that's what we ask for, to always get it.
So it's 20 years since that happened and it's a wonderful, wonderful conclusion. It's very hard to work time after time in the deep mind and always come back with that same result. And you try this with that statistic. And no matter what you do, you still get a disappointing answer.
Another remark which was made by Alan Guth yesterday that I want to pick up a little bit, just to mention people that you all know-- and this is something that has been published. I don't know this of my own, but I just read it and I verified it with the author, so it's true. It's the story of the enormous, intuitive perception of that thoughtful, reflective man, Niels Bohr who, having thought about all hard problems, was then able to see, when you brought him some new thing, which of the hard problem he thought about it was connected with, which he solved.
And Casimir, Hendrik Casimir, writes, said in the Bohr volume, of that remarkable calculation of Casimir's on the forces between the so-called van der Waals forces in the limits when you throw away all the molecular structure, you get an answer which does not depend on any of those points. It doesn't depend on the charge of the electron or anything else if you go to the right limit in looking at surface-surface interactions. He made that calculation. It rather puzzled him that should come out such a result, but it was clear.
He mentioned it to Bohr and Bohr looked at him quizzically in that way that he had when it was something quite important, the half-veiled look. He said, ah, then Casimir, that is due to the fluctuations of the vacuum. And that is what we believe. And I think the fluctuations of vacuum on which one of the three pieces-- my thesis was pair fluctuations in the vacuum. I think they have acquired now they've been buried under the rug for a long time. Then they were shown to be real in the great days precedent to and just following the Lamb shift where the polarization terms were visible and the Casimir effect and the verification experimentally.
And now, of course, the interpretation is still ambiguous. But now giving them gravitational meaning has led to a whole quandary which we don't understand but which looks to be about as important as any cosmological theoretical subject that we know. And it's an interesting study.
Now, enough of these points. But I think I am entitled to some account-- you're entitled, perhaps, to some account-- of why these wayward, apparently extraneous items which have dotted this program, I think, very pleasantly, and I hope for you as well, including the balloons or whatever you say, how come that a physicist should have this? And I believe it's the most natural thing in the world. And that's what I'm trying to say in self-justification. Why are these things here? And what relation do they have to professional work of the physicist?
I believe that, in this order of importance, least important first but a very interesting case which we had demonstrated, magic, mime, and, more broadly, playful science and engineering are topics of the greatest weight and importance in the modern world. And I think it is urgent upon many people, especially those with academic influence.
You don't need to worry about it at MIT. It's safe here. These extracurricular activities of students span such an enormous range of playful engineering and playful science that, in fact, we don't even to tell them what to do. We just get out of the way and maybe give a little money from time to time.
It's not true everywhere. It is unfortunately the least true where it's the most needed, that is in the broad public and the schools and people who do not have available all the resources of our campus. But magic, of course, is essentially the exploitation of a detailed physical knowledge of systems in such a clever way, a clever, interpersonal way, that you're misdirected from trying to understand the answer.
It was done first just by two adepts, a theoretical physicist, astrophysicist called Ken Brecher who punctured balloons. He tells me, just like that, he just punctured it, and Max Maven, another old friend, a theoretic astrophysicist only by descent who also carried a very much more elaborate and polished affair in much the same direction. But this is very interesting because this procedure depends upon a detailed understanding, step-by-step understanding, of a mixture of psychology and Newtonian mechanics and a little bit of physical chemistry and the like. And that's what it is. And it isn't much else.
It also is a great understanding of human perception, of where you look at big moving things and don't look at small things that stand still, and a number of other such clues which are quite easy to face up to if you try to analyze what you mean by the instruments through which you survey the world, that is your eyes, ears, and so on. And, of course, nobody can, in general, without long training, penetrate the rapid fire, quick-changing goals and methods of the professional magician, or even the talented amateur. It is very worth trying, but it will not generally succeed. But understanding that point is very entertaining and is deeper because it suggests what is meant by the difference between plausible perception and the kind of testing perception, which is our aim in physical sciences, in natural science. And that's really the point that it makes.
Mime, which is a specialized form of stage magic, stage performance, I think is especially interesting and has always caught my fancy, especially in the hands of the great French masters, hands and feet of the great French masters, because they require a detailed understanding, much as the theoretical physicist seeks to have, of some mechanical operation in order to simulate its perceptual qualities without actually doing it. When Marcel Marceau walks across the flat stage telling you he's climbing seven steps, seven flights of stairs on top of some Paris garret, you can see the motion of all the muscles.
