The Public Interest

From Being Square to Squaring-Off

Paul Seabury

Fall 1981

WHEN,raconteurs debate the “causes of the Berkeley revolut-ion, I advance an unprovable theory. It is not about how or why, but about where and when the revolution first started-in other words, a simple theory about its proximate cause. Such a FALL speculation resembles the one which asks: Where and when did the Atomic Age start? With Einstein in the 1920s? With Neils Bohr in the 1930s? In the Berkeley Radiation Lab in the 1930’s? In the Chicago football stadium in the early 1940’s (the Manhattan Project)Almagordo? Hiroshima? Each such partial explanation invests the question with a particular significance. I argue that, in one respect, the place where the Berkeley cultural revolution first got started resembles the Chicago football stadium. There, in December 1942, physicists succesfully carried out the first nuclear chain reaction (entailing the combination of two substances: graphite and uranium). As the Encyclopedia Britannica says, this was a “triumph of experiment, deduction and theory.” The Berkeley fusion, however, was unintended and accidental.

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