Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dirac was not so strange

A new review (pdf) of The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo, 2009, says:
Much of Farmelo’s account contains tiresome family drama involving Dirac’s despotic father and suffocating mother. The excessive detail seems to have been included to bolster the hypothesis that Dirac was doomed to strangeness by nurture rather than by nature. There is even a prologue that has no other purpose than to establish this behavioral theory. It is only after 420 pages that Farmelo comes clean: he does not subscribe to the rationale he previously seemed to have been documenting so thoroughly—it was nature, not nurture, after all. “Dirac was born to be a child of few words and was pitiably unable to empathise with others,” he announces. Dirac, Farmelo finally reveals, had autism.

... After reading Farmelo’s biography, you will likely find Dirac’s personality amiable and his character admirable. Chances are, you will not need to know whether Dirac was neurotypical. The strangest man might not even redline your strangeness meter.
I agree with this review. Dirac does not redline my meter, The pop psychology is offensive.

Dirac's biggest problem was that he acquired Einstein's disease, and rejected modern physics in favor of his own theorizing about how the world ought to be. They both wasted their later careers on misguided efforts.

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