ICC Review
PENROSE+SATO We Really Need to Learn More about
the Physical World

Roger PENROSE{ SATO Humitaka

Translation: YAMADA Kazuko

Physics and Architecture

SATO Humitaka: Yesterday evening in your speech for my birthday you said something rather interesting regarding Japanese culture and certain unique Japanese skills.... Could you expand on that?

Roger PENROSE: My wife and I were looking around Ginkakuji temple, and I was struck by the way the wood is fitted together so precisely. And not just the precision, but the delicate, beautiful artistry of it as well as the precision. Very Japanese, I thought. It had a garden around it, up on a hill, landscaped with trees and moss, and the sand is made to look like waves....

SH: Like the sea ?

RP: Yes, like the sea, but in straight lines. And there's a mound-a cone, but with a flat top. And then we looked around inside the temple.... I mean, when you see architecture, it's so delicate and precise. Even things like railway trains, the way they work and fit together so well. In any other country, there's always a gap; the platform is at a different height from the train, and so on.

SH: They don't seem to care, do they ? (laughs)

RP: In Japan it's always exactly right. (laughs)

SH: Yes, even when it comes to designing televisions. Sony's designs, for example, are so frightfully correct. And the reliability of components, too-the Japanese pay such close attention to detail. The gardens in Kyoto are so compact compared with those of English mansion houses, where the gardens are so big....

RP: The gardens that one might see in England, you mean ?

SH: Yes. Here it's all so compact, but we still want to put everything in-even the sea and mountains and rocks.

RP: Even the scenery, that's true.

SH: It's quite a different thing. In Japan, we traditionally express not only the parts, but the whole of things.

RP: Yes, yes.

SH: When I was in England last October, I became interested in Sir Christopher WREN, NEWTON's colleague. I learned he was the architect of many big buildings....

RP: That's right, he designed St. Paul's Cathedral, of course, and a number of buildings in Oxford. He was in Oxford, at our Wadham College. He was a scientist as well as an architect.

SH: Architecture, as a design process, must be very precise in part, but the whole structure is also very important. It is more than the sum of its parts. Which makes it a very nice job! (laughs) We physicists have only to concentrate on individual parts. (laughs) But you now are becoming something of an architect of physics....

RP: Well, physics, of course, as a whole, has to have a unity. Still, there is something about Japanese architecture-in whatever country one encounters it. I remember in Princeton, there is a building, which I believe was designed by a famous Japanese architect....

SH: Is that to say you see an analogy between physics and architecture ?

RP: Well, it's certainly true that physics requires a feeling for artistic values. And not just physics-in any other science, one has to be sensitive to the beauty of things. This seems to be quite important. Particularly in mathematics, one doesn't know what one's doing otherwise. In pure mathematics, that's the driving force in a way: one does it because of the pleasure it gives, for the aesthetic qualities of the subject. But physics is not quite the same thing. One's trying to find out how the world works, and it's not so obvious that artistic values are going to be important. But, nevertheless, it seems to be true, that the important and deep theories are also works of art. EINSTEIN's General Theory of Relativity has an incredibly beautiful structure. And I would say that quantum mechanics in many aspects has this extraordinary elegance about it. The question is, of course, why should that be ? But to be sensitive to these things is valuable in doing science, in doing physics. It has a great value.

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