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Physics Quotes (162 quotes) is probable that the scheme of physics will be enlarged so as to embrace the behaviour of living organisms under the influence of life and mind. Biology and psychology are not alien sciences; their operations are not solely mechanical, nor can they be formulated by physics as it is today; but they belong to a physical universe, and their mode of action ought to be capable of being formulated in terms of an enlarged physics in the future, in which the ether will take a predominant place. On the other hand it may be thought that those entities cannot be brought to book so easily, and that they will always elude our ken. If so, there will be a dualism in the universe, which posterity will find staggering, but that will not alter the facts.
In Past Years: an Autobiography (1932), 350. Quoted in book review, Waldehar Kaempfert, 'Sir Oliver Lodge Stands by the Old Physics', New York Times (21 Feb 1932), BR5.
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Die Chemie ist der unreinliche Teil der Physik.
Chemistry is the dirty part of physics.
Original German as quoted by Paul Krische, Wie Studiert man Chemie? (1904), 67, who also stated that Peter Reiss was a friend of Friedrich Wöhler (both chemists). English version as given in Chemisch Weekblad (1925), 22, 363. In more recent books, the quote is cited as by physicist Johann Philipp Reis. This confusion appears, for example in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 116.
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La determination de la relation & de la dépendance mutuelle de ces données dans certains cas particuliers, doit être le premier but du Physicien; & pour cet effet, il falloit one mesure exacte qui indiquât d’une manière invariable & égale dans tous les lieux de la terre, le degré de l'électricité au moyen duquel les expéiences ont été faites… Aussi, l'histoire de l'électricité prouve une vérité suffisamment reconnue; c'est que le Physicien sans mesure ne fait que jouer, & qu'il ne diffère en cela des enfans, que par la nature de son jeu & la construction de ses jouets.
The determination of the relationship and mutual dependence of the facts in particular cases must be the first goal of the Physicist; and for this purpose he requires that an exact measurement may be taken in an equally invariable manner anywhere in the world… Also, the history of electricity yields a well-known truth—that the physicist shirking measurement only plays, different from children only in the nature of his game and the construction of his toys.
'Mémoire sur la mesure de force de l'électricité', Journal de Physique (1782), 21, 191. English version by Google Translate tweaked by Webmaster.
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Misattributed to Johann Reiss. Probably by Peter Reiss.
Die Chemie ist der unreinliche Teil der Physik.
Chemistry is the dirty part of physics.
Webmaster believes this quote should be attributed to Peter Reiss, having found the following example cited for Peter Reiss. Original German as quoted by Paul Krische, Wie Studiert man Chemie? (1904), 67, who also stated that Peter Reiss was a friend of Friedrich Wöhler (both chemists). English version as given in Chemisch Weekblad (1925), 22, 363. In various recent books, the quote is cited as by physicist Johann Philipp Reis. This confusion appears, for example in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 116.
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Tout le monde convient maintenant qu’une Physique d’où l'on banniroit tout ce qui peut avoir quelque rapport avec les mathématiques, pour se borner à un simple recueil d’observations & d’experiences, ne seroit qu’un amusement historique, plus propre à récréer un cercle de personnes oisives, qu’à occuper un esprit véritablement philosophique.
Everyone now agrees that a Physics where you banish all relationship with mathematics, to confine itself to a mere collection of experiences and observations, would be but an historical amusement, more fitting to entertain idle people, than to engage the mind of a true philosopher.
In Dictionnaire de Physique (1781), Vol. 8, 209. English version via Google Translate, tweaked by Webmaster. Also seen translated as—“Everyone now agrees that a physics lacking all connection with mathematics…would only be an historical amusement, fitter for entertaining the idle than for occupying the mind of a philosopher”—in John L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 74. In the latter source, the subject quote immediately follows a different one by Franz Karl Achard. An editor misreading that paragraph is the likely reason the subject quote will be found in Oxford Dictionary of Science Quotations attributed to Achard. Webmaster checked the original footnoted source, and corrected the author of this entry to Paulian (16 May 2014).
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[Question: What do you think was the most important physics idea to emerge this year?]
We won't know for a few years.
Interview with Deborah Solomon, 'The Science of Second-Guessing', in New York Times Magazine (12 Dec 2004), 37.
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[When asked “Dr. Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?”] That is simple, my friend. It is because politics is more difficult than physics.
Einstein's answer to a conferee at a meeting at Princeton, N.J. (Jan 1946), as recalled by Greenville Clark in 'Letters to the Times', in New York Times (22 Apr 1955), 24.
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A biophysicist talks physics to the biologists and biology to the physicists, but when he meets another biophysicist, they just discuss women.
In Alan Lindsay Mackay , A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2nd Ed., 1991), 4.
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A good deal of my research in physics has consisted in not setting out to solve some particular problem, but simply examining mathematical equations of a kind that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way, regardless of any application that the work may have. It is simply a search for pretty mathematics. It may turn out later to have an application. Then one has good luck. At age 78.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21, 603. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 110.
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A physical theory remains an empty shell until we have found a reasonable physical interpretation.
At the 4th Soviet Gravitational Conference, Minsk, USSR (Jul 1976). Quoted in Anton Z. Capri, From Quanta to Quarks: More Anecdotal History of Physics (2007), 120.
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A physicist learns more and more about less and less, until he knows everything about nothing; whereas a philosopher learns less and less about more and more, until he knows nothing about everything.
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A sound Physics of the Earth should include all the primary considerations of the earth's atmosphere, of the characteristics and continual changes of the earth's external crust, and finally of the origin and development of living organisms. These considerations naturally divide the physics of the earth into three essential parts, the first being a theory of the atmosphere, or Meteorology, the second, a theory of the earth's external crust, or Hydrogeology, and the third, a theory of living organisms, or Biology.
Hydrogéologie (1802), trans. A. V. Carozzi (1964), 18.
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All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
Quoted in J. B. Birks, Rutherford at Manchester (1962), 108, without citation. Webmaster has not been able to find any earlier example of the quote in print. If you know a primary print source, or very early reference to this quote, please contact the Webmaster. If—a strong if—truly a Rutherford quote, and such a snappy one, surely it should have been better documented from decades earlier?
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Although I was four years at the University [of Wisconsin], I did not take the regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new world, mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany and and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and should have stayed longer.
[Enrolled in Feb 1861, left in 1863 without completing a degree, and began his first botanical foot journey.]
John Muir
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 286.
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Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
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And there are absolutely no judgments (or rules) in Mechanics which do not also pertain to Physics, of which Mechanics is a part or type: and it is as natural for a clock, composed of wheels of a certain kind, to indicate the hours, as for a tree, grown from a certain kind of seed, to produce the corresponding fruit. Accordingly, just as when those who are accustomed to considering automata know the use of some machine and see some of its parts, they easily conjecture from this how the other parts which they do not see are made: so, from the perceptible effects and parts of natural bodies, I have attempted to investigate the nature of their causes and of their imperceptible parts.
Principles of Philosophy (1644), trans. V. R. and R. P. Miller (1983), 285-6.
