Evolution and six actors

With our six actors all on stage, the play begins and my story ends. As an epilogue to the performance, I add some brief remarks about the practical lessons that we may learn from the story. Our species faces two great tasks in the next few centuries. Our first task is to make human brotherhood effective and permanent. Our second task is to preserve and enhance the rich diversity of Nature in the world around us. Our new understanding of biological and cultural evolution may help us to see more clearly what we have to do.

~ Freeman Dyson from, https://www.edge.org/conversation/freeman_dyson-freeman-dyson-1923-2020


Arranged as a pleasant conceit, Dyson lays out a sweeping and crystal clear history of our understanding of evolution. That alone is worth reading. The real gems however, are to be found in his commentary in the final paragraphs; Don’t skip to the end.


Freeman Dyson

Remembering Freeman Dyson, assembled by John Brockman, is long read. If you know who Dyson was, you’ll be excited to discover the collection at the other end of that link. It contains a wide array of voices. Buried way way way at the end is an hour-long essay read by Dyson himself, (which I confess I’ve not yet listened to.)




Philosophers became insignificant when philosophy became a separate academic discipline, distinct from science and history and literature and religion.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2012/10/freeman-dyson-on-philosophy-what-can-you-really-know/


Which is worth sharing just because it’s Freeman Dyson—I’m quoting a quote—in all his zany glory.

…but also, yeah. Why isn’t STEM today thought of as a branch of philosophy, (“love of truth” after all)? STEM degrees remain Ph.D.s, but beyond that vestigially appendix . . .


Frog or bird?

He described himself as a frog not a bird, as he enjoyed jumping from pool to pool, studying their details deeply in the mud. The bird’s-eye perspective was not for him, and he had a lifelong suspicion of grand unified theories.

~ Robbert Dijkgraaf from, https://www.quantamagazine.org/remembering-the-unstoppable-freeman-dyson-20200413/


Freeman Dyson’s, Frogs and Birds is also worth a read.

There is such an insanely huge amount of things I want to read. Web pages, PDF files, ePub documents in Kindle and Nook, and of course stacks of physical books. I read a lot, but of course I’ll barely scratch the surface of just the things I’ve actively decided I want to read. Fortunately, I’m no longer reading to reach a goal, or to finish.

My mind is but a tiny eddy of order, maintained every so briefly within the grand arc of time.

…and what fun it is to go frolicking through the works of mankind, sharing the occasional bit here with you!


Loneliness in time

It seems to me that in a country so fundamentally shaped by immigrants, a societal sentiment so suddenly unwelcoming to them can only be the product of an absurd narrowing of perspective — an unthinking self-expatriation from history, a willful blindness to the cultural legacy of the past, and an inability to take the telescopic perspective so vital to inhabiting the present with lucidity, integrity, and a deep sense of connection to the whole of humanity.

~ Freeman Dyson from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/08/08/freeman-dyson-immigration/


Well, regarding trying to understand “the other.” I initially agreed with her characterization and then I thought, “How much of it is spin?” and “How w/could I begin to unravel some of it?” Answer: By talking to people in the other camp.

Dyson adds a wonderfully generous and optimistic counterpoint: Not that I dislike the Americans on the whole; it is probably in the long run a good thing that they live so much in the present and the future and so little in the past. The fact that they are more alone in the world than average English people probably accounts for their great spontaneous friendliness. I had heard this friendliness attributed to the size of the country and to people’s loneliness in space, but I think the loneliness in time is more important.

~ Maria Popova

This strikes me as amazing. (As in, “I am amazed,” not, “wow, this is awesome.”) “Friendly” is not a word I’d choose to describe Americans. Hell, I don’t think it would make my top 3 list of such words. If I was being kind when selecting my words, I’d say, “motivated,” “inspired,” and “principled.” If I was being unkind— well then I’d hew to the old, “If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing.”