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Quotations by John Archibald Wheeler
It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this in a participatory universe.
— It from Bit, 1989
All things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe…. Observer participancy gives rise to information; and information gives rise to physics.
An engineer builds a bridge or whatever it is that lasts 20 or 50 years, but if somebody discovers something in science, well, that’s a permanent acquisition of the human race.
Quoted by Terry M. Christensen — Theoretical physics takes root in America: John Archibald Wheeler as Student and Mentor, p. 57, 2006
An unfamiliar computer from far away stands at the center of the exhibition hall. Some of the onlookers marvel at its unprecedented power; others gather in animated knots trying, but so far in vain, to make out its philosophy, its logic, and its architecture. The central idea of the new device escapes them. The central idea of the universe escapes us.
No real computer, of course, ever springs full blown from the brow of Minerva. We start with the elements and analyze how to achieve structure. For the universe we start with the structure and try to analyze it into elements. Computer science and basic physics mark two of the frontiers of the civilization of this age. One seeks to build complexity out of simplicity. The other tries to unravel complexity into simplicity. No one, it has been said, is better at taking a puzzle apart than the person who put it together and no one is better at putting a puzzle together than the one who took it apart. Can it be that there is a little of the flavor of the physics enterprise of interest for computer science? And something of use for the unraveling of the universe to be learned from the philosophy of computer design?
— International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 21, “The Computer and the Universe”, p. 557, 1982
As surely as we now know how tangible water forms out of invisible vapor, so surely we shall someday know how the universe comes into being.
Quoted by Paul Davies — Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity, p. xviii, Cambridge University Press, 2004
Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it — in a decade, a century, or a millennium — we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise? How could we have been so stupid?
Every physical quantity derives its ultimate significance from bits, binary yes-or-no indications, a conclusion which we epitomize in the phrase, it from bit.
— It from Bit, 1989
I can learn only by teaching.
Quoted by Terry M. Christensen — Theoretical physics takes root in America: John Archibald Wheeler as Student and Mentor, p. 139, 2006
I confess to being an optimist about things, especially about someday being able to understand how things are put together. So many young people are forced to specialize in one line or another that a young person can’t afford to try and cover this waterfront — only an old fogy who can afford to make a fool of himself.
If I don’t, who will?
— New York Times, “John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term ‘Black Hole,’ Is Dead at 96”, April 14, 2008
I like to say, when asked why I pursue science, that it is to satisfy my curiosity, that I am by nature a searcher, trying to understand. Now, in my 80s, I am still searching. Yet I know that the pursuit of science is more than the pursuit of understanding. It is driven by the creative urge, the urge to construct a vision, a map, a picture of the world that gives the world a little more beauty and coherence than it had before. Somewhere in the child that urge is born.
— Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics, p. 84, W. W. Norton & Company, 2000