武夷山分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/Wuyishan 中国科学技术发展战略研究院研究员;南京大学信息管理系博导

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Nature一篇文章引发的译文、读者来信和后续文章

已有 1501 次阅读 2020-5-4 07:28 |个人分类:他山之石|系统分类:观点评述

Nature一篇文章引发的译文、读者来信和后续文章

武夷山

 

    《科技日报》2001年2月23日发表了我的短文“科学家的摇篮――布达佩斯”(http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1557-895443.html),该文是根据2001年1月4日出版的《自然》杂志上的一篇短文“Genius loci”(天才聚集地)及其他资料编译的,当时我并没有留意此文作者是谁。

    2020年5月3日,我重新搜索出原文,才注意到作者是捷克裔加拿大学者、加拿大曼尼托巴大学的杰出教授瓦茨拉夫·斯米尔Vaclav Smil)。我在2020年3月19日《中国科学报》上还简介了他的著作《增长之后是什么》(http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1557-1224227.html)。

    由于我对“天才集聚地”一文印象太深,在编译文章发表于《科技日报》之后,我还给《自然》杂志写了以下的信,希望能发表于该刊的Letters(读者来信)栏目,但未获得编辑部的任何反馈。

 

Sir—Your short article “Genius loci” (Nature 409, January 4, 2001) is very enlightening. I have selectively translated it and the translation was already published in February 23, 2001 issue of Science and Technology Daily, one of China’s nationally circulating newspapers. The reason I did the translation is that nowadays a lot of Chinese are eagerly hoping to have scientists from the People’s republic China to win Nobel science prizes as early as possible, but they generally fail to think hard on why China’s record in winning Nobel prize has been so poor. Many of them seem blindly optimistic about the prospect that China will obtain the prize in the near future. Even Prof. Lu Yongxiang, President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, also said last December that China could achieve major scientific accomplishments at Nobel prize caliber within two or three decades.

So far there are only 6 Nobel laureates with Chinese blood, but P. R. China, as most populous country in the world, has not produced any one yet, which forms a sharp contrast with Hungary, which has contributed 10 Nobel prize winners to the world. It is not strange because China today to a large extent still lacks of the two factors that John von Neumann believed help Budapest become a cradle for great scientists—“multicultural background and external pressure”. However, as China continues its policy of reform and opening to the outside world and transforms itself into a mature market economy, which will be a prolonged process, the Chinese people will possess more diversified cultures and language skills, and the virtuous competition within the scientific community will upgrade the average capability of China’s scientific contingent. At that time, China should not be deficient of Nobel prize winners.

 

Wu Yishan  

Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC)

15 Fuxinglu

Beijing 100038, China

 

    未获反馈没关系,将此信放在这里,立此存照。

    由于我对《自然》这篇文章的印象太深,2007年,我又发表了题为“杰出的匈牙利科学家群”的文章,见http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1557-2106.html

    就这样,一篇原文触发了两篇中文短文章和一封英文信。

   

   下面附上这篇对我有特殊意义的文章的原文Genius Loci(https://www.nature.com/articles/35051162)。

 

Genius Loci

 

The twentieth century was made in Budapest.

The ancient Romans had a term for it — genius loci — and history is not short of astounding, seemingly inexplicable concatenations of creative talent. Florence in the first decade of the sixteenth century is perhaps the unmatched example: anyone idling on the Piazza della Signoria for a few days could have bumped into Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Botticelli. Other well-known efflorescences of artistic creativity include Joseph II's Vienna in the 1780s, where one could have met C. W. Gluck, Haydn and Mozart in the same room. Or, eleven decades later, in fin de siècle Paris one could read the most recent instalment of émile Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, before seeing Claude Monet's latest canvases from Giverny, and then strolling along to a performance of Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune in the evening.

 

But it is not just today's young adults — who probably view Silicon Valley as the centre of the creative world — who would be unaware that an improbable number of scientific greats were born in Budapest in the decade between 1898 and 1908. Between them, this group were responsible for some of the twentieth century's most decisive scientific advances and, consequently, some of its fundamental strategic and political transformations.

 

Leo Szilard, a physicist who both studied and worked with Einstein and who, together with Enrico Fermi, patented the first nuclear fission reactor, was born there in 1898. In the summer of 1939, Szilard and Eugene Wigner, born in the city in 1902, persuaded Einstein to sign the famous letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that led to the Manhattan Project. Dennis Gabor, whose research ranged from pioneering work in holography to nuclear fusion, was born in 1900, and John von Neumann three years later.

 

Von Neumann's prodigious feats of problem-solving during the Second World War — prefigured by his ability to divide eight-digit numbers in his head at the age of six — have been overshadowed by his postwar conception of the stored computer program, the prototypical architecture of modern computers (although when told in 1954 of the idea for FORTRAN, he asked: “Why would you want more than machine language?”).

 

Edward Teller, born in 1908, is the only living member of this group. His fame will always rest on his contribution to the design of America's first thermonuclear weapon, and on his later advocacy of antiballistic missile defences.

 

By pushing the time frame back a bit, and by admitting bright intellects from beyond physics, the Budapest circle must be enlarged — to mention just its most prominent overachievers — by Theodore von Kármán (1881–1963), a pioneer in aerodynamics and aeronautics whose studies of fluid flows helped to open the era of fast subsonic and supersonic flight; by Albert Szent-Györgi (1893–1986), who, after isolating ascorbic acid (for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for 1937), went on to identify actin and myosin, the proteins responsible for muscle contraction; by Michael Polanyi (1891–1976), who was not just an outstanding physical chemist but also an accomplished economist and philosopher; and by Arthur Koestler (1905–83), a brilliant writer and one of the most incisive chroniclers of the great political and scientific upheavals of the twentieth century.

 

Besides their birthplace, these men had a number of other things in common. Most of them came from the city's German-speaking Jewish families, but Szent-Györgi was born to a rich land-owning family and Gabor's father was the director of a mining company. All of them left their birthplace to attend university either in Germany (mostly Berlin and Karlsruhe) or at Zurich's ETH. And all of them ended up either in the United States or the United Kingdom.

 

But the differences among them are no less remarkable. Three of the group — Szent-Györgi in 1937, Wigner in 1963 and Gabor in 1971 — got Nobel prizes. Szilard, with his myriad of interests, never settled in one place, and his fundamental contributions to modern science are not generally appreciated. Von Kármán, von Neumann and Teller contributed much to the United States' rise to postwar strategic dominance.

 

No single fact can explain this phenomenon. Budapest was not the only city in the Austro-Hungarian empire brimming with creativity at this time. In the decade before the First World War, intellects such as Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler and the physicist Ernst Mach worked in Vienna. Meanwhile, Franz Kafka, the painter Alfons Mucha and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke were in Prague, where, in 1911–12, Einstein was developing his general theory of relativity. A number of factors that von Neumann identified as being behind the Budapest phenomenon were present in the other two cities: a multicultural environment, external pressure to succeed, "a feeling of extreme insecurity in the individuals, and the necessity to produce the unusual or else face extinction". But, in the end, only the Budapest group made such an improbable — and incomparable — mark on history.


Author information

Affiliations

  1. University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, R3T 2N2,      Manitoba, Canada

    • Vaclav Smil

 




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