Wednesday, May 22, 1985

Feynman's review of my "Field Theory" book

22 May 1985

My program expires today. Vinnie of the Italian Kitchen makes a special dinner for us. UF kidnaps Feynman on Eddy Avenue.

Feynman likes to talk about reception of his book: how steel workers ("I liked that chapter where you say women like to get fucked") and topless dancers invite him to their work places and shows; how somebody's grandmother liked the book. UF veers out of control, and first they compete about who summed which kind of Bessel functions series at age twelve, and then UF keeps discussing details of Little Stevie Wonder's predicament, while Feynman tries to shut him up and absolutely does not want to hear about it. Finally I remember I once drew a portrait of him, and sent him the book with him on the cover, so I ask him what he thought of it. He says,
"What book? I remember somebody once sent me a book with jokes and drawings, it was very bad, I did not like it at all. It made Field Theory look easy when it is not, and it didn't explain it.

If you gave somebody with infinite intelligence and infinite time this book, and told him to learn Field Theory - he could not do it!"

Thursday, April 25, 1985

The realm of limbo, limbo and catholicism

My life in Ithaca is very quiet: some evenings I go over to Mitchell and submit to hours of Wagner, some evenings I read children's stories to my friend's real children, still others I watch from my office window beautiful sunsets over Ithaca hills.

Mitchell lives in a Corbusiesque atrocity. It has a curious advertisement in the phone book: "A new environment for living - designed by Marcel Breuer - walk to campus and shopping - modern, beautiful, fireproof."

Ithaca is the same as it ever was - dogs run across the Arts Quad, we wander through the gorges, and check the buds on the trees for signs of the impending spring. At night the bars are full of little women and little but beefy men. Five Burns sisters are singing good rock-n-roll, radiating sex like five demented stars - one is pregnant and due in 10 days - as we dance, just like we always did.


Immanuel Kant: "All human knowledge begins with intuitions, then passes to concepts, and ends with ideas."
I have gone into seclusion: I have temporarily lost faith in adults, and I mostly want to quietly work on my physics projects, listen to my friend Mitchell's classical records, and read children stories to my friends children. Of course, I am not terribly good at being a recluse - old friends and lovers keep popping up and treating me with much tenderness.
"all bonds have broken down,
oooo, love is gone
looove is gone..."

Why am I being so melodramatic? It is because of love shipwrecked. Guardian Angel, the woman that I have lived with the last five years has abandoned me at the same time I took a new (permanent?) position in Sweden. I find myself without a family, a home and a country.
"And if my night thoughts could be seen,
they would put my head in the guillotine.
But it's all right ma, I'm only dyyyyying"

Mother Jackie is the same bundle of energy and good cheer as she had always been. She is very busy traveling and writing as art historian - complains that she is overweight (does not stop her from eating
as much as I do) and that a joint in her little finger has become stiff.
Hermann Minkowski in a letter to David Hilbert: "It seems sometimes that through a preoccupation with science, we acquire a firmer hold over the vicissitudes of life and meet them with greater calm, but in reality we have done no more than to find a way to escape from our sorrows."
Sadder is the story of my grandparents. Mother's father died last summer - I visited him almost at the last moment, he could barely talk. He talked to me slowly for a few hours about his life: being persecuted as communist before the war, surviving the concentration camp, life after the end of the war. It was like watching a wavering candle flame... The other grandfather weighs about 120 lb and can barely move - I'll visit them in July.

God, how boring all this petty self-pity is! It all just adds up one and the same thing - the destruction of my world...

Tuesday, January 22, 1985

I have been Kepler many times over

Dr. B.B. Mandelbrot (lovingly referred to as "Fattie" by Mitchell) in NY Times science section: "I would be perfectly happy being Kepler" (to a coming fractals' Newton). Referring to the broad array of things now described by fractals, he added, "I have been Kepler many times over."

Monday, January 21, 1985

The dietary practices of Mr. Universal Function

I arrived to JFK  on December 19, in time for Mitchell's 40th birthday, accompanied by a nineteen year old Aupair Girl.

Mitchell, from now on referred to as UF (Mr. Universal Function, more formally Fessor Feigenbaum) awaits us with champagne and fois gras ready. Aupair Girl says: "Eeek! What is this? It smells like dog food!" and eats it between crackers, to avoid actually tasting it.

