from the world's big
Big Think Interview With Freeman Dyson
Freeman Dyson: \r\nSo my first name is Freeman and my last name Dyson and my title, Mister.\r\nI’m a physicist, but also a writer.\r\n\r\n
Question: How did you first become interested in science?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nYeah, it’s hard to tell of course, but I’ve been interested in science\r\ncertainly from a child. I was\r\nmostly interested in numbers. I\r\nwas calculating things at a very young age. I just fell in love with numbers and then it spread from\r\nthere to the rest of nature and I became… \r\nI remember the total eclipse of the sun, which happened when I was\r\nthree, and I was furious with my father because he wouldn’t take us to see\r\nit. It would have meant about a\r\nwhole day’s driving and anyways, so he said no, you can’t see the partial\r\neclipse and that’s it, and I thought that was terribly unfair.\r\n\r\n
\r\n\r\n Question: What was your science education like?
Question: What was your science education like?
Freeman Dyson: \r\nSo, well I never learned much science in school. That was I think an advantage in the\r\nold days. I grew up in England and\r\nwe spent most of the time on Latin and Greek and very little on science, and I\r\nthink that was good because it meant we didn’t get turned off. It was… Science was something we did\r\nfor fun and not because we had to.\r\n\r\n
Question: What was your experience of World War II like?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nYes, well I was 15 when the war started, so for a long time I just stayed\r\nin school, but then so I was lucky. \r\nI had only two years of the war and so I went to work for the Royal Air\r\nForce when I was 19, which was already just two years before it ended, so I\r\nwent to the **** headquarters and that was July ’43, and so I had just two\r\nyears of it, the last two years and I was working as a statistician mostly just\r\ncollecting all the information about the Air Force operations, particularly the\r\nbombing of Germany, so I had a sort of front-row seat view of that. Of course it was a total shambles, the\r\nwhole campaign. It was a great\r\ntragedy for both sides and, well, there was nothing I could do about it.\r\n\r\n
Question: How did the physics community react after the\r\ndropping of the atomic bomb?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nOf course they talked about it incessantly. That was the main subject of conversation for many years and\r\nso people had very strong feelings about it on both sides and people who\r\nthought it was the greatest thing they'd ever done and people who thought it\r\nwas just an unpleasant job and people who thought they should have never done\r\nit at all, so there were opinions of all kinds.\r\n\r\n
Question: How does the public, including public ignorance of\r\nscience, affect scientists?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell it’s very hard to tell. \r\nI mean I grew up in England at a time when England was winning Nobel\r\nPrizes right and left. I mean it\r\nwas amazing how many Nobel Prizes England was winning in chemistry and physics\r\nand biology and all the sciences and at that time the teaching of science in\r\nthe schools was really lousy. I\r\nmean I experienced that myself. We\r\nlearned almost nothing in school. \r\nScience was very unpopular. \r\nIt was… I mean science was\r\nblamed for all the horrors of World War I, just as it’s blamed today for\r\nnuclear weapons and quite rightly. I mean World War I was a horrible war and it was mostly the\r\nfault of science, so that was in a way a very bad time for science, but on the\r\nother hand we were winning all these Nobel Prizes. Well since then of course the teaching of science in schools\r\nin England has improved tremendously and the number of Nobel Prizes has gone\r\ndown and I think that that might even be connected. I don’t know, but I think it’s quite possible that the more\r\nscience you teach kids in school the more it turns them off, so I don’t\r\nknow. I mean you never can\r\ntell which way it will go.\r\n\r\n
Question: Are there any current technologies or areas of\r\nscientific inquiry that could have similarly terrible consequences?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nIndeed there are. Of course\r\nI mean it’s strange in a way that we had already we were scared of biological\r\nwarfare in the ‘30s. I mean there\r\nwas Aldous Huxley, wrote his novel Brave New World and started out with anthrax\r\nbombs, so we knew all about anthrax already in the ‘30s and in fact, we\r\nexpected that. I mean when World\r\nWar I… when World War II came along, which was when I was a teenager, we all\r\nexpected we would have anthrax bombs and this kind of stuff. We thought it would be a biological\r\nwar. Fortunately it wasn’t and,\r\nbut it’s because the danger is still there and by some miracle we escaped all\r\nthat, so you never can tell what it going to happen, but biology certainly\r\ncould be even worse than physics and chemistry.\r\n\r\n
Question: What specific biotechnologies could pose a danger?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell germ warfare of course exists. There have been on a small scale… There have been, of\r\ncourse, a few people who got killed with anthrax right here in Princeton.\r\n\r\n
Question: Will humanity destroy itself, or will wisdom\r\nprevail?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell it’s always a mixture. \r\nWe don’t know what’s… Some\r\nthings go better than you expected, other things go worse, so I’m… I think the only sensible thing is just\r\nto wait and see and what I’m doing when I’m writing books - I’m not doing\r\nscience so much anymore. Mostly\r\nI’m just writing books for the public, and so I try to describe for the public\r\nwhat the choices are, what they might have to expect in the future and so by\r\nwarning people ahead of time maybe you have an effect. I think the fact that Aldous Huxley\r\nwrote Brave New World and talked about anthrax bombs probably helped because at\r\nleast we… people had the understanding before the war began that’s something we\r\ndidn’t want to get into, so I think it’s much better to have your eyes open,\r\nbut on the other hand, of course it can do harm if you tell people look, there's all these terrible things you can do and then some idiot may go ahead and do\r\nit.\r\n\r\n
