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Relativity Quotes (33 quotes)


Asked in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood the theory of general relativity, [Eddington] allegedly replied: “Who's the third?”
As described in Brian Stableford, Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia (2006), 150.
Science quotes on:  |  Understanding (231)

But no Anglo-Saxon can understand relativity.
Said at a dinner in 1910, teasing Ernest Rutherford, who replied, 'No, they have too much sense.'
Quoted in Richard Reeves, A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford (2007), 66.
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By an application of the theory of relativity to the taste of readers, today in Germany I am called a German man of science, and in England I am represented as a Swiss Jew. If I come to be regarded as a bête noire the descriptions will be reversed, and I shall become a Swiss Jew for the Germans and a German man of science for the English!
Times (28 Nov 1919). In Robert Andrews Famous Lines: a Columbia Dictionary of Familiar Quotations (1997), 414. Variations of this quote were made by Einstein on other occasions.
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By far the most important consequence of the conceptual revolution brought about in physics by relativity and quantum theory lies not in such details as that meter sticks shorten when they move or that simultaneous position and momentum have no meaning, but in the insight that we had not been using our minds properly and that it is important to find out how to do so.
'Quo Vadis'. In Gerald Holton (ed.), Science and the Modern Mind (1971), 84.
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Each ray of light moves in the coordinate system 'at rest' with the definite, constant velocity V independent of whether this ray of light is emitted by a body at rest or a body in motion.
Annalen der Physik, 1905, 17, 891-921. Trans. John Stachel et al (eds.), The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 2, (1989), Doc. 23, 143.
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Einstein, my upset stomach hates your theory [of General Relativity]—it almost hates you yourself! How am I to' provide for my students? What am I to answer to the philosophers?!!
Letter to Albert Einstein, 20 Nov 1919. In Martin J. Klein, Paul Ehrenfest: The Making of a Theoretical Physicist (1970), Vol. 1, 315.
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Evolution ... is really two theories, the vague theory and the precise theory. The vague theory has been abundantly proved.... The precise theory has never been proved at all. However, like relativity, it is accepted on faith.... On getting down to actual details, difficulties begin.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 101 & 103.
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Genuine religion has its root deep down in the heart of humanity and in the reality of things. It is not surprising that by our methods we fail to grasp it: the actions of the Deity make no appeal to any special sense, only a universal appeal; and our methods are, as we know, incompetent to detect complete uniformity. There is a principle of Relativity here, and unless we encounter flaw or jar or change, nothing in us responds; we are deaf and blind therefore to the Immanent Grandeur, unless we have insight enough to recognise in the woven fabric of existence, flowing steadily from the loom in an infinite progress towards perfection, the ever-growing garment of a transcendent God.
Continuity: The Presidential Address to the British Association (1913), 92-93.
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I like relativity and quantum theories
because I don't understand them
and they make me feel as if space shifted about
like a swan that
can't settle,
refusing to sit still and be measured;
and as if the atom were an impulsive thing
always changing its mind.
'Relativity', David Herbert Lawrence, The Works of D.H. Lawrence (1994), 437.
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I think a strong claim can be made that the process of scientific discovery may be regarded as a form of art. This is best seen in the theoretical aspects of Physical Science. The mathematical theorist builds up on certain assumptions and according to well understood logical rules, step by step, a stately edifice, while his imaginative power brings out clearly the hidden relations between its parts. A well constructed theory is in some respects undoubtedly an artistic production. A fine example is the famous Kinetic Theory of Maxwell. ... The theory of relativity by Einstein, quite apart from any question of its validity, cannot but be regarded as a magnificent work of art.
Responding to the toast, 'Science!' at the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1932.)
Quoted in Lawrence Badash, 'Ernest Rutherford and Theoretical Physics,' in Robert Kargon and Peter Achinstein (eds.) Kelvin's Baltimore Lectures and Modern Theoretical Physics: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (1987), 352.
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If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say I am a German and Germany will declare I am a Jew.
Quoted in Alice Calaprice, The Quotable Einstein (1996), 8.
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If the 'Principle of Relativity' in an extreme sense establishes itself, it seems as if even Time would become discontinuous and be supplied in atoms, as money is doled out in pence or centimes instead of continuously;—in which case our customary existence will turn out to be no more really continuous than the events on a kinematograph screen;—while that great agent of continuity, the Ether of Space, will be relegated to the museum of historical curiosities.
Continuity: The Presidential Address to the British Association (1913), 40-41.
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If we consider that part of the theory of relativity which may nowadays in a sense be regarded as bone fide scientific knowledge, we note two aspects which have a major bearing on this theory. The whole development of the theory turns on the question of whether there are physically preferred states of motion in Nature (physical relativity problem). Also, concepts and distinctions are only admissible to the extent that observable facts can be assigned to them without ambiguity (stipulation that concepts and distinctions should have meaning). This postulate, pertaining to epistemology, proves to be of fundamental importance.
'Fundamental ideas and problems of the theory of relativity', Lecture delivered to the Nordic Assembly of Naturalists at Gothenburg, 11 Jul 1923. In Nobel Physics 1901-1921 (1998), 482.
