Robert B. Laughlin & Steve Weinberg at MIT – 2007 Physics Symposium

Robert B. Laughlin & Steve Weinberg at MIT – 2007 Physics Symposium


[MUSIC PLAYING] PRESENTER: It’s a real pleasure
to welcome Bob Laughlin back TO MIT. Bob was an undergraduate
at Berkeley, but he came to MIT to
do his graduate work. His graduate thesis was done
here with John Joannopoulos. He then moved on to Bell
Labs for a while, Lawrence Livermore, before he finally
got a faculty position, which he still has, at
Stanford University. Bob is best known for his theory
of the integer quantum Hall effect, followed by his theory
of the fractional quantum Hall effect, for which he shared
the Nobel Prize in 1998 with the two experimenters
who discovered the fractional
quantum Hall effect, Horst Stormer and Dan Tsui. Bob has traveled extensively. He has been a
spokesman for science in a number of different areas. He spent two years
in South Korea as the president of the
Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology. He has recently
written a popular book on the philosophy
of science, a book called A Different Universe. Not an alternate universe,
a different universe, with the subtitle “Reinventing
Physics from the Bottom Down.” Now, I know that that’s a
well read book because just in the break, someone came up to
me spontaneously and mentioned that Bob, he had read your book
and he enjoyed it very much, so he was looking forward to
what you were going to tell us. Bob. [APPLAUSE] Good morning, everybody. Obviously, it’s a
great pleasure to be back at MIT, a place where
things change, but also many do not, such as
numbering the buildings. [LAUGHS] However, that’s good
because then you know right where you stand. Now, when I got asked
to speak for this event, I did a little thinking
about the topic, because it’s rather important. I tried to imagine what was
the intent of the people who lobbied to get the money,
the people who donated the funds to build a center,
and more generally, what the vision of the center is,
in the context of physics with a small p. And the title I came up with
was Renaissance Physicist. That is to say, physicists
who know a lot of things. So let’s talk about
that a little bit, because that’s pretty clearly
what the center is all about. We talk about bringing
together, and so forth. Why would you want
to do that, however? What’s to be gained
by bringing together? After all, you’ve
work pretty well apart for a long, long time. And there’s an old
saying about machines, of course, if it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it. So the question you can ask
is, well, what are you fixing? And what is the objective,
really, of the center? And I must alert everybody that
this talk actually, by design, is directed at the younger
people more than the old thuds. Because the problem
I’m going to talk about is your problem, not the problem
of your academic forebears. Now, I will take off my MIT
hat and put on my Stanford hat and tell you that MIT is not
the only organization that is worried sick
about this problem. Stanford also has
gone to great lengths to try to bring the branches of
physics together, in some ways more successfully than others. My informant of physics,
Professor C. N. Herring, who is now not there
completely, felt the same way, that we are trying to invent
physics with a small p. That’s what we’re trying
to do as intellectuals, and we’re always fighting
the centrifugal forces that try to make it not happen. He didn’t succeed. And I think it’s fair to
say that a lot of people who have omnivorous interests
haven’t succeeded, either. The reason, of course,
is the funding algorithm with which we interact
with government, and also historical patterns. The reason we need to think
hard about this problem is, of course, that the
historical milieu was changing. That’s exactly what
Shirley was talking about when she mentioned
the rather dark clouds on the horizon for science. The division of labor in
science and technology that we’re familiar with is,
in fact, a Cold War legacy. And like many things
that our Cold War legacy is, it’s going away,
in part, at least I think so. In other words, that
the physics departments that don’t create physics
with a small p won’t survive. So it’s very important. Now, we might ask the
question, if there had been no World War II
and no Cold War, why would we have physics departments? After all, the
science that really makes the heart of
industrial people beat is chemistry and, of course, its
doppelganger, material science. Material sciences and
engineering departments now to basically, it
solves the chemistry. There’s a lot that
happens in materials and in organic
chemistry that are kind of magical and unpredictable,
and you can make lots of money selling them. And so our industrial
friends are mainly concerned about that. Also, engineering,
electrical engineering, mechanical engineering,
in particular, continue to be
strong disciplines, despite the heavy
challenges that are coming to us from the Far East. Well, there are two