At Zabar's it is Christmas shopping madness; the number called at the smoked fish counter is 120 numbers ahead of us. UF buys: 2 boxes crackers, 4 loafs bread, 4 pounds of various fine cheeses, pound caviar and 20 pounds filet mignon for steak tartar. His cousin, who is in catering business and commensurately spherical in shape will provide us with small delicate sweets. Not a single vegetable or fruit... By a miracle an entire smoked salmon has arrived in mail from Trondheim (?!). 60 bottles of Veuve Clicqout Ponsardin are delivered, and put into the refrigerator. UF sits down to calculate the quantity of ice needed to cool them for the party. One needs to remember that the latent heat of 1 gram ice is 80 calories. A quick one page calculation yields 48 kg ice.

This is theoretical physics in action. There was one correction, though. What was not taken into account was the fact that we shopped at Zabars the afternoon before the party. Nothing else needed to be refrigerated, the Champagne bottles remained in the refrigerator arrayed into neat rows, shining like gold bars in the vaults of the Bank of England, and after this correction the amount of ice required was 0.00 kg.

Why 60 bottles of champagne and 100 crackers? That calculation is straighforward: there were to be 30 guests, so UF multiplied his own anticipated consumption by 30. He was somewhat disappointed that after the party there were still 30 bottles and 12 pounds of fillet mignon tartar left. He threw the tartar out: 13 days later there were only 2 bottles left, so I left for Chicago.

Our diet consists of following: one strong coffee in the morning, and red meat and absurdly good red wine in the evening, plus a pack of cigarettes for UF. Buying meat is the ritual of the day. UF picks up various packages of meat and pokes them with his index finger at length, declaring eventually that the piece A (to eye indiscernible from the piece B) is far superior piece of meat than the piece B. He has lived on coffee, wine, meat and cigarettes the last 22 years and is perfectly healthy. As far as I can see, he gets his vitamins from the cigarettes.

UF's home consists of practically nothing beyond a truly excellent record collection and a Hewlett-Packard computer, but UF sits on his world like a hen sits on its eggs. The records have to be turned and dusted this way, the wine glasses have to washed that way, his camera equipment is the best the money can buy but I may not touch it, and he doesn't want to give me a key to the apartment so I would not do God knows what to it, so I finally moved out. Not before I broke the next to the last of his fine crystal wine glasses and the only two european-tacky plates he got out of his marriage. He has not unpacked yet, so almost all of his books sit in boxes in closets, and the boxes get slowly permuted around as he fishes out mementos of the bygone ages. The fate has willed it so: a few years ago UF made one serious attempt to furnish his home by buying a  $1,000 marble table in Italy. This arrived in form of crate of pulverized marbles,  and he is still trying to retrieve the money from the Italian company.

UF has strong feelings about much that we tend to accept without much questioning. "Everything I learned in particle physics was wrong." "British are scum: a degenerate nation of bigots." This is sheer praise, compared to how he feels about Poles. Germans present a special problem, considering that we would sit here in silence, were the German music removed. "Firm announcement: I shall never go into Germany again."

UF is earning unreasonable amounts of money, which, he claims, his stockbroker promptly loses. The Quack money (a complicated linguistic transformation: MacArthur -> MacDonald -> Donald Duck -> Quack) is finally making some impact: UF has erected a dark foreboding monument in his living room, consisting of two black obelisks (world's best speakers?) and in between them a black cairn of amplifiers, preamplifiers, etc., all capable of putting out kilowatts of power. Now when Siegfried bangs his sword, he is right there, in the corner of the room - it is uncanny.

A brief dictionary of UF English: "I saw a nice person there" ( = an attractive woman).  "... it seemed hard to make a connection to this person" (= could not get laid).

There is Hearts, who teaches him anew what looove is, and looming in the future is Beheadings, a specialist on the connections between royal beheadings and changes of styles in Italian poetry. A revealing exchange:

UF: "These are Listz's 13 transcendental etudes..." as he is fondling sensuously the record, on the way to the record player.

Beheadings: "If the piano is tuned, this piece is OK".

UF has gotten himself unreasonably famous. Upon hearing that I live in Fairview heights, Susan, flower child from our era, says: "This very brilliant physicist lives there - I hear he is going to get Nobel Prize." Help. However, not everybody reads New York Times. Kate from Brookings, South Dakota says: "Your friend's name is Feigenbaum? I know that name. Feigenbaums had a funeral parlor in Pierre" (pronounced Peer, South Dakota).

