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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index P > Max Planck Quotes

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Max Planck
(23 Apr 1858 - 4 Oct 1947)

German theoretical physicist.


Science Quotes by Max Planck (46 quotes)

Eine neue wissenschaftliche Wahrheit pflegt sich nicht in der Weise durchzusetzen, daß ihre Gegner überzeugt werden und sich als belehrt erklären, sondern vielmehr dadurch, daß ihre Gegner allmählich aussterben und daß die heranwachsende Generation von vornherein mit der Wahrheit vertraut gemacht ist.
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
— Max Planck
Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor (1950), 33.
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Als Physiker, der sein ganzes Leben der nüchternen Wissenschaft, der Erforschung der Materie widmete, bin ich sicher von dem Verdacht frei, für einen Schwarmgeist gehalten zu werden. Und so sage ich nach meinen Erforschungen des Atoms dieses: Es gibt keine Materie an sich. Alle Materie entsteht und besteht nur durch eine Kraft, welche die Atomteilchen in Schwingung bringt und sie zum winzigsten Sonnensystem des Alls zusammenhält. Da es im ganzen Weltall aber weder eine intelligente Kraft noch eine ewige Kraft gibt - es ist der Menschheit nicht gelungen, das heißersehnte Perpetuum mobile zu erfinden - so müssen wir hinter dieser Kraft einen bewußten intelligenten Geist annehmen. Dieser Geist ist der Urgrund aller Materie.
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.
— Max Planck
Lecture, 'Das Wesen der Materie' [The Essence/Nature/Character of Matter], Florence, Italy (1944). Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797. Excerpt in Gregg Braden, The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (2009), 334-35. Note: a number of books showing this quote cite it as from Planck's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1918), which the Webmaster has checked, and does not see this quote therein.
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A scientist is happy, not in resting on his attainments but in the steady acquisition of fresh knowledge.
— Max Planck
The Philosophy of Physics. Collected in The New Science: 3 Complete Works (1959), 253.

