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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index O > J. Robert Oppenheimer Quotes > Knowledge

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J. Robert Oppenheimer
(22 Apr 1904 - 18 Feb 1967)

American theoretical physicist and science administrator.

J. Robert Oppenheimer Quotes on Knowledge (7 quotes)

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A discovery in science, or a new theory, even when it appears most unitary and most all-embracing, deals with some immediate element of novelty or paradox within the framework of far vaster, unanalysed, unarticulated reserves of knowledge, experience, faith, and presupposition. Our progress is narrow; it takes a vast world unchallenged and for granted. This is one reason why, however great the novelty or scope of new discovery, we neither can, nor need, rebuild the house of the mind very rapidly. This is one reason why science, for all its revolutions, is conservative. This is why we will have to accept the fact that no one of us really will ever know very much. This is why we shall have to find comfort in the fact that, taken together, we know more and more.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Science and the Common Understanding (1954), 53-4.
Science quotes on:  |  Acceptance (45)  |  Analysis (166)  |  Articulation (2)  |  Challenge (61)  |  Comfort (49)  |  Conservative (11)  |  Discovery (680)  |  Element (162)  |  Experience (342)  |  Fact (733)  |  Faith (157)  |  Framework (20)  |  Granted (5)  |  House (43)  |  Immediate (43)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Mind (760)  |  Narrow (48)  |  Need (287)  |  Novelty (23)  |  Paradox (43)  |  Progress (368)  |  Rapidly (13)  |  Reason (471)  |  Rebuild (4)  |  Reserve (15)  |  Revolution (69)  |  Scope (23)  |  Theory (696)  |  Unitary (2)  |  Vastness (11)

Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
In Arthur Dehon Little Memorial Lecture (25 Nov 1947) to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 'Physics in the Contemporary World'. Collected in J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Open Mind (1955), 88.
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Bomb (107)  |  Crude (17)  |  Evil (79)  |  Humour (103)  |  Inhumanity (3)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Lose (94)  |  Merciless (3)  |  Modern (162)  |  Physicist (161)  |  Realization (37)  |  Responsibility (55)  |  Sense (321)  |  Suggestion (30)  |  Support (78)  |  Vision (94)  |  Vulgarity (2)  |  War (161)  |  Weapon (66)  |  Wisdom (182)

I think that the unity we can seek lies really in two things. One is that the knowledge which comes to us at such a terrifyingly, inhumanly rapid rate has some order in it. We are allowed to forget a great deal, as well as to learn. This order is never adequate. The mass of ununderstood things, which cannot be summarized, or wholly ordered, always grows greater; but a great deal does get understood.
The second is simply this: we can have each other to dinner. We ourselves, and with each other by our converse, can create, not an architecture of global scope, but an immense, intricate network of intimacy, illumination, and understanding. Everything cannot be connected with everything in the world we live in. Everything can be connected with anything.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Concluding paragraphs of 'The Growth of Science and the Structure of Culture', Daedalus (Winter 1958), 87, No. 1, 76.
Science quotes on:  |  Adequate (25)  |  Architecture (43)  |  Connected (8)  |  Converse (7)  |  Create (153)  |  Deal (49)  |  Dinner (14)  |  Forget (63)  |  Global (16)  |  Great (534)  |  Illumination (12)  |  Immense (42)  |  Intimacy (6)  |  Intricate (21)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Learn (288)  |  Live (272)  |  Network (13)  |  Order (242)  |  Rapid (32)  |  Rate (29)  |  Scope (23)  |  Summarize (10)  |  Understanding (325)  |  Unity (54)  |  World (898)

The frontiers of science are separated now by long years of study, by specialized vocabularies, arts, techniques, and knowledge from the common heritage even of a most civilized society; and anyone working at the frontier of such science is in that sense a very long way from home, a long way too from the practical arts that were its matrix and origin, as indeed they were of what we today call art.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Address at the close of the year-long Bicentennial Celebration of Columbia University (26 Dec 54). Printed in 'Prospects in the Arts and Sciences', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Feb 1955), 52.
Science quotes on:  |  Civilization (175)  |  Frontier (25)  |  Heritage (15)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Matrix (10)  |  Origin (88)  |  Practical (133)  |  Science And Art (181)  |  Separation (36)  |  Specialization (17)  |  Study (476)  |  Technique (49)  |  Vocabulary (5)

The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance—these are what may make a vast, complex, ever growing, ever changing, ever more specialized and expert technological world, nevertheless a world of human community.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
'Science and the Common Understanding' (1954), 95. Reprinted in John Dewey and Julius A. Sigler, Classical Selections On Great Issues, Vol. 8, Science, Technology, and Society (1997), 35.
Science quotes on:  |  Access (16)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Society (228)

There is something irreversible about acquiring knowledge; and the simulation of the search for it differs in a most profound way from the reality.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
In Physics in the Contemporary World (1949), 20.
Science quotes on:  |  Difference (246)  |  Irreversible (5)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Profound (59)  |  Reality (190)  |  Search (105)  |  Simulation (6)

[W]e have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Speech to the American Philosophical Society (Jan 1946). 'Atomic Weapons', printed in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 90(1), 7-10. In Deb Bennett-Woods, Nanotechnology: Ethics and Society (2008), 23. Identified as a speech to the society in Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), 323.
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Bomb (107)  |  Challenge (61)  |  Commitment (20)  |  Control (114)  |  Evil (79)  |  Explicit (3)  |  Faith (157)  |  Good (345)  |  Insight (73)  |  Knowledge (1306)  |  Power (366)  |  Question (404)  |  Seldom (30)  |  Understand (340)  |  Weapon (66)  |  World (898)

See also:
  • 22 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Oppenheimer's birth.
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Robert Oppenheimer.

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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