The progress of science

- funeral by funeral -
– funeral by funeral –

Science progresses funeral by funeral, as Max Planck, founding father of quantum theory, famously said.

Except, of course, he didn’t. What he actually said was:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

This is a suitably sober pronouncement for a physicist’s autobiography, which is the original source of the quote, but it lacks the pithy magic of the aphorism coined by economist Paul A. Samuelson. Quote Investigator unravels the misattribution.

A different view of the same coin comes from the late Freeman Dyson, professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, who suggested that science is steered, if not driven, by heretics:

“The rules of the world-historical game change from decade to decade, and the dogmas that we have now will probably become obsolete. In the years to come, my heresies will probably also be obsolete. It is up to the next generation to find new heresies to guide the way to a more hopeful future.

Most of the papers ran obituaries when he died at the end of February, but Physics World’s tribute to Dyson is worth reading: Freeman Dyson: unorthodox to the end