Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

“A Liking for the Truth: Truth and Controversy in the Work of Linus Pauling.”

February 28, 2001

Video: “An American in Munich: Truth and Controversy in the Life and Work of Linus Pauling during the Golden Years of Physics” Robert Paradowski

56:19 - Abstract | Biography | More Videos from Session 2


Steve Lawson: Good afternoon. Dr. Robert Paradowski. Bob got his master's degree in chemistry from Brandeis University and his Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin. His academic career began with a position as assistant professor at Brooklyn College. He followed that with an assistant professorship at Eisenhower College, where he held, as he told me, the alchemist position, which was teaching physical science and the history of science together.

He spent two stints at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in California as a visiting professor, collecting research material on Linus Pauling. And he has been at Rochester Institute of Technology since 1980, most recently as a Full Professor of Science, Technology and Society. He's the recipient of several fellowships from the National Science Foundation and many faculty awards at RIT, and has published nearly 200 papers on important figures in science, including Linus Pauling, Dalton, Szent-Györgi, Einstein, Stephen Jay Gould, Buckminster Fuller, and Kepler. And also figures in science fiction, which quite surprised me, including Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

He's contributed to the Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists, the Encyclopedia of World Authors, The Great Scientists, Academic American Encyclopedia, The Nobel Prize Winners, and others scholarly series. He's also Linus Pauling's official biographer and his next book will be on the alpha helix.

This afternoon he will discuss some of the private controversies, including some scandals, I hear, in Pauling's early career and his presentation is entitled "An American in Munich: Truth and Controversy in the Life and Work of Linus Pauling During the Golden Years of Physics (1926-1927)."

Robert Paradowski: I have an epigraph before I start showing my slides. This is from Robert Oppenheimer and he's speaking about the same period that I'll be speaking about 1926-1927, the birth of quantum mechanics. "For those who participated it was a time of creation; there was terror as well as exaltation in their new insight. It will probably not be recorded very completely as history." Well, I've got a shelf of books on quantum mechanics, the history of quantum mechanics. "As history, its re-creation would call for an art as high as the story of Oedipus or the story of Cromwell, yet in a realm of action so remote from our common experience that it is unlikely to be known to any poet or any historian."

But I still...Oppenheimer and I have a slide of J. Robert Oppenheimer, can we see that? Now, one reason I put this up is because Oppenheimer and the Paulings were good friends in Europe, they met there. But Oppenheimer had a rough time in 1926-27. He was suicidal, almost committed suicide, and he almost committed murder by going after Francis Fergusson and choking him nearly to death. So, there's a new book out called What If?, where prominent historians are asked well, what would history have been like if something different had happened. So I often thought if Oppenheimer had succeeded in murdering Francis Fergusson, he wouldn't have been the head of the atomic bomb project, certainly.

And this reminds me of a controversy that I'm not going to be getting into, but later on Oppenheimer took a liking to Ava Helen Pauling and it caused a cooling of the relationship between Linus and J. Robert Oppenheimer. And I once asked Linus about it, whether she was in love with him or anything and he said "No, she wasn't in love with him but she was in love the idea that he was taking an interest in her."

This is the Panthéon in Paris; I actually visited it after I gave a talk, I took Linus Pauling's place at a conference in Valencia, Spain on vitamin C and the orange. And so I went back and this is a centennial and centennial celebrations are actually a rather recent phenomenon in history. The French revolutionaries decided to change things and instead of honoring kings and saints and bishops and things like that, they decided to honor great men. And Pauling was very sympathetic to the ideals of the French Enlightenment.

And when I visited this place, I saw the controversies and there's a recent issue of Osiris on commemoration and the controversies associated with commemorations because this kept turning back and forth. There was a cross on top of it when it was Sainte-Geneviève, then when it was a secular shrine there was a picture of Lady Liberty on top, then it went back to a cross again, and then to a statue of Lady Liberty, and back and forth, and back and forth. When I visited it, there was a sign there, "Votre Panthéon a malade" and it was sick, it was a sick building, it was falling apart but I went down and visited Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and just recently there was a controversy about putting Madame Curie there and eventually they decided to let her rest in the, what's been called the Westminster Abbey of Paris. But, commemorating people and the way historians deal with these great names are two different things and that's gonna be one of the themes of my talk. [5:56]

So, I thought I'd look, since I'm a historian of science, at some controversies in the history of science. So here's Galileo and his controversy with the Roman Catholic church is rather famous. There's an interesting book that's on the bestseller's list now, I've read it, by Dava Sobel, dealing with the letters he wrote to one of his illegitimate daughters who was a nun, very intelligent woman, and it really shows another side of Galileo. I didn't realize how good of a Roman Catholic he was, he was deeply believing, as well as a great physicist.

