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Physics

 

Many respectable physicists said that they weren't going to stand for this, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn't get invited to those sorts of parties.
     Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

 

Physics is the basic science. One can easily argue that all other sciences are specialized aspects of physics.
     Isaac Asimov

 

The law of conservation of energy tells us we can't get something for nothing, but we refuse to believe it.
     Isaac Asimov

 

A conservation law is a statement saying that something doesn’t change. That might seem to be the most boring kind of comment possible in science. In fact, it is commonly the deepest and most significant type of scientific law because it gives insight into symmetry — essentially the shape — of systems and even into the symmetries of space and time.
     Peter Atkins, Galileo’s Finger:  The Ten Great Ideas of Science (2003)
     “Energy:  The Universalization of Accountancy”

 

Scientists tell us that the fastest animal on earth, with a top speed of 120 feet per second, is a cow that has been dropped out of a helicopter.
     Dave Barry, Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States (1989)

 

Gravitation, n. The tendency of all bodies to approach one another with a strength proportioned to the quantity of matter then contain — the quantity of matter they contain being ascertained by the strength of their tendency to approach one another. This is a lovely and edifying illustration of how science, having made A the proof of B, makes B the proof of A.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

 

Magnet, n. Something acted upon by magnetism.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

 

Magnetism, n. Something acting upon a magnet.
     The two definitions immediately foregoing are condensed from the works of one thousand eminent scientists, who have illuminated the subject with a great white light, to the inexpressible advancement of human knowledge.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

 

Physics is the nature of the case indeterminate, and therefore the affair of statistics.
     Max Born

 

Inertia makes the world go round.
     Ashleigh Brilliant

 

Physicists in England have discovered an atomic particle which has no physical properties whatsoever. Although it cannot be detected by the senses, scientists know it is there by the bad feeling everybody gets when it leaves.
     George Carlin

 

Electricity is really just organized lightning.
     George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty (2001)

 

The only object of theoretical Physics is to calculate results that can be compared with experiment. It is quite unnecessary that any satisfying description of the whole course of the phenomenon must be given.
     Paul Dirac

 

Physics makes progress because experiment constantly causes new disagreements to break out between laws and facts, and because physicists constantly touch up and modify laws in order that they may more faithfully represent the facts.
     Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1962)

 

The ground of Physics is littered with corpses of Unified Theories.
     Freeman Dyson

 

Most of the papers which are submitted to the Physical Review are rejected, not because it is impossible to understand them, but because it is possible. Those which are impossible to understand are usually published.
     Freeman Dyson, Innovation in Physics

 

I am afraid the knockabout comedy of modern atomic physics is not very tender towards our aesthetic ideals. The stately drama of stellar evolution turns out to be more like the hair-breadth escapades in the films. The music of the spheres has a painful suggestion of — jazz.
     Arthur S. Eddington, Stars and Atoms (1926)

 

I believe there are 15, 747, 724, 136, 275, 002, 577, 605, 653, 961, 181, 555, 468, 044, 717, 914, 527, 116, 709, 366, 231, 425, 076, 185, 631, 031, 296 protons in the universe and the same number of electrons.
     Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939)

 

However we select from nature a complex [of phenomena] using the criterion of simplicity, in no case will its theoretical treatment turn out to be forever appropriate (sufficient). . . . I do not doubt that the day will come when [general relativity], too, will have to yield to another one, for reasons which at present we do not yet surmise. I believe that this process of deepening theory has no limits.
     Albert Einstein

 

This law [the Law of Gravitation] has been called 'the greatest generalization achieved by the human mind', and you can guess already from my introduction that I am interested not so much in the human mind as in the marvel of a nature which can obey such an elegant and simple law as this law of gravitation. Therefore our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found it all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

 

Physicists sometimes feel so superior and smart that other people would like to catch them out once on something. I will give you something to get them on. They should be utterly ashamed of the way they take energy and measure it in a host of different ways, with different names. It is absurd that energy can be measured in calories, in ergs, in electron volts, in foot pound, in B.T.U.s, in horsepower hours, in kilowatt hours - all measuring exactly the same thing. ... For those who want some proof that physicists are human, the proof is in the idiocy of all the different units which they use for measuring energy.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

 

