Celebrating 18 Years on the Web
TODAY IN SCIENCE HISTORY ®
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “A change in motion is proportional to the motive force impressed and takes place along the straight line in which that force is impressed.”
more quiz questions >>
Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index O > J. Robert Oppenheimer Quotes > Science

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

American theoretical physicist and science administrator.


J. Robert Oppenheimer Quotes on Science (9 quotes)

>> Click for 24 Science Quotes by J. Robert Oppenheimer

>> Click for J. Robert Oppenheimer Quotes on | Atomic Bomb | Knowledge | World |

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 (41)  |  Analysis (123)  |  Articulation (2)  |  Challenge (37)  |  Comfort (42)  |  Conservative (7)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Element (129)  |  Experience (268)  |  Fact (609)  |  Faith (131)  |  Framework (15)  |  Granted (3)  |  House (36)  |  Immediate (27)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Mind (544)  |  Narrow (33)  |  Need (211)  |  Novelty (19)  |  Paradox (35)  |  Progress (317)  |  Rapidly (10)  |  Reason (330)  |  Rebuild (3)  |  Reserve (7)  |  Revolution (56)  |  Scope (13)  |  Theory (582)  |  Unitary (2)  |  Vastness (9)

Both the man of science and the man of art live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it; both always, as to the measure of their creation, have had to do with the harmonization of what is new with what is familiar, with the balance between novelty and synthesis, with the struggle to make partial order in total chaos.
— 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:  |  Action (151)  |  Chaos (63)  |  Creation (211)  |  Edge (16)  |  Harmony (55)  |  Man Of Science (27)  |  Mystery (125)  |  Novelty (19)  |  Struggle (60)  |  Synthesis (38)

It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Epigraph in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), 11.
Science quotes on:  |  Deep (81)  |  Find (248)  |  Necessary (89)  |  Possible (100)  |  Profound (46)  |  Science (1699)  |  Truth (750)  |  Useful (66)

Science starts with preconception, with the common culture, and with common sense. It moves on to observation, is marked by the discovery of paradox, and is then concerned with the correction of preconception. It moves then to use these corrections for the designing of further observation and for more refined experiment. And as it moves along this course the nature of the evidence and experience that nourish it becomes more and more unfamiliar; it is not just the language that is strange [to common culture].
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
From 'The Growth of Science and the Structure of Culture', Daedalus (Winter 1958), 87, No. 1, 67.
Science quotes on:  |  Common Sense (69)  |  Correction (28)  |  Culture (85)  |  Design (92)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Evidence (157)  |  Experience (268)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Language (155)  |  Nourish (8)  |  Observation (418)  |  Paradox (35)  |  Preconception (10)  |  Refined (6)  |  Science (1699)  |  Scientific Method (155)  |  Start (68)  |  Strange (61)  |  Unfamiliar (3)

Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blindness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Epigraph in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), 8.
Science quotes on:  |  Achievement (128)  |  Blindness (8)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Epic (5)  |  Great (300)  |  Science (1699)  |  Story (58)

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 (155)  |  Frontier (16)  |  Heritage (10)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Matrix (5)  |  Origin (77)  |  Practical (93)  |  Science And Art (157)  |  Separation (32)  |  Specialization (12)  |  Study (331)  |  Technique (41)  |  Vocabulary (3)

The great testimony of history shows how often in fact the development of science has emerged in response to technological and even economic needs, and how in the economy of social effort, science, even of the most abstract and recondite kind, pays for itself again and again in providing the basis for radically new technological developments. In fact, most people—when they think of science as a good thing, when they think of it as worthy of encouragement, when they are willing to see their governments spend substance upon it, when they greatly do honor to men who in science have attained some eminence-have in mind that the conditions of their life have been altered just by such technology, of which they may be reluctant to be deprived.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Open Mind (1955), 89-90.
Science quotes on:  |  Abstract (43)  |  Alteration (22)  |  Attainment (35)  |  Basis (60)  |  Condition (119)  |  Deprivation (5)  |  Development (228)  |  Effort (94)  |  Emergence (21)  |  Eminence (11)  |  Encouragement (17)  |  Government (85)  |  History (302)  |  Honour (23)  |  Life (917)  |  Men Of Science (97)  |  Pay (30)  |  People (269)  |  Providing (5)  |  Radical (17)  |  Recondite (2)  |  Reluctance (4)  |  Response (24)  |  Science (1699)  |  Social (93)  |  Substance (73)  |  Technology (199)  |  Testimony (10)  |  Thinking (222)  |  Willing (6)  |  Worthy (21)

There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. ... Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer
Life (10 Oct 1949), 136.
Science quotes on:  |  Assertion (23)  |  Barrier (19)  |  Dogma (25)  |  Doubt (121)  |  Enquiry (75)  |  Error (230)  |  Freedom (76)  |  Openness (5)  |  Politics (77)  |  Question (315)  |  Scientist (447)

[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 (101)  |  Challenge (37)  |  Commitment (11)  |  Control (93)  |  Evil (67)  |  Faith (131)  |  Good (228)  |  Insight (57)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Power (273)  |  Question (315)  |  Seldom (21)  |  Understand (189)  |  Weapon (57)  |  World (667)


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
Quotations by: Albert Einstein Isaac Newton Lord Kelvin Charles Darwin Srinivasa Ramanujan Carl Sagan Florence Nightingale Thomas Edison Aristotle Marie Curie Benjamin Franklin Winston Churchill Galileo Galilei Sigmund Freud Robert Bunsen Louis Pasteur Theodore Roosevelt Abraham Lincoln Ronald Reagan Leonardo DaVinci Michio Kaku Karl Popper Johann Goethe Robert Oppenheimer Charles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about: Atomic  Bomb Biology Chemistry Deforestation Engineering Anatomy Astronomy Bacteria Biochemistry Botany Conservation Dinosaur Environment Fractal Genetics Geology History of Science Invention Jupiter Knowledge Love Mathematics Measurement Medicine Natural Resource Organic Chemistry Physics Physician Quantum Theory Research Science and Art Teacher Technology Universe Volcano Virus Wind Power Women Scientists X-Rays Youth Zoology  ... (more topics)
Sitewide search within all Today In Science History pages:
Visit our Science and Scientist Quotations index for more Science Quotes from archaeologists, biologists, chemists, geologists, inventors and inventions, mathematicians, physicists, pioneers in medicine, science events and technology.

Names index: | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

Categories index: | 1 | 2 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

- 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
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
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
Avicenna
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
Archimedes
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
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.