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In the history of physics, there have been three great revolutions in thought that first seemed absurd yet proved to be true. The first proposed that the earth, instead of being stationary, was moving around at a great and variable speed in a universe that is much bigger than it appears to our immediate perception. That proposal, I believe, was first made by Aristarchos two millenia ago ... Remarkably enough, the name Aristarchos in Greek means best beginning.
[The next two revolutions occurred ... in the early part of the twentieth century: the theory of relativity and the science of quantum mechanics...]
Edward Teller with Judith L. Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001), 562.
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It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atom bomb, and then puts its hands over its eye and says, 'My God what have I done?
The Stalin in Soul (1973). Quoted in Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations (2005), 322.
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Our ultimate analysis of space leads us not to a “here” and a “there,” but to an extension such as that which relates “here” and “there.” To put the conclusion rather crudely—space is not a lot of points close together; it is a lot of distances interlocked.
The Mathematical Theory of Relativity (1923), 10.
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Relativity was a highly technical new theory that gave new meanings to familiar concepts and even to the nature of the theory itself. The general public looked upon relativity as indicative of the seemingly incomprehensible modern era, educated scientists despaired of ever understanding what Einstein had done, and political ideologues used the new theory to exploit public fears and anxieties—all of which opened a rift between science and the broader culture that continues to expand today.
'The Cultural Legacy of Relativity Theory' in Albert Einstein, Robert W. Lawson, Robert Geroch, Roger Penrose and David C. Cassidy, Relativity (2005), 226.
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Relativity
There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.
Published without attribution in Punch (19 Dec 1923), 165, 591. He was later identified as the author, based his claim to have written it, in a letter to The Observer (1937).
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Scientists, therefore, are responsible for their research, not only intellectually but also morally. This responsibility has become an important issue in many of today's sciences, but especially so in physics, in which the results of quantum mechanics and relativity theory have opened up two very different paths for physicists to pursue. They may lead us - to put it in extreme terms - to the Buddha or to the Bomb, and it is up to each of us to decide which path to take.
The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture (1983), 87.
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The generalized theory of relativity has furnished still more remarkable results. This considers not only uniform but also accelerated motion. In particular, it is based on the impossibility of distinguishing an acceleration from the gravitation or other force which produces it. Three consequences of the theory may be mentioned of which two have been confirmed while the third is still on trial: (1) It gives a correct explanation of the residual motion of forty-three seconds of arc per century of the perihelion of Mercury. (2) It predicts the deviation which a ray of light from a star should experience on passing near a large gravitating body, the sun, namely, 1".7. On Newton's corpuscular theory this should be only half as great. As a result of the measurements of the photographs of the eclipse of 1921 the number found was much nearer to the prediction of Einstein, and was inversely proportional to the distance from the center of the sun, in further confirmation of the theory. (3) The theory predicts a displacement of the solar spectral lines, and it seems that this prediction is also verified.
Studies in Optics (1927), 160-1.
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The importance of C.F. Gauss for the development of modern physical theory and especially for the mathematical fundament of the theory of relativity is overwhelming indeed; also his achievement of the system of absolute measurement in the field of electromagnetism. In my opinion it is impossible to achieve a coherent objective picture of the world on the basis of concepts which are taken more or less from inner psychological experience.
Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 350.
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The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence) might well have thought that, at [Dayton C.] Miller's announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a “positive effect” [indicating that the speed of light is not independent from the motion of the observer, as Einstein's theory of relativity demands] in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller's results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong.
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958, 1998), 13. Miller had earlier presented his evidence against the validity of the relativity theory at the annual meeting, 28 Apr 1925, of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller believed he had, by a much-refined and improved repetition of the so-called Michelson-Morley experiment, shown that there is a definite and measurable motion of the earth through the ether. In 1955, a paper by R.S. Shankland, et al., in Rev. Modern Phys. (1955), 27, 167, concluded that statistical fluctuations and temperature effects in the data had simulated what Miller had taken to be he apparent ether drift.
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The present theory of relativity is based on a division of physical reality into a metric field (gravitation) on the one hand and into an electromagnetic field and matter on the other hand. In reality space will probably be of a uniform character and the present theory will be valid only as a limiting case. For large densities of field and of matter, the field equations and even the field variables which enter into them will have no real significance. One may not therefore assume the validity of the equations for very high density of field and matter, and one may not conclude that the 'beginning of the expansion' must mean a singularity in the mathematical sense. All we have to realise is that the equations may not be continued over such regions.
In O. Nathan and H. Norden (eds.), Einstein on Peace (1960), 640.

The rigid electron is in my view a monster in relation to Maxwell's equations, whose innermost harmony is the principle of relativity... the rigid electron is no working hypothesis, but a working hindrance. Approaching Maxwell's equations with the concept of the rigid electron seems to me the same thing as going to a concert with your ears stopped up with cotton wool. We must admire the courage and the power of the school of the rigid electron which leaps across the widest mathematical hurdles with fabulous hypotheses, with the hope to land safely over there on experimental-physical ground.
In Arthur I. Miller, Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1981), 350.
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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.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 47.
