Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Mystery of Yukawa's "New Insight"

Please read the revised version instead of this article:
The Mystery of Yukawa's "New Insight" (Revised).

Read in Japanese.
(The Japanese version has not yet been revised.)

The crucial point in the development of Hideki Yukawa's meson theory came to him one night in October 1934. He writes in his autobiography Tabibito [1] as follows:
My new insight was the realization that this distance [the effective range of the nuclear force] and the mass of the new particle that I was seeking are inversely related to each other. Why had I not noticed that before?

This passage contradicts the fact that Yukawa used the above relation already in 1933. Namely, in April that year he made his first oral presentation at a meeting of an academic society. It was entitled "A consideration about the problem of electrons within nuclei," and the meeting was the one held in Sendai by Physico-Mathematical Society of Japan. The abstract of the presentation includes the following sentence [2]:
From the fact that the electron has the rest mass, we consider that the strength of the interaction decreases rapidly as the distance between the neutron and the proton becomes large compared with h/(2πmc).

In the work of the above presentation, Yukawa treated the possibility that the electron might be the mediator of the nuclear force between the neutron and the proton. This hypothesis included difficulties related to the spin and statistics of the electron. Therefore, Yukawa totally abandoned the hypothesis later together with the relation of the distance and the mass of the particle that would mediate the nuclear force [3]. Did this abandonment make it necessary for Yukawa to rediscover the relation? If so, this explains the contradictory remark of his "new insight."

We find another possible explanation of the contradictory description in the process of the making of Yukawa's autobiography. Hisao Sawano of the Asahi Shimbun Company helped the publication by editing Yukawa's manuscript [4]. If Sawano's editing had been to such an extent as to change Yukawa's original version into more dramatic one here and there, the passage that began with "My new insight" might have been Sawano's creation. To eliminate the expression different from the fact, Yukawa, perhaps, regularly checked the changes made by Sawano. However, Yukawa finished writing the last section related to the discovery of the meson theory just a few hours before his trip to Europe [5]. Thus, it is quite possible that Yukawa did not check Sawano's modification of that section.

Both Yukawa and Sawano are now in heaven, and the mystery of the "new insight," i.e., which of the above two explanations was the case, cannot be solved easily.

(This article owes much to the discussion we have had at Osaka Science Museum among the members of "Citizens' Study Group on Hideki Yukawa.")

Read the continuation of this article: The Solution to the Mystery of Yukawa's "New Insight"

  1. H. Yukawa, Tabibito (The Traveler), translated by L. Brown and R. Yoshida (World Scientific, 1982) p. 202.
  2. H. Yukawa, Sūbutu-gakkaisi, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1933) quoted in Nihon-no Buturigaku-shi (History of Physics in Japan) (Tokai University Press, 1978) p. 319 (in Japanese; English translation of the quoted passage by the present author).
  3. M. Kawabe and M. Konuma, Butsuri Vol. 37, p. 265 (1982) (in Japanese).
  4. H. Yukawa, Atogaki (Afterwords) in Tabibito, (Kadokawa, 1960) (in Japanese).
  5. H. Yukawa, Hon-no Naka-no Sekai (The World in Books) (Iwanami, 1963) p. 182 (in Japanese).


Chiara said...

I am happy that I finally found the time to read this post, because I
find it interesting, as usual.
The second explanation, that is the "dramatization" (in good-faith) of Yukawa's original manuscript, sounds more reasonable.
However for average people like me, it is sometimes comforting to
think that even great physicists had to turn their ideas over and over,
and sometimes possibly forget and then re-invent them again, before
getting to their final discoveries.

Ted said...

To Chiara,

Many thanks for your valuable comment. I presented this essay in the style like the newspaper report, without including my preferable choice between the two explanations or any thought of mine about the mystery. Therefore, I feel as if the essay had been completed only now by the addition of your comment.