Physicists are trying to find out how nature behaves; they may talk carelessly about some "ultimate particle" because that's the way nature looks at a given moment, but… Suppose people are exploring a new continent, OK? They see water coming along the ground, they've seen that before, and they call it "rivers." So they say they're exploring to find the headwaters, they go upriver, and sure enough, there they are, it's all going very well. But lo and behold, when they get up far enough they find the whole system's different: There's a great big lake, or springs, or the rivers run in a circle. You might say, "Aha! They've failed!" but not at all! The real reason they were doing it was to explore the land. If it turned out not to be headwaters, they might be slightly embarrassed at their carelessness in explaining themselves, but no more than that. As long as it looks like the way things are built is wheels within wheels, then you're looking for the innermost wheel - but it might not be that way, in which case you're looking for whatever the hell it is that you find! … One is presumptuous if one says, "We're going to find the ultimate particle, or the unified field laws," or "the" anything. If it turns out surprising, the scientist is even more delighted. You think he's going to say, "Oh, it's not like I expected, there's no ultimate particle, I don't want to explore it"? No, he's going to say, "What the hell is it, then?"
     Richard Feynman, "The Smartest Man in the 
     World" (interview, Omni magazine, 1979); 
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short 
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)

 

... the way I think of what we're doing is we're exploring, we're trying to find out as much as we can about the world. People say to me, "Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?" No, I'm not, I'm just looking to find out more about the world and if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it, that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers and we're just sick and tired of looking at the layers, then that's the way it is, but whatever way it comes out its nature is there and she's going to come out the way she is, and therefore when we go to investigate it we shouldn't predecide what it is we're trying to do except to try to find out more about it.
     Richard Feynman, "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" 
     (interview, BBC, Horizon, 1981; shown in US on Nova)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short 
     Works of Richard P. Feynman (Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)

 

As Feynman said, the hadron-hadron work [in the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, SLAC] was like trying to figure out a pocket watch by smashing two of them together and watching the pieces fly out.
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and 
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)

 

Physicists' models are like maps: never final, never complete until they grow as large and complex as the reality they represent.
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and 
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)

 

One thing they don't tell you about doing experimental physics is that sometimes you must work under adverse conditions ... like a state of sheer terror.
     W. K. Hartmann

 

My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it as it is and why it exists at all.
     Stephen Hawking

 

If we do discover a complete [unified] theory [of the universe], it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we should know the mind of God.
     Stephen William Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1988)

 

At present, computers are a useful aid in research, but they have to be directed by human minds. If one extrapolates their recent rapid rate of development, however, it would seem quite possible that they will take over altogether in theoretical physics. So maybe the end is in sight for theoretical physicists, if not for theoretical physics.
     Stephen William Hawking, Black Holes and 
     Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)

 

Physics is not difficult; it's just weird. . . . Physics is weird because intuition is false. To understand what an electron's world is like, you've got to be an electron, or jolly nearly. Intuition is forged in the hellish fires of the everyday world, which makes it so eminently useful in our daily struggle for survival. For anything else, it is hopeless.
     Vincent Icke, The Force of Symmetry

 

For the most part, physicists follow the same guidelines that have helped keep Hollywood movie producers rich: If it works, exploit it. If it still works, copy it.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, Fear of Physics: 
     A Guide for the Perplexed (1993)

 

If the basic idea is too complicated to fit on a T-shirt, it's probably wrong.
     Leon Lederman, quoted in Timothy Ferris, The Whole 
     Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report
(1997)

 

My ambition is to live to see all of physics reduced to a formula so elegant and simple that it will fit easily on the front of a T-shirt.
     Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the 
     Answer, What is the Question? (with Dick Teresi, 1993)

 

Physics may be complex, mathematical, and arcane, but it is not capricious. The inventors of strings and twenty-six dimensional spaces did not think up these things at random, simply to give themselves a new set of toys. There is a line of rational thinking that leads from the billiard-ball atoms of classical physics to the intangible mathematical entities of today. Physics is complicated because the world is complicated.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

Enrico Fermi, who was both [an experimenter and a theorist], is reported to have said that "if I could remember the names of all these particles, I would have been a botanist."
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

If particle physics is a mess, it is because that is the way the world appears to work.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

There is no guarantee that any simple model will be able to explain everything.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses . . . it is enough that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for the motions of the celestial bodies.
     Isaac Newton

