Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Strangest Man: the Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius

We have plenty of biographies of famous physicists. Einstein, I would think, leads the way, because it seems that everyone wants to write about him. However, we haven't heard, and I certainly haven't, a lot about Dirac, until now.

This is a review of Graham Farmelo's biography of P.A.M. Dirac. As far as I know, this is the only one (please let me know if you are aware of another such biography).

From just reading the review, it does seems that Dirac is a rather quiet and eccentric person. Still, I found an interesting passage that may be attributed to him that's written in this review:

For his part, he insisted that the quantum world could not be expressed in words or imagined. To draw its picture would be “like a blind man sensing a snowflake. One touch and it's gone”. Its beauty revealed itself only in mathematical formulae.

Kewl! I hope this is truly his sentiment, and not simply a conclusion made either by the reviewer or the biographer. This is because this is similar to my argument when I wrote "Why is QM So Difficult?", and why, the mathematical formulation of QM IS QM, whereas the conceptual aspect of QM is rather secondary.

I suppose I have to get the book and check it myself.



helen r said...

The snowflake line is a direct quote from PD.

Jiuning said...

As far as I heard, there is a scientific biography about Dirac by Helge Kragh: Dirac: A Scientific Biography.

Professor R said...

Yes you will have to get the book! I found that review quite strange, did you? I was no wiser at the end whether the book is good, bad or indifferent.

There is a strong emphasis on the personal in the review, and very little on the science - hope this doesn't reflect the book and i suspect it doesn't! Regards, Cormac