Max Born (11 December 1882 – 5 January 1970) was a German physicist and mathematician who became a British citizen, who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 30s. He shared with Walther Bothe the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics, and was the grandfather of Olivia Newton-John.
- I believe there is no philosophical high-road in science, with epistemological signposts. No, we are in a jungle and find our way by trial and error, building our road behind us as we proceed. We do not find signposts at crossroads, but our own scouts erect them, to help the rest.
- Experiment and Theory in Physics (1943), p. 44
- If God has made the world a perfect mechanism, He has at least conceded so much to our imperfect intellect that in order to predict little parts of it, we need not solve innumerable differential equations, but can use dice with fair success.
- "Einstein's Statistical Theories" in Albert Einstein : Philosopher-Scientist (1951) edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp, p. 176
- Can we call something with which the concepts of position and motion cannot be associated in the usual way, a thing, or a particle? And if not, what is the reality which our theory has been invented to describe?
The answer to this is no longer physics, but philosophy. … Here I will only say that I am emphatically in favour of the retention of the particle idea. Naturally, it is necessary to redefine what is meant. For this, well-developed concepts are available which appear in mathematics under the name of invariants in transformations. Every object that we perceive appears in innumerable aspects. The concept of the object is the invariant of all these aspects. From this point of view, the present universally used system of concepts in which particles and waves appear simultaneously, can be completely justified. The latest research on nuclei and elementary particles has led us, however, to limits beyond which this system of concepts itself does not appear to suffice. The lesson to be learned from what I have told of the origin of quantum mechanics is that probable refinements of mathematical methods will not suffice to produce a satisfactory theory, but that somewhere in our doctrine is hidden a concept, unjustified by experience, which we must eliminate to open up the road.
- The close of his Nobel lecture: "The Statistical Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics" (11 December 1954)
- Intellect distinguishes between the possible and the impossible; reason distinguishes between the sensible and the senseless. Even the possible can be senseless.
- The Voyage into the Dark (1961); also in My Life and Views (1968), p. 154
- I am now convinced that theoretical physics is actually philosophy. It has revolutionized fundamental concepts, e.g., abut space and time (relativity), about causality (quantum theory), and about substance and matter (atomistics). It has taught us new methods of thinking (complimentarity), which are applicable far beyond physics.
- Statement of 1963, as quoted in Schrodinger : Life and Thought (1992) by Walter J. Moore, p. 1
- The continuity of our science has not been affected by all these turbulent happenings, as the older theories have always been included as limiting cases in the new ones.
- As quoted in Beyond Positivism and Relativism : Theory, Method, and Evidence (1996) by Larry Laudan, p. 259
- I must give some attention to the delicate question of religion, on which I have touched already. In my father's generation this question still was discussed with passion. Since then a sort of truce has existed in the countries of the West, while in the communist states of the East atheism has been made into the State religion. It is not advisable to blow on the embers of such controversies. But as I am talking about the limitations of our physical world picture I cannot but say that I do not believe in transgressions of the laws of nature. As these laws are of a statistical nature, and therefore allow deviations from the norm, I must define more clearly what I mean. The statistical deviations themselves obey certain laws. The miraculous events of religious tradition, however, are of a different kind, they lie on a different plane altogether; they are meant to prove something lying entirely beyond scientific consideration, such as the power of prayer, the intervention of divine power for or against certain men or nations.
Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1964)
- It is true that many scientists are not philosophically minded and have hitherto shown much skill and ingenuity but little wisdom.
- p. 2
- The belief that there is only one truth and that oneself is in possession of it, seems to me the deepest root of all that is evil in the world.
- p. 230, also in My Life and Views (1968), p. 183
- Variants (these could be paraphrases or differing translations): The belief that there is only one truth and that oneself is in possession of it seems to me the deepest root of all evil that is in the world.
The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.
- There are metaphysical problems, which cannot be disposed of by declaring them meaningless. For, as I have repeatedly said, they are "beyond physics" indeed and demand an act of faith. We have to accept this fact to be honest. There are two objectionable types of believers: those who believe the incredible and those who believe that "belief" must be discarded and replaced by "the scientific method."
