Writings Celebrating Herb Bernstein's 80th Birthday!

by friends, colleagues, and other students 


Herb Bernstein taught me:

About science.

About interdisciplinarity.

About knowing, not knowing, and knowing the difference.

About knowing that we don't always know the difference.

About superposition.

About entanglement.

About teaching.

About listening.

About teaching by listening.

About balance.

About caring.

About not caring, when we shouldn't.

About challenging the status quo.

About generosity.

About open heartedness.

About not worrying too much about deadlines.

About human dimensions of science.

About the multiplicity of human perspectives.

About the importance of students. 

About possibilities mattering, even if they never happen.

About living a meaningful life.

About being a superb colleague.

About inspiring greatness.

About getting a bargain.

About constructive interference.

About it not being enough just to know.

About "Luv2all," with which he signed so many emails.

Luv2all! Luv2Herb!!


– Lee Spector, Hampshire College



I believe it is incontrovertible that I’m the one who knows Herb the longest since I first met him a few days after my birth about 75 years ago.   We had the normal sibling fights which sadly became exacerbated when parents had the brilliant idea of moving me to a room which could only be entered through Herb’s.  But things resumed normality when I moved to a large closet until Herb went to college, fortunately at age 16!

              He was always a superb brother. As a teenager, my chavurah, or extended group of friends had an expression universally agreed upon: “Herb knows everything”.  In our experience, he never proved that known truth wrong, or gave us any reason to doubt our certainty.  Late one evening at a recent family retreat our children, grandchildren, and their cousins (Herb’s nieces and nephews) were introduced to that same truth as he gave them a detailed explanation of the (absurd) workings of the universe as understood by quantum mechanics. 

One other example demonstrated the continuing truth of the adage. As a Judge in Philadelphia, I took every occasion to author articles on the law.  I never had writers block until I was asked to author an article on Judicial ethics for “The Judges Book” a handbook for new Judges produced by the National Judicial College and the American Bar Association. Despite several attempts, I could not get started –"writer’s block!”  I called Herb. After listening to my problem, Herb said: “Ethics is what professions use to protect their members, try writing about Judicial morality.”  That got me started and unleashed a readily produced article describing how Judicial morality has always been the same throughout history from the Greeks civilization to the bible, to today.  For decades, the book and article guided new Judges across the country.

ISIS is a quintessential example of Herb’s brilliance.  Congratulations on the Institute for science anniversary and Herb's 80th celebration!


– Mark Bernstein





Reality, we naturally think, stands ready-made and complete, and our intellects supervene with the one simple duty of describing it as it is already. But may not our decisions and actions be themselves important additions to reality? And may not previous reality itself be there, far less for the purpose of reappearing unaltered in our knowledge, than for the very purpose of stimulating us to such additions as shall enhance the universe’s total value? No one can deny that such a role would add both to our dignity and to our responsibility as thinkers. To some of us it proves a most inspiring notion. The import of the difference between QBism and the Everettian interpretation of quantum mechanics is thus now in sight throughout its whole extent. The essential contrast is that for the Everettians reality is ready-made and complete from all eternity, while for QBism it is still in the making, and awaits part of its complexion from the future. On the one side the universe is absolutely secure, on the other it is still pursuing its adventures. We have got into rather deep water with this view, and it is no wonder that misunderstanding gathers round it. The QBist view of ‘reality,’ as something resisting, yet malleable, which controls our thinking as an energy that must be taken account of is evidently a difficult one to introduce to novices. Still, a few people have always felt the idea in their bones, even if they could not quite articulate it. Among them is our dear Herb, and that is why we love him.

