On Oppenheimer, Bhagwat Gita and the Faustian bargain

“The thing had to be done, Circumstances are heavy with misgiving.” (Oppenheimer in a letter to his friend, after the Hiroshima bombing)

Oppenheimer is among the most anticipated movie of the year and here is a small background to it: Christopher Nolan read the book ‘American Prometheus’ (first published in 2005/Pulitzer prize winner) in 2021 and immediately decided to work on the movie.

American Prometheus is a rich evocation of America at midcentury, a new and compelling portrait of a brilliant, ambitious, complex and flawed man profoundly connected to its major events–the Depression, World War II and the Cold War. It is at once biography and history, and essential to our understanding of our recent past–and of our choices for the future – notes from the author.

I have been reading the book – primarily from a place of curiosity as to the dilemma Oppenheimer must have gone through on mixing science with politics, on seeing the devastation carried out during Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and re-evaluating his life choices (yet to see the movie, hopefully early next week).

Sharing AtomicIdeas from the book American Prometheus, but first a quick history (will help when you are watching the movie)

J. Robert Oppenheimer was a complex and controversial figure. He was a brilliant scientist who made significant contributions to the development of nuclear weapons. He was also a man of conscience who wrestled with the moral implications of his work. Oppenheimer’s legacy is still debated today, but there is no doubt that he was one of the most important scientists of the 20th century

The Faustian Bargain

The Faustian bargain is a metaphor for a deal with the devil in which someone trades their soul for something they desire. The development of nuclear weapons can be seen as a Faustian bargain because it gave humanity the power to destroy itself.

Oppenheimer was aware of the risks involved in developing nuclear weapons, but he believed that the benefits outweighed the risks.

atomic bomb explosion GIF

The Dual Nature of Knowledge

Oppenheimer’s journey illustrates the dual nature of knowledge – it can be both constructive and destructive. The same scientific insights that led to the advancement of nuclear physics and peaceful applications of atomic energy also enabled the creation of immensely powerful and dangerous weapons.

This serves as a reminder that knowledge and technological progress must be accompanied by responsible stewardship to ensure that they are used for the greater good and not as instruments of destruction.

Oppenheimer and Bhagwat Gita

Oppenheimer had a long and documented fascination with the Bhagavad Gita. He learned Sanskrit in the early 1930s while working at Berkeley, after befriending a professor of the language.

The nuclear bomb was tested in a New Mexico-based desert on July 16, 1945, and after the “successful” detonation, Oppenheimer—referred to as the “father of the atomic bomb”—had said the famous lines: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

I am become Death

When Oppenheimer first read the text, he couldn’t have known the eerie relevance it would have to his future. “About to lead his troops into mortal combat,” historians Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin write by way of summary, “Arjuna refuses to engage in a war against friends and relatives. Lord Krishna replies, in essence, that Arjuna must fulfill his destiny as a warrior to fight and kill.” (via)

Note that this quote is highly debatable *.

Notable quotes from Oppenheimer

The power of science and the responsibility that comes with it.

Science is a powerful tool, but it is also a dangerous one. We must use it wisely and responsibly, and we must be aware of the potential consequences of our actions- Oppenheimer.

The importance of standing up for what you believe in, even when it is unpopular.

We must also be willing to stand up for what we believe in, even when it is difficult. We must be willing to risk our careers and our reputations in order to do what we think is right.


The importance of learning from the past and working to create a better future.

We must learn from the mistakes of the past and work to create a better future. We must never forget the horrors of war, and we must work to prevent them from happening again


*Speaking about Oppenheimer’s “I am become death” quote, reportedly taken from Gita, Devdutt Pattanaik said, “I did some research on Oppenheimer, and I had never come across this line. Someone said it was chapter 11, verse 32, which really says ‘kaal-asmi,’ meaning, ‘I am time, destroyer of the world.’ So, his translation itself is wrong.”

Sign Up for nextbigwhat newsletter

Delivered everyday 8 AM. Most comprehensive coverage of the tech ecosystem.

Download Pluggd.in, the short news app for busy professionals