Upon arrival to Ithaca, there are odd few hundred letters waiting for UF (not counting the two hundred Cornell faculty communications). UF breaks into laughter with almost every letter he opens. Examples, with UF's running commentary:

"As a follow up to my letter of August 29, 1984, inviting you to serve as an adjunct faculty member of the Roanoke City Governer's School of Science and Technology, ..." why me?
"How would you like to go to the Naval Surface Weapons Center? The meeting is called Perspectives in Nonlinear Dynamics... I guess I cannot say no to them. They represent all of the money. I can certainly assist in getting us undreamed of amounts of money. You could have a CRAY in your hand." UF lays the letter of invitation carefully to the side.
"Here is the Crapademic Press: I wonder what this means? ' ... please confirm the form of address used on the cover of the journal.' Reverend? His Majesty? M.D.?"
" 'The final notice: ...' ... forget this one..."
"A fan letter from Dr. Ben Braidy. Should I use tweezers to open the letter? 83 years old! That is a pretty advanced age to have AIDS..."
"'Dear Mitch,
... the status of your manuscript on chaos and turbulence... February 1 is the due date specified on the contract ... need to discuss immediately so I can readjust plans for promotion of the book, particularly the advance publicity..." (not one line of this manuscript exists. Besides, UF hates being addressed as "Mitch")
 "Re: Feigenbaum's Number, indispensably in conjunction with Pi."
(Could horse racing be the bridge between Quantum Mechanics and Chaos?)
          Dear Dr. Feigenbaum:
          Five years ago I copyrighted a theory of horse racing under the title "IONICS, THE MATH OF RACING". It consisted of reducing the past performances of race horses to mathematical entities interacting with each other, filtering to a destillate which contained only the winner and the placer as final products. This was possible since I had observed that discretion was exerted in the win-place linkages, and based on a belief that horses, celestial bodies, and electrons are all moving entities. Scientists have told me that I am employing, unknowingly, the principles of quantum mechanics.
         Several months ago, upon having read of your discovery, 4.66+ and its chaotic significance, I was immediately, mind blown! 'For, after all, what could be more chaotic than a horse race?' I thought. And so, I began thinking. I experimented at several tracks in America, Harness or Flats, made no difference. And last October and November at Vincennes Harness Track in Paris, France, and in England (hurdles, dogs, flats) Utoxeter, Wembley.
         The result were all the same -  FEIGENBAUM'S NUMBER CALLED THE SHOTS EVERY TIME!!!!
         In process, I had to discover Pi, also. I can now connect Pi with Feigenbaum's number in about half a dozen ways!!!! In fact, I am now making my living using the constant, Pi, in conjunction with Feigenbaum's number! (Pi won't work without the corroboration of Feigenbaum's number.)
         In certain cases, however, Pi isn't needed at all. In the most spectacular case of all, when Feigenbaum's number yields Pi, an atomic explosion occurs in the form of a longshot! (The full constant, 4.6692016 is used.) (I can't get the last two figures, 09, in my calculator.)
        I have written a 22 page thesis about it for which I have just received my copyright certificate from Washington in addition to having mailed a registered copy to myself and notarized [...] you will be the first. I have spoken of it to no one except my lady friend who understands nothing of it. [...]"

"Who is this Pi?"
The next letter is a form letter:
"'Dear friend,  like the magnificent tennis player, the legendary golfer and the unstoppable running back, Personal Computing is the leader in its field!...'"
UF's association is not the most obvious one. He puts the letter aside and says: "I wonder if there are any direct flights from Aspen to Buchurest?"

Going beyond Manhattan, and all the way to Aspen: a Florida Belgian friend calls me to the side one day and asks me whether I could be Nikki's escort (i.e. Stirling's beard) at Stirling's birthday. "Yes, sure." I have never seen her in my life, but one more time, we are connected through UF in so natural and comfortable manner that when Nikki shows up we immediately recognize each other and fall into a conversation as though it is a continuation of yesterday's conversation.

Nikki says:" I have never been so humiliated in my life. You know what Rosy did? She saw me sitting in the astrophysics seminar, and she publicly chased me out of the seminar: 'you get out, you bitch'. Then she scolded me for an hour, like a little girl. I do not want to hurt her, but what can I do - I love him"

And some crazy story unfolds, with Stirling disappearing one night, and flying out to meet Nikki in some motel, and she keeps repeating "He is so good, I love him."

"Niki, he cannot be that good. He makes bombs..."

"That was before. He is good, he is very good..."

Then there was Pete, totally obsessed by his love for C. and her cruelty, and I felt rather reasonable compared to him. And his crazy daughter, machine gun smuggler and god knows what else.

I seem be sinking into a scientific depression. This is recurrent and more common than the common cold, but this time it is aggravated by a new twist: fear of charlatanism. UF must have given me good PR, or it all makes no sense - I seem to be booked for a good portion of 1986, all invitations but one being of chaotic nature, and what have I done to deserve all this?