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As a boy I had liked both drawing and physics, and I always abhorred the role of being a spectator. In 1908, when I was 15, I designed, built and flew a toy model airplane which won the then-famous James Gordon Bennett Cup. By 16 I had discovered that design could be fun and profitable, and this lesson has never been lost on me.
On the official Raymond Loewry website.
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As a result of the phenomenally rapid change and growth of physics, the men and women who did their great work one or two generations ago may be our distant predecessors in terms of the state of the field, but they are our close neighbors in terms of time and tastes. This may be an unprecedented state of affairs among professionals; one can perhaps be forgiven if one characterizes it epigrammatically with a disastrously mixed metaphor; in the sciences, we are now uniquely privileged to sit side-by-side with the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
'On the Recent Past of Physics', American Journal of Physics (1961), 29, 807.
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As modern physics started with the Newtonian revolution, so modern philosophy starts with what one might call the Cartesian Catastrophe. The catastrophe consisted in the splitting up of the world into the realms of matter and mind, and the identification of “mind” with conscious thinking. The result of this identification was the shallow rationalism of l’esprit Cartesien, and an impoverishment of psychology which it took three centuries to remedy even in part.
The Act of Creation (1964), 148.
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At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that everything can be subdivided into smaller parts. Nevertheless, for entirely speculative reasons the philosophers of Antiquity, especially the Stoics, concluded this concept to be quite unnecessary. The prodigious development of physics has now reached the same conclusion as those philosophers, Empedocles and Democritus in particular, who lived around 500 B.C. and for whom even ancient man had a lively admiration.
'Development of the Theory of Electrolytic Dissociation', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 45.
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Bohr’s standpoint, that a space-time description is impossible, I reject a limine. Physics does not consist only of atomic research, science does not consist only of physics, and life does not consist only of science. The aim of atomic research is to fit our empirical knowledge concerning it into our other thinking. All of this other thinking, so far as it concerns the outer world, is active in space and time. If it cannot be fitted into space and time, then it fails in its whole aim and one does not know what purpose it really serves.
Letter to Willy Wien (25 Aug 1926). Quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989), 226.
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But, contrary to the lady's prejudices about the engineering profession, the fact is that quite some time ago the tables were turned between theory and applications in the physical sciences. Since World War II the discoveries that have changed the world are not made so much in lofty halls of theoretical physics as in the less-noticed labs of engineering and experimental physics. The roles of pure and applied science have been reversed; they are no longer what they were in the golden age of physics, in the age of Einstein, Schrödinger, Fermi and Dirac.
'The Age of Computing: a Personal Memoir', Daedalus (1992), 121, 120.
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By the year 2070 we cannot say, or it would be imbecile to do so, that any man alive could understand Shakespearean experience better than Shakespeare, whereas any decent eighteen-year-old student of physics will know more physics than Newton.
'The Case of Leavis and the Serious Case’, Times Literary Supplement (9 Jul 1970), 737-740. Collected in Public Affairs (1971), 95.
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Chemistry has been termed by the physicist as the messy part of physics, but that is no reason why the physicists should be permitted to make a mess of chemistry when they invade it.
Attributed. In Robert L. Weber, More Random Walks in Science: An Anthology (1982), 64, without citation. Contact Webmaster if you know a primary source.
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Chemistry works with an enormous number of substances, but cares only for some few of their properties; it is an extensive science. Physics on the other hand works with rather few substances, such as mercury, water, alcohol, glass, air, but analyses the experimental results very thoroughly; it is an intensive science. Physical chemistry is the child of these two sciences; it has inherited the extensive character from chemistry. Upon this depends its all-embracing feature, which has attracted so great admiration. But on the other hand it has its profound quantitative character from the science of physics.
In Theories of Solutions (1912), xix.
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Considered as a mere question of physics, (and keeping all moral considerations entirely out of sight,) the appearance of man is a geological phenomenon of vast importance, indirectly modifying the whole surface of the earth, breaking in upon any supposition of zoological continuity, and utterly unaccounted for by what we have any right to call the laws of nature.
'Address to the Geological Society, delivered on the Evening of the 18th of February 1831', Proceedings of the Geological Society (1834), 1, 306.
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Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the “Mona Lisa” painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam, whether it takes ultimate shape in a law of physics or a law of the land, a poem or a policy, a sonata or a mechanical computer.
Baccalaureate address (9 Jun 1957), Yale University. In In the University Tradition (1957), 156.
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During the war years I worked on the development of radar and other radio systems for the R.A.F. and, though gaining much in engineering experience and in understanding people, rapidly forgot most of the physics I had learned.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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Everything is made of atoms ... Everything that animals do, atoms do. ... There is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.
In The Feynman Lectures (1963), 8.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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For it is the same whether you take it that the Earth is in motion or the Sky. For, in both the cases, it does not affect the Astronomical Science. It is just for the Physicist to see if it is possible to refute it.
In Syed Hasan Barani, 'Al-Biruni's Scientific Achievements', Indo-Iranica, 1952, S (4), 47.
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From all we have learnt about the structure of living matter, we must be prepared to find it working in a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics. And that not on the ground that there is any “new force” or what not, directing the behavior of the single atoms within a living organism, but because the construction is different from anything we have yet tested in the physical laboratory.
What is Life? (1956), 74.
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Genetics is the first biological science which got in the position in which physics has been in for many years. One can justifiably speak about such a thing as theoretical mathematical genetics, and experimental genetics, just as in physics. There are some mathematical geniuses who work out what to an ordinary person seems a fantastic kind of theory. This fantastic kind of theory nevertheless leads to experimentally verifiable prediction, which an experimental physicist then has to test the validity of. Since the times of Wright, Haldane, and Fisher, evolutionary genetics has been in a similar position.
Oral history memoir. Columbia University, Oral History Research Office, New York, 1962. Quoted in William B. Provine, Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology (1989), 277.
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Genetics is to biology what atomic theory is to physics. Its principle is clear: that inheritance is based on particles and not on fluids. Instead of the essence of each parent mixing, with each child the blend of those who made him, information is passed on as a series of units. The bodies of successive generations transport them through time, so that a long-lost character may emerge in a distant descendant. The genes themselves may be older than the species that bear them.
Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated (1999), 115.
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Geology differs from physics, chemistry, and biology in that the possibilities for experiment are limited.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 453.
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Good applied science in medicine, as in physics, requires a high degree of certainty about the basic facts at hand, and especially about their meaning, and we have not yet reached this point for most of medicine.
The Medusa and the Snail (1979), 143.
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How far will chemistry and physics ... help us understand the appeal of a painting?
Colour: Why the World Isn't Grey (1983). Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 1.
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I cannot seriously believe in it [quantum theory] because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance [spukhafte Fernwirkungen].
Letter to Max Born (3 Mar 1947). In Born-Einstein Letters (1971), 158.
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I do not see how a man can work on the frontiers of physics and write poetry at the same time. They are in opposition. In science you want to say something that nobody knew before, in words which everyone can understand. In poetry you are bound to say ... something that everyone knows already in words that nobody can understand.
