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reading "the making of the atomic bomb" by Rhodes 1/
2/ in the first chapter, Rhodes explores the events leading to szilard's idea of the neutron chain reaction. he describes the importance both of a community of scientists and the open communication between them
these ideas seem to me to be in tension. one wants a closed elite community, with open communication within. Rhodes discusses entry to this community as being given through apprenticeship, idea propagation through reputation and overlapping work
where does this put esotericism? witihin an esoteric community knowledge is shared, outside it is not even understood. The community of physicists at the turn of the century was small enough to be considered a single esoteric community
perhaps what is needed is a framework for multiple scientific communities sealed off from one another but communicating some ideas in a formal exchange. Open Science cannot stand because the gate keeping and apprenticeship functions are destroyed
peer review is untenable in the face of millions of submissions mostly of bad quality. But peer review WITHIN the esoteric community is of high value.
(s/o to my friend @arkosiorek for putting me onto this, we'll radicalized you yet)
3/ chapter two is about Planck and Bohr, mainly Bohr. Rhodes constructs a narrative tying together Bohr's otlook with Kierkegaard, and shores it up with Bohr's letters to his brother
4/ the case is made that Bohr's model for stable electron orbits and quantized energies is a result of his earlier attempt to resolve the problem of the self observing itself by peeling the infinite resursion into disjoint layers
5/ Bohr's interactions with Thompson and Rutherford feature, Thompson rebuffs where Rutherford embraces
the narrative about bohr's inner drive is not sufficiently convincing for me and it leaves me a little wrong footed to grapple with the study of the drives of these people
while it's possible to find threads in people's thinking like these, i don't think bohr himself would have ever made the connection. it feels wrong to impose a just so narrative on the inner states of these people - and history teaches that chaos and uncertainty are the default
with narrative coming later based on whatever fragments make it through the maelstrom. the imposition of these constructed narratives and the treatment of them as blueprints, I think, destroys countless minds
imagine thinking you have to face an existential anxiety before you're qualified to think about mathematics
two possibilities exist for how we regard bohr - either he was driven to do mathematics, or he chose to. in bohr's case I believe it to be the latter; the disparity of ideas that result in the quantum root of stable atoms point to a multiplicity of possible choices made
this contrasts with others such as the curies whose work was clearly a single intellectual monolith, an iron rod of will
not much to say about Planck just yet, and looking forward to Pauli's chapter where he will go around breaking everything thus being forced to do theory
parting thought on this chapter: the master/apprentice relationship once again features very strongly
a recurring theme: the master notices and invites the apprentice once the apprentice has managed something strong (for their level) on their own.
6/ the next chapter is a chimera, dealing with the tail end of Bohr's work with Rutherford then seguing to the sheer horror of the first world War and the place of scientists in it
7/ the content and description of the poison gas attacks made me feel physically ill. The chapter also touches on the Gallipoli campaign, then takes a broader view of the war overall
8/ two key points stand out - first a foreshadowing of scientists working on new weapons to end war sooner and save lives. heavy handed but maybe necessary in this narrative
9/ the second and probably more interesting is a discourse on the mechanization of War and subsequent organization of the fighting of War along mechanistic lines. the intent is to foreshadow the totality of the second world War
10/ BUT, the description is essentially the same as the runaway techno-capital singularity the various accelerationisms go on about at length. very interesting and warrants further study, most treatments of ACC ideas are comically ahistorical
the book notes that people on all sides had come to feel that the war itself had become an all consuming organism that took as inputs various materiel and flesh, and churned out corpses.
it's a theme that is apparent also in wartime and postwar art of the first world War, for example "Europe after the rain" by Ernst, utterly incomprehensible and dehumanized landscapes transformed by the War organism
i've come across this theme before in contemporary writing at all levels and not really pieced it together before or been quite as struck by it as here. first world War as an experiment in techno capital singularity is an interesting direction of thought
as much as this chapter is intended to set up the processes and conclusions leading to the atomic bombardment of japan, in some way the first world War is more alien in its sheer mechanical quality
is this the first time the so called death force is to be found among technology more broadly?
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