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

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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 Physics (8 quotes)

>> Click for 28 Science Quotes by John Wheeler

>> Click for John Wheeler Quotes on | Black Hole | Law | Universe |

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?
— John Wheeler
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).
Science quotes on:  |  Autobiography (55)

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 Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance had recently been revoked, and this was the era of McCarthy's rabid anti-Communism hearings.
— John Wheeler
'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.
Science quotes on:  |  Paul A. M. Dirac (42)

The laws of physics must provide a mechanism for the universe to come into being.
— John Wheeler
As restated in Alan Lindsay Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 260. Compare with P.C.W. Davies, God and the New Physics (1984), 39, for quotation footnoted from J.A. Wheeler, 'Genesis and observership', Foundational Problems in the Special Science (1977), 39.
Science quotes on:  |  Creation (193)  |  Law (370)  |  Mechanism (39)  |  Physics (253)  |  Universe (446)

The only thing harder to understand than a law of statistical origin would be a law that is not of statistical origin, for then there would be no way for it—or its progenitor principles—to come into being. On the other hand, when we view each of the laws of physics—and no laws are more magnificent in scope or better tested—as at bottom statistical in character, then we are at last able to forego the idea of a law that endures from everlasting to everlasting.
— John Wheeler
In 'Law without Law' (1979), in John Archibald Wheeler and Wojciech Hubert Zurek (eds.), Quantum Theory and Measurement (1983), 203.
Science quotes on:  |  Idea (390)  |  Law (370)  |  Magnificent (14)  |  Origin (65)  |  Physics (253)  |  Principle (189)  |  Statistics (119)  |  Test (80)  |  Understanding (315)

The universe came into being in a big bang, before which, Einstein’s theory instructs us, there was no before. Not only particles and fields of force had to come into being at the big bang, but the laws of physics themselves, and this by a process as higgledy-piggledy as genetic mutation or the second law of thermodynamics.
— John Wheeler
In 'The Computer and the Universe', International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21, 565.
Science quotes on:  |  Big Bang (37)  |  Albert Einstein (240)  |  Field (103)  |  Force (135)  |  Genetic (5)  |  Instruction (42)  |  Law (370)  |  Mutation (24)  |  Particle (77)  |  Physics (253)  |  Second Law Of Thermodynamics (13)  |  Theory (518)  |  Universe (446)

The universe does not exist “out there,” independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators. In some strange sense, this is a participatory universe. Physics is no longer satisfied with insights only into particles, fields of force, into geometry, or even into time and space. Today we demand of physics some understanding of existence itself.
— John Wheeler
Quoted in Denis Brian, The Voice Of Genius: Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries, 127.
Science quotes on:  |  Observation (390)  |  Physics (253)  |  Understanding (315)  |  Universe (446)

Wheeler’s First Moral Principle: Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!
— John Wheeler
In E.F. Taylor and J.A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (1992), 20.
Science quotes on:  |  Answer (159)  |  Argument (44)  |  Bring (21)  |  Calculation (62)  |  Case (39)  |  Conservation (71)  |  Courage (28)  |  Derivation (12)  |  Estimate (16)  |  Expert (37)  |  First (112)  |  Fun (26)  |  Guess (29)  |  Instinct (45)  |  Invariance (3)  |  Knowledge (1017)  |  Life (742)  |  Moral (68)  |  Need (134)  |  Paradox (31)  |  Physics (253)  |  Principle (189)  |  Puzzle (25)  |  Quickly (5)  |  Refreshment (2)  |  Right (101)  |  Simple (82)  |  Spacetime (4)  |  Surprise (36)  |  Symmetry (21)  |  Try (55)  |  Wrong (91)

[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 (12)

See also:
  • 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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