Monday, January 12, 2009


Strange Fellows in the Times

I'm over on the Times blog this week -- hello!

Meanwhile, a fascinating review today in the Times of London of Graham Farhelo's new biography of the man who discovered antimatter:

Paul Dirac was the greatest British physicist since Newton. In the 1920s and 1930s, together with Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger and Pauli, he opened up the field of quantum physics, changing the course of science. In 1933, aged 31, he became the youngest theoretician to win a Nobel prize. He died 25 years ago, yet no biography has appeared until now. It is not hard to see why. As a man he was pathologically silent and retiring, and as a thinker he was unintelligible except to mathematicians....

[Unlike most such biographies] Farmelo believes that the cause of Dirac's condition was not paternal cruelty but autism. Like many autistics he was extremely taciturn. His fellow students invented a unit, “the Dirac”, for the smallest imaginable number of words someone could utter in an hour.

As it happens, I just turned in a piece that rather weirdly crosses paths with this subject matter... much more to come on that in another post.

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