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The velocity of light is one of the most important of the fundamental constants of Nature. Its measurement by Foucault and Fizeau gave as the result a speed greater in air than in water, thus deciding in favor of the undulatory and against the corpuscular theory. Again, the comparison of the electrostatic and the electromagnetic units gives as an experimental result a value remarkably close to the velocity of light–a result which justified Maxwell in concluding that light is the propagation of an electromagnetic disturbance. Finally, the principle of relativity gives the velocity of light a still greater importance, since one of its fundamental postulates is the constancy of this velocity under all possible conditions.
Studies in Optics (1927), 120.
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There is another approach to the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFO origins. This assessment depends on a large number of factors about which we know little, and a few about which we know literally nothing. I want to make some crude numerical estimate of the probability that we are frequently visited by extraterrestrial beings.
Now, there is a range of hypotheses that can be examined in such a way. Let me give a simple example: Consider the Santa Claus hypothesis, which maintains that, in a period of eight hours or so on December 24-25 of each year, an outsized elf visits one hundred million homes in the United States. This is an interesting and widely discussed hypothesis. Some strong emotions ride on it, and it is argued that at least it does no harm.
We can do some calculations. Suppose that the elf in question spends one second per house. This isn't quite the usual picture—“Ho, Ho, Ho,” and so on—but imagine that he is terribly efficient and very speedy; that would explain why nobody ever sees him very much-only one second per house, after all. With a hundred million houses he has to spend three years just filling stockings. I have assumed he spends no time at all in going from house to house. Even with relativistic reindeer, the time spent in a hundred million houses is three years and not eight hours. This is an example of hypothesis-testing independent of reindeer propulsion mechanisms or debates on the origins of elves. We examine the hypothesis itself, making very straightforward assumptions, and derive a result inconsistent with the hypothesis by many orders of magnitude. We would then suggest that the hypothesis is untenable.
We can make a similar examination, but with greater uncertainty, of the extraterrestrial hypothesis that holds that a wide range of UFOs viewed on the planet Earth are space vehicles from planets of other stars.
The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), 200.
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To her friends said the Bright one in chatter,
“I have learned something new about matter:
My speed was so great,
Much increased was my weight,
Yet I failed to become any fatter!”
Collected in Baring-Gould, The Lure of the Limerick: An Uninhibited History (1967), 6. As cited in John de Pillis, 777 Mathematical Conversation Starters, 277.
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Today scientists describe the universe in terms of two basic partial theories—the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. They are the great intellectual achievements of the first half of this century. The general theory of relativity describes the force of gravity and the large-scale structure of the universe, that is, the structure on scales from only a few miles to as large as a million million million million (1 with twenty-four zeros after it) miles, the size of the observable universe. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, deals with phenomena on extremely small scales, such as a millionth of a millionth of an inch. Unfortunately, however, these two theories are known to be inconsistent with each other—they cannot both be correct.
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 11-2.
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What has been learned in physics stays learned. People talk about scientific revolutions. The social and political connotations of revolution evoke a picture of a body of doctrine being rejected, to be replaced by another equally vulnerable to refutation. It is not like that at all. The history of physics has seen profound changes indeed in the way that physicists have thought about fundamental questions. But each change was a widening of vision, an accession of insight and understanding. The introduction, one might say the recognition, by man (led by Einstein) of relativity in the first decade of this century and the formulation of quantum mechanics in the third decade are such landmarks. The only intellectual casualty attending the discovery of quantum mechanics was the unmourned demise of the patchwork quantum theory with which certain experimental facts had been stubbornly refusing to agree. As a scientist, or as any thinking person with curiosity about the basic workings of nature, the reaction to quantum mechanics would have to be: “Ah! So that’s the way it really is!” There is no good analogy to the advent of quantum mechanics, but if a political-social analogy is to be made, it is not a revolution but the discovery of the New World.
From Physics Survey Committee, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 'The Nature of Physics', in report Physics in Perspective (1973), 61-62. As cited in I. Bernard Cohen, Revolution in Science (1985), 554-555.
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When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute—and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.
Explanation given to his secretary, Helen Dukas, to relay to reporters and laypersons.
James B. Simpson, Best Quotes of '54, '55, '56 (1957), as cited in Fred R. Shapiro and Joseph Epstein, The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 230. Also reprinted in Simpson's Contemporary Quotations (1988), 208, annotated merely as “recalled on his death 18 Apr 1955.” Compare with the News Chronicle (14 Mar 1949) as “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”
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[As a science hobbyist, hoping to become famous someday, Artie Pinsetter (Lou Costello):] They also laughed at Einstein and his theory of relativity. Now everyone has relatives.
From movie The 30-foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959). Writers, Rowland Barber and Arthur A. Ross. In Larry Langman and Paul Gold, Comedy Quotes from the Movies (2001), 289. This movie, (with its rare appearance of Costello without Bud Abott, his usual comedy partner), was released later in the year of Costello's death.
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[When thinking about the new relativity and quantum theories] I have felt a homesickness for the paths of physical science where there are ore or less discernible handrails to keep us from the worst morasses of foolishness.
The Nature Of The Physical World (1928), 343.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton