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Our own galaxy system is only one of a great many, and observations made from any of the others would show exactly the same thing: all systems are receding, not from any particular centre, but from each other: the whole system of galaxies is expanding.
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Our conception of the structure of the Universe bears all the marks of a transitory structure. Our theories are decidedly in a state of continuous and just now very rapid evolution.
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Is the density anywhere near that corresponding to the static universe, or is it so small that we can consider the empty universe as a good approximation?
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[Einstein's cosmological constant] is a name without any meaning.... We have, in fact, not the slightest inkling of what it's real significance is. It is put in the equations in order to give the greatest possible degree of mathematical generality.
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Let the universe have only two dimensions, and let it be the surface of an india rubber ball. It is only the surface that is the universe, not the ball itself.... Let there be specks of dust fixed to the surface to represent the different galactic systems. If the ball is inflated, the universe expands, and these specks of dust will recede from each other, their mutual distances, measured along the surface, will increase in the same rate as the radius of the ball. An observer in any one of the specks will see all the others receding from himself, but it does not follow that he is the centre of the universe. The universe (which is the surface of the ball, not the ball itself) has no centre.
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The way in which the universe expands is determined by the variation of this [radius of curvature] R with the time. There are three types, or families, of non-static universes... the oscillating universes, and the expanding universes of the first and of the second kind.... each of these is a representative of a family, comprising an infinite number of members differing in size and shape.... In the expanding family of the first kind the radius is continually increasing from... zero... In the expanding series of the second type the radius has at the initial time a certain minimum value, different for the different members of the family. [Both kinds of expanding families] become infinite after an infinite time.
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The triangles that we can measure are not large enough... to detect the curvature. Fortunately, however, we are, in a way, able to communicate with the fourth dimension. The theory of relativity has given us an insight into the structure of the real universe:... a four-dimensional structure. The study of the way in which the three space-dimensions are interwoven with the time-dimension affords a kind of outside point of view of the three-dimensional space... from this outside point of view we might be able to perceive the curvature of the three-dimensional world.
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It is easy to compute the density of a static universe of a radius of two thousand million lightyears, and it comes out only very little larger than the observed density. The actual universe is thus very far from empty, it is, on the contrary, nearly full.
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In electromagnetism... the law of the inverse square had been supreme, but, as a consequence of the work of Faraday and Maxwell, it was superseded by the field. And the same change took place in the theory of gravitation. By and by the material particles, electrically charged bodies, and magnets which are the things that we actually observe come to be looked upon only as "singularities" in the field. So far this transformation from the force to the potential, from the action at a distance to the field, is only a purely mathematical operation.
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The field equations, in their most general form, contain a term multiplied by a constant, which is denoted by the Greek letter λ... sometimes called the "cosmical constant." This is a name without any meaning... We have, in fact, not the slightest inkling of what its real significance is. It is put in the equations in order to give them the greatest possible degree of mathematical generality, but, so far as its mathematical function is concerned, it is entirely undetermined: it may be positive or negative, it might also be zero.
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These... are the two observational facts about our neighbourhood, which have to be accounted for by the theory: there is a finite density of matter, and there is expansion, i. e. the mutual distances are increasing, and therefore the density is decreasing.
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How does it come about that we have been able to find satisfactory hypotheses to explain electricity and magnetism, light and heat, in short all other physical phenomena, but have been unsuccessful in the case of gravitation?
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There is another side to the theory of relativity. We have pointed out in the beginning how the development of science is in the direction to make it less subjective, to separate more and more in the observed facts that which belongs to the reality behind the phenomena, the absolute, from the subjective element, which is introduced by the observer, the relative. Einstein's theory is a great step in that direction. We can say that the theory of relativity is intended to remove entirely the relative and exhibit the pure absolute.
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Since we only consider the universe on a very large scale, and make abstraction of all details and local irregularities, our universe must be homogeneous and isotropic. It follows... that the three-dimensional space of it must be what mathematicians call a space of constant curvature.
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The inconsistency of first explaining matter by atoms and then explaining atoms by matter was only slowly realised, and it is only comparatively recently that we have come to see that there is nothing paradoxical in the fact that an atom or an electron, which are not matter, may have properties different from those of matter, and must be allowed to do things that a material particle could not do.
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In the "static" universe expansion is impossible, the "empty" universe does expand. Therefore we may be tempted to consider the empty universe as the most likely approximation; and we can proceed to compute the radius of curvature of the universe, supposing it to be of the empty type, from the observed rate of expansion.
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If we put in the details, the singularities of the field, viz. the galactic systems and the stars, we find that there is... a tendency, called gravitation, to decrease the mutual distances of these "singularities." At short distances, within the confines of a galactic system, this second tendency is by far the strongest, and the galactic systems retain their size independent of the expansion or contraction of the universe...
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Purely mathematical symbols have no meaning by themselves; it is the privilege of pure mathematicians, to quote Bertrand Russell, not to know what they are talking about.... It is the physicist, and not the mathematician, who must know what he is talking about.
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Gravitation is entirely independent of everything that influences other natural phenomena. It is not subject to absorption or refraction, no velocity of propagation has been observed. You can do whatever you please with a body, you can electrify or magnetise it, you can heat it, melt or evaporate it, decompose it chemically, its behaviour with respect to gravitation is not affected. Gravitation acts on all bodies in the same way, everywhere and always we find it in the same rigorous and simple form, which frustrates all our attempts to penetrate into its internal mechanism.
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Observations give us two data, viz. the rate of expansion and the average density, and there are three unknowns: the value of λ, the sign of the curvature, and the scale of the figure, i. e. the units of R and of the time. The problem is indeterminate.
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All systems are receding, not from any particular centre, but from each other: the whole system of galactic systems is expanding.
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It is possible to relegate the epoch of the starting of the expansion to minus infinity, e. g. by using instead of the ordinary time the logarithm of the time elapsed since the beginning. But this is only a mathematical trick. We call zero minus infinity, but that only means that we allow the universe an infinite time to get well started on its course of expansion, but it does not make the time during which anything really happens any longer.
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We... come to the conclusion... that the actual universe is neither the static nor the empty one. It differs so much from both of these that neither can be used as an appropriate grand scale model. We must thus look for other solutions of the general field-equations. On account of the expansion our solution must necessarily be a non-static one, and it must have a finite density. There is only one possible static solution possessing a finite density, viz. our old friend A, but of non-static solutions with finite density there exists a great variety.
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In Einstein's general theory of relativity the identity of these two coefficients, the gravitational and the inertial mass, is no longer a miracle, but a necessity, because gravitation and inertia are identical.
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In both the solutions A and B the curvature is positive, in both three-dimensional space is finite: the universe has a definite size, we can speak of its radius, and, in the case A, of its total mass. In the case A... the density is proportional to the curvature... Thus, if we wish to have a finite density in a static universe, we must have a finite positive curvature.
Willem de Sitter
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Willem de Sitter
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Born:
May 6, 1872
Died:
November 20, 1934
(aged 62)
Bio:
Willem de Sitter was a Dutch mathematician, physicist and astronomer.
Most used words:
universe
density
static
time
curvature
expansion
gravitation
finite
three
theory
systems
empty
radius
field
mathematical
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