— the ghost of William James, as channeled through Chris Fuchs 

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We last celebrated Herb – and he should be celebrated every day and likely is without his knowing it – over a decade ago at the fortieth anniversary of Hampshire’s opening. The nominal focus was his class “Quantum Mechanics for the Million” (QMM). Several of his most outstanding students were invited to participate as well as an outlier. Representing the ‘million’ rather than the gifted, I was the outlier chosen to help make the case that the course could be as challenging and illuminating as you dared make it. I took a number of good courses and independent studies at Hampshire and at Amherst with several great teachers including Dick Lyon (literature), James Haden (philosophy), Estelle Jussim (media studies), Miriam Slater, (history), EE Krieckhaus (neuroscience), Art Hoener (graphic design), Lynn Miller (biology) and Ken Hoffman (math) at Hampshire (an eclectic group); and George Kateb (political theory) and Benjamin DeMott (literature) at Amherst – but Herb stood out then and stands out even more so now that much of my time is spent teaching graduate students.

The physicists – John Dell, Lee Smolin and Herb – in black; the outlier in dull brown.

My concentration – not sure what term we used back then – at Hampshire was philosophy, leaning-in toward ‘great books’. My Division Three thesis was on Hannah Arendt whose final course at the New School for Social Research I had the good fortune to take in the fall of 1974 after I graduated. I had developed an interest in number theory and, thanks to Ken Hoffman, an interest in the history of calculus…Xeno’s Paradox and all that…so “how do we know what we think we know” was an appealing mystery to me and remains so.

Thanks to Herb who had a mastery of adapting QMM to the interests and, luckily for me, the capacity of particular students, my focus was on the so-called Einstein, Podolosky and Rosen Paradox (EPR). Herb was exceptionally generous in making the essentials of the 1935 paper sufficiently accessible to me that the epistemological implications became clear and fascinating Gedanken experiments – a term I’d never heard of before QMM – introduced me to a fresh and provocative way of imagining the world. While I was something of a blockhead on the deeper physics of EPR, the matter of “how do we know what we think we know” struck a chord that has resonated for years. It led me to Godel, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Frank Ramsay, Schrodinger’s Cat, Frank Nash (etc) and later at the University of Chicago to econometrics and then to risk management and starting small companies and over the past two decades to the Harvard Graduate School of Design as a later in life doctoral student, senior research associate and for the past seven years a faculty member teaching in the Master in Design Engineering program, a joint initiative with the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Uncertainty, both radical and resolvable, reigns on most every scale.

The line from QMM to what’s followed in my life is more direct than I’d realized before drafting this reflection. The course, by which I mean Herb, gave me the confidence to work with – and a lifelong preference for working with - the brightest and most intellectually curious and generous people possible, especially on the technical side where I’m weaker. Lee Smolin and John Dell were exemplars in QMM and I’m sure there were others. I was able to connect enough dots and to ask questions from different perspectives to make it work, at least on my end. As a teacher, Herb remains an aspirational role model. The graduate program in Design Engineering enrolls a mix of engineers (primarily ME and CS), designers (primarily architecture, industrial design and U/X) and a few eclectics (primarily economics), virtually all with two-to-five years of work experience, all with impressive portfolios, all focused on so-called “wicked problems”. Respecting different skills and ways of understanding while staying true to a particular curriculum is easier said than done. Herb is a master and my already deep appreciation for him as a teacher has grown that much more over time.

Of course, there’s much to celebrate about Herb far beyond his formal teaching. Creating and leading the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies makes it clear that science for Herb has been much more than an aesthetic pursuit, though it’s been that, too. Combining applied science with the social disciplines, philosophy, an investigative spirit and worldly pragmatism, Herb’s book Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truth in the Twenty-First Century - published in 1998, a full quarter century ago - is timelier than ever. More optimistic than it sounds, “muddling through” is our best bet for navigating a world in “polycrisis”, the term popularized by Columbia economist historian Andrew Tooze to describe how particular crises – climate change, economic shocks, pandemics, food insecurity, geopolitical fracturing etc –interact with and amplify each other…the “whole”, per Tooze, being “worse than the sum of the parts”. A system thinker at macro and quantum scales, Herb has been a beacon for us all. There is hope!

