Posted April 10, 2002: Beautiful opinions about Mind:
Happenstance and Old Nassau's saga
By Brad Bradford 44
"Princeton in the Nations Service" comes brilliantly
into focus on pages 51 to 55 of Sylvia Nasars John Nash biography,
A Beautiful Mind genesis of the Oscar-winning movie.
She not only put to right a long-held misconception of mine but
also dragged me back six decades to Fine Hall and a puzzling sophomore
physics class. Nasar emphasizes the role of happenstance in this
historic Princeton drama, beginning with Princeton President Woodrow
Wilsons "friendly gesture." Wilson overrides his
distaste for things scientific to heed mathematician Henry Fines
request that he hire "a few scientists." His best friend
then recruits a number of top-notch scientists to teach graduate
students and ignores undergraduate complaints about "brilliant
but unintelligible lecturers with foreign accents." Erection
of Fine Hall in 1921 gives Princeton what was then described as
"the most luxurious building ever devoted to mathematics,"
with carved paneling studies for senior professors, lavatory reading
lights, and a locker room with showers for those who might want
a game of tennis on the courts next door.
Fines nucleus of researchers might have scattered after his
1928 death in a cycling accident on Nassau Street, but for the Rockefeller
Foundation, which had been financing American graduate studies in
Europe. The foundation decides that "instead of sending Mohamet
to the Mountain, it would fetch the Mountain here." So it finances
extravagant scholarships at Princeton and two other American universities
to import research professors from the Europes scientific
Finally, the Newark department store Bamberger siblings sell their
stock market holdings just before the 29 crash and search
for a way to express their gratitude to the state of New Jersey.
A physician friend, Dr. Abraham Flexner, convinces them to drop
their idea of a dental school and use their $25 million to found
a first-rate mathematical research institution with no teachers,
students, or classes.
In its beginning, the resulting Institute for Advanced Study shares
those deluxe Fine Hall quarters with the universitys scientists.
That creates a bond which continues long after it moves in 1939
to its Fuld Hall. That bond makes it easier for the university to
attract the most brilliant students and faculty even as its active
mathematics department serves as a magnet for those visiting or
working permanently at the Institute.
o What if Henry Fine had not been Wilsons best friend?
o What if the University had not financed Fine Hall?
o What if the Rockefeller Foundation had continued sending students
o What if the Bambergers had founded a dental school?
The consequences for Princeton would have been huge in each case,
but what about this nation and the world?
Would we have won the atomic bomb race without the grouping of those
many Nobel scientists in Princeton?
Back to my personal recollections.
First, my misconception, I had long prided myself in knowing that
the Institute for Advanced Study had no official connection with
our university. As far as I was concerned, it was happenstance that
it was located in the same small town.
Until reading A BEAUTIFUL MIND I had no idea of the very close relationship
between the Institute and the University. Nasar describes perhaps
the best example of this as follows:
"Tea was the high point of every day. It was held in Fine Hall
between three and four ... More often than not, a few visitors,
often from the Institute for Advanced Study, would turn up as well."
And now back to the spring of 1942 near the end of a Physics 201
class in Fine Hall. The lecturer introduced Henry deWolf Smyth "who
has a few words for you."
Dr. Smyth announced that any of us who wished to avoid being drafted
into the military had only to major in physics or math. It wasnt
until his official history of the atomic bomb came out after the
war that I realized what a great man had addressed us and why he
had said what he did. A cursory check just now through my Class
of 1944 publications indicates that 10 classmates majored in physics
and two in math. Out of that dozen, two sons of Army colonels and
three others served in the military.