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Who said: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it... That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
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Physics Quotes (533 quotes)


The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified; and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest.
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 4.
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Dans les sciences physiques en général, on ait souvent supposé au lieu de conclure; que les suppositions transmises d’âge en âge, soient devenues de plus en plus imposantes par le poids des autorités qu'elles ont acquises , & qu'elles ayent enfin été adoptées & regardées comme des vérités fondamentales, même par de très-bons esprits.
In the science of physics in general, men have so often formed suppositions, instead of drawing conclusions. These suppositions, handed down from one age to another, acquire additional weight from the authorities by which they are supported, till at last they are received, even by men of genius, as fundamental truths.
From the original French in Traité élémentaire de chimie (1789, 1793), discours préliminaire, x; and from edition translated into English by Robert Kerr, as Elements of Chemistry (1790), Preface, xvi.
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Die Chemie ist der unreinliche Teil der Physik.
Chemistry is the dirty part of physics.
Original German as quoted by Paul Krische, Wie Studiert man Chemie? (1904), 67, who also stated that Peter Reiss was a friend of Friedrich Wöhler (both chemists). English version as given in Chemisch Weekblad (1925), 22, 363. In more recent books, the quote is cited as by physicist Johann Philipp Reis. This confusion appears, for example in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 116.
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Every teacher certainly should know something of non-euclidean geometry. Thus, it forms one of the few parts of mathematics which, at least in scattered catch-words, is talked about in wide circles, so that any teacher may be asked about it at any moment. … Imagine a teacher of physics who is unable to say anything about Röntgen rays, or about radium. A teacher of mathematics who could give no answer to questions about non-euclidean geometry would not make a better impression.
On the other hand, I should like to advise emphatically against bringing non-euclidean into regular school instruction (i.e., beyond occasional suggestions, upon inquiry by interested pupils), as enthusiasts are always recommending. Let us be satisfied if the preceding advice is followed and if the pupils learn to really understand euclidean geometry. After all, it is in order for the teacher to know a little more than the average pupil.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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La chaleur pénètre, comme la gravité, toutes les substances de l’univers, ses rayons occupent toutes les parties de l’espace. Le but de notre ouvrage est d’exposer les lois mathématiques que suit cet élément. Cette théorie formera désormais une des branches les plus importantes de la physique générale.
Heat, like gravity, penetrates every substance of the universe, its rays occupy all parts of space. The object of our work is to set forth the mathematical laws which this element obeys. The theory of heat will hereafter form one of the most important branches of general physics.
From 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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La determination de la relation & de la dépendance mutuelle de ces données dans certains cas particuliers, doit être le premier but du Physicien; & pour cet effet, il falloit one mesure exacte qui indiquât d’une manière invariable & égale dans tous les lieux de la terre, le degré de l'électricité au moyen duquel les expéiences ont été faites… Aussi, l'histoire de l'électricité prouve une vérité suffisamment reconnue; c'est que le Physicien sans mesure ne fait que jouer, & qu'il ne diffère en cela des enfans, que par la nature de son jeu & la construction de ses jouets.
The determination of the relationship and mutual dependence of the facts in particular cases must be the first goal of the Physicist; and for this purpose he requires that an exact measurement may be taken in an equally invariable manner anywhere in the world… Also, the history of electricity yields a well-known truth—that the physicist shirking measurement only plays, different from children only in the nature of his game and the construction of his toys.
'Mémoire sur la mesure de force de l'électricité', Journal de Physique (1782), 21, 191. English version by Google Translate tweaked by Webmaster.
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Misattributed to Johann Reiss. Probably by Peter Reiss.
Die Chemie ist der unreinliche Teil der Physik.
Chemistry is the dirty part of physics.
Webmaster believes this quote should be attributed to Peter Reiss, having found the following example cited for Peter Reiss. Original German as quoted by Paul Krische, Wie Studiert man Chemie? (1904), 67, who also stated that Peter Reiss was a friend of Friedrich Wöhler (both chemists). English version as given in Chemisch Weekblad (1925), 22, 363. In various recent books, the quote is cited as by physicist Johann Philipp Reis. This confusion appears, for example in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 116.
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Natura non facit saltum or, Nature does not make leaps… If you assume continuity, you can open the well-stocked mathematical toolkit of continuous functions and differential equations, the saws and hammers of engineering and physics for the past two centuries (and the foreseeable future).
From Benoit B. Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson, The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward (2004,2010), 85-86.
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Arthur Stanley Eddington quote: Proof is an idol before whom the pure mathematician tortures himself. In physics we are generall
Proof is an idol before whom the pure mathematician tortures himself. In physics we are generally content to sacrifice before the lesser shrine of Plausibility.
In Gifford Lecture (1927), Edinburgh, as collected in 'Science and Mysticism', The Nature of the Physical World (1928), 337.
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Tout le monde convient maintenant qu’une Physique d’où l'on banniroit tout ce qui peut avoir quelque rapport avec les mathématiques, pour se borner à un simple recueil d’observations & d’experiences, ne seroit qu’un amusement historique, plus propre à récréer un cercle de personnes oisives, qu’à occuper un esprit véritablement philosophique.
Everyone now agrees that a Physics where you banish all relationship with mathematics, to confine itself to a mere collection of experiences and observations, would be but an historical amusement, more fitting to entertain idle people, than to engage the mind of a true philosopher.
In Dictionnaire de Physique (1781), Vol. 8, 209. English version via Google Translate, tweaked by Webmaster. Also seen translated as—“Everyone now agrees that a physics lacking all connection with mathematics…would only be an historical amusement, fitter for entertaining the idle than for occupying the mind of a philosopher”—in John L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 74. In the latter source, the subject quote immediately follows a different one by Franz Karl Achard. An editor misreading that paragraph is the likely reason the subject quote will be found in Oxford Dictionary of Science Quotations attributed to Achard. Webmaster checked the original footnoted source, and corrected the author of this entry to Paulian (16 May 2014).
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Vacuum voco locum omnem in quo corpora sine resistentia movetur.
Vacuum I call every place in which a body is able to move without resistance.
Original Latin from an unpublished line in a manuscript draft of additions and corrections to the second edition of the Principia held by Cambridge University Library, 'Definition II', MS Add 3965 sec 13 [53-94] Draft No. 3 Folio 422r. As quoted and cited in J.E. McGuire, Tradition and Innovation: Newton’s Metaphysics of Nature (1995, 2011), 139. English translation as given in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 210.
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[About describing atomic models in the language of classical physics:] We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.
As quoted by Werner Heisenberg, as translated by Arnold J. Pomerans, in Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971), 41. The words are not verbatim, but as later recollected by Werner Heisenberg describing his early encounter with Bohr in 1920.
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[Question: What do you think was the most important physics idea to emerge this year?]
We won't know for a few years.
Interview with Deborah Solomon, 'The Science of Second-Guessing', in New York Times Magazine (12 Dec 2004), 37.
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[When asked “Dr. Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?”] That is simple, my friend. It is because politics is more difficult than physics.
Einstein’s answer to a conferee at a meeting at Princeton, N.J. (Jan 1946), as recalled by Greenville Clark in 'Letters to the Times', in New York Times (22 Apr 1955), 24.
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A biophysicist talks physics to the biologists and biology to the physicists, but when he meets another biophysicist, they just discuss women.
Anonymous
In Alan Lindsay Mackay , A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2nd Ed., 1991), 4.
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A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities, but can only be understood as interconnections between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement.
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics (1975), 68.
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A complete survey of life on Earth may appear to be a daunting task. But compared with what has been dared and achieved in high-energy physics, molecular genetics, and other branches of “big science,” it is in the second or third rank.
In 'Edward O. Wilson: The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2, No. 1, 26.
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A good deal of my research in physics has consisted in not setting out to solve some particular problem, but simply examining mathematical quantities of a kind that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way, regardless of any application that the work may have. It is simply a search for pretty mathematics. It may turn out later to have an application. Then one has good luck. At age 78.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21, 603. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 110.
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A great department of thought must have its own inner life, however transcendent may be the importance of its relations to the outside. No department of science, least of all one requiring so high a degree of mental concentration as Mathematics, can be developed entirely, or even mainly, with a view to applications outside its own range. The increased complexity and specialisation of all branches of knowledge makes it true in the present, however it may have been in former times, that important advances in such a department as Mathematics can be expected only from men who are interested in the subject for its own sake, and who, whilst keeping an open mind for suggestions from outside, allow their thought to range freely in those lines of advance which are indicated by the present state of their subject, untrammelled by any preoccupation as to applications to other departments of science. Even with a view to applications, if Mathematics is to be adequately equipped for the purpose of coping with the intricate problems which will be presented to it in the future by Physics, Chemistry and other branches of physical science, many of these problems probably of a character which we cannot at present forecast, it is essential that Mathematics should be allowed to develop freely on its own lines.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 286.
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A page from a journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetan mandala. Both are records of enquiries into the nature of the universe.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 36.
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A physical theory remains an empty shell until we have found a reasonable physical interpretation.
At the 4th Soviet Gravitational Conference, Minsk, USSR (Jul 1976). Quoted in Anton Z. Capri, From Quanta to Quarks: More Anecdotal History of Physics (2007), 120.
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A physicist learns more and more about less and less, until he knows everything about nothing; whereas a philosopher learns less and less about more and more, until he knows nothing about everything.
Anonymous
Saying.
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A sound Physics of the Earth should include all the primary considerations of the earth's atmosphere, of the characteristics and continual changes of the earth's external crust, and finally of the origin and development of living organisms. These considerations naturally divide the physics of the earth into three essential parts, the first being a theory of the atmosphere, or Meteorology, the second, a theory of the earth's external crust, or Hydrogeology, and the third, a theory of living organisms, or Biology.
Hydrogéologie (1802), trans. A. V. Carozzi (1964), 18.
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A theory of physics is not an explanation; it is a system of mathematical oppositions deduced from a small number of principles the aim of which is to represent as simply, as completely, and as exactly as possible, a group of experimental laws.
As quoted in Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 15, which cites Théorie Physique; Son Objet—Son Structure (1906), 24.
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A time will however come (as I believe) when physiology will invade and destroy mathematical physics, as the latter has destroyed geometry.
In Daedalus, or Science and the Future (1923). Reprinted in Krishna R. Dronamraju (ed.), Haldane’s Daedalus Revisited (1995), 27.
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A vacuum is repugnant to reason.
A commonly seen shortened version of a longer quote. From the original Latin: “Repugnare ut detur vacuum, sive in quo nulla plane sit res.” Subtitle of Article XVI in Principia Philospphiæ (1644), Pars Secunda, XVI, 41-42. Also collected in Œuvres de Descartes (1905), Vol. 8, 49. As translated by John Veitch: “That a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely no body is repugnant to reason,” in Meditations and Selections from the Principles of Philosophy (1853, 1913), 185. [Note: In the French edition, the subtitle was translated as, “Qu'il ne peut y avoir aucun vuide au sens que les Philosophes prenent ce mot,” which in English would be, “That there can be no vacuum in the sense that Philosophers take this word.” In Les Principes de la Philosophie (1651), Seconde Partie, Article XVI, 75.]
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A. R. Todd
Thinks he’s God.
N. F. Mott
Says he’s not.
Anonymous
Quoted by William Lord in The Times (22 Jan 1997), remarking on the competitiveness between the Physics and Chemistry Departments at the University of Cambridge.
