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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Niels Bohr Quotes > Understanding

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Niels Bohr
(7 Oct 1885 - 18 Nov 1962)

Danish physicist.


Niels Bohr Quotes on Understanding (7 quotes)

>> Click for 34 Science Quotes by Niels Bohr

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A visitor to Niels Bohr's country cottage, noticing a horseshoe hanging on the wall, teasing the eminent scientist about this ancient superstition. “Can it be true that you, of all people, believe it will bring you luck?'
'Of course not,' replied Bohr, 'but I understand it brings you luck whether you believe it or not.'”
— Niels Bohr
As described in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), André Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 68.
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Anyone who is not shocked by the quantum theory has not understood it. [Attributed.]
— Niels Bohr
Webmaster is not alone in failing to find a primary source. Regardless of how widely quoted, the few citations to be found merely reference other books in which it is stated without a valid citation. For example, this quote is an epigraph in Eric Middleton, The New Flatlanders (2007), 19, with a note (p.151) citing Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (1958), but Webmaster’s search of that text does not find it. If you know the primary source, or an early citation, please contact Webmaster.
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But, but, but … if anybody says he can think about quantum theory without getting giddy it merely shows that he hasn’t understood the first thing about it!
— Niels Bohr
Quoted in Otto R. Frisch, What Little I Remember (1979), 95.
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Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation but as a question.
[A caution he gives his students, to be wary of dogmatism.]
— Niels Bohr
In Bill Becker, 'Pioneer of the Atom', New York Times Sunday Magazine (20 Oct 1957), 52.
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The existence of life must be considered as an elementary fact that can not be explained, but must be taken as a starting point in biology, in a similar way as the quantum of action, which appears as an irrational element from the point of view of classical mechanical physics, taken together with the existence of elementary particles, forms the foundation of atomic physics. The asserted impossibility of a physical or chemical explanation of the function peculiar to life would in this sense be analogous to the insufficiency of the mechanical analysis for the understanding of the stability of atoms.
— Niels Bohr
'Light and Life', Nature, 1933, 131, 458.
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This interpretation of the atomic number [as the number of orbital electrons] may be said to signify an important step toward the solution of the boldest dreams of natural science, namely to build up an understanding of the regularities of nature upon the consideration of pure number.
— Niels Bohr
Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (1934), 103-104Cited in Gerald James Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein (1985), 74.
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We intend to say something about the structure of the atom but lack a language in which we can make ourselves understood. We are in much the same position as a sailor, marooned on a remote island where conditions differ radically from anything he has ever known and where, to make things worse, the natives speak a completely alien tongue.
— Niels Bohr
In conversation during first meeting with Werner Heisenberg (summer 1920), as quoted in William H. Cropper, Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking (2001), 249-250.
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Niels Bohr quote: What is that we human beings ultimately depend on? We depend on our words. We are suspended in language.

See also:
  • 7 Oct - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Bohr's birth.
  • Suspended In Language: Niels Bohr's Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped, by Jim Ottaviani. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Niels Bohr.

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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