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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > John Wheeler Quotes > Black Hole

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John Wheeler
(9 Jul 1911 - 13 Apr 2008)

American physicist who helped develop the theory of nuclear fission. He coined the terms black hole and wormhole used in astronomy. His contributions to other subjects include fundamental work in nuclear structure, scattering theory, relativity and geometrodynamics. The Nobel prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, was one of his students.


John Wheeler Quotes on Black Hole (4 quotes)

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A black hole has no hair.
[Summarizing the simplicity of a black hole, which shows only three characteristics to the outside world (mass, charge, spin) and comparing the situation to a room full of bald-pated people who had one characteristic in common, but no differences in hair length, style or color for individual variations.]
— John Wheeler
In Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2000), 297. Quote introduced previously as the No-Hair Theorem in Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne and John Wheeler, Gravitation (1973).
Science quotes on:  |  Black Hole (14)  |  Characteristic (66)  |  Identification (11)

In the fall of 1967, [I was invited] to a conference … on pulsars. … In my talk, I argued that we should consider the possibility that the center of a pulsar is a gravitationally completely collapsed object. I remarked that one couldn't keep saying “gravitationally completely collapsed object” over and over. One needed a shorter descriptive phrase. “How about black hole?” asked someone in the audience. I had been searching for the right term for months, mulling it over in bed, in the bathtub, in my car, whenever I had quiet moments. Suddenly this name seemed exactly right. When I gave a more formal Sigma Xi-Phi Beta Kappa lecture … on December 29, 1967, I used the term, and then included it in the written version of the lecture published in the spring of 1968. (As it turned out, a pulsar is powered by “merely” a neutron star, not a black hole.)
[Although John Wheeler is often identified as coining the term “black hole,” he in fact merely popularized the expression. In his own words, this is his explanation of the true origin: a suggestion from an unidentified person in a conference audience.]
— John Wheeler
In Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2000), 296-297.
Science quotes on:  |  Black Hole (14)  |  Conference (8)  |  Neutron Star (2)  |  Nomenclature (129)  |  Pulsar (2)

Time ends. That is the lesson of the “big bang”. It is also the lesson of the black hole, closer at hand and more immediate object of study. The black hole is a completely collapsed object. It is mass without matter. The Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland faded away leaving behind only its grin. A star that falls into an already existing black hole, or that collapses to make a new black hole, fades away. Of the star, of its matter and of its sunspots and solar prominences, all trace disappears. There remains behind only gravitational attraction, the attraction of disembodied mass.
— John Wheeler
In 'The Lesson of the Black Hole', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1981), 125, 25.
Science quotes on:  |  Alice In Wonderland (4)  |  Attraction (32)  |  Big Bang (38)  |  Black Hole (14)  |  Cheshire Cat (2)  |  Disappearance (21)  |  Disembodied (4)  |  Fall (89)  |  Gravitation (27)  |  Grin (4)  |  Lesson (32)  |  Mass (61)  |  Matter (270)  |  Prominence (3)  |  Star (251)  |  Study (331)  |  Sun (211)  |  Sunspot (4)  |  Time (439)

[The black hole] teaches us that space can be crumpled like a piece of paper into an infinitesimal dot, that time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame, and that the laws of physics that we regard as “sacred,” as immutable, are anything but.
— John Wheeler
In John A. Wheeler and Kenneth Ford, Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics. Quoted in Dennis Overbye, 'John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term Black Hole, Is Dead at 96', New York Times (14 Apr 2008).
Science quotes on:  |  Black Hole (14)


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  • 9 Jul - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Wheeler's birth.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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