Paul Dirac, fully Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac

Paul
Dirac, fully Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac
1902
1984

English Theoretical Physicist, shared Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger, formulated Dirac Equation which described behavior of fermions predicting the existence of antimatter

Author Quotes

When we make the photon meet a tourmaline crystal, we are subjecting it to an observation. We are observing whether it is polarized parallel or perpendicular to the optic axis. The effect of making the observation is to force the photon entirely into the state of perpendicular polarization. It has to make a sudden jump from being partly in each of these two states to being entirely in one or other of them. Which of the two states it will jump into cannot be predicted, but is governed only by probability laws. If it jumps into the perpendicular state it passes through the crystal and appears on the other side preserving this state of polarization.

When an observation is made on any atomic system that has been prepared in a given way and is thus in a given state, the result will not in general be determinate, i.e. if the experiment is repeated several times under identical conditions several different results may be obtained. If the experiment is repeated a large number of times it will be found that each particular result will be obtained a definite fraction of the total number of times, so that one can say there is a definite probability of its being obtained any time that the experiment is performed. This probability the theory enables one to calculate.

Well, in the first place, it leads to great anxiety as to whether it's going to be correct or not… I expect that's the dominating feeling. It gets to be rather a fever.

This statistical interpretation is now universally accepted as the best possible interpretation for quantum mechanics (quantum theory), even though many people are unhappy with it. People had got used to the determinism of the last century, where the present determines the future completely, and they now have to get used to a different situation in which the present only gives one information of a statistical nature about the future.

There is in my opinion a great similarity between the problems provided by the mysterious behavior of the atom and those provided by the present economic paradoxes confronting the world.

There are, at present, fundamental problems in theoretical physics… the solution of which… will presumably require a more drastic revision of our fundamental concepts than any that have gone before. Quite likely, these changes will be so great that it will be beyond the power of human intelligence to get the necessary new ideas by direct attempts to formulate the experimental data in mathematical terms. The theoretical worker in the future will, therefore, have to proceed in a more direct way. The most powerful method of advance that can be suggested at present is to employ all the resources of pure mathematics in attempts to perfect and generalize the mathematical formalism that forms the existing basis of theoretical physics, and after each success in this direction, to try to interpret the new mathematical features in terms of physical entities.

Theoretical physicists accept the need for mathematical beauty as an act of faith... For example, the main reason why the theory of relativity is so universally accepted is its mathematical beauty.

The underlying physical laws necessary for the mathematical theory of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty is only that the exact application of these laws leads to equations much too complicated to be soluble. It therefore becomes desirable that approximate practical methods of applying quantum mechanics should be developed, which can lead to an explanation of the main features of complex atomic systems without too much computation.

The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics which get continually more advanced. ... It was expected that mathematics would get more and more complicated, but would rest on a permanent basis of axioms and definitions, while actually the modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundation and gets more abstract. Non-Euclidean geometry and non-commutative algebra, which were at one time were considered to be purely fictions of the mind and pastimes of logical thinkers, have now been found to be very necessary for the description of general facts of the physical world. It seems likely that this process of increasing abstraction will continue in the future and the advance in physics is to be associated with continual modification and generalization of the axioms at the base of mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation.

The research worker, in his efforts to express the fundamental laws of Nature in mathematical form, should strive mainly for mathematical beauty. He should take simplicity into consideration in a subordinate way to beauty... It often happens that the requirements of simplicity and beauty are the same, but where they clash, the latter must take precedence.

The methods of theoretical physics should be applicable to all those branches of thought in which the essential features are expressible with numbers.

The mathematician plays a game in which he himself invents the rules while the physicist plays a game in which the rules are provided by nature, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly evident that the rules which the mathematician finds interesting are the same as those which nature has chosen.

The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.

Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star.

People were pretty well spellbound by what Bohr said… While I was very much impressed by [him], his arguments were mainly of a qualitative nature, and I was not able to really pinpoint the facts behind them. What I wanted was statements which could be expressed in terms of equations, and Bohr's work very seldom provided such statements. I am really not sure how much later my work was influenced by these lectures of Bohr's... He certainly did not have a direct influence because he did not stimulate one to think of new equations.

One possibility in this direction is to regard, classically, an electron as the end of a single Faraday line of force. The electric field in this picture from discrete Faraday lines of force, which are to be treated as physical things, like strings. One has then to develop a dynamics for such a string like structure, and quantize it... In such a theory a bare electron would be inconceivable, since one cannot imagine the end of a piece of string without having the string.

One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better.

Mathematics is the tool specifically suited for dealing with abstract concepts of any kind and there is no limit to its power in this field.

Just by studying mathematics we can hope to make a guess at the kind of mathematics that will come into the physics of the future. A good many people are working on the mathematical basis of quantum theory, trying to understand the theory better and to make it more powerful and more beautiful. If someone can hit on the right lines along which to make this development, it may lead to a future advance in which people will first discover the equations and then, after examining them, gradually learn how to apply them.

Just because the results happen to be in agreement with observation does not prove that one's theory is correct.

It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.

It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one's equations, and if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress.

It seems clear that the present quantum mechanics is not in its final form. Some further changes will be needed, just about as drastic as the changes made in passing from Bohr's orbit theory to quantum mechanics. Someday a new quantum mechanics, a relativistic one, will be discovered, in which we will not have these infinities occurring at all. It might very well be that the new quantum mechanics will have determinism in the way that Einstein wanted.

It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment... It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one's equations, and if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress. If there is not complete agreement between the results of one's work and experiment, one should not allow oneself to be too discouraged, because the discrepancy may well be due to minor features that are not properly taken into account and that will get cleared up with further developments of the theory.

If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand. Again and again, when I have been at a loss how to proceed, I have just had to wait until I have felt the mathematics lead me by the hand. It has lead me along an unexpected path, a path where new vistas open up, a path leading to new territory, where one can set up a base of operations, from which one can survey the surroundings and plan future progress.

Author Picture
First Name
Paul
Last Name
Dirac, fully Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac
Birth Date
1902
Death Date
1984
Bio

English Theoretical Physicist, shared Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger, formulated Dirac Equation which described behavior of fermions predicting the existence of antimatter