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Why did Paul Dirac speak so little?

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 his colleagues at Cambridge defined Dirac a "unit of conversation", meaning, one 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. 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, spoke even less in order to avoid being scolded for wrong grammar. When he really wanted to say, Dirac took a lot of time to frame proper sentences, as he was told never to start a sentence without knowing its end.

paul dirac family

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, so much so, that later on, he switched careers, from electrical engineering to pure mathematics.

That he did because he was jobless as an engineer, since, the world had succumbed to post-first-world-war depression. As a result, Dirac chose his passion for maths and was allowed to skip the first year of honours degree credit to his engineering degree.

As we all know, Paul Dirac made not only a career out of mathematics 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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