Quotes of Founding Physicists
Quotes of Founding Physicists
Robert Campbell 2007

The following are quotes from some of the founders of modern physics about the nature of science and its
current limitations. The list is a sampling and is compiled simply to indicate that these key figures in the
establishment of modern physics all perceived of a cosmic order underlying phenomenal experience. They
sought insight into the cosmic order in their scientific endeavors, even though it seemed beyond the reach of
current approaches of science. The philosopher Henri Bergson is added because of the pressing nature of his
comment and the relevance of his work in general.

“The only justification for our concepts and system of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of
our experiences; beyond this they have no legitimacy. I am convinced that the philosophers have had a
harmful effect upon the progress of scientific thinking in removing certain fundamental concepts from the
domain of empiricism, where they are under our control, to the intangible heights of the a priori. For even if it
should appear that the universe of ideas cannot be deduced from experience by logical means, but is, in a
sense, a creation of the human mind, without which no science is possible, nevertheless this universe of ideas
is just as little independent of the nature of our experiences as clothes are of the form of the human body.”
(From his "The Meaning of Relativity," 5th Ed.)

"Anyone who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the
gates of the temple of science are written the words: 'Ye must have faith.' It is a quality which scientists cannot
dispense with. ... The pure rationalist has no place here." (From "Where is Science Going," Norton, NY 1932)

“I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, that is, on continuous
structures. Then nothing remains of my entire castle in the sky, including the theory of gravitation, but also
nothing of the rest of modern physics.” (In a letter to a friend in 1954, the year before he died.)

Schroedinger (After the Copenhagen interpretation was established):
"Had I known that we were not going to get rid of this damned quantum jumping, I never would have involved
myself in this business."

“I see on the one hand the totality of sense-experiences, and, on the other, the totality of the concepts and
propositions which are laid down in books. The relations between concepts and propositions among
themselves and each other are of a logical nature, and the business of logical thinking is strictly limited to the
achievement of the connection between concepts and propositions among each other according to firmly laid
down rules, which are the concern of logic. The concepts and propositions get “meaning,” viz., “content,” only
through their connection with sense-experiences. The connection of the latter with the former is purely intuitive,
not itself of a logical nature. The degree of certainty with which this relation, viz., intuitive connection, can be
undertaken, and nothing else, differentiates empty fantasy from scientific “truth.”(From "Autobiographical
Notes," written at age 67.) (Einstein knew what later became established as scientific fact by Sperry's
experiments on split brain patients that the intuitive and language hemispheres of the brain function
independently and that it is the intuitive hemisphere that integrates experience holistically.)

"... we are always being brought face to face with the irrational. Else we couldn't have faith. And if we did not
have faith but could solve every puzzle in life by an application of the human reason, what an unbearable
burden life would be. We should have no art, no music and no wonderment. And we should have no science;
not only because science would thereby lose its chief attraction for its own followers - namely the pursuit of the
unknowable - but also because science would lose the cornerstone of its own structure, which is the direct
perception by consciousness of the existence of external reality...."
"... And, indeed, it was not by any accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were also deeply religious
souls, even though they made no public show of their religious feeling. It is from the cooperation of the
understanding with the will that the finest fruit of philosophy has arisen, namely, the ethical fruit. Science
enhances the moral values of life because it furthers a love of truth and reverence - love of truth displaying
itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us,
and reverence because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.
..." (From Where is Science Going, NY, Norton, 1932.)

Edwin Hubble:
"... Yet observations and theory are woven together, and it is futile to attempt their complete separation.
Observations always involve theory. Pure theory may be found in mathematics but seldom in science.
Mathematics it has been said deals with possible worlds - logically consistent systems. Science attempts to
discover the actual world we inhabit. ..." (From his book The Realm of the Nebulae, 1936.)

