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Werner Heisenberg – Limits to progress

August 25, 2014

“There is the belief that the expansion of the material and intellectual powers of mankind is always Progress. This has its, at first not always visible, limits. And the more the faith in Progress, including its implicit optimism, presses against these limits, the ever greater are the dangers. Perhaps one can illustrate this with a simile. With the seemingly limitless extension of its material powers mankind seems to be in the situation of a captain, whose great ship is so strongly built of steel and iron that his magnetic compass indicates the ferrous mass of the vessel, but not the position of the magnetic North. Such a ship cannot reach its goal; it will sail around in circles and eventually become a subject of the winds and the tides. … This danger exists so long as the captain fails to realize that his compass no longer reacts to the magnetic forces of the earth.”

(from The Physicist’s Conception of Nature [1958])

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