Question: Have you ever been totally surprised by the\r\noutcome of your own research?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nI was amazed when I did this work, which was the first thing I did in\r\nphysics, which was really what made me famous, this quantum\r\nelectrodynamics. I mean what I was\r\ndoing was calculating what an electron decides to do in a certain situation, in\r\nan experiment and I did a huge calculation which took pages and pages and pages\r\nof paper and in the end I got a number, so that is what the electron has to do,\r\nand well then somebody in New York does the experiment and the electron somehow\r\nknows that. The electron does\r\nexactly what I calculated. To me\r\nthat was amazing. I mean why\r\nshould the electron know? How does\r\nthe electron know? Somehow it\r\ndoes. Anyway, to me that sounds\r\nlike a miracle.\r\n\r\n
Question: What was your role in the development of quantum\r\nelectrodyamics?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nThat’s very hard. I really\r\nneed equations and a blackboard to do that. I mean it’s very technical stuff. I mean essentially I was a mathematician and so my job was\r\njust cleaning up the mathematics. \r\nAll the physics already had been done. That’s to say the ideas were already there and all I had to\r\ndo was just organize calculations, so that’s about all I can say. I can’t tell you the details, but so I\r\nhad a… I had arrived as a young\r\nstudent and all the work had really already been done to understand atoms and\r\nlight and radio waves, and all the components were in a way understood, but\r\nnobody understood how to organize the calculations, so that was my job.\r\n\r\n
Question: What is the field basically attempting to study?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nYes, well I can tell you roughly what happened. I mean that the atoms by and large were\r\nunderstood in the 1920s when quantum mechanics was invented and quantum\r\nmechanics is the part of science which tells how atoms actually behave, and so\r\nthat was all more or less worked out in the 1920s, but there were some fine\r\ndetails left over, and particularly there was an experiment which was done in\r\nAmerica at Columbia University in the 1946, just after the war, which disagreed\r\nwith quantum mechanics and so it was clear we had a real discrepancy. Theory said one thing and the\r\nexperiment said something different, so that was the stimulus that started me\r\ngoing, that there was something there to be explained, which wasn’t understood\r\nand to try to see why that experiment gave the answer it did, so it was a big\r\nopportunity for a young student starting to have actually an experiment which\r\ncontradicted the theory, so that’s was my chance to understand that, and I\r\nfound out that if you did the calculation in a different way that you got the right\r\nanswer.\r\n\r\n
Question: What was Project Orion?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: This was in the year 1957 when the Russians\r\nsent up the first satellite, which they called Sputnik, which means\r\ncompanion. It was a companion for\r\nthe earth. So this Sputnik was up\r\nthere in space and it was making everybody nervous because if the Russians\r\ncould send satellites into space they could also throw missiles at us and we at\r\nthat time didn’t have any missiles which we could throw at them. So it was a scary moment and so it was\r\na moment when you could get money very easily for crazy projects and so my\r\nfriend, Ted Taylor, who was a young physicist, actually younger than me, he had\r\nthis idea of building a spaceship with nuclear bombs, which sounds crazy and in\r\na certain way it is crazy, but it could have actually… it could have worked and\r\nso I thought that would be exciting to do. I had never done anything like that. I had been always just a mathematician\r\nand working on paper, but so that gave me a chance to do something real, so I\r\nmoved to San Diego in California and joined a company called General Atomic,\r\nwhich is still there and went to work on this spaceship and it looked as though\r\nwe might even get the green light actually to go ahead and build it, but in the\r\nend of course we didn’t. The fatal\r\nflaw of that whole scheme is that it spreads radioactivity all around. You’re exploding bombs in big numbers,\r\nso you really do make a tremendous mess, and so in the end common sense\r\nprevailed and they decided to go ahead with ordinary rockets and not with\r\nnuclear bombs, but we had a great time. \r\nWe studied the theory of this and the engineering. We had a lot of good engineers and we\r\nactually did little tests of chemical explosives building little model\r\nspacecraft, which would go pop, pop, pop, pop, just up in the sky and come down\r\nagain and just to show that we knew how to do it, so we had every Saturday\r\nmorning we didn’t get paid for that, but every Saturday morning we’d go and fly\r\nour little models. The rest of the\r\nweek we’d do the serious stuff. So\r\nI spent a year and a half there and the project actually lasted for seven\r\nyears, but by the end of the first year it was pretty clear that it wasn’t\r\ngoing to fly.\r\n\r\n