Here's another person who was engaged in great controversies, this is Sir Isaac Newton. And he was a person who was controversy adverse; he didn't like getting into controversies. And in this way he was similar to Linus Pauling because I asked Linus Pauling if he enjoyed controversies and he did not. And Newton went to all sorts of lengths to try to avoid controversies, with Robert Hook for example. He didn't publish The Optics until after Hook died because he just didn't want to have to deal with Hook's criticisms. And his controversy with Godfrey William Von Leibnitz over the invention of the calculus is also well known. And Newton dealt with that controversy in an interesting way, he stacked the committee of the Royal Society so that they would say that he was the true inventor of the calculus. So, that's one way of dealing with controversy.

This is a very famous painting of William Blake's and it's of Sir Isaac Newton. And I'm teaching in a liberal arts college and we deal with these issues, why did Blake have such a hatred toward Newton? And it's because he restricted the human imagination - he said that Newton constricted the heart of humankind, made people into machines, measured everything in terms of numbers, and was leaving out a great deal that makes us human. And that's going to be one of the things I'll be dealing with.

This is another famous painting of Blake's and you can see that he was a believer in the Creator God and he admired creativity, not just scientific creativity, but creativity in the arts.

And this is another fellow who was controversy adverse, didn't like controversy. This was Charles Darwin. He discovered natural selection in 1838 but didn't publish it until 1858, so he sat on this idea for twenty years and why? Well, part of the reason was he didn't like controversy.

Well, I don't like controversy either. That's what made me uneasy about giving this talk because I'm going to be dealing with some controversial things, and when you deal with controversial things, you upset people. And when people get upset with me, I don't like it and Darwin didn't like it either. And there's a personal aspect too.

This is his wife, Emma Wedgwood, and she was a deeply-believing Christian. And she was sympathetic to his conscientious approach to science, she sympathized with that, but like Blake she felt that this wasn't the whole story, she felt that there was a lot more to life than just what her Charlie was discovering in terms of science. And she wrote a beautiful letter to him that she was afraid he was going to go to Hell and she felt she was going to Heaven and that they would be separated for eternity. And the letter was so beautiful it made Charles Darwin cry and he kept this letter for the rest of his life. I tell my students about this because they are rather skeptical about people who really want to love each other for eternity so I give this as an example. But this is another reason he didn't publish because he didn't want to upset his wife. And by the way, sometimes we'll see Linus didn't do things because he didn't want to upset Ava Helen and vice versa. [10:11]

This is another famous controversy in the history of science, this is the discovery of insulin which took place at the University of Toronto. A very dramatic discovery because these comatose diabetics would dramatically resuscitate and it was a wonderful discovery but it got into a great deal of controversy, both public and private. The private controversy almost resulted in physical violence again, where [Frederick] Banting and this fellow down here, [James] Collip, I think his name is, got into a fight over the purified extract that was being used. And when the Nobel Prize was granted, then the controversy became public because [J. J. R.] MacLeod and Banting were given the Nobel award and Banting and [Charles] Best were the people who did most of the work with the dogs and so on, and MacLeod just raised the money and provided the laboratory space. But then Banting gave part of the prize to Best and so MacLeod gave part of the money to his associates.

So, I've got a cartoon here that shows you scientists bopping each other. So, this is, this is one way of solving scientific controversies: "You want proof?! I'll give you proof!" So, tha-, by the way, Sidney Harris was a friend of Linus's and he wrote the forward to one of Sidney Harris's collections of cartoons.

And this is a recent controversy in science over sociobiology and E. O. Wilson was giving a talk, similar to what I'm giving right now. And because sociobiology, when it's applied to humans, is so controversial - feminists were in the audience and one of the women got up and poured water all over his head and said, "You're all wet, Mr. Wilson."

So...Now, in dealing with controversies, I want to point out it's not always so simple to tell the truth. And Henrik Ibsen, who told the truth in a lot of his plays about all sorts of controversial things, such as feminism and so on, wrote a play called "The Wild Duck," and here's a view from one of the Scandinavian productions of the play. And one of the characters in the play is very idealistic and says that "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free and I'm going to come here and tell you the truth about everything," and it turns out that in this family there's a questionable parentage for the young girl, Hedvig, her name is, and he comes in and starts telling the truth about the family, and the end result is this little girl, who has made a pet of a wild duck who was wounded and becomes closely identified with the duck. And so they want her to kill the duck as example of her realization of the truth of things, but she ends up committing suicide. So this shows you that telling the truth isn't always the most human thing to do.

