Steve Miller pointed me to a fascinating interview with Jim Simons and C. N. Yang, available on YouTube here.
Simons tells the story of how he got kicked out of his job at the IDA in 1968 over his opposition to the Vietnam War, and ended up at Stony Brook as chair of the math department there. He and Yang collaborated on raising money to support anti-war efforts.
They describe how Yang went to Simons to try and find out about fiber bundles and what they might have to do with gauge theory. Simons started by referring Yang to Steenrod’s The Topology of Fibre Bundles, which Yang couldn’t make any sense of (Simons admits he never made it all the way through the book himself). This did in the end lead Simons and Yang to some real understanding of how vector potentials in gauge theory and connections on bundles were the same thing, with monopoles examples of topologically non-trivial bundles. Simons lectured at Stony Brook in 1975 on this, and a paper later that year by Wu and Yang included what became known as the “Wu-Yang dictionary” relating terminology in gauge theory and geometry. Singer learned about this soon thereafter when he visited Stony Brook, and went on to spread the news to Oxford, MIT and elsewhere.
Simons also describes what is going on with plans for the new Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, including some of the thinking that led him to decide to support this. The official ground-breaking ceremony for the new building there was held last week, you can follow construction progress here.
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Well, it might have been different in 1968, but certain recent comments by C.N. Yang on what a great achievement of “Chinese science” the mainland chinese development of the atomic bomb actually was let me doubt that Mr. Yang always was a genuine pacifist…
I have no idea what statement of Yang you allude to, or what his opinions are about nuclear weapons, either US or Chinese. What was discussed in the interview was not pacifism, but opposition to the Vietnam war in the late 1960s. Simons explicitly says that he is not a pacifist, would have supported the involvement of the US in WWII. I assumed the same of Yang, but don’t know anything about his views on this, or on politics in general.
The comments of Yang are to be found here in English language:
I have to say that I read an even stronger statement in chinese language somewhere at some news portal, but I cant find this statement right now. Now since the People newspaper is the official mouthpiece of the CCP, I can not guarantee that the atomic bomb was not added to the there-presented list due to a suggestion of the editor or who-knows whom, just to show the necessary amount of patriotism. The chinese are generally very proud of being a nuclear power. However, if he really thinks himself that developing weapons of mass destruction is a great achievement of science and technology, in my mind his moral integrity as a scientist has to be questioned. After all, it would probably have been better if nobody had invented those things. But maybe it was just a mis-represented statement of an old man, who knows.
It seems to me that Yang was just noting that development of nuclear weapons requires some significant scientific and technical expertise, while making no comment about the morality of such weapons. He could be dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons or support their development, I don’t see anything he had to say addressing this.
Again, I don’t know what his political views are, and get the impression that, whatever they are, he tends to keep them to himself. The Vietnam War story surprised me a bit, but then the late 60s were an unusual time. The issue of the war was tearing the US apart, and it would have been difficult to not take a position on it.
The interview is indeed fascinating. Thanks for the link, Peter.