Question: What were the theoretical possibilities of the\r\nOrion mission?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nIf it had been given the green light we could have gone to Mars in about\r\nfive years. I mean the thing\r\nstarted in ’58 and we planned to have a Mars mission already within five years\r\nand we’d be scooting all around the solar system. I mean it was a very, very high performance ship, far better\r\nthan anything we have today, and it would have easily gone to Mars and back and\r\nto Jupiter, the satellites of Saturn and all the interesting places in the\r\nsolar system. We could have gone\r\nscooting around, and of course we intended to go ourselves. This was a big ship and it was with a\r\ncrew. We imagined we would have a\r\ncrew of about 40 people, so it was on the grand scale, and it would have been\r\ncomparatively cheap because it was built like a submarine, not like an\r\nairplane. It was heavy engineering\r\nand so a lot cheaper than aerospace.\r\n\r\n
Question: Will we ever be able to accomplish those feats\r\nthrough some alternative technology?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell the joke is of course that we do such marvelous missions now with\r\nsmall payloads. I mean when we\r\nworked on Orion we were talking about 1,000 tons of payload just for one ship,\r\nand so we thought of ourselves as sort of like the Darwin on the Beagle going\r\nout for five years and with all our provisions and having to take along a\r\nsquash court so that you could stay fit, and we could take along almost\r\nanything you wanted, and of course nowadays the whole way of operating in space\r\nis so totally different. Now you\r\nmeasure the payload in pounds, not in tons, and so we have a ship which is now\r\norbiting around Saturn called Cassini, which of course doesn’t have people on\r\nboard. It has wonderful\r\ninstruments on board and the total payload of that thing is a few thousand\r\npounds and it’s doing far more exploring than we could have done. So if we had a thousand tons of payload\r\ntoday we wouldn’t know what to do with it.\r\n\r\n
Question: Will humankind ever reach the stars?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nYes, I think so, but of course my guess is no better than anybody\r\nelse’s, but technically it could be done. \r\nOf course it’s much too expensive just for the next hundred years or\r\nmaybe the next thousand years, but we have lots and lots of time, so I would\r\nimagine that we will be scooting around on a much grander scale, but it\r\ncould… On the other hand, we could\r\ndecide we’re not interested, so let’s not do it and that remains to be seen.\r\n\r\n
Question: How do you rate the chances of our discovering\r\nlife on other planets?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell, of course, well, nobody knows. That’s why it’s interesting. I mean that it’s completely unknown whether these creatures\r\nexist or what they look or where they are, so we’re free to search in all sorts\r\nof ways and what is delightful about it is that our… It is very cheap. \r\nActually the amounts of money that have to be spent are quite small and\r\nthey don’t increase with time because our processing of data is all the time\r\ngetting cheaper and cheaper. It’s\r\nessentially a matter of computers which are getting more powerful every year,\r\nbut are not increasing in cost, so it means that we’re getting better and\r\nbetter at it, but with more or less constant expenditure and so it makes a lot\r\nof sense just to go on. There is\r\nalways a chance next year we find something and we don’t have… It’s not… The public is not, is misled into thinking this is a grand\r\nand expensive project. Actually\r\nit’s not.\r\n\r\n
Question: How do physicists understand time in ways that\r\nlaypeople don’t?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nI don’t think there is any difference. I mean the time that physicists deal with is essentially the\r\nsame as ordinary time, except that physicists think of microseconds or\r\npicoseconds instead of just seconds. \r\nThat means millionths of a second or trillionths of a second, so they\r\ncan… physicists can think of very short intervals of time, but that doesn’t\r\nreally make much difference to ordinary life. I think much… I\r\nmean much more big changes in our thinking are coming along with biology rather\r\nthan with physics. When biology\r\nadvances then we think differently about ourselves and that really does make a\r\ndifference. For example, at the\r\nmoment the most rapid movement in biology is neurology. We’re learning how to study our brains\r\nand to take moving pictures of brains with magnetic fields, so you can actually\r\nsee things going on in our own head when we’re thinking and that’s going to\r\nchange the way we think about ourselves I think in a much more fundamental way.\r\n\r\n
Question: Could quantum mechanics lend a scientific basis to\r\nthe idea of free will?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell I can’t say I’ll talk about it in depth, but it’s true that quantum\r\nmechanics makes atoms unpredictable. \r\nI mean that was the big surprise, that when you understand atoms it\r\nturns out you absolutely cannot predict what they’re going to do. The laws are… just don’t allow exact\r\npredictions. It… there is a\r\ncertain kind of freedom that atoms have to jump around, and they seem to choose\r\nentirely on their own without any input from the outside, so in a certain sense\r\natoms have free will, so that’s, to my mind at least, it’s probably connected\r\nwith the fact that we have free will. \r\nWe have at least a strong feeling when we decide to move a hand up and\r\ndown that we’re free to do it or not and so it could be that we are actually\r\nusing the freedom that quantum mechanics allows, though the brain is a kind of\r\nan amplifier, which takes the freedom of movement of atoms and translates it\r\ninto freedom of movement of our whole body. That’s at least my feeling about it, and we don’t understand\r\nit in detail, but it looks as though there is a connection.\r\n\r\n
Question: What would give the human mind this capacity?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell the human mind is just a sort of a clever device for using this\r\nfreedom in order to achieve some kind of a purpose, and of course animals in\r\ngeneral do that and humans have reached the point of being aware of what\r\nthey’re doing.\r\n\r\n