reasons, I think. And of course, this is
something that all of us who are in physics have
to think through, but I’m going to give
you my personal opinion. It has to do with the topic. In a technical milieu,
which is where we are, some of the people
have to know things. Some of the technical
people on your staff have to just have a wild,
childlike curiosity, where they demand to understand
everything, everything. In other words, they
need some physicists. Now, I’m saying this
from long experience. There’s something about
the physics discipline that manages to capture
the most arrogant people in the university. Yes. [LAUGHS] Not surprisingly, such
people are not always welcome inside
engineering houses. And you’re laughing, but
it’s absolutely true. It turns out we’re a
very dangerous people. In industrial environment, it’s
the physicists who walk out the door with your technology. They understand it, and
they walk out the door and they start a company. And of course, that’s very
good for starting companies, but very bad for defending
your own company against. That’s intellectual
property theft. So the industrial value
of an omnivorous person is actually
problematical, and has been from the very beginning,
actually, at least I think so. And that’s my
experience, having worked in industrial
environments myself. This is true, by the way,
even inside nuclear weapons laboratories. People who know lots of
things are really not welcome because they’re dangerous there. In that case, they’re
dangerous to national security. No, our value, especially
in engineering school, is actually to parents. Now, people who run
universities, of course, like to hear that, because
the money, the cash cow part of our business, is
undergraduate education. But it’s actually true. There’s a joke in
physics, in science, you garner power by telling
people what you know, whereas in engineering,
you garner people by preventing them from
knowing what you know. This is, of course, not a joke. It’s actually true. Very good engineers
know a lot of things that they don’t tell you. Unfortunately, that
behavior is fundamentally incompatible with the
entire concept of education. So in an engineering
school like MIT, and other schools that have
engineering sides to them, you have a fundamental conflict
because between the needs of the industrial
buyers, on the one hand, and the needs of the
parents on the other. And those of us who are
in the knowledge business are actually serving the causes
of education, which is to say, the causes of parents. This is the reason why you can’t
close the physics department. A lot of universities
are doing just that, they’re closing
their physics departments. But an engineering
school, like MIT, cannot close its
engineering departments, because we are the Renaissance
people of the technical world. It is a physicist who will
tell you clearly and tersely how a thing works, and
probably only a physicist. Thus, our future is
tied with clarity, with omnivorous interests, with
understanding things that are other people’s quasi-property. Basically, being an
arrogant know-it-all. At least I think so,
and that’s the way I’ve been pushing my own
departments at Stanford. And I think that’s the
underlying impetus of the Green Center. The younger people who will
fill it have a job to do, and their job is to
create intellectualism an industrial environment
that is fundamentally hostile to intellectualism. Now, I want to talk a little
bit more about that hostility, because it’s very important
to the task ahead, both for the
physics departments, generally, and for
younger faculty. Tom mentioned I’d
written a book. You know, I’m a physicist. I’m one of the arrogant people
I’ve been talking about. I have many hats, and one of
them turns out to be literary. You know, there’s that old
story, you’ve got lemons, you make lemonade. Well, I found I could write
and it makes money, so hey. Well, I have a new
product coming out. We’re in contract
in New York now– it’s actually coming
out in Germany first, but this is a mere detail– called Crime of Reason. And this new book is
very, very relevant to the thing we’re discussing
today, which is knowing things. The book is very dark. The premise is that the
sequestration of knowledge that has happened during my
lifetime has become so severe and has accelerated so
much that it’s actually now against the law to figure out
certain things for yourself. Now, physicists normally don’t
think about that too much, because you know, we’re
very arrogant people. We think we have a right
to understand everything. But if you think
about it a minute, there are some kinds
of physics that are obviously very,
very important that you never talk about. You don’t think about
the computer codes to calculate that
thing don’t exist. Well, when you get inside the
fence of a weapons laboratory, you’ll understand why. Those particular
things were identified as highly dangerous
knowledge in 1954, and expressly banned
from the public domain by the Atomic
