Enjoy your Herod Complex!
Y. S. Kim
Department of Physics, University of Maryland,
College Park, Maryland 20742
Herod was the king of Israel when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He became distressed to hear that a new king was born, and he ordered all the babies in Bethlehem be killed. You heard this story before, but you never get tired of hearing the same story again because the story talks about you.
- The Herod complex appears most commonly in referee reports saying
I could not solve this problem. How could you?
Then the referee becomes wild. In one of the reports I received, the referee said he/she would kill himself/herself if my claim is correct. It would be more interesting if I mention some specific persons. If anyone tells me I am behaving like King Herod, I become flattered. Thus, I am not offending anyone if I tell he/she behaves like Herod.
- I started reading
Wigner's 1939 paper on the Lorentz group when I was a graduate student
at Princeton (1958-61), but did not finish reading it until I wrote a
book with Marilyn Noz on the Poincaré group in 1985 (published in 1986).
I included the following table in one of my papers published in 1986.
Contents of Einstein's E = mc2
Particle Massive/Slow between Massless/Fast Einstein Energy
E = p2/2m E = [m2c4 + (cp)2]1/2 E = cp Wigner Helicity
Helicity Gauge Trans.
- In 1986, I showed this table to Eugene Paul Wigner (1902-1995), who was
regarded as Princeton's No. 2 man. The No. 1 man was of course Albert Einstein.
Wigner received his Nobel prize in 1963, but not for his 1939 for internal
- My photo with Winger (1986).
- This made some people very unhappy. Among them were Arthur Wightman and
Louis Michel. Wigner thanks them in the English edition of his book entitled
"Group Theory and Its Applications to the Quantum Mechanics of Atomic Spectra."
- Wightman was a professor of physics at Princeton, and he took over
Jones professorship when Wigner formally retired from the University. He had
enough reason to regard himself the person in charge of Wigner. In 1961,
he gave a series of lectures on Wigner's 1939 paper, and in his class.
He became very unhappy with the table given above, and wrote me a letter telling me it was wrong and told me to withdraw from the literature. Since his office was in the same building where Wigner's office was, he must have told Wigner the same story. Yet, Wigner stood with me.
- Louis Michel was a very distinguished mathematical physicist, and I also
learned about Wigner's 1939 paper from him when he spent one semester
in 1972 at the Univ. of Marlyland. He gave a series of lectures on the
He also told me the table given above is wrong, and wrote the president of my university to fire me or reduce my position. However, my president stood with me. His name was John S. Toll.
Louis Michel was also an excellent physicist. He was responsible for the Michel parameter in neutrino physics. Michel had been the central figure in a bi-annual conference series called "Symmetries in Condensed Matter Physics" held near Poznan, Poland.
In 1995, I was invited to this conference to talk about Eugene Wigner. Because the conference organizers were not aware of Michel's Herod complex, they placed my talk before Michel's. If you knew Michel as many of you do, you could guess what riot this created.
Yes! Louis Michel was a very kind person and was very kind to me personally. I am in a position to entertain his Herod complex.
- How about my colleagues in the same department at the University of Maryland? Yes! Some of them gave me enough troubles, but it is not worth mentioning their names, since you will not recognize them.
- Wightman was a professor of physics at Princeton, and he took over Jones professorship when Wigner formally retired from the University. He had enough reason to regard himself the person in charge of Wigner. In 1961, he gave a series of lectures on Wigner's 1939 paper, and in his class.
- The Herod complex can sometimes serve as a driving force for one's
research. I was thoroughly pampered during my high school years. In this 1954
photo, I am wearing my high school uniform and shaking hands with General
Maxwell Taylor who was the commander of U.S. forces in Korea consisting
of 350,000 combat-ready U.S. troops. Taylor later served as the chairman
of joint chiefs during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He designed
the military invasion plan including a nuclear confrontation with the
- This photo entitles me to have my own Herod complex. In 1965, everybody
in physics was talking about Roger Dashen as Princeton's new genius. Due to
my Herod complex, I had to do something about it. This led to what is
known today as the Dashen-Frautschi fiasco.
Click here to see what really went on.
Click here for the background story of this image.
- Indeed, the word "Herod Complex" can settle many quarrels among physicists. If you have your own Herod complex, it is yours to enjoy.
- copyright@2003,2015,2022 by Y. S. Kim.
The images of the Infant and Herod are from "The Picture Bible" (David C. Cook Publishing Co., Elgin, Illinois, U.S.A., 1978).