Question: Do you have any personal recollections of\r\nEinstein?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: I mean I was here in Princeton when Einstein\r\nwas still alive, but I never spoke a word to him and in fact, he moved in his\r\nown circle of friends. He didn’t\r\nhave anything much to do with the young people here at the institute, so we\r\nnever actually contacted… He never\r\ncame to our talks or to our meetings, which was a shame, but that’s the truth.\r\n\r\n
Question: What misconceptions do people have about Einstein?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell I suppose what most of what people believe about him is true, I\r\nwould say. I mean he was a totally\r\nexceptional person in all sorts of ways. \r\nHis science was exceptional. \r\nHis humor was exceptional, his ability to say… just to answer questions\r\nin a witty way so that he got in headlines in the newspapers. He had just this wonderful gift of\r\ntalking to the public, and in addition of course he had a turbulent family life\r\nand he was a, in many ways a selfish and unpleasant character, but on the other\r\nhand he was wonderful with children and so on. I mean there were all sorts of… He had wonderful qualities and those things I think the\r\npublic rightly appreciated.\r\n\r\n
Question: Of the scientists you worked with, who inspired or\r\nmentored you?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell of course the one I wrote about most, the one I enjoyed most, was\r\nRichard Feynman. He was… When I knew him best he was quite\r\nyoung, so he and I were about five years apart, so he was a young professor and\r\nI was a student, and he took me for a ride across the country from here to\r\nAlbuquerque in a rickety old car and we had a great time. So I mean he was a wonderful person to\r\nbe around. In addition he was a\r\ngenius and so he was doing the physics that actually made me famous. He had the ideas and then I translated\r\nthem into mathematics, so we worked together in that sense, so he had\r\nalways… He did the real work and I\r\ntied it up afterwards, but anyway, it was a great thing to be with him and I\r\nenjoyed him enormously, and in addition because he was a great joker, he was a\r\nclown. He loved to play the fool\r\nand he was famous for picking locks. \r\nHe could open a safe and he did that quite a lot just in order to shock\r\npeople, and he told stories about himself, most of which were true.\r\n\r\n
Question: In the 25 years since your book “Weapons and\r\nHope,” what’s changed?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell of course almost everything has changed. That book was written at an unfortunate time. It was just about two years before the\r\ncollapse of the Soviet Union, so the world changed totally, and I never ever\r\nthought that would happen. In\r\nfact, very few people I know ever did imagine the Soviet Union could just\r\npeacefully disappear the way it did ,and of course so the way the world has\r\nchanged since then is, of course, that all the troubles are now on a small\r\nscale comparatively, but they’re totally different and so you have wars like\r\nthe war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan where small weapons of course are\r\ndoing all the harm. These are\r\nlethal weapons, particularly landmines and explosive devices in the ground and\r\nthe little handheld rockets and the machine guns and so it’s all smaller\r\narms. It’s nobody is using nuclear\r\nweapons and so the whole problem of war and peace has changed totally and we’re\r\nnot able to cope with it very well and unfortunately the sort of old way of\r\nthinking still prevails in large parts of the world. We haven’t adjusted to the changes. So it was an unfortunate time to write\r\nthat book and if I wrote it now it would be very different. It’s I mean everything the book says\r\nabout nuclear weapons I think is still true, but of course what it doesn’t do\r\nis to talk about all these small and much more important weapons that we have now\r\nand it’s amusing that the company I worked for when I worked on the Orion 50\r\nyears ago when I worked on the spaceship, the company is called General Atomic,\r\nand now they’re doing extremely well because what they’ve changed over now is\r\nto building Predators. The\r\nPredator is the unmanned airplane that is now being used all the time in Iraq\r\nand Afghanistan and in Pakistan partly just for spying on… for taking pictures\r\nof what is going on, on the ground, but in addition it’s also being used for\r\nkilling people on the ground, so it’s become now a very important part of the\r\nwar, and we never imagined that when we worked there.\r\n\r\n
Question: Can Obama honor his commitment to reduce nuclear\r\nstockpiles worldwide?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell he should be doing much more. \r\nI mean this is… I like\r\nObama and I like what he is doing, but this is not at all impressive. George Bush, Sr., did far more. I mean George Bush, Sr., got rid more\r\nthan half of our nuclear weapons just like that. He was the one who really got rid of nuclear weapons on a\r\nbig scale, but George Bush, Sr., was careful because he was a Republican. He did it very quietly. He didn’t want to have his name\r\nassociated with that, but he got it done. \r\nOf course with Obama it’s sort of the opposite that he would like to get\r\nthe credit for it, but he is not really doing it, and so it’s, I think he\r\nshould be doing far more and I hope he will, but he is in a much more difficult\r\nposition. It helps to be a\r\nright-wing Republican if you want to disarm.\r\n\r\n