An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer.
— Max Planck
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning.
— Max Planck
Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor (1950), 97. Quoted in David L. Hull, Science as a Process (1990), 379.
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An indispensable hypothesis, even though still far from being a guarantee of success, is however the pursuit of a specific aim, whose lighted beacon, even by initial failures, is not betrayed.
— Max Planck
Nobel Lecture (2 Jun 1920), in Nobel Lectures in Physics, 1901-1921 (1998), 407.
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Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.
— Max Planck
Where is Science Going?, translated by James Vincent Murphy (1932), 214.
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Before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned—the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted—nature's answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of the theorist, who finds himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics. Of course, this does not mean that the experimenter does not also engage in theoretical deliberations. The foremost classical example of a major achievement produced by such a division of labor is the creation of spectrum analysis by the joint efforts of Robert Bunsen, the experimenter, and Gustav Kirchoff, the theorist. Since then, spectrum analysis has been continually developing and bearing ever richer fruit.
— Max Planck
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, and to the latter the goal of every thought process. To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.
— Max Planck
Lecture, 'Religion and Natural Science' (1937) In Max Planck and Frank Gaynor (trans.), Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1949), 184.
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Experimenters are the shock troops of science.
— Max Planck
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Hitherto the principle of causality was universally accepted as an indispensable postulate of scientific research, but now we are told by some physicists that it must be thrown overboard. The fact that such an extraordinary opinion should be expressed in responsible scientific quarters is widely taken to be significant of the all-round unreliability of human knowledge. This indeed is a very serious situation.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 66.
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How do we discover the individual laws of Physics, and what is their nature? It should be remarked, to begin with, that we have no right to assume that any physical law exists, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future. It is perfectly conceivable that one fine day Nature should cause an unexpected event to occur which would baffle us all; and if this were to happen we would be powerless to make any objection, even if the result would be that, in spite of our endeavors, we should fail to introduce order into the resulting confusion. In such an event, the only course open to science would be to declare itself bankrupt. For this reason, science is compelled to begin by the general assumption that a general rule of law dominates throughout Nature.
— Max Planck
Max Planck, Walter Henry Johnston, The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 58.
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I had always looked upon the search for the absolute as the noblest and most worth while task of science.
— Max Planck
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 46.
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I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
— Max Planck
Quoted in The Observer (25 Jan 1931). Cited in Joseph H. Fussell, 'Where is Science Going?: Review and Comment', Theosophical Path Magazine, January to December 1933 (2003), 199.
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If E is considered to be a continuously divisible quantity, this distribution is possible in infinitely many ways. We consider, however—this is the most essential point of the whole calculation—E to be composed of a well-defined number of equal parts and use thereto the constant of nature h = 6.55 ×10-27 erg sec. This constant multiplied by the common frequency ? of the resonators gives us the energy element E in erg, and dividing E by E we get the number P of energy elements which must be divided over the N resonators.
[Planck's constant, as introduced in 1900; subsequently written e = h? .]
— Max Planck
'On the theory of the energy distribution law of the normal spectrum', in D. ter Haar and Stephen G. Brush, trans., Planck's Original Papers in Quantum Physics (1972), 40.
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It is not the possession of truth, but the success which attends the seeking after it, that enriches the seeker and brings happiness to him.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 200.
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It was not by any accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 168.
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My original decision to devote myself to science was a direct result of the discovery which has never ceased to fill me with enthusiasm since my early youth—the comprehension of the far from obvious fact that the laws of human reasoning coincide with the laws governing the sequences of the impressions we receive from the world about us; that, therefore, pure reasoning can enable man to gain an insight into the mechanism of the latter. In this connection, it is of paramount importance that the outside world is something independent from man, something absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute appeared to me as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life.
— Max Planck
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 13.
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Nature prefers the more probable states to the less probable because in nature processes take place in the direction of greater probability. Heat goes from a body at higher temperature to a body at lower temperature because the state of equal temperature distribution is more probable than a state of unequal temperature distribution.
— Max Planck
'The Atomic Theory of Matter', third lecture at Columbia University (1909), in Max Planck and A. P. Wills (trans.), Eight Lectures on Theoretical Physics (1915), 44.
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New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.
— Max Planck
Address on the 25th anniversary of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft (Jan 1936). Quoted in Surviving the Swastika: Scientific Research in Nazi Germany (1993), 97.
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Physical changes take place continuously, while chemical changes take place discontinuously. Physics deals chiefly with continuous varying quantities, while chemistry deals chiefly with whole numbers.
— Max Planck
Treatise on Thermodynamics (1897), trans. Alexander Ogg (1903), 22, footnote.
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Religion belongs to the realm that is inviolable before the law of causation and therefore closed to science.
— Max Planck
Where is Science Going?, (1933), 168.
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Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.
— Max Planck
Where is Science Going?, trans. James Murphy (1933), Epilogue, 217.
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Science does not mean an idle resting upon a body of certain knowledge; it means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an end which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but which the intellect can never fully grasp.
— Max Planck
In The Philosophy of Physics (1936). Collected in The New Science: 3 Complete Works (1959), 290.
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Science enhances the moral value of life, because it furthers a love of truth and reverence—love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 169.
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Scientific discovery and scientific knowledge have been achieved only by those who have gone in pursuit of them without any practical purpose whatsoever in view.
— Max Planck
The New Science (1959), 93.
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The assumption of an absolute determinism is the essential foundation of every scientific enquiry.
— Max Planck
Physikalische Abhandlungen und Vorträge (1958), Vol 3, 89. Translated in J. L. Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man (1986) 66.
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The entire world we apprehend through our senses is no more than a tiny fragment in the vastness of Nature.
— Max Planck
The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 8.
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The goal is nothing other than the coherence and completeness of the system not only in respect of all details, but also in respect of all physicists of all places, all times, all peoples, and all cultures.
— Max Planck
Acht Vorlesungen (1910), 'Vorwort': 4. Translated in J. L. Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man (1986), 51.
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The highest court is in the end one’s own conscience and conviction—that goes for you and for Einstein and every other physicist—and before any science there is first of all belief. For me, it is belief in a complete lawfulness in everything that happens.
— Max Planck
Letter from Planck to Niels Bohr (19 Oct 1930). As cited in J. L. Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck As Spokesman for German Science (1987), 143.
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The photons which constitute a ray of light behave like intelligent human beings: out of all possible curves they always select the one which will take them most quickly to their goal.
— Max Planck
In Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1968), 186.
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The quantum hypothesis will eventually find its exact expression in certain equations which will be a more exact formulation of the law of causality.
— Max Planck
Where is Science Going?, trans. James Murphy (1933), 143.
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The spectral density of black body radiation ... represents something absolute, and since the search for the absolutes has always appeared to me to be the highest form of research, I applied myself vigorously to its solution.
— Max Planck
In Michael Dudley Sturge , Statistical and Thermal Physics (2003), 201.
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The Theory of Relativity confers an absolute meaning on a magnitude which in classical theory has only a relative significance: the velocity of light. The velocity of light is to the Theory of Relativity as the elementary quantum of action is to the Quantum Theory: it is its absolute core.
— Max Planck
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 47.
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The whole strenuous intellectual work of an industrious research worker would appear, after all, in vain and hopeless, if he were not occasionally through some striking facts to find that he had, at the end of all his criss-cross journeys, at last accomplished at least one step which was conclusively nearer the truth.
— Max Planck
Nobel Lecture (2 Jun 1920), in Nobel Lectures in Physics, 1901-1921 (1998), 407.
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The worth of a new idea is invariably determined, not by the degree of its intuitiveness—which incidentally, is to a major extent a matter of experience and habit—but by the scope and accuracy of the individual laws to the discovery of which it eventually leads.
— Max Planck
In Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1968), 109-110.
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The worth of a new idea is invariably determined, not by the degree of its intuitiveness—which incidentally, is to a major extent a matter of experience and habit—but by the scope and accuracy of the individual laws to the discovery of which it eventually leads.
— Max Planck
In Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1968), 109-110.

