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Uncle Freeman: the classical scholar


A young love for numbers
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I was reading at four and... I... of course the schools were quite unlike American schools, we... the little school I went to at four years old was actually a serious school, it wasn't just kindergarten, so we were expected to be reading at four. And we went ahead very fast. It was a delightful school. It was about six or seven children all together with a lady called Miss Turner in charge, and she was just superb. That was the kind of teaching that every four year old should have.

[Q] And your proclivity in mathematics showed itself already at that stage?

Yes, I was always fascinated with numbers and I used to sit down calculating powers of two, and just enjoying calculating, from a very early age. That's something that's never left me, just this joy of playing around with numbers.

[Q] And your father and mother recognised this?

Yes. They were very supportive and it was particularly lucky that I didn't inherit their particular tastes. So I... I was never a question of my becoming a musician or becoming a lawyer. It was clear I was something different from them, and so they never tried to push me into their own mould.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: USA

Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008