May 312011
 

‘Truth never prevails’, said Planck, ‘but her adversaries always perish in the end.’ And Einstein: ‘I do not believe in education. Your only model ought to be yourself, however frightful that model may be.’ But the struggles these men were engaged in had nothing to do with the Earth and its history, or with day-to-day happenings.

They felt themselves responsible only to truth. And yet political events overtook them. Planck’s son was assassinated by the Gestapo, Einstein driven into exile. The present generation, everywhere and in all circumstances, is made aware that the scientist is closely connected with world affairs. Almost all useful knowledge is concentrated in his hands, and very soon all power will be too.

He is the key figure in the adventure on which humanity has embarked. Enmeshed by politics, harassed by the police and information services, supervised by the military, he has about an equal chance of ending his career with the Nobel Prize or facing a firing squad. At the same time his work leads him to scorn the trivialities of the individual and the particular, and enables him to think on a planetary, even cosmic level.

Between his own power and the powers that be there is a misunderstanding. Only an arrant coward could hesitate between the risk he runs himself and the risks to which he exposes the world. Kurchatov broke the seal of silence and revealed what he knew to British physicists at Harwell. Pontecorvo fled Russia to carry on his work there. Oppenheimer got into trouble with his Government.

The American atomic scientists took sides against the army and published their extraordinary bulletin: The cover drawing represented a clock whose hands move towards midnight every time some formidable experiment or discovery falls into the hands of the military.

This is my prediction for the future‘, wrote the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane: ‘whatever hasn’t happened will happen! And no one will be safe from it!

Matter liberates its energy, and the way to the planets is open. Events such as these seem to be unprecedented in history. ‘We are living at a time when history is holding its breath, and the present is detaching itself from the past like an iceberg that has broken away from its icy moorings to sail across the boundless ocean.’ (Arthur Clarke, The Children of Icarus).

The Morning of the Magicians, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier