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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index J > Sir James Jeans Quotes

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Sir James Jeans
(11 Sep 1877 - 16 Sep 1946)

English physicist, astronomer and mathematician whose early career was in molecular physics, followed by an interest in astronomy and in later life he popularized science through books, radio broadcasts and lectures.

Science Quotes by Sir James Jeans (30 quotes)

...to many it is not knowledge but the quest for knowledge that gives greater interest to thought—to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.
— Sir James Jeans
Last sentences, Physics and Philosophy (1943, 2003), 217
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Quest (32)  |  Thought (546)

All discussion of the ultimate nature of things must necessarily be barren unless we have some extraneous standards against which to compare them.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930), 114.
Science quotes on:  |  Barren (15)  |  Comparison (64)  |  Discussion (48)  |  Extraneous (2)  |  Nature Of Things (9)  |  Necessity (143)  |  Standard (55)  |  Ultimate (84)

All the life of the universe may be regarded as manifestations of energy masquerading in various forms, and all the changes in the universe as energy running about from one of these forms to the other, but always without altering the total amount.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Universe Around Us (1929, 1934), 114-115. Also in David Dietz, 'Cultural Values of Physics', Annual Report of the Report of the Board of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution: 1940 (1941), quoted on p.149 and cited in footnote 10 on p.154.
Science quotes on:  |  Alter (23)  |  Change (364)  |  Energy (214)  |  Form (314)  |  Life (1131)  |  Manifestation (35)  |  Masquerade (3)  |  Total (36)  |  Universe (686)  |  Various (47)

Because of the way it came into existence, the solar system has only one-way traffic—like Piccadilly Circus. … If we want to make a model to scale, we must take a very tiny object, such as a pea, to represent the sun. On the same scale the nine planets will be small seeds, grains of sand and specks of dust. Even so, Piccadilly Circus is only just big enough to contain the orbit of Pluto. … The whole of Piccadilly Circus was needed to represent the space of the solar system, but a child can carry the whole substance of the model in its hand. All the rest is empty space.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Stars in Their Courses (1931, 1954), 49-50 & 89.
Science quotes on:  |  Child (252)  |  Dust (49)  |  Empty (40)  |  Hand (142)  |  Model (81)  |  Pea (4)  |  Planet (263)  |  Pluto (5)  |  Scale (63)  |  Seed (63)  |  Solar System (61)  |  Space (257)  |  Substance (87)  |  Sun (276)

Humanity is at the very beginning of its existence—a new-born babe, with all the unexplored potentialities of babyhood; and until the last few moments its interest has been centred, absolutely and exclusively, on its cradle and feeding bottle.
— Sir James Jeans
EOS: Or the Wider Aspects of Cosmology (1928), 12.
Science quotes on:  |  Human Nature (60)

In this model, the sun is a very tiny speck of dust indeed—a speck less than a three-thousandth of an inch in diameter ... Think of the sun as something less than a speck of dust in a vast city, of the earth as less than a millionth part of such a speck of dust, and we have perhaps as vivid a picture as the mind can really grasp of the relation of our home in space to the rest of the universe.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Universe Around Us (1953), 96.
Science quotes on:  |  City (48)  |  Diameter (10)  |  Dust (49)  |  Earth (638)  |  Grasping (2)  |  Home (84)  |  Mind (760)  |  Model (81)  |  Picture (77)  |  Relation (154)  |  Rest (93)  |  Space (257)  |  Speck (17)  |  Sun (276)  |  Universe (686)  |  Vivid (17)

Kant, discussing the various modes of perception by which the human mind apprehends nature, concluded that it is specially prone to see nature through mathematical spectacles. Just as a man wearing blue spectacles would see only a blue world, so Kant thought that, with our mental bias, we tend to see only a mathematical world.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930), 115.
Science quotes on:  |  Apprehension (16)  |  Bias (16)  |  Blue (56)  |  Comprehension (57)  |  Conclusion (160)  |  Discussion (48)  |  Human (550)  |  Immanuel Kant (49)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Mental (78)  |  Mode (40)  |  Nature (1223)  |  Perception (64)  |  Prone (7)  |  Seeing (47)  |  Spectacles (6)  |  World (898)

Life exists in the universe only because the carbon atom possesses certain exceptional properties.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 22.
Science quotes on:  |  Carbon (49)  |  Life (1131)  |  Universe (686)

One must stand stiller than still.
On reverse time travel.
— Sir James Jeans
Through Space and Time (1934).

