Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Max Planck, fully Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck

German Physicist, Founder of Quantum Theory and Planck’s Constant, Nobel Prize in Physics

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

"Religion belongs to that realm that is inviolable before the law of causation and therefore closed to science."

"No burden is so heavy for a man to bear as a succession of happy days."

"The world faces us with the impossibility of knowing it directly ... It is a world whose nature cannot be comprehended by our human powers of mental conception."

"We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future."

"It is not the possession of truth, but the success which attends the seeking after it, that enriches the seeker and brings happiness to him."

"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness."

"Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve."

"Under these conditions it is no wonder, that the movement of atheists, which declares religion to be just a deliberate illusion, invented by power-seeking priests, and which has for the pious belief in a higher Power nothing but words of mockery, eagerly makes use of progressive scientific knowledge and in a presumed unity with it, expands in an ever faster pace its disintegrating action on all nations of the earth and on all social levels. I do not need to explain in any more detail that after its victory not only all the most precious treasures of our culture would vanish, but — which is even worse — also any prospects at a better future."

"Science progresses funeral by funeral."

"New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment."

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

"Both Religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view."

"There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls."

"An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer."

"Science enhances the moral value of life, because it furthers a love of truth and reverence—love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being."

"Hitherto the principle of causality was universally accepted as an indispensable postulate of scientific research, but now we are told by some physicists that it must be thrown overboard. The fact that such an extraordinary opinion should be expressed in responsible scientific quarters is widely taken to be significant of the all-round unreliability of human knowledge. This indeed is a very serious situation. "

"An indispensable hypothesis, even though still far from being a guarantee of success, is however the pursuit of a specific aim, whose lighted beacon, even by initial failures, is not betrayed. "

"Scientific discovery and scientific knowledge have been achieved only by those who have gone in pursuit of them without any practical purpose whatsoever in view. "

"The quantum hypothesis will eventually find its exact expression in certain equations which will be a more exact formulation of the law of causality. "

"The assumption of an absolute determinism is the essential foundation of every scientific enquiry. "

"The entire world we apprehend through our senses is no more than a tiny fragment in the vastness of Nature. "

"If E is considered to be a continuously divisible quantity, this distribution is possible in infinitely many ways. We consider, however—this is the most essential point of the whole calculation—E to be composed of a well-defined number of equal parts and use thereto the constant of nature h = 6.55 ×10-27 erg sec. This constant multiplied by the common frequency ? of the resonators gives us the energy element E in erg, and dividing E by E we get the number P of energy elements which must be divided over the N resonators. [Planck's constant, as introduced in 1900; subsequently written e = h? .] "

"The goal is nothing other than the coherence and completeness of the system not only in respect of all details, but also in respect of all physicists of all places, all times, all peoples, and all cultures. "

"The Theory of Relativity confers an absolute meaning on a magnitude which in classical theory has only a relative significance: the velocity of light. The velocity of light is to the Theory of Relativity as the elementary quantum of action is to the Quantum Theory: it is its absolute core. "

"Those [scientists] who dislike entertaining contradictory thoughts are unlikely to enrich their science with new ideas. "

"This is one of man's oldest riddles. How can the independence of human volition be harmonized with the fact that we are integral parts of a universe which is subject to the rigid order of nature's laws?"

"I would like – from a viewpoint of the scientist, raised in the spirit of exact natural sciences – to elucidate the question whether, and to what extent, an actually religious outlook is compatible with the knowledge furnished by natural sciences. Or more briefly: whether a man educated in natural science can be at the same time a genuine believer. To this effect we have to treat fully independently two specific questions. The first of them is: what requirements a religion poses on the belief of its followers and what are the tokens of real religiosity? The second question is: what kind of laws the natural science teaches us and what truths are untouchable (unantastbar) to it? By answering both questions we will be able to decide whether, and to what extent, the requirements (Forderungen) of religion are compatible with requirements of natural science and if therefore religion and natural science can stay side by side without contradicting each other. "

"We are in a position similar to that of a mountaineer who is wandering over uncharted spaces, and never knows whether behind the peak which he sees in front of him and which he tries to scale there may not be another peak still beyond and higher up. "

"Whence come I and whither go I? That is the great unfathomable question, the same for every one of us. Science has no answer to it."

"Ego is the immediate dictate of human consciousness."

