Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 50: Attractive force: The Curve of Binding Energy

Still from Fail Safe, 1964

In the last 3 weeks I have seen a collection of films about the nuclear era including:
Atomic Cafe, Fail Safe, On the Beach, Dr. Strangelove, The Day after Trinity, and War Games.

So far this summer I have read: The Nuclear Family Vacation; The Nevada Test Site, A Guide to the America's Proving Ground; and The Curve of Binding Energy.

Life has kind of gone nuclear for me.

Fail Safe, The Day after Trinity (about Robert Oppenheimer) and the Curve of Binding Energy (written by John McPhee about Ted Taylor) deserve longer posts, which they might get at some point down the road as my self-induced nuclear education continues. The incredibly even and intelligent "president" in Fail Safe is a sick reminder how far we haven't come since 1964. It worth watching just to be reminded of this, and so much more that you can't even imagine...

Overall, it is confusing to me that events and experiences that weighed so heavily on the psyche of the citizens United States (and world), and generated so many films and books, could be so invisible today. The budgets and stockpiles still exist for the nuclear industrial complex at the same rates they did during the Cold War, so why aren't artists continuing to find new ways to make creative responses to it?

I am also realizing that what drove the scientists to make "the bomb(s)" wasn't actually the destruction of the earth, nations, and or people. But an awe with science, the cosmos, and maybe most of all overwhelming aesthetic experience. I am not sure what this means for the history and present that they have unleashed, but I will leave you with a couple quotes for consideration:

"I have felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it's there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding. To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles - this, what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds." - Freeman Dyson,  in Jon Ise's film, The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and The Atomic Bomb

"In physics, I am the opposite of what I am in life. In physics, I like extreme situations. I don't like intermediate steps. I am attracted to the extremes: the highest pressure places, the highest temperatures places, the greatest speeds, the greatest densities- and all these are within a nuclear explosion. I was always looking at them, because I was always trying to make a light a bomb as was possible in principle. When an implosion bomb is detonated, the temperature in the core builds up to several hundred million degrees in one-hundred millionth of a second. That is many times the temperature in the center of the sun."
-Ted Taylor in The Curve of Binding Energy by John McPhee p.164

"Ted said he would admit to a pure fascination with nuclear explosions, a fascination wholly on an intellectual plane, disjunct from practical application. Down the years, it had been a matter of considerable anguish to him to live with the irony that what he thought was the worst invention in physical history was also the most interesting. He said he had been hopelessly drawn to spectacular and destructive potentialities of plutonium, even from the first moment he had ever heard its name, and to the binding energy that comes out of the nucleus and goes into the fireball, even before he could come to grasp the stunning numbers that describe it."
-The Curve of Binding Energy, John McPhee p. 160

And, good news. We have access to the Nevada Test Site. I will get to tour the the site for an entire day this fall. More on the project and creative research that this opportunity will fuel soon.

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