Charles Percy Snow

1905 - 1980

A Quote by Charles Percy Snow on atoms, authority, awards, clarity, direction, doubt, existence, good, history, laws, listening, mathematics, physics, proof, purity, satisfaction, scientists, simplicity, style, theory, thought, time, unity, and work

Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect-it was this work for which, sixteen years later he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special theory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done. It is pretty safe to say that, so long as physics lasts, no one will again hack out three major breakthroughs in one year.

Charles Percy Snow (1905 - 1980)

Source: C.P. Snow, Variety of Men, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, U.K. 1969, pp 85-86.

Contributed by: Zaady

Syndicate content