Actress Olivia Newton-John once said, “One of the greatest sorrows of my life is that I have not met my grandfather.”
“When I was a teenager, my mother would say to me, ‘You have to go meet your grandfather because he’s getting older,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m busy,’ and I’m sorry for that,” she said. .The British-Australian actress who starred in the movie Grease – grew up in the age of brilliance and passed away last Monday (08/08) at the age of 73.
The grandfather you did not know was the physicist and mathematician Max Born, one of the most important scientists of the 20th century.
If you can’t enumerate what he did, it may be because, despite his many accomplishments, much of Born’s work was too complex.
But if his name is familiar, it is probably due to his heavy presence in physics and also because he was such a great friend Albert Einstein.
The legacy of this friendship was an impressive collection of letters spanning four decades and two world wars.
“My mom (Irene) translated them (from German to English),” the actress and singer said.
Actress Olivia Newton-John (pictured with John Travolta) was one of Bourne’s granddaughters, as was musician and academic Georgina Bourne and actor Max Bourne (Villenese Satyricon) – Image: GETTY IMAGES/BBC
In their extensive correspondence, they discussed everything from quantum theory and the role of scientists in a turbulent world to their families and the music they would play together when they met.
In fact, it was in one of these letters – dated December 4, 1926 – that Einstein wrote one of the most famous phrases in the history of science:
“Quantum mechanics is certainly impressive. But my inner voice tells me it’s still not satisfactory. The theory gives a lot, but it hardly brings us closer to the mystery of the ‘Creator’. Anyway, I’m convinced he doesn’t play dice.”
Einstein refused to accept the probabilistic view that favored this theory which describes how the matter that makes up the small universe of atomic and subatomic particles behaves.
He believed that the uncertainty assumed by this branch of physics actually revealed the inability to find the variables with which to construct a complete theory.
However, his friend Born was one of the main drivers of probabilistic interpretation.
For him, God plays dice.
The 29 participants in the famous conference on electrons and photons in 1927 in Brussels – 17 were current or future Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and Max Born – Photo: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / REUTERS
Convinced, he continued to explore the infinitely small world that this revolutionary and neonatal science had sought to understand.
Thus laid many of the foundations of modern nuclear physics.
Despite this, and unfairly, experts point out, it has been overshadowed by advocates such as Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr.
So much so that the Nobel Foundation awarded him the prize only in 1954 – 28 years after he completed the work for which it was awarded.
There are even those who claim that although the reason they finally recognized him was fair – a new way of describing atomic phenomena – it was not enough, because they believe that Born should share the title of father of quantum mechanics with Niels Bohr.
Bourne’s life made a bridge between three centuries.
He was born to a Jewish family in Breslau, then Prussia (now Wroclaw, Poland), in 1882. As a result, he was trained in the classical traditions of 19th century science.
Like many Jewish scientists, he had to flee the Nazis, which deprived him of a doctorate and even his citizenship. But in his new home, the United Kingdom, he contributed to the development of science in the 20th century.
But what occupied his mind was the consequences of modern science for the twenty-first century.
A boy talks to King Gustav Adolf VI of Sweden at the 1954 Nobel Prize ceremony – Image: BBC/Getty Images
He believed that no scientist could remain morally neutral in the face of the consequences of his work, no matter how tough his ivory tower, because he was terrified of the many military applications of the science he helped develop.
He wrote that “science in our time has social, economic and political functions, and no matter how far from technical application the work itself is, it is a link in the chain of actions and decisions that determine the fate of the human race . . .”
This fate, he said, is heading toward a nightmare because “reason distinguishes between the possible and the impossible; reason distinguishes between the reasonable and the foolish. Even the possible can be meaningless.”
It was not surprising that a scientist who assumed that one could only determine the probability of the position of an electron in an atom at any time – ignoring Newton’s laws and opening the door to atomic physics – would be interested in such questions.
Bourne followed the advice his father gave him when he was young all his life: never major.
Therefore, he did not stop studying music, art, philosophy and literature.
All this fed his moral thinking.
In one of his last articles, he wrote about what he saw as the only hope for humanity’s survival.
He said, “Our hope is based on the union of two spiritual forces: the moral awareness of the inadmissibility of war which turns into the mass murder of defenseless people, and the rational knowledge of the incompatibility of technological war with the survival of the human race.”
If a person wants to survive, he must renounce aggression.
In 1944, Einstein wrote in another letter to Bourne:
“We’ve become the antithesis of our scientific expectations. You believe in a dice-playing God, and I’m in absolute law and order in a world that exists objectively, and that’s in a foolishly speculative way, I’m trying to understand.” […].
“Even the great early success of quantum theory does not make me believe in the basic game of dice, although I realize that our young colleagues interpret this as a symptom of aging.”
“There is no doubt that the day will come when we will see which instinct was proper.”
A few months before Einstein’s death, Bourne wrote:
“We understand each other on personal matters. Our difference of opinion about quantum mechanics is very small by comparison.”
In the end, it seems that Einstein was wrong.
This dice game of constant uncertainty still seems essential to understanding the infinitely small world.
And for Bourne, uncertainty was also central to life in a world infinitely larger than the one he explored.
He declared, “I believe that ideas such as absolute certainty, absolute accuracy, absolute truth, and so on are the product of imagination which should not be accepted in any field of science.”
“On the other hand, any probabilistic statement is true or false from the point of view of the theory on which it is based.”
“This relaxation of thought seems to me the greatest blessing that modern science has bestowed upon us.”
“Because the belief that there is only one truth, and that you have it yourself, is the root of all evil in the world.”
– This text was originally published in https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-62476283
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