There have been movies, I think I remember one, "Absence of Malice," where a reporter is going to tell the truth, and Paul Newman is one of the people in this movie, and it turns out when the reporter tells the truth in the story it ends up with the suicide of one of the characters. So sometimes the truth is a double-edge sword and very dangerous so that's why we get into these various controversies. [13:51]

So I'm going to spend most of my time talking about some of these controversies in Pauling's life from the period 1926-1927. So the first controversy deals with the beginnings of the trip and there was a controversy here over what was to become of Linus Pauling, Jr., who's in the audience here, so he'll probably have some insight into this later on. But I'll tell you about the controversy from the papers because if we look at the papers we see that Linus Pauling assumed that he and Ava Helen would take Linie on the trip with them and he began planning it. You can see it in the records - he was, baby bed, more money for food, and this, that, or the other thing, so he was making plans for Linie to go along with them.

Behind his back, Ava Helen was making plans with Nora Gard Miller, her mother, to care for Linus while they were in Europe during the Guggenheim Fellowship. So when Linus first heard about this, he was opposed to it because he wanted Linus Pauling, Jr. to go along with them, but she argued with him and eventually he gave in. But even when they went north to Oregon to leave off Linie and to visit his mother, he was still having doubts because Nora Gard Miller was trying to assuage his concerns, so we know that this was a problem even there.

Now in terms of other family members, I've interviewed a lot of the people, and Goldie, the sister of Belle Pauling, she was terribly opposed to this thought that it was a bad thing and other relatives as well. So it was a controversy within the family, whether Ava Helen was being a good mother. How can a young mother leave her almost one year old child behind for a year and a half? That was the controversy. Well, eventually Linus gave in and the child was left behind.

And now I get into the controversy of interviewing her, people to see whether any harm was done in doing this. And against my background of history of science, I know that Newton, who was left behind when his mother married a minister, Barnabus Smith, was furious with his mother for abandoning him and a lot of psychologists have felt that this was a formative influence in Newton's life. So I was curious about this, so I asked Linus Pauling, Jr. in my interview with him and he felt that no harm was done, that he felt that his, he was cared for very well by Nora Gard Miller and when the parents returned, they just picked up where they had left off.

But then, after I interviewed other people, Peter Pauling for example, I think that Linus, Jr. did suffer from his being left behind for 18 months and Crellin Pauling also felt that this was part of the emotional crippling of the children, the pattern that was set up by the father and mother, where his work was central and that she would make the decision of whether to go along on his trips or not but everything revolved around him and his work, and the children were secondary. So this is the controversy I face because this a controversy about parenthood, when do we say that people are good or bad parents?

Well, my own point of view was, I thought, what are they complaining about? They had, they're well provided for, look at all the books they have, all the wonderful people coming through their family, what are they complaining about? But as I thought about it, there are all sorts of criteria for judging whether people are good or bad parents or not, and one is love and attention, love and affection, and that's one of the things that Pauling was criticized for by some of his children. So this is a controversial area.

Another person I interviewed was Alfred Mirsky, who got to know the family in the 1930s, and I'll read you a quote from my interview with him, "Linus is not as good a father as he thinks he is, but he is not as bad a father as the children thinks he is." So you're laughing and when I told that to Linus, he laughed but nervously. And then a few days later, I got a call from Linda and she was saying "What did you say to my father?" Why? "He thinks you're saying that he was a bad father." And I said, no, I, I just read him this quote from Alfred Mirsky, I'm still trying to find out whether he's a good or bad father. So this is the participant biographer - when you're involved with trying to investigate these things and they're very controversial issues and people are very sensitive and their feelings are involved. Well, you can see how these controversies develop. [19:13]

Now another, well I'll get to this later on. I want to say one more thing about the trip's beginning and this is the illness of the mother. Linus Pauling's mother, Belle Pauling, was extremely ill with pernicious anemia, they didn't know much about the disease at the time and this was another controversy, whether they should leave and go to Europe as scheduled or whether they should stay behind to care for his mother to see whether her health would improve or not. And so there was a debate that went on over this particular issue. As the oldest male child he had the responsibility to care for his mother, so he talked to the doctor, he talked to his mother and came to a decision because the doctor said that her illness is variable, sometimes she gets a little better, sometimes a little worse, we don't know what the future is going to hold. And her, and his mother himself, herself wanted him to leave. So on the basis of the doctor's advice and his mother, they did leave.

So, and there's another problem with regard to the, Pauline was visiting to say good bye to her brother and Lucille was there helping to care for her mother with Goldie, her sister, and Ava Helen told Lucille that she didn't want Linus disturbed by bad news from home. And Lucille felt very bad about that, and so she really didn't write very much to Linus while he was in Europe and we'll see that leads to another problem.