Herb’s energy, curiosity, empathy, candor, loyalty and humor are the mark of a genuine humanist and are wonderful complements to his agile, probing and marvel of a lively brain. For over fifty years he has been a dear friend.

– Jock Herron


I just want to thank Herb for becoming my advisor when I was still figuring out how to get things done and giving me the space to do so. (BTW I'm sorry for "deconstructing" that plaster body cast with power tools in the Kiva.)  Although I wanted to do Physics, I ended up doing computer-composed music. That got me into DEC AI back in the 80's.  In the mid-90's I came to Japan, launched an internet company and eventually took it public.  I've gotten a lot of help along the way, but my improbable journey unmistakably began back at Hampshire with Herb's support. I'm sure many others feel the same. If only cloning were allowed, I'd say so in person... Happy 80th Birthday! 

– Tom Foley 79F


Happy Birthday, Herb! Amazing, the confluence of your 80th year and a celebration of your work! For a lifetime, you have dedicated yourself to science’s larger purpose, to how scientific thinking can elevate humanistic values in every sphere of life. Your perseverance has touched the lives of your students, and colleagues while transforming institutions. Such good news that with your retirement from Hampshire will bring a new and exciting chapter in the evolution of ISIS!

– Nina Shandler




But enough about Herb. Let’s start with me. I helped organize a group called Valley Citizens for a Safe Environment [VCSE] that focused on Westover Air Reserve Base. After living for a year near Otis/Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, I happened to move back to Western Mass the year Westover was about to trade-in its propeller cargo planes for 16 C-5 behemoths.

On the Cape, a physicist (what is it about physicists?) named Joel Feigenbaum had gotten me to pay attention to various environmental problems at Otis.[1] His idea was not just to try to mitigate environmental effects but to make the connection between foreign commitments and costs at home. And I had learned that a good time to speak up about such things is when a base has to do environmental impact statements. The change at Westover triggered such a study.[2]

VCSE was mostly people who lived near Westover. As we began working with a remarkable attorney,[3] I learned that the National Environmental Policy Act is a “disclosure” law. Essentially, that means it doesn’t regulate how bad an effect may be, you can do whatever-the-heck so long as you  tell people what you are about to do to them. While not-in-my-backyard has become an epithet, it is also the primary enforcement mechanism of environmental protection in the U.S.—it’s up to people to whom likely effects have been disclosed to raise a fuss. And the people who care most are usually the ones most affected.

All to say, there were years of back and forth with studies and, eventually, lawsuits. Eventually, the homeowners we involved in a class action suit won what was reportedly the largest award for military aircraft noise in the country.[4] But the base was still there, the C-5s were still there. VCSE and Westover settled into détente through a Restoration Advisory Board [RAB] co-chaired by a base environmental engineer and a citizens’ representative. I’ve been that representative longer than my adult children have been alive. And that’s also when, somewhere around 1993, Herb Bernstein offered the help of the nascent Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies. The idea, he said, was not to work for VCSE, but to offer help evaluating proposals as they came up in the advisory group. We would get credible scientific evaluation, ISIS (now IS&IS?) would get technical assistance grants.

I was wary. The advisory board already felt perilously close to cooption, a way to quiet critics by seeming to include them. The last thing we needed was a supposedly neutral party that wouldn’t read reports with as much skepticism as they warranted, wouldn’t look for what wasn’t in them at all. Then again, VCSE wasn’t likely to fix much on its own and Herb had an argument: “It will be a way to teach.” It would be a way for students to get a real-world look at the sludgy borders between science and democracy. And the military, too.

And so began over a quarter-century (!) collaboration. We shared a lot of car rides to RAB meetings, discussing science, kids, life, and, more frequently than we would have liked, why the base’s remediations efforts weren’t working.[5]

One of IS&IS’ first big projects involved actual field studies. Herb wangled—I don’t think those who know him will argue that wangled is too strong a word—access to an on-base “area of concern” for students being supervised by a chemistry professor from another college. They surveyed, they reviewed, they sampled. And at last, they reported their findings to a gathering of local homeowners and representatives from Westover. Although most of my writings from that era are all-too safely stored on Apple floppies, I did find elsewhere my testy letter to Herb after the students’ presentation. Here’s an excerpt: 

   The second frustration has more to do with bringing science to the people. … [D]escriptions of method dominated and interpretations and significance remained obscure.