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According to Democritus, atoms had lost the qualities like colour, taste, etc., they only occupied space, but geometrical assertions about atoms were admissible and required no further analysis. In modern physics, atoms lose this last property, they possess geometrical qualities in no higher degree than colour, taste, etc. The atom of modern physics can only be symbolized by a partial differential equation in an abstract multidimensional space. Only the experiment of an observer forces the atom to indicate a position, a colour and a quantity of heat. All the qualities of the atom of modern physics are derived, it has no immediate and direct physical properties at all, i.e. every type of visual conception we might wish to design is, eo ipso, faulty. An understanding of 'the first order' is, I would almost say by definition, impossible for the world of atoms.
Philosophic Problems of Nuclear Science, trans. F. C. Hayes (1952), 38.
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According to my views, aiming at quantitative investigations, that is at establishing relations between measurements of phenomena, should take first place in the experimental practice of physics. By measurement to knowledge [door meten tot weten] I should like to write as a motto above the entrance to every physics laboratory.
'The Significance of Quantitative Research in Physics', Inaugural Address at the University of Leiden (1882). In Hendrik Casimir, Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science (1983), 160-1.
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After the discovery of spectral analysis no one trained in physics could doubt the problem of the atom would be solved when physicists had learned to understand the language of spectra. So manifold was the enormous amount of material that has been accumulated in sixty years of spectroscopic research that it seemed at first beyond the possibility of disentanglement. An almost greater enlightenment has resulted from the seven years of Röntgen spectroscopy, inasmuch as it has attacked the problem of the atom at its very root, and illuminates the interior. What we are nowadays hearing of the language of spectra is a true 'music of the spheres' in order and harmony that becomes ever more perfect in spite of the manifold variety. The theory of spectral lines will bear the name of Bohr for all time. But yet another name will be permanently associated with it, that of Planck. All integral laws of spectral lines and of atomic theory spring originally from the quantum theory. It is the mysterious organon on which Nature plays her music of the spectra, and according to the rhythm of which she regulates the structure of the atoms and nuclei.
Atombau und Spektrallinien (1919), viii, Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines, trans. Henry L. Brose (1923), viii.
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All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.
The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 5.
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All of modern physics is governed by that magnificent and thoroughly confusing discipline called quantum mechanics ... It has survived all tests and there is no reason to believe that there is any flaw in it.... We all know how to use it and how to apply it to problems; and so we have learned to live with the fact that nobody can understand it.
…...
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All of physics is either impossible or trivial. It is impossible until you understand it, and then it becomes trivial.
…...
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All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
Quoted in J. B. Birks, Rutherford at Manchester (1962), 108, without citation. Webmaster has not been able to find any earlier example of the quote in print. If you know a primary print source, or very early reference to this quote, please contact the Webmaster. If—a strong if—truly a Rutherford quote, and such a snappy one, surely it should have been better documented from decades earlier?
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All the real true knowledge we have of Nature is intirely experimental, insomuch that, how strange soever the assertion seems, we may lay this down as the first fundamental unerring rule in physics, That it is not within the compass of human understanding to assign a purely speculative reason for any one phaenomenon in nature.
In The Procedure, Extent, and Limits of Human Understanding (1728, 1729), 205-206.
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Although I am primarily an experimental physicist, theoretical physics is my hobby.
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Although I was four years at the University [of Wisconsin], I did not take the regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new world, mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany and and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and should have stayed longer.
[Enrolled in Feb 1861, left in 1863 without completing a degree, and began his first botanical foot journey.]
John Muir
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 286.
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Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
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And having thus passed the principles of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and geography, with a general compact of physics, they may descend in mathematics to the instrumental science of trigonometry, and from thence to fortification, architecture, engineering, or navigation. And in natural philosophy they may proceed leisurely from the history of meteors, minerals, plants, and living creatures, as far as anatomy. Then also in course might be read to them out of some not tedious writer the institution of physic. … To set forward all these proceedings in nature and mathematics, what hinders but that they may procure, as oft as shall be needful, the helpful experiences of hunters, fowlers, fishermen, shepherds, gardeners, apothecaries; and in other sciences, architects, engineers, mariners, anatomists.
In John Milton and Robert Fletcher (ed.), 'On Education', The Prose Works of John Milton: With an Introductory Review (1834), 100.
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And there are absolutely no judgments (or rules) in Mechanics which do not also pertain to Physics, of which Mechanics is a part or type: and it is as natural for a clock, composed of wheels of a certain kind, to indicate the hours, as for a tree, grown from a certain kind of seed, to produce the corresponding fruit. Accordingly, just as when those who are accustomed to considering automata know the use of some machine and see some of its parts, they easily conjecture from this how the other parts which they do not see are made: so, from the perceptible effects and parts of natural bodies, I have attempted to investigate the nature of their causes and of their imperceptible parts.
Principles of Philosophy (1644), trans. V. R. and R. P. Miller (1983), 285-6.
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Any fundamental theory of physics is beautiful. If it isn’t, it’s probably wrong.
In the University of Toronto Bulletin, May 5, 1986.
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Archimedes, who combined a genius for mathematics with a physical insight, must rank with Newton, who lived nearly two thousand years later, as one of the founders of mathematical physics. … The day (when having discovered his famous principle of hydrostatics he ran through the streets shouting Eureka! Eureka!) ought to be celebrated as the birthday of mathematical physics; the science came of age when Newton sat in his orchard.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 37.
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As a boy I had liked both drawing and physics, and I always abhorred the role of being a spectator. In 1908, when I was 15, I designed, built and flew a toy model airplane which won the then-famous James Gordon Bennett Cup. By 16 I had discovered that design could be fun and profitable, and this lesson has never been lost on me.
On the official Raymond Loewry website.
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As a result of the phenomenally rapid change and growth of physics, the men and women who did their great work one or two generations ago may be our distant predecessors in terms of the state of the field, but they are our close neighbors in terms of time and tastes. This may be an unprecedented state of affairs among professionals; one can perhaps be forgiven if one characterizes it epigrammatically with a disastrously mixed metaphor; in the sciences, we are now uniquely privileged to sit side-by-side with the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
In 'On the Recent Past of Physics', American Journal of Physics (1961), 29, 807.
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As chemists, we must rename [our] scheme and insert the symbols Ba, La, Ce in place of Ra, Ac, Th. As nuclear chemists closely associated with physics, we cannot yet convince ourselves to make this leap, which contradicts all previous experience in nuclear physics.
Co-author with Fritz Strassmann, German chemist (1902-80)
Otto Hahn
'(Über den nachweis und das Verhalten der bei der Bestrahlung des Urans mittels Neutronen entstehenden Erdalkallmetalle', Die Naturwissenschaften, 1939, 27, 11-15. Trans. J. Heilbron and Robert W. Seidel, Lawrence and his Laboratory: A History of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (1989), Vol. 1, 436-7.
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As modern physics started with the Newtonian revolution, so modern philosophy starts with what one might call the Cartesian Catastrophe. The catastrophe consisted in the splitting up of the world into the realms of matter and mind, and the identification of “mind” with conscious thinking. The result of this identification was the shallow rationalism of l’esprit Cartesien, and an impoverishment of psychology which it took three centuries to remedy even in part.
The Act of Creation (1964), 148.
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As to a perfect Science of natural Bodies … we are, I think, so far from being capable of any such thing that I conclude it lost labour to seek after it.
In 'Extent of Human Knowledge', An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1700), Book 4, 335.
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As we cannot use physician for a cultivator of physics, I have called him a physicist. We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.
The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. I, cxiii.
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As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.
In The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler (1986).
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Astronomy is older than physics. In fact, it got physics started by showing the beautiful simplicity of the motion of the stars and planets, the understanding of which was the beginning of physics. But the most remarkable discovery in all of astronomy is that the stars are made of atoms of the same kind as those on the earth.
In 'Astronomy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 3-6.
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At every major step physics has required, and frequently stimulated, the introduction of new mathematical tools and concepts. Our present understanding of the laws of physics, with their extreme precision and universality, is only possible in mathematical terms.
In Book Review 'Pulling the Strings,' of Lawrence Krauss's Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Lure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond in Nature (22 Dec 2005), 438, 1081.
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At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that everything can be subdivided into smaller parts. Nevertheless, for entirely speculative reasons the philosophers of Antiquity, especially the Stoics, concluded this concept to be quite unnecessary. The prodigious development of physics has now reached the same conclusion as those philosophers, Empedocles and Democritus in particular, who lived around 500 B.C. and for whom even ancient man had a lively admiration.
'Development of the Theory of Electrolytic Dissociation', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 45.
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At the present time it is of course quite customary for physicists to trespass on chemical ground, for mathematicians to do excellent work in physics, and for physicists to develop new mathematical procedures. … Trespassing is one of the most successful techniques in science.
In Dynamics in Psychology (1940, 1973), 116.
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Bohr’s standpoint, that a space-time description is impossible, I reject a limine. Physics does not consist only of atomic research, science does not consist only of physics, and life does not consist only of science. The aim of atomic research is to fit our empirical knowledge concerning it into our other thinking. All of this other thinking, so far as it concerns the outer world, is active in space and time. If it cannot be fitted into space and time, then it fails in its whole aim and one does not know what purpose it really serves.
Letter to Willy Wien (25 Aug 1926). Quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989), 226.
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But I canna change the laws of physics, Captain!
Scotty
chief engineer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, to Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek.
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But, contrary to the lady’s prejudices about the engineering profession, the fact is that quite some time ago the tables were turned between theory and applications in the physical sciences. Since World War II the discoveries that have changed the world are not made so much in lofty halls of theoretical physics as in the less-noticed labs of engineering and experimental physics. The roles of pure and applied science have been reversed; they are no longer what they were in the golden age of physics, in the age of Einstein, Schrödinger, Fermi and Dirac.
'The Age of Computing: a Personal Memoir', Daedalus (1992), 121, 120.
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By far the most important consequence of the conceptual revolution brought about in physics by relativity and quantum theory lies not in such details as that meter sticks shorten when they move or that simultaneous position and momentum have no meaning, but in the insight that we had not been using our minds properly and that it is important to find out how to do so.
'Quo Vadis'. In Gerald Holton (ed.), Science and the Modern Mind (1971), 84.
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By the year 2070 we cannot say, or it would be imbecile to do so, that any man alive could understand Shakespearean experience better than Shakespeare, whereas any decent eighteen-year-old student of physics will know more physics than Newton.
'The Case of Leavis and the Serious Case’, Times Literary Supplement (9 Jul 1970), 737-740. Collected in Public Affairs (1971), 95.
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Cell and tissue, shell and bone, leaf and flower, are so many portions of matter, and it is in obedience to the laws of physics that their particles have been moved, moulded and confirmed. They are no exception to the rule that God always geometrizes. Their problems of form are in the first instance mathematical problems, their problems of growth are essentially physical problems, and the morphologist is, ipso facto, a student of physical science.
On Growth and Form (1917), 7-8.
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Chemistry and physics are experimental sciences; and those who are engaged in attempting to enlarge the boundaries of science by experiment are generally unwilling to publish speculations; for they have learned, by long experience, that it is unsafe to anticipate events. It is true, they must make certain theories and hypotheses. They must form some kind of mental picture of the relations between the phenomena which they are trying to investigate, else their experiments would be made at random, and without connection.
From 'Radium and Its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 52.
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Chemistry has been termed by the physicist as the messy part of physics, but that is no reason why the physicists should be permitted to make a mess of chemistry when they invade it.
Attributed. As quoted in American Journal of Physics (1946),14 248. Also in Robert L. Weber, More Random Walks in Science: An Anthology (1982), 64, without citation. Contact Webmaster if you know any primary source.
