John Archibald Wheeler quotes

(9 Jul 1911 – 13 Apr 2008)
American physicist. He coined the terms black hole and wormhole.
To Wheeler’s comment, If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day, a student responded, I can’t believe that space is that crummy. Wheeler replied: To disagree leads to study, to study leads to understanding, to understand is to appreciate, to appreciate is to love. So maybe I’ll end up loving your theory.
A black hole has no hair.
[Summarizing the simplicity of a black hole, which shows only three characteristics to the outside world (mass, charge, spin) and comparing the situation to a room full of bald-pated people who had one characteristic in common, but no differences in hair length, style or color for individual variations.]
I always keep two legs going, with one trying to reach ahead.
If there’s one thing in physics I feel more responsible for than any other, it’s this perception of how everything fits together. I like to think of myself as having a sense of judgment. I’m willing to go anywhere, talk to anybody, ask any question that will make headway. I confess to being an optimist about things, especially about someday being able to understand how things are put together. So many young people are forced to specialize in one line or another that a young person can’t afford to try and cover this waterfront — only an old fogy who can afford to make a fool of himself. If I don’t, who will?
If this is what the McCarran Act means in practice, it seems to us a form of organized cultural suicide.
In a letter co-signed with his Princeton University physics professor colleagues, Walker Bleakney and Milton G. White, protesting that Nobel Prize-winning, Cambridge professor, Dirac having been invited for a year’s visit to Princeton, had been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department under section 212A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (McCarran Act). Quoting a report in Physics Today, this regulation includes ‘categories of undesireables ranging from vagrants to stowaways.’ The real reason remains unclear, but was perhaps related to Dirac’s prior science-related visits to Russia. Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance had recently been revoked, and this was the era of McCarthy’s rabid anti-Communism hearings. ‘Letters to the Times: Denial of Visa to Physicist Seen as Loss to American Science’. New York Times (3 Jun 1954), 26.
In any field find the strangest thing and then explore it.
In the fall of 1967, [I was invited] to a conference … on pulsars. … In my talk, I argued that we should consider the possibility that the center of a pulsar is a gravitationally completely collapsed object. I remarked that one couldn’t keep saying ‘gravitationally completely collapsed object’ over and over. One needed a shorter descriptive phrase. ‘How about black hole?’ asked someone in the audience. I had been searching for the right term for months, mulling it over in bed, in the bathtub, in my car, whenever I had quiet moments. Suddenly this name seemed exactly right. When I gave a more formal Sigma Xi-Phi Beta Kappa lecture … on December 29, 1967, I used the term, and then included it in the written version of the lecture published in the spring of 1968. (As it turned out, a pulsar is powered by ‘merely’ a neutron star, not a black hole.)
[Although John Wheeler is often identified as coining the term ‘black hole’, he in fact merely popularized the expression. In his own words, this is his explanation of the true origin: a suggestion from an unidentified person in a conference audience.]
Individual events. Events beyond law. Events so numerous and so uncoordinated that, flaunting their freedom from formula, they yet fabricate firm form.
Is the very mechanism for the universe to come into being meaningless or unworkable or both unless the universe is guaranteed to produce life, consciousness and observership somewhere and for some little time in its history-to-be?
***my favourite:***
The universe does not exist ‘out there,’ independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators. In some strange sense, this is a participatory universe. Physics is no longer satisfied with insights only into particles, fields of force, into geometry, or even into time and space. Today we demand of physics some understanding of existence itself.
There is no law except the law that there is no law.
There is nothing in the world except empty curved space. Matter, charge, electromagnetism, and other fields are only manifestations of the curvature of space.
Time is defined so that motion looks simple.
We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.
You can talk about people like Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Confucius, but the thing that convinced me that such people existed were the conversations with Bohr.
[The black hole] teaches us that space can be crumpled like a piece of paper into an infinitesimal dot, that time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame, and that the laws of physics that we regard as ‘sacred,’ as immutable, are anything but.
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