The radical conservative approach to science

Kip S Thorne, while paying his tributes in the latest issue of Science to John Archibald Wheeler (who passed away recently), tells about the principle of radical conservatism that Wheeler learnt from Bohr and used in his research:

Wheeler’s often unconventional vision of nature was grounded in reality through the principle of radical conservatism, which he acquired from Niels Bohr: Be conservative by sticking to well-established physical principles, but probe them by exposing their most radical conclusions.

There are also references to Wheeler’s penchant for purple prose:

Johnny’s colleagues have long wondered whether, when coining the phrase “a black hole has no hair,” he knew its scatological interpretation. His wife indicated to me that he did know; she disapproved of his “penchant for purple prose.”

And, the piece ends with a note of Wheeler’s generosity towards his students:

Rarely did Wheeler join his students as a coauthor, even when all key ideas were his. He reasoned that, if his name appeared with theirs, readers would forget them and credit the work to him. He was loved and respected for his generosity and kindness, as well as for his vision and accomplishments.

A nice essay; take a look!

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