Episodes at the
7th International Congress of Mathematical Physicists

August 1-10, 1983

Colorado University
Boulder, Colorado

FERMENT Volume I, #1
September 14, 1983
Roy Lisker

August 1st:

The recently opened Kittredge Conference Center housing complex holds most of delegates registered at the ICMP. It is a large building with cafeteria and reception areas. Behind this stand half a dozen brick split-level bungalows . Together they surround a lovely little artificial pond shaped like a pair of connected kidneys. Trees overhang the pond; their leaves dropping like the tears of unrequited lovers into its waters. The excitations of the rippled liquid surface produce limitless variations of arising and dissipating coherence and incoherence. Like the illusion of life itself?

Squads of ducks and swans moving in groups of 2 to 5 fulfill one's lingering expectations, chiming in with the perfect concords of the peaceful scene, adding the final touch to this haven of unruffled intellectual activity, this mental Tibet, fitting abode for some of the mightiest minds known to mankind!

The narrator, himself bereft of all honor and status, sometimes source even of merriment to his dignified and medal-besplattered colleagues, otherwise known as little more than a harmless drudge with some fair competence in mathematics, quietly absorbs this vision of classic charm. In the candied translucent blear of evening sunlight, delighted with the gracious swimming of the lake's inhabitants, he experiences some anxiety as he watches the throngs of mathematical physicists arriving at the entrances to the reception area. AlThough the bottomless greed of the rulers of the military -industrial complex fills him with nothing but contempt, and the universal bloody-mindedness of the ignorant masses with disdain, he yet feels heartsick with despair from the realization that it is in the attitudes, activities and apathies of this highly articulate, genteel, intelligent and by-and-large considerate, human collectivity that one may see the clearest evidence of the Doomsday risks enveloping us all.

I am sitting in the quadrangle in back of the University of Colorado's student union, the University Memorial Center (UMC) . Jets of water shoot up from the surface of the waters filling a long rectangular tank in vertical columns of concentrated intensity like the stiff, fluted stalks of tall jungle plants. Their heads burst open at the top like pollen sacs, invert in the form of diaphanous bells, turbid, semi-opaque with white foam, pearls of spray shedding wide.

There are more than a dozen such jets, spaced about the pool like the fundamental regions of a topological group. Each surging vertical spout may be analysed into the same set of components: shaft, head, aureole, spray, reflux dropping back like a plasma blaze into the waters of the pool, to set up an unceasing transmission of rippling wave-formations circumscribed, re-structured and re-directed by the confining boundaries of the tank.

The heads have a complex internal structure of their own: as if there existed inside of them three fingers alternately thrusting forth and closing down, like a gloved fist working clay. A continually shifting display of vivid flame-patterns at the very crest of the bulbous head, suggests their decomposition into natural harmonics.

One would like to be able to analyze its component parts, trace their causal connections, meditate on the stable or unstable equilibria of the parts and the whole, contemplate their break-down into chaos: the jet, the shaft , the thrusting fingers, the aureole, the spray, the reflux and plasma, the violent commotion that emerges at the region of impact, the arising and the dissipation of the wave fronts and their interactions at the rectangular borders.

One feels that one might gaze upon this display for hours.In reality one looks for half an hour at the most. After which one leaves readily, without regret.

August 3:

On the third day of the conference I ran into someone who will be identified as Howard M. Howard was standing in the cafeteria line at the Kittredge Center. After we'd conversed a bit Howard invited me to join him for lunch. Someone had told him that I was some kind of journalist or writer; he had an important story to tell me.

Howard M. is a mathematical physicist teaching in a small college in New England. His black hair is oiled and closely cropped. He trims a paint-brush moustache, has a vaguely insinuating smile and a voice that has some difficulty in finding its tonal level and easily rises under real or imagined pressure. He was not adverse to discussing mathematical physics, though that was not why he has asked me to join him.

