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Friday, May 13, 2005

Philosopher A.J. Meyer reminisces about his dinners with Dirac, and math and beauty and ...

Hi Denyse ...,

This article [See “Math: What if beauty and truth conflict,” below] brings back several memories. Because of my close friendship with Behram Kursunoglu, who was a close friend of Paul Dirac and was also a former student of his at Cambridge, I became one of the few fortunate souls with whom Dirac would engage in conversation. One night after dinner, as Dirac and I were discussing some problems in physics, he told me to always believe the mathematics. He told me that he almost failed to get the Nobel, because he doubted the truth of the beautiful mathematics that predicted the existence of a particle that had the same mass but opposite charge as an electron [later known as the positron]. Nevertheless, he decided to risk possible ridicule and simply trust the mathematics and publish his findings. His publication was just in the knick of time, since the positron was discovered shortly thereafter.

At one of Dirac's last talks at a Coral Gables Conference, while he was admonishing the younger physicists about their incorrect and cavalier use of mathematics, Dirac stated that if the mathematics was ugly, the physics was probably wrong. One guy got up and asked Dirac: "What do you mean by ugly mathematics?" Dirac replied: "If you have to ask that, you are in the wrong business."

In summary, I don't think it is necessarily Beauty versus Truth. However, I do believe that Dirac was right when he said that "God used beautiful mathematics when He created the world." which echoes the author of Hebrews 11,1-3: "Now faith is the assurance of the things we hope for, the proof of the reality of the things we cannot see. For by it the men of old won God's approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were created, beautifully co-coordinated in symmetry, and now exist, at God's command; so the things we see did not develop out of mere matter."


Shalom to you too, A.J., and thanks for an illuminating contribution. - cheers, Denyse
To find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?

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