PRINT May 1990



ONE DAY IN 1984, I taxied down Broadway with the physicist I. I. Rabi, discussing the topic of age. Rabi told me he was 86—“Just as old as the century.” I could not resist an affectionate tease, but when I told him his computational powers had evidently waned, Rabi responded that for him the century began with the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thomson, in 1897—though even so, his mathematics were a little off. And then we went on to the observation that the great epochal events tend to fall on nondescript dates—1066 but not 1000, 1492 but not 1500, 1688 but not 1700, 1789 rather than 1800, and then 1848, 1914, 1929, 1968, and now—though he did not live to see it—1989. Freud contrived that his masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams, should be published in 1900, marking a new era and a new century at once, but apart from such acts of mythologizing will, there is little correspondence

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