Unless the structure of the nucleus has a surprise in store for us, the conclusion seems plain-there is nothing in the whole system if laws of physics that cannot be deduced unambiguously from epistemological considerations. An intelligence, unacquainted with our universe, but acquainted with the system of thought by which the human mind interprets to itself the contents of its sensory experience, and should be able to attain all the knowledge of physics that we have attained by experiment.
Science is one thing, wisdom is another. Science is an edged tool, with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers. If you look at the results which science has brought in its train, you will find them to consist almost wholly in elements of mischief. See how much belongs to the word "Explosion" alone, of which the ancients knew nothing.
Our model of Nature should not be like a building-a handsome structure for the populace to admire, until in the course of time some one takes away a corner stone and the edifice comes toppling down. It should be like an engine with movable parts. We need not fix the position of any one lever; that is to be adjusted from time to time as the latest observations indicate. The aim of the theorist is to know the train of wheels which the lever sets in motion-that binding of the parts which is the soul of the engine.
There is only one law of Nature-the second law of thermodynamics-which recognises a distinction between past and future more profound than the difference of plus and minus. It stands aloof from all the rest. ... It opens up a new province of knowledge, namely, the study of organisation; and it is in connection with organisation that a direction of time-flow and a distinction between doing and undoing appears for the first time.
I am aware that many critics consider the conditions in the stars not sufficiently extreme . . . the stars are not hot enough. The critics lay themselves open to an obvious retort: we tell them to go and find a hotter place.
When an investigator has developed a formula which gives a complete representation of the phenomena within a certain range, he may be prone to satisfaction. Would it not be wiser if he should say 'Foiled again! I can find out no more about Nature along this line.'
If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a typewriter it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum. The chance of their doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel.
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.
It is one thing for the human mind to extract from the phenomena of nature the laws which it has itself put into them; it may be a far harder thing to extract laws over which it has no control. It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational, and we can never succeed in formulating them.
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.
Life would be stunted and narrow if we could feel no significance in the world around us beyond that which can be weighed and measured with the tools of the physicist or described by the metrical symbols of the mathematician.
A star is drawing on some vast reservoir of energy by means unknown to us. This reservoir can scarcely be other than the subatomic energy which, it is known exists abundantly in all matter; we sometimes dream that man will one day learn how to release it and use it for his service. The store is well nigh inexhaustible, if only it could be tapped. There is sufficient in the Sun to maintain its output of heat for 15 billion years.
To the pure geometer the radius of curvature is an incidental characteristic - like the grin of the Cheshire cat. To the physicist it is an indispensable characteristic. It would be going too far to say that to the physicist the cat is merely incidental to the grin. Physics is concerned with interrelatedness such as the interrelatedness of cats and grins. In this case the "cat without a grin" and the "grin without a cat" are equally set aside as purely mathematical phantasies.
But it is necessary to insist more strongly than usual that what I am putting before you is a model-the Bohr model atom-because later I shall take you to a profounder level of representation in which the electron instead of being confined to a particular locality is distributed in a sort of probability haze all over the atom.
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.
It cannot be denied that for a society which has to create scarcity to save its members from starvation, to whom abundance spells disaster, and to whom unlimited energy means unlimited power for war and destruction, there is an ominous cloud in the distance though at present it be no bigger than a man's hand.
The universe will finally become a ball of radiation, becoming more and more rarified and passing into longer and longer wave-lengths. The longest waves of radiation are Hertzian waves of the kind used in broadcasting. About every 1500 million years this ball of radio waves will double in diameter; and it will go on expanding in geometrical progression for ever. Perhaps then I may describe the end of the physical world as-one stupendous broadcast.
On one occasion when [William] Smart found him engrossed with his fundamental theory, he asked Eddington how many people he thought would understand what he was writing-after a pause came the reply, 'Perhaps seven.'
We have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange foot-print on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the foot-print. And Lo! it is our own.
Observation and theory get on best when they are mixed together, both helping one another in the pursuit of truth. It is a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in a theory until it has been confirmed by observation. I hope I shall not shock the experimental physicists too much if I add that it is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they have been confirmed by theory.
Our ultimate analysis of space leads us not to a "here" and a "there," but to an extension such as that which relates "here" and "there." To put the conclusion rather crudely-space is not a lot of points close together; it is a lot of distances interlocked.
The helium which we handle must have been put together at some time and some place. We do not argue with the critic who urges that the stars are not hot enough for this process; we tell him to go and find a hotter place.
[When thinking about the new relativity and quantum theories] I have felt a homesickness for the paths of physical science where there are ore or less discernible handrails to keep us from the worst morasses of foolishness.
Let us suppose that an ichthyologist is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into the water and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he proceeds in the usual manner of a scientist to systematize what it reveals. He arrives at two generalizations: (1) No sea-creature is less than two inches long. (2) All sea-creatures have gills. These are both true of his catch, and he assumes tentatively that they will remain true however often he repeats it.
The understanding between a non-technical writer and his reader is that he shall talk more or less like a human being and not like an Act of Parliament. I take it that the aim of such books must be to convey exact thought in inexact language... he can never succeed without the co-operation of the reader.