I recently watched Sydney Coleman's 'Quantum Mechanics In Your Face,' and very much enjoyed it. (Highly recommended.) In it, Professor Coleman quotes a very clever comment by a philosopher called Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein found it strange that people used to believe in geocentrism (Sun goes around the Earth.) When asked why he felt it strange, he responded: "well, how would it have have looked if it were the other way around." Of course it would look exactly the same. Personally, I loved Wittgenstein's response and thought it showed impressive insight although, clearly, things are always simpler in hindsight than in foresight.

This got me thinking. There must be hundreds of equally elegant / beautiful quotes of famous physicists out there. I'm sure almost everyone has a favourite. So, the question, quite simply, is this: what is your favourite famous-physicist quote, and why??

NB/ For another couple of very interesting list-type questions see: Common false beliefs in Physics and/or Great unsolved physics problems.

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this blatantly subjective? The other list questions you cite (as defense to keep this from being summarily closed) are fairly objective. $\endgroup$ – Nick T May 18 '11 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @ Nick: Well. Yes. I see your point, but that doesn't detract from it potentially becomming a very interesting thread. In it's defence, those other questions couldn't possibly have a universally prefered answer either; and they're not closed. I suppose it could have been phrased 'what's the best famous physicist quote, and why' but that would only differ in semantics.. ;) $\endgroup$ – qftme May 18 '11 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @qftme: Long (heh!) experience on Stack Overflow is the source of my loathing for Big Lists. As far as I can see they poison a Q&A, and "but these other questions were left open" complaints are part of why they are unsustainable. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten May 18 '11 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ For the record, Wittgenstein did not say this in real life. He said it in the (fictional) play Jumpers by Tom Stoppard. $\endgroup$ – Ted Bunn May 18 '11 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Ted Bunn: Oh well, I guess that's what happens when one quotes a quote that was already a quote etc. Chinese wispers effect. $\endgroup$ – qftme May 18 '11 at 18:07

I'm not sure if I may post my top 5 quotes, but surely my number one would be:

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. (Niels Bohr)

If I was allowed to add the other four, even though they are not all that insightful, I would say:

“Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it”. (Richard Feynman)

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." (Richard Feynman)

“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living”. (Henri Poincaré)

“It is not even wrong". (Wolfang Pauli, about a paper of a young physicist whose theory could not be falsified).


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