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Niels Bohr Quotes

Quotes by physicist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr


Quantum physicist Niels Bohr was one of the major figures in the early development of quantum physics, having laid the groundwork for the basic understanding of the atomic structure (i.e. the Bohr model of the atom). He received a Nobel Prize for this work in 1922, just a year after Albert Einstein received his.

It was through the process of a prolonged, spirited debate with Einstein about the finer points of quantum physics that Bohr, and others, refined some of their most important and memorable work in inspiring a century of thinking about quantum physics, as reflected in several of the quotes below.

If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you ...

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I've found two two closely-related quotes on this subject which are attributed to Bohr:
  • If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet.
  • If anybody says he can think about quantum physics without getting giddy, that only shows he has not understood the first thing about them.

Einstein, stop telling God what to do!

This quote is in response to Albert Einstein's famous quote attacking quantum physics, wherein he said that "God does not play dice with the universe." Physicist Enrico Fermi is also reputed to have made a similar statement. Given how well known Einstein's criticisms of quantum theory were, it's possible that both physicists independently made the same sort of response. Or, alternately, the response was made once and has been mis-attributed somewhere in the retelling of the tale. At this point, it's doubtful we'll ever know for certain.

Your theory is crazy ...

Again, I've got two variations of this particular one and continue to verify their authenticity. There's a good chance that one of them is a misquotation of the other:
  • We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.
  • Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true.

It is wrong to think that the task of physics is ...

It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how Nature is. Physics concerns what we say about Nature.

A physicist is just an atom's way of looking at itself.

How wonderful that we have met with a paradox....

How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.

Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.

This quote has been attributed to many people aside from Bohr, so its authenticity is in dispute. It was attributed to Bohr in Arthur K. Ellis' 1970 book Teaching and Learning Elementary Social Studies.

There are some things so serious you have to laugh at them.

An expert is ...

I found two similar quotes in this vein, and am investigating their authenticity. Presumably one is a mis-quote of the other:

  • An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.
  • An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes, which can be made, in a very narrow field.

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