A physics theory not crazy enough

1001 Tales Discourses

“Reality is… far more than our logic… Reality is this great jungle of infinity.”

Participants at a conference in Copenhagen in 1937; Niels Bohr is in the front row, far left, next to Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli 1937
Participants at a conference in Copenhagen in 1937; Niels Bohr is in the front row, far left, next to Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli

I have heard a true story, as told by Freeman Dyson…

A few months ago, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli believed that they had made an essential step forward in the direction of a theory of elementary particles.

Both the names are world-famous: Heisenberg and Pauli – two of the greatest scientists of any time, and they were thinking that they had come across the basic theory to explain the structure of the elements.

Pauli happened to be passing through New York, and he was prevailed upon to give a lecture explaining the new ideas to an audience which included Niels Bohr – another famous name, another great name in science. Pauli spoke for an hour, and then there was a general discussion during which he was criticized rather sharply by the younger generation of scientists. Finally, Niels Bohr was called on to make a speech summing up the argument. “We are all agreed,” he said, “that your theory is crazy, Pauli. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.”

And that’s how things really are. A very sane theory cannot be right, because a sane theory will be human. It will be very limited. Only a crazy theory has any possibility of being right, because crazy means that which transcends human limitations. Crazy means that which cannot be reduced to human logic, crazy means that which is beyond your understanding.

Yes, right is Niels Bohr. Let me repeat: “We are all agreed, Pauli,” he said, “that your theory is crazy.” This much agreement is there. ” The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.”

If you look into the modern world of physics, you will be surprised. Those old days of clear-cut theories are all gone; the days of Darwin, Newton, Edison, are gone. Truth has erupted, exploded – in Einstein, Heisenberg, Pauli, Niels Bohr, Planck – and physics looks more and more like metaphysics; more and more like poetry and less and less like prose. The deeper scientists have penetrated into the world of physics, the more they are surprised to find that our logic is just irrelevant. Reality is more than our logic. It’s far more than our logic. Our logic is just a small piece of ground that we have cleared and cleaned, and reality is this great jungle of infinity.

Osho, The Divine Melody – Discourses on Songs of Kabir, Ch 4, Q 4 (excerpt)


Series compiled by Shanti
All excerpts of this series can be found in: 1001 Tales

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