Quotations about   universe

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There probably is a God. Many things are easier to explain if there is than if there isn’t.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, polymath [János "Johann" Lajos Neumann]
(Attributed)
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As quoted in Norman Macrae, John Von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence and Much More (1992).
Added on 8-Jun-21 | Last updated 8-Jun-21
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“So, Jeeves!”
“Yes, sir.”
“What do you mean. Yes, sir?”
“I was endeavouring to convey my appreciation of the fact that your position is in many respects somewhat difficult, sir. But I wonder if I might call your attention to an observation of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He said: ‘Does aught befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the Universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web.'”
I breathed a bit stertorously.
“He said that, did he?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, you can tell him from me he’s an ass.”

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) Anglo-American humorist, playwright and lyricist [Pelham Grenville Wodehouse]
The Mating Season, ch. 4 (1949)
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Adapted from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4, #26 [tr. Rendall (1901)].

Wodehouse uses in "Ordeal by Golf" (1919) a similar sentiment from Meditations, Book 10, #5, to suggest Marcus Aurelius was a golfer.

Imitate the spirit of Marcus Aurelius. "Whatever may befall thee," says that great man in his "Meditations," "it was preordained for thee from everlasting. Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear." I like to think that this noble thought came to him after he had sliced a couple of new balls into the woods, and that he jotted it down on the back of his score-card.
Added on 11-Mar-21 | Last updated 11-Mar-21
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“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need … fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little –”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET — Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME … SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point –”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Hogfather (1996)
Added on 22-Dec-20 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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It would be a pretty good bet that the gods of a world like this probably do not play chess and indeed this is the case. In fact no gods anywhere play chess. They haven’t got the imagination. Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight To Oblivion; a key to the understanding of all religion is that a god’s idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Wyrd Sisters (1988)
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Added on 17-Nov-20 | Last updated 17-Nov-20
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I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream. But I feel all the powers of the universe whirling within me.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
The Saviors of God [Salvatores Dei], “The Preparation: Second Duty,” #22 (1923) [tr. Friar [1960])
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Added on 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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Against all appearances the nature of things works for truth and right forever.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
The Conduct of Life, ch. 6 “Worship” (1860)
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Added on 24-Mar-20 | Last updated 5-May-20
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The Creator had a lot of remarkably good ideas when he put the world together, but making it understandable hadn’t been one of them.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 6-Apr-18 | Last updated 6-Apr-18
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In short, Mort was one of those people who are more dangerous than a bag full of rattlesnakes. He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe. Which was going to be hard, because there wasn’t one.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 23-Feb-18 | Last updated 23-Feb-18
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Captain, the problem is not that I’m paranoid. The problem is that the universe keeps justifying my paranoia.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
The End of All Things (2015)
Added on 25-Oct-16 | Last updated 25-Oct-16
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It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ch. 19 (1980)
Added on 19-Sep-16 | Last updated 19-Sep-16
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“It’s not fair,” Cloud said eventually. “It’s not fair you have to mourn this child.”

Jared gave a small laugh. “We’re in the wrong universe for fair,” he said, simply.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
The Ghost Brigades (2006)
Added on 13-Sep-16 | Last updated 13-Sep-16
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If the universe is bigger and stranger than I can imagine, it’s best to meet it with an empty bladder.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
Old Man’s War (2005)
Added on 6-Sep-16 | Last updated 6-Sep-16
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The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.

Adams - keep yourself occupied- wist_info quote

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ch. 30 (1979)
Added on 29-Aug-16 | Last updated 29-Aug-16
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I believe that only scientists can understand the universe. It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1978)
Added on 17-May-16 | Last updated 17-May-16
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“So the moon effects magic, why?”

“I’m working on several theories,” I said. “But I’m currently favoring the hypothesis that the moon has a seemingly arbitrary effect on magic because it likes to piss me off.”

“That’s a theory with a high degree of applicability to other spheres of life,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” I said, and we spontaneously fist bumped.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Foxglove Summer (2014)
Added on 10-Feb-16 | Last updated 10-Feb-16
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So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You’d better rearrange your beliefs, then. Because you certainly can’t rearrange the universe.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Nightfall (1990) [with Robert Silverberg]
Added on 18-Jan-16 | Last updated 18-Jan-16
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Since geometry is co-eternal with the divine mind before the birth of things, God himself served as his own model in creating the world (for what is there in God which is not God?), and he with his own image reached down to humanity.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer
The Harmonies of the World [Harmonices Mundi], Book 4, ch. 1 (1618)
Added on 12-Feb-15 | Last updated 12-Feb-15
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“But do you really mean, sir,” said Peter, “that there could be other worlds — all over the place, just round the corner — like that?”

“Nothing is more probable,” said the Professor, taking off his spectacles and beginning to polish them, while he muttered to himself, “I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
Added on 3-Dec-14 | Last updated 3-Dec-14
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We need something larger than ourselves — that’s a real religious activity. That’s what space travel can be — relating ourselves to the universe.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Interview, Playboy (1996)
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Added on 19-May-14 | Last updated 19-May-14
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There must be either a predestined Necessity and inviolable plan, or a gracious Providence, or a chaos without design or director. If then there be an inevitable Necessity, why kick against the pricks? If a Providence that is ready to be gracious, render thyself worthy of divine succour. But if a chaos without guide, congratulate thyself that amid such a surging sea thou hast a guiding Reason.