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Chemistry works with an enormous number of substances, but cares only for some few of their properties; it is an extensive science. Physics on the other hand works with rather few substances, such as mercury, water, alcohol, glass, air, but analyses the experimental results very thoroughly; it is an intensive science. Physical chemistry is the child of these two sciences; it has inherited the extensive character from chemistry. Upon this depends its all-embracing feature, which has attracted so great admiration. But on the other hand it has its profound quantitative character from the science of physics.
In Theories of Solutions (1912), xix.
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Common sense … may be thought of as a series of concepts and conceptual schemes which have proved highly satisfactory for the practical uses of mankind. Some of those concepts and conceptual schemes were carried over into science with only a little pruning and whittling and for a long time proved useful. As the recent revolutions in physics indicate, however, many errors can be made by failure to examine carefully just how common sense ideas should be defined in terms of what the experimenter plans to do.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 32-33.
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Consciously and systematically Klein sought to enthrall me with the problems of mathematical physics, and to win me over to his conception of these problems as developed it in lecture courses in previous years. I have always regarded Klein as my real teacher only in things mathematical, but also in mathematical physics and in my conception of mechanics.
As quoted in Paul Forman and Armin Hermann, 'Sommerfeld, Arnold (Johannes Wilhelm)', Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 12, 526. Cited from 'Autobiographische Skizze', Gesammelte Schriften, Vol 4, 673–682.
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Considered as a mere question of physics, (and keeping all moral considerations entirely out of sight,) the appearance of man is a geological phenomenon of vast importance, indirectly modifying the whole surface of the earth, breaking in upon any supposition of zoological continuity, and utterly unaccounted for by what we have any right to call the laws of nature.
'Address to the Geological Society, delivered on the Evening of the 18th of February 1831', Proceedings of the Geological Society (1834), 1, 306.
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Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the “Mona Lisa” painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam, whether it takes ultimate shape in a law of physics or a law of the land, a poem or a policy, a sonata or a mechanical computer.
Baccalaureate address (9 Jun 1957), Yale University. In In the University Tradition (1957), 156.
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Dr. Bhabha was a visionary. He had excellent command over electronics, physics and he saw the dream of India being a nuclear power. … He was a perfectionist and would leave no point of suspicion while working on any project. He was an inspiration.
Interview in newsletter of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (Oct 2001), online.
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During Alfvén's visit he gave a lecture at the University of Chicago, which was attended by [Enrico] Fermi. As Alfvén described his work, Fermi nodded his head and said, 'Of course.' The next day the entire world of physics said. 'Oh, of course.'
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988), 195.
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During the war years I worked on the development of radar and other radio systems for the R.A.F. and, though gaining much in engineering experience and in understanding people, rapidly forgot most of the physics I had learned.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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E=hf.
Formula describing the energy of a photon, in quantum theory, E=Energy, h=Planck’s constant, f=frequency of light.
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Each juggler should be trained in the ignorance of the laws of physics.
Unkempt Thoughts (1962), 66.
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Ecology has not yet explicitly developed the kind of cohesive, simplifying generalizations exemplified by, say, the laws of physics. Nevertheless there are a number of generalizations that are already evident in what we now know about the ecosphere and that can be organized into a kind of informal set of laws of ecology.
In The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (2014).
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born.
Y.C. Fung and P. Tong, Classical and Computational Solid Mechanics (2001), 1.
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Every theoretical physicist who is any good knows six or seven different theoretical representations for exactly the same physics. He knows that they are all equivalent, and that nobody is ever going to be able to decide which one is right at that level, but he keeps them in his head, hoping that they will give him different ideas for guessing.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 168.
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Everything is made of atoms ... Everything that animals do, atoms do. ... There is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.
In The Feynman Lectures (1963), 8.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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For it is the same whether you take it that the Earth is in motion or the Sky. For, in both the cases, it does not affect the Astronomical Science. It is just for the Physicist to see if it is possible to refute it.
In Syed Hasan Barani, 'Al-Biruni's Scientific Achievements', Indo-Iranica, 1952, S (4), 47.
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For me, [John Wheeler] was the last Titan, the only physics superhero still standing.
Quoted in Dennis Overbye, 'John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term Black Hole, Is Dead at 96', New York Times (14 Apr 2008).
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For the better part of my last semester at Garden City High, I constructed a physical pendulum and used it to make a “precision” measurement of gravity. The years of experience building things taught me skills that were directly applicable to the construction of the pendulum. Twenty-five years later, I was to develop a refined version of this measurement using laser-cooled atoms in an atomic fountain interferometer.
[Outcome of high school physics teacher, Thomas Miner, encouraging Chu's ambitious laboratory project.]
Autobiography in Gösta Ekspong (ed.), Nobel Lectures: Physics 1996-2000 (2002), 116.
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Fourier’s Theorem … is not only one of the most beautiful results of modern analysis, but it may be said to furnish an indispensable instrument in the treatment of nearly every recondite question in modern physics. To mention only sonorous vibrations, the propagation of electric signals along a telegraph wire, and the conduction of heat by the earth’s crust, as subjects in their generality intractable without it, is to give but a feeble idea of its importance.
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, 28.
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From all we have learnt about the structure of living matter, we must be prepared to find it working in a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics. And that not on the ground that there is any “new force” or what not, directing the behavior of the single atoms within a living organism, but because the construction is different from anything we have yet tested in the physical laboratory.
What is Life? (1956), 74.
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From my father I learned to build things, to take them apart, and to fix mechanical and electrical equipment in general. I spent vast hours in a woodworking shop he maintained in the basement of our house, building gadgets, working both with my father and alone, often late into the night. … This play with building, fixing, and designing was my favorite activity throughout my childhood, and was a wonderful preparation for my later career as an experimentalist working on the frontiers of chemistry and physics.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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From the age of 13, I was attracted to physics and mathematics. My interest in these subjects derived mostly from popular science books that I read avidly. Early on I was fascinated by theoretical physics and determined to become a theoretical physicist. I had no real idea what that meant, but it seemed incredibly exciting to spend one's life attempting to find the secrets of the universe by using one's mind.
From 'Autobiography', in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.) Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2004, (2005).
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From the infinitely great down to the infinitely small, all things are subject to [the laws of nature]. The sun and the planets follow the laws discovered by Newton and Laplace, just as the atoms in their combinations follow the laws of chemistry, as living creatures follow the laws of biology. It is only the imperfections of the human mind which multiply the divisions of the sciences, separating astronomy from physics or chemistry, the natural sciences from the social sciences. In essence, science is one. It is none other than the truth.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-97).
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From this fountain (the free will of God) it is those laws, which we call the laws of nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experimental. He who is presumptuous enough to think that he can find the true principles of physics and the laws of natural things by the force alone of his own mind, and the internal light of his reason, must either suppose the world exists by necessity, and by the same necessity follows the law proposed; or if the order of Nature was established by the will of God, the [man] himself, a miserable reptile, can tell what was fittest to be done.
…...
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Genetics has always turned out to be much more complicated than it seemed reasonable to imagine. Biology is not like physics. The more we know, the less it seems that there is one final explanation waiting to be discovered.
John Mitchinson and John Lloyd, If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren't There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times (2009), 275.
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Genetics has enticed a great many explorers during the past two decades. They have labored with fruit-flies and guinea-pigs, with sweet peas and corn, with thousands of animals and plants in fact, and they have made heredity no longer a mystery but an exact science to be ranked close behind physics and chemistry in definiteness of conception. One is inclined to believe, however, that the unique magnetic attraction of genetics lies in the vision of potential good which it holds for mankind rather than a circumscribed interest in the hereditary mechanisms of the lowly species used as laboratory material. If man had been found to be sharply demarcated from the rest of the occupants of the world, so that his heritage of physical form, of physiological function, and of mental attributes came about in a superior manner setting him apart as lord of creation, interest in the genetics of the humbler organisms—if one admits the truth—would have flagged severely. Biologists would have turned their attention largely to the ways of human heredity, in spite of the fact that the difficulties encountered would have rendered progress slow and uncertain. Since this was not the case, since the laws ruling the inheritance of the denizens of the garden and the inmates of the stable were found to be applicable to prince and potentate as well, one could shut himself up in his laboratory and labor to his heart's content, feeling certain that any truth which it fell to his lot to discover had a real human interest, after all.
Mankind at the Crossroads (1923), v-vi.
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Genetics is the first biological science which got in the position in which physics has been in for many years. One can justifiably speak about such a thing as theoretical mathematical genetics, and experimental genetics, just as in physics. There are some mathematical geniuses who work out what to an ordinary person seems a fantastic kind of theory. This fantastic kind of theory nevertheless leads to experimentally verifiable prediction, which an experimental physicist then has to test the validity of. Since the times of Wright, Haldane, and Fisher, evolutionary genetics has been in a similar position.
Oral history memoir. Columbia University, Oral History Research Office, New York, 1962. Quoted in William B. Provine, Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology (1989), 277.
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Genetics is to biology what atomic theory is to physics. Its principle is clear: that inheritance is based on particles and not on fluids. Instead of the essence of each parent mixing, with each child the blend of those who made him, information is passed on as a series of units. The bodies of successive generations transport them through time, so that a long-lost character may emerge in a distant descendant. The genes themselves may be older than the species that bear them.
Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated (1999), 115.
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Geology differs from physics, chemistry, and biology in that the possibilities for experiment are limited.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 453.
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Geometry, which should only obey Physics, when united with it sometimes commands it. If it happens that the question which we wish to examine is too complicated for all the elements to be able to enter into the analytical comparison which we wish to make, we separate the more inconvenient [elements], we substitute others for them, less troublesome, but also less real, and we are surprised to arrive, notwithstanding a painful labour, only at a result contradicted by nature; as if after having disguised it, cut it short or altered it, a purely mechanical combination could give it back to us.
From Essai d’une nouvelle théorie de la résistance des fluides (1752), translated as an epigram in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840: From the Calculus and Mechanics to Mathematical Analysis and Mathematical Physics (1990), Vol. 1, 33.
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God plays dice with the universe, but they’re loaded dice. And the main objective of physics now is to find out by what rules were they loaded and how can we use them for our own ends.
Quoted in James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (1987), 314.
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Good applied science in medicine, as in physics, requires a high degree of certainty about the basic facts at hand, and especially about their meaning, and we have not yet reached this point for most of medicine.
The Medusa and the Snail (1979), 143.
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Gödel proved that the world of pure mathematics is inexhaustible; no finite set of axioms and rules of inference can ever encompass the whole of mathematics; given any finite set of axioms, we can find meaningful mathematical questions which the axioms leave unanswered. I hope that an analogous Situation exists in the physical world. If my view of the future is correct, it means that the world of physics and astronomy is also inexhaustible; no matter how far we go into the future, there will always be new things happening, new information coming in, new worlds to explore, a constantly expanding domain of life, consciousness, and memory.
From Lecture 1, 'Philosophy', in a series of four James Arthur Lectures, 'Lectures on Time and its Mysteries' at New York University (Autumn 1978). Printed in 'Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe', Reviews of Modern Physics (Jul 1979), 51, 449.
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Happily, facts have become so multiplied, that Geology is daily emerging from that state when an hypothesis, provided it were brilliant and ingenious, was sure of advocates and temporary success, when when it sinned against the laws of physics and the facts themselves.
In Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iv.
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He that could teach mathematics well, would not be a bad teacher in any of [physics, chemistry, biology or psychology] unless by the accident of total inaptitude for experimental illustration; while the mere experimentalist is likely to fall into the error of missing the essential condition of science as reasoned truth; not to speak of the danger of making the instruction an affair of sensation, glitter, or pyrotechnic show.
