Unlikely site for historic moment in physics: RDU

[John Archibald] Wheeler struggled to mend a rift in physics between general relativity and quantum mechanics—a rift called time. One day in 1965, while waiting out a layover, Wheeler asked colleague Bryce DeWitt [at UNC Chapel Hill] to keep him company for a few hours. In the [Raleigh-Durham International] terminal, Wheeler and DeWitt wrote down an equation for a wavefunction, which Wheeler called the Einstein-Schrödinger equation, and which everyone else later called the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. (DeWitt eventually called it “that damned equation”)….

“His work on the physics of black holes had led him to suspect that time, deep down, does not exist. Now, at the airport, that damned equation left Wheeler with a nagging hunch that time couldn’t be a fundamental ingredient of reality. It had to be, as Einstein said, a stubbornly persistent illusion….

“In recent years, Stephen Hawking… has been developing an approach known as top-down cosmology…. By applying the laws of quantum mechanics to the universe as a whole, Hawking carries the torch that Wheeler lit that day back at the North Carolina airport….”

— From “Haunted by His Brother, He Revolutionized Physics” by Amanda Gefter at Nautilus magazine (Jan. 16, 2014)


One thought on “Unlikely site for historic moment in physics: RDU”

  1. Actually, you are incorrect in stating that “Wheeler and DeWitt wrote down” the equation. It is well-known, and mentioned in various places by both my dad and Wheeler that it was my dad who wrote the equation at the RDU airport, and Wheeler liked it and promoted it.

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