Our knowledge of the external world must always consist of numbers, and our picture of the universe—the synthesis of our knowledge—must necessarily be mathematical in form. All the concrete details of the picture, the apples, the pears and bananas, the ether and atoms and electrons, are mere clothing that we ourselves drape over our mathematical symbols— they do not belong to Nature, but to the parables by which we try to make Nature comprehensible. It was, I think, Kronecker who said that in arithmetic God made the integers and man made the rest; in the same spirit, we may add that in physics God made the mathematics and man made the rest.
— Sir James Jeans
From Address (1934) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Aberdeen, 'The New World—Picture of Modern Physics'. Printed in Nature (Sep 1934) 134, No. 3384, 356. As quoted and cited in Wilbur Marshall Urban, Language and Reality: The Philosophy of Language and the Principles of Symbolism (2004), Vol. 15, 542.
Science quotes on:  |  Apple (35)  |  Arithmetic (121)  |  Atom (280)  |  Banana (3)  |  Comprehensible (4)  |  Concrete (32)  |  Detail (87)  |  Electron (72)  |  Ether (24)  |  External (57)  |  God (535)  |  Integer (10)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Leopold Kronecker (6)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Nature (1223)  |  Necessary (154)  |  Number (282)  |  Parable (4)  |  Pear (3)  |  Physics (348)  |  Picture (77)  |  Symbol (73)  |  Synthesis (44)  |  Try (141)  |  Universe (686)  |  World (898)

Physics tries to discover the pattern of events which controls the phenomena we observe. But we can never know what this pattern means or how it originates; and even if some superior intelligence were to tell us, we should find the explanation unintelligible.
— Sir James Jeans
In Physics And Philosophy: the Revolution In Modern Science (1942), 16.
Science quotes on:  |  Control (114)  |  Discover (199)  |  Event (116)  |  Explanation (177)  |  Intelligence (168)  |  Know (556)  |  Meaning (113)  |  Observe (76)  |  Origin (88)  |  Pattern (79)  |  Phenomenon (278)  |  Physics (348)  |  Superior (41)  |  Unintelligible (10)

Put three grains of sand inside a vast cathedral, and the cathedral will be more closely packed with sand than space is with stars.
— Sir James Jeans
In 'Our Home in Space.' In R.C. Prasad (ed.), Modern Essays: Studying Language Through Literature (1987), 26.
Science quotes on:  |  Cathedral (16)  |  Space (257)  |  Star (336)

Science should leave off making pronouncements: the river of knowledge has too often turned back on itself.
— Sir James Jeans
The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1976), 188.
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  River (79)  |  Science (2067)  |  Turn (118)

Sciences usually advances by a succession of small steps, through a fog in which even the most keen-sighted explorer can seldom see more than a few paces ahead. Occasionally the fog lifts, an eminence is gained, and a wider stretch of territory can be surveyed—sometimes with startling results. A whole science may then seem to undergo a kaleidoscopic rearrangement, fragments of knowledge sometimes being found to fit together in a hitherto unsuspected manner. Sometimes the shock of readjustment may spread to other sciences; sometimes it may divert the whole current of human thought.
— Sir James Jeans
Opening paragraph, Physics and Philosophy (1943), 217, 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Explorer (20)  |  Fog (8)  |  Kaleidoscope (5)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Progress (368)

Taking a very gloomy view of the future of the human race, let us suppose that it can only expect to survive for two thousand millions years longer, a period about equal to the past age of the earth. Then, regarded as a being destined to live for three-score years and ten, humanity although it has been born in a house seventy years old, is itself only three days old. But only in the last few minutes has it become conscious that the whole world does not centre round its cradle and its trappings, and only in the last few ticks of the clock has any adequate conception of the size of the external world dawned upon it. For our clock does not tick seconds, but years; its minutes are the lives of men.
— Sir James Jeans
EOS: Or the Wider Aspects of Cosmology (1928), 12-3.
Science quotes on:  |  Human Nature (60)  |  World (898)

The cosmogonist has finished his task when he has described to the best of his ability the inevitable sequence of changes which constitute the history of the material universe. But the picture which he draws opens questions of the widest interest not only to science, but also to humanity. What is the significance of the vast processes it portrays? What is the meaning, if any there be which is intelligible to us, of the vast accumulations of matter which appear, on our present interpretations of space and time, to have been created only in order that they may destroy themselves.
— Sir James Jeans
In Astronomy and Cosmogony (1961).