In Education as a Science (1879), 298.
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Helmholtz—the physiologist who learned physics for the sake of his physiology, and mathematics for the sake of his physics, and is now in the first rank of all three.
In 'Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought', Lectures and Essays, Vol. 1 (1901), 165.
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Heroes of physics, Argonauts of our time
Who leaped the mountains, who crossed the seas …
You have confirmed in uncomfortable places
What Newton knew without leaving his study.
Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1734), Quatrieme discours: de la Moderation (1738). Quoted in and trans. J. L. Heilbron, Weighing Imponderables and Other Quantitative Science around 1800 (1993), 224.
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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, Walter Henry Johnston, The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 58.
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How far will chemistry and physics … help us understand the appeal of a painting?
Colour: Why the World Isn’t Grey (1983). Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 1.
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Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. A mystery is a phenomenon that people don't know how to think about—yet. There have been other great mysteries: the mystery of the origin of the universe, the mystery of life and reproduction, the mystery of the design to be found in nature, the mysteries of time, space, and gravity. These were not just areas of scientific ignorance, but of utter bafflement and wonder. We do not yet have the final answers to any of the questions of cosmology and particle physics, molecular genetics and evolutionary theory, but we do know how to think about them. The mysteries haven't vanished, but they have been tamed. They no longer overwhelm our efforts to think about the phenomena, because now we know how to tell the misbegotten questions from the right questions, and even if we turn out to be dead wrong about some of the currently accepted answers, we know how to go about looking for better answers. With consciousness, however, we are still in a terrible muddle. Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all the earlier mysteries, there are many who insist—and hope—that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.
Consciousness Explained (1991), 21-22.
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Humanism is only another name for spiritual laziness, or a vague half-creed adopted by men of science and logicians whose heads are too occupied with the world of mathematics and physics to worry about religious categories.
In The Outsider (1956), 279.
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I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics, which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce.
From 'Missed Opportunities', Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture (17 Jan 1972), as published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Sep 1972), 78, No. 5. Collected in Jong-Ping Hsu and Dana Fine (eds.), 100 Years of Gravity and Accelerated Frames: The Deepest Insights of Einstein and Yang-Mills (2005), 347.
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I believe that certain erroneous developments in particle theory ... are caused by a misconception by some physicists that it is possible to avoid philosophical arguments altogether. Starting with poor philosophy, they pose the wrong questions. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that good physics has at times been spoiled by poor philosophy.
…...
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I believe that the present laws of physics are at least incomplete without a translation into terms of mental phenomena.
In 'Physics and the Explanation of Life', Foundations of Physics 1970, I, 35-45.
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I cannot seriously believe in it [quantum theory] because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance [spukhafte Fernwirkungen].
Letter to Max Born (3 Mar 1947). In Born-Einstein Letters (1971), 158.
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I claim that relativity and the rest of modern physics is not complicated. It can be explained very simply. It is only unusual or, put another way, it is contrary to common sense.
In Edward Teller, Wendy Teller and Wilson Talley, Conversations on the Dark Secrets of Physics (1991, 2013), 2.
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I confess, that after I began … to discern how useful mathematicks may be made to physicks, I have often wished that I had employed about the speculative part of geometry, and the cultivation of the specious Algebra I had been taught very young, a good part of that time and industry, that I had spent about surveying and fortification (of which I remember I once wrote an entire treatise) and other parts of practick mathematicks.
In 'The Usefulness of Mathematiks to Natural Philosophy', Works (1772), Vol. 3, 426.
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I do not see any reason to assume that the heuristic significance of the principle of general relativity is restricted to gravitation and that the rest of physics can be dealt with separately on the basis of special relativity, with the hope that later on the whole may be fitted consistently into a general relativistic scheme. I do not think that such an attitude, although historically understandable, can be objectively justified. The comparative smallness of what we know today as gravitational effects is not a conclusive reason for ignoring the principle of general relativity in theoretical investigations of a fundamental character. In other words, I do not believe that it is justifiable to ask: What would physics look like without gravitation?
…...
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I do not see how a man can work on the frontiers of physics and write poetry at the same time. They are in opposition. In science you want to say something that nobody knew before, in words which everyone can understand. In poetry you are bound to say ... something that everyone knows already in words that nobody can understand.
Commenting to him about the poetry J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote.
Quoted in Steven George Krantz, Mathematical Apocrypha Redux: More Stories and Anecdotes of Mathematicians (2005), 169
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I do not see the possibility of comparison between his [H. G. Wells] work and mine. We do not proceed in the same manner. It occurs to me that his stories do not repose on a very scientific basis. ... I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannon-ball, discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars in an airship, which he constructs of a metal which does not obey the law of gravitation. Ça c'est très joli ... but show me this metal. Let him produce it.
Quoted in R. H. Sherard, 'Jules Verne Re-Visited', T.P.'s Weekly (9 Oct 1903).
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I do not think the division of the subject into two parts - into applied mathematics and experimental physics a good one, for natural philosophy without experiment is merely mathematical exercise, while experiment without mathematics will neither sufficiently discipline the mind or sufficiently extend our knowledge in a subject like physics.
to Henry Roscoe, Professor of Chemistry at Owens College (2 Jun 1870), B.C.S Archive Quoted in R.H. Kargon, Science in Victorian Manchester (1977), 215.
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I do not understand modern physics at all, but my colleagues who know a lot about the physics of very small things, like the particles in atoms, or very large things, like the universe, seem to be running into one queerness after another, from puzzle to puzzle.
In 'On Science and Certainty', Discover Magazine (Oct 1980).
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I do not want to label myself a crystallographer as against a physicist and think indeed that though my research is concerned with crystals it is the physical side of it which attracts me.
In Letter (3 Jun 1929) to Ernest Rutherford, in Royal Society Archives, as quoted in David Phillips, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1979), 25, 104.
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I don’t know whether there is a finite set of basic laws of physics or whether there are infinite sets of structure like an infinite set of Chinese boxes. Will the electron turn out to have an interior structure? I wish I knew!
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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I don’t think there is one unique real universe. ... Even the laws of physics themselves may be somewhat observer dependent.
…...
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I first met J. Robert Oppenheimer on October 8, 1942, at Berkeley, Calif. There we discussed the theoretical research studies he was engaged in with respect to the physics of the bomb. Our discussions confirmed my previous belief that we should bring all of the widely scattered theoretical work together. … He expressed complete agreement, and it was then that the idea of the prompt establishment of a Los Alamos was conceived.”
In 'Some Recollections of July 16, 1945', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Jun 1970), 26, No. 6, 21.
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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York … a city neighborhood that included houses, lampposts, walls, and bushes. But with an early bedtime in the winter, I could look out my window and see the stars, and the stars were not like anything else in my neighborhood. [At age 5] I didn’t know what they were.
[At age 9] my mother … said to me, “You have a library card now, and you know how to read. Take the streetcar to the library and get a book on stars.” … I stepped up to the big librarian and asked for a book on stars. … I sat down and found out the answer, which was something really stunning.
I found out that the stars are glowing balls of gas. I also found out that the Sun is a star but really close and that the stars are all suns except really far away I didn’t know any physics or mathematics at that time, but I could imagine how far you’d have to move the Sun away from us till it was only as bright as a star. It was in that library, reading that book, that the scale of the universe opened up to me. There was something beautiful about it.
At that young age, I already knew that I’d be very happy if I could devote my life to finding out more about the stars and the planets that go around them. And it’s been my great good fortune to do just that.
Quoted in interview with Jack Rightmyer, in 'Stars in His Eyes', Highlights For Children (1 Jan 1997). Ages as given in Tom Head (ed.), Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), x.
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I have been able to solve a few problems of mathematical physics on which the greatest mathematicians since Euler have struggled in vain … But the pride I might have held in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors. I am fain to compare myself with a wanderer on the mountains who, not knowing the path, climbs slowly and painfully upwards and often has to retrace his steps because he can go no further—then, whether by taking thought or from luck, discovers a new track that leads him on a little till at length when he reaches the summit he finds to his shame that there is a royal road by which he might have ascended, had he only the wits to find the right approach to it. In my works, I naturally said nothing about my mistake to the reader, but only described the made track by which he may now reach the same heights without difficulty.
(1891) As quoted in translation in Leo Koenigsberger and Frances A. Welby (trans.), Hermann von Helmholtz (1906), 180-181.
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I have paid special attention to those Properties of the Positive Rays which seem to throw light on the problems of the structure of molecules and atoms and the question of chemical combination … I am convinced that as yet we are only at the beginning of the harvest of results which will elucidate the process of chemical combination, and thus bridge over the most serious gap which now exists between Physics and Chemistry.
Rays of Positive Electricity and their Application to Chemical Analyses (1921), v.
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I have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex.
[Hawking adopted this statement from a remark made to him by his former post-doc, Nathan Myhrvold.]
The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition (1996), Foreward.
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I have tried to read philosophers of all ages and have found many illuminating ideas but no steady progress toward deeper knowledge and understanding. Science, however, gives me the feeling of steady progress: I am convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy. It has revolutionized fundamental concepts, e.g., about space and time (relativity), about causality (quantum theory), and about substance and matter (atomistics), and it has taught us new methods of thinking (complementarity) which are applicable far beyond physics.
Max Born
My Life & My Views (1968), 48.
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I hope that in 50 years we will know the answer to this challenging question: are the laws of physics unique and was our big bang the only one? … According to some speculations the number of distinct varieties of space—each the arena for a universe with its own laws—could exceed the total number of atoms in all the galaxies we see. … So do we live in the aftermath of one big bang among many, just as our solar system is merely one of many planetary systems in our galaxy? (2006)
In 'Martin Rees Forecasts the Future', New Scientist (18 Nov 2006), No. 2578.
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I learnt to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics.
From a 1977 lecture. Quoted in Pesi Rustom Masani, Norbert Wiener, 1894-1964 (1990), 6.
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I often use the analogy of a chess game: one can learn all the rules of chess, but one doesn’t know how to play well…. The present situation in physics is as if we know chess, but we don’t know one or two rules. But in this part of the board where things are in operation, those one or two rules are not operating much and we can get along pretty well without understanding those rules. That’s the way it is, I would say, regarding the phenomena of life, consciousness and so forth.
In Superstrings: A Theory of Everything? by P. C. W. Davies and Julian Brown (1988).
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I really enjoy good murder mystery writers, usually women, frequently English, because they have a sense of what the human soul is about and why people do dark and terrible things. I also read quite a lot in the area of particle physics and quantum mechanics, because this is theology. This is about the nature of being. This is what life is all about. I try to read as widely as I possibly can.
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I recognize nothing that is not material. In physics, chemistry and biology I see only mechanics. The Universe is nothing but an infinite and complex mechanism. Its complexity is so great that it borders on willfulness, suddenness, and randomness; it gives the illusion of free will possessed by conscious beings.
In Monism of the Universe (1931).
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I recognize that many physicists are smarter than I am—most of them theoretical physicists. A lot of smart people have gone into theoretical physics, therefore the field is extremely competitive. I console myself with the thought that although they may be smarter and may be deeper thinkers than I am, I have broader interests than they have.
…...
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I started studying law, but this I could stand just for one semester. I couldn’t stand more. Then I studied languages and literature for two years. After two years I passed an examination with the result I have a teaching certificate for Latin and Hungarian for the lower classes of the gymnasium, for kids from 10 to 14. I never made use of this teaching certificate. And then I came to philosophy, physics, and mathematics. In fact, I came to mathematics indirectly. I was really more interested in physics and philosophy and thought about those. It is a little shortened but not quite wrong to say: I thought I am not good enough for physics and I am too good for philosophy. Mathematics is in between.
