John Archibald Wheeler 1985 Letter

^z 23rd May 2023 at 9:13pm

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a brilliant physicist and above all a gentleman. While cleaning out my metaphorical "desk" (actually, one of several big boxes of papers) before retirement from the Federal bureaucracy last month, a lovely letter from Johnny Wheeler surfaced. It is dated February 8, 1985, and epitomizes his self-deprecating modesty and meticulous attention to detail:

Dear Colleagues,

     How can I thank you enough for your "mucho pronto" help over the phone in answering my questions and your subsequent follow-up letter! Would that I could live up to your standards of information gathering! I have not succeeded. I know at least two errors in the enclosed manuscript. That's why I have put off sending it to you. One is my quote from Acheson about the heart of Politburo policy: At all costs, hold on to the reins of power. I have zooped through all four books of Acheson that I own, but too fast to find the precise words. The other is more serious. On page 10, I quote Khrushchev as proposing in a Harvard address in 1956 a U.S.S.R.-U.S. collaboration in the domain of controlled thermonuclear energy release. Adam Ulam came up to me after my talk and told me that Khrushchev never made such an address, least of all at Harvard. I understand from my colleague, Bill Drummond, that the actual proposal was made by Kurchatov at Harwell. I am almost ready to swear that I got my disinformation from my World Almanac and Book of Facts 1983, (Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc., New York). Going through it again just now to write you both, I am desolated not to be able to find immediately the item that threw me off. Some other commentaries on the U.S.S.R. in that little book seem to me to be rather slanted, and to raise questions in my mind about at least one peson on the staff of World Almanac. However, I think it is more blessed for me to thank you right now for the past than to spend more time finding something concrete for your mill to grind.

     Warm good wishes.


John Archibald Wheeler
Ashbel Smith Professor and
Blumberg Professor of Physics
   and Center Director

Hmmm ... in the seventh sentence of the letter is "zooped" a typographical error for "zoomed", or a Wheelerism for fast skimming?

(cf. TopDownBottomUp (1999-05-16), No Concepts At All (2001-01-22), SillySeminarsOf75 (2001-04-21), John Archibald Wheeler (2008-04-15), Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2008-06-25), ...) - ^z - 2011-09-05