John R. Platt

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John Rader Platt (March 25, 1918June 17, 1992) was an American physicist and biophysicist at the University of Chicago.


  • Going to the moon is not a matter of physics but of economics.
    • John R. Platt (1958) Technocracy digest No 170-182, cited in: Lawrence R. Samuel (2009) Future: A Recent History. University of Texas Press. p. 92
  • The needs of man, if life is to survive, are usually said to be four -- air, water, food, and in the severe climates, protection. But it is becoming clear today that the human organism has another absolute necessity... This fifth need is the need for novelty -- the need, throughout our waking life, for continuous variety in the external stimulation of our eyes, ears, sense organs, and all our nervous network.
    • John Radar Platt (1959) "The Fifth Need of Man," in: Horizon 1 (July 1959), p. 109. Cited in: W. B. Willers (1991) Learning to Listen to the Land. p. 184
  • To say that basic science is exciting may sound like a contradiction... But I would remind you that there are two intellectual excitements that are not tame at all and that we remember all our lives. One is the thrill of following out a chain of reasoning for yourself; the other is the pleasure of watching several strongly individualistic personalities argue about their deepest convictions. That is to say, the thrill of a detective story and the pleasure of watching a play by George Bernard Shaw.
  • Today we preach that science is not science unless it is quantitative. We substitute correlations for causal studies, and physical equations for organic reasoning. Measurements and equations are supposed to sharpen thinking, but, in my observation, they more often tend to make the thinking noncausal and fuzzy. They tend to become the object of scientific manipulation instead of auxiliary tests of crucial inferences.
    Many - perhaps most - of the great issues of science are qualitative, not quantitative, even in physics and chemistry. Equations and measurements are useful when and only when they are related to proof; but proof or disproof comes first and is in fact strongest when it is absolutely convincing without any quantitative measurement.
    Or to say it another way, you can catch phenomena in a logical box or in a mathematical box. The logical box is coarse but strong. The mathematical box is fine-grained but flimsy. The mathematical box is a beautiful way of wrapping up a problem, but it will not hold the phenomena unless they have been caught in a logical box to begin with.
  • The man to watch, the man to put your money on, is not the man who wants to make "a survey" or a "more detailed study" but the man with the notebook, the man with the alternative hypotheses and the crucial experiments, the man who knows how to answer your Question of disproof and is already working on it.
    • John R. Platt (1964). Cited in: William M. Block, M. Dale Strickland, Bret A. Collier, Markus J. Peterson (2008) Wildlife Study Design. Springer. p. 20 among other places.
  • The chemistry of genetics is primarily the chemistry and structure of the hereditary nucleic acid chains, DNA and RNA, and of the proteins whose structure they in turn control and the mechanism of this control.
  • It is a curious thing that relatively little attention has been directed toward working out methods for keeping the peace in a disarmed world. The technological The technological developments of the last twenty years have made disarmament a major concern of most nations, for it has become apparent that war is no longer an effective means for settling disputes between the great powers.
    • Alexander Rich and John R. Platt (1966) "How to Keep the Peace" in: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. April 1966. p. 14
  • The world has become too dangerous for anything less than utopias.
    • John R. Piatt (1969) in: New York Times, September 2, 1969.

The step to man, 1966

  • Can Intelligence Survive? Looking at this nonclassical evolution of intelligence, one even begins to wonder whether it is such a small Law after all, even from the sun's point of view. Men create lakes and can level mountains; their atomic explosions have already shaken the whole earth's magnetic field; and they send out visible satellites and sensors that now range the solar system. Will the evolution of these powers of go on increasing? Or must it finally run down, was the sun does by the great Second Law?
    f we think about this problem in the light of the physical and biological regularities of behavior that we now know, it seems to me that we are led to a further rather surprising conclusion: There is no thermodynamic reason why evolution should ever stop. What evolution leads to is the larger and larger control of environment by the organisms, first by genetic natural selection; then, with the growth of societies and language, by cultural natural selection; and finally by brains. And once we pass a certain threshold of brains and intelligence we begin to know how to insulate ourselves against all sorts of environmental changes.
    • Cited in: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Vol. 24, Nr. 8 1968. p. 40
  • If this property of complexity could somehow be transformed into visible brightness so that it would stand forth more clearly to our senses, the biological world would become a walking field of light compared to the physical world. The sun with its great eruptions would fade to a pale simplicity compared to a rose bush, an earth worm would be a beacon, a dog a city of light, and human beings would stand out like blazing suns of complexity, flashing bursts of meaning to each other through the dull night of the physical world between. We would hurt each other‘s eyes. Look at the haloed heads of your rare and complex companions. Is it not so? (p.151)
    • Cited in: Franklin Tugwell (1973) Search for alternatives: public policy and the study of the future. p.xv; cited by several times by Tony Buzan in 1978, 1991, 2006; and in multiple sources.
  • Planning a good society as far ahead as one can see, does not mean that our adventures have ended; they have just begun. Human nature is growing up. As we put behind us the accidents and tears of childhood squabbles and the wooden swords and shields, and begin to try on our new space pilots'" uniform, so to speak, we begin to see what we can teach ourselves and what we can really become with new self-control over new adult powers. (p.169.)
    • Cited in: Bernhard Joseph Stern ed. Science and Society. p. 135
  • Jesus does not give us a discourse on the nature of the universe, he gives us a set of active verbs. And yet what better discourse on the real nature of the universe could there be? (p.178.)
    • Cited in: Rex Robert Dolan (1967). The big change: the challenge to radical change in the Church.

Quotes about John R. Platt

  • Now, suggests John R. Platt..., we are reaching a leveling-off period. Most of the dramatic changes that have characterized the twentieth century, like those in travel, communications and weapons, cannot continue at their at the present rates for anything like these lengths of time.
    • David Rosenberg, Stanley Barber Brown (1972) The Realm of science. Vol 20. p. 171
  • John Platt, a physicist who wrote a number of essays on science policy including "What we must do" (1969). He developed the concept of the “step to man,” an idea based on the envelope curve of technologies, a technique used in technological forecasting. A characteristic curve exists for many activities, such as transportation, communication, and explosive power. These curves depict increasing capabilities which reach a physical limit. Platt claimed that these curves and thresholds can be thought of as the “step to man,” a dramatic increase in human capabilities.
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