Saturday, January 09, 2010


Unit of Taciturnity: The Dirac

Dear Mike,

How many of us have been speaking in Diracs all our adult lives and never known it? I didn't until yesterday:
'For most physicists in Cambridge, the discovery of quantum mechanics was a non-event. Apart from his discussions with Fowler [his tutor], Dirac made no effort to draw his colleagues into the new revolution in physics that he knew was afoot. Word was beginning to spread, however, that he was 'a first-rate man' in the making, though his wispy, almost wordless, presence gave no clue as to the depth and subtlety of his thinking. It appears to have been at this time that his colleagues invented a new unit for the smallest imaginable number of words that someone with the power of speech could utter in company - an average of one word an hour, a 'Dirac'. On the rare occasions he was provoked into saying more than yes or no, he said precisely what he thought, apparently with no understanding of other people's feelings or the conventions of polite conversation.'
Graham Farmelo, 'The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius' (London, Faber: 2009), p. 89.

Best Wishes,
Eric Thomson

Related post: Ich bin ein Boeotier.

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