Question: How do you currently rate the likelihood of\r\nclimate catastrophe?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell that’s a big subject, of course, and I mean I don’t like the word\r\ncatastrophe. I don’t think there\r\nis any catastrophe there, but certainly the climate is changing and that’s\r\nimportant. It’s always been\r\nchanging. There has never been a\r\ntime when the climate stayed put for any length of time, and so I would say all\r\nthe evidence we have is that we’re having some effect on the climate. It’s not clear whether it’s good or\r\nbad. It’s not clear whether it’s\r\ngoing to become a catastrophe or not and as far as I’m concerned it’s very\r\nfoolish to do anything spectacular to… \r\nWhat we should be doing is dealing with the problems in detail. I mean the first thing is we should\r\nbuild dikes around New Orleans, and I mean there are simple practical things we\r\ncan do which really would help, like building dikes around cities which are\r\nexposed to hurricanes or tsunamis and so these kind of practical measures could\r\nbe enormously helpful. I mean we’ve\r\nseen just in the last few months, we’ve seen two big earthquakes, one in Haiti\r\nand one in Chile, and what we’ve seen is that the earthquake in Chile was much\r\nlarger, but the damage actually was smaller, the reason being that Chileans had\r\ntaken more trouble to build buildings that would resist earthquakes and so you\r\ncan… it actually helps enormously to strengthen your buildings. Of course I mean Chile has the\r\nadvantage of being a richer country to start with, but it’s a dramatic proof of\r\nwhat you can do. You can actually\r\ntake a natural catastrophe and reduce the damage by a factor of 100 or so just\r\nby quite simple measures; just by having good building codes and the same is\r\ntrue of climate. There are all\r\nsorts of things we can do in a practical way. It’s not -- we don’t only have to worry about warming. We also have to worry about cooling,\r\nand it could very well be the climate gets colder. Nobody knows, and there are many things we should be doing\r\nto prepare for that and they’re not all that expensive, but what I think is\r\nabsurd, what I disagree with very strongly, is the idea that climate is\r\npredictable, that we can sort of do things 100 years in advance knowing what is\r\ngoing to happen. That is just\r\nnot… That is just not the way it\r\nis.\r\n\r\n
Question: What has been your reaction to the controversy over\r\nyour opinions on global warming?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nIt doesn’t disturb me at all. \r\nI always believe in talking to my opponents and staying friends. I mean you know it’s with the people I\r\ndisagree with the most strongly I’m actually quite friendly with and there is\r\nno… It doesn’t make… It doesn’t\r\ndisturb me if they disagree with me.\r\n\r\n
Question: Is a moderate position on climate change now\r\nconsidered radical?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell, I don’t know. It\r\nchanges from week to week. What\r\nI’ve noticed is there has been a strong increase in skepticism and just in the\r\nlast couple of weeks, and I suppose it has something to do with all these\r\nsnowstorms we’ve been having. I\r\ndon’t know, but certainly I’ve seen the politicians becoming much more\r\nskeptical just recently. That of\r\ncourse I welcome. I think that\r\nactually means they’re recognizing the way things are.\r\n\r\n
Question: If climate change does cause problems, how might\r\nwe realistically be able to engineer solutions?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell there are all sorts of ways. \r\nThere was a couple of farmers in Minnesota I was just reading about who\r\ndecided to change from feedlots to grass. \r\nThey are raising beef. \r\nThese are farmers who are just raising cows for beef and a certain\r\namount of milk as well, and they decided to switch from feedlots, which is of\r\ncourse the fashionable way of raising cows. You keep them on a very crowded feedlot and feed them on\r\ncorn, so you’re growing corn to feed to the animals. Instead of that you put them out to grass, but you manage\r\nthe grass in a clever way with moving fences around, so they actually eat the\r\ngrass much more evenly. It turns\r\nout this pays and it’s, they’re doing extremely well just going back from\r\nfeedlots to grass and it has a big effect on the carbon dioxide in the\r\natmosphere in proportion to the area that they’re using, so it means that if\r\nthe whole of the Middle West would do this it would make a very substantial\r\ndifference to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and so that kind of… that’s the sort of practical thing you\r\ncan do, just sort of managing the land more intelligently, and it’s rather like\r\nbuilding dikes around New Orleans. \r\nI mean it’s not all that spectacular, but it actually works. So changing from feedlots to grass I\r\nthink it’s sort of… It’s not… It\r\ndoesn’t solve the whole problem, but it solves a certain chunk of the problem\r\nand there are other things you can do. \r\nDoing less ploughing makes a huge difference. Ploughing is one of the main causes of carbon going into the\r\natmosphere because you expose the soil to the atmosphere. It means the carbon gets oxidized and\r\nbecomes carbon dioxide and floats off into the atmosphere, so if you can farm\r\nwithout ploughing it actually helps, and it doesn’t matter how much coal and\r\noil you’re burning. It still\r\nhelps.\r\n\r\n
Question: Are you upset at never having won a Nobel Prize?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell I remember Joyce… Jocelyn Bell, the lady who discovered pulsars\r\nnever got the Nobel Prize and she was here talking to the students just a\r\ncouple of years ago. She is now a\r\nvery distinguished scientist and she discovered pulsars about 40 years ago and\r\nanyway, students were asking her, “Are you sorry you didn’t get the Nobel\r\nPrize?” And she said, “Oh no, I’ve\r\nbeen, all my life I’ve just been famous for not having the Nobel Prize.” And that was actually much better and so\r\nI think she is right. I mean you\r\nknow it’s much… If people ask why\r\ndidn’t you get the prize it’s much better than if they’re asking why did you\r\nget it.\r\n\r\n
Question: Of which honor or achievement are you proudest?\r\n\r\n
Freeman Dyson: \r\nWell, I would say bringing up six kids who are all productive citizens.
