Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and the ZNF
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, the first child of Ernst and Marianne von Weizsäcker, was born in Kiel on June 28, 1912.
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker was a philosopher, physicist, and had an excellent grasp of several theoretical areas in social sciences. At the end of his life he pondered theological questions.
From the very beginning, his education showed a broader approach than a typical physicist. From 1929 to 1933, he studied Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics in Berlin, Göttingen and Leipzig, and was one of the students of Werner Heisenberg and Friedrich Hund.
When the atomic bombs exploded in 1945 over Hiroshima and Nagasaki he was in American-British captivity in Farm Hall (near Cambridge). He was deeply shaken by the catastrophic consequences.
From 1939 to 1942, von Weizsäcker was involved in the German Atomic Research Project, which was highly funded by the Heereswaffenamt (the German Armed Forces Weapons Division) due to its possible relevance for the construction of an atomic bomb. However, the NS-leadership saw no immediate chance of success, and pursued the project with relatively little attention after 1942. Weizsäcker only later realized to what extent he, as a physicist, would have been responsible for the creation of an atomic bomb, had he been successful.
After his release from captivity, he became director of the department for theoretical physics at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Göttingen.
In March 1954 the hydrogen bomb test known as “Castle Bravo” was carried out on the Bikini Atolls. With an explosive yield equivalent to over 15 megatons of TNT, it was almost 2.5 times bigger than scientific predictions. The contaminated area was 2500 times bigger than the area that was contaminated by the bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. The physicists around Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker were shocked. From that point on, they considered the danger of the entire planet being destroyed by such a weapon a very real threat, and felt compelled to act.
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker became known publicly as one of the “Göttinger 18”, a group of nuclear researchers who protested on April 12, 1957 through a public appeal called “Göttinger Erklärung” (Göttinger Declaration) against the idea that the Bundeswehr (German Federal Armed Forces) should be armed with nuclear weapons. They clarified in particular that they would not be available for such a program.
In 1957, during the discussion of nuclear armament, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker became appointed as Chair of Philosophy at the University of Hamburg, and eventually became its director. His lectures have an excellent reputation up until today. It is for this reason that the University of Hamburg made special efforts in 2005 to bring the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker - Endowed Professorship to Hamburg.
As a fruitful consequence of the “Göttinger Erklärung”, the Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler – VDW (The Federation of German Scientists) was established in Berlin in 1959 through the initiative of von Weizsäcker, together with other scientists. This organization advocates for a responsible use of science and technology. This is where a connection to the current work at the ZNF can be drawn. The teaching of the ZNF aims especially at providing the students with incentives to develop a consciousness for the responsibility of a scientist. This holds true today as well as in past times.
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker finally became the head of the VDW Research Division for war prevention and food safety and abundance in the world. Simultaneous to the founding of VDW was the establishment of the German Pugwash-Gruppe (Pugwash Group). The Manifesto issued in 1955 by Russell and Einstein (Russell-Einstein-Manifestes) led to the 1957 Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. This international organization tackles the issues concerning nuclear threats, armed conflicts, and other challenges to international security until today. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker was the first German scientist to take part in a Pugwash conference that was in the year 1958.
His work at the philosophical seminar meshed well with his work in the VDW Research Division. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker was now really able to push past the boundaries of a single discipline and to have multiple views on the various needs of our world. The ZNF sees itself as following in the tradition of the Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (VDW).
In 2003, inspired by the interdisciplinary work of the VDW and the special physicist view on “peace” by Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, several scientists from ten different departments, and the IFSH had the idea to establish a centre with a scientific point of emphasis, but also with the ability to deal with questions of peace in an interdisciplinary fashion.
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker dedicated his studies first and foremost to physics. He viewed physics as the core of all sciences. The research at the ZNF deals especially with the question of which physical methods can be used to reduce the menace of nuclear weapons. The project of disarmament verification, as well as the project of ultratrace analysis are in this field of study. The majority of research done at the ZNF is therefore conducted by physicists.
In 1970, the Starnberger Max Planck Institute for the Research of Living Conditions in the World of Science and Technology was specifically founded for him, and he was director there until 1980. The work at this institute was informed largely by approaches taken from social sciences. The ZNF as well provides a space for aspects from other disciplines to be reflected in peace research. In the past, many projects have been in conducted within specialized fields, dealing with war and peace. In close cooperation with the IFSH, and the joint organization of the workshop “Ways Out of Violence”, the ZNF participates in an intensive exchange with researchers from all kinds of fields in peace and conflict studies. The “Biological Weapons and Arms Control” group, for example, deals with the issues of biological weapons, often from a social science perspective.
After a meeting with the Indian Philosopher Pandit Gopi Krishna, the Research Foundation for Western Sciences and Eastern Wisdom of Society was founded, which worked on the connection between far eastern religions and western rational ideas. The ZNF has spearheaded an initiative that brings together psychologists, theologians and philosophers. The associated Curriculum Peacebuilding provides lectures from political scientists, physicians and literary scholars. Together they form the initiative group Peacebuilding.
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker died on April 28, 2007 in Söcking near Starnberg. See deceased..
Obituary of Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Obituary in the homepage of the German Pugwash Section: www.pugwash.de