There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 168.
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This is one of man's oldest riddles. How can the independence of human volition be harmonized with the fact that we are integral parts of a universe which is subject to the rigid order of nature's laws?
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 107.
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Those [scientists] who dislike entertaining contradictory thoughts are unlikely to enrich their science with new ideas.
— Max Planck
Attributed. (If you know a primary source, please contact webmaster.)
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We are in a position similar to that of a mountaineer who is wandering over uncharted spaces, and never knows whether behind the peak which he sees in front of him and which he tries to scale there may not be another peak still beyond and higher up.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 200.
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We cannot rest and sit down lest we rust and decay. Health is maintained only through work. And as it is with all life so it is with science. We are always struggling from the relative to the absolute.
— Max Planck
In Where is Science Going? (1932), 200.
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What led me to my science and what fascinated me from a young age was the, by no means self-evident, fact that our laws of thought agree with the regularities found in the succession of impressions we receive from the external world, that it is thus possible for the human being to gain enlightenment regarding these regularities by means of pure thought
— Max Planck
Max Planck and Ch. Scriba (ed), Wissenschaftliche Selbstbiographie (1990), 9. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 69
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When I began my physical studies [in Munich in 1874] and sought advice from my venerable teacher Philipp von Jolly...he portrayed to me physics as a highly developed, almost fully matured science...Possibly in one or another nook there would perhaps be a dust particle or a small bubble to be examined and classified, but the system as a whole stood there fairly secured, and theoretical physics approached visibly that degree of perfection which, for example, geometry has had already for centuries.