Recorded March 5th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen
A conversation with the physicist and writer.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
In his book with Richard Clarke, "Warnings," Eddy made clear this was inevitable.
- In their 2017 book, "Warnings," R.P. Eddy and Richard Clarke warned about a coming pandemic.
- "You never get credit for correctly predicting an outbreak," says science journalist Laurie Garrett in the book.
- In this interview with Big Think, R.P. Eddy explains why people don't listen to warnings—and how to try to get them to listen.
<p>If only we had a warning.</p><p>Well, besides this <a href="https://cmr.asm.org/content/20/4/660?fbclid=IwAR2veUWlXE0ydoFEzl0PoHPPwcQQkNk1zTncJt4GleZ_whDZi9_xcCCHJyk" target="_blank">2007 review</a> from a team at the University of Hong Kong warning about a pandemic coming from a wet market in southern China. Or President Obama <a href="https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/04/10/barack-obama-2014-pandemic-comments-sot-ctn-vpx.cnn" target="_blank">warning</a> about the potential for a pandemic in 2014. Or journalist <a href="https://www.lauriegarrett.com/about" target="_blank">Laurie Garrett</a>, who has been covering diseases since reporting from Africa in the late seventies, where she noticed that measles killed way more citizens than war. Her <a href="https://www.lauriegarrett.com/the-coming-plague" target="_blank">1994 book</a> was aptly titled "The Coming Plague."</p><p>Garrett is what Richard Clarke and R.P. Eddy call a "Cassandra" in their 2017 book, "Warnings." The term honors the Greek priestess who was cursed to utter prophecies that no one would believe. A Cassandra, they write, has "the ability to detect danger from warning signs before others see it." Their book covers seven warnings we should have seen—Hurricane Katrina, Bernie Madoff, Fukushima, ISIS—and seven that are coming. </p><p>Well, six. </p><p>True story: a few weeks ago, I finish reading Sam Quinones's exceptional reporting on the opioid epidemic, "Dreamland." The next book on my desk is "Warnings," which I planned on re-reading in order to cover the chapter on pandemics. I open Twitter to find a private message from R.P. Eddy randomly sharing their chapter on pandemics. Either my laptop is listening a little too closely or it's a fortunate coincidence. I choose the latter and request an interview with Eddy, which he <a href="https://www.earthrisepodcast.com/politics/92-with-r-p-eddy/" target="_blank">graciously accepts</a>. </p><p>If anyone knows how governments respond (or don't respond) to crises, it's Eddy. The CEO of global intelligence firm, Ergo, Eddy previously served as Chief of Staff to Richard Holbrooke, Senior Adviser to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, and Senior Policy Officer to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He was an architect of the Global Fund to Prevent AIDS, TB, and Malaria. He's lived, breathed, and studied pandemics for decades. He is the man that, if we had a functional government, would be helping lead us through this mess right now. </p><p>When I mention COVID-19, his first reply is not reassuring: "We're at the most foreseeable catastrophe I can think of."</p>
EarthRise Podcast 92: Predicting the Pandemic (with R.P. Eddy)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c1ce45635344c89d8213291842d947db"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tlcoXGNDlhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Being a Cassandra isn't about assurance, but taking a broad look at the facts—he champions <a href="https://interactioninstitute.org/orthogonal-thinking-and-doing/#:~:text=Orthogonal%20thinking%20draws%20from%20a,to%20see%20what%20might%20emerge." target="_blank">orthogonal thinking</a> in "Warnings"—and piecing together a story. Eddy says it begins by noticing the "invisible obvious."</p><p>He mentions a 1970s-era conference designed to address the role of women on Wall St. The highly-touted gathering took months of planning. Hundreds of people were in attendance. It wasn't until everyone was on stage that someone noticed not a single woman was invited to speak. Once pointed out, no one could unsee it. </p><p>The invisible obvious. </p><p>In every "warning" chapter—the rise of AI, the challenge of sea-level rise, the dangers of gene editing—a Cassandra is detailed. Garrett fulfills that role for pandemics. She claims public health experts are placed in an impossible situation. "You never get credit for correctly predicting an outbreak." When they implement effective countermeasures that stop the spread of a virus, critics believe "that you exaggerated the threat." </p><p>Eddy is talking to me from Idaho, where his family is sheltering. He noticed something odd while driving across America. On the east coast, everyone was vigilant about distancing and masks. As the Eddys encroached upon the heartland, even they started loosening up the rules. No human is distinct from their environment. Eddy speaks about the pandemic daily—Ergo is behind the highly-regarded <a href="https://ergo.net/covid19" target="_blank">COVID-19 Intelligence Forum</a>—yet even he was being lulled into a false sense of security while stopping in communities that believe the coronavirus is a hoax, or at least not as dangerous as it is.</p><p>I ask why we're so prone to disbelieve the science behind public health efforts. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Humans have 130,000-year-old computers stuck between our ears. We are designed for a world much less complex than the one in which we find ourselves, and we are driven by biases and heuristics. We make mistakes all the time because we use these shortcuts that worked really well 100,000 years ago, but don't work well now."</p><p>Shortcuts that served tribes, not nations. Shortcuts that cause us to rely on the quick satisfaction of hearsay, not the slow complexity of science. Shortcuts that cause people to believe an invisible god has a plan for everyone and disbelieve a visible virus is ravaging our nation's broken health care system. Shortcuts that cause tens of millions of Americans to vote the worst possible person to the presidency when a pandemic was inevitable. </p>
Eddy attends an event hosted by GLG to welcome Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy, authors of "Warnings: Finding Cassandras To Stop Catastrophes" at GLG (Gerson Lehrman Group) on May 30, 2017 in New York City.
