One thing about Freeman Dyson is that he is genuinely philosophic. He’ll say things that are certifiably nuts – his old solution to the problem of nuclear war was to have governments agree to use up all the nukes to propel a spacecraft deep into space. And he has said that kamikaze pilots during the Second World War were the same thing as the 9/11 attackers.
So why is he philosophic? Watch how methodically he works through issues, and see if you can get your hands an an article in NYRB from a while ago – I think it was called “The World on a String?” There, he made the argument, in the midst of assessing his own legacy to physics and discussing problems with string theory, that the analytic/synthetic distinction explains why a Unified Field Theory does not put an end to science. Yes, physics is an analytic endeavor: but biology and chemistry at the very least consider how wholes operate independent of the exact nature of their parts.
He takes on serious questions, answers them with rigor, and isn’t afraid of drawing bold conclusions that appreciate human potential rather than dwarf it. For all my disagreements with him, there probably isn’t a higher compliment I can pay.
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