You can see him tiring. You can see the tensions change. It's compellingly convincing. It's there, persuasive. And he's only been able to do that by watching carefully, over and over again, one of the significant clues as that stance is adopted. In a way, it's a representation of the real physical world through a symbolic and analogous structure, which is very much like what physicists do. And I think it's very close to that and deserves the wide appreciation it does have.
Finally, a much larger topic I don't want to elaborate on is what I call playful engineering. In science that means everything from toy balloons to kites and the great fence thrust 30 miles across California by the artist Christo. Why do I say these things? I think I should be quite clear.
If you regard science and technology, if the general world regards science and technology as only the source, on the one hand, of a livelihood constantly subject to change and, on the other hand, a fear of war, also subject to uncertain and terrifying changes, I don't think our activities will prosper. I think they will become, as already they have in many ways become, regarded as arcane and fearful. And a great many people stay away from it at all costs.
Perhaps the worst of that is a bit over, but we've certainly we're going through it. And I think that one reason for it is it's always been presented at the same emotional tone, either by its impact, sometimes good, sometimes bad, usually bad, or by it's achievement on the part of people that you can't emulate or understand. Those are the two ways which it appears to us mostly.
And it can't be left in that emotional domain of simple analysis or impact statements. It's fine, but it's not enough. It must be done, but is insufficient. And I think it would be be much more rounded if the prose and the emotional tone or the context which you encounter these things have the participants of enthusiastic amateurs and have the emotional tone of play as much certainly for the general public as for physicists who certainly have that emotional tone a great deal even when they're doing their most serious work. And the fact that we filter that away is very bad. So--
It was Gerald Zacharias in this Institution that pushed me into a wider spectrum of education away from education centering on the community of the physicist, which I was heavily engaged in but gave many lectures and many little booklets and courses and so on and into a feeling that education was a wider spectrum-- and that which, of course, he was absolutely right-- into beginning first in high school then largely influenced by Francis Friedman into the elementary school and here and there into the media, both through my magazine connections for so many years and repeatedly, in the BBC and PBS, to television in some form or another, now which I'm heavily engaged in a the present time and will be certainly in the next half a year, anyhow.
I don't say much more about that, but I feel it's an absolute natural boundary of physics. Physics does not take care of that boundary. Make sure that there is free tourism across that boundary and that the customs, officials are not too strict. A lot is imported and a lot is exported. That's what we need for a healthy science.
A lot of physicists in every department know a good deal about, say, solid state manufacturing or anything of the sort and that they don't know anything like that much about the schools and how they work, which was an early complaint of both of Zach's and which I think I share. So I very much think that, besides what I said, the playful side of the thing in public, an amateur way, the educational boundary is another important boundary. And then, of course, in a somewhat different, completely different, vein, it's the most natural thing in the world to be concerned about armaments.
It has to be said that, indeed, the most fearsome were made by us, often by the people I see here in many ways. It was not the government and General Groves who came to the Physical Society and said, appoint 12 experts to form a committee to see if we should make an atomic bomb. It was not that way at all. And maybe that's the way it would be today. But it certainly wasn't that way then. And the illusion that it was that way which affects many people is just a false statement.
The situation, as you know, is almost the opposite. I'm not saying this to exculpate or involve anybody, but it's simply a true statement and you have to evaluate is as you will. The physicist demanded the darn things for reasons which seemed good and sufficient to them, which I still think probably were good and sufficient in light of what we knew, and they finally got them. But it wasn't at the urging of the government. So I think that responsibility was boarded on everyone. And I could say by the heat that I felt on my face that the Trinity shot at 18,000 yards, I was pretty well-committed to doing something about getting the thing put into a proper situation in our very large international society.
I can't talk about these matters in great detail. And I just allude to them in the simple way. Certainly it was there. And I was very pleased to have Randy Forsberg talk about her wonderfully, analytic, and devoted, concern for this question for many years now. And I only feel sorry that Jerry Wiesner was not present to reinforce that from a quite different perspective.
