Abraham Pais Quotes

Abraham Pais (/pe?s/; May 19, 1918 – July 28, 2000) was a Dutch-born American physicist and science historian. Pais earned his Ph.D. from University of Utrecht just prior to a Nazi ban on Jewish participation in Dutch universities during World War II. When the Nazis began the forced relocation of Dutch Jews, he went into hiding, but was later arrested and saved only by the end of the war. He then served as an assistant to Niels Bohr in Denmark and was later a colleague of Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Pais wrote books documenting the lives of these two great physicists and the contributions they and others made to modern physics. He was a physics professor at Rockefeller University until his retirement

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Abraham Pais


Of course, relative citation frequencies are no measure of relative importance. Who has not aspired to write a paper so fundamental that very soon it is known to everyone and cited by no one?

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Once I even took the train to Utrecht, forty miles from Amsterdam, with my yellow star, this star which I still have. Why did I go? I just wanted to visit some friends. I was a little bit crazy, a little bit insane.

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The rule of the game was never assume that anybody, however honorable, would be able to stand up under torture. If Mr. X, who knew where I was, was caught for some reason, I should move.

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There is not a soul on Earth who can read the deluge of physics publications in its entirety. As a result, it is sad but true that physics has irretrievably fallen apart from a cohesive to a fragmented discipline. ... It was not that long ago that people were complaining about two cultures. If we only had it that good. today.

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One of the absolute rules I learned in the war was, don't know anything you don't need to know, because if you ever get caught they will get it out of you.

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Deliberately or not, every author is of course present in every book he or she writes - even in a scientific text.

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[George] Uhlenbeck was a highly gifted physicist. One of his remarkable traits was he would read every issue of T%he Physical Review from cover to cover.

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[Heisenberg's seminal 1925 paper initiating quantum mechanics marked] one of the great jumpsâ??perhaps the greatestâ??in the development of twentieth century physics.

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I spent every night until four in the morning on my dissertation, until I came to the point when I could not write another word, not even the next letter. I went to bed. Eight o'clock the next morning I was up writing again.

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Some years ago John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in an essay on his efforts at writing a history of economics: 'As one approaches the present, one is filled with a sense of hopelessness; in a year and possibly even a month, there is now more economic comment in the supposedly serious literature than survives from the whole of the thousand years commonly denominated as the Middle Ages ... anyone who claims to be familiar with it all is a confessing liar.' I believe that all physicists would subscribe to the same sentiments regarding their own professional literature. I do at any rate.

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I knew all the time I was going to get through the war. It was completely irrational, a silly idea, but I was not going to lie down and get myself killed. I was going to get out of it.

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To make a discovery is not necessarily the same as to understand a discovery. Not only Planck but also other physicists were intially at a loss as to what the proper context of the new postulate really was.

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A number of current theoretical explorations will turn out to be passing fancies...

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One of the things I learned, one of the strangest things, is how to think. There was nothing else to do. I couldn't see people, or go for a walk in the forest. All I had was my head and my books, and I thought a lot.

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