Howard had not the slightest interest in the things that had brought me to the conference: the accelerating arms race, the ecological consequences of nuclear power, the odd lack of a sense of history involved in holding a major physics conference in the same week as Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Days without bothering to take note of them.

"So?", he mused, "That bomb was dropped on August 6th, was it? Hmmmm ...another one of those bits of trivia I didn't know. To be frank, politics doesn't interest me; I've got problems of my own."

"Look, Roy. It sounds to me that you like to write about politics. Well, I've got a political cause for you - a big one, a major issue that nobody is doing a damn thing about. You being a journalist, you're in a position to bring it to the attention of the public. Boy; I'm telling you - it's loaded with dynamite !"

The dining halls of the Kittredge Conference Center are spacious. Floor to ceiling glass panels let in sky and sunlight, views of the duck pond and the rolling slopes of the hill. The fluctuating light mimics the perverse moods of wind and rain so characteristic of this mountainous region.

The tables are round or rectangular, the ones stationed by the windows being slightly shorter than the ones in the interior.The sight of this sea of primly neat white tablecloths, napkins, water decanters and plates projects an aura of unassailable security.

Howard continued : "I suppose you haven't heard anyone speaking up about Men's Rights recently. Those feminist groups are so vocal and well-organized that no politician alive dare even bring up the subject without the fear of getting his head chopped off! ( or perhaps something else, I thought, but said nothing. ) I think, Mr. Lisker, that you ought to take a look at the statistics about the number of husbands who have been ruined by the divorce courts of this land!"

Howard M., as it turned out, was only interested in talking about the miseries caused him by his divorce.

"Here's what a scheming and determined woman - like my ex - - ( of course) - can do to a man! "

He ticked off the points on the fingers of his left hand: "First! She gets married. If she's smart she looks around until she finds a first-class sucker like me. Next step! The divorce; it's in the cards even before she says the ÔI do' at the altar .That's also easy. In Massachusetts all that's needed to begin divorce proceedings is a year's separation.

"Then! She finds herself a crooked lawyer. Some of them out there are driving around in Rolls-Royces on the money they make from divorce settlements. His first advice to the wife is to quit her job; my wife had a better job than mine. That's so that, when the case goes to court, she can plead poverty. The lawyer, if he's any good, can get a king's ransom out of you for that.

"Then ! There comes the judge. He's shitting in his pants , terrified of what those woman's groups can do to him if he doesn't toe the mark. You 'll find that he always sides with the woman ! Conclusion? She walks away with a guaranteed income for life off the back of her conned husband!"

While he was expounding his case we were joined at the same table by several other persons: Troung, a Vietnamese physicist from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the Free University of Berlin; Phillipe Audit, physicist at the Universite de Paris-Nord at Villateneuse, and his wife Renata who, although French speaking with an Italian name, is actually Austrian.

Gales of laughter went around the table with every new revelation of Howard's woeful tale. Heaven knows, there must certainly be plenty of exploited ex-husbands walking about in today's world!

"I assure you"- Ridicule may sometimes engender persistence; Howard was by no means daunted by our collective reaction - :

̉He can't simply refuse to pay out the blackmail; he can't move away from the problem; he can't quit his job. He's got only one option: change his name, get some plastic surgery done on him, and go underground. But that's impossible for me : I'm too well known in the academic world!

"If he tries to refuse to pay he goes to jail; or ,nowadays, the judge can order that the money be taken directly out of his pay check. If he quits his job and takes a new one at lower pay, the courts will still uphold the original settlement. Even if he stops working altogether and goes on welfare and food stamps, it doesn't matter; the courts will still insist on his paying the full amount."

With perfectly insincere innocence, (no doubt that's whats meant by the term "disingenuous"), I asked him : "Have you tried it? Living on food stamps and welfare?"

"I can't ! My wife's cornered me! The courts have cornered me! The laws are all against the husband! I'm completely trapped - like a rat in a cage! That's the story : how the women of this country have the men by the throat!"