Commenting to him about the poetry J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote.
Quoted in Steven George Krantz, Mathematical Apocrypha Redux: More Stories and Anecdotes of Mathematicians (2005), 169
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I do not think the division of the subject into two parts - into applied mathematics and experimental physics a good one, for natural philosophy without experiment is merely mathematical exercise, while experiment without mathematics will neither sufficiently discipline the mind or sufficiently extend our knowledge in a subject like physics.
to Henry Roscoe, Professor of Chemistry at Owens College (2 Jun 1870), B.C.S Archive Quoted in R.H. Kargon, Science in Victorian Manchester (1977), 215.
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I do not understand modern physics at all, but my colleagues who know a lot about the physics of very small things, like the particles in atoms, or very large things, like the universe, seem to be running into one queerness after another, from puzzle to puzzle.
In 'On Science and Certainty', Discover Magazine (Oct 1980).
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I learnt to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics.
From a 1977 lecture. Quoted in Pesi Rustom Masani, Norbert Wiener, 1894-1964 (1990), 6.
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I started studying law, but this I could stand just for one semester. I couldn't stand more. Then I studied languages and literature for two years. After two years I passed an examination with the result I have a teaching certificate for Latin and Hungarian for the lower classes of the gymnasium, for kids from 10 to 14. I never made use of this teaching certificate. And then I came to philosophy, physics, and mathematics. In fact, I came to mathematics indirectly. I was really more interested in physics and philosophy and thought about those. It is a little shortened but not quite wrong to say: I thought I am not good enough for physics and I am too good for philosophy. Mathematics is in between.
From interview on his 90th birthday. In D J Albers and G L Alexanderson (eds.), Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews (1985), 245-254.
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I think that considerable progress can be made in the analysis of the operations of nature by the scholar who reduces rather complicated phenomena to their proximate causes and primitive forces, even though the causes of those causes have not yet been detected.
R.W. Home (ed.), Aepinus's Essay on the Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1979), 240.
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I think that the discovery of antimatter was perhaps the biggest jump of all the big jumps in physics in our century.
From 'Development of Concepts in the History of Quantum Theory', in Jagdish Mehra (ed.) The Physicist's Concept of Nature (1973), Vol. 1972, 271.
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I think the next [21st] century will be the century of complexity. We have already discovered the basic laws that govern matter and understand all the normal situations. We don’t know how the laws fit together, and what happens under extreme conditions. But I expect we will find a complete unified theory sometime this century. The is no limit to the complexity that we can build using those basic laws.
[Answer to question: Some say that while the twentieth century was the century of physics, we are now entering the century of biology. What do you think of this?]
'"Unified Theory" Is Getting Closer, Hawking Predicts', interview in San Jose Mercury News (23 Jan 2000), 29A. Answer quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Question included in Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Nicholas Stern and Mario Molina , Global Sustainability: a Nobel Cause (2010), 13. Cite from Brent Davis and Dennis J. Sumara, Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research (2006), 171.
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I took biology in high school and didn't like it at all. It was focused on memorization. ... I didn't appreciate that biology also had principles and logic ... [rather than dealing with a] messy thing called life. It just wasn't organized, and I wanted to stick with the nice pristine sciences of chemistry and physics, where everything made sense. I wish I had learned sooner that biology could be fun as well.
Interview (23 May 1998), 'Creating the Code to Life', Academy of Achievement web site.
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I venture to maintain, that, if the general culture obtained in the Faculty of Arts were what it ought to be, the student would have quite as much knowledge of the fundamental principles of Physics, of Chemistry, and of Biology, as he needs, before he commenced his special medical studies. Moreover, I would urge, that a thorough study of Human Physiology is, in itself, an education broader and more comprehensive than much that passes under that name. There is no side of the intellect which it does not call into play, no region of human knowledge into which either its roots, or its branches, do not extend; like the Atlantic between the Old and the New Worlds, its waves wash the shores of the two worlds of matter and of mind; its tributary streams flow from both; through its waters, as yet unfurrowed by the keel of any Columbus, lies the road, if such there be, from the one to the other; far away from that Northwest Passage of mere speculation, in which so many brave souls have been hopelessly frozen up.
'Universities: Actual and Ideal' (1874). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 220.
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I want to get back again from Chemistry to Physics as soon as I can. The second-rate men seem to know their place so much better.
R. J. Strutt, John William Strutt, Third Baron Rayleigh (1924), 222.
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I'm on the verge of a major breakthrough, but I'm also at the point where physics ends and chemistry begins, so I'll have to drop the whole thing,
In Michael Dudley Sturge , Statistical and Thermal Physics (2003), 139.
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If in the description of an experimental arrangement the expression 'position of a particle' can be used, then in the description of the same arrangement the expression 'velocity of a particle' can not be used, and vice versa. Experimental arrangements, one of which can be described with the help of the expression 'position of a particle' and the other with the help of the expression 'velocity' or, more exactly, 'momentum', are called complementary arrangements, and the descriptions are referred to as complementary descriptions.
Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 163-4.

If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. ... This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 19.
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If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 10.
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If the task of scientific methodology is to piece together an account of what scientists actually do, then the testimony of biologists should be heard with specially close attention. Biologists work very close to the frontier between bewilderment and understanding.
Biology is complex, messy and richly various, like real life; it travels faster nowadays than physics or chemistry (which is just as well, since it has so much farther to go), and it travels nearer to the ground. It should therefore give us a specially direct and immediate insight into science in the making.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 1.
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If you want to penetrate into the heart of physics, then let yourself be initiated into the mysteries of poetry.
Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (1971), 250.
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In a lot of scientists, the ratio of wonder to skepticism declines in time. That may be connected with the fact that in some fields—mathematics, physics, some others—the great discoveries are almost entirely made by youngsters.
Quoted in interview with magazine staff, Psychology Today (Jan 1996).
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In fact a favourite problem of [Tyndall] is—Given the molecular forces in a mutton chop, deduce Hamlet or Faust therefrom. He is confident that the Physics of the Future will solve this easily.
Letter to Herbert Spencer (3 Aug 1861). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900), Vol. 1, 249.
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In our day grand generalizations have been reached. The theory of the origin of species is but one of them. Another, of still wider grasp and more radical significance, is the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy, the ultimate philosophical issues of which are as yet but dimly seem-that doctrine which 'binds nature fast in fate' to an extent not hitherto recognized, exacting from every antecedent its equivalent consequent, and bringing vital as well as physical phenomena under the dominion of that law of causal connexion which, so far as the human understanding has yet pierced, asserts itself everywhere in nature.
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 1801.
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In physics we deal with states of affairs much simpler than those of psychology and yet we again and again learn that our task is not to investigate the essence of things—we do not at all know what this would mean&mash;but to develop those concepts that allow us to speak with each other about the events of nature in a fruitful manner.
Letter to H.P.E. Hansen (20 Jul 1935), Niels Bohr Archive. In Jan Faye, Henry J. Folse, Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy (1994), 83.
