Yeah, I’m finding it more and more interesting when physicists indicate their own puzzlement and wonder. Also, the blunders in the history of science.

(The quotes in this Wiki article on QM are interesting as well.)

Neil deGrasse Tyson 3-1-2012: “That within one linear centimeter of your lower colon there lives and works more bacteria (about 100 billion) than all humans who have ever been born. Yet many people continue to assert that it is we who are in charge of the world.” [Cf. “Can Microbes Encourage Altruism?“]

My quote (3-1-2017): “Nature has no square waves.” [Is this true? Has someone said this before?]

A lesson learned at Hughes: “Good ideas communicated poorly are indistinguishable from bad ideas.”

“Learn of the green world what can be thy place.” — Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” — Native American Proverb.

“But in fact intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment of questions together with both of the alternatives they assume — an abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them: we get over them.” — John Dewey, The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy, p.19.

“Our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found the Law of Gravitation all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.” — Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law

Sean Carroll, Quantum Field Theory and the Limits of Knowledge


Richard Feynman, one of the originators and early developers of the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED), referred to the fine-structure constant in these terms:

There is a most profound and beautiful question associated with the observed coupling constant, e – the amplitude for a real electron to emit or absorb a real photon. It is a simple number that has been experimentally determined to be close to 0.08542455. (My physicist friends won’t recognize this number, because they like to remember it as the inverse of its square: about 137.03597 with about an uncertainty of about 2 in the last decimal place. It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it.) Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the “hand of God” wrote that number, and “we don’t know how He pushed his pencil.” We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don’t know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!
— Richard Feynman, Richard P. Feynman (1985). QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Princeton University Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-691-08388-6.


Some luminaries in science made really bogus predictions about atomic physics. Lord Kelvin has been quoted as saying of the “vortex nature of atoms” that “It is only a dream.” He required a physical model: “I never satisfy myself until I can make a mechanical model of a thing. If I can make a mechanical model I can understand it.” (See http://zapatopi.net/kelvin/quotes/)

Ernest Rutherford has been quoted as saying: “If you can’t explain your physics to a barmaid, it is probably not very good physics.” (See http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/scientists/ernestrutherford.html) But also that “… any one who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine …” (See http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/neverwrk.htm)

[2-18-2014] Well, then I noticed the series “Beyond the Wormhole” on TV. I mostly watched episodes in the evening when I was tired and / or distracted. Recently, after watching Episode 6 of Season 2 for the third time, I connected with the piece about physicist Yves Couder and his vibrating tray of silicone oil and spooky silicon droplet. Intriguing. Just what Lord Kelvin might want to satisfy his need for a mechanical model, eh.