"Religion represents a bond (Bindung) of man to god. It consists in reverent aw of supernatural might (Macht), to which human life is subordinated [?] and which has in its power (Gewalt) our wellfare and misery (Wohl und Wehe). To remain in permanent contact with this might and keep it all the time inclined to oneself, is the unending effort and the highest goal of believing man. Because only [?] in such a way can one feel himself safe before expected and unexpected dangers, which threaten one in his life, and can take part in the highest happiness – inner psychical peace – which can be attained only [?] by means of strong bond to god and unconditional trust to his omnipotence and willingness to help. As far as here the religion originates in the consciousness of individual man."

"Thus I define religion as the awareness – accompanied by the emotions and determined by them – of dependence from something, defined by the tradition, which at the given stage of cultural evolution of man exceeds his cognitive capabilities; this awareness then causes in man, under the action of emotions and tradition, volitive states leading to an endeavor to change somehow the supposed dependence or at least perform some influence on what the man of given cultural stage considers to be the cause of the dependence."

"The worship of god is thus symbolically manifested in a systematic summarization of mythological tradition (Überlieferung) and in obedience of solemn ritual habits ... The holiness (Heiligkeit) of incomprehensible deity is transferred to the holiness of comprehensible symbols ... A work of art has its meaning essentially in itself ... A religious symbol, on the contrary, points always above itself, its value is never exhausted in itself ... a winged angel was considered from ancient times to be the most beautiful symbol of god's servant and messenger. Nowadays we will find among anatomically educated believers some, which are prevented by their scientifically educated imagination from considering such physiological impossibility beautiful, despite their best efforts. This circumstance, however, does not cause the slightes harm to their religious attitudes ... But the overestimation of the importance of religious symbols is threatened still by another – much more serious – danger from the side of the movement of atheists (Gottlosenbewegung). One of the most favorite methods of this movement, aiming at undermining of every genuine religiosity, is to direct its attacks against traditional (alteingebürgerten) religious customs and ridiculing or dishonoring them as obsolete institutions. With such attacks against symbols they hope to hit the religion itself, and they have the easier task (Spiel) the stranger and more striking such views and customs look. Many a religious soul (religiöse Seele) has fallen pray to such a tactics. There is no better defense against such peril than to realize that religious symbol ... does never represent an abolute value but is always only a more or less imperfect reference to something higher which is not directly accessible to our senses."

"Having discovered what requirements religion and sciences put on our attitude to the uppermost questions of the world view, we are now going to investigate whether, and to what extent, those two kinds of requirements can be brought into mutual agreement. It is primarily evident that this investigation (Prüfung) can concern only such laws in which religion and sciences meet each other. There are namely many fields in which they do not have anything in common. For example, all questions of ethics are irrelevant for natural sciences, equally as the values of natural constants are of no meaning for the religion. The religion and science meet, on the contrary, in the question about the existence and essence of the supreme power (Macht) governing the world, and here the answers they both furnish, are at least to a certain extent mutually comparable. They are in no way, as we have seen, in contradiction (Widerspruch), but they agree in that firstly, there exists a reasonable world order (vernünftiger Weltordnung) independent from man and secondly, the essence of this order is never knowable directly, but only indirectly, or it can be only intuitively guessed. Religion uses to this effect its own specific (eigentümlichen) symbols, exact sciences use measurements based on sensual perceptions. In this sense nothing prevents us – and our instinct of knowledge, demanding a unified world view, even requires it – to identify the world order of natural sciences with the god of religion (Gott der Religion). According to this, the deity (die Gottheit), which believing man strives to approach using his visual symbols, is in its essence identical (wesensgleich) with the power of natural laws (naturgesetzlichen Macht), about which the researching man learns to a certain extent with the help of sensual experiences."