We outdid one another in inventing jokes at the expense of the unfortunate and victimized Howard M. There was a lull in the conversation after that. Troung turned to me and asked:

"Is it really true , what you just said, that today is the anniversary of the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan?"

A deep sigh. No, I explained, that important anniversary would be coming up in three days.

And as the scores of physicists on University Hill manifested indifference, impatience, confusion or scorn concerning the whereabouts of Hiroshima Day, Nagasaki Day , or any other public event having the remotest bearing on the consequences of their work, a dozen peace groups and numerous individuals in downtown Boulder and nearby Denver were preparing their rallies, demonstrations, leaflets and vigils. One could only draw the conclusion that the physics world, by and large, could not care less about the consequences of the active toil it engages in "on behalf of all mankind".

A certain amount of credit should perhaps be given to Alfred Nobel : he at least believed that the discovery of dynamite would produce world peace!

August 5 :

All of the sessions of the 7th International Congress of Mathematical Physicists were devoted to technical matters, including plenary meetings, featured speakers, the short communications and the poster displays. Not so much as a minute had been set aside for any discussion of issues such as the problems of reaching out to the society, public education in science, or social responsibility for the consequences of its products.

I will not go into the details of how, though lacking the several hundred dollars needed to register at the conference, I was able , for a short time, to use a green identification badge. This temporary credential enabled me to set up an "official seminar" on social responsibility for the afternoon of Friday, August 5th. Had I not done so, the hermetic incest of this major 10 -day gathering, supposedly organized for the advancement of knowledge and truth, would have been complete.

Immediately upon receiving confimation of the event, I publicized its time and location through all the means available at the conference: notices on message boards, placing piles of photocopied announcements on the information tables , formal announcements at the morning sessions, and personal conversations.

It was in course of doing this that I encountered Joel Leibowitz, a Russian dissident emigre scientist associated with Rutgers. He latched onto my idea and suggested that we set up another session for the evening of the same day, focusing on the problems of dissident scientists, Russians in particular, seeking to emigrate to the United States.

It is significant that (1), he did not take any initiative until I had set up the first seminar, and (2) his idea of such a seminar was in terms of a specific parochial interest of top-level physicists: their right to emigrate to where the best jobs were.

I concluded that at least one of my stubborn prejudices against the ICMP had been confirmed: Any open discussion of responsible applications of the scientific research presented in it, would have to be initiated by an outsider with a phony credential.

However, on the afternoon of August 5th Elliot Lieb, the ICMP president, approached me in the hallway of the UMC student center to congratulate me for set up the pair of seminars. He tried to explain why the ICMP doesn't put politically oriented issues on its agenda: The ICMP is one of the very few truly international science organizations in the world. Both its membership and the sites for its annual meetings cross every political boundary : Havana, Warsaw, Marseilles, Boulder. It was discovered that whenever human rights sessions were placed on the official conference agenda, the emigre scientists invariably used them as platforms for denouncing the Soviet Union. The consequence of this was that the governments in the Eastern bloc withdrew both their delegations and their future invitations.

This year, even with its totally depoliticized program, the Soviet Union had not let anyone out to come to the ICMP. There were a few delegates from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany. The Czech delegate, Pavel Bona came to my afternoon session.The Hungarian delegate, Domokos Sza'sz, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, came to Joel's evening session.

Elliot Lieb's position had some merit of course, though it left out many things. In particular international politics is not the only social issue involved in research in physics. Ecology, environmentalism, diversion of natural and human resources, public education and public information, these and related subjects are equally important. To an outsider like myself it was painfully obvious that the proceedings , social calendar and communal life of the 10-day conference existed within an enormous social, moral and political vacuum. There appeared to be no desire on the part of anyone to to relate the activities of the ICMP to the outside world: no discussion of social or educational priorities,no concern about issues of public health, nor the dire consequences of the Arms Race. All of these could have been put on the agenda without bringing up national politics.

In fact I made the happy discovery that over 40 people came to my afternoon seminar on the social consequences physics research.

