Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Niels Bohr, fully Neils Henrik David Bohr

Danish Physicist

"Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think."

"An independent reality in the ordinary physical sense can neither be ascribed to the phenomenon nor to the agencies of observation."

"The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth."

"No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical."

"We have been forced step by step to forgo a causal description of the behavior of individual atoms in space and time, and to reckon with a free choice on the part of nature between various possibilities."

"Truth dwells in the deeps."

"Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum mechanics cannot possibly have understood it."

"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field."

"Einstein, stop telling God what to do! "

"Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it."

"There are some things so serious you have to laugh at them."

"The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness."

"If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet."

"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."

"Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question."

"Technology has advanced more in the last thirty years than in the previous two thousand. The exponential increase in advancement will only continue. Anthropological Commentary The opposite of a trivial truth is false; the opposite of a great truth is also true."

"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real."

"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress."

"It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how Nature is. Physics concerns what we say about Nature."

"There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true."

"When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images."

"Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself it’s own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it."

"The great extension of our experience in recent years has brought light to the insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions and, as a consequence, has shaken the foundation on which the customary interpretation of observation was based."

"The very nature of the quantum theory ... forces us to regard the space-time coordination and the claim of causality, the union of which characterizes the classical theories, as complementary but exclusive features of the description, symbolizing the idealization of observation and description, respectively."

"Isolated material particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems."

"What is it that we humans depend on? We depend on our words... Our task is to communicate experience and ideas to others. We must strive continually to extend the scope of our description, but in such a way that our messages do not thereby lose their objective or unambiguous character ... We are suspended in language in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down. The word "reality" is also a word, a word which we must learn to use correctly."

"There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."

"Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are."

"Physics is to be regarded not so much as the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods of ordering and surveying human experience. In this respect our task must be to account for such experience in a manner independent of individual subjective judgement and therefor objective in the sense that it can be unambiguously communicated in ordinary human language."

"For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory regarding the limited applicability of such customary idealizations, we must in fact turn to quite other branches of science, such as psychology, or even to that kind of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence."

"If we couldn't laugh at ourselves, that would be the end of everything. "

"Truth and clarity are complementary."

"The existence of life must be considered as an elementary fact that can not be explained, but must be taken as a starting point in biology, in a similar way as the quantum of action, which appears as an irrational element from the point of view of classical mechanical physics, taken together with the existence of elementary particles, forms the foundation of atomic physics. The asserted impossibility of a physical or chemical explanation of the function peculiar to life would in this sense be analogous to the insufficiency of the mechanical analysis for the understanding of the stability of atoms. "

"While astronomers expected the early history of the Milky Way was quite chaotic, most had believed that it since had been rather calm, ... But this turns out not to be true. Stars have been perturbed all the time throughout the Milky Way history."