The Heresies of Freeman Dyson

If for some unfathomable reason this engaging Times profile - which focuses on his late-in-life career as a global warming skeptic - is your first sustained encounter with the mind of Freeman Dyson, I highly recommend browsing at length in the NYRB's archive, or else buying the essay collection drawn from its pages, and from earlier publications. (I haven't read it, but I should note that a friend swears by The Starship and the Canoe, a dual biography of the space-besotted Dyson and his treedwelling son George.) You'll find that the climate-change debate isn't the only place where he tiptoes beyond the scientific current consensus. For instance, here's an excerpt from Dyson's review (behind the subscriber firewall) of a book on ESP:

... The hypothesis that paranormal are real but lie outside the limits of science is supported by a great mass of evidence. The evidence has been collected by the Society for Psychical Research in Britain and by similar organizations in other countries. The journal of the London society is full of stories of remarkable events in which ordinary people appear to possess paranormal abilities. The evidence of entirely anecdotal. It has nothing to do with science, since it cannot be reproduced under controlled conditions. But the evidence is there. The members of the society took great trouble to interview firsthand witnesses as soon as possible after the events, and to document the stories carefully. One fact that emerges clearly from the stories is that paranormal events occur, if they occur at all, only when people are under stress and experiencing strong emotion. This fact would immediately explain why paranormal phenomena are not observable under the conditions of a well-controlled scientific experiment. Strong emotion and stress are inherently incompatible with controlled scientific procedures ...

As heresy goes, this seems to me to be a step beyond doubting the scientific rigor of An Inconvenient Truth.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

Just In