The session took place in the basement of the Student Union (UMC). When the attendance reached 30 a partition was opened to a second room. After I'd finished reciting from a short prepared text, the meeting was opened for questions and discussion. The general tone of the debate was right-wing conservative, not even liberal conservative which, I suppose, should not have been all that surprising at a conference stocked by employees of Sandia Labs, Lawrence Livermore Labs, Los Alamos, the French atomic center at Saclay, the Bhabha Research Center in India, and institutions of a similar cast!

A dissident note was sounded when Rudolf Haag, University of Hamburg, expressed the opinion that the United States should not be placing Pershing and Cruise missiles on German soil.

He was followed by Vladimir Naroditsky, a Russian emigre mathematician in the Computer Science department of San Jose State University. Naroditsky spent some time trying to convince us that the whole issue of social responsibility was pointless, since the government of the Soviet Union was not civilized and therefore could not be dealt with by civilized means.

Seconding him in his bleak views was Henry Monteith, a black American physicist employed by Sandia Labs in New Mexico. Henry expounded the not unfamiliar thesis that Mankind has always been violent by nature. He was of the firm opinion that this hasn't changed since the age of the Neanderthal . Evidence for this elementary truth has emerged on a regular basis throughout human history: Attila, Tamurlane, Hitler, Stalin, etc. The list goes on and on.

The best one can ever hope for, therefore, is a balance of fear. The United States can only respond to the threat of total destruction from its enemies by amassing so much weaponry that they will be afraid to launch an attack.

It should not be imagined that there were no representatives of the Peace Movement present in the audience. There was, if no one else, Max Fuerer and a few of his friends. Fuerer was actually an interloper, with no knowledge whatsoever of physics. His sole institutional affiliation was with the Boulder Tenant's Union. He had come to the meeting only because I had mentioned it to him the night before at the Left Hand Bookstore.

Without even the credentials that gave him the right to be present, Max stood up time and again to exhort the scientific community to take positions on the Arms Race, the MX-missile, nuclear power and nuclear pollution, and to oppose the systematic misinformation coming from industry and the government.

At these words, a bold senior scientist from Lawrence Livermore Labs stood up and proclaimed "It is the scientist's job to produce correct information!" After he sat down, there were about 15 minutes of discussion on the lamentable state of public ignorance concerning scientists and their work. No one made any suggestions for improving it.

Now Henry Monteith's wife ,Joyce arose. Her first order of business was to tell the 3 student activists at the meeting that they were wasting their time by standing on picket lines. In some confusion, she went on to say that it was the scientists who were obliged to have a change of heart, and that they were the only ones with the responsibility or capability of initiating serious discussion. Her face was creased by lines of anxiety and strain, and one should not conclude that she was unconcerned.

Then someone made the trite comment that Einstein had sent his famous letter to Roosevelt, in which he asked him to begin a program for the atomic bomb, because of his belief that he was being socially responsible, Conclusion: maybe social responsibility among scientists was not a good thing !

Pavel Bona, the Czech delegate , raised his hand. Every society, he explained, has people whose are primarily motivated by the need for power. He suggested that any society truly concerned about human welfare should figure out a way to let these people fulfill their needs harmlessly without interfering with the happiness of the rest of us.

That was about it. My readers may forgive me if I confess that, in the process of transcribing these notes I had to restrain a growing sense of outrage. The whole experience, Looking back on it the experience was rather funny in a way; but there is nothing funny about the issues involved.

Evening, August 5th
Lounge of the Kittredge Conference Center

Joel Leibowitz opened his evening session at around 7:30 P.M. It lasted until 11 and would have gone on longer except that the staff needed to close the lounge before going home. The meeting began with a long presentation by Pierre Moussa, a physicist from Saclay, France, and one of the organizers of a group that monitors human rights violations against scientists in Latin America. Speaking of Argentina, he said that the situation had improved since 1981. Now, in 1983, when prominent scientists disappeared, they generally re-emerged again after a few months. The situation with respect to the entire country was still very grim: the number of disappeared had risen already to 20,000 and the dictatorship was still firmly entrenched. Dr. Moussa spoke favorably of the strategy of working through professional groups, even though they represented only a tiny minority of the population; their prestige could at times be effective in embarrassing the heads of government. At the very least it could bring some relief for persons in those professions. He advised sending letters of protest to the Argentina Physical Society.

