Princeton University (1953-1956). Mathematics & Physics

Hugh's family was not rich [19, page 9]. His father, by this time a colonel, was the commander of a logistics base, Cameron Station, in nearby Alexandria, VA [6] (Alexandria is a 200-year-old city across the Potomac River, where on Cameron Street a former home of George Washington is preserved, and nearby a church which Washington used to visit [20, 21]). In order to pursue his further education at prestigious Princeton University, Everett needed financial support, and he achieved it, being awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship. [19, page 3] Although he was interested in theoretical physics, it was to the Mathematics Department that he gained admission [19, page1], and his NSF fellowship called for him to work on game theory. It is conceivable that even early in his graduate career, Hugh was thinking about military applications of game theory. But his main focus at the time was on preparing for the general exams [19, page 3] and seeking a way to transfer into the Physics Department. [19, page 6] His roommate that first year at Princeton was from England [19, page 7].

Everett made friends with other graduate students-in particular, Charles W. Misner (in physics, but with a strong mathematical bent), Hale Trotter, and Harvey Arnold. These four remained friends through Everett's three years at Princeton, and the friendship with Misner he cherished for the rest of his life. Trotter told them about news of mathematics, about algebraic topology [19, pages 3-4]. Everett once brought the book by Russian émigré G. Y. Rainich, Mathematics of Relativity [24], and said to his friends: "Look, this was a great idea. Why did he stop there instead of going on to finish the job?" (Misner did go on later) [19, pages 1-2, 4]. (There is another version of this story about Rainich, namely that Peter Bergmann brought Rainich's work to the attention of John Wheeler and Misner, the latter of whom heroically "in the space of very few months produced a wonderful paper (and thesis)" [24a, page 268].) With Trotter and Misner Everett discussed the idea "that elementary particles would be obviously the way different knots would be knotted in multiple-connected space and we went over there and said all we've got to know is the classification of knots and we'll have the answer." Everett pursued that idea for some time, but said later that getting ready for the general exams (which he actually took in physics near the end of his second year of study) took time away from his theoretical work.



Everett in 1955, with Niels Bohr (age 24)

Despite his commitment to game theory and the Math Department, Everett drifted toward physics. In his Princeton Alumni file the list of courses he took in his first term, fall 1953, includes Electricity and Magnetism with George Reynolds and Introductory Quantum Mechanics with Robert Dicke, with the quantum mechanics course continuing into his second term, spring 1954. (In the fall, he also took an Algebra seminar with Emil Artin [25].)

Everett's summer vacation in 1954 coincided with the so-called Army-McCarthy hearings in the U.S. Congress, which were televised and widely watched. Misner says that he spent a great deal of time watching the hearings. Everett may have spent some time doing the same thing, but apparently wasn't caught up in them the way Misner was. He (Everett) worked hard that summer on military applications of recursive games. [19, page 2].

In his second year at Princeton, beginning in September 1954, Everett was admitted to the Physics Department, with Frank Shoemaker as his faculty advisor [26]. One subject that he studied for the whole year was Methods of Mathematical Physics with Eugene Wigner. [25]. (Indeed there is no record of his having enrolled in any other course.) In the second term of that year, spring 1955, Niels Bohr attended a seminar in Princeton, and the local paper published a photo of the 68-year-old Nobel Laureate prior to the seminar surrounded by Misner, Trotter, Everett and David Harrison [27]. In the picture Everett looks thin, with an eagle profile, a cigarette in his hand [27a]. (Everett was probably then already a chain smoker. Relatives and others say that he smoked up to three packs of cigarettes per day, a habit that may have been ultimately fatal for both him and, through second-hand smoke, his wife. [28, 29]).


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