— Max Planck
From a lecture (1924). In Damien Broderick (ed.), Year Million: Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge (2008), 104.
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When the pioneer in science sets forth the groping feelers of his thought, he must have a vivid, intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by an artistically creative imagination.
— Max Planck
In Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1968), 109.
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When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. [Dubious attribution]
— Max Planck
This is a quote included only to attached a caution about its authenticity. Webmaster came across this in a few places that fail to cite any source, for example, Bonnie Harris, Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With (2008), 15. Being in context of a non-science book raises an eye-brow, and the quote being stated with “As so-and-so said...” raises the other eyebrow. “As so-and-so said” seems a red flag for an author too lazy to check the source. So, if you know that a reliable primary source actually exists, please contact Webmaster. Meanwhile Webmaster suggests this is a quote of dubious authenticity. It appears in a few books published in recent years when quotes are readily grabbed from the web and spread virally without authentication. It is also called an “ancient Tao observation” by Wayne W. Dyer in A New Way of Thinking, a New Way of Being: Experiencing the Tao Te Ching (2009), Introduction, v.
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Quotes by others about Max Planck (8)

People complain that our generation has no philosophers. They are wrong. They now sit in another faculty. Their names are Max Planck and Albert Einstein.
Upon appointment as the first president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, Berlin, formed for the advancement of science (1911).
Quoted in Carl Seelig, Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography (1956), 45.
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Our national policies will not be revoked or modified, even for scientists. If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, then we shall do without science for a few years.
Reply to Max Planck (President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science) when he tried to petition the Fuhrer to stop the dismissal of scientists on political grounds.
In E. Y. Hartshorne, The German Universities and National Socialism (1937), 112.
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Professor [Max] Planck, of Berlin, the famous originator of the Quantum Theory, once remarked to me that in early life he had thought of studying economics, but had found it too difficult! Professor Planck could easily master the whole corpus of mathematical economics in a few days. He did not mean that! But the amalgam of logic and intuition and the wide knowledge of facts, most of which are not precise, which is required for economic interpretation in its highest form is, quite truly, overwhelmingly difficult for those whose gift mainly consists in the power to imagine and pursue to their furthest points the implications and prior conditions of comparatively simple facts which are known with a high degree of precision.
'Alfred Marshall: 1842-1924' (1924). In Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), Essays in Biography (1933), 191-2
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The longing to behold this pre-established harmony [of phenomena and theoretical principles] is the source of the inexhaustible patience and perseverance with which Planck has devoted himself ... The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 4-5.
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In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside. Our Planck is one of them, and that is why we love him.
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 1.
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There is a story that once, not long after he came to Berlin, Planck forgot which room had been assigned to him for a lecture and stopped at the entrance office of the university to find out. Please tell me, he asked the elderly man in charge, 'In which room does Professor Planck lecture today?' The old man patted him on the shoulder 'Don't go there, young fellow,' he said 'You are much too young to understand the lectures of our learned Professor Planck'.
Anonymous
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics: Physicists and the Quantum Theory (1987), 46.
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After the discovery of spectral analysis no one trained in physics could doubt the problem of the atom would be solved when physicists had learned to understand the language of spectra. So manifold was the enormous amount of material that has been accumulated in sixty years of spectroscopic research that it seemed at first beyond the possibility of disentanglement. An almost greater enlightenment has resulted from the seven years of Röntgen spectroscopy, inasmuch as it has attacked the problem of the atom at its very root, and illuminates the interior. What we are nowadays hearing of the language of spectra is a true 'music of the spheres' in order and harmony that becomes ever more perfect in spite of the manifold variety. The theory of spectral lines will bear the name of Bohr for all time. But yet another name will be permanently associated with it, that of Planck. All integral laws of spectral lines and of atomic theory spring originally from the quantum theory. It is the mysterious organon on which Nature plays her music of the spectra, and according to the rhythm of which she regulates the structure of the atoms and nuclei.
Atombau und Spektrallinien (1919), viii, Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines, trans. Henry L. Brose (1923), viii.
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It is a remarkable fact that the second law of thermodynamics has played in the history of science a fundamental role far beyond its original scope. Suffice it to mention Boltzmann’s work on kinetic theory, Planck’s discovery of quantum theory or Einstein’s theory of spontaneous emission, which were all based on the second law of thermodynamics.
From Nobel lecture, 'Time, Structure and Fluctuations', in Tore Frängsmyr and Sture Forsén (eds.), Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1971-1980, (1993), 263.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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