But they did leave and one of their first stops was Chicago. So this is State Street in Chicago when they were visiting there. Here's another view, this is the Chicago River. And this is Grant Park.

And this is the person they were going to meet, the only time that Linus ever met his father-in-law. This was another controversy in the family - I didn't realize this when I interviewed Ava Helen and Linus about this. They told me that they had divorced and George Miller had gone to Chicago and so Nora still had his address and occasionally wrote to him. And so Ava Helen hadn't seen her father for a long time, wanted to meet him and so this is the only time that Linus met his father-in-law.

And, as has been mentioned, Ava Helen's family was politically liberal. Here's a rather poor picture of George Miller. He was a socialist and well-read in lots of literature, not only political but classical literature as well - this is according to Ava Helen. And so, Linus and Ava Helen tried to find the rooming house where he was staying and when they got there they got no answer. There was a several hour layover before they had to catch the train moving east, so they left a note on his door where they would be, the Pullman car they would be in, and so they returned to the train station. And just 15 or 20 minutes before the train left, he showed up and began to talk to Linus and Ava Helen for the first time.

And one of the things that they were concerned with, in fact, the whole trip, this was one of the controversial public things going on in the world in 1926-1927. When I told my students I would be talking about [Nicola] Sacco and [Bartolomeo] Vanzetti, they asked "who?" No one had heard of Sacco and Vanzetti, so perhaps I should say something about this famous case. These two Italian immigrants were anarchists and they were accused of a crime of murdering a paymaster and his assistant in South Braintree, Massachusetts. But it became a cause célèbre when people claimed that they were being railroaded because of their political views, or their immigrant status, or one thing or another. And this is a Ben Shahn drawing and he was on the political left. And Ava Helen because of her, the influence of her father was very passionately concerned with this case. And Linus, on the other hand, followed.

Because of the controversy they decided to have a separate study done by [A. Lawrence] Lowell who was president of Harvard University, [Samuel W.] Stratton who was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a distinguished judge [Robert Grant]. So they went over all the evidence and after they had examined all the evidence, they claimed that Sacco and Vanzetti had been given a fair trial and that they should be executed. So all this was going on in 1926-27. Eventually, in August, they were executed. And this is another painting by Ben Shahn, you see Sacco and Vanzetti in their caskets and there are the members of the committee and you can tell it's a very sarcastic painting because Ben Shahn didn't believe that they had been given a fair hearing.

Fifty years later, Lowell's papers were made public - there was a 50 year hold on them - and it does seem that there was no conspiracy, that the committee genuinely felt that they were guilty. When I went to the library there's a whole shelf of books on Sacco and Vanzetti, some of them claiming that they were innocent, some of them claiming that they were guilty. Interestingly, the shelf underneath was the O.J. Simpson case, so that's another big case that's been going on.

But I used this to show that Ava Helen and Linus were different politically. Because she told me that she tried to get him to her side, she wanted him to write, she wanted him to do something to protest what was going on. She felt that an injustice was being done to these politically active Italian immigrants. And Pauling said, look it, you have a distinguished president of Harvard, you have a distinguished president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so he went along with the academic establishment. And so they disagreed over this very famous controversial case. [25:48]

Now this is the Duilio that they sailed to Europe on, an Italian steamer. When I wrote about this in my first volume, I didn't think it was controversial, but as soon as they got outside the limits of the United States, it was the Prohibition period and so they had some wine, but for some reason Linus objected to that. Later on in Italy, they had Lacrimi Christi in Naples, and Frascati in Rome, and beer in Munich, so they did take advantage of other countries who were not in the Prohibition state.

They went across the Atlantic, they - I'm not going to turn this into a travelogue - but they landed in Gibraltar, made several other stops, and then went to southern Italy and now here they are at the temples at Paestum, these Greek temples. Although I remember my first interview with Linus, he called them Roman temples and I was afraid to correct him because I didn't know how he would react to corrections. So that shows you controversy, I'm controversy adverse. I didn't wanna to correct him because every so often when I would correct a teacher as an undergraduate, they would get angry with me. So, here's Linus at these Greek temples at Paestum. Now, I thought I'd use this, here's Ava Helen Pauling in Rome, and here are some of the scenes in Rome.

