Thursday, December 30, 1999

The Principle of NOMA

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
--Albert Einstein
From The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
On 11 August 1999, the Kansas Board of Education voted to delete virtually any mention of evolution as well as the Big-Bang theory from the state's science curriculum [1]. This move came as a most unpleasant shock to the science community [2]. I was just reading a book on the relation between science and religion written by Steven Jay Gould [3]. In the book the author explores the contemporary principle he calls NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria; a magisterium represents a domain of authority in teaching). Gould summarizes the principle as follows:
The magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of and why does it work this way. The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap.
This principle seems to me quite self-evident. This is possibly due to my non-Christian background. Anyway, Gould's elaboration of this concept is persuasive, covering the historical and psychological bases extensively. The majority members of the Kansas Board of Education should read this book!

The reason for which I read Gould's book was to aid my thinking about the question posed by a friend of mine on some descriptions of the Bible. It will be another story in this site.
  1. "Kansas Votes to Delete Evolution From State's Science Curriculum," New York Times, Aug. 12 issue (1999).
  2. J. Kumagai, "Scientists View Kansas Board's Decision as a Wake-Up Call," Physics Today Vol. 52, No. 11, pp. 59-60 (1999).
  3. S. J. Gould, "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1999).
Related Reading
  • S. J. Gould, "Dorothy, It's Really Oz," Time Vol. 154, No. 8 (1999).
(A modified version of this essay is posted as tttabata's review of "Rocks of Ages" on the bying-info page of this book at

Thursday, December 23, 1999

Einstein, the Person of the Millennium

Though the new (Christian, Gregorian) millennium and the New Century start at zero hours UTC (commonly known as GMT) on January 1st 2001 [1], mass media are busy these days in conducting polls to decide the top something of the millennium or the century.

On 17 December 1999, Reuters announced the results of its poll for the person of the millennium. Thirty-four important persons in the fields of politics, economics, art and culture from ten countries all over the world were asked to choose three persons who had most great effects on the world from the list of thirty-nine great persons lived in this millennium.

The physicist Albert Einstein was the top. The second was shared by the father of the independence of India Mahandas Karamchand Gandhi and the economist Karl Marx. The former Prime Minister of England Winston Churchill and the physicist Isaac Newton were the fourth. (Asahi-shimbun, 18 Dec 1999)

Physicists, be proud of this result and your calling! Shall we have another physicist as the person of the next millennium? Will the physicist who completes the Theory of Everything be nominated for that person? Will this Theory be completed anyway?
  1. "The New Millennium," Special Information Leaflet No. 29, The Royal Observatory Greenwich (1999).
Related Reading
  • S. Weinberg, "A Unified Physics by 2050?," Sci. Amer. Dec. 1999, pp. 36-43.
Note Added Later

Einstein was also chosen for the person of the century by the Time magazine [Vol. 154, No. 26 (1999)]. The choice of the person of the millennium as the person of the century is logically quite consistent. The "Person of the century" issue of Time includes the following articles:
  • W. Isaacson, "Time's choice: Who mattered--and Why."
  • F. Golden, "Albert Einstein: Person of the century."
  • S. Hawking, "A brief history of relativity."
  • J. M. Nash, "Unfinished symphony."
  • R. Rosenblatt, "The age of Einstein."
Hawking's article, the title of which follows his best-selling book, is a very understandable description about the development of the theories of relativity, including some mild jokes peculiar to the author, a miraculous physicist himself. For example, "However, the tiny fraction of a second you gained (by flying to avail yourself of the time dilation predicted by the sepcial theory of relativity) would be more than offest by eating airline meals."

The article by Nash is related to the Theory of Everything I wrote in the main text. String theory is a prospective candidate for it (see an earlier story of this site). She concludes her article by writing, "It may in the end take an Einstein to complete Einstein's unfinished intellectual symphony." The article aptly includes the photograph of Einstein playing the violin, an instrument with strings.

Related Reading Added Later

Tuesday, December 07, 1999


Professor Takeshi Onodera of Nihon University quotes the following passage in the column "Words to Remember" of Asahi Weekly [1].
No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men.
--Thomas Carlyle, "Heroes and Hero-Worship"
Onodera recollects that his father often had bought him the biography of a great person in his childhood, and writes that in post-war Japan the concept of "great persons" has become unpopular. This trend is based on the thought that distinction is incompatible with the principle of equality. Thus the people of the post-war generation might have been obliged to succeed under the pretence of disliking success and must have felt guilty about the result. Onodera considers such situation as desolate and laments it, commenting that without longing and an ideal one would be apt to lose interest in living.

When I was a high school junior, one of my teachers asked me about my hobby. I said, "I like to read denki." Denki is the Japanese word for biographies. The teacher said, "Do you mean 'books on denki'?" The word denki also means electricity. "No, I don't. I read 'ijin no denki' (biographical books of great persons)." I have kept this hobby of reading biographies until now, though the field of great persons I am interested in has been narrowed down to science (mainly physics).