Energy Act of 1954. Now, I can’t tell you
what those things are, because telling
you what’s banned is itself a violation of the
Atomic Energy Act of 1954. But you’re very,
very smart people so you can figure
it out for yourself. Just ask yourself,
where are the holes? OK, where are the things
you don’t talk about, and there you are. Now, it is part of the
cultural transition that happened when the nuclear
weapon was invented, that our society– well, let’s say generally. Western society,
generally, decided that there were certain
kinds of scientific knowledge that were simply too
dangerous to be widely known and you had to get rid of them. And you had to prevent
people, financially, from figuring them out. You had to cut off their grants. Basically, stop research
in those particular areas. Now, who decides where
those places are? Well, of course,
that’s the problem. In the case of
nuclear technology, the really dangerous things
that were banned, of course, were well identified at the
time because the technology was already mature. But other things
that came later, it’s less clear, less clear. There are big hunks of
semiconductor technology which are completely off limits. There are big hunks
of laser technology that are completely off limits. Now, these are not banned
by the Atomic Energy Act, so I’m not violating any
laws by talking about them. So that means that in physics,
as a practical matter, the idea of physicists, people
who know everything, is in conflict,
fundamentally, not only with trends historically,
but the law, the law. It’s actually against the
law to think about things. There is a famous case. There’s a number of them. Probably the most famous is
the Morland hydrogen bomb case, where a journalist named
Howard Morland published a piece about guesses about
how hydrogen bonds work that the FBI stopped,
or attempted to stop, but actually didn’t
succeed in doing so. And the judge in the case
basically affirmed the idea that the safety of the
public against certain kinds of technology overrode,
manifestly overrode, the right to speech,
and moreover, the right to even think about it. Now, you might ask, isn’t
that a civil rights issue? And indeed, it is. It’s a civil rights issue
that has never played out in the court for a reason. You can guess, let’s say,
from the Wen Ho Lee case that those kinds of things
might, if brought to court, strike down the
Atomic Energy Act, and the people whose job
it is to protect security really don’t want that. So as a practical matter,
what’s happened, let’s say, since 1950 is that the
potential confrontations of intellectual
freedom on the one hand and national security on
the other have been avoided. Attorney General
John Ashcroft made a statement, quite amazing. He said that in the
entire 50 years, the criminal provisions
of the Atomic Energy Act had only been prosecuted
in court twice. Now, let’s say the
non-espionage ones, and let us guess that it
is not feasible that there were only two violations. So it’s not too hard to guess
that the atomic energy probably is in fundamental conflict
with the first Amendment. Now, that’s a matter that’s
played out in physics, but of course, not completely
because it’s repeating itself now in biology. And those of you who
have biology interests know that there is
disappearing knowledge in the case of biology also
right now, although it’s not forbidden by statute. It’s actually
disappearing by virtue of the funding algorithm. It’s just you can’t get
money to do certain things. Word on the street is it’s very
hard to get bacteria money. So the people who pay
for biological research are happy for you to work
on eukaryotes, not so happy to work on organisms
that might be highly, highly dangerous. Now, there’s also the little
matter of private property, and as you know, we’ve
had madly accelerating– well, let’s say
strengthening– strengthening of intellectual property
laws in the past 15 years, basically, as defense against
IP transfer across the Pacific. And that means that
the most amazing things are becoming patented. For example, Microsoft
has patented the verb. I’m not making this up. And Cingular has
patented the smiley. Amazon.com has patented the
entire idea of the checkout basket on your computer. Could we patent Maxwell’s
equations today? I think so. I think you could. You could make it illegal. You can make it against the
basic copyright violation to have that shirt right there. Right? [LAUGHS] It doesn’t matter
if God said it. The Supreme Court says no. Well, so is this
historical trend correlated with the stress we’ve
all been feeling in physics, as it gets harder and
harder to raise money to make things clear? OK. Well, that’s a matter of debate,
but my own personal opinion is yes. I think they are different
sides of the same coin, and that the era that we’re
in right now, and still in, is an era of darkness,
in which the entire idea of public domain knowledge is
being rejected by people very high up in our society, and
implemented in the laws. Now, what will
