Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld on physical concepts

Water-driven Astronomical Clock Tower by 蘇頌 (Sū Sòng), (Kaifeng, 1090)

Water-driven Astronomical Clock Tower by 蘇頌 (Sū Sòng), (Kaifeng, 1090)
Diagram from Su Song's text 新儀象法要 (Xin Yi Xiang Fa Yao), literally 'Essentials of a New Method for Mechanizing the Rotation of an Armillary Sphere and a Celestial Globe', (1092)
Image credit: Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 2, Mechanical Engineering, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 451.

Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however they may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way to open the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all of the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld in The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), p. 31. Originally published 1938. Thanks to Bill Anderson for this quotation.

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"Physical concepts are free creations"
Albert Einstein Leopold Infeld Posted on behalf of and on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 under Quotations.

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