Prof. Hertel, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'm afraid that I will be speaking in English as my German is
not very good - but good enough to understand from the previous
speakers how many people have worked so hard to make this new Institute
a reality. I am here to represent my family and to thank all of
those people who have done us the honour of naming the Institute
after my grandfather. Really my father should be here addressing
you for two reasons: first, he is a scientist and I am not; and
second, because of course he knew my grandfather much better and
more intimately than I did and so would be able to talk about him
in more depth.
My own first-hand memories of Max Born are relatively few. This
is because, when I was a boy, he and my grandmother lived in Germany,
in the spa town of Bad Pyrmont. They moved back to Germany from
Edinburgh in 1953, the year I was born. We visited them with my
father from time to time but Max was by then an old man. I have
vivid memories of Bad Pyrmont which was and probably still is a
lovely town, surrounded by wooded countryside and full of parks.
It was also full of old people being a spa town and Max Born would
often take my older brother (also called Max) and I for walks to
feed the many birds and small animals which abounded in these parks.
He was a gentle and thoughtful man. I have two particular memories
of him which I would like to tell you about. The first was one evening
when I was having trouble as a small boy in a strange house getting
to sleep and Max Born put on some music by Mozart to comfort me.
He loved music and played the piano himself very well. The second
was one day when I discovered him pouring himself a glass of red
wine in the late morning. I must have looked rather surprised because
he caught my look and told me that he liked to drink a bit of wine
because it had the effect of "keeping us old people lively".
I found this a very human and honest thing to say coming from such
a great mind.
As I said earlier, I am not a scientist but I was trained at school
as a mathematician and indeed I went to Cambridge University to
read mathematics. But while there I realised that I would never
be a creative mathematician and that I did not have the real
gift to make discoveries in this field of intellectual enquiry.
(Although my own father has never really accepted my change of career
and still introduces me from time to time as "my son - the
mathematician"!) I now work as a literary agent in London,
representing playwrights and screenwriters. It seems that many of
Max Born's descendents in my generation have gone into the dramatic
arts - one of my cousins is the actress and singer Olivia Newton-John
- although the family tradition of mathematics is continued by my
cousin John Pryce (the son of my father's sister Margaret).
I am therefore the more impressed by the mind and achievements
of Max Born having studied maths and physics enough to appreciate
not only his own work but his teaching and work with other collaborators
- particularly that extraordinary generation of physicists which
included his close friend and correspondent Albert Einstein, his
friend and contemporary Max Planck and his pupil Werner Heisenberg.
We tend to take their work now as part and parcel of our established
understanding of the physical world and it is salutory to remember
that those theorems and laws of quantum mechanics and nuclear physics
which they discovered were initially to them bold hypotheses which
had to be proved and corroborated. This was brought home to me on
a recent visit with my father to the Edinburgh archive which contains
some of my grandfather's papers. Amongst these papers, with the
voluminous collection of letters he had written to my father after
he and my grandmother had moved back to Germany in the 1950's and
1960's (we forget how people corresponded before the telephone became
so ubiquitous), I came across a green bound-volume of his hand-written
lecture notes from his early days as assistant to the great mathematician
David Hilbert. They are as beautifully clear and elegant as a great
text-book and looking through them I realised that they contained
work which I had learnt at school as established theorems - but
were then newly-minted from the mind of Hilbert.
There is one other anecdote which I would like to tell you about
which I came across recently in a memoir about my grandfather written
by his pupil Wolf, with whom he collaborated on his great textbook
on optics. Wolf was a young student in Edinburgh attending a series
of lectures given by Max Born. After one of the lectures, he thought
he had discovered a flaw in the logic of the argument. He want
home and spent the rest of the day checking and double-checking
his results, and then spent the night agonising over whether to
raise this problem with my grandfather. The next morning he had
plucked up his courage and, after that day's lecture, he asked to
speak to Max and told him of the mistake. My grandfather was apparently
furious that this young student had had the temerity to question
his work and stormed off. But he had also listened to the explanation
given by Wolf, checked that Wolf's argument was sound, and apologised
profusely the next day - after which they became firm friends and
colleagues. I tell this story because it illustrates to me that
my grandfather had the human qualities of pride and self belief
but also the humility to discover that he had been wrong and to
place the worth of the scientific result above any other consideration.
Once again, many thanks to Professor Hertel and all the other
people who invited my wife and I to this auspicious occasion. We
hope that the work of this new Institute will develop and continue
the high standards associated with the name of Max Born.