 

A body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion remains in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force; the acceleration of a body is directly proportioned to the applied force and is the direction of the straight line in which the force acts; and for every force there is an equal and opposite force in reaction. [The Laws of Motion]
     Isaac Newton, Principia mathematica (1687)

 

Often they [the wizards at Unseen University] lived to a time scale to suit themselves.  Many of the senior ones, of course, lived entirely in the past, but several were like the Professor of Anthropics, who had invented an entire temporal system based on the belief that all the other ones were a mere illusion.
     Many people are aware of the Weak and Strong Anthropic Principles.  The Weak One says, basically, that it was jolly amazing of the universe to be constructed in such a way that humans could evolve to a point where they make a living in, for example, universities, while the Strong One says that, on the contrary, the whole point of the universe was that humans should not only work in universities but also write for huge sums books with words like “Cosmic” and “Chaos” in the titles.  [And they are correct.  The universe clearly operates for the benefit of humanity.  This can be readily seen from the convenient way the sun comes up in the morning, when people are ready to start the day.]
     The UU Professor of Anthropics had developed the Special and Inevitable Anthropic Principle, which was that the entire reason for the existence of the universe was the eventual evolution of the UU Professor of Anthropics.  But this was only a formal statement of the theory which absolutely everyone, with only some minor details of a “Fill in name here” nature, secretly believes to be true.
     Terry Pratchett, Hogfather (1996)

 

Who ordered that? [when informed about the Muon]
     Isidor Isaac Rabi

 

All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
     Ernest Rutherford

 

If a piece of physics cannot be explained to a barmaid, then it is not a good piece of physics.
     Ernest Rutherford

 

Physicists had to invent words and phrases for concepts far removed from everyday experience. It was their fashion to avoid pure neologisms and instead to evoke, even if feebly, some analogous commonplace. The alternative was to name discoveries and equations after one another. This they did also. But if you didn't know it was physics they were talking, you might very well worry about them.
     Carl Sagan, Contact (1985)

 

Gentlemen, we must bow before Nature. [when informed about parity violation]
     Julian Schwinger

 

In general, chemical experience suggests that each gas is unique, which is true, and has very little, if anything, in common with most other gases, which is not true. That which is common to all gases is the way in which their molecules move.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)

 

Professors have a weakness for analogies. So here's one: A gas, any gas, is similar to a crowd of flies. The analogy is dangerous, but we can learn from the dangers. First of all, flies can see; they don't normally bump into each other. Molecules are "blind"; in a gas they are continually blundering into each other. Every collision changes the speed and direction of both molecules involved, so that a molecule in a gas resembles a flying dodgem car, continually getting jolted. Another difference between flies and molecules is that the molecules in our box are presumed to fly in straight lines unless they hit something. Flies practice their aeronautical skills. An improved fly analogy is a crowd of straight-flying, blind, deaf flies, but this is still misleading. Flies get tired. They often relax, and in the end they die and lie on the floor with their legs up. Molecules don't do this; the molecules in an oxygen cylinder never stop moving — until the end of time, as they say at MGM. Again improving our analogy, we liken the molecules in a gas to a collection of straight-flying, blind, deaf, radarless, tireless, immortal flies. We're getting there, but the problem, as we will soon see, is that flies have a sense of smell and molecules don't. First, however, let's look at the speeds of molecules.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)

 

Sir Isaac Newton secretly admitted to some of his friends: "I understand how gravity behaves, but not how it works!"
     Lily Tomlin

 

Physics is becoming so unbelievably complex that it is taking longer and longer to train a physicist. It is taking so long, in fact, to train a physicist to the place where he understands the nature of physical problems that he is already too old to solve them.
     Eugene Paul Wigner

 

When and if we have found and understood the complete irreducible laws of physics, we certainly shall not thereby know the mind of God (Hawking to the contrary). We will not even get much help in understanding the minds of slugs, which is about the current frontier of neuroscience.
     Frank Wilczek

 

I took a physics course that was so hard I couldn't find the classroom.
     Steven Wright

 

 

Quantum Mechanics

If someone says that he can think about quantum physics without becoming dizzy, that shows only that he has not understood anything whatever about it.
     Niels Bohr

 

