Freeman Dyson, dead at 96 [died 28 Feb. 2020]

(I searched for a thread about this and didn’t find it. It happened a month ago, so possibly my search was inadequately thorough.)

This is me being ignorant about physics. I only knew Dyson’s name from his eponymous Dyson Sphere idea. Suddenly these videos of him talking about his long life and history in the field of physics started popping up on my Youtube feed, and I watched one out of curiosity. Then I watched another. I just watched this one, which is where I found out from the comments that he had recently died.

This video is fascinating to me. In it, he describes to a very knowledgeable interviewer why he thinks that a unified theory, one that unites general relativity with quantum mechanics is not necessary. As a very lay person, I think I understood it reasonably well. He draws a distinction between those theories and techniques that describe the past, what he calls the classical world which includes general relativity (he explains this starting at 0:60 in the video) on the one hand, and quantum mechanics, the sole function of which is to attempt to predict the probabilities of future events, on the other hand. Then he defends this view against some fairly perspicacious-seeming questions from the interviewer. (I would be interested in reading the opinions of this video and Dyson’s views from the physicists that inhabit this board.)

As I said, fascinating. There is also a series of 157 videos, each around 6-7 minutes I guess, where he apparently covers his entire career in physics. Also fascinating, of the two that I watched.

So, a current event with no particular political or disease-related aspects, so I put it here.

Last year I read a book about him and his son, George Dyson. The Starship and the Canoe, by Kenneth Brower, was in my top ten.

I’ve been a big fan of Freeman Dyson for years. Disturbing the Universe is a great read. It was written in 1979 (though it doesn’t feel that way), and I’m sad that he never got around to writing an update to it.

For many years, I’ve been making images of Dyson swarms and spheres for science fiction purposes, mostly as a hobby. Some of them are quite fanciful, others have detailed orbital characteristics and other parameters.
Examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and so on.

My most popular image has been used many times as an illustration in online articles about the concept, and has been used (with permission) by Isaac Arthur in a tribute to Freeman Dyson.

Disappointingly, there do not seem to be any examples of the Dyson sphere megastructure in the visible universe that we can detect at the moment; this seems to imply one of two things - either advanced civilisations are rare in our part of the universe, or they find something more interesting to do with their time than build such things.

Your images are breathtaking! Thank you ever so much for sharing them!

I’m reviving this thread because this is the first I heard that Freeman Dyson had died and I wanted to give my respects.

I was in a freshman writing seminar in 1989 called Science as Literature and we read both Disturbing the Universe and Starship and the Canoe. Both are wonderful books. And for one of my assignments, I wrote to Prof Dyson sharing my thoughts on the books. I forget what I said, but I must have impressed him because he wrote, not just one, but two letters in return.

I was really starstruck to think that someone so ‘famous’ would take the time to write to a lowly freshman. I wonder if I still have those letters somewhere.

Anyway, I just wanted to share. RIP Prof. Dyson.