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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Selections Annotated and Explained by Malaspina Great Books Web Editor Russell McNeil PhD
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:
Selections Annotated and Explained

Russell McNeil, PhD
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In 1862 the English literary critic and poet Matthew Arnold described Marcus Aurelius as "the most beautiful figure in history." The Stoicism of Aurelius is grounded in rationality and rests solidly on an ethical approach rooted in nature. Stoicism promises real happiness and joy in this life and a serenity that can never be soured by personal misfortune. This philosophy has universal appeal with practical implications on problems ranging from climate change and terrorism to the personal management of sickness, aging, depression and addiction. I truly believe that the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius has much to offer us now...(Click on book cover for more)

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Modern Science
Name:J. Robert Oppenheimer - Physics Series
Birth Year:1904
Death Year:1967
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Biography, Lectures, and Research Links: Malaspina Great Books - J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) Biography - Physics Series

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J. Robert Oppenheimer was an american physicist, director of the World War II effort to develop nuclear weapons, the Manhattan Project, at Los Alamos. He was born in New York City on April 22, 1904. His father was a German immigrant who had made his fortune importing textiles. His mother was an American-born painter who had studied in Paris. Robert and his brother, Frank, were raised in a comfortable, upper-middle class fashion, and both attended the Ethical Culture School from grammar school through high school. He not only studied math and the sciences, but also Greek, Latin, French, and German, and graduated in 1921. His early education was at the Ethical Culture School in New York. He took math and science classes, but also enthusiastically studied Greek, Latin, French, and German. He had a feel for languages and often learned one quickly just to read something in its original language. He learned Dutch in six weeks in order to give a technical talk in the Netherlands. He also maintained an interest in classics and eastern philosophy throughout his life. Oppenheimer attended Harvard University for his undergraduate studies. Besides excelling in physics and chemistry, he continued to study languages, published poetry, and developed an interest in Oriental philosophy. He was always an intense person, tall, thin, contemplative, and probing. After the oral exam for his PhD, the professor administering it is reported to have said, "Phew, I'm glad that's over. He was on the point of questioning me." He obtained his PhD in Germany after graduating from Harvard in 1925 and studying at Cambridge University under Ernest Rutherford. In 1929 he returned to the United States and positions at Berkeley and Cal Tech. He was an extraordinary teacher and an excellent theoretician. His analyses predicted many later finds, such as the neutron, positron, meson, and neutron stars.

Absorbed in his studies and the theoretical world of physics, he was often somewhat distracted from the "real world." But the rise of fascism in the 1930s caught his attention, and he took a strong stand against it. By 1939, Niels Bohr brought news to the U.S. that Germans had split the atom. The implication that the Nazis could develop extremely powerful weapons prompted President Roosevelt to establish the Manhattan Project in 1941. In June 1942, Robert Oppenheimer was appointed its director. Preliminary research was being done at Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, but Oppenheimer set up a new research station at Los Alamos, New Mexico. There he brought the best minds in physics to work on the problem of creating an atomic bomb. In the end he was managing more than three thousand people, as well as tackling theoretical and mechanical problems that arose. As World War II unfolded in Europe in the Fall of 1939, defecting German scientists began to warn of Germany's efforts to split the atom and develop a nuclear bomb. This prompted President Roosevelt to fund the Manhattan Project, a project designed to insure that the United States harnessed nuclear power first. Robert Oppenheimer was named as the Manhattan Project's director in 1942. In 1943, he consolidated research from a variety of locations into a new laboratory on the plateau of Los Alamos, New Mexico. The project was successful and the world's first explosion of a nuclear bomb took place in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, after the surrender of Germany. The blast was comparable to 20,000 tons of dynamite. Oppenheimer said, "We knew the world would not be the same." Within a month, two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were targeted by atomic bombs, and Japan surrendered on August 10, 1945. Oppenheimer had brought together over 3,000 people at Los Alamos, and his efforts earned him the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946. He was named director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in 1947. He was also chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, or AEC, from 1947 to 1952. He opposed the development of even more powerful bombs, and after President Truman did approve the hydrogen bomb, Oppenheimer found the political atmosphere had turned against him. In 1953, his security clearance was revoked and his contract with the Atomic Energy Commission was canceled. The scientific community rallied to his support and he became a symbol of a scientist trying to resolve moral problems arising out of scientific discoveries. His final years were focused on the relationship between science and society. On July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer witnessed the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. "We knew the world would not be the same," he said. Within a month, two atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities. Japan surrendered on August 10, 1945.

I have no remorse about the making of the bomb and Trinity [the first test of an a-bomb]. That was done right. As for how we used it, I understand why it happened and appreciate with what nobility those men with whom I'd worked made their decision. But I do not have the feeling that it was done right. The ultimatum to Japan [the Potsdam Proclamation demanding Japan's surrender] was full of pious platitudes. ...our government should have acted with more foresight and clarity in telling the world and Japan what the bomb meant. (Lansing Lamont, "Day of Trinity", pg. 332-333).

After the war, Oppenheimer chaired the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. He opposed developing an even more powerful hydrogen bomb. When President Truman finally approved it, Oppenheimer did not argue, but his initial reluctance and the political climate turned against him. In 1953, at the height of U.S. anticommunist feeling, Oppenheimer was accused of having communist sympathies, and his security clearance was taken away. He had, in fact, had friends who were communists, mostly people involved in the antifascist movement of the thirties. This loss of security clearance ended Oppenheimer's influence on science policy. He held the academic post of director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, and in the last years of his life, he thought and wrote much about the problems of intellectual ethics and morality. He died of throat cancer in 1967. [Adapted from The History of Computing Project]

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This web page is part of a biographical database on Great Ideas. These are living ideas that have shaped, defined and directed world culture for over 2,500 years. By definition the Great Ideas are radical. As such they are sometimes misread, or distorted by popular simplifications. Understanding a Great Idea demands personal engagement. Our selection of Great Ideas is drawn from literature and philosophy, science, art, music, theatre, and cinema. We also include biographies of pivotal historical and religious figures, as well as contributions from women and other historically under-represented minorities. The result is an integrated multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary database built upon the framework of the always controversial Great Books Core List published in 1940 by the late Great Books Pioneer Mortimer Adler (1902-2001). Most of the works on that list are available in the 60 volume Great Books of the Western World.

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