Freeman Dyson Dies at Age 96, 28th February 2020


He’ll be much missed by many in this parish.


He was one of my favourites. I hope he’s found out if there are any Dyson spheres out there. I’m not sure if he held out much hope for an afterlife. He was brought up in a Christian household and never rejected the idea of a creator god but, as with everything else, he had some contrarian views about it. Ironically, for one not attached to the idea he had an interesting take on “the problem of evil” should the universe turn out to have been created by an all-powerful god. His solution was a “law of maximum diversity” which …

“operates at both the physical and the mental level. It says that the laws of nature and the initial conditions are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Always when things are dull, something turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut. Examples of things which made life difficult are all around us: comet impacts, ice ages, weapons, plagues, nuclear fission, computers, sex, sin and death. Not all challenges can be overcome, and so we have tragedy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth.”

I’d like to think he’s out there finding out just how interesting the universe is.


Some more from Scott Aaronson:

With Dyson’s passing, the scientific world has lost one of its last direct links to a heroic era, of Einstein and Oppenheimer and von Neumann and a young Richard Feynman, when theoretical physics stood at the helm of civilization like never before or since. Dyson, who apparently remained not only lucid but mathematically powerful (!) well into his last year, clearly remembered when the Golden Age of science fiction looked like simply sober forecasting; when the smartest young people, rather than denouncing each other on Twitter, dreamed of scouting the solar system in thermonuclear-explosion-powered spacecraft and seriously worked to make that happen.


I watched him in the past, maybe it was a Ted talk. This is sad news. An intellectual giant, dreamer and visionary. Who might we be talking about like this twenty or forty years from now?