Since the years of rising yen in the 1980s, I have collected many biographies of great physicists written in English. My collection well covers the lists of the top ten physicists in history chosen by PhysicsWeb and Physics World surveys (see the previous section) except James Clerk Maxwell. What now I want is an enough time to enjoy those biographies.

In the middle of writing this essay, I received the 6-Dec-1999 issue of "Movable Type," a free e-mail announcement from, which included the following notification of the biographical-book page at's website:
From historical overviews to psychological profiles, biographies are perennial favorites among book lovers. Celebrate the lives of poets, artists, and politicians this week in Books.
Let us celebrate the lives of physicists too to gain much interest in living (a list of my collection of biographies of physicists will appear later in this website). However, be aware also of the following dangerous nature of a biography:
Whoever undertakes to write a biography binds himself to lying, to concealment, to flummery, and even to hiding his own lack of understanding, since biographical material is not to be had, and if it were it could not be used. Truth is not accessible; mankind does not deserve it.
--Sigmund Freud, in a letter to a friend
[Quoted in the aforementioned issue of "Movable Type"
from: George Seldes, ed., "The Great Thoughts"]
  1. Asahi Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 46 (Nov. 21, 1999).

Sunday, December 05, 1999

The Top Ten Physicists

The top-ten physicists in history according to two polls have been announced. Can you guess the names in the lists? Is Richard Feynman in the lists? If so, what is his ranking?

One of the polls was conducted by Physics World magazine, published by the Institute of Physics (IOP), the British professional organization of physicists celebrating its 125th anniversary this year [1]. The other was made by PhysicsWeb, also published by IOP on the web [2]. We can extract another top-ten list from John Simmons' book [3], which gives a ranking of 100 most influential scientists from the past to the present.

The three lists are combined in the table below.

Ranking PhysicsWeb survey Physics World survey Simmons
1 Isaac Newton Albert Einstein Isaac Newton
2 Albert Einstein Isaac Newton Albert Einstein
3 James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell Niels Bohr
4 Galileo Galilei Niels Bohr Galileo Galilei
5 Paul Dirac Werner Heisenberg Johannes Kepler
6 Niels Bohr Galileo Galilei Nicolaus Copernicus
7 Max Planck Richard Feynman Michael Faraday
8 Richard Feynman Paul Dirac
Erwin Schrödinger
James Clerk Maxwell
9 Michael Faraday   Werner Heisenberg
10 Erwin Schrödinger Ernest Rutherford Erwin Schrödinger

Six physicists are present in all the three lists: Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, Galilei, Bohr and Schrödinger. Four physicists appear twice: Dirac, Feynman, Faraday and Heisenberg. Planck, Rutherford, Kepler and Copernicus are found in a single list. Among the physicists of the 20th century, the number of theorists is overwhelmingly larger than that of experimentalist.

PhysicsWeb also gives the names that followed the top ten. Among those, the names not included in the other top ten lists either are: Ludwig Boltzmann, Enrico Fermi, Archimedes, Stephen Hawking, Lev Landau, J. J. Thomson, Marie Curie, Lord Rayleigh, Aristotle, Wolfgang Pauli, John Bardean, Edwin Hubble, Charles Townes and Abdus Salam.

In the ranking chosen by Simmons from all the fields of science, Schrödinger, 10th among physicists, is 18th, and Feynman comes at the 52nd. It is to be noted that all these lists are biased to the Western world, though it is true that there are not much candidates in the Eastern world.

Girls and boys, be ambitious to place your own name in such a list in the next century!
  1. Physics World, December issue (1999); cited by Physics News Update, No. 459 (1999).
  2. PhysicsWeb News, November issue (1999).
  3. J. Simmons, "The Scientific 100" (Carol Publishing Group, 1996).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Effects of Tokai Accident

As already written in an earlier story of Femto-Essays, the accident that happened at a nuclear-fuel processing plant in Tokai, Japan, on 30 September 1999 is the worst in recent years. On 4 November 1999, the Science and Technology Agency of the Japanese government announced the estimated exposure dose. During about 20 hours of overcriticality, a person could have been exposed to the dose of 150 mSv at the boundary of the plant, which was about 80 m from the chain-reaction site. An evacuation order had been given to the residents within the distance of 350 m from the site, but the results of estimation indicated that the persons outside the evacuation area might have been exposed to the dose above the annual dose limit of 1 mSv (Asahi-Shimbun).

An article in the "Opinion" column of Nature took up this accident [1]. The author of the editorial writes that the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the government. This is the same opinion as I wrote in the earlier essay. The author says further that the problem of the effectiveness of safety regulation in Japan is not confined to nuclear power, and refers to deficiencies in Japan's regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, commenting on the inability of the Japanese government to set up competent regulatory bodies and the possible continuation of the problem in the future. This is a keen observation similar to the one that might be made by some of Japan's nongovernment parties.

