Welcome to our collection of quotes by J. Robert Oppenheimer. We hope you enjoy pondering them and please share widely.
J. Robert Oppenheimer (April 22, 1904 – February 18, 1967) was an American theoretical physicist who was professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Oppenheimer was the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory and is among those who are credited with being the "father of the atomic bomb" for their role in the Manhattan Project – the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer was among those who observed the Trinity test in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated on July 16, 1945.
He later remarked that the explosion brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." In August 1945, the weapons were used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war ended, Oppenheimer became chairman of the influential General Advisory Committee of the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission. He used that position to lobby for international control of nuclear power to avert nuclear proliferation and a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb during a 1949–1950 governmental debate on the question and subsequently took stances on defense-related issues that provoked the ire of some factions in the U.S. government and military. During the Second Red Scare, those stances, together with past associations Oppenheimer had with people and organizations affiliated with the Communist Party, led to him suffering the revocation of his security clearance in a much-written-about hearing in 1954. Effectively stripped of his direct political influence, he continued to lecture, write and work in physics. Nine years later, President John F. Kennedy awarded (and Lyndon B. Johnson presented) him with the Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation.
Oppenheimer's achievements in physics included the Born–Oppenheimer approximation for molecular wave functions, work on the theory of electrons and positrons, the Oppenheimer–Phillips process in nuclear fusion, and the first prediction of quantum tunneling. With his students he also made important contributions to the modern theory of neutron stars and black holes, as well as to quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and the interactions of cosmic rays. As a teacher and promoter of science, he is remembered as a founding father of the American school of theoretical physics that gained world prominence in the 1930s. After World War II, he became director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
The powerful notion of entropy, which comes from a very special branch of physics is certainly useful in the study of communication and quite helpful when applied in the theory of language.
To try to become happy is to try to build a machine with no other specifications than it shall run noiselessly.
When you see something that is technically sweet you go ahead and do it.
Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blindness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics.
The powerful notion of entropy, which comes from a very special branch of physics … is certainly useful in the study of communication and quite helpful when applied in the theory of language.
We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.
Maybe General Groves was right. Maybe we should just banish thinking forever.
Today, it is not only that our kings do not know mathematics, but our philosophers do not know mathematics and -- to go a step further -- our mathematicians do not know mathematics.
Optimists think that this is the best of all possible worlds; pessimists fear they are right.
There are no secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men.
To the confusion of our enemies.
The most beautiful philosophical song existing in any known tongue.
There is something irreversible about acquiring knowledge; and the simulation of the search for it differs in a most profound way from the reality.
Discovery follows discovery, each both raising and answering questions, each ending a long search, and each providing the new instruments for a new search.
When we deny the EVIL within ourselves, we dehumanize ourselves, and we deprive ourselves not only of our own destiny but of any possibility of dealing with the EVIL of others.
I can't think that it would be terrible of me to say -- and it is occasionally true -- that I need physics more than friends.
In a free world, if it is to remain free, we must maintain, with our lives if need be, but surely by our lives, the opportunity for a man to learn anything.
Things which stimulate my curiosity are pretty far removed from the practical and therefore from classification.
A pragmatist is concerned with results, not reality.
To try to be happy is to try to build a machine with no other specification than that it shall run noiselessly.
The Vedas are the greatest privilege of this century.
I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita... Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
Pragmatism is an intellectually safe but ultimately sterile philosophy.
Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. (quoting the Bhagavad-Gita after witnessing the first Nuclear explosion.).
We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.
The physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
I need physics more than friends.
We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism.
We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.
It worked. (said after witnessing the first atomic detonation).
I never accepted Communist dogma or theory.
Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful.
My mother was born in Baltimore, and before her marriage, she was an artist and teacher of art.
I had had a continuing smoldering fury about the treatment of Jews in Germany.
The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish.
Scientists are not delinquents. Our work has changed the conditions in which men live, but the use made of these changes is the problem of governments, not of scientists.
No man should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows.
There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.
My life as a child did not prepare me for the fact that the world is full of cruel and bitter things.
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.
Any man whose errors take ten years to correct is quite a man.
The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.
The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.
In the spring of 1936, I was introduced by friends to Jean Tatlock. In the autumn, I began to court her. We were at least twice close enough to marriage to think of ourselves as engaged.
It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they were found because it was possible to find them.
Both the man of science and the man of action live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it.
My childhood did not prepare me for the fact that the world is full of cruel and bitter things.
Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries.
In the material sciences these are and have been, and are most surely likely to continue to be heroic days.