Davide Gerosa

On the shoulders of giants

Here I collect some quotations on General Relativity, and science in general, which are particularly dear to me.

Max Born

The foundation of General Relativity appeared to me then, and it still does, the greatest feat of human thinking about nature, the most amazing combination of philosophical penetration, physical intuition, and mathematical skill. […]. It appealed to me like a great work of art.

Max Born, Bern’s Colloquium, 1955. Available in: Max Born, Physics in My Generation, Springer-Verlag New York (1968)

Thomas Gold

Here we have a case that allowed one to suggest that the relativists with their sophisticated works were not only magnificent cultural ornaments but might actually be useful in science! Everyone is pleased: the relativists who feel they are being appreciated, who are suddenly experts in a field they hardly knew existed; the astrophysicists for having enlarged their domain by the annexation of another subject: general relativity. It is all very pleasing, so let us hope it is right!

Thomas Gold, after-dinner speech at the 1st Symposium of Relativistic Astrophysics (Dallas TX, 1963). Available in Israel W, Dark stars: the evolution of an idea, Three Hundred Years of Gravitation, pp 199–276 (1987)

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

In my entire scientific life, extending over forty-five years, the most shattering experience has been the realization that an exact solution of Einstein’s equations of general relativity, discovered by the New Zealand mathematician, Roy Kerr, provides the absolutely exact representation of untold numbers of massive black holes that populate the universe. This shuddering before the beautiful, this incredible fact that a discovery motivated by a search after the beautiful in mathematics should find its exact replica in Nature, persuades me to say that beauty is that to which the human mind responds at its deepest and most profound.

S. Chandrasekhar, Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science, Chicago University Press (1987)

Isaac Newton

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Available in: David Brewster, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (1855)

Donald Lynden-Bell

Our other excuse for leaving out high order correlations is that only a fool tries the harder problem when he does not understand the simplest special case.

Lynden-Bell, D. & Wood, R., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 138, p.495 (1968)

Dire Straits

He got the action, he got the motion.

Dire Straits, Walk of Life (1985). They understood Hamiltonian mechanics pretty well.

James Watt

I saw a workman and expected no more — but was surprised to find a philosopher […] Every thing became to him the beginning of a new and serious study — every thing became Science in his hands

John Robinson (1739-1805) writing about his first meeting with James Watt

Carl Sagan

There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

John Archibald Wheeler

Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!

John Archibald Wheeler, in “Spacetime Physics by Edwin F. Taylor

Bruce Springsteen

And I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car

Bruce Springsteen, Growin’ up (1973). A cosmologist, uh?

Thomas Stearns Eliot

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall

T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding (1942).

Željko Ivezić et al.

It is often said that it takes a 2σ result to convince a theorist that his theory is correct, a 5σ result to convince an observer that an effect is real, and a 10σ result to convince a theorist that his theory is wrong.

Željko Ivezić, Andrew J. Connolly, Jacob T. VanderPlas, and Alexander Gray Statistics,” Data Mining, and Machine Learning in Astronomy: A Practical Python Guide for the Analysis of Survey Data”, Princeton University press.

Ersilia Vaudo et al.

Hidden in the perfection of the spherical shapes of the celestial bodies that shimmer and float in nothingness is the work of gravity, the first and greatest of designers. A craftsman whose hand tirelessly shapes the contents of the Universe to which we belong, determined in his quest for perfection.

“Unknown Unknowns” exhibition, edited by Vaudo et al., Milan 2022.