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Einstein & Bohr

In response to:

Working for the Revolution from the October 25, 2007 issue

To the Editors:

Unfortunately, even after many readings, an error can appear in the final version of a book. This is the case with my Faust in Copenhagen, reviewed by Freeman Dyson [NYR, October 25]. As far as I know, there is only one factual error in it, misdating a photograph of Einstein and Bohr as being from 1920 rather than the correct date of 1930. Since the photograph is prominently displayed on the first page of the review, some astute readers may be concerned about my book’s contents, but I hopefully can reassure them. The error was caught by my friend Kurt Gottfried and will be corrected by Penguin in the paperback edition.

The photograph in question is a particularly pertinent one since it was taken at the 1930 Solvay Conference in Brussels [not Berlin], the site of an especially important exchange between Bohr and Einstein, one discussed on page 163 of my book. It may be amusing for the reader to go back to that photograph, keeping in mind the events of the time, namely that Bohr was extraordinarily worried about an apparent paradox in the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that Einstein had just presented. Leon Rosenfeld, a theoretical physicist then in Brussels, described the scene: “I shall never forget the sight of the two antagonists leaving the conference, Einstein, a tall majestic figure walking quietly with a somewhat ironic smile and Bohr trotting near him, very excited. The next morning came Bohr’s triumph.” Bohr had refuted Einstein’s paradox.

Dyson says that the German edition of the skit has not been published. It is in fact available, albeit somewhat obscurely, in Niels Bohr, Der Kopenhagener Geist in der Physik, edited by Karl von Meyenn, Klaus Stolzenburg, and Roman Sexl, published in 1985 by Vieweg. A reader will see there that the original skit follows Goethe more closely than the Gamow translation.

Gino Segrè

Professor of Physics and Astronomy

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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