"... Many kinds of men devote themselves to science, and not all of them for the sake of science herself. There
are some who come to her temple because it offers them the opportunity to display their particular talents. To
this class of men science is a kind of sport in the practice of which they exult, just as an athlete exults in the
exercise of his muscular prowess. There is another class of men who come into the temple to make an offering
of their brain pulp in the hope of securing a profitable return. These men are scientists only by the chance of
circumstance which offered itself when making a choice for a career. If the attending circumstances had been
different, they might have become politicians or captains of business. Should an angel of God descend and
drive from the temple of science all those who belong to the categories I have mentioned, I fear the temple
would be nearly emptied. But a few worshippers would still remain - some from former times and some from
ours. To these latter belongs our Planck. And that is why we love him." (From a Tribute to Max Planck.)

Heisenberg (From Across the Frontiers, Harper and Row, 1974) introduces a quote from his friend Pauli as
follows: “He therefore sought for a connecting link between sense perception on the one hand and concepts
on the other:”
Pauli: "All consistent thinkers have come to the conclusion that pure logic is fundamentally incapable of
constructing such a linkage. The most satisfactory course, it seems, is to introduce at this point the postulate
of an order of the cosmos distinct from the world of appearances, and not a matter of our choice. Whether we
speak of natural objects participating in the Ideas or of the behavior of metaphysical, i.e., intrinsically real
things, the relation between sense perception and Idea remains a consequence of the fact that both the soul
and what is known in perception are subject to an order objectively conceived."
(Notice that Heisenberg, in quoting Pauli capitalized Idea, and Pauli regarded metaphysics as concerned with
what is intrinsically real. Some of the thoughts expressed, especially by Heisenberg, take early Greek
philosophy into account. Parmenides, for example who had a strong influence on Socrates and Plato, spoke in
the fragments of his poem that come down to us of two ways: the way of truth and the way of seeming. The
former was perceived as a unitary reality, the latter interpreted as transient and illusory.)   

"Humanity groans half crushed under the weight of the advances it has made. It does not know sufficiently that
its future depends on itself. It is for it, above all, to make up its mind if it wishes to continue to live...." (From the
Two Sources of Morality and Religion.")

"....Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to those who strive for truth,
beauty and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
"The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the
underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this
experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be
experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only
indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to
wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all
that there is." (From "My Credo," a speech to the German League of Human Rights, Berlin, autumn 1932.)

de Broglie:
"What then, is the goal pursued, sometimes without being clearly aware of it, by the experimenter who works in
his laboratory to determine the nature of the known phenomena or to observe new ones, and the theorist who,
in his study, seeks to combine symbols and numbers to draw from them abstract constructions, establishing
amongst the observable facts correlations or unsuspected resemblances? This goal as we have seen, is,
without doubt, to succeed in penetrating further into the harmonies, to come to have a glimpse of a reflection
of the order which rules in the universe, some portions of the deep and hidden realities which constitute it.
Even the scientists or philosophers who, pragmatic in tendency, have reduced to a utilitarian role the value of
scientific theories, as, for example, the eminent physicist Pierre Duhem, have had to recognize that these
theories establish between the phenomena a "natural classification," allowing us to sense the existence of an
ontological order beyond us. All those who dedicate their efforts to pure science admit, whether they agree
with it or not, the existence of such an order and it is to enable them to lift up a corner of the veil which
conceals it from us that they expend their efforts and their vigils...." (From Physics and Metaphysics, NY,
Pantheon, 1955)  

“… But then comes the impasse, this very embarrassing discovery that I am not needed as the author. Within
the scientific world-picture all these happenings take care of themselvesthey are amply accounted for by
direct energetic interplay. …. It allows you to imagine the total display as that of a mechanical clockwork which,
for all that science knows, could go on just the same as it does, without there being consciousness, will,
endeavor, pain and delight and responsibility connected with itthough they actually are.  … we have used the
greatly simplifying device of cutting our own personality out, removing it; hence it is gone, it has evaporated, it
is ostensibly not needed.” (From My View of the World, Cambridge University Press (CPU) 1964).

