Freeman Dyson

name = Freeman Dyson

image_width = 200px
caption = Freeman Dyson
birth_date = Birth date and age|1923|12|15
birth_place = Crowthorne, Berkshire, England
residence = United States
nationality = UK
death_date =
death_place =
field = Physicist
alma_mater = University of Cambridge
work_institutions = Royal Air Force
Institute for Advanced Study
Duke University
Cornell University
doctoral_advisor = None
doctoral_students =
known_for = Dyson sphere
Dyson operator
prizes = Templeton Prize (2000)
religion = Christian
footnotes = He is notably the son of George Dyson (composer), and father of Esther Dyson and George Dyson (science historian).

Freeman John Dyson FRS (born December 15, 1923) is an English-born [ [ BBC News | SCI/TECH | Scientist wins $1m religion prize ] ] American [Freeman Dyson: Disturbing the universe, pg 131, "I had finally become an American...The decision to abjure my allegiance to Queen Elizabeth might have been a difficult one, but the Queen's ministers made it easy for me."] theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. He is a lifelong opponent of nationalism and a proponent of nuclear disarmament and international cooperation. Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. [ [ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] ]



Dyson's father was the English composer George Dyson. Despite sharing a last name, he is not related to early 20th century astronomer Frank Watson Dyson. However, as a small boy, Freeman Dyson was aware of Frank Watson Dyson; Freeman credits the popularity of someone with the same last name with inadvertently helping to spark his interest in science. Dyson received an honorary Sc.D. from Bates College in 1990.

Dyson's mother was trained as a lawyer but worked, after Dyson was born, as a social worker. [ [ Wild River Review Interview by Joy E. Stocke] ]

His wife, Imme Dyson, is an accomplished masters runner.

Dyson has six children. One daughter is Esther Dyson, the noted digital technology consultant. His son, George Dyson, is a historian of technology, one of whose books is "Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965".

On Esther Dyson, his daughter:


Dyson worked as an analyst for RAF Bomber Command at RAF Wyton during World War II. [ "A Failure of Intelligence", Essay in "Technology Review" (Nov–Dec 2006)] After the war, he obtained a BA in mathematics from Cambridge University (1945) and was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1946 to 1949. In 1947 he moved to the US, on a fellowship at Cornell University and thence joined the faculty there as a physics professor in 1951 without a PhD. He was elected a FRS in 1952 [ [ Royal Society directory entry] ] In 1953, he took up a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. In 1957, he became a naturalised citizen of the United States.

Prof. Dyson is best known for demonstrating in 1949 the equivalence of the formulations of quantum electrodynamics that existed by that time -- Richard Feynman's diagrammatic path integral formulation and the operator method developed by Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. A by-product of that demonstration was the invention of the Dyson series [F. J. Dyson, "Phys. Rev." 75, 486, 1736 (1949)] .

Dyson also did work in a variety of topics in mathematics, such as topology, analysis, number theory and random matrices.

From 1957 to 1961 he worked on the Orion Project, which proposed the possibility of space-flight using nuclear pulse propulsion. A prototype was demonstrated using conventional explosives, but a treaty which he was involved in and supported, banned the testing of nuclear weapons other than underground, and this caused the project to be abandoned.

In 1958 he led the design team for the TRIGA, a small, inherently safe nuclear reactor used throughout the world in hospitals and universities for the production of isotopes.

A seminal work by Dyson came in 1966 when, together with A. Lenard and independently of Elliott H. Lieb and Walter Thirring, he proved rigorously that the exclusion principle plays the main role in the stability of bulk matter [F. J. Dyson, A. Lenard, "J. Math. Phys." 8, 3, 423-434 (1967); F. J. Dyson, A. Lenard, "J. Math. Phys.", 9, 5, 698-711 (1968); E. H. Lieb, W. Thirring, "Phys. Rev. Lett." 35, 687-689 (1975).] . Hence, it is not the electromagnetic repulsion between electrons and nuclei that is responsible for two wood blocks that are left on top of each other not coalescing into a single piece, but rather it is the exclusion principle applied to electrons and protons that generates the classical macroscopic normal force. In condensed matter physics, Dyson also did studies in the phase transition of the Ising model in 1 dimension and spin wavesSee F. J. Dyson, E. H. Lieb, "Selected papers by Freeman Dyson", AMS (1996).]

Dyson was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1966 and Max Planck medal in 1969.

In 1977, Dyson supervised Princeton undergraduate John Aristotle Phillips in a term paper that outlined a credible design for a nuclear weapon. This earned Phillips the nickname "The A-Bomb Kid".

In the 1984–85 academic year he gave the Gifford lectures at Aberdeen, which resulted in the book "Infinite In All Directions".

In 1989, Dyson taught at Duke University as a Fritz London Memorial Lecturer. In the same year, he was elected as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

Dyson has published a number of collections of speculations and observations about technology, science, and the future. In 1996 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science.

In 1998, Dyson joined the board of the Solar Electric Light Fund. In 2000, Dyson was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

As of 2003, Dyson is the president of the Space Studies Institute, the space research organisation founded by Gerard K. O'Neill.

In 2003, Dyson was awarded the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology in Telluride, Colorado.

Dyson is a long-time member of the JASON defence advisory group.


Biotechnology and genetic engineering

Dyson cheerfully admits his record as a prophet is mixed, but "it is better to be wrong than to be vague." [ Dyson, 1999, "The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet"]

Dyson sphere

In 1960 Dyson wrote a short paper for the journal "Science", entitled "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation". [cite journal| title=Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation| doi=10.1126/science.131.3414.1667| journal=Science| volume= 131| pages= 1667–1668| first=Freeman J.| last=Dyson| year=1960 | month=3 June| issue=3414| pmid=17780673] In it, he theorised that a technologically advanced society might completely surround its native star in order to maximise the capture of the star's available energy. Eventually, the civilisation would completely enclose the star, intercepting electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths from visible light downwards and radiating waste heat outwards as infrared radiation. Therefore, one method of searching for extraterrestrial civilisations would be to look for large objects radiating in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Dyson conceived that such structures would be clouds of asteroid-sized space habitats, though science fiction writers have preferred a solid structure: either way, such an artifact is often referred to as a Dyson sphere, although Dyson himself used the term "shell". Dyson says that he used the word "artificial biosphere" in the article meaning a habitat, not a shape. [20 minutes into [ a video] ]

Dyson tree

Dyson has also proposed the creation of a "Dyson tree", a genetically-engineered plant capable of growing on a comet. He suggested that comets could be engineered to contain hollow spaces filled with a breathable atmosphere, thus providing self-sustaining habitats for humanity in the outer solar system.

pace colonies

Freeman Dyson has been interested in space travel since he was a child, reading such science fiction classics as Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker". As a young man, he worked for General Atomics on the nuclear-powered Orion spacecraft. He hoped Project Orion would put men on Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970. He's been unhappy for a quarter-century on how the government conducts space travel:

He still hopes for cheap space travel, but is resigned to waiting for private entrepreneurs to develop something new—and cheap.

cquote|No law of physics or biology forbids cheap travel and settlement all over the solar system and beyond. But it is impossible to predict how long this will take. Predictions of the dates of future achievements are notoriously fallible. My guess is that the era of cheap unmanned missions will be the next fifty years, and the era of cheap manned missions will start sometime late in the twenty-first century. Any affordable program of manned exploration must be centred in biology, and its time frame tied to the time frame of biotechnology; a hundred years, roughly the time it will take us to learn to grow warm-blooded plants, is probably reasonable.

pace exploration

Dyson's transform

Dyson also has some credits in elementary number theory. His concept "Dyson's transform" led to one of the most important lemmas of Olivier Ramaré's theorem that every even integer can be written as a sum of no more than six primes.


Global warming

Dyson agrees with the general theory of anthropogenic global warming, and has writtenHowever, he has argued that existing simulation models of climate fail to account for some important factors, and hence the results will contain too much error to reliably predict future trends.He has also argued against the ostracisation of scientists who oppose the Global warming consensus, stating that heretics have historically been an important force in driving scientific progress.He also believes that directing money towards fighting global poverty and providing medical aid will bring greater benefits to society than attempting to combat climate change.

Dyson was an early proponent of Carbon sequestration by plants by planting gigantic areas of trees as long ago as 1976. [cite web|url=|title=The Dyson Effect: Carbon 'Offset' Forestry and The Privatization of the Atmosphere|author=Larry Lohmann|date=July 1999|publisher=The Cornerhouse|accessdate=2007-09-05] He revisited this subject in 2007 where he asserted that the "fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated", having calculated that "the problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a problem of land management, not a problem of meteorology." The failures of climate scientists to understand this was due to his belief that "No computer model of atmosphere and ocean can hope to predict the way we shall manage our land."cite web|url=|publisher=Edge|title=heretical Thoughts about Science and Society|date=8 August 2007|author=Freeman Dyson|accessdate=2007-09-05]

Dyson has questioned the predictive value of current computational models of climate change, urging instead more extensive use of local observations.