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for GLG<p>I mention conspiracy theories. Eddy sighs—an appropriate response. We compare anti-maskers to anti-vaxxers, which are often cut from the same cloth. We both know plenty. He says it's best to first identify and acknowledge the base fear behind their "anti." Consider the idea that vaccines are a mechanism for microchipping the population.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;">"Conspiracies are all based in some healthy place. These people are probably concerned about government surveillance and personal freedom. They believe every aspect of the Edward Snowden story; they believe this microchipping story is the next step. They're not wrong that we should watch and be aware, but they're wrong in thinking that we're falling for it right now."</p><p>Because we should be aware. Our government is corrupt to the bone. The challenge is distinguishing between incompetence and malfeasance. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I don't believe in government conspiracy theories because I don't think government is that competent. I've had every security clearance anyone could ever want in the U.S. government. Way above top secret. We do not have the capacity to pull off a 9/11 conspiracy or to microchip people. Everything leaks, especially in this era." </p><p>We've reached this strange era of mass hypnosis, where elected officials like Rand Paul can actually <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/tommybeer/2020/06/30/rand-paul-to-federal-health-officials-we-shouldnt-presume-that-a-group-of-experts-somehow-knows-whats-best/" target="_blank">state</a> during congressional testimony, "We shouldn't presume that a group of experts somehow knows what's best." Then who to actually trust? An <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/rand-paul-ophthalmology-certification-scandal-why-it-matters" target="_blank">uncertified ophthalmologist</a> playing an epidemiologist on TV? </p><p>We're in serious trouble when people that have spent years studying and decades working in public health are usurped by charlatans at YouTube University. But here we are. </p><p>Sadly, optics matter. Cassandras aren't necessarily charismatic. They're concerned with data, not adoration. Then they run into animals with 130,000-year-old operating systems being exploited by captivating characters. Truth becomes secondary. Suddenly, <a href="https://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/memberarticles/germ-theory-vs-terrain-theory-in-relation-to-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">germ theory isn't real</a>, masks are a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/03/covid-19-masks-men-masculinity" target="_blank">sign of indoctrination</a>, and the virus will "<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-still-believes-coronavirus-will-just-disappear-as-cases-rise-2020-7" target="_blank">magically disappear</a>." </p><p>Eddy's advice is important. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"You need to recognize when you're out of your depths and find an expert. It's not the blowhard on Fox News. It's probably, by the way, someone who probably does not have good presentation skills. But they likely have answers."</p><p>This is always true, especially during times of crisis. Times like now, when we need a unifying message and expert guidance, both of which America lacks. At least this much we know: we've been warned. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.
- An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
- According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
- Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.
- J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy and too Eurocentric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian Tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers, and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world," and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b50c57cb3b8a3a1cc8a4696c89ad954" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Tian-shan, the Himalayas, and the Pamirs" />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "[It] was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21c3d38b14503ba8edac18c0ef1cceb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Indus river" />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands [that] could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e87f1af97902201abc042640255606b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Marine Corps helicopter flying over Tarbela Dam" />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and '40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="548bafc6042cc7515e07f77657aa161c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Kutch" />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Oxford and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff9aace7fc7c111df3639a276cedf63c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform" />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of Tolkienography—if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination—which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
With the most common form of female sexual dysfunction impacting 1 in 10 women, this important study dives into how to keep a relationship going despite having different needs and wants in the bedroom.
- A new study highlights the difficulties faced by women who struggle with decreased sexual desire, and explains how to navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships.
- Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is one of the most common forms of female sexual dysfunction, impacting an estimated 1 in 10 women.
- Finding other ways to promote intimacy in your relationship is one of the keys to ensuring happiness on both sides.
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMzcxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA2NTgxM30.Au-HmSRnSeN86ZGU7qeZJzq50LPM0LxjvUUU6_y2XVs/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="2bb9b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2af6156aff63fba2146746ae150f490e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sad woman sitting on the floor at the foot of a bed" />
An estimated one in ten women experience female sexual dysfunction.
Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2020.1743225?scroll=top&needAccess=true" target="_blank">This 2020 study published in the Journal of Sex Research</a>, led by Dr. Avigail Moor and her colleagues Yael Haimov and Shaked Shreiber, focused on 15 women between the ages of 25-59, all of whom were in committed, heterosexual, long-term relationships (with a median relationship length of 3.5 years) to better understand decreases in female sexual desire. Approximately half the women in this sample had children.<br></p><p><strong>During this study, the women were asked various questions about:</strong></p><ol> <li>The quality of their relationship</li><li>How their relationship has been impacted by their decreased sexual desire </li><li>What they believe could have caused a decrease in their sexual desire over the course of their relationship</li><li>What impact they felt this had on themselves and their relationship </li><li>How they dealt with the decreased sexual desire themselves</li><li>How the couple dealt with and/or navigated the decrease in sexual desire together</li></ol><p><strong>There are a number of reasons why women, in particular, could be going through a libido decline, including:</strong></p><p><strong><br></strong></p><ul><li>Job stress</li><li>Family stress</li><li>Self-confidence struggles</li><li>Declining hormones or hormone imbalances</li><li>Relationship issues</li><li>Health conditions </li></ul><div></div>
Navigating low sexual desire and desire discrepancies in your relationship<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMzcyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTYzNjE5N30.oec9wuuxd9MEVkqmappsngN2nVmMxF3sIi9AlL9Q5SE/img.jpg?width=980" id="e246b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebf8cdebd54a0b26ee181320e756bff4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="couple hugging in a bedroom" />
Even if you are struggling with differing sexual desires in your relationship, there are still countless ways you can show affection to your partner.
Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock<p>Assistant professor at Harvard Medical School <a href="https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/loss-of-sexual-desire-in-women#1" target="_blank">Jan Shifren</a>, MD, explains in an interview: "One of the first things I do speaking to women who come in with sexual concerns is let them know that there is no normal frequency or set of behaviors and things change with times. If it's working for them and/or their partner, there is no problem."</p><p>Shifren goes on to explain that when the decreases in sexual interest begin having a negative impact on her life and cause distress in the relationship, this is when it's considered a problem of low sexual desire. </p><p>If it is believed to be a problem, there are a few things this study, in particular, has highlighted. </p><p><strong>Love doesn't equal desire, and a lack of desire doesn't equal disaster. </strong></p><p>Participants of this study explained that their sexual desire (or lack thereof) never made them doubt their relationship or the feelings they had for their partner. They saw the sexual desire and love for their partner as two very separate things. </p><p>Over half the participants said they didn't believe their <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/low-sex-drive-in-women/symptoms-causes/syc-20374554#:~:text=Women's%20sexual%20desires%20naturally%20fluctuate,low%20sex%20drive%20in%20women." target="_blank">decreased sexual desire</a> had a negative impact on their relationship, explaining that they have more intimate, deeper connections with their partner that went beyond sex. Many women who felt this way cited the fact that they were navigating life's ups and downs, things like parenthood and job stress, with their partner, which made them feel closer to their partners even if the sexual desire wasn't there. </p><p><strong>This is an extremely isolating problem even if it impacts the whole relationship. </strong></p><p>In order to make sense of the rapid changes in their desires or the complete lack of sexual drive, many women in the study claimed they looked inwards, often blaming themselves. Instead of thinking that this is a common thing many individuals (and many other women) struggle with, many of these participants felt guilty about their low libidos, thinking it must be their problem. </p><p><strong>Among these women, feelings of guilt and self-blame were frequent over the course of their interviews. </strong></p><p>Even in situations where there was very minimal negative impact on the relationship, desire discrepancies still caused some tension. </p><p>While over half the women involved stated they did not feel desire discrepancies in their relationship negatively impacted their relationship, many women still did describe feeling some sort of "pressure" to have sex more often. </p><p>Despite having relationships that were described as loving and healthy, some of the women in the study indicated that they have, in the past, still experienced conflict with their partner over how long it had been since they had sex. Some women also stated they were worried that their partner took their low libido personally. </p><p><strong>How can you navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships?</strong></p><p>This is one of the first studies to focus so specifically on female sexual dysfunction in long-term relationships, so there is still a lot of research to be done. What we have learned from this study, however, can help us better understand how to navigate these difficult challenges of intimate relationships. </p><p>Strategies that can be used to address the problems in the relationship that are caused by having a low sex drive can be things like: </p><ul><li>Creating an honest line of communication. Participating in conversations that allow each person to be open and honest about how they feel can promote intimacy and bonding as well as a deeper understanding of what the other person is going through. </li><li>Compromising. This doesn't mean simply having sex when you don't feel like it, but it can be other things that promote intimacy such as a date night or incorporating other forms of physical affection into your relationship. </li><li>Treating this like any other relationship problem. Relationships take work, and just as you navigate difficulties due to chores, finances, and responsibilities, you can navigate the struggles of low sexual desire by creating an environment of understanding and having a desire to make things work. </li></ul>