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In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast ... "To physics and metaphysics." Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy—truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and ... the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind (as I was saying a moment ago) from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else. The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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In the progressive growth of astronomy, physics or mechanical science was developed, and when this had been, to a certain degree, successfully cultivated, it gave birth to the science of chemistry.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 2.
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In the vestibule of the Manchester Town Hall are placed two life-sized marble statues facing each other. One of these is that of John Dalton ... the other that of James Prescott Joule. ... Thus the honour is done to Manchester's two greatest sons—to Dalton, the founder of modern Chemistry and of the atomic theory, and the laws of chemical-combining proportions; to Joule, the founder of modern physics and the discoverer of the Law of Conservation of Energy.
One gave to the world the final proof ... that in every kind of chemical change no loss of matter occurs; the other proved that in all the varied modes of physical change, no loss of energy takes place.
John Dalton and the Rise of Modern Chemistry (1895), 7.
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In the world of physics we watch a shadowgraph performance of the drama of familiar life. The shadow of my elbow rests on the shadow table as the shadow ink flows over the shadow paper. It is all symbolic, and as a symbol the physicist leaves it. ... The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.
In The Nature of the Physical World (1928, 2005), xiv-xv.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time ... I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple. ... But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make - 'I like it','I don't like it' - and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
The Character of Physical Law (1965), 57. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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It is clear, then, that though there may be countless instances of the perishing of unmoved movers, and though many things that move themselves perish and are succeeded by others that come into being, and though one thing that is unmoved moves one thing while another moves another, nevertheless there is something that comprehends them all, and that as something apart from each one of them, and this it is that is the cause of the fact that some things are and others are not and of the continuous process of change; and this causes the motion of the other movers, while they are the causes of the motion of other things. Motion, then, being eternal, the first mover, if there is but one, will be eternal also; if there are more than one, there will be a plurality of such eternal movers.
Physics, 258b, 32-259a, 8. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 432.
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It is easy to make out three areas where scientists will be concentrating their efforts in the coming decades. One is in physics, where leading theorists are striving, with the help of experimentalists, to devise a single mathematical theory that embraces all the basic phenomena of matter and energy. The other two are in biology. Biologists—and the rest of us too—would like to know how the brain works and how a single cell, the fertilized egg cell, develops into an entire organism
Article 'The View From Mars', in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Research Facilities of the Future (1994), 735, 37.
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It is going to be necessary that everything that happens in a finite volume of space and time would have to be analyzable with a finite number of logical operations. The present theory of physics is not that way, apparently. It allows space to go down into infinitesimal distances, wavelengths to get infinitely great, terms to be summed in infinite order, and so forth; and therefore, if this proposition [that physics is computer-simulatable] is right, physical law is wrong.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21 Nos. 6-7, 468. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us, if I may say so!) and not a world-explanation.
Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Trans. W. Kaufmann (ed.), Basic Writings of Nietzsche (1968), 211.
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It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly.
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 137.
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It is true that physics gives a wonderful training in precise, logical thinking-about physics. It really does depend upon accurate reproducible experiments, and upon framing hypotheses with the greatest possible freedom from dogmatic prejudice. And if these were the really important things in life, physics would be an essential study for everybody.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 90-91.
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It is unreasonable to expect science to produce a system of ethics—ethics are a kind of highway code for traffic among mankind—and the fact that in physics atoms which were yesterday assumed to be square are now assumed to be round is exploited with unjustified tendentiousness by all who are hungry for faith; so long as physics extends our dominion over nature, these changes ought to be a matter of complete indifference to you.
Letter to Oskar Pfister, 24 Feb 1928. Quoted in H. Meng and E. Freud (eds.), Psycho-Analysis and Faith: The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oscar Pfister (1963), 123.
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It is … a sign of the times—though our brothers of physics and chemistry may smile to hear me say so—that biology is now a science in which theories can be devised: theories which lead to predictions and predictions which sometimes turn out to be correct. These facts confirm me in a belief I hold most passionately—that biology is the heir of all the sciences.
From Nobel Banquet speech (10 Dec 1960).
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It was basic research in the photoelectric field—in the photoelectric effect that would one day lead to solar panels. It was basic research in physics that would eventually produce the CAT scan. The calculations of today's GPS satellites are based on the equations that Einstein put to paper more than a century ago.
Speech to the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting (27 Apr 2009).
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It would be better for the true physics if there were no mathematicians on earth.
Quoted in The Mathematical Intelligencer (1991), 13.
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It’s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics.
From editted transcript of BBC Radio 3 interview, collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 33.
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Just by studying mathematics we can hope to make a guess at the kind of mathematics that will come into the physics of the future ... If someone can hit on the right lines along which to make this development, it m may lead to a future advance in which people will first discover the equations and then, after examining them, gradually learn how to apply the ... My own belief is that this is a more likely line of progress than trying to guess at physical pictures.
'The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature', Scientific American, May 1963, 208, 47. In Steve Adams, Frontiers (2000), 57.
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Let us keep the discoveries and indisputable measurements of physics. But ... A more complete study of the movements of the world will oblige us, little by little, to turn it upside down; in other words, to discover that if things hold and hold together, it is only by reason of complexity, from above.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 43. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Magnetism, you recall from physics class, is a powerful force that causes certain items to be attracted to refrigerators.
In Peter Archer, The Quotable Intellectual: 1,417 Bon Mots, Ripostes, and Witticisms (2010), 76.
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Mainstream biology may be suffering from what I call 'Physics envy' in aiming to reduce life to nothing but well known, typically Newtonian principles of physics and chemistry.
'From the Editor's Desk', Frontier Perspectives (1991), 2, 3.
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Man is slightly nearer to the atom than to the star. … From his central position man can survey the grandest works of Nature with the astronomer, or the minutest works with the physicist. … [K]nowledge of the stars leads through the atom; and important knowledge of the atom has been reached through the stars.
Lecture 1. Stars and Atoms (1928, 2007), 9.
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Mathematics began to seem too much like puzzle solving. Physics is puzzle solving, too, but of puzzles created by nature, not by the mind of man.
Quoted in Joan Dash, 'Maria Goeppert-Mayer', A Life of One's Own, 252.
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Mathematics is the cheapest science. Unlike physics or chemistry, it does not require any expensive equipment. All one needs for mathematics is a pencil and paper.
Quoted in 'And Sometimes the Mathematician Wants a Powerful Computer', in Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson (eds.), Mathematical People (1985). In John De Pillis, 777 Mathematical Conversation Starters (2002), 193.
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Much as I admired the elegance of physical theories, which at that time geology wholly lacked, I preferred a life in the woods to one in the laboratory.
From J. Tuzo Wilson, 'Early Days in University Geophysics', Ann. Rev. Earth Planet Sci. (1982), 10, 4.
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My final remark to young women and men going into experimental science is that they should pay little attention to the speculative physics ideas of my generation. After all, if my generation has any really good speculative ideas, we will be carrying these ideas out ourselves.
'Reflections on the Discovery of the Tau Lepton', Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1995). In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1991-1995 (1997), 193.
