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Voices of Europe produced and recorded by Milton Mayer in cooperation with the University of Chicago under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. And now Milton Mayor Carl Friedrich writes occurred here in Germany they would say Professor Dr Karl Friedrich Baron fun vite Sicher is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. Young that is by comparison with most of his colleagues. He is now 44. As a mere stripling he was working with Professor Otto Han before Hahn discovered nuclear fission in 1929 at the Kaiser Vale Institute for chemistry in Berlin. In 1936 when the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for physics was founded their professor fun VI ticker became associated with Professor Heisenberg. Its director with whom he is still working in the Marx
Planck Institute for physics at getting at Germany where I'm interviewing him today. Incidentally Professor fun vite seeker's father was once German ambassador to Switzerland and the Vatican and his grandfather was the editor of the most widely used edition of the Lutheran Bible verse or from vi to care some of the climate scientists have created a smartarse during these last few years by saying that with Hiroshima and Nagasaki the scientists have come to know the same world but who hasn't. One suspects from about the scientists as centers well and might like to say that if you take the words seriously it's
always me who knows mice and so scientists are the ones who want to speak above this and proceed well. Don't you think that it is quite a strange thing that just the scientists should know about. I remember when I started studying physics in 29 I may have known many others that being a human being like all of us. But in science I was concerned with questions which were quite out of and the moral aspect I was concerned with the atomic nucleus. When you and others were concerned with the timing nuclear as you may have been neglecting your own education. Because if I understand the role
for CNN in human life. It is of such importance it should not be absent from any study. I quite agree. On the other hand I think science in the average was interested in the subject matter of science and it is probably true that we all of us scientists forgot about the application of what we may have known the moral responsibility of when we were engaged in our wonderful investigations and the wonderful playing with scientific questions. But very suddenly we came to realize that things had changed in 39.
In the beginning you said the date of 1929 when you yourself began studying the atomic nucleus. You had no notion of the application of your work. Not the slightest notice notion. I think a lot of other four who died in 37 in his very last years said that the man who is talking about practical application of atomic energy is talking much and he was right in that moment because we all knew that we didn't know any way of applying Atomic Energy technically. Suddenly our worst changed you say in 1939. It's changed quite suddenly because it was hardly in December thirty eight made the discovery of the fission of uranium which he published and after having published it it turned out when it
was repeated by many people all over the world. There are some huge ones were produced as a byproduct of this fission and these neutrons then would make new fission and they are a chain reaction would take place and I remember well in February 39 I suddenly realized that this chain reaction all might be possible and I think that the same week the very same week 100 or 200 people all over the world will have realized that and then our problem was there before we ever had thought of it and nothing could be done about it because it could not even be kept secret. Let's keep our data some of the crucial a straight professor from vi to carry on's discovery in 1938 occurred in Germany. In 1939 while further developments for a
hand published it immediately and I may say one thing about that. He published it for two reasons. One reason is that science means publishing science means we control the fellow scientists and on the other hand he may have felt that it might have some technical implications even in the beginning and he felt that he should certainly not want to give this coverage to secret use without the control of public opinion. Well at the time the war was very near at hand and he didn't or he did certainly not like the idea that perhaps Hitler alone. TONY JONES You mean that in 1938 the possibility however remote of the development of an atomic weapon was conceived.
Yes I should say that in November thirty eight none of us had any idea of atomic weapons. In February 39 of the nuclear physicists all over the world saw quite clearly that if certain constants had certain values which were not yet found but might be so then atomic weapons would certainly be possible. Now the second world war began around the first of September 1939. And was it before or after that date that Professor Einstein and I may be wrong about this whole thing. I suggested to President Roosevelt that a great research effort be made. I am not quite sure but I think it was just before the date but it was in knowing that a war was very likely
and the effort was made in the United States with the consequences with which we are all familiar was the effort made in Germany much smaller effort was made but the decision that it would be a small effort was made during the war. In the beginning both in the United States and in Germany just a smaller group of scientists tried to find out whether a chain reaction would be possible or not. But then during the war our group in which I was a member realized that in any case for the conditions prevailing in Germany it would be completely impossible to make bombs. But I would have been very happy if it would have been possible to convey the knowledge to our colleagues in the United States and in other countries that actually we were not making bombs.