happen in the future? Of course, it hasn’t
played out yet. And I guess that’s kind
of what’s on my mind here. I think of myself
as a physicist, I think of myself as a
rather revolutionary person. Of course, the
physicists that we revere are all fairly
revolutionary people, but revolutionary in
the sense of something a little deeper and more
important and more global. And that is physics
departments are the place, in a technical university,
where the entire Western concept of the light of
knowledge is safe, because physicists cannot live
without understanding things. It is hateful to
a physicist to let something remain ununderstood. And that means
that physicists are tailor-made to be
trouble makers when it comes to the
sequestration of knowledge. Now, whether that will make
our society safer and more healthy in the long run or
more dangerous in the long run, I don’t know. But I do know that
that’s the mission. As the cloud of
darkness descends over technical
knowledge in the world, it’s our job, as a
discipline of science and a discipline of
engineering, also, to make sure it doesn’t go out. In other words, our
job is to make sure that the concept of reason,
the science of reason, does not perish from the earth. So you younger people who
are populating that center up there, I’m sure you’ll
mostly go around about your business as usual,
because that’s what they do. But please, please keep in
mind that the clock is ticking. We have a number of
more difficult years to go through, in my
opinion, and there will be incredible pressures
on people to specialize and not explain things to each other. Because that’s what people
afraid of knowledge want. That’s how you manage
a corporation, how you keep your
engineering safe, is you make sure people
don’t talk to each other. So I think what you have to
do is create something new, something that everybody else in
technical life and universities is trying to create also,
but unfortunately, we don’t have a nice, big
center in which to do it. Therefore, the donors
and the management team of the university have
given you the tool to do something really great
and important historically. The rest is up to you. Godspeed. [APPLAUSE] PRESENTER: So our next speaker,
Steve Weinberg, I think, is truly a
Renaissance physicist. He is the Josey
Regental professor of physics at the
University of Texas Austin, and his imprint can
be found everywhere in modern and reductivist
physics, in particle physics, in astrophysics,
and in cosmology. More and more, as
time goes on, he has emerged as a spokesman
for secular human values and high culture
in a world that’s been swept by darker forces. Steve was a visiting
professor here, and then professor of physics
at MIT from 1967 to 1973. This was a period of profound
change in elementary particle physics, and he played a central
role, and in many aspects, the central role
in that revolution. We’d like to think that on
one of the slate blackboards still hanging in
the CTP, perhaps in some graduate student’s
office now, in 1967, Steve first wrote down
the equations that have come to be known as the
standard model of particle physics. We often invoke this idea
when the construction team was threatening to throw
away some of the blackboard, because we didn’t
know which one it was. We made sure of that. [LAUGHS] And therefore, they all had
to be preserved and reused in student and faculty offices. Steve’s paper in 1967,
“A Model of Hadrons,” marks the birth of– excuse me. It says leptons there,
too, “Model of Leptons.” If only with then we
had a model of hadrons– marks the birth of the modern
era in particle physics, and was the first
unification of forces since Faraday and Maxwell
unified electricity and magnetism in
the 19th century. It led to a Nobel Prize that
he shared with Abdus Salam and Shelley Glashow in 1979. Last week, I was at
a meeting concerning Islamic physics, in which
Abdus Salam was mentioned. He is, without doubt, the
leading Pakistani physicist in history. He is also not
honored in his country because he was a
member of a minority sect in the Muslim world. And when he was being
discussed, the person who was talking about
him said that he was the recipient of one of
the really big Nobel prizes of the 20th century. [LAUGHS] Steve’s contributions
to physics are really far too numerous
to mention here, so I’m just going to
mention one is an icon. In 1988, he wrote
a paper, in which he made a prediction of the dark
energy density in the universe based on anthropic arguments. In recent years, observations of
the cosmic microwave background radiation have proved
that prediction correct. 70% of the universe is in this
mysterious form of dark energy. Now, this is, as far as I know,
the only successful prediction that’s been made on the
basis of anthropic logic, but also, it ranks
second in scope only to Alan Guth in the
scope of his predictions. He predicted the identity of 70%
of the energy in the universe, and of course, Alan,
through inflation, predicted the total