[Ἤτοι ἀνάγκη εἱμαρμένης καὶ ἀπαράβατος τάξις ἢ πρόνοια ἱλάσιμος ἢ φυρμὸς εἰκαιότητος ἀπροστάτητος. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἀπαράβατος ἀνάγκη, τί ἀντιτείνεις; εἰ δὲ πρόνοια ἐπιδεχομένη τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι, ἄξιον σαυτὸν ποίησον τῆς ἐκ τοῦ θείου βοηθείας. εἰ δὲ φυρμὸς ἀνηγεμόνευτος, ἀσμένιζε ὅτι ἐν τοιούτῳ κλύδωνι αὐτὸς ἔχεις ἐν σαυτῷ τινα νοῦν ἡγεμονικόν.]

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 12, #14 [tr. Haines (1916)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Either fate, (and that either an absolute necessity, and unavoidable decree; or a placable and flexible Providence) or all is a mere casual confusion, void of all order and government. If an absolute and unavoidable necessity, why doest thou resist? If a placable and exorable Providence, make thyself worthy of the divine help and assistance. If all be a mere confusion without any moderator, or governor, then hast thou reason to congratulate thyself; that in such a general flood of confusion thou thyself hast obtained a reasonable faculty, whereby thou mayest govern thine own life and actions.
[tr. Casaubon (1634), #11]

Either the Order of Things are fixed by irrevocable Fate, or Providence may be worked into Compassion, or else the World Floats at Raondom without any Steerage. Now if nature lies under immovable Necessity, to what purpose should you struggle against it? If the favor of Providence is to be gained, qualify your self for the Divine Assistance: But if Chance, and Confusion carry it, and no body sits at the Helm; be you contented and Ride out the Storm patiently, for you have a Governor within you , though the World has none.
[tr. Collier (1701)]

Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a director. If then there is an invincible necessity, why dost thou resist? But if there is a providence which allows itself to be propitiated, make thyself worthy of the help of the divinity. But if there is a confusion without a governor, be content that in such a tempest thou hast in thyself a certain ruling intelligence.
[tr. Long (1862)]

Either the order of things is fixed by irrevocable fate, or providence may be worked into compassion, or else the world floats at random without any steerage. Now if nature lies under an immovable necessity, to what purpose should you struggle against it? If the favor of providence is to be gained, qualify yourself for divine assistance; but if chance and confusion prevail, be you contented that in such a storm you have a governing intelligence within you.
[tr. Zimmern (1887)]

Either the Necessity of destiny and an order none may transgress, or Providence that hears intercession, or an ungoverned welter without a purpose. If then a Necessity which none may transgress, why do you resist? If a Providence admitting intercession, make yourself worthy of assistance from the Godhead. If an undirected welter, be glad that in so great a flood of waves you have yourself within you a directing mind.
[tr. Farquharson (1944)]

Fatal necessity, and inescapable order. Or benevolent Providence. Or confusion -- random and undirected. If it's an inescapable necessity, why resist it? If it's Providence, admits of being worshipped, then try to be worthy of God's aid. If it's confusion and anarchy, then be grateful that on this raging sea you have a mind to guide you.
[tr. Hays (2003)]

Either predetermined necessity and unalterable cosmic order, or a gracious providence, or a chaotic ungoverned mixture. If a predetermined necessity, why do you resist? If it is a gracious Providence that can hear our prayers, then make yourself worthy of divine assistance. If a chaotic ungoverned mixture, be satisfied that in the midst of this storm, you have within yourself a mind whose nature it is to govern and command.
[tr. Needleman/Piazza (2008)]

Added on 26-Mar-13 | Last updated 30-Mar-21
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Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) Polish-born Catholic Pontiff (1978-2005) [b. Karol Józef Wojtyła]
“Cosmology and Fundamental Physics,” Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Science (3 Oct 1981)
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I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What I Believe,” Forum and Century (Oct 1930)
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Einstein crafted and recrafted his credo multiple times in this period, and specifics are often muddled by differing translations and by his reuse of certain phrases in later writing. The Forum and Century entry appears to be the earliest. Some important variants:

I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither ca I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with they mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.

— "The World As I See It [Mein Weltbild] [tr. Bargmann (1954)]


I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.

— "The World As I See It [Mein Weltbild] [tr. Harris (1934)]


To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.

[Es ist mir genug, diese Geheimnisse staunend zu ahnen und zu versuchen, von der erhabenen Struktur des Seienden in Demut ein mattes Abbild geistig zu erfassen.]

Reduced variant in "My Credo Mein Glaubensbekenntnis]" (Aug 1932)
Added on 8-Oct-08 | Last updated 21-Feb-21
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I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
In G. Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930)
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Note this passage is not present in the Saturday Evening Post interview that was the basis for that chapter of Viereck's book.
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It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
Viewpoint interview by Bill Stout, KNXT (1 May 1959)

Reprinted in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, ed. by Michelle Feynman, Appendix I (2006).
Added on 27-Nov-07 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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And people wonder where I get this weird sense of humor; the universe considers me its personal cat toy. You have ANY idea what it’s like to go through life covered in cosmic cat spit?

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
irc.warnerbros.com #Babylon5 (23 Jan 1997)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Jul-20
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I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English physicist and mathematician
Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, 2.27 [ed. D. Brewster (1855)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Mar-14
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Always think of the universe as one living organism, with a single substance and a single soul.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 4, #40 [tr. Maxwell Staniforth (1964)]
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My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the Universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image to be servants of their own human interests.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
Soliloquies in England, “On My Friendly Critics,” (1922)
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If you take the long view, the universe is just something small and round, like those water-filled balls which produce a miniature snowstorm when you shake them. (Although, unless the ineffable plan is a lot more ineffable than it’s given credit for, it does not have a giant plastic snowman at the bottom.)

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Good Omens (1990) [with Neil Gaiman]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Jun-21
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