From interview on his 90th birthday. In D J Albers and G L Alexanderson (eds.), Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews (1985), 245-254.
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I suppose that I tend to be optimistic about the future of physics. And nothing makes me more optimistic than the discovery of broken symmetries. In the seventh book of the Republic, Plato describes prisoners who are chained in a cave and can see only shadows that things outside cast on the cave wall. When released from the cave at first their eyes hurt, and for a while they think that the shadows they saw in the cave are more real than the objects they now see. But eventually their vision clears, and they can understand how beautiful the real world is. We are in such a cave, imprisoned by the limitations on the sorts of experiments we can do. In particular, we can study matter only at relatively low temperatures, where symmetries are likely to be spontaneously broken, so that nature does not appear very simple or unified. We have not been able to get out of this cave, but by looking long and hard at the shadows on the cave wall, we can at least make out the shapes of symmetries, which though broken, are exact principles governing all phenomena, expressions of the beauty of the world outside.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1989), 'Conceptual Foundations of the Unified Theory of Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.' Nobel Lectures: Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 556.
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I suspect that the most important effect of World War II on physical science lay in the change in the attitude of people to science. The politicians and the public were convinced that science was useful and were in no position to argue about the details. A professor of physics might be more sinister than he was in the 1930s, but he was no longer an old fool with a beard in a comic-strip. The scientists or at any rate the physicists, had changed their attitude. They not only believed in the interest of science for themselves, they had acquired also a belief that the tax-payer should and would pay for it and would, in some unspecified length of run, benefit by it.
'The Effect of World War II on the Development of Knowledge in the Physical Sciences', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1975, Series A, 342, 532.
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I think equation guessing might be the best method to proceed to obtain the laws for the part of physics which is presently unknown.
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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I think my most important work has been done on the borderlines between different areas of science. My first work was in geophysics, a combination of physics and geology, and then at the Bell Laboratories, it was more a combination of physics and electrical engineering. That’s what I’m following more or less as time goes on. My appointment here at the university relates to physics and electrical engineering, but I have also worked in the borderline areas between physics and chemistry. I think reading widely and being interested in many different areas in science is important.
In Robert L. Burtch, 'Interview with a Nobel Laureate: Fifth Graders Learn About a Scientist We All Should Know', Science and Children, (Nov/Dec 1990), 28, No. 3, 16-17.
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I think that considerable progress can be made in the analysis of the operations of nature by the scholar who reduces rather complicated phenomena to their proximate causes and primitive forces, even though the causes of those causes have not yet been detected.
R.W. Home (ed.), Aepinus's Essay on the Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1979), 240.
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I think that in order to achieve progress in the study of language and human cognitive faculties in general it is necessary first to establish 'psychic distance' from the 'mental facts' to which Köhler referred, and then to explore the possibilities for developing explanatory theories... We must recognize that even the most familiar phenomena require explanation and that we have no privileged access to the underlying mechanisms, no more so than in physiology or physics.
Language and Mind (1972, enlarged edition), 26.
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I think that intelligence does not emerge from a handful of very beautiful principles—like physics. It emerges from perhaps a hundred fundamentally different kinds of mechanisms that have to interact just right. So, even if it took only four years to understand them, it might take four hundred years to unscramble the whole thing.
As quoted from an interview with author Jeremy Bernstein, in Science Observed: Essays Out of My Mind (1982), 44.
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I think that physics is the most important—indeed the only—means we have of finding out the origins and fundamentals of our universe, and this is what interests me most about it. I believe that as science advances religion necessarily recedes, and this is a process I wish to encourage, because I consider that, on the whole, the influence of religion is malign.
Quoted in Contemporary Authors Online Gale (2007)
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I think that the discovery of antimatter was perhaps the biggest jump of all the big jumps in physics in our century.
From 'Development of Concepts in the History of Quantum Theory', in Jagdish Mehra (ed.) The Physicist's Concept of Nature (1973), Vol. 1972, 271.
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I think the next [21st] century will be the century of complexity. We have already discovered the basic laws that govern matter and understand all the normal situations. We don’t know how the laws fit together, and what happens under extreme conditions. But I expect we will find a complete unified theory sometime this century. The is no limit to the complexity that we can build using those basic laws.
[Answer to question: Some say that while the twentieth century was the century of physics, we are now entering the century of biology. What do you think of this?]
'"Unified Theory" Is Getting Closer, Hawking Predicts', interview in San Jose Mercury News (23 Jan 2000), 29A. Answer quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Question included in Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Nicholas Stern and Mario Molina , Global Sustainability: a Nobel Cause (2010), 13. Cite from Brent Davis and Dennis J. Sumara, Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research (2006), 171.
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I think we may picture those domains where understanding exists, whether in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics or any other discipline as cultivated valleys in a formidably mountainous country. We may recognise in principle that we all inhabit the same world but in practice we do well to cultivate our own valleys, with an occasional assault on the more accessible foothills, rather than to build roads in a vain attempt at colonisation.
From Inaugural Lecture as Cavendish Professor of Physics, Cambridge, as quoted in Gordon L. Glegg, The Development of Design (1981), 1-2.
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I took biology in high school and didn't like it at all. It was focused on memorization. ... I didn't appreciate that biology also had principles and logic ... [rather than dealing with a] messy thing called life. It just wasn't organized, and I wanted to stick with the nice pristine sciences of chemistry and physics, where everything made sense. I wish I had learned sooner that biology could be fun as well.
Interview (23 May 1998), 'Creating the Code to Life', Academy of Achievement web site.
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I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was 'It won the fight!'
Quoted in George Wald, 'The Origin of Optical Activity', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (1957), 60, 352-68.
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I venture to maintain, that, if the general culture obtained in the Faculty of Arts were what it ought to be, the student would have quite as much knowledge of the fundamental principles of Physics, of Chemistry, and of Biology, as he needs, before he commenced his special medical studies. Moreover, I would urge, that a thorough study of Human Physiology is, in itself, an education broader and more comprehensive than much that passes under that name. There is no side of the intellect which it does not call into play, no region of human knowledge into which either its roots, or its branches, do not extend; like the Atlantic between the Old and the New Worlds, its waves wash the shores of the two worlds of matter and of mind; its tributary streams flow from both; through its waters, as yet unfurrowed by the keel of any Columbus, lies the road, if such there be, from the one to the other; far away from that Northwest Passage of mere speculation, in which so many brave souls have been hopelessly frozen up.
'Universities: Actual and Ideal' (1874). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 220.
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I want to get back again from Chemistry to Physics as soon as I can. The second-rate men seem to know their place so much better.
R. J. Strutt, John William Strutt, Third Baron Rayleigh (1924), 222.
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I was very impressed that one simple theory could incorporate so much physics
Alan Guth
…...
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I would think I knew nothing in physics if I could say only how things could be but, without demonstrating that they can’t be otherwise.
From the original French, “Pour la Physique, ie croyrois n’y rien sçauoir, si ie ne sçauois que dire comment les choses peuuent estre, sans demonstrer qu’elles ne peuuent estre autrement,” in letter (11 Mar 1640) to Père Marin Mersenne, collected in Lettres de Mr Descartes (1659), Vol. 2, 213. As translated by John Cottingham, et al., (trans.), in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 3, The Correspondence (1991), 145.
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If in physics there’s something you don’t understand, you can always hide behind the uncharted depths of nature. You can always blame God. You didn’t make it so complex yourself. But if your program doesn’t work, there is no one to hide behind. You cannot hide behind an obstinate nature. If it doesn’t work, you’ve messed up.
…...
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If in the description of an experimental arrangement the expression 'position of a particle' can be used, then in the description of the same arrangement the expression 'velocity of a particle' can not be used, and vice versa. Experimental arrangements, one of which can be described with the help of the expression 'position of a particle' and the other with the help of the expression 'velocity' or, more exactly, 'momentum', are called complementary arrangements, and the descriptions are referred to as complementary descriptions.
Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 163-4.
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If it’s green or wriggles, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics or engineering. If it’s green and wiggles and stinks and still doesn’t work, it’s psychology. If it’s incomprehensible, it’s mathematics. If it puts you to sleep, it’s statistics.
Anonymous
In Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (1978), 79, 97, and additional lines from other sources.
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If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. ... This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 19.
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If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 10.
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If the modern conception of the atom is correct the barrier which separated physics from chemistry has been removed.
The Electron in Chemistry (1923), Preface.
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If the observation of the amount of heat the sun sends the earth is among the most important and difficult in astronomical physics, it may also be termed the fundamental problem of meteorology, nearly all whose phenomena would become predictable, if we knew both the original quantity and kind of this heat.
In Report of the Mount Whitney Expedition, quoted in Charles Greeley Abbot, Adventures in the World of Science (1958), 17. Also quoted and cited in David H. Devorkin, 'Charles Greeley Abbot', Biographical Memoirs (1998), 4.
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If the task of scientific methodology is to piece together an account of what scientists actually do, then the testimony of biologists should be heard with specially close attention. Biologists work very close to the frontier between bewilderment and understanding.
Biology is complex, messy and richly various, like real life; it travels faster nowadays than physics or chemistry (which is just as well, since it has so much farther to go), and it travels nearer to the ground. It should therefore give us a specially direct and immediate insight into science in the making.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 1.
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If there’s one thing in physics I feel more responsible for than any other, it’s this perception of how everything fits together. I like to think of myself as having a sense of judgment. I’m willing to go anywhere, talk to anybody, ask any question that will make headway. I confess to being an optimist about things, especially about someday being able to understand how things are put together. So many young people are forced to specialize in one line or another that a young person can’t afford to try and cover this waterfront — only an old fogy who can afford to make a fool of himself. If I don't, who will?
Stated during a 1983 interview. Quoted in Dennis Overbye, 'John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term Black Hole, Is Dead at 96', New York Times (14 Apr 2008).
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If this is what the McCarran Act means in practice, it seems to us a form of organized cultural suicide.
In a letter co-signed with his Princeton University physics professor colleagues, Walker Bleakney and Milton G. White, protesting that Nobel Prize-winning, Cambridge professor, Dirac having been invited for a year's visit to Princeton, had been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department under section 212A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (McCarran Act). Quoting a report in Physics Today, this regulation includes 'categories of undesireables ranging from vagrants to stowaways.' The real reason remains unclear, but was perhaps related to Dirac's prior science-related visits to Russia. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance had recently been revoked, and this was the era of McCarthy's rabid anti-Communism hearings.
'Letters to the Times: Denial of Visa to Physicist Seen as Loss to American Science'. New York Times (3 Jun 1954), 26. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 108.
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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If to-day you ask a physicist what he has finally made out the æther or the electron to be, the answer will not be a description in terms of billiard balls or fly-wheels or anything concrete; he will point instead to a number of symbols and a set of mathematical equations which they satisfy. What do the symbols stand for? The mysterious reply is given that physics is indifferent to that; it has no means of probing beneath the symbolism. To understand the phenomena of the physical world it is necessary to know the equations which the symbols obey but not the nature of that which is being symbolised. …this newer outlook has modified the challenge from the material to the spiritual world.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 30.
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If we turn to the problems to which the calculus owes its origin, we find that not merely, not even primarily, geometry, but every other branch of mathematical physics—astronomy, mechanics, hydrodynamics, elasticity, gravitation, and later electricity and magnetism—in its fundamental concepts and basal laws contributed to its development and that the new science became the direct product of these influences.
