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Max Planck
(23 Apr 1858 - 4 Oct 1947)

German theoretical physicist who introduced the quantum theory (1900), for which he was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize for Physics. This assumes that energy is not infinitely subdivisible, but ultimately exists as discrete amounts he called quanta.


Max Planck Quotes on Nature (12 quotes)

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An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer.
— Max Planck
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned—the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted—nature's answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of the theorist, who finds himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics. Of course, this does not mean that the experimenter does not also engage in theoretical deliberations. The foremost classical example of a major achievement produced by such a division of labor is the creation of spectrum analysis by the joint efforts of Robert Bunsen, the experimenter, and Gustav Kirchoff, the theorist. Since then, spectrum analysis has been continually developing and bearing ever richer fruit.
— Max Planck
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Experimenters are the shock troops of science … An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer. But before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned–the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted–Nature’s answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of theorists, who find himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics.
— Max Planck
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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How do we discover the individual laws of Physics, and what is their nature? It should be remarked, to begin with, that we have no right to assume that any physical law exists, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future. It is perfectly conceivable that one fine day Nature should cause an unexpected event to occur which would baffle us all; and if this were to happen we would be powerless to make any objection, even if the result would be that, in spite of our endeavors, we should fail to introduce order into the resulting confusion. In such an event, the only course open to science would be to declare itself bankrupt. For this reason, science is compelled to begin by the general assumption that a general rule of law dominates throughout Nature.
— Max Planck
Max Planck, Walter Henry Johnston, The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 58.
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If E is considered to be a continuously divisible quantity, this distribution is possible in infinitely many ways. We consider, however—this is the most essential point of the whole calculation—E to be composed of a well-defined number of equal parts and use thereto the constant of nature h = 6.55 ×10-27 erg sec. This constant multiplied by the common frequency ν of the resonators gives us the energy element ε in erg, and dividing E by ε we get the number P of energy elements which must be divided over the N resonators.
[Planck’s constant, as introduced in 1900; subsequently written e = hν.]
— Max Planck
In 'On the theory of the energy distribution law of the normal spectrum', in D. ter Haar and Stephen G. Brush, trans., Planck’s Original Papers in Quantum Physics (1972), 40.
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Nature prefers the more probable states to the less probable because in nature processes take place in the direction of greater probability. Heat goes from a body at higher temperature to a body at lower temperature because the state of equal temperature distribution is more probable than a state of unequal temperature distribution.
— Max Planck
'The Atomic Theory of Matter', third lecture at Columbia University (1909), in Max Planck and A. P. Wills (trans.), Eight Lectures on Theoretical Physics (1915), 44.
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Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. Music and art are, to an extent, also attempts to solve or at least express the mystery. But to my mind the more we progress with either the more we are brought into harmony with all nature itself. And that is one of the great services of science to the individual.
— Max Planck
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), Epilogue, 217.
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The entire world we apprehend through our senses is no more than a tiny fragment in the vastness of Nature.
— Max Planck
The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 8.
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The first and most important quality of all scientific ways of thinking must be the clear distinction between the outer object of observation and the subjective nature of the observer.
— Max Planck
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where Is Science Going? (1932), 139.
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The forces of nature, such as electricity for instance, were not discovered by men who started out with the set purpose of adapting them for utilitarian purposes. Scientific discovery and scientific knowledge have been achieved only by those who have gone in pursuit of it without any practical purpose whatsoever in view. … Heinrich Hertz, for instance, never dreamt that his discoveries would have been developed by Marconi and finally evolved into a system of wireless telegraphy.
— Max Planck
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where Is Science Going? (1932), 138.
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This is one of man's oldest riddles. How can the independence of human volition be harmonized with the fact that we are integral parts of a universe which is subject to the rigid order of nature's laws?
— Max Planck
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), 107.
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When Archimedes jumped out of his bath one morning and cried Eureka he obviously had not worked out the whole principle on which the specific gravity of various bodies could be determined j and undoubtedly there were people who laughed at his first attempts. That is perhaps why most scientific pioneers are so slow to disclose the nature of their first insights when they believe themselves to be on a track of a new discovery.
— Max Planck
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where Is Science Going? (1932), 177.
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See also:

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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