Now, finally then, the other boundary which, indeed, I reached, I guess, about the same time was the boundary between physics and astronomy, no tight boundary at all but a very leaky one and wonderfully crossed, as somebody said, by the physicists, postwar physicists, as it was begun by the pre-war ones and, of course, as it goes back to the time of Newton and of Galileo. Galileo measured, looked, studied the inertial forces. And Galileo developed the telescope and discovered the satellites of the planets apart from the natural satellite. And that's a nice model.
And, of course, astronomy with its extraordinary parametric range and its sense of history inescapable to it has come more and more to be an important subject for the physicists. The physicists who used to be outside of history and not talk about origins, not talk about the origins of matter or the origins of the universe or even the origins of the laws are now somewhat concerned with these problems and, as we heard, think they have an answer, which I think is undoubtedly a little premature. But we have something going in that direction. I would not bet we're not going to learn a great deal.
I entered this through Professor Rossi, pretty much. I was always into astronomy for a very long time. But it was the through the cosmic rays and as one of the-- I guess it was a quotation from a paper showed yesterday that the fact that the cosmic rays have been a wonderful particle physics laboratory was done for at a certain time in the early 50s, not because it was not still an excellent particle physics laboratory but because it just lost productivity.
If you waited for six months at Echo Lake for 100 tracks, you could hardly compete with some character in Berkeley or Brookhaven who was getting microamperes in his beam, beautifully sorted and prepared where he could press a key, on they would come. It was very hard to stay in that game. A few adroit people still do it by combing a very high-energy tailwind where there are fewer and fewer events which they study with more and more care, but clearly that's a game not many people can engage in.
And so it was here at MIT that it slowly arose around Professor Gold as well at Cornell the feeling that, after all, cosmic rays were not just particles. They were astronomically-born particles. And we learned something about astronomy by following them back to where they came from. And as we followed them back, we got somewhat lost from cosmic rays and found x-rays and many other things.
Meanwhile, the radio people coming from a still more engineering point of view-- yesterday I had the label on which was Jadsky's data from 1932, the sign that the interference that he picked up on 20 meters was varied in sidereal and not in solar time. That's the expression in a nutshell. And that was the beginning of the sense that we, indeed, should study radio astronomy as well as optical and, of course, by now, the whole gamut. And we have neutrino astronomy of some sort, at least solar astronomy and some hopes for the rest.
That's what I want to say. And I think that I have lived long enough to see the realization of something I heard which impresses me, very sensible and philosophical and right, coming from Niels Bohr in 1937 at Berkeley. In an answer to a question, Bohr said-- it was one of his public lectures then which I heard and took notes on as a very eager graduate student-- that the trouble with cosmology, which was then a real subject but was geometrical in nature, consisted in studying solutions of the Friedmann equation and not much else, was that it was essential to understand the nature of matter in order to have a way to go deeper into cosmology.
And unfortunately there was no context in which the nature and structure of matter was found together with cosmologically interesting times and places. And until that context should arise, said he, we will probably not understand one or the other. And, of course, that context now has arisen if we are right in the early universe. And maybe we'll find more as time goes on. That's a pressured thing and another good example.
Well, I'm coming close to the end of all that I want to say. But I have a little more. I received many warm letters from people who couldn't be here, I think too many to read, all our friends, but it isn't necessarily-- but I did receive one which was so apt that I can't suppress it.
It came from that irrepressible Giuseppe Cocconi, a very original man, a very knowing an acute one who is notably quiet in his demeanor, and so you don't hear a lot about him, but he's very sharp. He said that he is unfortunately unable to come because he finds himself in a very unusual location exactly on this day, Saturday the 27, September. I would give you a few guesses to where Cocconi might be, but this one is perhaps the most interesting.
I suppose the south pole would be a possibility to compete with it. But, no, he is in that famous and remote city, the capital of Tibet, the city of Lhasa. Don't ask me how or why he got there, but that's why he's not here today. He said, perhaps some kind of communication will be established by this note. And I hope he will learn by slow means with long propagation time that, indeed, it was accomplished in that sense. As far as we can do it, where we hear signal delay, retardation is relevant and can't be done as though we were in one time scale.
I would like to make a real thanks to the apt and to the able and energetic and patient and thoughtful committee and all their helpers who have arranged this fine occasion for us all. And I imagine people would like to join with me in applauding them. And I cannot allow a general comment in the committee, who are my good friends, go by without saying just a few words to celebrate and recognize the artist, experimental scientist, craftsman, designer, engineer, caring, devoted, loving and hopeful person, Phyllis, with whom I've lived for these 25 years.