energy in the universe. So pretty good, Steve. [LAUGHS] More recently, Steve
has been playing in the big leagues
of culture wars that have swept the
academic and political world over the past years. In fact, if you go online,
you can read of many books, and you can read many
book reviews, interviews, and opinion pieces
that Steve has written, and they are wonderful fonts of
both wisdom and human sympathy. I’ll just quote
briefly from one. Steve was reviewing a book that
had been written several years ago by Stephen Wolfram,
introducing a new paradigm for modern science. It’s about 700
pages and 20 pounds. And Steve wrote quite
a restrained review, a polite and restrained review. At the end, Wolfram
was advocating– Wolfram’s a computer
scientist– and Wolfram was advocating that
the universe should be viewed as a giant computer. And Steve closes his review by
saying, so might a carpenter, looking at the moon, suppose
that it is made of wood? And so with that,
let me introduce Steve Weinberg to you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you very much, Bob. As others have said, it’s
wonderful to be back. Thanks for having me here. In thinking over
this talk, I was flooded by happy
memories of my time here. And so I’m going to burden
you, in at least the first part of my talk, with a number
of personal reminiscences, and at the same time
keep you from your lunch. A century ago, when I decided to
become a theoretical physicist, I felt, to some extent,
that I was taking the veil. I loved physics, but
at the same time, I was attracted
to public affairs, with the opportunity to do
some good in the real world. And I regretted giving that up. I knew, of course, of
physicists who had been very active in the real world. In World War II,
Oppenheimer and Robbie, for example, in
the United States, Lindemann and RV
Jones in Britain. But it seemed to me that those
who had remained influential after the war did so at some
cost to their own research. I didn’t want to pay that price. And I didn’t think I’d
be very good, anyway, as an insider dealing
with government officials. At MIT, I learned that
there was a different mode of being active
in public affairs, that it was possible to
work as an outsider giving technical advice to the public,
and in some cases to Congress, rather than as an insider
advising government officials. I’m going to mention two
examples of this, both of them centered here at MIT. The first is the
missile defense debate. In March 1979, President
Nixon announced that the US was going to deploy
a massive new antiballistic missile system
called the Safeguard system at 12 sites in America,
which would have given, at least nominally,
complete coverage of the continental
United States. Senator Edward Kennedy
asked Jerry Wiesner, who was then provost of MIT, and
Abram Chayes from the local law school up the river,
to prepare a book that would provide technical
advice for the public and for Congress assessing this
proposal, judging its wisdom. And Jerry Wiesner asked me
to help, in a small way, with preparing the book,
along with A. Chayes. I jumped at the chance. I had done a little
work on missile defense as a member of the JASON
group of consultants. And like many
other people, I had come to feel that this
was a terrible idea, both because it would be largely
ineffective, and to the extent that it seemed effective
to the Soviets, it would only lead them to
increase the number of missiles aimed at us and/or to increase
their likeliness to use them in a crisis. We asked a number
of other people to contribute to
this, some at MIT, Bernie Feld, JCR Licklider– I never found out what
those initials were for– and George Rathjens. And it’s characteristic
of MIT that the boundaries between different
departments, it seems to me, are more permeable here
than in any other university I’ve been at. Wiesner was, of course,
an electrical engineer. I think Licklider was probably
and electrical engineering, and these days, he would
be in computer sciences. Bernie Feld was in the
physics department. George Rathjens
was in the Center for International Studies. And we also got some
support from people outside MIT, Hans Bethe,
Carl Kazen, Bill Moyers, and Arthur Goldberg. In the end, the Safeguard
system was not deployed. I don’t think it was very
much because of our book. By the way, our book came out
with a really snappy title. It was ABM, An Evaluation
of the Decision to Deploy an Antiballistic
Missile System, and then it was translated
into German with the title Rakete Krieg. [LAUGHS] Rocket Wars. While the system
was not deployed, I don’t think it was
because of our book but because, to the
surprise of everyone, both pro- and anti-ABM. People who lived in
the suburbs in America, where the missile sites
were going to be located, decided they didn’t want
anti-missile missiles in their neighborhood. And that killed it
much more effectively than any learned arguments
that we were able to provide. The other example, it came