In fact, of course, the world was about to enter a century of science where many people wouldn’t understand anything and none would understand everything.  Scientists would soon find themselves adrift in a bewildering realm of particles and antiparticles, where things pop in and out of existence in spans of time that make nanoseconds look plodding and uneventful, where everything is strange.  Science was moving from a world of macrophysics, where objects could be seen and held and measured, to one of microphysics, where events transpire with unimaginable swiftness on scales far below the limits of imagining.
     Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)

 

The introduction of quantum theory in the early 1920s marked one of the greatest revolutions in all of physical science. It could not (cannot) adequately be described in metaphors borrowed from our previous view of reality, because many of those metaphors no longer apply. This inability to imagine quantum goings-on led to the popular perception that the realm of the inner atom is fuzzy, elusive, murky, and uncertain. On the contrary, most physicists would agree that what quantum theory has brought to science is exactly the opposite — concreteness and clarity.
     K. C. Cole, First You Build A Cloud and Other 
     Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life (1999)

 

Quantum uncertainty and chaos theory have had deplorable effects upon popular culture, much to the annoyance of genuine aficionados. Both are regularly exploited by those with a bent for abusing science and shanghaiing its wonder. They range from professional quacks to daffy New Agers. In American, the self-help 'healing' industry coins millions — and it has not been slow to cash in on quantum theory's formidable talent to bewilder.
     Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, 
     Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998)

 

There is a limit to the fineness of our powers of observation and the smallness of the accompanying disturbance — a limit which is inherent in the nature of things.
     P. A. M. Dirac; quoted in Gerard Piel, The Age of Science (2001)

 

I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.
     Albert Einstein

 

The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks.
     Albert Einstein

 

While walking with Heisenberg, the physicist Felix Bloch, who had just read Weyl's Space, Time and Matter, felt moved to declare that space is simply the field of linear equations. Heisenberg replied, "Nonsense. Space is blue and birds fly through it." "What he meant, Bloch writes, "was that it was dangerous for a physicist to describe Nature in terms of idealized abstractions too far removed from the evidence of actual observation."
     Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: 
     A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report (1997)

 

Gertrude Stein said of modern art, "A picture may seem extraordinarily strange to you and after some time not only does it not seem strange but it is impossible to find what there was in it that was strange." Quantum physics isn't like that. The longer you look at it, the stranger it gets.
     Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: 
     A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report (1997)

 

Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?' because you will get 'down the drain' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.
     Richard Feynman

 

The theory of quantum electrodynamics describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept nature as she is — absurd.
     Richard Feynman

 

The behaviour of things on a very tiny scale is simply different. At atom does not behave like a weight hanging on a spring and oscillating. Nor does it behave like a miniature representation of the solar system with little planets going around in orbits. Nor does it appear to be somewhat like a cloud or fog of some sort surrounding the nucleus. It behaves like nothing you have ever seen before. There is one simplification at least. Electrons behave in this respect in exactly the same way as photons; they are both screwy, but in exactly the same way.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

 

What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school. ... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it. ... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.
     Richard Feynman, QED, The Strange 
     Theory of Light and Matter (1990)

 

One of the consequences is that things which we used to consider as waves also behave like particles, and particles behave like waves; in fact everything behaves the same way. There is no distinction between a wave and a particle. So quantum mechanics unifies the idea of the field and its waves, and the particles, all into one.
     Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics 
     Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher (1995)
     "Basic Physics"

 

The first quantum idea — the notion that indivisible building blocks lay at the core of things — occurred to someone at least twenty-five hundred years ago, and with it physics began its slow birth, for otherwise not much can be understood about earth or water, fire or air.
     James Gleick, Genius: The Life and 
     Science of Richard Feynman (1992)

 

As has often been pointed out, though, the share of the Nobel prize awarded to George Thomson, the son of J. J., deliciously highlights the non-commonsensical nature of the quantum world. J. J. got the prize for proving that electrons are particles. George got the prize for proving that electrons are waves. And both were right.
     John Gribbin, The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors (2002)

 

... Einstein was doubly wrong when he said, "God does not play dice." Consideration of particle emission from black holes would seem to suggest that God not only plays dice but also sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.
     Stephen William Hawking, Black Holes and 
     Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)

 

