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Atom and Void

Atom and Void: Essays on Science and Community

J. Robert Oppenheimer
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 170
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  • Book Info
    Atom and Void
    Book Description:

    J. Robert Oppenheimer was one of the outstanding physicists of his generation. He was also an immensely gifted writer and speaker, who thought deeply about the way that scientific discoveries have changed the way people live and think. Displaying his subtlety of thought and expression as do few other documents, this book of his lectures discusses the moral and cultural implications of developments in modern physics.

    Originally published in 1989.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6028-9
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
    Freeman J. Dyson
  4. CHAPTER ONE Newton: The Path of Light
    (pp. 3-15)

    Science has changed the conditions of man’s life. It has changed its material conditions; by changing them it has altered our labor and our rest, our power, and the limits of that power, as men and as communities of men, the means and instruments as well as the substance of our learning, the terms and the form in which decisions of right and wrong come before us. It has altered the communities in which we live and cherish, learn and act. It has brought an acute and pervasive sense of change itself into our own life’s span. The ideas of...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Science as Action: Rutherford’s World
    (pp. 16-27)

    It is inherent in the very notion of culture and of tradition that there is a cumulative aspect to human life. The past underlies the present, qualifies and moderates it, in some ways limits it and in some ways enriches it. We understand Shakespeare better for having read Chaucer, and Milton for having read Shakespeare. We appreciate Trevelyan more for knowing Thucydides. We see Cézanne with better eyes for having looked also at Vermeer, and understand much more in Locke for knowing Aristotle, St. Matthew for knowing Job. But in actual fact we rather seldom bring a knowledge of the...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A Science in Change
    (pp. 28-39)

    Our understanding of atomic physics, of what we call the quantum theory of atomic systems, had its origins at the turn of the century and its great synthesis and resolutions in the nineteen-twenties. It was a heroic time. It was not the doing of any one man; it involved the collaboration of scores of scientists from many different lands, though from first to last the deeply creative and subtle and critical spirit of Niels Bohr guided, restrained, deepened, and finally transmuted the enterprise. It was a period of patient work in the laboratory, of crucial experiments and daring action, of...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Atom and Void in the Third Millennium
    (pp. 40-51)

    In exploring the atomic world, we have traveled to a new country, strange for those who have lived in the familiar world of Newtonian physics, strange even to Newton’s own view of wonder and pre-vision. “God in the Beginning,” he wrote, “form’d Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, movable Particles. . . .”

    We have our atoms; we are trying to understand them. We have the simplest of the atoms, hydrogen, with a single proton for its nucleus and a single electron to make it up. But the ingredients do not follow Newton’s laws of motion. Atoms of hydrogen appear...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Uncommon Sense
    (pp. 52-63)

    A century after Newton, in 1784, the progress of that century was celebrated in an anonymous memorial lodged in the ball of the tower of St. Margaret’s church at Gotha, to be found by men of future times. It read:

    “Our days have been the happiest time of the eighteenth century. . . . Hatred born of dogma and the compulsion of conscience sink away; love of man and freedom of thought gain the upper hand. The arts and sciences blossom, and our vision into the workshop of nature goes deep. Artisans approach artists in perfection; useful skills flower at...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Sciences and Man’s Community
    (pp. 64-75)

    For some moments during these lectures we have looked together into one of the rooms of the house called “science.” This is a relatively quiet room that we know as quantum theory or atomic theory. The great girders which frame it, the lights and shadows and vast windows—these were the work of a generation our predecessor more than two decades ago. It is not wholly quiet. Young people visit it and study in it and pass on to other chambers; and from time to time someone rearranges a piece of the furniture to make the whole more harmonious; and...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Open Mind
    (pp. 76-84)

    A few weeks ago the president of a college in the prairie states came to see me. Clearly, when he tried to look into the future, he did not like what he saw: the grim prospects for the maintenance of peace, for the preservation of freedom, for the flourishing and growth of the humane values of our civilization. He seemed to have in mind that it might be well for people, even in his small college, to try to take some part in turning these prospects to a happier end; but what he said came as rather a shock. He...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Space and Time
    (pp. 85-112)

    This has been a great century in physics, a century of unexpected, profound, and moving discoveries, and of applications that have changed a great deal in the condition of human life. The last years have seen very great progress in the understanding of essential features of life, and I am confident that the years ahead will teach us more than all preceding history of man about how living organisms perform their miraculous functions and about man as a part of nature. We in physics are still engaged in what feels at the moment like a very great intractable struggle to...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Atom and Field
    (pp. 113-132)

    The subject of my lecture tonight is really the quantum theory. It has two parallel and even complementary historical origins. One is from the properties of electromagnetic radiation, but from other properties than those which were important for relativity. The other is from an attempt to understand the structure of atoms. I mean by the structure of atoms the atoms of the chemist and the spectroscopist, and not the atoms of the physicist who works with a giant accelerator and who smashes everything that he looks at with his violent collisions. This subject is also interesting but it has been...

  13. CHAPTER TEN War and the Nations
    (pp. 133-142)

    I have been discussing the idea of complementarity: that it is impossible to measure precisely two complementary aspects of a physical system. Always when you talk about an atomic system it may be big, it may be a crystal, it may be a nucleus, it may have billions and billions of atoms in it, but always it is a finite part of the world; and in order that you can make an observation of it, you must use the rest of the world for the machinery with which you do it. Especially Bohr has pointed out the analogies between this...

  14. Appendix I
    (pp. 143-153)
  15. Appendix II
    (pp. 154-156)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 157-157)