And here's another controversial issue because in looking through Ava Helen's diary, I noticed that there was an anti-Catholicism that surfaced and so I decided to look into the anti-Catholicism of both Ava Helen and Linus. Now, in growing up in Condon, the Catholics were sort of a ghetto there. They were mainly immigrants and they obeyed their priests and so people had, people like the Paulings, had a rather negative attitude toward them. And he didn't have any Roman Catholic friends in Condon, nor later on in Ore-, Portland so he absorbed a lot of the anti-Catholicism because he was interested in Lutheranism for a while, because his grandmother had Lutheran ministers come in. And so he was familiar with Luther's attacks on the church.

So you can tell from her diary entries that she was not too favorable, for example there was a priest on the ship who she claimed drank too much and was not very pleasant, "Jesus Christ wouldn't have liked him" as she put it. And later on in Rome she thought that there was a lot of beauty here, obviously, but from a wicked institution - that's a term she used, "a very wicked institution." And here's another picture of Rome.

And this is "The Last Judgment" of Michelangelo. This was before, this was the one that they saw, it's been cleaned recently. And she objected to some of the fig leaves and so on that were put on there, and Pope John Paul II obviously agreed with her because he had them removed in the, in this painting. But I asked Linus about religion, Roman Catholicism and so on, and he said he agreed with Voltaire - what is it? - Écrasez l'infâme, "extinguish the infamous thing."

So he believed that, and this surprised me because I asked him, well you wouldn't want to live in a religionless world and he said "oh certainly, I want people to be like I am, I'm an atheist and I would like to live in an atheist world." So he felt that religion was something of an illusion, it just agreed, he was a scientistic scientist, I say, he was a reductionist, he believed in that and I don't think he appreciated, as I told you with Blake, that there were other ways of looking at the world and beautiful art could come of it. He wasn't too impressed by this art. In fact, he was getting rather antsy by this time to get back to mathematics and crystallography and wave mechanics and so on.

So they did do the tour, they did look at some of these things, like the Pietà here. But this is another, this is a German cartoonist, Grosche his name is, and this portrays probably some of Ava Helen and Linus Pauling's sympathies toward the Germans who were rather critical of the church and the establishment at that time.

And later on, of course, and this is, was mentioned by Tom, Louis Budenz was at Fordham University, was a Catholic; Joseph McCarthy was a Catholic; William F. Buckley, Jr. was a Catholic - so he had some bad run-ins with Catholics. So his opinion of Catholics didn't very change much in later years. But we do have Rick Hicks in the audience, who's a graduate of Notre Dame, so he wasn't antagonistic towards all Roman Catholics, Linus Pauling. [31:13]

But now I want to talk about the subject in my title, that is an American in Munich, because another controversy was this conflict between an American and the German system of education, and this was Pauling's first encounter with this different type of educational system. Now, the focus here was - and the University of Munich had been in existence for over 450 years and a lot of wonderful work had been done there, Max von Laue discovered x-ray diffraction for example and Röntgen was in charge of the institute for experimental physics, Paul von Groth was in charge of the chemical crystallography and so on, and Sommerfeld was, of course, in charge of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. And it was a very competitive atmosphere where mediocrity was looked down upon, and every effort was made to be excellent, and Pauling was very sympathetic to that. He loved that emphasis on doing things in the proper way, and he felt that the Germans actually had a better educational system than America, at least in terms of the way they train their very best. And he began to find that people were much more talented than he was. Here he is in Munich. And I have another picture of him in Munich there.

And one of the things he wasn't really aware of, they knew about Hitler and they thought that Nazism was a passing thing, that Hitler had been put into jail. But he wasn't sensitive to the anti-Semitism at the University of Munich, because there had been people who had left because of the anti-Semitism, Elsasser for example went to Göttingen rather than remain at Munich because of its anti-Semitism, and Willstätter left because of the anti-Semitism. And Pauling met his daughter, so he was aware that there had been some anti-Semitism at the University of Munich, but he didn't pay much attention to it, he wasn't as politically active as he would be later on.

And these are some cartoons to show you the atmosphere. In Weimar there was a huge inflation and so there was still a lot of problems in Weimar Germany, still a lot of poverty, although things were getting a little bit better by the time Pauling was there.

This is Ava Helen with Arnold Sommerfeld. He was very good to them. He gave them into the care of some Americans, the Gilleuman [?] brothers, who found them a place to stay. And she wanted something to do during the days while Linus was at the Institute working in quantum mechanics, so he helped her get a piano so she could practice her German and practice her piano day by day. [34:22]

And even though I'm dealing with controversies, you shouldn't get the feeling that this period from 1926-27 was full of controversies, because when I went through the papers in preparation for this lecture, most of them were quantum mechanical calculations. So day by day by, this is what Linus was doing. But as I say the talk is suppose to be about truth and controversies, so I am emphasizing the controversies.

This is Sommerfeld later on when he visited the Paulings in California.

