Physics training influenced Richard Holbrooke’s approach to diplomacy

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson used the New York Times letters to the editor section to share a story about diplomatic titan Richard Holbrooke on the occasion of his passing on December 13.  Tyson noted that Holbrooke majored in physics for a time as an undergraduate at Brown University before switching to political science.

Tyson described a conversation the two had during a tour of the Hayden Planetarium in 2000.  When asked whether his physics training affected his diplomatic practice, Holbrooke responded “emphatically ‘yes,’ citing the physics-inspired approach of sifting for the fundamental drivers of a cause or phenomenon — stripped of all ornament. To get there, one must assess how and when to ignore the surrounding details, which can give the illusion of importance, yet in the end, are often irrelevant distractions to solutions of otherwise intractable problems.”

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