Now, let me close by fulfilling the title of the talk with some remarks, At Equinox. Actually it's printed, Remarks of the Equinox, but that's really hard to accept. I'm not an equinox. No one can call me that without smiling.
But I am at an equinox in two ways. This is the equinoctial week, after all. And of course the autumn comes. And I only want to point out to the physics who have a good sense of continuity and a good sense of relativity of geometrical form that we say this is the autumnal equinox.
But by what right do we say that? It is, of course, as everyone knows in Australia, the vernal equinox. And I think that's the symbol that I would like to leave, that time passes. But as long as we have a representation of the young, of students, of concern, as long as we can keep the peace, I think we need not worry about the future. That is our principal problem.
And, therefore, let me close in a slightly less philosophical note. I can't avoid the feeling that we have a responsibility to act as we have a responsible to know. I don't want to do anything formal, but I do want to say I do have a very nice letter here which has been drafted by a friend, an activist friend, for Speaker O'Neill.
Here in the Eighth Congressional District of Massachusetts, we have a special opportunity and a special responsibility, a half million people in this district who all know about Speaker T.P. O'Neill, the senior member of the House of Representatives. And the Speaker of the House is retiring, no longer in contention. He's a man whose own growth in political perception I think I've watched in 20 years I voted for him.
And as you may not know, perhaps, the House of Representatives passed very narrowly yesterday their final cut at a bill which authorizes hundreds of billions of dollars of government expenditures including a good fraction of military expenditures, not the whole bill yet, putting into it at the strong recommendation of the House Armed Services Committee three important arms control statements which represent the opinion of the House and, I think, of the population, if not of the Executive Branch, mandating a nuclear warhead test ban under certain circumstances which they defined no money spent to violate that, no money spent to bring down any satellite target in space, that is to maintain the ASAT moratorium, and retaining the SALT II limits, no money to be spent to violate those limits with nuclear weapons.
These are in the bill. They're passed. It will now have to be a big struggle in the next month to see what happens to them, but a warm note of support and appreciation might be worthwhile. And George [INAUDIBLE], who wrote this letter, wrote quite eloquently, the Constitution gave to the house as well as to the Senate the power of the purse precisely to counter the power of an adamant executive.
So I have this letter and I'd be very happy if anybody wants to join me in signing it just as a colleague and friend. No institutional connection is there. I'll have it all day and we'll circulate to whoever wants to do it. So I close with thanks then. And what I say is let the kites fly. [INAUDIBLE].
MODERATOR: Don't Go away, please. There is still to be a presentation by Mr. Brian Moser who is the president of the MIT undergraduate organization. Where are you at?
MOSER: Right here. [INAUDIBLE]? Professor Morrison, the respect and admiration of the students here is clear. You represent very much the mighty spirit.
I recall my first contact with MIT was before I came to MIT. And I was a sophomore in high school. And I remotely knew what MIT was about. But my parents called and they said, Brian, there's somebody on TV giving a lecture and it's some crazy physics professor from MIT. And they called me and I sat with incredible enthusiasm and became excited about MIT and college for the first time. And so you really have an impact on students here in that spirit.
I recall last night, after our meal, the challenges that my generation of scientists has. And I think you stand as an incredible and perfect model for a balance of intellectual playfulness and, at the same time, a human critical of humanity's skepticism. We all know what I'm saying. And we thank you for that.
And you will stand as a model for us as we challenge the pressures on us to become more narrow and to forget how human we all are. And on behalf of the undergraduates and the students at MIT, I'd like to thank you and wish you a happy equinox and a happy birthday. And first we have for you a framed--
MORRISON: Oh, splendid,
MORRISON: Such a good poster. Oh, wow. Thank you very much. Wonderful. I've been stealing them [INAUDIBLE]. Oh, that's lovely.
MOSER: And also--
MORRISON: Everyone has seen it.
MOSER: Also, since we are all about to go to have a picnic together, we have for you-- Alan-- a kite--
MOSER: --for you to fly.
MOSER: In case your transmitter breaks down, you can tie a few messages to the string.
MORRISON: OK, very good. Thank you. Thank you very much. OK, great.