Why did Paul Dirac speak so little?

Despite all his achievements, Paul Dirac remained merry in his own company and suffered agonies if forced into any kind of socializing or small talk.
paul dirac childhood

Paul Dirac was a British theoretical physicist who is most well known for his contributions to quantum mechanics. He gave an equation that predicted the existence of anti-matter in 1928. But, perhaps, there's another reason why Dirac is so widely recognized, that for his introversion and timidity.

Some of Dirac's colleagues at Cambridge defined a "unit of conversation" in his honour meaning one spoken word per hour. Although, this was a joke but the reality was pretty much the same. One commented on Dirac: "He's a lean, meek, shy young fellow who goes slyly along the streets, walks quite close to the walls, like a thief, and is not at all healthy."


The reason, for his incredible shyness and speechlessness, many claim, was Dirac's strained relationship with his father, especially during his growing up years. In fact, after his father died, Dirac wrote: "I feel much freer now, and I am my own man."

According to study, authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children being obedient and proficient, but they rank much lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem.

Paul Dirac's father, Charles Adrien Ladislas Dirac, an immigrant from Switzerland, was very strict right from the beginning. He forced his children to speak to him only in French, so that they might learn his native language.

Dirac, who knew just a little French, spoke even less in order to avoid being scolded for wrong grammar. Dirac took a lot of time to frame sentences, as he was told never to start a sentence without knowing its end.

Dirac found comfort in his imagination and when he wanted to put across his thoughts he would do so by writing them. In his early thirties, Dirac wrote in a letter to a close friend that to defend himself against the hostilities he perceived around him he retreated into his own imagination.

Paul had a younger sister, BĂ©atrice, and an older brother, Reginald, who committed suicide in 1925. Dirac, then 23, later recalled: "My parents were terribly distressed by it...But I didn't know they cared so much? I never thought that parents were supposed to care for their children. From then on I knew."

So, from early childhood, physics and maths had become Dirac's escape. The magical world of numbers and objects and their interrelationships interested him quite deeply. His father wanted Dirac to become an engineer but after graduating Dirac switched careers to pursue physics degree.


It was the right thing to go against his father's wishes because as an engineer Dirac couldn't land a job in post-first-world-war Britain. Dirac chose his passion and was allowed to skip the first year of the honours degree credit to his engineering degree.

As we all know, Paul Dirac made not only a career out of pure sciences but also revolutionized physics for next half a century. However, despite all his achievements, Dirac remained merry in his own company and suffered agonies if forced into any kind of socializing or small talk.

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