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My two Jamaican cousins ... were studying engineering. 'That's where the money is,' Mom advised. ... I was to be an engineering major, despite my allergy to science and math. ... Those who preceded me at CCNY include the polio vaccine discoverer, Dr. Jonas Salk ... and eight Nobel Prize winners. ... In class, I stumbled through math, fumbled through physics, and did reasonably well in, and even enjoyed, geology. All I ever looked forward to was ROTC.
Autobiographical comments on his original reason for going to the City College of New York, where he shortly turned to his military career.
My American Journey (1996), 23-26. ROTC is the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) school-based program of the U.S. military. From there, the self-described 'C-average student out of middling Morris High School' went on to become a four-star general.
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Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.
The Character of Physical Law (1965), 28. Quoted in William H. Cropper, Great Physicists (2004), 397.
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Nothing in physics seems so hopeful to as the idea that it is possible for a theory to have a high degree of symmetry was hidden from us in everyday life. The physicist's task is to find this deeper symmetry.
In American Scientist (1977) (as cited in The Atlantic (1984), 254, 81.) As an epigraph in Crystal and Dragon: The Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness (1993), 139.
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Nothing is accidental in the universe— this is one of my Laws of Physics—except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.
In ‘The Summing Up: Meredith Dawe’, Do What You Will, (1970). As cited in Robert Andrews, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993), 946.
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Now, the causes being four, it is the business of the student of nature to know about them all, and if he refers his problems back to all of them, he will assign the “why” in the way proper to his science—the matter, the form, the mover, that for the sake of which.
Physics, 198a, 22-4. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 338.
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One aim of physical sciences had been to give an exact picture the material world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable.
From The Ascent of Man (1973), 353.
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One of the main purposes of scientific inference is to justify beliefs which we entertain already; but as a rule they are justified with a difference. Our pre-scientific general beliefs are hardly ever without exceptions; in science, a law with exceptions can only be tolerated as a makeshift. Scientific laws, when we have reason to think them accurate, are different in form from the common-sense rules which have exceptions: they are always, at least in physics, either differential equations, or statistical averages. It might be thought that a statistical average is not very different from a rule with exceptions, but this would be a mistake. Statistics, ideally, are accurate laws about large groups; they differ from other laws only in being about groups, not about individuals. Statistical laws are inferred by induction from particular statistics, just as other laws are inferred from particular single occurrences.
The Analysis of Matter (1927), 191.
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Our job in physics is to see things simply, to understand a great many complicated phenomena in a unified way, in terms of a few simple principles.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1989), 'Conceptual Foundations of the Unified Theory of Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.'
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Over the last century, physicists have used light quanta, electrons, alpha particles, X-rays, gamma-rays, protons, neutrons and exotic sub-nuclear particles for this purpose [scattering experiments]. Much important information about the target atoms or nuclei or their assemblage has been obtained in this way. In witness of this importance one can point to the unusual concentration of scattering enthusiasts among earlier Nobel Laureate physicists. One could say that physicists just love to perform or interpret scattering experiments.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1994), in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1994 (1995).
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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.
Treatise on Thermodynamics (1897), trans. Alexander Ogg (1903), 22, footnote.
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Physicists often quote from T. H. White’s epic novel The Once and Future King, where a society of ants declares, “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” In other words, if there isn't a basic principle of physics forbidding time travel, then time travel is necessarily a physical possibility. (The reason for this is the uncertainty principle. Unless something is forbidden, quantum effects and fluctuations will eventually make it possible if we wait long enough. Thus, unless there is a law forbidding it, it will eventually occur.)
In Parallel Worlds: a Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (2006), 136.
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Physics investigates the essential nature of the world, and biology describes a local bump. Psychology, human psychology, describes a bump on the bump.
Theories and Things (1981), 93.
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Physics is experience, arranged in economical order.
'The Economical Nature of Physics' (1882), in Popular Scientific Lectures, trans. Thomas J. McConnack (1910), 197.
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Physics is NOT a body of indisputable and immutable Truth; it is a body of well-supported probable opinion only .... Physics can never prove things the way things are proved in mathematics, by eliminating ALL of the alternative possibilities. It is not possible to say what the alternative possibilities are.... Write down a number of 20 figures; if you multiply this by a number of, say, 30 figures, you would arrive at some enormous number (of either 49 or 50 figures). If you were to multiply the 30-figure number by the 20-figure number you would arrive at the same enormous 49- or 50-figure number, and you know this to be true without having to do the multiplying. This is the step you can never take in physics.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 68, 88, 179.
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Physics is not religion. If it were, we’d have a much easier time raising money.
In Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question (1993), 198.
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Physics is unable to stand on its own feet, but needs a metaphysics on which to support itself, whatever fine airs it may assume towards the latter.
The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Byrne (1958), Vol. 2, 172.
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Physics is very muddled again at the moment; it is much too hard for me anyway, and I wish I were a movie comedian or something like that and had never heard anything about physics.
Letter to R. Kronig (21 May 1925). Quoted in R. Kronig, 'The Turning Point', in M. Fierz and V. F. Weisskopf (eds.), Theoretical Physics in the Twentieth Century. A Memorial Volume to Wolfgang Pauli (1960),as trans. in M. Klein, Letters on Wave Mechanics, x.
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Physics without mathematics is meaningless.
In Edward Teller, Wendy Teller and Wilson Talley, Conversations on the Dark Secrets of Physics (1991, 2013), 1.
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Physics, owing to the simplicity of its subject matter, has reached a higher state of development than any other science. (1931)
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 42.
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Realizing how often ingenious speculation in the complex biological world has led nowhere and how often the real advances in biology as well as in chemistry, physics and astronomy have kept within the bounds of mechanistic interpretation, we geneticists should rejoice, even with our noses on the grindstone (which means both eyes on the objectives), that we have at command an additional means of testing whatever original ideas pop into our heads.
'The Rise of Genetics', Science (1932), 1969, 264.
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Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics.
[Answer to question: What are the things you find most beautiful in science?]
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it's a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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Scientists [still] refuse to consider man as an object of scientific scrutiny except through his body. The time has come to realise that an interpretation of the universe—even a positivist one—remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter. The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 36. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Scientists, therefore, are responsible for their research, not only intellectually but also morally. This responsibility has become an important issue in many of today's sciences, but especially so in physics, in which the results of quantum mechanics and relativity theory have opened up two very different paths for physicists to pursue. They may lead us - to put it in extreme terms - to the Buddha or to the Bomb, and it is up to each of us to decide which path to take.
The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture (1983), 87.
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Since the beginning of physics, symmetry considerations have provided us with an extremely powerful and useful tool in our effort to understand nature. Gradually they have become the backbone of our theoretical formulation of physical laws.
Particle Physics and an Introduction to Field Theory (1981), 177.
