Feynman had looked forward to meeting Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, the Japanese physicist who shared the Nobel Prize with him. Tomonaga had independently made some of the same discoveries as Feynman, five years earlier, in the total isolation of wartime Japan. [...] Feynman and Tomonaga shared three outstanding qualities: emotional toughness, intellectual integrity, and a robust sense of humor.
To Feynman’s dismay, Tomonaga failed to appear in Stockholm. The Ottaviani-Myrick book has Tomonaga explaining what happened:
Although I sent a letter saying that I would be “pleased to attend,” I loathed the thought of going, thinking that the cold would be severe, as the ceremony was to be held in December, and that the inevitable formalities would be tiresome. After I was named a Nobel Prize awardee, many people came to visit, bringing liquor. I had barrels of it. One day, my father’s younger brother, who loved whiskey, happened to stop by and we both began drinking gleefully. We drank a little too much, and then, seizing the opportunity that my wife had gone out shopping, I entered the bathroom to take a bath. There I slipped and fell down, breaking six of my ribs… It was a piece of good luck in that unhappy incident.After Tomonaga recovered from his injuries, he was invited to England to receive another high honor requiring a formal meeting with royalty. This time he did not slip in the bathtub. He duly appeared at Buckingham Palace to shake hands with the English Queen. The Queen did not know that he had failed to travel to Stockholm. She innocently asked him whether he had enjoyed his meeting with the King of Sweden. Tomonaga was totally flummoxed. He could not bring himself to confess to the Queen that he had got drunk and broken his ribs. He said that he had enjoyed his conversation with the King very much. He remarked afterward that for the rest of his life he would be carrying a double burden of guilt, first for getting drunk, and second for telling a lie to the Queen of England.
Dyson is on paper the obvious choice for a piece about Feynman; as usual there's a lot of recycling, but with an interesting twist. In an old NYRB review of a previous Feynman book, Dyson had categorized Feynman with Einstein and Hawking as physicists who have become "Wise Men" to the public. In the new iteration of this remark, Feynman has provisionally been dropped from the list, the Wise Men are "superstars," but the point is spelled out nicely:
Lesser lights such as Carl Sagan and Neil Tyson and Richard Dawkins have a big public following, but they are not in the same class as Einstein and Hawking. Sagan, Tyson, and Dawkins have fans who understand their message and are excited by their science. Einstein and Hawking have fans who understand almost nothing about science and are excited by their personalities.(A point worth making is that Einstein and Hawking would arguably have been substantially less revered if they stood for something in the public mind that the public cared about -- evolution, say, or whether the universe had a beginning. Being a polemical figure reduces one's stature. The closest thing to Hawking in recent news was Grisha Perelman, but as a mathematician he is somehow too peripheral. To become the relevant kind of cultural figure one needs to be cartoonish and nonthreatening. Though arguably physics has never been threatening.)
A bit of news today that will please many physicists: the journal Physical Review Letters (the Berkeley of the physics publishing hierarchy; the most prestigious journal that also publishes a lot of articles) has switched from a 4-page limit to a word count limit. Objectively this is reasonable and frankly somewhat belated; I believe (or at least hope) that the journals also intend to make articles available as single-column HTML files, it is extremely annoying to read two-column text on a laptop. I have mixed feelings about the new limits: I had just begun to get the hang of maximizing the number of words you could cram into 4pp. by rewriting each paragraph so as to have it end at the end of a line.