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Words of Wisdom

Paul Dirac: Let Mathematics Lead You By the Hand

“If you are receptive and humble,” said Dirac, “mathematics will lead you by the hand.”

Paul Dirac (1902-1984) was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. His Dirac equation describes the behavior of fermions and predicted the existence of antimatter. He earned a share of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger “for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory.” Dirac was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, but spent the latter end of his career at universities in the state of Florida.

“If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand. Again and again, when I have been at a loss how to proceed, I have just had to wait until I have felt the mathematics led me by the hand. It has led me along an unexpected path, a path where new vistas open up, a path leading to new territory, where one can set up a base of operations, from which one can survey the surroundings and plan future progress.”

As quoted in The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom (2009) by Graham Farmelo, p. 435 [Wikiquote]


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