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Since the seventeenth century, physical intuition has served as a vital source for mathematical porblems and methods. Recent trends and fashions have, however, weakened the connection between mathematics and physics; mathematicians, turning away from their roots of mathematics in intuition, have concentrated on refinement and emphasized the postulated side of mathematics, and at other times have overlooked the unity of their science with physics and other fields. In many cases, physicists have ceased to appreciate the attitudes of mathematicians. This rift is unquestionably a serious threat to science as a whole; the broad stream of scientific development may split into smaller and smaller rivulets and dry out. It seems therefore important to direct our efforts towards reuniting divergent trends by classifying the common features and interconnections of many distinct and diverse scientific facts.
In R. Courant and David Hilbert, Methods of Mathematical Physics (1937, 1989), Preface, v.
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Something is as little explained by means of a distinctive vital force as the attraction between iron and magnet is explained by means of the name magnetism. We must therefore firmly insist that in the organic natural sciences, and thus also in botany, absolutely nothing has yet been explained and the entire field is still open to investigation as long as we have not succeeded in reducing the phenomena to physical and chemical laws.
Grundzüge der Wissenschaftlichen Botanik nebst einer Methodologischen Einleitung als Anleitung zum Studium der Planze [Principles of Scientific Botany] (1842-3), Vol. 1, 49. Trans. Kenneth L. Caneva, Robert Mayer and the Conservation of Energy (1993), 108.
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Surely it must be admitted that if the conceptions of Physics are presented to the beginner in erroneous language, there is a danger that in many instances these conceptions will never be properly acquired. And is not accurate language as cheap as inaccurate?
A paper read at the Association for the Improvement of Geometrical Teaching (19 Jan 1889), 'The Vices of our Scientific Education', in Nature (6 Jun 1889), 40, 128.
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The aim of this article has been to show that our most successful theories in physics are those that explicitly leave room for the unknown, while confining this room sufficiently to make the theory empirically disprovable. It does not matter whether this room is created by allowing for arbitrary forces as Newtonian dynamics does, or by allowing for arbitrary equations of state for matter, as General Relativity does, or for arbitrary motions of charges and dipoles, as Maxwell's electrodynamics does. To exclude the unknown wholly as a 'unified field theory' or a 'world equation' purports to do is pointless and of no scientific significance.
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The beauty of physics lies in the extent which seemingly complex and unrelated phenomena can be explained and correlated through a high level of abstraction by a set of laws which are amazing in their simplicity.
In Principles of Electrodynamics (1972, 1987), 105.
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The belief that all things are created solely for the utility of man has stained with many errors that most noble part of physics which deals with the ends of things.
R.W. Home (ed.), Aepinus's Essay on the Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1979), 399.

The burgeoning field of computer science has shifted our view of the physical world from that of a collection of interacting material particles to one of a seething network of information. In this way of looking at nature, the laws of physics are a form of software, or algorithm, while the material world—the hardware—plays the role of a gigantic computer.
'Laying Down the Laws', New Scientist. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 183.
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The Europeans and the Americans are not throwing $10 billion down this gigantic tube for nothing. We're exploring the very forefront of physics and cosmology with the Large Hadron Collider because we want to have a window on creation, we want to recreate a tiny piece of Genesis to unlock some of the greatest secrets of the universe.
Quoted by Alexander G. Higgins (AP), in 'Particle Collider: Black Hole or Crucial Machine', The Journal Gazette (7 Aug 2009).
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The fact that Science walks forward on two feet, namely theory and experiment, is nowhere better illustrated than in the two fields for slight contributions to which you have done me the great honour of awarding the the Nobel Prize in Physics for the year 1923. Sometimes it is one foot that is put forward first, sometimes the other, but continuous progress is only made by the use of both—by theorizing and then testing, or by finding new relations in the process of experimenting and then bringing the theoretical foot up and pushing it on beyond, and so on in unending alterations.
'The Electron and the Light-quant from the Experimental Point of View', Nobel Lecture (23 May 1924). In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1922-1941 (1998), 54.
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The faith of scientists in the power and truth of mathematics is so implicit that their work has gradually become less and less observation, and more and more calculation. The promiscuous collection and tabulation of data have given way to a process of assigning possible meanings, merely supposed real entities, to mathematical terms, working out the logical results, and then staging certain crucial experiments to check the hypothesis against the actual empirical results. But the facts which are accepted by virtue of these tests are not actually observed at all. With the advance of mathematical technique in physics, the tangible results of experiment have become less and less spectacular; on the other hand, their significance has grown in inverse proportion. The men in the laboratory have departed so far from the old forms of experimentation—typified by Galileo's weights and Franklin's kite—that they cannot be said to observe the actual objects of their curiosity at all; instead, they are watching index needles, revolving drums, and sensitive plates. No psychology of 'association' of sense-experiences can relate these data to the objects they signify, for in most cases the objects have never been experienced. Observation has become almost entirely indirect; and readings take the place of genuine witness.
Philosophy in a New Key; A Study in Inverse the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942), 19-20.
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The first experiment a child makes is a physical experiment: the suction-pump is but an imitation of the first act of every new-born infant.
Lecture 'On the Study of Physics', Royal Institution of Great Britain (Spring 1854). Collected in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 283.
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The first thing to realize about physics ... is its extraordinary indirectness.... For physics is not about the real world, it is about “abstractions” from the real world, and this is what makes it so scientific.... Theoretical physics runs merrily along with these unreal abstractions, but its conclusions are checked, at every possible point, by experiments.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 60-62.
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The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.
Power: A New Social Analysis (1938), 10.
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The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.
'Quantum Mechanics of Many-Electron Systems', Proceedings of the Royal Society (1929), A, 123, 714-733. Quoted in Steven M. Bachrach, Computational Organic Chemistry, Preface, xiii.
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The great problem of today is, how to subject all physical phenomena to dynamical laws. With all the experimental devices, and all the mathematical appliances of this generation, the human mind has been baffled in its attempts to construct a universal science of physics.
'President's Address', Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1874), 23, 34-5.
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The investigation of causal relations between economic phenomena presents many problems of peculiar difficulty, and offers many opportunities for fallacious conclusions. Since the statistician can seldom or never make experiments for himself, he has to accept the data of daily experience, and discuss as best he can the relations of a whole group of changes; he cannot, like the physicist, narrow down the issue to the effect of one variation at a time. The problems of statistics are in this sense far more complex than the problems of physics.
Udny Yule
In 'On the Theory of Correlation', Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Dec 1897), 60, 812, as cited in Stephen M. Stigler, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 (1986), 348.
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The landed classes neglected technical education, taking refuge in classical studies; as late as 1930, for example, long after Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge had discovered the atomic nucleus and begun transmuting elements, the physics laboratory at Oxford had not been wired for electricity. Intellectual neglect technical education to this day.
[Describing C.P. Snow's observations on the neglect of technical education.]
In Visions of Technology (1999), 23.
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The laws of physics must provide a mechanism for the universe to come into being.
As restated in Alan Lindsay Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 260. Compare with P.C.W. Davies, God and the New Physics (1984), 39, for quotation footnoted from J.A. Wheeler, 'Genesis and observership', Foundational Problems in the Special Science (1977), 39.