   I said … there can be a three-way conflict of systems—democratic, martial, and scientific.  Last night, I think [VCSE] people felt shut out by science.  I think the meeting was the appropriate place to say clearly that if you have a two foot variation in records of well heights and a two foot groundwater potential, you may not have figured out where stuff is going.  I did not want to be the one to say that, yet now I wish I had.   


Harrumph! Herb undoubtedly felt the VCSE heat, but in retrospect, I think he was also fascinated. He had set up an experiment in applied science and he had a result that was worthy of closer examination. That result was that interpretation of hard data could be softened by the presumptions of credibility, motivation, and authority. Like the plumes themselves, those interpretations moved downgradient, moved where there would be the least resistance. And Herb kept that lesson in mind for the next twenty years. It didn’t put him on one side or the other, but he was always ready to poke at bias.

If different studies, for instance, had shown different results, why was it fair to assume the more recent one was always more reliable? Or the one that seemed least troublesome for the project at hand? He showed me—and students—that extra part of science. It’s not just about measurements and numbers, but the method must also extend to how such things are credited. Toward that end he had had one of his interns put together a database to allow comparison of findings among many studies and sampling rounds that had been done at the base. It proved revealing—and the intern went on to a fine computer tech career.  

We did other things in collaboration. Herb and VCSE worked with national networks of citizens concerned about military-related environmental impacts to share information and gather different groups together. Occasionally we even got sobering calls from veterans trying to gather evidence that they were worthy of compensation for medical ills they attributed to exposure at Westover to the things we were trying to get cleaned up. It wasn’t all about numbers.

Over the years, Herb and I came to trust each other. Our goals and motivations were not always the same, but mostly complementary. Still, I have come to think of Herb as deeply idealistic. I avoid saying anyone believes “in” science because belief is the domain of religion. But Herb finds value in the method of science. He is obviously good at it and has always tried to pull me along, assuming that I should know what “methyl” means or that I could totally grasp how to use entanglement to place really long-distance calls if I just think about it. 

But I think Herb does have a belief. I think he believes that people, anyone, can learn, that anyone deserves attention. I think he is small “d” democratic and shows it through the respecting people. I think he sees science as outside of status. What is, is. Whether you have a Ph.D. or five stars on your shoulder, toxins in a well will be unimpressed. They’re still bad to drink.

He really did want IS&IS to give people the tools to re-balance imbalances and to help them understand, interpret, and evaluate information that was both arcane but also often intentionally obscured. And for my part, I stuck with it in large part to further Herb’s other goal, teaching students about environmental science, while reminding them that compassion is not irrelevant. 

Having talked me into accompanying him to New York to help talk people into funding IS&IS for another year, Herb looked at the room we were entering, which was richly paneled in seasoned wood, even across the high vaulted ceiling over the long mahogany table. He leaned toward me, “Isn’t it interesting how intimidating rooms like this are?” He was really interested. How does this architecture change how we act?

He never let the architecture change him. He brings science to people not just to loan its power for some particular issue but because he likes seeing people come to understand. He teaches, not by proclaiming from on high but by simply being curious. May that respect and curiosity be the next pandemic. We are all, after all, entangled.


So Herb, thanks. And I’ll finally use the word you’ve always used to close letters to me:


–David Gilbert Keith


[1] Limited to only a few locations by missile treaties, the phased-array radar to alert the entire eastern United States to approaching (presumably Soviet) missiles and bombers is in Sandwich, Mass. Dr. Feigenbaum was keen to get Cape Officials to understand that allowing housing, especially on hills within the field of the radar, could lead to bad things. Feigenbaum was also raising alarms that solvent contamination, particularly from fire-training burn pits, was leaching into the Cape’s sole-source aquifer. It’s still in the news today, as PFAS and PFOS are a new focus of an old problem.

[2] Mostly for noise, but burning through 24 tons of fuel per hour, C-5 cargo planes would have more emissions than the comparatively small C-130’s they would replace.

[3] Cristobal Bonifaz, not only a lawyer but a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from MIT and even a good person.

[4] Subsequently, in an unrelated case, Justice Antonin Scalia went out of his way to argue that a certain ruling was necessary to avoid such effects as countless suits over aircraft noise. He got his way, so our record is likely to stand.

[5] Such as by injecting ORC® in circumstances the inventor of that product described as “proscribing” its use. Or choosing less expensive remediation alternatives that would become more expensive because they had to be repeated.


Herb Bernstein

Mentor, Teacher, and Dear Friend

Herb was and remains my first and dearest physics teacher, advisor, mentor, and guide. His huge patience, comradery, love and support through the years formed the emotional and intellectual bedrock on which I have stood through the decades dating from our time together during those first days at Hampshire in 1971.  

Herb showed me how to think like a physicist, keeping the faith between theory and experiment, how to engage physical ideas with clarity, precision, and depth. He taught me not to bullshit the details while keeping sight of the big picture. Herb showed me the joy of sharing and thinking physics together and not just a little about the art of explanation. As a mentor, Herb extended that essential invitation to me to join a community of searchers and creators for which I am permanently in his debt. He also taught me how to enjoy a 59¢ bowl of rice with sardines; an appetite and survival skill that got me through more than just a few weeks of being a broke physics graduate student.

On the first day of our one-to-one tutorial in Classical Mechanics during my first semester at Hampshire in 1971, Herb gave me his home phone number and admonished me to not call him about physics problems after midnight. Learning with Herb was not a sterile knowledge transfer; it was personal; it was genuine; it was full of love; and it was great fun! Throughout our four years together in those early days of Hampshire College, I always felt we were in it together.

Many branches of my intellectual and professional life have roots in my time with Herb; not least of which was ignition of my enduring professional engagement with the weird and wonderful fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics and especially with what are now generally referred to as Qbits; the primal 2-quantum state systems at the heart of today’s emerging Quantum Computational technology; a technology that will change the computational world and all that entails. Herb was teaching the fundamentals of Qbits decades ahead of the mainstream. To this day, the deep, wonderful, and still mysterious properties of spacetime Qbits, spinors, fascinate me and are the basis of new and interesting perspectives and speculation on the structure of spacetime itself.

My professional path as a physics teacher led me to become founding physics faculty at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in 1988. Herb taught me that the essential job of a teacher is sharing something you love; often times in defiance of systems that polute the  joy of learning with a competition for certification and status. As a teacher I did my best to propagate Herb’s implicit and explicit educational attitude and methods, teaching my own (evolving) version of Herb’s Quantum Mechanics for the Million to about 1000 gifted high school physics students over 25 years, many of whom today research physics, mathematics, and computer science faculty at the nation’s top research universities. Some are rocket designers at SpaceX, a few are tech entrepreneurs and newly minted billionaires. I have taught workshops for high school physics teachers on how to teach Quantum Computation from ground zero based on these ideas; always coming back to fundamentals I was so excited to first learn about in Herb’s class. 

But I learned more than physics and the soul of teaching it from Herb during those early days at Hampshire. Among the things I learned is that the formation of learning community is literally what it’s all about. This is something I always felt in my bones from Herb. Knowledge to the extent it propagates is always a community product and the knowledge that is created, how it comes into being, and how it is used always carries aspects of the spirit of that community, like it or not. I learned that despite the collective politics that goes into aggregating the resources to establish institutions like Hampshire or TJ; it is the students and faculty who implement the vision that define it and MAKE IT REAL. The awakening and activation of a learning community was core to the foundational period of Hampshire College in the 1970s, something the school strives to renew today. Having lived this with Herb, I was in a unique position to be aware of and bring elements of the same spirit of community formation to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) when I joined the new physics teachers at the school in 1988;  to help make that fledgling institution, especially the exceptional physics program at the school, over which I had innovative control for more than two decades, a place for students to build and thrive in their own nascent community; despite all the forces arrayed to recapitulate and enforce the industrial model of education with which we are all, unfortunately, familiar. Over my 30 years at TJ, I worked to help students defend their innate excitement free from incessant judgment, to recognize and strive for the joys of depth and clarity, and realize their desire to collaborate rather than compete in their learning journeys with their peers.

I was also deeply influenced by Herb’s mentorship and the essential need to extend a loving invitation to beginning students to join a community of knowledge creators as early as possible. Herb made me feel that invitation to join the global community of physicists with excitement and joy. Over the years I found opportunities to extend this chain and provide genuine mentorship opportunities for high school students when their hearts are open and their brains are burning massive amounts of glucose; when they both require and deserve mentorship to receive and accept the essential life changing invitation that genuine mentorship conveys. In pursuit of this goal I directed summer research mentorship programs for high school students on three continents through the Research Science Institute program (RSI), founded by Admiral Rickover in his retirement for precisely the reasons I have mentioned above. I directed the program at MIT for two summers, at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah Saudi Arabia (we ran a stealth co-educational program that included boys, girls, Sunni and Shia in the era before MBS) for 3 summers, and an RSI Program at Tsinghua University in Beijing for two summers. In each and every case my core motivation was to create and support intense summer mentorships and flash communities of young scientists across a variety of scientific fields in the same loving spirit that Herb mentored me in those amazing early days at Hampshire. My focus as director of these programs was always the same: make every mentorship as potent, real, and personal as Herb did for me.

Perhaps it is impossible for teachers like Herb to fully realize the profound effects they have on the lives of all of their students and the propagation of their love and attention through the generations. I hope this note conveys in some small measure the deep, wide, and lasting effects that Herb’s loving guidance and mentorship had on my life and the lives of my students where I was, at the end of the day, simply channeling Herb as best I could. 

These ripples down through time are real and Herb’s love and attention endure in ways that this note cannot do justice to. At the end of the day I need to tell you Herb, from the bottom of my heart, for all you have given, I love you. 

– John Dell, PhD (Physics), Hampshire 1971



There are very few individuals who change the direction of other people’s lives. Herb has influenced a generation of students, and he really changed the last 37 years of my life and career. I entered Hampshire College curious about physics but completely ill prepared to study it. Herb went beyond just teaching the subject. He mentored me on how to learn and prepared me for a lifelong career.  Thankfully, towards the end of my time at Hampshire, Herb scared the heck out of me by requiring a graduate level comprehensive exam.  A year later I saw people at Dartmouth College getting a terminal masters for failing the comps.  I would have been one of them if it were not for Herb Bernstein.  He is a warm and wonderful person. An impressive physicist. And, luckily for me… a skilled professor and caring mentor.  Happy 80th birthday Herb!  And, thank you for everything you have done.

--Michael Goldstein, Ph.D.



Dear Herb,

 I write to congratulate you for the decades of work the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies has done to expand the way the academy views science and to advance our understanding of the complexity of knowing and learning itself. It is perhaps this latter area that has made the greatest difference, for the focus on different ways of knowing has helped open the door to a wider understanding of the different ways individuals actually earn. Your vision that how we know and how we learn are inextricably linked has made a difference not just in every field but also for every age group.

It has been a privilege to be your colleague; and, as a former Hampshire president, I also am deeply grateful for the prestige and luster your work and you have added and continue to add to Hampshire’s story.

With the deepest gratitude and respect.


 Gregory S. Prince, Jr,  Fourth President of Hampshire College (1989-2005)