The mathematically formulated laws of quantum theory show clearly that our ordinary intuitive concepts cannot be unambiguously applied to the smallest particles. All the words or concepts we use to describe ordinary physical objects, such as position, velocity, color, size, and so on, become indefinite and problematic if we try to use them of elementary particles.
     Wener Karl Heisenberg

 

[We should] abandon all attempts to construct perceptual models of atomic processes.
     Wener Karl Heisenberg

 

... what we really should be discussing is "the interpretation of classical mechanics" — that is, how can the classical world we see — which is only an approximation of the underlying reality, which in turn is quantum mechanical in nature — be understood in terms of the proper quantum mechanical variables? If we insist on interpreting quantum mechanical phenomena in terms of classical concepts, we will inevitably encounter phenomena that seem paradoxical, or impossible.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (1995)

 

The microworld is not a simple place, and physicists have therefore not been able to keep their theories of it simple.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

To argue whether the electron is really a wave or a particle is futile: an electron is an electron, and it behaves as an electron behaves. The observer may sometimes perceive wave properties in that behavior, and sometimes particle properties, and that, as Keats said, is all ye know, and all ye need to know. If we ask for more, what we are really asking for is a direct, metaphysical understanding of the nature of the electron, as if we could grasp its "true" nature with our minds and obtain some understanding of it beyond the scope of physical experimentation.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

In fact, it is misleading to say that "measurement affects the thing measured" because that can seem to imply that a quantum object was in some definite but unknown state, but was then disturbed by an act of measurement and is now in some other state. Rather, measurement gives definition to quantities that were previously indefinite; there is no meaning that can be given to a quantity until it is measured.
     David Lindley, Where Does the Weirdness Go? Why Quantum 
     Mechanics is Strange, But Not As Strange As You Think (1996)

 

Although quantum mechanics provides explanations of the results of experiments, those explanations tend not, in our minds, to add up to an understanding. But why should they? It's the job of science to provide theories and models that give us an accurate picture of the way the world works, but we are not free also to demand that these theories should conform to our prior expectations of the way we would like the world to work, or think it ought to work. If science sometimes provides explanations without giving us what we would regard as an understanding, the deficiency belongs to us, not to science.
     David Lindley, Where Does the Weirdness Go? Why Quantum 
     Mechanics is Strange, But Not As Strange As You Think (1996)

 

The Moon really is there, after all, when no one's looking. In a general sense, Einstein's comment was correct: quantum mechanics demands that a measurement be made in order for the Moon really to exist at a particular spot. But the new insight afforded by the decoherence argument is that the rain of solar photons onto the Moon's surface is enough of a physical process to constitute a "measurement" — it's enough to get rid of superposed states, which is what we want a measurement to accomplish. No actual observation is required, and the whole process carries on efficiently and relentlessly without any intervention of human action, let alone human consciousness. The world works in its own way, and doesn't need us to look at it.
     David Lindley, Where Does the Weirdness Go? Why Quantum 
     Mechanics is Strange, But Not As Strange As You Think (1996)

 

It is now known to science that there are many more dimensions than the classical four. Scientists say that these don't normally impinge on the world because the extra dimensions are very small and curve in on themselves, and that since reality is fractal most of it is tucked inside itself. This means either that the universe is more full of wonders than we can hope to understand or, more probably, that scientists make things up as they go along.
     Terry Pratchett, Pyramids (1989)

 

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS: Quantum mechanics — the theory that explains phenomena on the size of atoms — is right. It is also so conceptually weird that physicists to this day feel uncomfortable with it.
     Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From 
     Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond (1995)

 

On the atomic and subatomic levels, weird electrical forces are crackling and flaring, and amorphous particles ... are spinning simultaneously forward, backward, sideways, and forever at speeds so uncalculable that expressions such as “arrival,” “departure,” “duration,” and “have a nice day” become meaningless.  It is on such levels that magic occurs.
     Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

 

How can light simultaneously be a wave and a particle? It might be better to think of it as something else, neither a wave nor a particle, something with no ready counterpart in the everyday world of the palpable, that under some circumstances partakes of the properties of a wave, and, under others, of a particle. This wave-particle dualism is another reminder of a central humbling fact: Nature does not always conform to our predispositions and preferences, to what we deem comfortable and easy to understand.
     Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life 
     and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (1997)

 