out of the student unrest in the 1968-69 academic year. Partly as a response to that
unrest, in December 1968, about 50 faculty
members, including from the physics department– Viki Weisskopf, Herman Feshbach,
Francis Lowe, Kurt Gottfried, and me– prepared a statement. And we called for, and I quote,
“Scientists and engineers at MIT, and throughout
the country, to unite for concerted
action and leadership, to initiate a critical
and continued examination of governmental
policy in areas where science and technology
are of actual or potential significance.” And in a way that I don’t
think would have been possible at any other university,
this actually crystallized into
an organization, the Union of
Concerned Scientists, which survives to the present. Herman Feshbach and
Francis Lowe were briefly the first and second chairmen,
and then Henry Kendall took over for a number of years. Henry’s main interest,
at least at first, was in the dangers
of nuclear power, but the scope of the USC– I’ll use that abbreviation–
expanded to include the national defense
policy, science policy, and it expanded further under
Kurt Gottfried’s chairmanship– he became chairman in 1999– and includes things
like just the issue that was raised in a
question to Shirley Jackson, the issue of the
response of government to the voice of science. The Union of Concerned
Scientists is highly effective. I think it is probably
the most effective voice of science on public
issues in America, although there are others. Its statements, its
reports, are competent. It only comments
on issues that are within its scope of expertise. So it doesn’t make statements
about the war in Iraq, or things like that. Their statements are honest. It doesn’t shade its conclusions
for a pre-determined aim, and it’s non-partisan. We need more organizations
like the Union of Concerned Scientists
to deal with other issues, other public issues, on which
the public and Congress need expert advice. And I’m just going to
mention two of them, which are close to my heart, but I’m
sure you can think of others. One of them is space policy. Since its founding,
NASA has emphasized putting people into
space, rather than having people or unmanned
vehicles do science in space. And this is not a good
way to do science. There’s not much
that people can do in space that can’t be done
better and much cheaper by unmanned robots
or satellites. People radiate heat. They bump into things, and
they’re very expensive. They need food, air, and water. And unlike robots,
people want to come back. [LAUGHS] Which is a real complication. Now, NASA has sponsored
great astronomy. The things sponsored by NASA are
partly responsible for making this– it’s almost a cliché
now to say it’s a golden age for cosmology, but all
from unmanned vehicles. The Hubble Space Telescope, the
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, and so on. And the area of
planetary physics, the unmanned rovers
crawling around Mars. Astronomers and
astrophysicists have generally been unwilling to criticize NASA
because of its, what I regard, as an infantile emphasis
on manned spaceflight. Because they have
felt, as, obviously, NASA officials feel,
that putting people into space appeals
to the public, and thereby increases
NASA’s budget. And some of the money from that
budget goes into real science. But this tacit bargain, I
think, is now unraveling. The moon/Mars Mission,
announced by President Bush, is enormously costly. Not only hundreds of
billions of dollars, I think close to a
trillion dollars. You know, a trillion here, a
trillion there, it adds up. [LAUGHS] And NASA is, in response,
cutting back on science. And you see this in many
areas, from the study of climate change, both by
satellites and by observing stations here on
earth, and all the way to the study of the cosmic
microwave background. There are many proposals,
which NASA solicited, and which it was going to go
ahead with under the Beyond Einstein program, which are
simply going to be deferred, or perhaps canceled. A good example of this
relates directly to MIT. Sam Ting of MIT has developed
a cosmic ray observatory called AMS. I think that stands for
Advanced Magnetic Spectrograph. I’m not sure what
the A stands for. What is it? AUDIENCE: Alpha. Alpha Magnetic Sp– oh, I would
never have thought of that. Over a billion
dollars has already been spent on constructing
this, and it is constructed, not by NASA, but mostly
by European collaboration. NASA had agreed to
take this instrument up to the International
Space Station. If that were done, it would
be possible to observe primary cosmic
rays of high energy directly, rather than just
by observing the showers that we can see at ground level. And it would be the only
significant science ever done at the International
Space Station. The reason for taking it up to
the International Space Station is not that you need
human beings there. It is not a counterexample
to what I said earlier. It’s just that the International
Space Station is there above the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s got a lot of solar power,
