Matters of Perspective: Freeman Dyson in the Times

On March 25th, the New York Times Magazine ran an extended story about physicist Freeman Dyson. The media outlet has taken note of the scientist's stance on a contemporary topic that looms large in relation to the emerging field of art + environment - global warming. Dr. Dyson has a unique take on the subject, and is no stranger to being controversially and influentially intertwined with issues affecting landscape and land use. Most people are familiar with two commonly reproduced, and rather mesmerizing, quotations of his that were spoken and written (several decades ago) in response to another force that greatly influences the contemporary landscapes of the United States - nuclear weapon development and testing. These quotes can be found in John McPhee's Basin and Range, Rebecca Solnit's Savage Dreams, and Trevor Paglen's recent Blank Spots on the Map.

From John Else's Day After Trinity:
"I have felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it's there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding. To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles - this, what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds."

From his own, Disturbing the Universe, in response to visiting Jackass Flat in 1959.
"It is a soul-shattering silence. You hold your breath and hear absolutely nothing. No rustling of leaves in the wind, no rumbling of distant traffic, no chatter of birds or insects or children. You are alone with God in that silence. There in that white, flat silence I began to feel a slight sense of shame for what we were proposing to do. Did we really intend to invade this silence with our trucks and bulldozers and after a few years leave it a radioactive junkyard?"

Comments posted in response to the Times article appear here.

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