One of the terrific aspects of MIT in those days was the enormous variety of experimental work that either took place there or was talked about in seminars by outside speakers aggressively recruited by the faculty.
It was at this moment that I wrote my first important paper in theoretical physics. I was 32 years old, 5 years beyond the alleged age of senility for theorists.
I was an extremely reclusive and introverted boy.
I also taught myself how to blow glass using a propane torch from the hardware store and managed to make some elementary chemistry plumbing such as tees and small glass bulbs.
As a consequence while we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes to wear to school we were constantly conscious of being of modest means.
The questions worth asking, in other words, come not from other people but from nature, and are for the most part delicate things easily drowned out by the noise of everyday life.
At Berkeley I had my first encounter with real professional scientists.
In parallel with the development of my interests in technical gadgetry I began to acquire a profound love of and respect for the natural world which motivates my scientific thinking to this day.
But it was impressed upon me that there was such a thing as good study habits and that I would have to acquire them if I wanted to be a scholar.
It was at Bell Labs that I first made direct contact with real semiconductor experts and thus began to fully understand what amazing materials they were and what they could do.
When I moved to Stanford I began to pursue the line of research I have been following ever since, namely trying to understand the larger implications of fractional quantum hall discovery.
My childhood home backed onto wheat and cotton fields.
Over the course of time this gave us a deep respect for ideas, both our own and those of others, and an understanding that conflict through debate is a powerful means of revealing truth.
But the need for conflict to expose prejudice and unclear reasoning, which is deeply embedded in my philosophy of science, has its origin in these debates.
To this day I always insist on working out a problem from the beginning without reading up on it first, a habit that sometimes gets me into trouble but just as often helps me see things my predecessors have missed.
But through my interests in electron motion in vacuum tubes I discovered a need to describe trajectories of moving particles with equations.
My job at Stanford is rather different from the ones I had held previously in that my own ambitions must take a back seat to the well-being of the students with whom I work.
It is an interesting fact that during my tour I was never allowed access to computers, radios, or anything else that I might damage through curiosity, or perhaps something more sinister.
I, for example, used to take appliances apart when they broke in an attempt to fix them, which I rarely did successfully, being a kid.
I owe my interest in mathematics to my father, or more precisely the sense that mathematics was something important and mysterious.
My mother also had us take piano lessons, and this had a similar effect. I hated those lessons, but I now play regularly for pleasure and have even tried my hand at composing.
Western society has many flaws, and it is good for an educated person to have thought some of these through, even at the expense of losing a lecture or two to tear gas.
The experience that firmly placed me on a course toward a professional career in science was the four years I spent as an undergraduate at Berkeley.
My mother, who was professional schoolteacher, was particularly concerned about our formal education and even went so far as to start a private school together with some other parents so that our intellectual needs would be met.
Another important aspect of our home was respect for ideas.
More Robert B. Laughlin Quotations (Based on Topics)
Science - Education - Home - Fathers - Truth - Curiosity - Physics - Mothers - Life - Food - Wisdom & Knowledge - Discovery & Invention - Sense & Perception - Progress - Mystery - Mathematics - Habit - Work & Career - Time - View All Robert B. Laughlin Quotations
Albert Einstein - Werner Heisenberg - Roger Penrose - Richard P. Feynman - Niels Bohr - Hermann von Helmholtz - Enrico Fermi - Edward Teller - Brian Greene - Andrei Sakharov