so you might as well use it for something useful for once. But NASA has announced,
shortly after the president’s announcement of his vision,
that the International Space Station, from now on,
would be only used for purposes furthering
the president’s vision of the moon and Mars mission. And it is, apparently,
unwilling to commit what is needed, which is
essentially one quarter of one shuttle load, to bring the AMS
up to the International Space Station. I think this example
shows that it’s time to form an organization
for space policy like the Union of
Concerned Scientists. And astronomers and
astrophysicists and physicists should begin to speak
up and challenge NASA on these childish
judgments it makes. The other example is much
further from my own interests– and I speak with
some hesitation, but I have checked what
I’ve said with experts. It has to do with economics. Economics, of course, involves
value judgments, not just expertise, and the
value judgments are things from the public,
in general, to make. But there are some
technical matters on which economists
generally agree, but which get terribly muddied
in arguments over policy. And I will just
give one example. There are many things that need
to be done in our country that are not being done because
there aren’t any funds for them. Not because we can’t
think of how to do them, but because there just
isn’t money for them. One is to inspect and
fix bridges and tunnels throughout the country,
inspect imports for everything from nuclear weapons
in freight containers to lead paint on toys,
monitor prescription drugs after the FDA has approved them
in the years following when they go on being used, Break
the logjam in the United States Patent Office, Provide drug
rehabilitation for drug addicts who ask for it. Just amazing to me that we have
this enormous criminal justice system which
punishes drug addicts and we don’t provide
rehabilitation for people who want to be
cured of their addiction. Have something like
the World War II GI Bill, which provides
educational benefits of the sort awarded after World War
II to all our veterans, both so that people would
be more willing to serve, and also so that
after their service, we will have a more
educated workforce. Sometimes it’s hard to argue
for scientific projects which cost millions, or tens,
or hundreds of millions of dollars, when there were all
these other needs which are not being funded. We need all of those, including
the scientific projects. Many people will agree with
most of the items on this list, but it’s often said that
although these things are worthwhile, we can’t
do them because we need to cut taxes in order
to stimulate the economy. Or we can’t raise taxes, because
that would hurt the economy, and the economy is
the thing which allows everything else to be done. Now, I’ve spoken to a
number of economists, including one
distinguished one from MIT, and I’m told that
this is a fallacy, and it’s sort of
obviously a fallacy. In the short run, a dollar
that is spent by government has precisely the same
effect on the economy as a dollar which
is freed by tax cuts to be spent in the
private economy. The only difference
is whether you get public goods or private
goods for the dollar. But as far as the effect on
the economy, it’s the same. I’m comparing a dollar tax
cut with a dollar spent by government because they
have identical effects on the deficit. And I’m claiming,
and I’m told, they have identical effects
on, say, employment, or other indices of the economy. Actually, I was told that a
dollar spent by government is slightly more effective
because a dollar tax cut, some fraction of
it, would be saved. But the difference
is very small. Now, of course, the choice
between public goods and private goods is
a choice for voters. It’s not a choice for
professional economists, much less for physicists. But it is a choice that should
be made without the illusion that there is something about
the private economy which is uniquely healthy in a way
that the public sector is not. And I think it is
time, on such issues, for the public and Congress
to get better advice from the economic profession. Perhaps it’s time for a Union
of Concerned Economists. Well, as I said, it is
wonderful to be back here, but for me, it’s also
sad, because so many of the people that I knew
here at MIT in the late ’60s and early ’70s are now gone. Certainly too many
to list, but I want to mention three
who were important to me and for whom, posthumously,
I’d like to say thanks. One is Dave Frisch, who, when
visiting Copenhagen, where I was a first-year
graduate student, gave me my first
research problem. Another is Viki Weisskopf,
who brought me to MIT. And the third is
Francis Lowe, who was a never-ending
source of wisdom on physics and much else. Francis and Natalie
were enormously friendly to my wife Louise and
to me, and we love them. I was very sorry
that I was in Europe at the time of the
memorial for Francis Lowe, and one of the reasons I was