This type of schizophrenic behavior is not confined to photons alone. Electrons, neutrons, and other entities that normally appear as localized particles also can't seem to decide whether they are waves or particles. It all depends on what you try to measure. If you look for localized electrons, neutrons, or photons, you find them. If, on the other hand, you set up an experiment designed to measure wave properties, you find these too. We look at the world through colored glasses, and so it should not surprise us that the world appears a different color when we change to another pair.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search 
     for a World Beyond the Senses (1990)

 

But ... we recognize that the wave-particle duality does not arise because of anything paradoxical about the behavior of elementary particles, but simply from the fact that we have asked the wrong question. If we had asked "How does an elementary particle behave?" instead of asking "Does it behave like a particle or a wave?", we would have been able to give a perfectly sensible answer. An elementary particle is not a particle in the sense that a bullet is, and it is not a wave like the surf. It exhibits some properties that we normally associate with each of these kinds of things, but it is an entirely new kind of phenomenon.
     James Trefil, From Atoms to Quarks: An Introduction to the 
     Strange World of Particle Physics (revised edition, 1994)

 

That, in a nutshell, is the mystery of the quantum: When an electron is observed, it is a particle, but between observations its map of potentiality spreads out like a wave. Compared to the electron, even a platypus is banal.
     Hans Christian Von Baeyer, Taming the Atom

 

No phenomenon is a true phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.
     John A. Wheeler

 

No weirdnessfree approach to nature is known, so you either face up to it or close your eyes.
     Matthew P. Wiener

 

 

Relativity

It is impossible to travel faster than light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off.
     Woody Allen, Side Effects (1980)

 

It is probably the most important scientific breakthrough since Albert Einstein discovered the "Theory of Relativity," which states that time and space are relative, which explains why time goes slower, and space gets smaller, when you are with your relatives.
     Dave Barry, "A crumb bum in the eyes of fruitcake 
     meisters" (Miami Herald, May 6, 2001)

 

But the landmark event — the dawn of a new age — came in 1905, when there appeared in the German physics journal Annalen der Physik a series of papers by a young Swiss bureaucrat who had no university affiliation, no access to a laboratory, and the regular use of no library greater than that of the national patent office in Bern, where he was employed as a technical examiner third class.  (An application to be promoted to technical examiner second class had recently been rejected.)
     His name was Albert Einstein, and in that one eventful year he submitted to Annalen der Physik five papers, of which three, according to C. P Snow, ‘were among the greatest in the history of physics” — one examining the photoelectric effect by means of Planck’s new quantum theory, one on the behavior of small particles in suspension (what is known as Brownian motion), and one outlining a special theory of relativity.
     The first won its author a Nobel Prize and explained the nature of light (and also helped to make television possible, among other things).  The second provided proof that atoms do indeed exist — a fact that had, surprisingly, been in some dispute.  The third merely changed the world.
     Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)

 

Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter.
     Albert Einstein

 

When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity.
     Albert Einstein

 

You would have to fly around the world four hundred million times to add one second to your life; but your life would be reduced by more than that by all those airline meals.
     Stephen William Hawking, Black Holes and 
     Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)

 

Relativity theory, of course, does not find that truth depends on the point of view of the observer but, on the contrary, reformulates the laws of physics so that they hold good for all observers, no matter how they move or where they stand. Its central meaning is that the most valued truths in science are independent of the point of view. ... Einstein did not prove the work of Newton wrong; he provided a larger setting within which some limitations, contradictions, and asymmetries in the earlier physics disappeared.
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion 
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)

 

The cliché became, erroneously, "everything is relative"; whereas the point is that out of the vast flux one can distill the very opposite: "some things are invariant."
     Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion 
     against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (1996)

 

Einstein was thus faced with the following apparent problem. Either give up the principle of relativity, which appears to make physics possible by saying that the laws of physics are independent of where you measure them, as long as you are in a state of uniform motion; or give up Maxwell's beautiful theory of electromagnetism and electromagnetic waves. In a truly revolutionary move, he chose to give up neither. ... It is a testimony to his boldness and creativity not that he chose to throw out existing laws that clearly worked, but rather that he found a creative way to live within their framework. So creative, in fact, that it sounds nuts.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, Fear of Physics: 
     A Guide for the Perplexed (1993)

 