Let me say a little more about the contrast between the American university system and the German university system, because a number of Americans visiting Europe noticed that the Europeans were contemptuous of American science. The Physical Review wasn't obtained on a daily basis - some universities would order it only at the end of the year so they wouldn't have to pay extra postage. And some universities would refuse to subscribe to the Journal of the American Chemical Society because they felt there was nothing worthwhile being published there. So there was this attitude of America still being a backwater in science.

And Pauling too told me - well there were several interviews over the course of many years that I knew him and there was a difference about how he reacted - but once he told me that his initial months in Munich were a period of great depression for him. Another time he said, "well, I was mildly depressed," and another time he said, "well, I was very discouraged." And so I asked him what was the reason for this? Was it because of culture shock because neither he nor Ava Helen knew German very well and they were away from home, away from their friends? Perhaps it was the culture shock? And he said no, the reason he was so depressed was because this was the first time in his life that he met a lot of physicists and other scientists who were a lot smarter than he was and he found it hard adjusting to that. And when you think of it, it's true because here in Oregon, he always was superior to his fellow students, at least in the courses that he wanted to - he certainly wasn't superior in gym and track - but when he had a course that he enjoyed he certainly was superior to other people. And so this was the first time in his life that he came into contact with people like Werner Heisenberg, who was younger than he was and had already done his famous work on matrix mechanics. So this was a brilliant piece of work, no doubt about it, we recognize it even today.

And Wolfgang Pauli, I'll show you a picture here, this is when they visited, yeah, here's Pauli with Pauling. And Pauli had already published a wonderful work on relativity that many people considered a work of genius when he was a teenager. So Pauli was another one of these geniuses that Sommerfeld had and Pauling recognized that his mathematical background was deficient. He blamed Oregon Agricultural College because they didn't have enough mathematics courses. He tried to catch up at Caltech, but he was still behind these brilliant physicists and so he felt rather discouraged, initially. But Sommerfeld did ask him to come to this conference on magnetism in Switzerland and these pictures were taken at that conference. And Pauling told Pauli about this work he had been doing and it was a mixture of the old quantum theory and the new quantum mechanics and Pauli listened to him and then just said "not interesting." So it wasn't very interesting because it hadn't, it hadn't really sunk into Pauling what the revolutionary nature of quantum mechanics actually was, it would take him a while to absorb this. Here is Werner Heisenberg, younger than Pauling as I mentioned. And they did take side trips to the Alps and so on, I don't want to get into these things. [38:51]

And Ava Helen was left largely alone, and I want to get into some of these other problems as well. But let me tell you an anecdote about Pauling's inferiority complex while he was initially at Munich: He was trying to make a joke to Sommerfeld because Sommerfeld admired Pauli, thought he was his most brilliant student. And so Pauling said to Sommerfeld, "Pauling is nothing but Pauli 'ng' and he said 'ng' in English means no good, so Pauling just means a no-good Pauli." And Sommerfeld misunderstood Pauling, he thought he was insulting his favorite student. So this shows you the clash of cultures, even when Pauling was trying to be respectful and demeaning to himself, which he, as certainly in later years, wasn't often that humble and modest. But it didn't work out. So the American in Munich, there was a lot of this culture conflict.

As well as with Ava Helen, there were problems in the marriage during the early months in Munich. One of the problems was there was a landlady and Ava Helen thought he was spending too much of his attention on her and so she slugged him, hit him in the eye. And this wasn't revealed in the family until she was dying, that this happened. I told this story to one of Ava Helen's best friends and she said "Well, if she slugged him, he deserved it."

Well, I don't think that's true. Although I did ask him the Jimmy Carter question. Well, before the Jimmy Carter question, I asked him if there was anything to it, whether he was committing adultery and he said no, that he had never committed adultery on his wife." But then I asked the Jimmy Carter question, that is have you ever committed adultery in your heart and he said yes, he had, and surprisingly it was of women who were rather well-endowed and so on, which surprised me because Ava Helen was 5'2" and not full-figured, I'd guess you'd say. But he told me that quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," so sexuality has its mysteries, I suppose. But I interviewed Lloyd Alexander Jeffress, who was corresponding with Linus during this period, and he was aware of the sexual tensions in the marriage and part of the reason was, this was Southern Germany and they were having trouble obtaining birth control devices. And so, Jeffress said he kept getting these letters from Pauling, rather desperate pleas for condoms, because that was part of the problem. They didn't want to have children while they were Europe, they wanted their time together without, because they left Linie behind.

