Sunday, October 07, 2012

Adventures of a Mathematician

I found my copy of Ulam's book Adventures of a Mathematician recently while preparing to move (it was in a box with other books and notes from Caltech). I had not looked at it since I was an undergraduate! Below are some interesting excerpts to go with the ones I posted here.
[p.60] ... the vacancy in the Society of Fellows at Harvard which I was invited to fill resulted from Chandrasekhar's acceptance of an assistant professorship at Chicago. 
[p.81] When we talked about Einstein, Johnny [von Neumann] would express the usual admiration for his epochal discoveries which had come to him so effortlessly ... But his admiration seemed mixed with some reservations, as if he thought, "Well, here he is, so very great," yet knowing his limitations. [ See also Feyerabend on the giants. ] ... I once asked Johnny whether he thought that Einstein might have developed a sort of contempt for other physicists, including even the best and most famous ones -- that he had been deified and lionized too much... Johnny agreed... "he does not think too much of others as possible rivals in the history of physics of our epoch."
[p.107] I told Banach about an expression Johnny had used with me in Princeton before stating some non-Jewish mathematician's result, "Die Goim haben den folgenden satz beweisen" (The goys have proved the following theorem). Banach, who was pure goy, thought it was one of the funniest sayings he had ever heard. He was enchanted by its implication that if the goys could do it, then Johnny and I ought to be able to do it better. Johnny did not invent this joke, but he liked it and we started using it.
There are many more interesting things, including the story behind the Ulam-Teller design for the hydrogen bomb.

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