All stable processes we shall predict. All unstable processes we shall control. Describing John von Neumann’s aspiration for the application of computers sufficiently large to solve the problems of meteorology, despite the sensitivity of the weather to small perturbations
There is a great satisfaction in building good tools for other people to use.
The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York.
It’s better to get mugged than to live a life of fear.
The question that will decide our destiny is not whether we shall expand into space. It is: shall we be one species or a million? A million species will not exhaust the ecological niches that are awaiting the arrival of intelligence.
I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce.
Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts and of sciences.
If we had a reliable way to label our toys good and bad, it would be easy to regulate technology wisely. But we can rarely see far enough ahead to know which road leads to damnation. Whoever concerns himself with big technology, either to push it forward or to stop it, is gambling in human lives.
A good cause can become bad if we fight for it with means that are indiscriminately murderous. A bad cause can become good if enough people fight for it in a spirit of comradeship and self-sacrifice. In the end it is how you fight, as much as why you fight, that makes your cause good or bad.
A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.
It is characteristic of all deep human problems that they are not to be approached without some humor and some bewilderment.
Wondering Whom to Read Next?
- Isaac Newton English Physicist
- Paul Dirac English Theoretical Physicist
- Stephen Hawking English Theoretical Physicist
- J. Robert Oppenheimer American Physicist
- Hans Bethe American Physicist
- Edward Teller American Nuclear Physicist
- Arthur Eddington English Astronomer
- Michael Faraday British Physicist, Chemist
- Niels Bohr Danish Physicist
- G. H. Hardy English Mathematician