John Archibald Wheeler

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We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

John Archibald Wheeler (July 9, 1911April 13, 2008) was an eminent American theoretical physicist. One of the later collaborators of Albert Einstein, he tried to achieve Einstein's vision of a unified field theory. He is also known for having coined the terms black hole and wormhole and the phrase "it from bit".


  • There are many modes of thinking about the world around us and our place in it. I like to consider all the angles from which we might gain perspective on our amazing universe and the nature of existence.
    • John Archibald Wheeler, Kenneth William Ford (2000). Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics‎. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 153. ISBN 0393319911. 
  • Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.
    • Wheeler's succinct summary of Einstein's theory of general relativity, in Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2000), p. 235.
  • Of all obstacles to a thoroughly penetrating account of existence, none looms up more dismayingly than “time.” Explain time? Not without explaining existence. Explain existence? Not without explaining time. To uncover the deep and hidden connection between time and existence, to close on itself our quartet of questions, is a task for the future.
  • 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 which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the resistering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.
    • From the paper "Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links" which appeared in Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information edited by Wojciech H. Zurek (1990), p. 5.
  • Of all heroes, Spinoza was Einstein's greatest. No one expressed more strongly than he a belief in the harmony, the beauty, and most of all the ultimate comprehensibility of nature.
    • "Albert Einstein" in Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 51, published by the National Academy of Sciences
  • Is the very mechanism for the universe to come into being meaningless or unworkable or both unless the universe is guaranteed to produce life, consciousness and observership somewhere and for some little time in its history-to-be? The quantum principle shows that there is a sense in which what the observer will do in the future defines what happens in the past—even in a past so remote that life did not then exist, and shows even more, that 'observership' is a prerequisite for any useful version of 'reality'.
    • As quoted by Paul Davies, Other Worlds (1980)
  • The question is—what is the question?
    • Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War (2008), chapter 13


  • Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once.
    • Wheeler quoted this saying in Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (1990), p. 10, with a footnote attributing it to "graffiti in the men's room of the Pecan Street Cafe, Austin, Texas". Later publications, such as Paul Davies' 1995 book About Time (p. 236), credited Wheeler with variations of this saying, but the quip is actually much older. The earliest known source is Ray Cummings' 1922 science fiction novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, Ch. V: " 'Time,' he said, 'is what keeps everything from happening at once.' " It also appears in his 1929 novel The Man Who Mastered Time. The earliest known occurrence other than Cummings is from 1962 in Film Facts: Volume 5, p. 48.

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