Opening of Presidential Address (27 Apr 1907) to the American Mathematical Society, 'The Calculus in Colleges and Technical Schools', published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Jun 1907), 13, 449.
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If you want to penetrate into the heart of physics, then let yourself be initiated into the mysteries of poetry.
Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (1971), 250.
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In 1900 however, he [Planck] worked out the revolutionary quantum theory, a towering achievement which extended and improved the basic concepts of physics. It was so revolutionary, in fact, that almost no physicist, including Planck himself could bring himself to accept it. (Planck later said that the only way a revolutionary theory could be accepted was to wait until all the old scientists had died.)
(1976). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 324.
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In 1905, a physicist measuring the thermal conductivity of copper would have faced, unknowingly, a very small systematic error due to the heating of his equipment and sample by the absorption of cosmic rays, then unknown to physics. In early 1946, an opinion poller, studying Japanese opinion as to who won the war, would have faced a very small systematic error due to the neglect of the 17 Japanese holdouts, who were discovered later north of Saipan. These cases are entirely parallel. Social, biological and physical scientists all need to remember that they have the same problems, the main difference being the decimal place in which they appear.
In William G. Cochran, Frederick Mosteller and John W. Tukey, 'Principles of Sampling', Journal of the American Statistical Society, 1954, 49, 31. Collected in Selected Papers of Frederick Mosteller (2006), 290.
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In a lot of scientists, the ratio of wonder to skepticism declines in time. That may be connected with the fact that in some fields—mathematics, physics, some others—the great discoveries are almost entirely made by youngsters.
Quoted in interview with magazine staff, Psychology Today (Jan 1996).
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In addition to this it [mathematics] provides its disciples with pleasures similar to painting and music. They admire the delicate harmony of the numbers and the forms; they marvel when a new discovery opens up to them an unexpected vista; and does the joy that they feel not have an aesthetic character even if the senses are not involved at all? … For this reason I do not hesitate to say that mathematics deserves to be cultivated for its own sake, and I mean the theories which cannot be applied to physics just as much as the others.
(1897) From the original French, “Et surtout, leurs adeptes y trouvent des jouissances analogues á celles que donnent la peinture et la musique. Ils admirent la délicate harmonie des nombres et des formes; ils s’émerveillent quand une découverte nouvelle leur ouvre une perspective inattendue; et la joie qu’ils éprouvent ainsi n’a-t-elle pas le caractère esthétique, bien que les sens n’y prennent aucune part?...C’est pourquoi je n’hésite pas à dire que les mathématiques méritent d’être cultivées pour elles-mêmes et que les théories qui ne peuvent être appliquées á la physique doivent l’être comme les autres.” Address read for him at the First International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich: '‘Sur les rapports de l’analyse pure et de la physique', in Proceedings of that Congress 81-90, (1898). Also published as 'L’Analyse et la Physique', in La Valeur de la Science (1905), 137-151. As translated in Armand Borel, 'On the Place of Mathematics in Culture', in Armand Borel: Œvres: Collected Papers (1983), Vol. 4, 420-421.
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In both social and natural sciences, the body of positive knowledge grows by the failure of a tentative hypothesis to predict phenomena the hypothesis professes to explain; by the patching up of that hypothesis until someone suggests a new hypothesis that more elegantly or simply embodies the troublesome phenomena, and so on ad infinitum. In both, experiment is sometimes possible, sometimes not (witness meteorology). In both, no experiment is ever completely controlled, and experience often offers evidence that is the equivalent of controlled experiment. In both, there is no way to have a self-contained closed system or to avoid interaction between the observer and the observed. The Gödel theorem in mathematics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, the self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecy in the social sciences all exemplify these limitations.
Inflation and Unemployment (1976), 348.
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In early times, medicine was an art, which took its place at the side of poetry and painting; to-day, they try to make a science of it, placing it beside mathematics, astronomy, and physics.
In Armand Trousseau and John Rose Cormack (trans.), Lectures on Clinical Medicine: Delivered at the Hôtel-Dieu, Paris (1869), Vol. 2, 40.
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In early times, when the knowledge of nature was small, little attempt was made to divide science into parts, and men of science did not specialize. Aristotle was a master of all science known in his day, and wrote indifferently treatises on physics or animals. As increasing knowledge made it impossible for any one man to grasp all scientific subjects, lines of division were drawn for convenience of study and of teaching. Besides the broad distinction into physical and biological science, minute subdivisions arose, and, at a certain stage of development, much attention was, given to methods of classification, and much emphasis laid on the results, which were thought to have a significance beyond that of the mere convenience of mankind.
But we have reached the stage when the different streams of knowledge, followed by the different sciences, are coalescing, and the artificial barriers raised by calling those sciences by different names are breaking down. Geology uses the methods and data of physics, chemistry and biology; no one can say whether the science of radioactivity is to be classed as chemistry or physics, or whether sociology is properly grouped with biology or economics. Indeed, it is often just where this coalescence of two subjects occurs, when some connecting channel between them is opened suddenly, that the most striking advances in knowledge take place. The accumulated experience of one department of science, and the special methods which have been developed to deal with its problems, become suddenly available in the domain of another department, and many questions insoluble before may find answers in the new light cast upon them. Such considerations show us that science is in reality one, though we may agree to look on it now from one side and now from another as we approach it from the standpoint of physics, physiology or psychology.
In article 'Science', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), 402.
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In fact a favourite problem of [Tyndall] is—Given the molecular forces in a mutton chop, deduce Hamlet or Faust therefrom. He is confident that the Physics of the Future will solve this easily.
Letter to Herbert Spencer (3 Aug 1861). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900), Vol. 1, 249.
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In geometric and physical applications, it always turns out that a quantity is characterized not only by its tensor order, but also by symmetry.
Epigraph in Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorn and John Archibald Wheeler, Gravitation (1970, 1973), 47. Cited as “(1925),” with no source.
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In its efforts to learn as much as possible about nature, modern physics has found that certain things can never be “known” with certainty. Much of our knowledge must always remain uncertain. The most we can know is in terms of probabilities.
In The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1963), Vol. 1.
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In our day grand generalizations have been reached. The theory of the origin of species is but one of them. Another, of still wider grasp and more radical significance, is the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy, the ultimate philosophical issues of which are as yet but dimly seem-that doctrine which “binds nature fast in fate” to an extent not hitherto recognized, exacting from every antecedent its equivalent consequent, and bringing vital as well as physical phenomena under the dominion of that law of causal connexion which, so far as the human understanding has yet pierced, asserts itself everywhere in nature.
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 1801.
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In physics we deal with states of affairs much simpler than those of psychology and yet we again and again learn that our task is not to investigate the essence of things—we do not at all know what this would mean&mash;but to develop those concepts that allow us to speak with each other about the events of nature in a fruitful manner.
Letter to H.P.E. Hansen (20 Jul 1935), Niels Bohr Archive. In Jan Faye, Henry J. Folse, Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy (1994), 83.
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In physics we have dealt hitherto only with periodic crystals. To a humble physicist’s mind, these are very interesting and complicated objects; they constitute one of the most fascinating and complex material structures by which inanimate nature puzzles his wits. Yet, compared with the aperiodic crystal, they are rather plain and dull. The difference in structure is of the same kind as that between an ordinary wallpaper in which the same pattern is repeated again and again in regular periodicity and a masterpiece of embroidery, say a Raphael tapestry, which shows no dull repetition, but an elaborate, coherent, meaningful design traced by the great master.
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In physics, mathematics, and astronautics [elderly] means over thirty; in the other disciplines, senile decay is sometimes postponed to the forties. There are, of course, glorious exceptions; but as every researcher just out of college knows, scientists of over fifty are good for nothing but board meetings, and should at all costs be kept out of the laboratory!
Defining 'elderly scientist' as in Clarke's First Law.
'Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination'. In the collection. Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962, rev. 1973), 14-15.
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In physics, there are many discoveries already made, too powerful to be safe, too unmanageable to be subservient.
Reflection 328, in Lacon: or Many things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think (1820), 155.
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In physics, you don’t have to go around making trouble for yourself - nature does it for you.
…...
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In science there is only physics; all the rest is stamp collecting.
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In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), 255.
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In science, probably ninety-nine percent of the knowable has to be discovered. We know only a few streaks about astronomy. We are only beginning to imagine the force and composition of the atom. Physics has not yet found any indivisible matter, or psychology a sensible soul.
'This World Depression of Ours is Chock-full of Good News', Hearst's International Combined with Cosmopolitan, (Oct 1932), 26. Reprinted in Ella Winter and Herbert Shapiro The World of Lincoln Steffens (1962), 216.
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In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast … “To physics and metaphysics.” Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy—truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and … the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind (as I was saying a moment ago) from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else. The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle. ‘All space’ in this context may mean either all of an infinite universe, or all of a finite universe which curves back on itself like the surface of a sphere. Neither possibility is easy to comprehend, but this will not get in our way; it matters hardly at all in the early universe whether space is finite or infinite. At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high­energy nuclear physics.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 5.
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In the field of thinking, the whole history of science from geocentrism to the Copernican revolution, from the false absolutes of Aristotle’s physics to the relativity of Galileo’s principle of inertia and to Einstein’s theory of relativity, shows that it has taken centuries to liberate us from the systematic errors, from the illusions caused by the immediate point of view as opposed to “decentered” systematic thinking.
As quoted in D. E. Berlyne, Structure and Direction in Thinking (1965), 232.
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In the history of physics, there have been three great revolutions in thought that first seemed absurd yet proved to be true. The first proposed that the earth, instead of being stationary, was moving around at a great and variable speed in a universe that is much bigger than it appears to our immediate perception. That proposal, I believe, was first made by Aristarchos two millenia ago ... Remarkably enough, the name Aristarchos in Greek means best beginning.
[The next two revolutions occurred ... in the early part of the twentieth century: the theory of relativity and the science of quantum mechanics...]
Edward Teller with Judith L. Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001), 562.
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In the matter of physics, the first lessons should contain nothing but what is experimental and interesting to see. A pretty experiment is in itself often more valuable than twenty formulae extracted from our minds.
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In the most modern theories of physics probability seems to have replaced aether as “the nominative of the verb ‘to undulate’.”
Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 110.
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In the progressive growth of astronomy, physics or mechanical science was developed, and when this had been, to a certain degree, successfully cultivated, it gave birth to the science of chemistry.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 2.
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In the vestibule of the Manchester Town Hall are placed two life-sized marble statues facing each other. One of these is that of John Dalton … the other that of James Prescott Joule. … Thus honour is done to Manchester’s two greatest sons—to Dalton, the founder of modern Chemistry and of the Atomic Theory, and the laws of chemical-combining proportions; to Joule, the founder of modern Physics and the discoverer of the Law of Conservation of Energy. The one gave to the world the final and satisfactory proof … that in every kind of chemical change no loss of matter occurs; the other proved that in all the varied modes of physical change, no loss of energy takes place.
In John Dalton and the Rise of Modern Chemistry (1895), 7.
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In the world of physics we watch a shadowgraph performance of the drama of familiar life. The shadow of my elbow rests on the shadow table as the shadow ink flows over the shadow paper. It is all symbolic, and as a symbol the physicist leaves it. ... The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.
In The Nature of the Physical World (1928, 2005), xiv-xv.
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In working out physical problems there should be, in the first place, no pretence of rigorous formalism. The physics will guide the physicist along somehow to useful and important results, by the constant union of physical and geometrical or analytical ideas. The practice of eliminating the physics by reducing a problem to a purely mathematical exercise should be avoided as much as possible. The physics should be carried on right through, to give life and reality to the problem, and to obtain the great assistance which the physics gives to the mathematics.
