Robert Oppenheimer, fully Julius Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer, fully Julius Robert Oppenheimer

American Theoretical Physicist, Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley, called "the father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project

Author Quotes

The history of science is rich in the example of the fruitfulness of bringing two sets of techniques, two sets of ideas, developed in separate contexts for the pursuit of new truth, into touch with one another.

When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.

The juxtaposition of Western civilization's most terrifying scientific achievement with the most dazzling description of the mystical experience given to us by the Bhagavad Gita, India's greatest literary monument.

You can certainly destroy enough of humanity so that only the greatest act of faith can persuade you that what's left will be human.

The most beautiful philosophical song existing in any known tongue.

The reason Dick's [Richard Feynman] physics was so hard for ordinary people to grasp was that he did not use equations. The usual theoretical physics was done since the time of Newton was to begin by writing down some equations and then to work hard calculating solutions of the equations. This was the way Hans [Bethe] and Oppy [Oppenheimer] and Julian Schwinger did physics. Dick just wrote down the solutions out of his head without ever writing down the equations. He had a physical picture of the way things happen, and the picture gave him the solutions directly with a minimum of calculation. It was no wonder that people who had spent their lives solving equations were baffled by him. Their minds were analytical; his was pictorial.

There are 60 sub-atomic particles they've discovered that can explain the thousands of other sub-atomic particles, and the model is too ugly. This is my analogy: it's like taking Scotch tape and taping a giraffe to a mule to a whale to a tiger and saying this is the ultimate theory of particles. ... We have so many particles that Oppenheimer once said you could give a Nobel Prize to the physicist that did not discover a particle that year. We were drowning in sub-atomic particles. Now we realize that this whole zoo of sub-atomic particles, thousands of them coming out of our accelerators, can be explained by little vibrating strings.

There are no secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men.

There is something irreversible about acquiring knowledge; and the simulation of the search for it differs in a most profound way from the reality.

This had to be the most fascinating, to say nothing about being the most historic, speech I?ve ever heard. Apart from those who were there that night, I don?t recall ever meeting anyone who had ever heard of it. There?s an explanation for this that I won?t bother to go into here because that?s not what I?m writing about. That?s a matter for a good investigative reporter with an historic bent to go into, and maybe get himself a Pulitzer award.

This is a world in which each of us, knowing his limitations, knowing the evils of superficiality and the terrors of fatigue, will have to cling to what is close to him, to what he knows, to what he can do. . .

It was evening when we came to the river with a low moon over the desert that we had lost in the mountains, forgotten, what with the cold and the sweating and the ranges barring the sky. And when we found it again, in the dry hills down by the river, half withered, we had the hot winds against us. There were two palms by the landing; the yuccas were flowering; there was a light on the far shore, and tamarisks. We waited a long time, in silence. Then we heard the oars creaking and afterwards, I remember, the boatman called us. We did not look back at the mountains.

Today, it is not only that our kings do not know mathematics, but our philosophers do not know mathematics and -- to go a step further -- our mathematicians do not know mathematics.

It worked. [said after witnessing the first atomic detonation]

Truth, not a pet, is man's best friend.

It's not that I don't feel bad about it. It's just that I don't feel worse today than what I felt yesterday.

We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.

Now we're all sons-of-bitches. [Remark to Robert Oppenheimer immediately after the first atom bomb test explosion]

We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it.

Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

The custom for these colloquia was that Oppenheimer, a very punctual guy, would walk out on stage from one of the wings, make a few general remarks in his own quiet way, and then introduce the speaker. Not this time. He arrived very late and entered the theater from the rear, strode down the aisle while all of us rose and cheered him, stomped our feet and in general behaved like a pack of bloodthirsty savages welcoming back their conquering warriors, who were displaying the heads or genitals, or both, of the conquered.

We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.

The great testimony of history shows how often in fact the development of science has emerged in response to technological and even economic needs, and how in the economy of social effort, science, even of the most abstract and recondite kind, pays for itself again and again in providing the basis for radically new technological developments. In fact, most people?when they think of science as a good thing, when they think of it as worthy of encouragement, when they are willing to see their governments spend substance upon it, when they greatly do honor to men who in science have attained some eminence-have in mind that the conditions of their life have been altered just by such technology, of which they may be reluctant to be deprived.

When we deny the EVIL within ourselves, we dehumanize ourselves, and we deprive ourselves not only of our own destiny but of any possibility of dealing with the EVIL of others.

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American Theoretical Physicist, Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley, called "the father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project