portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory photo (Ca. 1944)

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Quotes of the Day for 22 April 2003 – Oppenheimer

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born at New York City on this day in 1904. In school he took the math and science classes befitting his early genius, but he really thrived on languages. He was known to learn a language just to read a single book in the original language, and he once accepted a speaking assignment in the Netherlands that allowed only six weeks to learn the language before his presentation. He graduated from Harvard, but language was no barrier to getting his PhD in Germany before taking teaching positions at Berkeley and Cal Tech. He was tapped to head the Manhattan Project to build the first US atomic bombs, but like many of the brilliant characters involved, he chose to examine the ethics of creating such weapons. In the anti-communist furor of the early fifties, Oppenheimer was stripped of his security clearance, which ended his influence on science policy. Some of his insights are captured here.

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You will find an expanded profile, photo, additional biographical links, and all quotes from this author on the author's Notable Quotable page.

The quotes:

Any man whose errors take ten years to correct is quite a man.
     - speaking of Albert Einstein

In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.

There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.

The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance, ... these are what may make a vast, complex, ever growing, ever changing, ever more specialized and expert technological world, nevertheless a world of human community.

Both the man of science and the man of art live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it. Both, as a measure of their creation, have always had to do with the harmonization of what is new with what is familiar, with the balance between novelty and synthesis, with the struggle to make partial order in total chaos.... This cannot be an easy life.
     - All from J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1904 - 1967

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