In the concluding paragraph of the editorial, it is written that this is bad news for the world's nuclear industry. The reason given is that despite calls in some circles for its greater use to curb carbon dioxide emissions, the nuclear power generation, expected to expand significantly only in Asia, would meet with more fierce opposition for many years to come. Why does the author (as well as the people of "some circles" mentioned above, possibly) consider that the use of nuclear power should expand only in Asia? The reasons might be: The movement of opposition to nuclear power is weaker in Asia than other areas of the world, and presently the ratio of electricity supplied by nuclear power reactors to the total power generated is rather low in Asia.

In the mother country of Nature, England, electricity supplied by nuclear power reactors in 1998 is 27% of the total power, and no reactors are under construction. This situation falls much behind (or, from the viewpoint of opponents of nuclear power, is much advanced than) that of Japan, where the fractional power of 36% is already generated by nuclear reactors, and two more reactors are under construction [2]. Therefore, people of England also have to make a great effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by some method.
  1. "Perils of inadequacies in safety regulation," Nature, Vol. 401, p. 513 (1999).
  2. "Table of Reactors" IAEA Press Release, 29 April (1999).
Further Reading
  • "Report on the preliminary fact finding mission following the accident at the nuclear fuel processing facility in Tokaimura, Japan," IAEA (1999) 35 pp.
Notes Added Later:
  1. I have learnt that England has the advantage of having much natural gas resource in suppressing nuclear power.
  2. On 11 December 1999, the Ministry of Science and Technology announced the results of re-evaluation of the doses the persons around the site of the JCO accident might have been exposed. The revised doses were lower by about 40% than the original estimates.
  3. Hisashi Ouchi, the worker of JCO who was exposed to the highest dose of radiation, died on 21 Dec 1999, the 83rd day since the accident. The dose he was exposed to was estimated to be from 16 to 20 Sv by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences (Asahi-shimbun, 22 Dec 1999).

Sunday, November 07, 1999

Assessment of Producing Mini Black Holes

The construction of a machine for the physics experiment was completed at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) at the beginning of November 1999. The machine is called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced "Rick"), and its purpose is to create the stuff that has not existed since the early universe (quark-gluon plasmas). An article on this machine and related physics has been published in the March 1999 issue of Scientific American [1]. Sending letters to the editors of this journal, some readers expressed worries about the possibility of catastrophic results by the production of unknown matter and miniature black holes. Two of the letters were printed in the July 1999 issue together with the reply from the physicist Frank Wilczek of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. His conclusion was that a doomsday scenario was not plausible [2].

A committee of distinguished physicists convened by BNL Director John Marburger gave a more complete answer to this Sci-Fi like problem recently. The speculative disaster scenarios considered were:
  • Creation of a black hole that would "eat" ordinary matter.
  • Initiation of a transition to a new, more stable universe.
  • Formation of a "strangelet" that would convert ordinary matter to a new form.
The committee concluded that there were no credible mechanisms for catastrophic scenarios at RHIC. A summary of the committee report can be viewed at a website [3]. BNL Director Marburger said [4], "Nature has been creating collisions of energies comparable to those at RHIC for billions of years, and there is no evidence of any kind of disaster related to those collisions. RHIC does not take us beyond the limits of natural phenomena. It brings a rare phenomenon into the view of our instruments so we can puzzle out its inner workings."

The fact that a comprehensive assessment has been made of the very speculative "disaster" is to be welcomed. However, we should worry about that the assessment of more probable danger is sometimes incomplete in a certain country.
  1. M. Mukerjee, Sci. Amer. 280 (3), 42 (1999).
  2. F. Wilczek, Sci. Amer. 281 (1), 5 (1999).
  3. Brookhaven Natl. Lab., Committee Report on Speculative "Disaster Scenarios" at RHIC (1999).
  4. Brookhaven Natl. Lab. News Release (Oct. 6, 1999).

Saturday, October 30, 1999

Energy and Environment

On October 25, 1999, Peter E. Hodgson delivered a lecture entitled "Global Warming, the Energy Crisis and Nuclear Power" at a meeting sponsored by Osaka Nuclear Science Association and held at Osaka Science and Technology Center. I had an honor to be the chairperson of the lecture. Hodgson is Professor of theoretical nuclear physics at University of Oxford, and has been the member of the Atomic Scientists' Association for many years. He has written a number of books on nuclear physics as well as on the relation of nuclear physics and society [1].

He talked about the comparison of possible energy sources of the future by the five criteria of capacity, cost, reliability, safety and environment, quoting the following words of William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) and showing numerical data collected as much as possible.
I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.
The possible energy sources considered included coal, oil, gas, wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal and nuclear power plants. The data presented showed that nuclear power was most promising in every respect. His calm and gentle manner of talking did not weaken his conclusion but strengthened it. The audience consisted mostly of nuclear and radiation scientists. At this time of intensifying mood of public opposition against nuclear power due to the Tokai accident, therefore, Hodgson's lecture must have given encouragement to most of the attendants.

The opponents of nuclear power should also discuss the matter scientifically on the basis of numerical data related to the scope of a wide range, if they wish to stand firmly against proponents. Hodgson writes in his paper [2], on which a large part of his lecture was based, "The onus of demonstrating a better way to combat global warming lies on the opponents of nuclear power."
  1. The latest of the latter kind of books is: Peter E. Hodgson, Nuclear Power, Energy and the Environment (Imperial College Press, 1999).
  2. P. E. Hodgson, Nuclear Energy, Vol. 38, No. 3, 147 (1999).
Related Site Further Reading Added Later
  1. H. Herzog, B. Eliasson and O. Kaarstad, "Capturing Greenhouse Gases," Scientific American Vol. 282, No. 2, pp. 54-61 (2000). The authors review the approach of burning fossil fuels without releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by separating them underground or in the deep ocean.
  2. W. C. Sailor, D. Bodansky, C. Braun, S. Fetter and B. van der Zwaan, "A Nuclear Solution to Climate Change?" Science, Vol. 288, pp. 1177-1178 (2000).

Thursday, October 14, 1999

Femtosecond Spectroscopy and Top Quark

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Professor Ahmed H. Zewail, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA, for showing that it is possible with rapid laser technique to see how atoms in a molecule move during a chemical reaction.

The Academy's citation [1] says that the Egyptian scientist Zewail won the prize "for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy." I am glad that "femto" used in the name of my essays has become famous also among nonscientists by Zewail's winning of the prize.

The 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics was won jointly by Professor Gerardus 't Hooft, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands, and Professor Emeritus Martinus J.G. Veltman, Bilthoven, the Netherlands "for elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics."

One particular quantity obtained by the calculation method of 't Hooft and Veltman is the mass of the top quark [2] (quarks are the constituents of the proton, the neutron and the like, which were once considered to be elementary particles). This quark was observed directly for the first time in 1995 at the Fermilab in the USA [3], but its mass had been predicted several years earlier. Thus the correctness of their theory was established. It is to be noted that the work related to the existence of the top quark was initiated by the Japanese physicists M. Kobayashi and K. Maskawa [4].

Besides the predictions already confirmed, the Academy's press release [2] mentions also about an as yet unfound particle termed the Higgs particle, which is an important ingredient in the theory 't Hooft and Veltman have developed. The demonstration of this particle is expected to come around 2005 after the completion of an accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European high-energy physics center CERN.

Veltman is quoted as telling Dutch radio news, "The social benefit of my theory is absolutely nil -- you won't eat any more or less as a result." (CNN website news, 12 Oct, 1999). However, the understanding of one of the deepest levels of nature is very probable to open up new technological possibilities in the future.

A good explanation for the layperson of the work done by 't Hooft and Veltman is found in a book by John Gribbin [5]. See also Physics New Update Nos. 452-1 and 452-2 for this year's Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry [6, 7].
  1. Nobel Foundation, "The 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry"
  2. Nobel Foundation, "The 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics"
  3. T. M. Liss and P. L. Tipton, "The Discovery of the Top Quark" Sci. Amer. (September issue, 1997).
  4. G. 't Hooft, "In Search of the Ultimate Building Blocks" (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
  5. J. Gribbin, "The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything" (Little, Brown, 1998).
  6. The 1999 Nobel Prize for Physics, Physics News Update No. 452-1 (1999, American Institute of Physics)
  7. The 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Physics News Update No. 452-2 (1999, American Institute of Physics)

Monday, October 11, 1999

The Old Man and Superstrings

Superstrings are tiny entities of the size on the order of 10-33 cm. Not a small number of theoretical physicists suppose that these would be the ultimate building blocks of matter and that the superstring theory would lead to a Theory of Everything. Good introductory books and a website on the superstrings for laypersons are available [1-4].

As early as in 1988, BBC Radio 3 broadcast the program Desperately Seeking Superstrings to review the state of superstring research. The program included interviews with some of the leading proponents and critics of the superstring theory. The transcripts of the interviews were published as a book [5]. In this book we can read Richard Feynman's skeptic opinion on the superstrings. The interview with him was made just before the year of his death.

The interviewers asked if Feynman thought that theoretical physics was degenerating into philosophy because of financial difficulties experimentally to test the unification of nature's laws at the deepest level. Feynman said, "Maybe theoretical physics is degenerating but I don't know into what." Then, he added [5]:
I have noticed when I was younger, that lots of old man in the field couldn't understand new ideas very well ... such as Einstein not being able to take quantum mechanics. I'm an old man now, and these are new ideas, and they look crazy to me, ... So I could entertain future historians by saying I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction.
This was not Feynman's joke considering the following fact. One of the earliest developers of superstring theory, John Schwarz, recollects Feynman's advice given to him to discourage him from wasting his productive years on string theory [1], "Whenever we propose any theory, we must be our own severest critic."

I am a "superstring stuff" fan as well as a Feynman fan, and would like to see future historians being pleased to find that Feynman was really wrong about this stuff.
  1. M. Kaku and J. Thompson, "Beyond Einstein" (Oxford University Press, 1997; first edition by Bantam Books, 1987).
  2. J. Gribbin, "The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything" (Little, Brown, 1998).
  3. B. Greene, "The Elegant Universe" (W. W. Norton, 1999).
  4. "The Official String Theory Web Site" (U.S.A.)
  5. P. C. W. Davies and J. Brown, ed., "Superstrings" (Cambridge University Press, 1988).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Saturday, October 02, 1999

The Real Cause of Nuclear Accident

On September 30, 1999, a nuclear chain reaction was set off at the uranium processing plant of JCO Co. in Tokaimura, and lasted for almost a day, contaminating dozens of workers and spewing radiation into the atmosphere. About 310,000 people living within 10 kilometers of the plant were warned to remain in their homes with windows and vents shut for more than a day. Some 80 people living within 350 meters of the plant, evacuated soon after the accident, were still barred from returning to their homes on 2 October. This was Japan's worst-ever nuclear accident.

Japanese newspapers quoted officials from the JCO Co. as saying at a news conference, "The nuclear chain reaction began around 10:35 a.m. 30 September when workers skipped a key step that would have prevented the start of the reaction. They apparently used buckets to transfer a uranium solution into a mixing tank. Because the employees were doing the job by hand, instead of using a required apparatus, they mistakenly loaded 16 kilograms of uranium into a container, nearly eight times the normal amount. They also appear to have transferred the uranium solution to the wrong tank." (Adapted from the website news of CNN.)

The above report gives us an impression that the accident was entirely caused by the workers' error, but fullest consideration should be given to the more basic reason that lead the human error to the disaster. Is it not a gross administrative failure to permit the establishment of a nuclear fuel plant without any fail-safe system against the fission chain reaction?

Related References
  • IAEA-WHO, Diagnosis and Treatment of Radiation Injuries, Safety Report Series, No. 2, IAEA, Vienna (1998).
  • IAEA-WHO, Planning the Medical Responses to Radiological Accidents, Safety Report Series, No. 4, IAEA, Vienna (1998).
  • IAEA-ILO-WHO, Health Surveillance of Persons Occupationally Exposed to Ionizing Radiation, Safety Report Series, No. 5, IAEA, Vienna (1998).

Monday, September 13, 1999

Science and Religion

In " Science and ethical values" (July 24, 1999), I wrote about Battersby's criticism of Feynman's words, "ethical values lie outside the scientific realm." We find a similar debate in Holden's article "Science and religion: Searching for answers to cosmic questions" [1]. Holden reports about an event held in April of this year at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and co-sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The purpose of the event was to exchange views among scientists and theologians about the questions: "Did the universe have a beginning?" "Was the universe designed?" and "Are we alone?"

Reading about opposing views is interesting. For example, the physicist Steven Weinberg says, "The laws of nature are cold and impersonal," but the physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, "The world is shot through with signs of mind." About the "anthropic principle," Anna Case-Winters, a professor of theology, argues, "Both the universe's 'intelligibility' and its 'suitability' for life are evidence of the hand of God," but the physicist Alan Guth of MIT, "You can't talk about odds-defying circumstances when you have a sample of only one universe." And about applying theology to ethical debates in science, the paleobiologist Stephen Stanley of Johns Hopkins University says, "It will simply complicate an already complex issue," but Guth, "Much of the brainpower that has been thrown at ethical questions in science has come from theologians, so it is good for scientists to stay in touch."

I like the latter view on the application of theology or religion in the ethical problems of science. Bertrand Russell wrote in his book [2] about "one aspect of the religious life, and that perhaps the most desirable, which is independent of the discoveries of science, and may survive whatever we may come to believe as to the nature of the universe." It is to feel "deeply the problems of human destiny, the desire to diminish the sufferings of mankind, and the hope that the future will realize the best possibilities of our species." This religious feeling, independent of the discovery of science in the sense that it is irrelevant to the creeds of the existing religions about the birth and development of the universe, is important to help humans solve ethical problems of science. Directly with regard to these problems, John Polkinghorne writes [3] that one aspect of religious thought "relates to how all people of goodwill should seek to tackle the moral problems posed by the growth of science."
  1. C. Holden, Science, Vol. 284, p. 1258 (1999).
  2. B. Russell, "Religion and Science" (Oxford University Press, London, 1961; first published, Home University Library, 1935).
  3. J. C. Polkinghorne, "Belief in God in an Age of Science" (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Tuesday, September 07, 1999

Atomic Bombing and Japan's Surrender: Letter to American Friend of Mine

Dear J,

I read your World War II experience and told my digested version to my wife Tei in Japanese. We were quite impressed by learning how you had overcome hard days and bravely fought against Nazi Germany.