The essential fact is simply that all the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational facts, are mathematical pictures. … It can hardly be disputed that nature and our conscious mathematical minds work according to the same laws.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 149 & 162.
Science quotes on:  |  Capability (37)  |  Drawing (21)  |  Essential (117)  |  Fact (733)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Nature (1223)  |  Observation (450)  |  Picture (77)  |  Science (2067)

The human race, whose intelligence dates back only a single tick of the astronomical clock, could hardly hope to understand so soon what it all means.
— Sir James Jeans
The Stars in their Courses (1931), 153.
Science quotes on:  |  Human (550)  |  Intelligence (168)

The motion of the stars over our heads is as much an illusion as that of the cows, trees and churches that flash past the windows of our train.
— Sir James Jeans
The Stars in their Courses (1931), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Motion (160)  |  Star (336)

The plain fact is that there are no conclusions. If we must state a conclusion, it would be that many of the former conclusions of the nineteenth-century science on philosophical questions are once again in the melting-pot.
— Sir James Jeans
In 'On Free-Will', Physics and Philosophy (1942), 216. Also collected in Franklin Le Van Baumer (ed.), Main Currents of Western Thought (1978), 703.
Science quotes on:  |  Quantum Theory (57)

The stream of human knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of this realm.
— Sir James Jeans
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 137.

The tendency of modern physics is to resolve the whole material universe into waves, and nothing but waves. These waves are of two kinds: bottled-up waves, which we call matter, and unbottled waves, which we call radiation or light. If annihilation of matter occurs, the process is merely that of unbottling imprisoned wave-energy and setting it free to travel through space. These concepts reduce the whole universe to a world of light, potential or existent, so that the whole story of its creation can be told with perfect accuracy and completeness in the six words: 'God said, Let there be light'.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 97-98
Science quotes on:  |  Creation (242)  |  Energy (214)  |  God (535)  |  Imprison (10)  |  Light (347)  |  Radiation (25)  |  Universe (686)  |  Wave (68)

The Universe can be pictured, although still very imperfectly and inadequately, as consisting of pure thought, the thought of what for want of a wider word, we must describe as a mathematical thinker.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1948).

The Universe was a stage in which always the same actors—the atoms—played their parts, differing in disguises and groupings, but without change of identity. And these actors were endowed with immortality.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1948).

To-day we not only have no perfect model [of the atom] but we know that it is of no use to search for one.
— Sir James Jeans
In Physics and Philosophy (1942, 1955), 10.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (280)  |  Know (556)  |  Model (81)  |  Perfect (89)  |  Search (105)

Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as a creator and governor of the realm of matter. …
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 181.
Science quotes on:  |  Accident (66)  |  Agreement (39)  |  Creator (55)  |  Governor (8)  |  Intruder (4)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Machine (157)  |  Matter (343)  |  Mind (760)  |  Physical Science (66)  |  Realm (55)  |  Stream (40)  |  Thought (546)  |  Unanimity (3)  |  Universe (686)

We have already considered with disfavour the possibility of the universe having been planned by a biologist or an engineer; from the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.
— Sir James Jeans
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 134.
Science quotes on:  |  Creation (242)  |  God (535)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Origin Of The Universe (13)

We may as well cut out group theory. That is a subject that will never be of any use in physics.
— Sir James Jeans
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.
Science quotes on:  |  Curriculum (10)  |  Cut Out (2)  |  Group Theory (5)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Never (27)  |  Physics (348)  |  Subject (240)  |  Use (76)

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.
— Sir James Jeans
Physics and Philosophy (1943, 1981), 217
Science quotes on:  |  Philosophy (259)  |  Physics (348)

…nature seems very conversant with the rules of pure mathematics, as our own mathematicians have formulated them in their studies, out of their own inner consciousness and without drawing to any appreciable extent on their experience of the outer world.
— Sir James Jeans
In The Mysterious Universe (1930), 113.
Science quotes on:  |  Consciousness (82)  |  Conversant (6)  |  Experience (342)  |  Inner (39)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Nature (1223)  |  Outer (13)  |  Pure Mathematics (65)  |  Rule (177)  |  Study (476)  |  World (898)

Quotes by others about Sir James Jeans (3)

As far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace's chiquenaude or Jeans' finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the 'Hidden God' hidden even in the beginning of the universe ... Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
'The Primeval atom Hypothesis and the Problem of Clusters of Galaxies', in R. Stoops (ed.), La Structure et l'Evolution de l'Univers (1958), 1-32. Trans. Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 60.
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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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Sir Arthur Eddington deduces religion from the fact that atoms do not obey the laws of mathematics. Sir James Jeans deduces it from the fact that they do.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 77.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (280)  |  Deduction (69)  |  Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (130)  |  Fact (733)  |  Law (515)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Obedience (15)  |  Religion (239)

See also:
  • 11 Sep - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Jeans's birth.

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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