There’s an interesting article by Graham Farmelo in last week’s Nature, entitled Dirac’s Hidden Geometry. Most people think of Dirac as a brilliant algebraist, but he himself claimed that his motivations and way of thinking were much more geometrical than algebraic. Farmelo’s article contains an amusing account of how Roger Penrose tried to get Dirac to explain how projective geometry had influenced his work in quantum mechanics. Dirac gave a talk about this at Boston University in 1972, but, after giving a presentation about projective geometry, stopped before explaining the relation to quantum mechanics. Penrose, the moderator, asked Dirac about the relation to quantum mechanics, and in answer “Dirac gave his trademark shake of the head, and declined to speak.”
Several historians of science have tried to figure out what Dirac’s geometrical motivations were. This question is dealt with in Olivier Darrigol’s very interesting book (which is now available on-line) From c-numbers to q-numbers: The Classical Analogy in the History of Quantum Theory. The material about Dirac and projective geometry is in chapter XI. On the same topic, there’s also an article by Peter Galison published in 2000 in the journal Representations, entitled The Suppressed Drawing: Paul Dirac’s Hidden Geometry.
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