As for Professor K's affirmative statement about atomic bombing, I'm afraid that it is too naive a thought. We find the following descriptions in Robert Jungk's historical work on the atomic bomb, "Brighter than a Thousand Suns":
The intelligence services of both the Army and the Navy of the United States were in fact at this date [note by T. T.: July 1945] already convinced that the final downfall of Japan could only be a question of a few more weeks. [After this sentence, the words of recollection by Alfred MacCormack, Military Intelligence Director for the Pacific Theatre of War, follows. (Page 188, Penguin English edition)]

The American historian Robert J. C. Butow, who has made a comparative study from both American and Japanese sources of the events that preceded the collapse of Japan, is of the opinion that at this period the war could very well have been brought rapidly to an end by diplomatic measures, ... But probably the main reason why the American government remained blind to the possibility of such measures was the knowledge that it possessed the atomic bomb. [Pages 189 and 190]
Not so small a number of conscientious and keen Japanese people in those days seem to have been noticing the same things as above at that time.

I also know a description similar to Professor K's statement, but consider that it was made by a superficial observation. The following is a passage from "The Making of the Atomic Age" written by the English nuclear chemist Alwyn McKay:
"Even after Nagasaki and the further blow of the USSR's entry into the war against them, the Japanese Army still refused to give in. The war was nevertheless ended by the personal intervention of Emperor Hirohito on 14 August. ... It certainly seems to be the case that the second atom bomb was necessary to ensure surrender." [Oxford U. P. (1984) page 117]
By the way, I exchanged letters with Dr. McKay, a retiree from AERE, and visited his home on the occasion of my academic trip to Europe in 1989 (he lost his wife a little before that time).

Best regards,


Note added later: In the millenium-essay column of a recent issue of Nature, Kurt Gottfried writes an article entitled "Moral calculus and the bomb" [1]. His opinion is well summarized in his last paragraph:
The use of the bomb in the Second World War illustrates the obvious in the starkest terms: moral calculus does not lead to unambiguous answers. And the whole history of the nuclear age shows that the combination of new science with the abandonment of a profound moral principle — in this case that civilian should not be military targets — can lead to awesome dangers that could not have been imagined at the outset.
In the above quotation, I would like to say "But" instead of "And." The awsome danger caused by the abandonment of a moral principle should be fed back to help unambiguously determine the answer to the question if the use of the atomic bomb was good or bad.
  1. K. Gottfried, Nature Vol. 401, 117 (1999).

Saturday, August 28, 1999

Stage Performance: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

The prestigious journal of science, Nature, has "Book reviews" column, and this column includes a sub-column named "Science in culture" to present reviews on classic books, stage performance, etc. The sub-column in the issue of April 8, 1999, was devoted to the review of the stage performance by Mike Maran Productions based on Feynman's best-selling book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! The reviewer is John Polkinghorne, who is past President of Queens' College and internationally known as both a theoretical physicist and a theologian.

As for the book, Polkinghorne writes, "I have to say that, though I am a great admirer of Feynman the physicist, I have never cared for it much." However, it is a comfort to Feynman fans that he refers to "a much more complex and interesting character" concealed behind the mask of a fun-loving New York kid, giving as its evidence "the detailed and carefully preserved archive" found by James Gleick, the author of the successful biography of Feynman, Genius.

Much greater delight comes to Feynman fans when Polkinghorne finally says, "Mike Maran is to be congratulated on a lively contribution to ... dramatic performances with some scientific content," and about half the audience under the age of 16 present with the reviewer "will have caught something of the excitement and value of science ..., inspired by someone who was both a very great scientist and an accomplished showman." I very much wish that the same stage performance be also given in our country.

Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Sunday, August 01, 1999

Freedom to Doubt

On the first day of his John Danz Lecture, Richard Feynman said that the freedom to doubt was an important matter in the sciences and believably in other fields [1]. In the second day, he fiercely criticized that the Russia in those days [2] was not free. This political criticism is a little strange considering his "actively irresponsible" attitude towards social problems. Anyway, freedom to doubt is certainly important in any field.

Carl Sagan wrote that at the heart of science was an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes: an openness to new ideas (creative thinking) and skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new (skeptical thinking) [3]. In a sense, these two attitudes can be said to be only different sides of the single mental behavior of doubting. Skeptical thinking is easily understood to have a relation to doubting. Creative thinking is also related to doubting, because, as Sagan noted, the openness of creative mind is to take a possible solution into consideration no matter how it seems to be bizarre or counterintuitive; namely, here is a doubt about regarding a bizarre thing simply as bizarre.

