Thursday, February 11, 2010

Extremely Small Errors in Casimir's Book

On April 5, 2000, I posted at my Web site [1] the two letters I sent to Hendrik Casimir in 1984. He was famous for research on two-fluid model of superconductors and the Casimir effect; and passed away about a month later, on May 4, 2000. In my first letter I pointed out a minor error in his autobiographical book [2] about the date of Japanese capitulation in World War II. He wrote in his reply to me [3], "It is not easy entirely to avoid errors in a book of this kind." Then, he added three examples of errors he found by himself. I write those errors here, with additions of explanations of contexts and my thoughts, for the benefit of the people who already read his book or will read it in the future. The errors seem to be extremely minor, just as the Casimir effect can be observed between the electrodes placed at distances extremely small.

On Page 85, Casimir quotes Paul Eherenfest's words given to Wolfgang Pauli as follows: Ihre Arbeiten gefallen mir besser als Sie selber. (Your papers please me better than you yourself.) Afterwards, however, the author became fairly certain that what Ehrenfest said was this: Ihre Arbeiten gefallen mir besser als Ihr Gesicht. (Your papers please me better than your face.) The correct version sounds harsher than the printed version.

On page 207, the author writes, "[Richard Becker's arrival at Göttingen] was at the time when Germany was already facing the possibility of a defeat at Stalingrad." In fact, Becker arrived after Germany's defeat at Stalingrad. Therefore, Becker's words, "I do not want to see our troops annihilated . . . ," should also be changed into "I did not want to see . . ."

On page 212, with respect to one of the situations after the liberation of part of Netherlands from Nazi Germany, Casimir writes, "A local broadcasting station operated at the Philips works and the only official station in the liberated part of the country—it had the proud name "Vrij Nederland" (Free Netherlands)—transmitted the latest news." The actual name was "Herrijzend Nederland" (Re-arising Netherlands). Did the error come from the fact that both the words "free" and "re-arising" in Dutch include characters "rij," in addition to their similar meanings?

  1. T. Tabata, "To Professor Hendrik Casimir," The Web site 'Surely I'm Joking!' (April 5, 2000).
  2. H. B. G. Casimir, "Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science" (Harper & Row, New York, 1983).
  3. H. B. G. Casimir, Private communication (January 5, 1985).

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