- p. 209
Physics in my generation (1956)
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- The scientist's urge to investigate, like the faith of the devout or the inspiration of the artist, is an expression of mankind's longing for something fixed, something at rest in the universal whirl: God, Beauty, Truth.
Truth is what the scientist aims at. He finds nothing at rest, nothing enduring, in the universe. Not everything is knowable, still less predictable. But the mind of man is capable of grasping and understanding at least a part of Creation; amid the flight of phenomena stands the immutable pole of law.
- The dance of atoms, electrons and nuclei, which in all its fury is subject to God's eternal laws, has been entangled with another restless Universe which may well be the Devil's: the human struggle for power and domination, which eventually becomes history. My optimistic enthusiasm about the disinterested search for truth has been severely shaken. I wonder at my simplemindedness when I re-read what I said on the modern fulfilment of the alchemists dream: "Now however, the motive is not the lust for gold, cloaked by the mystery of magic arts, but the scientists' pure curiosity. For it is clear from the beginning that we may not expect wealth too." Gold means power, power to rule and to have a big share in the riches of this world. Modern alchemy is even a short-cut to this end, it provides power directly; a power to dominate and to threaten and hurt on a scale never heard of before. And this power we have actually seen displayed in ruthless acts of warfare, in the devastation of whole cities and the destruction of their population.
- From the Postcrip to 'The restless universe' (1951), pp. 225-226
- In combination with other infernal contraptions, like rockets to deliver bombs at large distances, chemical, biological and radioactive poisons, such a war must mean a degree of human suffering and degradation which is beyond the power of imagination. No country would be immune, but those with highly developed industry would suffer most. It is very doubtful whether our technological civilization would survive such a catastrophe.
One may be inclined to regard this as no great loss, but as a just punishment for its shortcomings and sins: the lack of productive genius in art and literature, the neglect of the moral teachings of religion and philosophy, the slowness to abandon outdated political conceptions, like national sovereignty. Yet we are all involved in this tragedy, and the instinct of self-preservation, the love of our children, makes us think about a way of salvation.
- America has grown by expansion in a practical vacuum; the pioneers of the West had to overcome terrific natural obstacles, but negligible human resistance. The Russia of today had to conquer not only natural but human difficulties: she had to break up the rotten system of the Czars and to assimilate backward Asiatic tribes; now she has set herself the task of bringing her brand of modernization to the ancient civilizations of the Far East. For this purpose it is indispensable to have a well-defined doctrine full of slogans, which appeals to the needs and instincts of the poverty-stricken masses. Thus one understands the power which Marx's philosophy has gained in the East.
What can we scientists do in this conflict? We can join the spiritual, religious, philosophical forces, which reject war on ethical grounds. We can even attack the ideological foundations of the conflict itself. For science is not only the basis of technology but also the material for a sound philosophy.
Quotes about Born
- While Born evidently realised that our extended order no longer gratified primitive instincts, he too failed to examine closely the structures that create and maintain this order, or to see that our instinctual morals have over the past five thousand years or more gradually been replaced or restrained. Thus, although perceiving that 'science and technology have destroyed the ethical basis of civilisation, perhaps irreparably', he imagines that they have done so by the facts they have uncovered rather than by their having systematically discredited beliefs that fail to satisfy certain 'standards of acceptability' demanded by constructivist rationalism (see below). While admitting that `no one has yet devised a means of keeping society together without traditional ethical principles', Born yet hopes that these can be replaced 'by means of the traditional method used in science'. He too fails to see that what lies between instinct and reason cannot be replaced by 'the traditional method used in science'.
- Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit (1988), Ch. 4: The Revolt of Instinct and Reason
- Profile at the official Nobel Prize site
- Profile at University of St. Andrews
- American Institute of Physics History Search: Max Born
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Max Born - full article
- Annotated bibliography for Max Born from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
- Max Born’s Life
- Max Born information at Nobel Winners site
- Oral History interview transcript with Max Born June 1960, 17 & 18 October 1962, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives
- Recollections of Max Born, by Emil Wolf, in Astrophysics and Space Science, Volume 227, Numbers 1-2
- Papers of Professor Max Born at the Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division
- Video of Gustav Born reminiscing about his father by the Vega Science Trust