"But the value of religion exceeds the individual. Not only every man has its own religion but the religion requires its validity for larger community, for nation, race ... Since god reigns equally over all countries of the world, the whole world with all its treasures and horrors is subdued to him ... Therefore the cultivation (Pflege) of religion leads its confessors to an extensive bond and puts them before the task to acquaint (verständigen) themselves mutually about their belief and to give it a common expression. This is, however, attainable only by giving certain outer form to the contents of religion which fits by its illustrative power for this mutual acquaintance. Under the conditions of great diversity of nations and their living conditions it is only natural that those forms are largely different in indiviudal parts of the world and that therefore during the times a very great number of religions has appeared. All the religions have, however, a common natural assumption (nächstliegende Annahme), that god can be imagined as a person (Persönlichkeit), or at least as similar to man ... Every religion has its own mythology and its specific rite ... For formation of religious cult follow from this certain symbols which are suitable to influence imagination of wide circles of people (weiter Kreise im Volke), so that they awaken in them interests in religious questions and enabled them certain understanding of god. "

"We must, however, not deceive ourselves – this naive belief does not exist nowadays even among common people, and it cannot be revived by backwards oriented (rückwärts gerichtete) considerations and measures. Since to believe means to consider something true (fürwahrhalten), and the growing knowledge of the nature, proceeding forwards incessantly along incontestably reliable path, had led to the result that for a man educated at least slightly in natural sciences it is entirely (schlechterdings) impossible to consider as reliable many reports about extraordinary events contradicting natural laws, about miracles (Naturwunder) which used to be generally accepted as essential support and confirmation (Bekräftigung) of religious teachings and which people considered formerly as facts without critical examination (Bedenken). The one who takes his religion really seriously and cannot tolerate that it gets into contradiction with his knowledge (Wissen), is facing the question of conscience whether he can still honestly consider himself to be a member of religious community which in its confession (Bekenntnis) contains belief in miracles. For a certain period of time many a believer could find a kind of reconciliation in an effort to take the middle way and to restrict his belief to acceptance (Anerkennung) of few miracles, considered to be extremely important. However, such a position is not tenable for a long time. The belief in miracles must retreat step by step before relentlessly and reliably progressing science and we cannot doubt that sooner or later it must vanish completely (zu Ende gehen muss). "

"In this identification, however, we have to take into account also one essential difference. For a religious man the god is given immediately and primarily. In him, in his allmighty will, originates all life and all happenings in bodily as in spiritual life. Though he cannot be grasped by reason, he is, nevertheless, directly perceived through religious symbols and he puts his holy message in the souls of those who give up to him in faith [here Planck does not consider god to be a world order, since the latter, as far as I know, does not send any holy messages]. On the contrary, for a scientist, the only primarily given facts are the contents of his sensual perceptions and the measurements following from them. Scientists use the latter to approach, as close as possible, god and his world order, as the highest, eternally unattainable goal, with the help of inductive researches, [is this actually the sole goal of any scientist?]. If then, both religion and science, need for their activities the belief in god [does the science really need god – this is stated here for the first time, with no justification], the god stands for the former in the beginning, for the latter at the end of the whole thinking. For the former, god represents the basis, for the latter the crown of any reasoning concerning the world view. This difference corresponds to different roles played in human life by religion and science. Science needs man for gaining knowledge, religion, however, needs him for action [aha, and I had no idea at all till now, what is the religion good for!] ... Since we find ourselves amidst life and must ... frequently make instant decisions, ... in which we are not helped by long deliberation but only by a safe and clear guidance (Weisung), which we will gain from immediate contact with god [here again god cannot be identical with the world order, because the latter does not provide anyone with quick guidance] ... and if besides omnipotence and omniscience we ascribe god [we really can ascribe god anything at will?] also the attributes of good and love [I thought all the time that god has properties independent of us, but here I see that they are given him by people], then resorting to him (Zuflucht zu ihm) guarantees a man, who is in search for consolation, higher measure of reliable feeling of happiness. One cannot object anything against such an idea from the standpoint of science, since the questions of ethics, as we have already emphasized, do not belong at all to its competence."

"Religion and science wage together an incessantly continuing, never slackening fight against skepticism and dogmatism, against disbelief (Unglaube) and superstition (Aberglaube) and the guiding slogan in this fight is from times immemorial and into the whole future: Up to God! (Hin zu Gott)"

"But even if the radiation formula should prove to be absolutely accurate it would after all be only an interpolation formula found by happy guesswork, and would thus leave one rather unsatisfied. I was, therefore, from the day of its origination, occupied with the task of giving it a real physical meaning."

"Thus, the photons which constitute a ray of light behave like intelligent human beings: out of all possible curves they always select the one which will take them most quickly to their goal."

"The pioneer scientist must have "a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination."

"Science...means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an end which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but which the intellect can never fully grasp."

"Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with."

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."