glad to be able to come here today is that it would give me
a chance to make up for that and to say how much I miss him
and Natalie, as well as Vicki and Dave. But life goes on,
and I see there is a new generation of
brilliant theorists here at MIT. I had dinner last night
with a number of them and thoroughly enjoyed that. And now, they have a
wonderful new center in which to do their work. And I congratulate them for the
opportunity of working here. And thank you and wish you,
for lunch, bon appétit. [APPLAUSE] PRESENTER: We do have time
for questions or comments, if anyone wishes
to say something. AUDIENCE: I have a
question for Bob Laughlin. Bob, you kept talking about
physics with a small p. And I was wondering, what
is physics with a large p? What is the distinction? LAUGHLIN: Roman, that’s
just jargon that I thought everybody knew what I meant. Just in case it didn’t, physics
with a big P at Stanford has to do with
departmental warfare, OK? [LAUGHS] AUDIENCE: See, we
don’t have that here so we didn’t understand. LAUGHLIN: Yeah, right. [LAUGHS] Let me tell you– since I’ve got the microphone,
I get to tell you a joke now. One of my best students
ever is John Bakalson Soffi, who’s now in the area now
running a biotech company. And he said, you know, I’ve
got Stanford figured out. He said, at Stanford, we
have two physics departments. We have the Department
of Physics– sorry, we have the
Department of Applied Physics and we have the Department
of Unapplied Physics. [LAUGHS] OK. Now that’s what I mean by
physics with a large P. PRESENTER: I can add to this,
that a long time ago, when I was thinking about
taking a job at Princeton, Murph Goldberger described
Princeton physics to me by saying, at Princeton, we
do physics with a capital F. [LAUGHS] Max. AUDIENCE: I have another
question for Bob Laughlin. We’ve heard a number of slightly
gloomy and cautionary remarks throughout the morning here. And I was wondering, on
the topic of knowledge sequestration, whether you
feel that there is also a glimmer of hope
coming from the internet and the globalization
of information, where it becomes
harder and harder, even for an entire
nation, to stifle information that can become
accessible from somewhere else? LAUGHLIN: This is not the time
to have a discussion on that because we’re talking
about the Green Center, but since you asked the
question, just very tersely, no. The internet has an
economics problem, and the problem is that
the communication is free. And you notice what’s
happening with it, it’s filling up with garbage. And what is the end point of
that, I’m reasonably sure, is another version
of television, in which there’s
tons of information on the internet,
but no knowledge. Actually, when it comes
to industrial things, lawyers have teams of people
preventing the knowledge from being accessible
on the internet. If you put it on the
internet, they’ll sue you. And of course, there’s
disinformation as well. So no, I don’t think the
internet is the revolution that everybody thought it was. And then I reiterate that in
this rapidly changing time, you can’t evade the
responsibility, as a physicist, to be the Renaissance
person that the engineering university needs. It’s very, very important. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] open
source for space probe. There’s another project that’s
going on in the Department department of Ed. You know, you and I witnessed
the transformation from the AC gives you permission
to be unique, and that’s united organization. In other related administration,
that we’ve been [INAUDIBLE].. There would be a
$15 billion wealth for which there is no
scientific reason, really. And this is very similar
to the space station. PRESENTER: Steve, you
want to say something? Let me just add to
that, Bruno, that one of the most enlightened things
that the Department of Energy has done for the last
60 years is continuously support theoretical
fundamental physics at MIT. [LAUGHS] [APPLAUSE] LAUGHLIN: Look, I
have mixed feelings about the Department of
Energy, like everybody else, but let me make a
prediction since I’m going to put on my Livermore hat now. Of all the many faults
that Livermore has, the big laser is
not one of them. I think what’s going to
happen soon is that they’re going to make a pellet go off. When that happens, it
will change the world. There will be banner headlines
in the New York Times, and suddenly, people’s
thinking about the physics and its relevance
to the energy future will have a 180 degree shift. Now, of course, I’m a theorist,
so I make concrete predictions. So either that
happens or it doesn’t. I’m willing to take bets. [LAUGHS] AUDIENCE: I think we
can discuss privately. LAUGHLIN: OK. [LAUGHS] PRESENTER: Other
questions or comments? Well, if not, let me thank
everybody, the organizers and the speakers. And everyone enjoy
lunch, and there’s a dedication ceremony
at 2:30 in the atrium on top of the Sol Lewitt Art. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *