Short Biography of Jean-Pierre Vigier by Stanley Jeffers (from Jean-Pierre Vigier and the Stochastic Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Jeffers et al. eds., Apeiron, 2000)
“Great physicists fight great battles”—so wrote Professor Vigier in an essay he penned in tribute to his old friend and mentor Louis de Broglie. However, this phrase could equally well be applied to Vigier himself. He has waged a battle on two fronts—within physics and within politics.
He was born on January 16, 1920 to Henri and Françoise (née Dupuy) Vigier. He was one of three brothers, Phillipe (deceased) and François, currently Professor of Architecture at Harvard University. His father was Professor of English at the École Normale Supérieure—hence Vigier’s mastery of that language. He attended an international school in Geneva at the time of the Spanish Civil War. This event aroused his intense interest in politics, as most of his school friends were both Spanish and Republicans. At the age of 14 he dreamt of going to Spain to help with the Republican cause. While still a teenager, he discovered the works of Marx and Engels and welcomed the victory of the Popular Front in France in 1936. He felt acutely at this time that Europe was heading towards a major conflagration as Hitler developed his plans for European domination. He recalls vividly the treason of Doddier and Chamberlain in the notorious Munich agreement. At the French International Exposition held in Paris in 1936, the German and Russian pavilions were arranged opposite each other, and the sense of impending war was in the air.
Vigier was intensely interested in both physics and mathematics, and was sent by his parents to Paris in 1938 to study both subjects. For Vigier, mathematics is more like an abstract game, his primary interest being in physics as it rests on two legs, the empirical and the theoretical. At the start of the war, it was clear to the young Vigier that large segments of the ruling class in several European countries including England, France and Italy actually sympathized with the Nazi programme. The French army soon fell apart due to a leadership which was not terribly interested in confronting the German army. The French political leadership now comprised open sympathizers to the German cause, such as Marshall Pétain.
All the young soldiers were sent to Les Chantiers de la Jeunesse, and it was here that he joined the Communist Party. The young radicals were involved in acts of sabotage near the Spanish border, such as oiling the highways to impede the progress of the fascists. At this time the French Communist Party was deeply split concerning the level of support to be given to the Resistance. A few leaders went to the Resistance immediately while others, like Thorez, wavered. In the period before the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the party equivocated with respect to the Resistance. At this time Vigier was in a part of France controlled by a famous communist leader, Tillion who had participated in the revolt of the sailors in the Black Sea in 1918. Tillion immediately organized groups of resistance fighters called the Organisation Spéciale. Vigier was involved in bombing campaigns against both the Nazis and Vichy collaborators in the Free Zone.
He was able to travel relatively freely within Europe as his parents were now retired and living in Switzerland. This meant that Vigier could travel on Swiss documents and transport material of the Third International from the French Communist Party to the Soviet Union. In Russia he met with a group of German communists dubbed the Red Orchestra, a group including Hadow and Vigier’s future mother-in-law Rachel Dubendorfer. He met his future wife, Tamara, in a communist group in Geneva. Now divorced, they had two children, both girls, Maya and Corne. He has since re-married to Andrée Jallon, with whom he has a son, Adrien. In Geneva, Vigier was involved in communicating between the French communist military staff and Russia until he was arrested at the French border in the spring of 1942 and taken to Vichy. Here the French police interrogated him, as he was carrying coded documents. Two policemen took him by train from Vichy to Lyon to be delivered into the hands of the notorious Klaus Barbie. Fortunately, the train was bombed by the English. Vigier managed to jump through the window, escaped to the mountains and resumed his activities with the Resistance until the end of the war. He became an officer in the FTP movement. When De Gaulle returned to France, part of the Resistance forces were converted to regular army units. The famous Communist officer Colonel Fabien, the first man to kill an enemy officer, headed one. He himself was killed by a landmine explosion at the time the French army went over the Rhine. Vigier was part of the French forces which crossed the Rhine near Alsace in the spring of 1945 almost at the same time as the American forces. Part of the French army comprised former communist Resistance forces, and they faced an army across the Rhine that comprised French Vichy collaborators. During this action Vigier was shot and sent back to Paris for recovery.
The communist forces were very proud of the role they had played during the war and at the time of Liberation. They supported Russia unconditionally, not knowing anything of the Gulags and believing much of the propaganda from Russia. The French government after the war had significant communist representation. The Cold War started almost immediately after the defeat of the Germans. Vigier was still a member of the French General Staff while completing the requirements for a Ph.D. in Mathematics in Geneva. Then the communists were kicked out of the General Staff and Vigier went to work for Joliot-Curie. He in turn lost his job for refusing to build an atomic bomb for the French Government.
Vigier became unemployed for a while, but learned through an accidental meeting with Joliot-Curie that Louis de Broglie was looking for an assistant. When he met de Broglie the only questions asked were “Do you have a Ph.D. in Mathematics?” and “Do you want to do physics?” He was hired in 1948 immediately, with no questions asked about his political views. Although Secretary of the French Academy of Science, de Broglie was marginalized within physics circles given his well-known opposition to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Notwithstanding his Nobel Prize, de Broglie had difficulty in finding an assistant. Vigier entered the CNRS and worked with de Broglie until his retirement. Vigier’s political involvement at this time included responsibility for the French Communist Student movement.
In 1952 a visiting American physicist named Yevick, gave a seminar at the CNRS on the recent ideas of David Bohm. Vigier reports that, upon hearing this work, de Broglie became radiant and commented that he had first considered these ideas a long time ago. Bohm had gone beyond de Broglie’s original ideas, however. De Broglie charged Vigier with reading all of Bohm’s works in order to prepare a seminar. As a result, de Broglie returned to his old ideas and both he and Vigier started working on the causal interpretation of quantum mechanics. At the 1927 Solvay Congress de Broglie had been shouted down, but now due to the work of Bohm there was renewed interest in his idea that wave and particle could co-exist, eliminating the need for dualism.
Vigier recalls that at this time the Catholic Archbishop of Paris, who exclaimed that everyone knew that Bohr was right, upbraided de Broglie demanding to know how de Broglie could believe otherwise. Although a devout Christian, he was inclined to materialist philosophy in matters of physics. Vigier comments on his days with de Broglie that he was a very timid man who would meticulously prepare his lectures in written form; in fact his books are largely compendia of his lectures. He recalls one particular incident, which illustrates de Broglie’s commitment to physics. Vigier was in the habit of meeting with de Broglie weekly to receive instructions as to what papers he should be reading and what calculations he should be focusing on. On one of these occasions he was waiting in an anteroom for his appointment with de Broglie. Also waiting was none other than the French Prime Minister, Edgar Faure, who had come on a courtesy visit in order to discuss his possible membership in the French Academy. When the door finally opened, de Broglie called excitedly for Monsieur Vigier to enter as he had some important calculations for him to do; as for the Prime Minister—he could come back next week! For de Broglie, physics took precedence over politicians, no matter how exalted.
De Broglie sent Vigier to Brazil to spend a year working with David Bohm on the renewed causal interpretation of quantum mechanics. Thereafter, Yukawa got in touch with de Broglie, and Vigier subsequently went to Japan for a year to work with him. Vigier comments that about the only point of disagreement between him and de Broglie was over non-locality. De Broglie never accepted the reality of non-local interactions, whereas Vigier himself accepts the results of experiments such as Aspect’s, which clearly imply that such interactions exist.
He recently took an active interest in the controversial claims for so called cold fusion and published a paper in Physics Letters A (A 221, 138-140, 1996) which offered a theoretical explanation in terms of ionized hydrogen in a strong magnetic field. A more recent paper (New quantum mechanical tight bound states and "cold fusion" experiments, A.Dragic, Z.Maric and J.P.Vigier, Phys Lett A, 265 (2000), 163-167) develops these ideas. Interestingly, there is now very good experimental evidence for the production of excess energy in sonoluminescence experiments arising from the work of Talyarkhan et al. at Purdue University and about to be published in the Physics Review E."
Looking back on his political commitments, he now regards the October Revolution in Russia as an historical accident. He credits Stalin as a primary instigator of the Cold War along with Truman. He views the former Soviet society as the only third world country that became a world power under communism. The former Soviet regime is now regarded as having some decidedly negative aspects, such as the intervention in Czechoslovakia, but also some worthy aspects such as the support given to Third World countries such as Cuba. Professor Vigier has known personally some of the world leaders such as Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Min.
He still regards himself as a communist, but not a member of any organized group. His response to the question “why do we do science?” is that in part it is to satisfy curiosity about the workings of nature, but also to contribute to the liberation of humanity from the necessity of industrial labor. With characteristic optimism, he regards the new revolution of digital technology as enhancing the prospects for a society based on the principles enunciated by Marx: a society whose members are freed from the necessity of arduous labor as a result of the application of technological advances made possible by science.