In Electromagnetic Theory (1892), Vol. 2, 5.
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Infinite space cannot be conceived by anybody; finite but unbounded space is difficult to conceive but not impossible. … [We] are using a conception of space which must have originated a million years ago and has become rather firmly imbedded in human thought. But the space of Physics ought not to be dominated by this creation of the dawning mind of an enterprising ape."
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 80-81.
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Introductory physics courses are taught at three levels: physics with calculus, physics without calculus, and physics without physics.
Anonymous
…...
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Is what you are doing fun? Of course, physics is also fun—indeed it is an enjoyable way of life. One reason physics is fun is that each element of progress transforms an area of ignorance into knowledge, but it also creates, as a by-product, an amount of new and additional ignorance in excess of that which was reduced to understanding. Thus, the volume of delicious ignorance we produce is ever-expanding, like our exponentially exploding universe.
In 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 50.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time … I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—“I like it”,“I don't like it”—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 57.
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It behooves us always to remember that in physics it has taken great men to discover simple things. They are very great names indeed which we couple with the explanation of the path of a stone, the droop of a chain, the tints of a bubble, the shadows of a cup.
In On Growth and Form (1917).
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It did not cause anxiety that Maxwell’s equations did not apply to gravitation, since nobody expected to find any link between electricity and gravitation at that particular level. But now physics was faced with an entirely new situation. The same entity, light, was at once a wave and a particle. How could one possibly imagine its proper size and shape? To produce interference it must be spread out, but to bounce off electrons it must be minutely localized. This was a fundamental dilemma, and the stalemate in the wave-photon battle meant that it must remain an enigma to trouble the soul of every true physicist. It was intolerable that light should be two such contradictory things. It was against all the ideals and traditions of science to harbor such an unresolved dualism gnawing at its vital parts. Yet the evidence on either side could not be denied, and much water was to flow beneath the bridges before a way out of the quandary was to be found. The way out came as a result of a brilliant counterattack initiated by the wave theory, but to tell of this now would spoil the whole story. It is well that the reader should appreciate through personal experience the agony of the physicists of the period. They could but make the best of it, and went around with woebegone faces sadly complaining that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they must look on light as a wave; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle. On Sundays they simply prayed.
The Strange Story of the Quantum (1947), 42.
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It gave me great pleasure to tell you about the mysteries with which physics confronts us. As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists. If such humility could be conveyed to everybody, the world of human activities would be more appealing.
Letter (19 Sep 1932) replying to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, in which she had complimented his lucid explanation of the casual and probabilistic theories in physics during a wander with her, in a park. As quoted in Albert Einstein, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives (1979, 2013), 48.
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It has come to pass, I know not how, that Mathematics and Logic, which ought to be but the handmaids of Physic, nevertheless presume on the strength of the certainty which they possess to exercise dominion over it.
From De Augmentis Scientiaurum as translated in Francis Guy Selby, The Advancement of Learning (1893), Vol. 2, 73.
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It has often been said, and certainly not without justification, that the man of science is a poor philosopher. Why then should it not be the right thing for the physicist to let the philosopher do the philosophising? Such might indeed be the right thing to do a time when the physicist believes he has at his disposal a rigid system of fundamental laws which are so well that waves of doubt can't reach them; but it cannot be right at a time when the very foundations of physics itself have become problematic as they are now … when experience forces us to seek a newer and more solid foundation.
‘Physics and Reality’, Franklin Institute Journal (Mar 1936). Collected in Out of My Later Years (1950), 58.
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It is a common rule in theoretical physics, one accepted by many physicists, that anything not forbidden by the basic laws of nature must take place.
In 'The Ultimate Speed Limit', Saturday Review of Sciences (8 Jul 1972), 56.
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It is an old saying, abundantly justified, that where sciences meet there growth occurs. It is true moreover to say that in scientific borderlands not only are facts gathered that [are] often new in kind, but it is in these regions that wholly new concepts arise. It is my own faith that just as the older biology from its faithful studies of external forms provided a new concept in the doctrine of evolution, so the new biology is yet fated to furnish entirely new fundamental concepts of science, at which physics and chemistry when concerned with the non-living alone could never arrive.
'Biological Thought and Chemical Thought: A Plea for Unification', Linacre Lecture, Cambridge (6 May 1938), published in Lancet (1938),2, 1204.
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It is clear, then, that though there may be countless instances of the perishing of unmoved movers, and though many things that move themselves perish and are succeeded by others that come into being, and though one thing that is unmoved moves one thing while another moves another, nevertheless there is something that comprehends them all, and that as something apart from each one of them, and this it is that is the cause of the fact that some things are and others are not and of the continuous process of change; and this causes the motion of the other movers, while they are the causes of the motion of other things. Motion, then, being eternal, the first mover, if there is but one, will be eternal also; if there are more than one, there will be a plurality of such eternal movers.
Aristotle
Physics, 258b, 32-259a, 8. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 432.
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It is customary in physics to take geometry for granted, as if it were a branch of mathematics. But in substance geometry is the noblest branch of physics.
In Introduction to the Calculus (1922), 348, footnote.
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It is easy to make out three areas where scientists will be concentrating their efforts in the coming decades. One is in physics, where leading theorists are striving, with the help of experimentalists, to devise a single mathematical theory that embraces all the basic phenomena of matter and energy. The other two are in biology. Biologists—and the rest of us too—would like to know how the brain works and how a single cell, the fertilized egg cell, develops into an entire organism
Article 'The View From Mars', in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Research Facilities of the Future (1994), 735, 37.
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It is going to be necessary that everything that happens in a finite volume of space and time would have to be analyzable with a finite number of logical operations. The present theory of physics is not that way, apparently. It allows space to go down into infinitesimal distances, wavelengths to get infinitely great, terms to be summed in infinite order, and so forth; and therefore, if this proposition [that physics is computer-simulatable] is right, physical law is wrong.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21 Nos. 6-7, 468. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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It is impossible to trap modern physics into predicting anything with perfect determinism because it deals with probabilities from the outset.
New Pathways in Science (1935), 105.
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It is interesting to note how many fundamental terms which the social sciences are trying to adopt from physics have as a matter of historical fact originated in the social field. Take, for instance, the notion of cause. The Greek aitia or the Latin causa was originally a purely legal term. It was taken over into physics, developed there, and in the 18th century brought back as a foreign-born kind for the adoration of the social sciences. The same is true of the concept of law of nature. Originally a strict anthropomorphic conception, it was gradually depersonalized or dehumanized in the natural sciences and then taken over by the social sciences in an effort to eliminate final causes or purposes from the study of human affairs. It is therefore not anomalous to find similar transformations in the history of such fundamental concepts of statistics as average and probability. The concept of average was developed in the Rhodian laws as to the distribution of losses in maritime risks. After astronomers began to use it in correcting their observations, it spread to other physical sciences; and the prestige which it thus acquired has given it vogue in the social field. The term probability, as its etymology indicates, originates in practical and legal considerations of probing and proving.
The Statistical View of Nature (1936), 327-8.
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It is like the difference between a specialist and a philosopher. A specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less until at last he knows everything about nothing. A philosopher is someone who knows less and less about more and more until at last he knows nothing about everything. Physics is now too philosophical. In my work I would like to reverse the process, and to try to limit the things to be found out and to make some modest discoveries which may later be useful.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 74.
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It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.
…...
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It is often assumed that because the young child is not competent to study geometry systematically he need be taught nothing geometrical; that because it would be foolish to present to him physics and mechanics as sciences it is useless to present to him any physical or mechanical principles.
An error of like origin, which has wrought incalculable mischief, denies to the scholar the use of the symbols and methods of algebra in connection with his early essays in numbers because, forsooth, he is not as yet capable of mastering quadratics! … The whole infant generation, wrestling with arithmetic, seek for a sign and groan and travail together in pain for the want of it; but no sign is given them save the sign of the prophet Jonah, the withered gourd, fruitless endeavor, wasted strength.
From presidential address (9 Sep 1884) to the General Meeting of the American Social Science Association, 'Industrial Education', printed in Journal of Social Science (1885), 19, 121. Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 132.
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It is perhaps difficult for a modern student of Physics to realize the basic taboo of the past period (before 1956) … it was unthinkable that anyone would question the validity of symmetries under “space inversion,” “charge conjugation” and “time reversal.” It would have been almost sacrilegious to do experiments to test such unholy thoughts.
In paper presented to the International Conference on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries, Erice, Sicily (27 Jul-4 Aug 1994), 'Parity Violation' collected in Harvey B. Newman, Thomas Ypsilantis History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1996), 381.
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It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us, if I may say so!) and not a world-explanation.
Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Trans. W. Kaufmann (ed.), Basic Writings of Nietzsche (1968), 211.
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It is probable that the scheme of physics will be enlarged so as to embrace the behaviour of living organisms under the influence of life and mind. Biology and psychology are not alien sciences; their operations are not solely mechanical, nor can they be formulated by physics as it is today; but they belong to a physical universe, and their mode of action ought to be capable of being formulated in terms of an enlarged physics in the future, in which the ether will take a predominant place. On the other hand it may be thought that those entities cannot be brought to book so easily, and that they will always elude our ken. If so, there will be a dualism in the universe, which posterity will find staggering, but that will not alter the facts.
In Past Years: an Autobiography (1932), 350. Quoted in book review, Waldehar Kaempfert, 'Sir Oliver Lodge Stands by the Old Physics', New York Times (21 Feb 1932), BR5.
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It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can’t go on without the facts … if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly.
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 137.
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It is true that physics gives a wonderful training in precise, logical thinking-about physics. It really does depend upon accurate reproducible experiments, and upon framing hypotheses with the greatest possible freedom from dogmatic prejudice. And if these were the really important things in life, physics would be an essential study for everybody.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 90-91.
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It is unreasonable to expect science to produce a system of ethics—ethics are a kind of highway code for traffic among mankind—and the fact that in physics atoms which were yesterday assumed to be square are now assumed to be round is exploited with unjustified tendentiousness by all who are hungry for faith; so long as physics extends our dominion over nature, these changes ought to be a matter of complete indifference to you.
Letter to Oskar Pfister, 24 Feb 1928. Quoted in H. Meng and E. Freud (eds.), Psycho-Analysis and Faith: The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oscar Pfister (1963), 123.
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It is … a sign of the times—though our brothers of physics and chemistry may smile to hear me say so—that biology is now a science in which theories can be devised: theories which lead to predictions and predictions which sometimes turn out to be correct. These facts confirm me in a belief I hold most passionately—that biology is the heir of all the sciences.
From Nobel Banquet speech (10 Dec 1960).
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It may be that in the practice of religion men have real evidence of the Being of God. If that is so, it is merely fallacious to refuse consideration of this evidence because no similar evidence is forthcoming from the study of physics, astronomy or biology.
In Nature, Man and God: Being the Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Glasgow in the Academical Years 1932-1933 and 1933-1934 (1934), 11.
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It remains a real world if there is a background to the symbols—an unknown quantity which the mathematical symbol x stands for. We think we are not wholly cut off from this background. It is to this background that our own personality and consciousness belong, and those spiritual aspects of our nature not to be described by any symbolism… to which mathematical physics has hitherto restricted itself.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 37-38.