Presently the government of a certain country is irrationally eager to make a law that might suppress the freedom to doubt at the places of education. Feynman would cynically laugh at this [4].
  1. For the publication of the lecture, see footnote 1 of the 19-Jul-1999 story of this column.
  2. The lecture was delivered in 1963, i.e., well before the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
  3. Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World" (Random House, New York, 1996).
  4. Note added later: "The bill to legally recognize the Hinomaru as the national flag and Kimigayo as the national anthem gained final Diet approval on Aug. 9, as the [Japanese] government stepped up moves to end a series of post-war controversies. The legalization was prompted by the suicide of a Hiroshima high school principal in February." (From Asahi Weekly, Aug. 15, 1999) — The legalization is quite an opposite movement against what the principal appealed by his suicide. —
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Saturday, July 24, 1999

Science and Ethical Values

After reading Richard Feynman's "The Meaning of It All" (see the previous story of this column), I reminded myself of an unfavorable comment on this book in Book Reviews column of the journal Nature. The writer of the relevant review was an assistant editor of the journal, Stephen Battersby [1]. He writes:
... we hit a snag: in print, and unedited, Feynman doesn't always make sense.
Then Battersby quotes Feynman's words, "ethical values lie outside the scientific realm," commenting that this should be a comforting opinion for someone who worked on the bomb. He even says that here Feynman reveals himself to be surprisingly inarticulate.

The reviewer confuses here science as a branch of knowledge and its application. As I suggested in the previous essay, Feynman's attitude towards the relations between society and science shown in his first lecture can be the target of criticism. However, one of Feynman's arguments in his second lecture, from which Battersby quotes the above words, is that the ethical aspect of religions has not been historically affected by the religions' retreat from their metaphysical position, which in turn has been brought about by scientific discoveries, and that, together with other reasons he describes, this confirms the independence of moral questions and scientific knowledge. Some of Feynman's additional reasons are surely given not so clearly, but I find no problem in accepting his conclusion. Scientific facts and knowledge cannot by themselves serve as the principle of decision in ethical problems. If religions have something useful in the age of science and technology, it would be to think about ethical standards and to provide good examples of these.

Though Batterby's review is a little too scathing, it is true that the unedited record of lectures can be disorderly and include many defects, and his final words, "Don't visit him for sacred wisdom," are not off the mark.
  1. S. Battersby, Nature Vol. 394, 144 (1998).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Monday, July 19, 1999

Scientists' Responsibility for Society

In the earliest part of his 1963 John Danz Lecture at the University of Washington (Seattle), the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman talked about the good and evil aspects of a consequence of science [1]. However, he did not talk further about the scientists' responsibility for relations between society and science, saying that these were far more humanitarian problems rather than scientific problems. The reason for Feynman's "actively irresponsible" attitude towards social problems was also given by himself to be the thinking that being responsible for those problems was an ineffective use of his time [2].

On the contrary, Carl Sagan, a gifted astrophysicist and recipient of the Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, U. S. A., was a pioneer in understanding the global consequences of nuclear war, and had the opinion that it was the particular task of scientists to alert the public to possible dangers of the application of science [3]. His argument can be summarized as follows: The effects of today's technology is so big that these can cause the destruction of the global civilization and even the annihilation of our species. Therefore, the price of moral ambiguity and the ethical responsibility of scientists are too high.

Comparing these different attitudes of the famous scientists, I would like to conclude: The "active irresponsibility" is the privilege only no-ordinary geniuses can enjoy. There are many Feynman fans in the world over. Though I am one of those fans, I fear that his attitude might give so many ordinary scientists an excuse for being irresponsible for the use of science.
  1. R. P. Feynman, "The Meaning of It All" (Addison-Wesley, 1998).
  2. C. Sykes, ed., "No Ordinary Genius" (W. W. Norton & Company, 1994).
  3. Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World" (Random House, New York, 1996).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Dyson's Prediction of Future

In his new book, "The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolutions" (Oxford University Press, 1999), Freeman Dyson contends that the driving force of scientific revolutions is more often new tools rather than new concepts. A tool-biased view of the history of physics was written by the experimental physicist Peter Galison [1], while a concept-biased analysis was made by the theoretical physicist Thomas Kuhn in his famous book [2]. Being a theorist, though, Dyson considers that Galison's view of science more pleasing, and predicts that three new technologies - solar energy, genetic engineering and the internet - will be the most important things in the twenty-first century.

Dyson's books [3] have always fascinated us by his wide-ranging intelligence, great insight, keen analysis and convincing arguments based on concrete examples. "The Sun, the Genome, the Internet" is not an exception. An additional agreeable character of his writing consists in the fact that he attaches importance to social justice realizable by technology. He expects that the gap between the rich and the poor would be narrowed by the ethical application of science.

