Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman presented two Hitchcock Lectures here at UC Berkeley which I attended. He is now 87 years old and is obviously slowing down a bit but still ascended the podium stairs faster than most of the students on this campus generally go up stairs. He is very humorous and having been in the right place at the right time has innumerable poignant stories to tell which illustrate why being around enthusiastic people dedicated to finding truth is so much fun.
In the first lecture he talked mostly about his recent efforts to improve education by teaching subjects in a more logical order, with Physics coming before those things which are based on it, like Chemistry, and then moving on to the Biological sciences. It makes sense to him that if people learn these things in an orderly fashion they will understand them in a deeper way. Through his work many schools in the US now teach those subjects in this more logical order.
After the second lecture, which was about his personal experiences, I had the opportunity to talk with Leon (everyone calls him Leon), about our strangely parallel experiences at Princeton. He as a graduate student was invited to speak to Albert Einstein and came from New York City to Princeton to sit on a park bench and wait for a very brief encounter with the great man. Leon described a comically short encounter with Einstein but it energized him for many years to come. My experience was very similar, in that I traveled from New York City to Princeton as an undergraduate to visit with J. Robert Oppenheimer, which I did at his home, for half an hour. It had something to do with his speaking at my home school back in Pullman, Washington. That didn’t come to pass but we both had an enjoyable time talking about various adventures and he gave me some strawberries from his garden for my trip. So I got more from my trip than Leon did from his but he certainly did more with his opportunities.
After a bit I brought up The EarthArk Project to see if Leon had ever heard of such an endeavor. He hadn’t, but although it is outlandish to attempt something so grandiose as an EarthArk, I thought that a man such as Leon, who had discovered some of the fundamental particles of the Universe, would be willing to inspect the premise. He wasn’t put off by the idea but as he said about some other less outrageous thing during the question period, “I think that’s beyond my pay grade.” Well if having two separate Nobel Prizes doesn’t raise one’s pay grade to the very top level then the only ones who can approach the subject are Lunatics. It is within my pay grade but the pay so far is less than zero.
Yesterday I talked with Walter Alvarez, the discoverer of the impact crater that caused the demise of the dinosaurs and the author of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. I brought up The EarthArk Project but apparently came on too quickly and too strongly with him and he was apparently convinced I was totally nuts and passed me off with a “Good luck?” Now there’s a guy that perhaps more than any other person on Earth is comfortable about talking about really big Earth destroying events and still I didn’t get through to him the importance of a backup plan for humanity and possibly saving many other species and many perishable physical artifacts of modern humanity.
People must have a take home message or the thought vanishes.