Heinz Pagels

American physicist (1939-1988)

Heinz Rudolf Pagels (February 19, 1939July 23, 1988) was an American physicist, an adjunct professor of physics at Rockefeller University, the executive director and chief executive officer of the New York Academy of Sciences, and president of the International League for Human Rights.


The Cosmic Code (1982)Edit

Pagels, Heinz R. (1982). The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics As the Language of Nature. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24802-2
  • Some years later I spoke to a mentally disturbed young man. Very agitatedly, he described to me how alien beings from outer space had invaded the earth. They were formed of mental substance, lived in human minds, and controlled human beings through the creations of science and technology. Eventually this alien being would have an autonomous existence in the form of giant computers and would no longer require humans–and that would mark its triumph and the end of humanity. Soon he was hospitalized because he was unable to shake off this terrible vision.
    • p. 310
  • I used to climb mountains in snow and ice, hanging onto the sides of great rocks. I was describing one of my adventures to an older friend once, and when I had finished he asked me, "Why do you want to kill yourself?" I protested. I told him that the rewards I wanted were of sight, of pleasure, of the thrill of pitting my body and my skills against nature. My friend replied, "When you are as old as I am you will see that you are trying to kill yourself."
    • p. 312
  • I often dream about falling. Such dreams are commonplace to the ambitious or those who climb mountains. Lately I dreamed I was clutching at the face of a rock but it would not hold. Gravel gave way. I grasped for a shrub, but it pulled loose, and in cold terror I fell into the abyss. Suddenly I realized that my fall was relative; there was no bottom and no end. A feeling of pleasure overcame me. I realized that what I embody, the principle of life, cannot be destroyed. It is written into the cosmic code, the order of the universe. As I continued to fall in the dark void, embraced by the vault of the heavens, I sang to the beauty of the stars and made my peace with the darkness.
    • p. 312-313
  • Most physicists enjoy the outdoors. They are mushroom gatherers, bird watchers, hikers, amateur mountaineers whose idea of weekend relaxation is to climb a mountain. Several physics summer schools and research centers are located in or near mountainous areas. I have not seen such uniform recreational impulses in other professions, an observation which prompts speculation on the connection between the nature of inquiry in physics and mountain climbing.
    • p. 271
  • People did not always love the mountains. Just a few hundred years ago the high mountains were regarded as horrible, monstrous places filling people with terror and fear. The inhabitants near them were seen as awful demons, subhumans. But this attitude got transformed into just the opposite, especially by Romantic writers and painters in the nineteenth century. Seen by the Romantics, high mountains became places of impossible beauty, where the quality of light and the expansive solitary grandeur of the high peaks opened the heart of the individual. A man climbing a mountain became the image of self-conscious intelligence pitted against the eternal indifference of the forces of nature. Compared to these forces of nature, we are nothing save for the will that moves our limbs. Only that will is truly our own.
    • p. 271-272
  • Mountain climbing is an analogue of the research process in theoretical physics. In working on a problem in physics one is never assured of a solution, because there are many false leads and pitfalls. Likewise in climbing there is no certainty of attaining the summit; the route is often unknown, or sometimes one attains a false summit. But the important point is that if you reach the top, the view is enormous. There is no comparison between what you see from just below the summit and what you can see from the top. Similarly with finally solving an important problem in physics the view you get is enormous.
    • p. 272

The Dreams of Reason (1988)Edit

The Dreams of Reason, 1988, ISBN 0-553-34710-1
  • Perhaps our thinking exemplifies a selective system. First lots of random scattered ideas compete for survival. Then comes the selection for what works best —one idea dominates, and this is followed by its amplification. Perhaps the moral [...] is that you never learn anything unless you are willing to take a risk and tolerate a little randomness in your life.

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