In the final chapters of the new book, Dyson discusses the future of the society under the inexorable growth of techniques suggested by the two big surprises that happened in 1997. These surprises are the cloning of Dolly and the defeat of the world chess champion by the IBM chess-playing program Deep Blue. The first of the surprises makes Dyson think about reprogenetics, which is a possible future technology offering the parent the opportunity to improve the quality of life of the child by removing bad genes and by inserting advantageous ones [4]. I could not read his discussion about this possibility without reminding myself of the scientific fiction Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

(A modified version of this essay is posted as tttabata's review of "The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet" on the bying-info page of this book at

Note added later: I have found that Richard Feynman said a thing similar to the above in his lecture [5] delivered in 1963: "The very rapid developments of biology are going to cause all kinds of very exciting problems.  . . .  I just refer you to Aldous Huxley's book Brave New World, which gives some indication of the type of problem that future biology involve itself in."
  1. Peter Galison, "Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics" (University of Chicago Press, 1997).
  2. Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1970).
  3. Freeman Dyson, "Disturbing the Universe" (Harper & Row, 1979); "Infinite in All Directions" (Harper & Row, 1988); "From Eros to Gaia" (Penguin Books, 1992); "Imagined World" (Harvard University Press, 1997).
  4. Lee Silver, "Remaking Eden" (Avon Books, 1997).
  5. R. P. Feynman, "The Meaning of It All" (Addison-Wesley, 1998).

Sunday, June 27, 1999

Is Science Old or New for Humans?

We hear that the number of students who wish to major in natural sciences is decreasing in Japan. In the age of science and technology this trend is deplorable.

Carl Sagan starts a chapter of his book, The Demon Haunted World (Random House, New York, 1996), by a question, "Why should so many people find science hard to learn and hard to teach?" Then he cites Alan Cromer's proposition given in Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science (Oxford University Press, New York, 1993) that science is difficult because it is new in the history of human being, and show partial sympathy to this thesis.

However, Sagan describes next about the expertise of hunter-gatherers in tracking not only other animals but also humans. Comparing the method of hunters' tracking with astronomers' method of judging the age of a crater on the Moon or Mercury or Triton, he says that the former method is the same as the latter or what modern scientists do. He thus comes to the conclusion that scientific thinking has almost certainly been with us from the beginning.

Which do you think is more persuasive, Cromer's pessimistic proposition or Sagan's optimistic antithesis about the relation of humans and science? Apart from the grounds of their arguments, I would like to agree with Sagan in the hope of better prosperity of mankind.

Saturday, June 26, 1999

Another Source of Physics News

Free e-mail service of physics news similar to Physics News Update of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) is available from the American Physical Society (APS). The Society has a website called Physical Review Focus, which provides brief explanations of selected research papers from Physical Review Letters (PRL) at a level accessible to most physicists. If you subscribe to Focus at the List Manager site of APS, you will receive a message approximately weekly that contains the introductory paragraphs from the stories posted at the site during the previous week.

Example titles of stories in Physical Review Focus arrived recently are:
  • Fountain Clock Keeps Good Time (10 Jun 1999)
  • Selecting Excited States (18 Jun 1999)
  • Atomic Holograms (18 Jun 1999)
  • Nanotube Electronics (24 Jun 1999)
  • Windows on the Superconducting Soul (24 Jun 1999)
June 10 is Time Day in Japan; I don't think it an international day. Why then did the June-10 issue of Physical Review Focus happen to choose the story of an atomic clock?

The titles of the stories picked up from PRL by AIP's Physics News Update in the previous week, if any, are listed at the end of each Focus E-mail message.

Saturday, June 12, 1999

More Interesting than Sci Fi

I am a suscriber to Physics News Update. It is a digest of physics news items delivered approximately once a week by free e-mail service from American Institute of Physics (AIP). The news sources cover physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and so on. The purpose of this service is "broadly to disseminate information about physics and physicists," and each digest made by Phillip F. Schewe or Ben Stein starts with introductory words, which make the topic understandable to laypersons.

All the results of physics research mentioned in Physics News Update are at the cutting edge of this field, and reading it is often much more interesting and thrilling than reading science fictions. Some titles I liked recently are:
  • The First Entanglement of Three Photons (12 Feb 1999)
  • Direct CP Violation (29 Mar 199
  • Does God Exist? (20 Apr 1999)
  • Writing the Word "Optics" on a Single Atom (3 May 1999)
  • Pi and Random Numbers (14 May 1999)
You can read these stories on the AIP Physics News Update Home Page, where you can also subscribe to the e-mail service. Being permitted by the generous words of AIP, "you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit the American Institute of Physics," I will be posting the latest issue of Physics News Update on my home page.

Kaku and Thompson [1] gave the following plausible reason why science was always stranger than science fiction: Technological progress proceeds geometrically. On the other hand, science fiction is merely a linear extrapolation or extension of the contemporary state of technology.
  1. M. Kaku and J. Thompson, "Beyond Einstein" (Oxford University Press, 1997; first edition by Bantam Books, 1987).