Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Willard Gibbs, fully Josiah Willard Gibbs

American Mathematical Physicist who made important theoretical contributions to physics, chemistry, and mathematics

"The whole is simpler than the sum of its parts."

"A mathematician may say anything he pleases, but a physicist must be at least partially sane."

"Anyone having these desires will make these researches."

"His true monument lies not on the shelves of libraries, but in the thoughts of men, and in the history of more than one science."

"I wish to know systems."

"I only wish to add that the road taken by Gibbs in his book [Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics], which consists in one’s starting directly from the canonical ensemble, is in my opinion preferable to the road I took. Had I been familiar with Gibbs’ book at that time, I would not have published all those papers at all, but would have limited myself to the discussion of just a few points."

"I had no sense of the value of time, of my own or others, when I wrote it."

"If I have had any success in mathematical physics, it is, I think, because I have been able to dodge mathematical difficulties."

"In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges."

"Just now I am trying to get ready for publication something on thermodynamics from the a priori point of view, or rather on 'statistical mechanics' . . . I do not know that I shall have anything particularly new in substance, but shall be contented if I can so choose my standpoint (as seems to me possible) as to get a simpler view of the subject."

"Mathematics is a language."

"The laws of thermodynamics, as empirically determined, express the approximate and probable behavior of systems of a great number of particles, or, more precisely, they express the laws of mechanics for such systems as they appear to beings who have not the fineness of perception to enable them to appreciate quantities of the order of magnitude of those which relate to single particles, and who cannot repeat their experiments often enough to obtain any but the most probable results."

"One of the principal objects of theoretical research in my department of knowledge is to find the point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest simplicity."

"We avoid the gravest difficulties when, giving up the attempt to frame hypotheses concerning the constitution of matter, we pursue statistical inquiries as a branch of rational mechanics."