So, and then another problem occurred, finally, and this was a couple of weeks after the death of Belle Pauling. Lucille finally let Linus know that his mother had died. And, of course, this was very depressing news. They had guests over and there was a fellow playing the piano and finally they had to dismiss everyone; Linus burst into tears. And he never really found out what happened at home because Ava Helen had told Lucille that she didn't want Linus disturbed with any unpleasant news, and so Lucille never told her brother.

In fact, I was the first person to tell Linus that his mother had died in the state hospital. And the story there was that Goldie, her sister, was having trouble handling Belle Pauling, and one of the symptoms of pernicious anemia can be psychosis - and Linus knew about that - but whether Belle Pauling was actually psychotic, Lucille doubted. She didn't think that was true, they were just having emotional difficulties; the sisters never did get along very well. And so to unburden herself with that responsibility, she had Judge Ulysses Campbell, Doctor Wood, and other people gathered on the porch. Lucille was working for a doctor, a surgeon, and so she came home one day and saw these assembled people and they told her "you'd better sign these commitment papers." Initially she refused but then she submitted to the authority figures and she regretted it because the only time she visited her mother at Salem, her mother had declined precipitously and was very unhappy there and then died. So it was a very tragic end to this family, the mother of the family. Here is Belle Pauling in one of the pictures I have of her. So that certainly didn't make Pauling's year and a half in Munich any better. So he was pretty desperate for something good to happen.

And finally something good did happen: he found a mistake. If you know Linus, he loves to find mistakes. He was doing this even when he was at Caltech. And this was Sommerfeld's private docent, Gregor Wentzel his name was, and Pauling found an error in a paper that he had published about wave mechanics - and let me see if I can find, yes, here's the title, "A Difficulty for the Theory of the Spinning Electron." So that caught Pauling's eye, and he foun-, because he was interested in the quantum mechanics of many electron atoms, and so he found out that that difficulty wasn't really a difficulty at all, it's just that Wentzel had made a mistake. And this actually created the confidence he needed to start doing some really good work. And Sommerfeld was impressed that he had found a mistake in his private docent's paper and then supported this paper that he submitted to the Proceedings of the Royal Academy. And that was the beginning of his great success in quantum mechanics; it's still one of his most cited papers. [45:30]

Now, I'd like to make a point about his contributions to quantum mechanics and I'd like to do this by saying something about where Pauling stands as a scientist, because one of the controversial things I'd like to say is that I don't think Pauling is in the same area as the scientists up at the top there - Copernicus, Darwin, and so on. Radical ideological revolutions, that is, some scientists ideas, like Einstein and Newton and Darwin, when they come up with a new scientific idea, it's so great that it spreads to all sorts of fields, even influences the way we think about human nature or the universe itself. And we call them the really great scientists because of their ideological revolutions.

This comes from a book by Frank Sulloway, a historian of science, and it's called Born to Rebel. And his thesis in the book is that first-borns tend to be conservative and the revolutionary scientists are among the later-borns. And Pauling was a first-born, and so he's mentioned just once in the book, but as a puzzle-solving scientist. And I think he's got a point here.

And there are other technical revolutions that you'll see and the quantum mechanical revolution was a technical revolution, a revolution in the discipline, and there's no doubt that that was a great revolution. But Pauling didn't create the quantum mechanical revolution. He was still enmeshed in the old quantum theory and he was learning the new quantum mechanics - he particularly liked Schrödinger's wave-mechanical version of it - but he was following, he was not leading. But that's why I say he's not among the really great scientists. So that may be controversial; we may want to discuss that later on this afternoon.

This shows you how he collects information - he's collected a lot of information about birth order and seeing where the scientists were in this particular thing. He also looks at a lot of other stuff in this particular book. Here's Watson and Crick; they're also puzzle-solving scientists as well, first-borns.

Now the last two things I want to deal with are why Bohr didn't take to Pauling or Schrödinger take to Pauling, because when he applied for the Guggenheim, he thought he was going to spend a lot of profitable time with Bohr in Copenhagen and Schrödinger in Zürich. So this is a scene in Copenhagen. This is another scene in Copenhagen. And here we have Bohr.

One of the things I talked about in my thesis, and also in the first volume that I had Pauling read, was that I thought the style, that Pauling's scientific style, conflicted a lot with Bohr's - he was coming at problems in a different way. Bohr tended to be much more philosophical and Pauling was not interested in the philosophical problems of quantum mechanics.

This is Bohr's study. And here's Bohr with James Franck and Hansen. And another thing, Bohr had this mafia sort of, students and colleagues who tried to protect him from people. This is Bohr's family. Ava Helen got to meet Mrs. Bohr once at a tea, so they weren't, they didn't socialize once while they were there. This is a picture of Linus and Ava Helen in Copenhagen.