What was to prevent or there's no charges being conveyed. Well there was the war we were on different sides and even that we might try to deceive them. The suspicion. Yes the suspicion which is quite natural certainly U.S. scientists if I may say so felt to be friends all over the world. Before the war and I'm glad to say that after the World there and much of this friendship has been re-established but still in such a situation it seems to have been very difficult to think that this friendship would be stronger than their natural intentions to make weapons. Professor from the rights of care are you able to say I suppose you can speak only for yourself but you might hazard an opinion about your caring colleagues on this point. Are you able to say that you are happy
that the physical circumstances relieved you of the moral responsibility of attempting to make a search for weapons. In other words through no fault of your own you were saved from knowing see him. Well I think you put your question in the manner which makes it very easy to answer. The trouble in answering such a question is or was that we don't know what we would do if we were put under under the real temptation. This situation as it was and in that moment in Germany was that we could make bombs and we knew it. And certainly I was very much relieved by seeing that I thought that it would be impossible to make bombs at all during that war and I was quite surprised that
it was possible in the United States. But I cannot compare the situation in which we were feeling that it was very good that we were not asked to make bombs because we couldn't do it. And the situation in which American scientists were further say to me around because this was a very important thing and they were afraid that Germany might have bombs. And you know very well that even if there is a common feeling there's not a well-defined precise journal at it. Q I know some German scientists I think it is not necessary to mention names who would have been extremely unhappy if anything like an atomic bomb had been had come into the hands of our government at that time and who would have gone very far in order to avoid it. While I think there may have been others who would have
liked to have anything which might have stopped the war without a complete defeat of Germany this I think again is a natural reaction. But these are past things. Yes but there are enduring elements in some of these past trainings and. I wonder if among your German colleagues there may have been some few who were disappointed that physical conditions prevented them from going in and merely playing with truth. That is finding out more truth regardless of where the ships of the all of this was something heavier than a ship might fall. I'm I'm asking you really again
about the education of a physicist. Yes and May I hasten to add to that. I'm from currently concerned with the moral responsibility of scientist professor from vide sicker because I am not one myself. Well he probably has to be concerned with the mower sponsibility of man. And since scientist as man you are certainly right to ask this question of a scientist as he is so I think in one we wish scientists were very naive. We were in the even thinking that playing with these wonderful things like atoms or ideas of art atoms we might be in a realm in which it would never be necessary to be
in the door in which it would never be necessary to start playing in this point I should just say that the scientist who has discovered those facts a few which are expressed in the words that would for instance Christianity has always known a scientist there believes the state of a playing ball and becomes a grown up person. As others have been before. The great difficulty but then I think is what to do. Being perhaps being the grown up person they're much worried I must say about the practical problems which are facing now in our time with this question of atomic energy. What are they. Well you see perhaps I should not start by
expressing my own ideas which perhaps are not at all right but just looking at what people do in their ever job what they feel in their functions in my country in Germany. When I ask students not just students of physics but students of all kinds and ask them and they saw men on the street or was I see that the idea of atomic energy with them is connected closely with fear. They are all afraid of it. And no I think the fear even if it is right even if there is something to be afraid of is a very bad thing because fear is likely to put to use the very thing of which we are afraid. Or would you not only to that I say it's psychological. I think it's fairly obvious.
So the point is valid. Well if you think still of course we are asked how to hide that feel. Well how to avoid it. They are afraid of war and of the use of atomic energy in war. I even find that they are afraid that the atomic bombs which we have no spoiling the weather the climate and they are perhaps rightly afraid of radioactive contamination in the air are partly coming from Bonds partly coming perhaps from reactors or which may come from reactors in later times. And the thing becomes even more complicated if you think that probably the practical use of atomic energy for peaceful means is possible and is very necessary. So in that sense we may not even say that this fear might in any way be eliminated by
no longer using atomic energy. What do you mean when you say we use the practical use of atomic energy for industrial purposes is not only possible but is perhaps very necessary. The number of people living in the world increases and this will still increase for a long time probably. And if we want to feed them actually Kargil must be intensified and this intensification can only be done I think in connection with industrialization. And this means that not only do we need more energy because we have more people living on the earth but we need more energy per living person. And this may very well exhaust the usual conventional sources of energy not knowing not within the next decade but within it within the next fifty or one hundred fifty years
and then we will need atomic energy and I think this is quite clearly seen for instance in England where I just know they are pushing forward strongly with their atomic energy program because they are short of crude. Yes professor from bites occur when you talk about the fear of atomic energy as the most common reaction that you encounter among your fellow Germans. I think that can be verified also by fairly prevalent feeling in the United States. Would you say so. I remember that at the time that the first two atomic bombs were dropped in Japan ending the war victoriously for the allies that the scientists that is the nuclear scientists or regarded as perhaps the greatest of
