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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

Sam Kean

Top 10 Best Quotes

“Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius.”

“If anything runs deeper than a mathematician’s love of variables, it’s a scientist’s love of constants.”

“Lithium tweaks many mood-altering chemicals in the brain, and its effects are complicated. Most interesting, lithium seems to reset the body’s circadian rhythm, its inner clock. In normal people, ambient conditions, especially the sun, dictate their humors and determine when they are tuckered out for the day. They’re on a twenty-four-hour cycle. Bipolar people run on cycles independent of the sun. And run and run.”

“Think of the most fussy science teacher you ever had. The one who docked your grade if the sixth decimal place in your answer was rounded incorrectly; who tucked in his periodic table T-shirt, corrected every student who said "weight" when he or she meant "mass", and made everyone, including himself, wear goggles even while mixing sugar water. Now try to imagine someone whom your teacher would hate for being anal-retentive. That is the kind of person who works for a bureau of standards and measurement.”

“Even a good, inveterate atheist like physicist Richard Feynman once said of the fine structure constant, “All good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it…. It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the ‘hand of God’ wrote that number, and we don’t know how He pushed His pencil.”

“Despite the earnest belief of most of his fans, Einstein did not win his Nobel Prize for the theory of relativity, special or general. He won for explaining a strange effect in quantum mechanics, the photoelectric effect. His solution provided the first real evidence that quantum mechanics wasn’t a crude stopgap for justifying anomalous experiments, but actually corresponds to reality. And the fact that Einstein came up with it is ironic for two reasons. One, as he got older and crustier, Einstein came to distrust quantum mechanics. Its statistical and deeply probabilistic nature sounded too much like gambling to him, and it prompted him to object that “God does not play dice with the universe.” He was wrong, and it’s too bad that most people have never heard the rejoinder by Niels Bohr: “Einstein! Stop telling God what to do.”

“A few years later, Mendeleev, now famous, divorced his wife and wanted to remarry. Although the conservative local church said he had to wait seven years, he bribed a priest and got on with the nuptials. This technically made him a bigamist, but no one dared arrest him. When a local bureaucrat complained to the tsar about the double standard applied to the case- the priest was defrocked-the tsar primly replied, "I admit, Mendeleev has two wives, but I have only one Mendeleev.”

“So if big enough droplets fell far enough fast enough, someone floating right near the metallic hydrogen layer inside Jupiter maybe, just maybe, could have looked up into its cream and orange sky and seen the most spectacular show ever--fireworks lighting up the Jovian night with a trillion streaks of brilliant crimson, what scientists call neon rain.”

“Since before even the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, human beings used the stars and seasons to track time and record their most important moments. Cesium severed that link with the heavens, effaced it just as surely as urban streetlamps blot out constellations.”

“Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

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Book Keywords:

nobel-prize, quantum-mechanics, circadian-cycle, lithium, god, genius, theory-of-relativity, humour, albert-einstein, niels-bohr, spite, science, bipolar-disorder, amusing

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