And Linus felt disappointed that he was neglected by Bohr. He really wanted Bohr's help and Bohr didn't seem to be interested in some of the problems that Pauling was interested in. And so Pauling spent time with other people there, for example Sam Goudsmit, so he learned a lot and eventually that led to his first book, The Structure of Line Spectra. So Pauling wasn't one to stop working just because the main figure he wanted to associate with wasn't going to have much to do with him.

This is Erwin Schrödinger. So they actually left Copenhagen early and went to Zürich but here too, Schrödinger didn't seem to be very interested in Pauling's work. He had earlier met Heitler and London and Munich, and they met again in Zürich, and so they had a lot of interesting talks there too. Pauling was not doing very good work. He was working on helium atoms and things like that, and he never did collaborate with Heitler and London which is rather surprising. So there were some missed opportunities here in Europe, as well. [50:39]

So this is Ava Helen on the way back. Here's another picture of her. And I think this is the, oh yes, this is a Sidney Harris cartoon, which I want to talk about in my conclusion. Here are a bunch of scientists saying, "I pledge allegiance to the atom, and to the periodic table on which it stands, many particles, indivisible, with orbitals and electrons for all." One of the controversies was over the interpretation of quantum mechanics. And Pauling agreed with Einstein that God doesn't play dice with the universe, so in that controversy over the interpretation of quantum mechanics he was a determinist. And, this was his view that he was a reductionist, he felt that the human being, as he put it to me once, were just so many trillion molecules. So I find this hard to accept, because here I am, so many trillion molecules, all these reactions going on in my bod,y but there's no me here, there's no identity here, I'm just sort of the sum of all my chemical reactions. So you can't blame me whether this is a good or bad lecture, I'm just doing what my reactions are telling me to do, because there's no free will.

Now, I ran across a very interesting item in the papers, this is when they were at the Linus Pauling Institute, if I can find it here. Yeah, this is a note to self written on February 16, 1981, where he's talking about his career. And he says "My career has been unique. It seems clear to me that I have had the good fortune to lead a life that is significantly different in quality from that of most other human beings. Perhaps one person in 10 million can be said to have led a life that differs as much as from that of most other human beings as mine does. The question that I ask myself is, why this consciousness, which is I, should be associated with this life rather than with the 10 million other lives. If I were a solipsist" - and by the way, he told me that when he was a teenager, he was tempted by solipsism, he felt that no one existed in the universe except himself and that the universe was a creation of his self, so nothing else existed, so you can see where some of his ego comes from - "I might well have determined it in just that way, that I have in fact experienced it, but I am not a solipsist. Accordingly, the problem of my identity remains a puzzle to me." So he did believe that he was so many trillion molecules and that the law of determinism ruled, that there was no free will, but yet he did have this sense of self that he didn't know what to do with.

Alright, history analyzes and offers a critical discourse on memories, so I've been dealing with some of these controversies, trying to make sense of them, and "science is the search for truth," he said. So that's what I've been trying to do, find out the truth about these controversies, and sometimes I don't know the truth. I'm not sure whether Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty or innocent. I'm not sure what it means to be a good father in the 20th century. But perhaps we can talk about some of these controversial things.

But Pauling did have the sense that science is not a game in which one tries to beat his opponent to do harm to others. So in that sense, I'm sympathetic with his idealism for searching for the truth; that the truth is something we find and somehow it ennobles us to know the truth. Even if the doctor tells you you've got leukemia, that's not a very pleasant truth, but it's something that we have to accept and learn to live with.

Now, in closing, I'd like to mention that we did talk about this day. I talked about what he would be like when he was 100, what he would like to do and so on. And he told me he would like to do what Joel Hildebrand had done and that is publish a scientific paper on his 100th birthday. And I'm sorry he's not with us to have done that, to publish on his 100th birthday. But he's still with us in many ways, in what he had done and so on.

And toward the end of his life, someone had sent him a Bible with gigantic print, and he was having trouble with his vision but because this book had such big print, he was reading the Bible again. You'll recall that story of when he was a youngster, his father said "He's been reading the Bible and Charles Darwin, so don't tell me that" [referring to the letter Pauling's father wrote to the Portland Oregonian]. So he returned to the Bible and perhaps he ran into this passage in Ecclesiastes and I'd like to quote it as my finish: "Let us search then like those who must find and find like those who continue to search, for it is written the man who has reached the end is only beginning." And that's the way I feel about my work on Pauling, no matter how much I do, it seems like I'm just beginning. [56:19]


Watch Other Videos

Session 1

Session 2

Return to Main Page