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Julius Robert Oppenheimer Quotes on Science and Life

There’s a lot of wisdom and perspective that these Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes can offer.

More commonly referred to as J. Robert Oppenheimer, he’s known for being the father of the atomic bomb. He was an American physicist and professor who dedicated his life to science and learning.

Oppenheimer was driven by wanting to solve mysteries in the scientific world. The knowledge that he acquired led him to want to learn new and different things.

He was eventually tasked with assembling a team of brilliant scientists that would work together to build the atomic bomb that changed warfare for good.

These Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes show his thoughts on life, people, and science.

Don’t forget to also check out these science quotes from famous scientists about life and death.

Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes about physics and science

1. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

2. “The history of science is rich in example of the fruitfulness of bringing two sets of techniques, two sets of ideas, developed in separate contexts for the pursuit of new truth, into touch with one another.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

3. “If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

4. “It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

5. “Both the man of science and the man of action live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

6. “The greatest of the changes that science has brought is the acuity of change; the greatest novelty the extent of novelty.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

7. “Science starts with preconception, with the common culture, and with common sense. It moves on to observation, is marked by the discovery of paradox, and is then concerned with the correction of preconception. It moves then to use these corrections for the designing of further observation and for more refined experiments. And as it moves along this course the nature of the evidence and experience that nourish it becomes more and more unfamiliar; it is not just the language that is strange [to common culture].” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

8. “There are no secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

9. “I need physics more than friends.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

10. “The great testimony of history shows how often, in fact, the development of science has emerged in response to technological and even economic needs, and how in the economy of social effort, science, even of the most abstract and recondite kind, pays for itself again and again in providing the basis for radically new technological developments.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

11. “It is proper to the role of the scientists that he does not merely find new truth and communicate it to this fellows, but that he teaches, that he tries to bring the most honest and intelligible account of new knowledge to all who will try to learn.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

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Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes about learning

12. “There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

13. “Discovery follows discovery, each both raising and answering questions, each ending a long search, and each providing the new instruments for a new search.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

14. “There is something irreversible about acquiring knowledge; and the simulation of the search for it differs in a most profound way from the reality.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

15. “Both the man of science and the man of art live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it; both always, as to the measure of their creation, have had to do with the harmonization of what is new with what is familiar, with the balance between novelty and synthesis, with the struggle to make partial order in total chaos.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

16. “Knowledge cannot be pursued without morality.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

17. “We know too much for one man to know too much.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

18. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

19. “The true scientist never loses the faculty of amusement. It is the essence of his being.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

20. “Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

21. “Maybe General Groves was right. Maybe we should just banish thinking forever.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

22. “No man should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

23. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes about people

24. “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 enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

25. “To try to be happy is to try to build a machine with no other specification than that it shall run noiselessly.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

26. “The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance—these are what may make a vast, complex, ever-growing, ever-changing, ever more specialized and expert technological world, nevertheless a world of human community.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

27. “If we must live with a perpetual sense that the world and the men in it are greater than we and too much for us.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

28. “You can certainly destroy enough of humanity so that only the greatest act of faith can persuade you that what’s left will be human.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

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29. “The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

Julie Robert Oppenheimer quotes about the atomic bomb

30. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

31. “I’ve become death, the destroyer of worlds.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

32. “My life as a child did not prepare me for the fact that the world is full of cruel and bitter things.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

33. “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

34. “[W]e have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

35. “But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

36. “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

37. “To recruit staff, I traveled all over the country talking with people who had been working on one or another aspect of the atomic-energy enterprise and people in radar work, for example, and underwater sound, telling them about the job, the place that we are going to, and enlisting their enthusiasm.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

Thought-provoking Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes

38. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

39. “Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

40. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

41. “This world of ours is a new world, in which the unit of knowledge, the nature of human communities, the order of society, the order of ideas, the very notions of society and culture have changed, and will not return to what they have been in the past. What is new is new, not because it has never been there before, but because it has changed in quality.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

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42. “The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

43. “Mr. President, I have blood on my hands.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

44. “Sometimes the answer to fear does not lie in trying to explain away the causes, sometimes the answer lies in courage.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

45. “The theory of our modern technic shows that nothing is as practical as theory.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

46. “Common sense is not wrong in the view that is meaningful, appropriate and necessary to talk about the large objects of our daily experience …. Common sense is wrong only if it insists that what is familiar must reappear in what is unfamiliar.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

47. “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.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

48. “Any man whose errors take ten years to correct is quite a man.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

49. “Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blindness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

More Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes

50. “We hunger for nobility: the rare words and acts that harmonize simplicity and truth.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

51. “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.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

52. “In the material sciences these are and have been, and are most surely likely to continue to be heroic days.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

53. “The most beautiful philosophical song existing in any known tongue.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

54. “A pragmatist is concerned with results, not reality.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

55. “The best way to send information is to wrap it up in a person.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

56. “It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

57. “Genius sees the answer before the question.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

What did you learn from these Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes?

When it came to physics and science, Julius Robert had a brilliant mind. However, there are also stories about how he struggled with his mental health. He went through periods of depression and didn’t always care to spend time connecting with others.

In his quotes, he talks about the evil that people are capable of, which he had first-hand experience in as the father of the atomic bomb.

He loved science but knew that humans are capable of taking good things or neutral things and using them for bad.

Likely, this weighed heavily on him. But his quest for learning and knowledge is one that we can all learn from.

What’s your biggest takeaway from these Julius Robert Oppenheimer quotes and sayings? Do you have any other favorite quotes to add? Tell us in the comment section below.

Stephanie Kirby
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