Dyson regards the term "global warming" as a misnomer, pointing out that warming will not occur uniformly throughout the world, but will instead be subject to regional variations:

Regarding political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change, Dyson argues that other global problems should take priority.


At the British Bomber Command, Dyson and colleagues proposed ripping out two gun turrets from the RAF Lancaster bombers, to cut the catastrophic losses to German fighters in the Battle of Berlin. A Lancaster without turrets could fly convert|50|mph|-1|abbr=on faster and be much more manoeuvrable.

Warfare and weapons

On hearing the news of the bombing of Hiroshima:

The role of failure

On English academics

cquote|My view of the prevalence of doom-and-gloom in Cambridge is that it is a result of the English class system. In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status. As a child of the academic middle class, I learned to look on the commercial middle class with loathing and contempt. Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher, which was also the revenge of the commercial middle class. The academics lost their power and prestige and the business people took over. The academics never forgave Thatcher and have been gloomy ever since. [cite web|url=
title=The Scientist as a Rebel: An interview with Freeman Dyson|author=Benny Peiser|date=14 March 2007|accessdate=2007-09-05|publisher=CCNet

cience and Religion

Dyson strongly opposes reductionism. He is a non-denominational Christian and has attended various churches from Presbyterian to Roman Catholic. Regarding doctrinal or christological issues, he has said "I am neither a saint nor a theologian. To me, good works are more important than theology." [ Templeton Prize Lecture] ]

cquote| Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions.

Dyson disagrees with the famous remark by his fellow-physicist Steven Weinberg that "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things—that takes religion." [ NYRB June 22, 2006] ]

Popular culture

The fictional character Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life franchise was named after Dyson. [cite book
last = Hodgson
first = David
coauthors = Valve Software
title =
publisher = Prima Games
year = 2004
pages = p. 30
isbn = 0-7615-4364-3

As noted above, the Dyson sphere is a favourite of science-fiction authors. See Dyson spheres in fiction.

ee also

*The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll
*A.I. Shlyakhter
*Dyson's eternal intelligence
*Dyson tree
*Institute for Advanced Study
*List of science and religion scholars



By Dyson

* "Symmetry Groups in Nuclear and Particle Physics", 1966 (Academic-oriented text)
* "Disturbing the Universe", 1979
* "Weapons and Hope", 1984
* "Origins of Life", 1986
* "Infinite in All Directions", 1988
* "From Eros to Gaia", 1992
* "Selected Papers of Freeman Dyson", 1996
* "Imagined Worlds", Harvard University Press 1997, ISBN 978-0-674-53908-2
* "The Sun, The Genome and The Internet", 1999
* "L'mportanza di essere imprevedibile", Di Renzo Editore, 2003
* "The Scientist as Rebel", 2006
* "Advanced Quantum Mechanics", World Scientific, 2007. Dyson's 1951 Cornell lecture notes transcribed by David Derbes.
* "A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe", University of Virginia Press, 2007

About Dyson

*Brower, Kenneth, 1978. "The Starship and the Canoe", Holt Rinehart and Winston.
*Schweber, Sylvan S., 1994. "QED and the men who made it : Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga". Princeton Univ. Press.

External links

* [ Freeman J. Dyson's homepage]
* [ Freeman Dyson Biography]
* [ Wired magazine interview: Freeman Dyson's Brain ]
* [ A google video: interviewer: Robert Wright editor: Greg Dingle ]
* [ listen to a Freeman Dyson interview on ]
* [ audio of NPR interview with Freeman Dyson]
* [ Disturbing the Universe: Interview with Freeman Dyson]
* [ Freeman Dyson wins $1m religion prize]
* [ Freeman Dyson's scientific publications] from PubMed
* [ In Praise of Open Thinking, audio from a panel discussion with his son George on]
* [ Seed Magazine: On My Mind: Freeman Dyson]
* [ Templeton Prize acceptance lecture 2000]
* [ The Space Show radio interview]
* [ "Our Biotech Future"] , essay by Freeman Dyson, 2007
* [ Review, "The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet"]
* [ The Wild River Review "The Scientist as Rebel"]
* [ Oral History interview transcript with Freeman J. Dyson 17 December 1986, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives]
* [ Dyson author page and archive from] "The New York Review of Books"

NAME=Dyson, Freeman John
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Physicist and mathematician
DATE OF BIRTH=Birth date and age|1923|12|15|mf=y

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