“Looking and thinking in that manner you may suddenly come to see, in a flash, the profound rightness of the
basic conviction in Vedanta: it is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call
your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this
knowledge, feeling, and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay
in all sensitive beings.” (From his book What is Life? CUP, 1947)

Heisenberg: (In conversation with Pauli.)
P: “In other words, you think that you can become aware of the central order with the same intensity as of the
soul of another person?”
H: “Perhaps.”
P: “Why did you use the word ‘soul’ and not simply speak of another person?”
H: “Precisely because the word ‘soul’ refers to the central order, to the inner core of a being whose outer
manifestations may be highly diverse and pass our understanding.”
(From Physics and Beyond, NY, Harper and Row, 1971)

Heisenberg: (Discussing the ancient problem of the One & the Many, or Universal & Particular )
“The search for the “one,” for the ultimate source of all understanding, has doubtless played a similar role in
the origin of both religion and science. But the scientific method that was developed in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, the interest in those details which can be tested by experiment, has for a long time
pointed science along a different path. It is not surprising that this attitude should have led to a conflict
between science and religion, as soon as a law contradicted in some particular and perhaps very important
detail, the general picture, the mode and the manner, in which the facts had been spoken of in religion.”  
(From Across the Frontiers, NY, Harper and Row, 1974)

Bertrand Russell:
In developing his logical atomism, asserts that it “depends on the isomorphism of the structure of an ideal
language and of the structure of reality.” Russell, B., The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918), reprinted in
Logic and Knowledge, Marsh, R. C., Ed., London, 1956.

Concluding Note:
Despite the aspirations of these important founders of modern physics, the philosophy of physics in the
present day seems to have strayed from their hopes, even abandoned the possibility that ultimate truths can
ever be known. Quantum mechanics was born in conflict and it remains in conflict with relativity theory and
common sense in general. Despite an ability to make accurate predictions within a limited range of physical
phenomena, physicists are really at a loss to understand it. A variety of interpretations have resulted and
although the Copenhagen Interpretation is widely used a divide has been accepted between the practice of
physics and its philosophical interpretation. This divide is accepted apparently out of fairness to the many
conflicting interpretations that have emerged from the same empirical data. But this divide can itself be a
serious restriction to the pursuit of truth. Truth must be a holistic affair that integrates meaning. An arbitrary
schism between physics and its philosophy precludes a holistic interpretation that may necessarily be integral
with the practice of physics and with the practice of science in general. The dichotomous divide between
physics and the philosophy of physics is unfair to physics itself. It closes the door on intuitive insight.

It seems that the language of physics does not have to seek or relate to truth any more. On the one hand
calculations and experiments seem to have become ends sufficient unto themselves. On the other hand truth
has become an arbitrary affair where this one or that one with sufficient influence in the closed circles of
physics can claim there are parallel universes that we cannot know about, or infinitesimal strings that can
never be measured, or dark matter that we can not detect, or we exist as probability waves, or everything  
came from absolutely nothing in a Big Bang and will end in meaningless oblivion. None of these philosophical
interpretations can ever be confirmed in phenomenal experience of any kind. Intuitive capacities have lost  
their tether both to the phenomenal experience of sensory input and to the rational intellect. Words and signs
and symbols have become meaningless exercises involving the clever manipulation of language as an end in

We are back to the divided house of faith and reason that has plagued the history of civilization.
Reason and logic are founded on belief. Left to its own devices it becomes closed. Faith is rooted in question
and open wonder. It seeks insight into the nature of truth. The former is a left brain linguistic endeavor. The
latter is a right brain intuitive quest. It is logic that manipulates language in both science and traditional religion
and erodes at the foundations of faith. Intuitive faith should inform logic, not vice versa. Wonder is the very
essence of life that should inspire both scientific and spiritual aspirations in complementary ways.