Indeed, long before the Star Trek writers conjured up warp fields, Einstein warped spacetime, and, like the Star Trek writers, he was armed with nothing other than his imagination. Instead of imagining twenty-second-century starship technology, however, Einstein imagined an elevator. He was undoubtedly a great physicist, but he probably never would have sold a screenplay.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (1995)

 

Relativity removes from physics the authoritarian rule of classical physics, with its absolute space and time, and replaces it not with anarchy, in which all participants have their own rules, but with perfect democracy, in which the same rules govern all. ... It may seem unsatisfactory to respond that there can be only one correct theory of space and time, and that Einstein's happens to be it, but for the physicist such an answer has to suffice. Relativity, like other physical theories, is a set of rules based on a number of crucial assumptions, and experiment and observation bear it out. That is all we ever ask of physical theories, and to ask for some further statement of why the special theory of relativity supplanted absolute Newtonian spacetime is to search for a truth beyond the domain of science.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993)

 

"If you will not take the answer too seriously," [Einstein] told a clamorous crown of reporters in New York in 1921 who asked him for a short explanation of relativity, "and consider it only as a kind of joke, then I can explain it as follows. It was formerly believed that if all material things disappeared out of the universe, time and space would be left. According to the relativity theory, however, time and space disappear together with the things."
     Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)

 

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS: Relativity does not mean everything is relative. And the brilliance of Einstein's discoveries is so great that no amount of journalistic overkill has managed to dim it. Einstein and Bach are the only two people who deserve their reputations.
     Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From 
     Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond (1995)

 

[In answer to Stephen Leacock's enquiry as to what he thought of Einstein's theory of relativity] Oh, that stuff. We never bother with that in our work.
     Ernest Rutherford, in Stephen Leacock, Common Sense and the Universe

 

Einstein explained his theory to me every day [during a transatlantic crossing], and on my arrival I was fully convinced that he understood it.
     Chaim Weizmann

 

Space-time tells matter how to move, matter tells space-time how to curve.
     John A. Wheeler

 

I heard that in relativity theory space and time are the same thing. Einstein discovered this when he kept showing up three miles late for his meetings.
     Steven Wright

 

 

Thermodynamics

The Heat Is On 

It's the Second Law of Thermodynamics — sooner or later everything turns to shit. That's my phrasing, not the Encyclopedia Britannica's.
     Woody Allen, Husbands and Wives (movie, 1992)

 

The law that entropy increases — the Second Law of Thermodynamics — holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the Universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
     Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, "Nothing for Nothing"

 

A theory is more impressive the greater is the simplicity of its premises, the more different are the kinds of things it relates, and the more extended its range of applicability. Therefore, the deep impression which classical thermodynamics made on me. It is the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced, that within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts will never be overthrown.
     Albert Einstein

 

There are many people (some I’ve met who apparently take pride in knowing nothing about science) who would be perfectly able to argue the value of having read Shakespeare but would see no usefulness at all in being aware of chemical laws. I like to point out that while it’s true that such laws might not make it possible to increase your IRA earnings, they both describe the universe we live in and reveal the mysteries still contained in it. But sometimes this isn’t persuasive enough and I need to pull a more practical reason for knowing something about science out of the hat. Happily I have one in this case: if you are familiar with both the First and Second Law of Thermodynamics, you will be much less likely to waste money investing in a perpetual motion machine.
     Jay Ingram, The Barmaid’s Brain and 
     other Strange Tales from Science
(1998)
     “The Burning Mirrors of Syracuse”

 

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS:  Like atoms, heat is so intangible that it was one of the last concepts in classical physics to be sorted out. In the process, the science of thermodynamics was created. Pollyannas who believe anything is possible should be subjected to a course in thermodynamics.
     Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From 
     Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond
(1995)

 

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative.
     Baron C. P. [Charles Percy] Snow, The Two Cultures, The Rede Lecture (1959)

 

Murphy's Law Of Thermodynamics: Things get worse under pressure.

 

The Three Laws of Thermodynamics (paraphrased)
    
First Law: You can't win, you can only break even.
     Second Law: You can only break even at absolute zero.
     Third Law: You can't reach absolute zero.

 

The Three Laws of Thermodynamics (paraphrased)
     First Law: You can't get anything without working for it.
     Second Law: The most you can accomplish is to break even.
     Third Law: You can't break even.