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The physicist is like someone who’s watching people playing chess and, after watching a few games, he may have worked out what the moves in the game are. But understanding the rules is just a trivial preliminary on the long route from being a novice to being a grand master. So even if we understand all the laws of physics, then exploring their consequences in the everyday world where complex structures can exist is a far more daunting task, and that’s an inexhaustible one I'm sure.
In Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 37.
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The physics of undergraduate text-books is 90% true; the contents of the primary research journals of physics is 90% false.
In Reliable Knowledge: An Exploration of the Grounds for Belief in Science (1978, 1991), 40.
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The prediction of nuclear winter is drawn not, of course, from any direct experience with the consequences of global nuclear war, but rather from an investigation of the governing physics. (The problem does not lend itself to full experimental verification—at least not more than once.)[co-author with American atmospheric chemist Richard P. Turco (1943- )]
A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race (1990), 26.
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The reason Dick's [Richard Feynman] physics was so hard for ordinary people to grasp was that he did not use equations. The usual theoretical physics was done since the time of Newton was to begin by writing down some equations and then to work hard calculating solutions of the equations. This was the way Hans [Bethe] and Oppy [Oppenheimer] and Julian Schwinger did physics. Dick just wrote down the solutions out of his head without ever writing down the equations. He had a physical picture of the way things happen, and the picture gave him the solutions directly with a minimum of calculation. It was no wonder that people who had spent their lives solving equations were baffled by him. Their minds were analytical; his was pictorial.
Quoted in Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer Thompson, Beyond Einstein: the Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe (1987, 1999), 56-57, citing Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (1979, 1981), 55-56.
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The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics which get continually more advanced. ... it was expected that mathematics would get more and more complicated, but would rest on a permanent basis of axioms and definitions, while actually the modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundation and gets more abstract. Non-euclidean geometry and noncommutative algebra, which were at one time were considered to be purely fictions of the mind and pastimes of logical thinkers, have now been found to be very necessary for the description of general facts of the physical world. It seems likely that this process of increasing abstraction will continue in the future and the advance in physics is to be associated with continual modification and generalisation of the axioms at the base of mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation.
Introduction to a paper on magnetic monopoles, 'Quantised singularities in the electromagnetic field', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Lonndon (1931), A, 133 60. In Helge Kragh, Dirac: a Scientific Biography (1990), 208.
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The study of geometry is a petty and idle exercise of the mind, if it is applied to no larger system than the starry one. Mathematics should be mixed not only with physics but with ethics; that is mixed mathematics.
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
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The trick in discovering evolutionary laws is the same as it is in discovering laws of physics or chemistry—namely, finding the right level of generalization to make prediction possible. We do not try to find a law that says when and where explosions will occur. We content ourselves with saying that certain sorts of compounds are explosive under the right conditions, and we predict that explosions will occur whenever those conditions are realized.
In 'Paleoanthropology: Science or Mythical Charter?', Journal of Anthropological Research (Summer 2002), 58, No. 2, 193.
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The universe does not exist “out there,” independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators. In some strange sense, this is a participatory universe. Physics is no longer satisfied with insights only into particles, fields of force, into geometry, or even into time and space. Today we demand of physics some understanding of existence itself.
Quoted in Denis Brian, The Voice Of Genius: Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries, 127.
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The world of mathematics and theoretical physics is hierarchical. That was my first exposure to it. There's a limit beyond which one cannot progress. The differences between the limiting abilities of those on successively higher steps of the pyramid are enormous. I have not seen described anywhere the shock a talented man experiences when he finds, late in his academic life, that there are others enormously more talented than he. I have personally seen more tears shed by grown men and women over this discovery than I would have believed possible. Most of those men and women shift to fields where they can compete on more equal terms
Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist (1987), 20.
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The year 1896 ... marked the beginning of what has been aptly termed the heroic age of Physical Science. Never before in the history of physics has there been witnessed such a period of intense activity when discoveries of fundamental importance have followed one another with such bewildering rapidity.
'The Electrical Structure of Matter', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1924), C2.
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Their minds sang with the ecstatic knowledge that either what they were doing was completely and utterly and totally impossible or that physics had a lot of catching up to do.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1985). Quoted in Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations (2005), 322.
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Then we'll work a hundred years without physics and chemistry.
[Response shouted back to Carl Bosch (then still head of IG Farben), who had tried to advise him that if Jewish scientists were forced to leave the country both physics and chemistry would be set back 100 years.]
At first meeting between Bosch and Hitler (Mar 1933). As quoted in Joseph Borkin, (1978), 57. Pat Choate in Hot Property: The Stealing of Ideas in an Age of Globalization (2005), states the result that “A month after that meeting, the ninety-day-old Nazi-led government adopted a law that forbade anyone of ‘non-Aryan descent’ from working in the German civil service, including state-run universities. ... Within a year, almost 20 percent of Germany's mathematicians and physicists were dismissed from university positions.”
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There is a strange disparity between the sciences of inert matter and those of life. Astronomy, mechanics, and physics are based on concepts which can be expressed, tersely and elegantly, in mathematical language. They have built up a universe as harmonious as the monuments of ancient Greece. They weave about it a magnificent texture of calculations and hypotheses. They search for reality beyond the realm of common thought up to unutterable abstractions consisting only of equations of symbols. Such is not the position of biological sciences. Those who investigate the phenomena of life are as if lost in an inextricable jungle, in the midst of a magic forest, whose countless trees unceasingly change their place and their shape. They are crushed under a mass of facts, which they can describe but are incapable of defining in algebraic equations.
Man the Unknown (1935), 1.
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There is not a soul on Earth who can read the deluge of physics publications in its entirety. As a result, it is sad but true that physics has irretrievably fallen apart from a cohesive to a fragmented discipline. ... It was not that long ago that people were complaining about two cultures. If we only had it that good. today.
'The Physical Review Then and Now', in H. Henry Stroke, Physical Review: The First Hundred Years: a Selection of Seminal Papers and Commentaries, Vol. 1, 3.
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There is now a feeling that the pieces of physics are falling into place, not because of any single revolutionary idea or because of the efforts of any one physicist, but because of a flowering of many seeds of theory, most of them planted long ago.
In 'The Forces of Nature', Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Jan 1976), 29:4, 14.
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This missing science of heredity, this unworked mine of knowledge on the borderland of biology and anthropology, which for all practical purposes is as unworked now as it was in the days of Plato, is, in simple truth, ten times more important to humanity than all the chemistry and physics, all the technical and indsutrial science that ever has been or ever will be discovered.
Mankind in the Making (1903), 72.
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To-day, science has withdrawn into realms that are hardly understanded of the people. Biology means very largely histology, the study of the cell by difficult and elaborate microscopical processes. Chemistry has passed from the mixing of simple substances with ascertained reactions, to an experimentation of these processes under varying conditions of temperature, pressure, and electrification—all requiring complicated apparatus and the most delicate measurement and manipulation. Similarly, physics has outgrown the old formulas of gravity, magnetism, and pressure; has discarded the molecule and atom for the ion, and may in its recent generalizations be followed only by an expert in the higher, not to say the transcendental mathematics.