The most prominent human rights case among Latin American scientists at that time was that of the famous Paraguayan mathematician, Masera. He had been in jail since 1975. The only charge against him was that of membership in the Communist party. It was known that he had been beaten and was living in degrading circumstances. His sight was poor and he suffered as well from various physical handicaps and ailments, being partly crippled with one leg shorter than the other. In closing, Moussa said that the newsletter of his group could be obtained by writing to Laurent Schwartz at the University of Paris.

His talk was followed by a short statement from the Italian mathematician Paola Cotta-Ramusino, who spoke about the situation of the jailed Italian mathematician , Loriano Bonona. The meeting was then turned over to Joel Leibowitz and the block of Russian emigré's.

Joel's concerns were limited to two groups of scientists living and working in the Soviet Union and experiencing difficulties with its government. The first consisted of the 50 or so persons who had organized the Helsinki Accords Watch Committee, signed by Russia in 1976. Most prominent among this group were Orlov and Sakharov. Every last member of that group had been expelled or jailed.

The second group were the "refuseniks", Jewish scientists who were being harassed because they had applied for emigration to Israel. In 1982, only 150 persons in this group had been allowed to leave, as opposed to 50,000 in 1979. Several hundred scientists were among those being denied the right of emigration. He encouraged scientists to go to Russia and visit the refuseniks. Since information of any sort was at a premium, dissidents had organized elaborate networks for its acquisition and diffusion. It was always difficult to know what was reliable and what was not , and visitors from the West were always very welcome if they could confirm or correct what was believed, or add new facts to the limited pool of data.

They also needed to disseminate their own information about conditions in Russia. They managed to keep doing research, often in secret. Entire science conferences were being held in private apartments. Minutes were kepy which sometimes made their way to the West.

Visitors could give direct assistance to scientists who had lost their jobs or been denied access to libraries and laboratories. There were many types of consumer item that blacklisted scientists could either use for themselves, or sell on the black market. Having lost their jobs and been denied further employment, they often suffered from severe economic hardship. They therefore needed basic things such as food, clothing or medicine.

The meeting then turned to the exceptional case of Andrei Sakharov. Many persons present praised Sakharov as a great scientist and as a human being of strong character. No other scientist was of comparable stature and his life was in danger. A motion was proposed that telegrams be sent from the Congress, one to Sakharov and the other to the Russian government, asking that he be allowed to enter a hospital. A professor Minchin told us that, although his health was poor, Sakharov, for fear of a raid upon his apartment by the KGB, carried 20 kilos of documents around with him when he went out into the streets. We also learned for the first time that Sakharov had relaxed his insistence that he be allowed to stay in Russia, and was now prepared to emigrate if a suitable offer arrived from the West.

The meeting concluded with a brain-storming session to cook up schemes that the ICMP might put into action on behalf of the refuseniks. Michel Lapidus, mathematician at USC, told us that when Vice President Bush visited Moscow the previous January, he had with him 8 job offers for refusenik scientists. Leibowitz read to us from a "model telegram" based on similar ones sent to Orlov and Sakharov from the American Physical Society. He wanted also to urge the ICMP to refuse to recognize any delegation from the Soviet Union other than ones that are specifically invited. The point was more than a little academic, since , this year at least, the Russians hadn't let anyone out to attend anyway.

At the impatient urging of the exhausted Kittredge Conference Center cleanup crew, the meeting was adjourned.

There was now no doubt in my mind that, whenever their own parochial interests were at stake, physicists could and did demonstrate a high degree of political effectiveness.

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