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It seems to me, he says, that the test of “Do we or not understand a particular subject in physics?” is, “Can we make a mechanical model of it?” I have an immense admiration for Maxwell’s model of electromagnetic induction. He makes a model that does all the wonderful things that electricity docs in inducing currents, etc., and there can be no doubt that a mechanical model of that kind is immensely instructive and is a step towards a definite mechanical theory of electromagnetism.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 132. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 54-55.
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It was basic research in the photoelectric field—in the photoelectric effect that would one day lead to solar panels. It was basic research in physics that would eventually produce the CAT scan. The calculations of today's GPS satellites are based on the equations that Einstein put to paper more than a century ago.
Speech to the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting (27 Apr 2009).
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It was the method which attracted me [to physics]—the experimental method, which was born with physics, and is now universal in science. It’s asking a question of nature, and listening for the answer from nature … the way in which you’re going about asking the question and detecting the answer. And in my view it’s this kind of method that attracts me.
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 197.
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It would be better for the true physics if there were no mathematicians on earth.
Quoted in The Mathematical Intelligencer (Winter 1991), 13, No. 1, 6.
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It’s as important an event as would be the transfer of the Vatican from Rome to the New World. The Pope of Physics has moved and the United States will now become the center of the natural sciences.
on Albert Einstein’s move to Princeton, New Jersey, from Germany in 1933, in Brighter Than a Thousand Suns by Robert Jungk (1958).
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It’s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics.
From editted transcript of BBC Radio 3 interview, collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 33.
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I’m on the verge of a major breakthrough, but I’m also at the point where physics ends and chemistry begins, so I’ll have to drop the whole thing,
In Michael Dudley Sturge , Statistical and Thermal Physics (2003), 139.
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John [H.] Van Vleck, who was a leading young theoretical physicist when I was also a leading young theoretical physicist, said to me one day, “I never have made a contribution to physics that I didn’t get by fiddling with the equations,” and I said, “I’ve never made a contribution that I didn’t get by just having a new idea. Then I would fiddle with the equations to help support the new idea.” Van Vleck was essentially a mathematical physicist, you might say, and I was essentially a person of ideas. I don’t think I’m primarily mathematical. … I have a great curiosity about the nature of the world as a whole, and most of my ideas are qualitative rather than quantitative.
Interview with George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman, in 'Linus Pauling: Reflections', American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1994), 82, No. 6, 523.
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Just by studying mathematics we can hope to make a guess at the kind of mathematics that will come into the physics of the future ... If someone can hit on the right lines along which to make this development, it m may lead to a future advance in which people will first discover the equations and then, after examining them, gradually learn how to apply the ... My own belief is that this is a more likely line of progress than trying to guess at physical pictures.
'The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature', Scientific American, May 1963, 208, 47. In Steve Adams, Frontiers (2000), 57.
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Let me suggest to you a simple test one can apply to scientific activities to determine whether or not they can constitute the practice of physics. Is what you are doing beautiful? Many beautiful things are created without the use of physical knowledge, but I know of no really worthwhile physics that isn’t beautiful. Indeed, one of the most distressing symptoms of scientific illiteracy is the impression so often given to school children that science is a mechanistic activity subject to algorithmic description.
In 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 50.
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Let us keep the discoveries and indisputable measurements of physics. But ... A more complete study of the movements of the world will oblige us, little by little, to turn it upside down; in other words, to discover that if things hold and hold together, it is only by reason of complexity, from above.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 43. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Let us now discuss the extent of the mathematical quality in Nature. According to the mechanistic scheme of physics or to its relativistic modification, one needs for the complete description of the universe not merely a complete system of equations of motion, but also a complete set of initial conditions, and it is only to the former of these that mathematical theories apply. The latter are considered to be not amenable to theoretical treatment and to be determinable only from observation.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 125.
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Magnetism, you recall from physics class, is a powerful force that causes certain items to be attracted to refrigerators.
In Peter Archer, The Quotable Intellectual: 1,417 Bon Mots, Ripostes, and Witticisms (2010), 76.
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Mainstream biology may be suffering from what I call 'Physics envy' in aiming to reduce life to nothing but well known, typically Newtonian principles of physics and chemistry.
'From the Editor's Desk', Frontier Perspectives (1991), 2, 3.
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Man is slightly nearer to the atom than to the star. … From his central position man can survey the grandest works of Nature with the astronomer, or the minutest works with the physicist. … [K]nowledge of the stars leads through the atom; and important knowledge of the atom has been reached through the stars.
Lecture 1. Stars and Atoms (1928, 2007), 9.
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Many scientists have tried to make determinism and complementarity the basis of conclusions that seem to me weak and dangerous; for instance, they have used Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to bolster up human free will, though his principle, which applies exclusively to the behavior of electrons and is the direct result of microphysical measurement techniques, has nothing to do with human freedom of choice. It is far safer and wiser that the physicist remain on the solid ground of theoretical physics itself and eschew the shifting sands of philosophic extrapolations.
In New Perspectives in Physics (1962), viii.
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Marx founded a new science: the science of history. … The sciences we are familiar with have been installed in a number of great “continents”. Before Marx, two such continents had been opened up to scientific knowledge: the continent of Mathematics and the continent of Physics. The first by the Greeks (Thales), the second by Galileo. Marx opened up a third continent to scientific knowledge: the continent of History.
In Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Writings (1971), 4.
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Mathematical physics is in the first place physics and it could not exist without experimental investigations.
From inaugural lecture at Utrecht on the kinetic theory of matter and its modern development (1913), as quoted in Julio Antonio Gonzalo and Carmen Aragó López (eds.), Great Solid State Physicists of the 20th Century (2003), 157.
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Mathematicians are only dealing with the structure of reasoning, and they do not really care what they are talking about. They do not even need to know what they are talking about … But the physicist has meaning to all his phrases. … In physics, you have to have an understanding of the connection of words with the real world.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 55.
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Mathematics began to seem too much like puzzle solving. Physics is puzzle solving, too, but of puzzles created by nature, not by the mind of man.
Quoted in Joan Dash, 'Maria Goeppert-Mayer', A Life of One's Own, 252.
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Mathematics is the cheapest science. Unlike physics or chemistry, it does not require any expensive equipment. All one needs for mathematics is a pencil and paper.
Quoted in 'And Sometimes the Mathematician Wants a Powerful Computer', in Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson (eds.), Mathematical People (1985). In John De Pillis, 777 Mathematical Conversation Starters (2002), 193.
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Mathematics is the part of physics where experiments are cheap.
From an address (7 Mar 1997) at the discussion on 'Teaching of Mathematics' in Palais de Découverte, Paris. Quoted in Mathematical Understanding of Nature: Essays on Amazing Physical Phenomena and Their Understanding by Mathematicians (2014), Foreword, x.
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Mathematics must subdue the flights of our reason; they are the staff of the blind; no one can take a step without them; and to them and experience is due all that is certain in physics.
In Oeuvres Completes (1880), t. 35, 219.
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Mathematics, a creation of the mind, so accurately fits the outside world. … [There is a] fantastic amount of uniformity in the universe. The formulas of physics are compressed descriptions of nature's weird repetitions. The accuracy of those formulas, coupled with nature’s tireless ability to keep doing everything the same way, gives them their incredible power.
In book review, 'Adventures Of a Mathematician: The Man Who Invented the H-Bomb', New York Times (9 May 1976), 201. The book is a biography of Stanislaw Ulam, and this is Gardner’s description of one of Ulam’s reflections on nature and mathematics.
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Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics. They can be lost forever.
Lady Gaga
From music video, Marry The Night: The Prelude Pathétique (2011). Quoted in Richard J. Gray II, The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays (2011), 137.
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Modern physics has changed nothing in the great classical disciplines of, for instance, mechanics, optics, and heat. Only the conception of hitherto unexplored regions, formed prematurely from a knowledge of only certain parts of the world, has undergone a decisive transformation. This conception, however, is always decisive for the future course of research.
In Philosophical Problems of Nuclear Science: Eight Lectures (1952), 18.
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Modern Physics impresses us particularly with the truth of the old doctrine which teaches that there are realities existing apart from our sense-perceptions, and that there are problems and conflicts where these realities are of greater value for us than the richest treasures of the world of experience.
In The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 107.
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Modern theories did not arise from revolutionary ideas which have been, so to speak, introduced into the exact sciences from without. On the contrary they have forced their way into research which was attempting consistently to carry out the programme of classical physics—they arise out of its very nature. It is for this reason that the beginnings of modern physics cannot be compared with the great upheavals of previous periods like the achievements of Copernicus. Copernicus’s idea was much more an import from outside into the concepts of the science of his time, and therefore caused far more telling changes in science than the ideas of modern physics are creating to-day.
In Philosophical Problems of Nuclear Science: Eight Lectures (1952), 13.
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Most of us who become experimental physicists do so for two reasons; we love the tools of physics because to us they have intrinsic beauty, and we dream of finding new secrets of nature as important and as exciting as those uncovered by our scientific heroes.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1968), 'Recent Developments in Particle Physics', collected in Nobel Lectures: Physics 1963-1970 (1972), 241.
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Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, the arithmetical theory of forms, of which the foundation was laid in the diophantine theorems of Fermat, left without proof by their author, which resisted all efforts of the myriad-minded Euler to reduce to demonstration, and only yielded up their cause of being when turned over in the blow-pipe flame of Gauss’s transcendent genius; or the doctrine of double periodicity, which resulted from the observation of Jacobi of a purely analytical fact of transformation; or Legendre’s law of reciprocity; or Sturm’s theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected (if my memory serves me right) with the motion of compound pendulums; or Huyghen’s method of continued fractions, characterized by Lagrange as one of the principal discoveries of that great mathematician, and to which he appears to have been led by the construction of his Planetary Automaton; or the new algebra, speaking of which one of my predecessors (Mr. Spottiswoode) has said, not without just reason and authority, from this chair, “that it reaches out and indissolubly connects itself each year with fresh branches of mathematics, that the theory of equations has become almost new through it, algebraic geometry transfigured in its light, that the calculus of variations, molecular physics, and mechanics” (he might, if speaking at the present moment, go on to add the theory of elasticity and the development of the integral calculus) “have all felt its influence”.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 238 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 655-56.
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Much as I admired the elegance of physical theories, which at that time geology wholly lacked, I preferred a life in the woods to one in the laboratory.
From J. Tuzo Wilson, 'Early Days in University Geophysics', Ann. Rev. Earth Planet Sci. (1982), 10, 4.
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My father introduced me to three black men who had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics. The best jobs they could find were at the post office. My father said I was taking the long road toward working at the post office.
Recalling how his parents were disappointed that he chose to study physics at university instead of medicine to be a doctor. Quoted in Johns Hopkins University News Release (9 Jan 2003) on jh.edu web site.
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My final remark to young women and men going into experimental science is that they should pay little attention to the speculative physics ideas of my generation. After all, if my generation has any really good speculative ideas, we will be carrying these ideas out ourselves.
'Reflections on the Discovery of the Tau Lepton', Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1995). In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1991-1995 (1997), 193.
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My observations of the young physicists who seem to be most like me and the friends I describe in this book tell me that they feel as we would if we had been chained to those same oars. Our young counterparts aren’t going into nuclear or particle physics (they tell me it’s too unattractive); they are going into condensed-matter physics, low-temperature physics, or astrophysics, where important work can still be done in teams smaller than ten and where everyone can feel that he has made an important contribution to the success of the experiment that every other member of the collaboration is aware of. Most of us do physics because it’s fun and because we gain a certain respect in the eyes of those who know what we’ve done. Both of those rewards seem to me to be missing in the huge collaborations that now infest the world of particle physics.
Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist (1987), 198.
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