heroes. And I remember predicting quietly to myself that the time might come when like so many suddenly created heroes they might be regarded as bums and to some extent I think perhaps if you understand my vernacular when I use the word bombs to some extent I think that time has come also in the United States. And that is that the developments along this line are regarded fearfully on the whole and I am wonder whether these scientists were heroes or bombs or whether they were not pretty much people doing the same sort of morally responsible job which I
do. Which mosque where were you moving very close to the truth. Personally I'm not so very much inclined to think of scientists as being heroes. I think in Hero there are heroes and the heroes are were very well defined handsome but the and they are are even heroes in science. But I wouldn't say that the scientist in himself is a hero. The scientist is interested if I am not saying or I'm not speaking of playing I may have put it very suddenly or perhaps rightly so saying he's interested in truth but being interested in truth is in itself not dangerous and therefore there is no hero is minute. But it is a very good thing and would
really be inclined to say that this scientist might be a great help to man and if he sticks to that that he wants to know truth. There's just this one thing to be the truth does not only mean about the atomic nucleus but for instance just as well about the consequences of what we do. And this truth which was forgotten was as long as we didn't need to know was to know it I think has now penetrated the mind of many scientists. And therefore I remember very well that in 45 some of my friends and I said Well now we can really Worthing not far from the hole that we will even live to see the day when they hang the physicists. Because they are so much afraid of what the physicists do. Well
this may happen. No I'm not. But in any case I think that the scientists should do with it and is prepared to do it in their that he tries to see the consequences of what he does quite clearly and being a citizen. If he is a citizen of a free country he may take his share in the freedom for expressing the truth but it doesn't leave the lead two different lives at once. Sense the truth of science doesn't know or doesn't know in itself. Implied consequences or it does not in itself necessitate consequences. He can say I have discovered this. It is not for me as a scientist I am not an engineer I am a
scientist. I don't apply it. I have some notions moral notions as to how it might be better or worse applied. But I have discovered this. Here it is at the same turn him as the morally responsible man and citizen who must be concerned with the consequences of every piece of truth which he and others think it must. I think you must be concerned with the consequences. But isn't he living two lives then. Or are we all we're. Don't you think we are living two lives in that sense. This scientist who would just discover something and then say well what happens later on with it is pick a sion and I'm not concerned with that. To me looks like a man who gives his children matches and tells them shows them how to live them and then he leaves his house. I think this cannot be done. I think the scientist
must be concerned with the consequences. But the very difficult thing to which I do not know downside is that in many cases the scientist must know that the word and he himself may not live up to the consequences. He may just not be able to direct the consequences in the right way. And here I can only say I see a great problem of the future. Is there any defense. Is there in defense against the possible consequences of these partial truths or secondary truths such as the truths of the turmeric nucleus. I may ask that last question professor from invites a current connection. I think it's in connection with another. Namely do we know for sure that it was a good thing for a man to
discover your rainy m fission. That is very difficult to see. I don't know it but here it is. And we have to make use of it and we have to discover other things which we do not know and does not yet know. But I think one thing you are started speaking about sin and sin certainly is not crime. Sin is that thing in which we get involved not being willing to do bad things but discovering later on that what we did is not what we wanted to do. And I think it is a very good thing that Christian tradition new with all of the time and even if Christians in many cases did very bad things or didn't do anything important at all still they knew with it and our whole that we scientists with a share in their
understanding that this is one of the conditions of our life and we're trying to understand truth about that. Would you think in your mind that this would help a little bit to solve the problem which we are facing together scientists and non-scientists. Well I think I think I may speak for both of us pretty curve way if I say. It would be better to solve the problem of the moral responsibility of science and of other activities in that fashion and terms of that free responsibility than through any form of duress which mine from without limit freedom the
freedom of science are every other form of pursuing truth. Well I think you are right and I think that the freedom of science is what is a part of the freedom of the citizen and the freedom of man and being part of it. And that's an important part. It should certainly be defended. It should just be defended with of course the question. I think that the scientist himself is the one who ought to know where the limits of unrestrained scientific action might be found. Thank you very much Professor provide secure voices of Europe was produced and recorded in Europe by Nelson Mayer in cooperation with the University of Chicago under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio
Center. This program is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This program has been introduced by Marvan partner. This is the end AP Radio Network.
Voices of Europe
Carl Friedrich von Weizs_cker
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features an interview with the German physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizs_cker.
Series Description
Interviews with noted Europeans on a variety of subjects, conducted by Milton Mayer, American author and broadcaster, lecturer and professor in the Institute of Social Research at Frankfurt University.
Broadcast Date
Global Affairs
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Interviewee: Weizsa_cker, Carl Friedrich, Freiherr von, 1912-2007
Interviewer: Mayer, Milton, 1908-1986
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-7-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:24
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Chicago: “Voices of Europe; Carl Friedrich von Weizs_cker,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “Voices of Europe; Carl Friedrich von Weizs_cker.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Voices of Europe; Carl Friedrich von Weizs_cker. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from