‘Exit the Amateur Scientist.’ Editorial, The Nation, 23 August 1906, 83, 160.
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Unless the structure of the nucleus has a surprise in store for us, the conclusion seems plain—there is nothing in the whole system if laws of physics that cannot be deduced unambiguously from epistemological considerations. An intelligence, unacquainted with our universe, but acquainted with the system of thought by which the human mind interprets to itself the contents of its sensory experience, and should be able to attain all the knowledge of physics that we have attained by experiment.
In Clive William Kilmister, Eddington's Search for a Fundamental Theory (1994), 202.
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Until now, physical theories have been regarded as merely models with approximately describe the reality of nature. As the models improve, so the fit between theory and reality gets closer. Some physicists are now claiming that supergravity is the reality, that the model and the real world are in mathematically perfect accord.
Superforce (1985), 149.
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We don't know what we are talking about. Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory. But now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break. The state of physics today is like it was when we were mystified by radioactivity. They were missing something absolutely fundamental. We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.
Closing address to the 23rd Solvay Conference in Physics, Brussels, Belgium (Dec 2005). Quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Cite in Alfred B. Bortz, Physics: Decade by Decade (2007), 206.
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We may as well cut out group theory. That is a subject that will never be of any use in physics.
Discussing mathematics curriculum reform at Princeton University (1910), as quoted in Abraham P. Hillman, Gerald L. Alexanderson, Abstract Algebra: A First Undergraduate Course (1994), 94.
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We may reflect that physics and philosophy are at most a few thousand years old, but probably have lives of thousands of millions of years stretching in front of them.
Physics and Philosophy (1943, 1981), 217
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We, on the other hand, must take for granted that the things that exist by nature are, either all or some of them, in motion.
Physics, 185a, 12-3. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 316.
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What has been learned in physics stays learned. People talk about scientific revolutions. The social and political connotations of revolution evoke a picture of a body of doctrine being rejected, to be replaced by another equally vulnerable to refutation. It is not like that at all. The history of physics has seen profound changes indeed in the way that physicists have thought about fundamental questions. But each change was a widening of vision, an accession of insight and understanding. The introduction, one might say the recognition, by man (led by Einstein) of relativity in the first decade of this century and the formulation of quantum mechanics in the third decade are such landmarks. The only intellectual casualty attending the discovery of quantum mechanics was the unmourned demise of the patchwork quantum theory with which certain experimental facts had been stubbornly refusing to agree. As a scientist, or as any thinking person with curiosity about the basic workings of nature, the reaction to quantum mechanics would have to be: “Ah! So that’s the way it really is!” There is no good analogy to the advent of quantum mechanics, but if a political-social analogy is to be made, it is not a revolution but the discovery of the New World.
From Physics Survey Committee, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 'The Nature of Physics', in report Physics in Perspective (1973), 61-62. As cited in I. Bernard Cohen, Revolution in Science (1985), 554-555.
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What I remember most clearly was that when I put down a suggestion that seemed to me cogent and reasonable, Einstein did not in the least contest this, but he only said, 'Oh, how ugly.' As soon as an equation seemed to him to be ugly, he really rather lost interest in it and could not understand why somebody else was willing to spend much time on it. He was quite convinced that beauty was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics.
quoted in Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics (1987)
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Wheeler’s First Moral Principle: Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!
In E.F. Taylor and J.A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (1992), 20.
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When asked ... [about] an underlying quantum world, Bohr would answer, 'There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about Nature.'
As quoted in Aage Petersen, 'The Philosophy of Niels Bohr', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1963, 19, 12. Note: Bohr's remark, although in quotation marks, should not be regarded as a direct quote in these exact words. It is a generalised statement in the article author's words to represent Bohr's viewpoint. This is explained in a footnote in Michael Frayn, The Human Touch (2007), 431 based on an article by N. David Mermin in Physics Today (Feb 2004).
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When chemists have brought their knowledge out of their special laboratories into the laboratory of the world, where chemical combinations are and have been through all time going on in such vast proportions,—when physicists study the laws of moisture, of clouds and storms, in past periods as well as in the present,—when, in short, geologists and zoologists are chemists and physicists, and vice versa,—then we shall learn more of the changes the world has undergone than is possible now that they are separately studied.
Geological Sketches (1866), 73.
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When one studies strongly radioactive substances special precautions must be taken if one wishes to be able to take delicate measurements. The various objects used in a chemical laboratory and those used in a chemical laboratory, and those which serve for experiments in physics, become radioactive in a short time and act upon photographic plates through black paper. Dust, the air of the room, and one's clothes all become radioactive.
Notebook entry. In Eve Curie, Madame Curie: a Biography by Eve Curie (1937, 2007), 196.
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Why do the laws that govern [the universe] seem constant in time? One can imagine a Universe in which laws are not truly law-full. Talk of miracle does just this, invoking God to make things work. Physics aims to find the laws instead, and hopes that they will be uniquely constrained, as when Einstein wondered whether God had any choice when He made the Universe.
Gregory Benford, in John Brockman, What We Believe But Cannot Prove. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 182-183.
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[At high school in Cape Town] my interests outside my academic work were debating, tennis, and to a lesser extent, acting. I became intensely interested in astronomy and devoured the popular works of astronomers such as Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans, from which I learnt that a knowledge of mathematics and physics was essential to the pursuit of astronomy. This increased my fondness for those subjects.
'Autobiography of Allan M. Cormack,' Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1979, editted by Wilhelm Odelberg.
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[Heisenberg's seminal 1925 paper initiating quantum mechanics marked] one of the great jumps—perhaps the greatest—in the development of twentieth century physics.
In Abraham Pais, Niels Bohr's Times: in Physics, Philosophy, and Polity (1991), 276. Cited in Mauro Dardo, Nobel Laureates and Twentieth-Century Physics (2004), 179.
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[Helmholtz] is not a philosopher in the exclusive sense, as Kant, Hegel, Mansel are philosophers, but one who prosecutes physics and physiology, and acquires therein not only skill in developing any desideratum, but wisdom to know what are the desiderata, e.g., he was one of the first, and is one of the most active, preachers of the doctrine that since all kinds of energy are convertible, the first aim of science at this time. should be to ascertain in what way particular forms of energy can be converted into each other, and what are the equivalent quantities of the two forms of energy. Letter to Lewis Campbell (21 Apr 1862).
In P. M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1990), Vol. 1, 711.
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[Newton is the] British physicist linked forever in the schoolboy mind with an apple that fell and bore fruit throughout physics.
As given in Patricia Fara, Newton: The Making of Genius (2004), 192.
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[There] are still to be found text-books of the old sort, teaching Mathematics under the guise of Physics, presenting nothing but the dry husks of the latter.
A paper read at the Association for the Improvement of Geometrical Teaching (19 Jan 1889), 'The Vices of our Scientific Education', in Nature (6 Jun 1889), 40, 128.
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[T]he yeoman’s work in any science, and especially physics, is done by the experimentalist, who must keep the theoreticians honest.
Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and The Tenth Dimension (1994), 314.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton