Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén (30 May, 1908; Norrköping, Sweden - 2 April, 1995; Djursholm, Sweden) was a Swedish plasma physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his work developing magnetohydrodynamics theory. He trained as, and considered himself to be, an electrical power engineer, taught physics at university, became professor of electromagnetic theory, and accepted the Chair of Plasma Physics. Later he worked in universities in America.
- "Most people today still believe, perhaps unconsciously, in the heliocentric universe ... every newspaper in the land has a section on astrology, yet few have anything at all on astronomy."
- "The appeal of the Big Bang has been more ideological than scientific. When men think about the universe, there is always a conflict between the mythical approach and the empirical scientific approach. In myth, one tries to deduce how the gods must have created the world - what perfect principles must have been used."
- "Students using astrophysical textbooks remain essentially ignorant of even the existence of plasma concepts, despite the fact that some of them have been known for half a century. The conclusion is that astrophysics is too important to be left in the hands of astrophysicists who have gotten their main knowledge from these textbooks. Earthbound and space telescope data must be treated by scientists who are familiar with laboratory and magnetospheric physics and circuit theory, and of course with modern plasma theory."
- "The peer review system is satisfactory during quiescent times, but not during a revolution in a discipline such as astrophysics, when the establishment seeks to preserve the status quo."
- "There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago."
- "We should remember that there was once a discipline called natural philosophy. Unfortunately, this discipline seems not to exist today. It has been renamed science, but science of today is in danger of losing much of the natural philosophy aspect."
- "We have to learn again that science without contact with experiments is an enterprise which is likely to go completely astray into imaginary conjecture."
- "Scientists tend to resist interdisciplinary inquiries into their own territory. In many instances, such parochialism is founded on the fear that intrusion from other disciplines would compete unfairly for limited financial resources and thus diminish their own opportunity for research."
- "I have always believed that astrophysics should be the extrapolation of laboratory physics, that we must begin from the present universe and work our way backward to progressively more remote and uncertain epochs."
- "I have never thought that you could obtain the extremely clumpy, heterogeneous universe we have today, strongly affected by plasma processes, from the smooth, homogeneous one of the Big Bang, dominated by gravitation."
- "Since religion intrinsically rejects empirical methods, there should never be any attempt to reconcile scientific theories with religion. An infinitely old universe, always evolving, may not be compatible with the Book of Genesis. However, religions such as Buddhism get along without having any explicit creation mythology and are in no way contradicted by a universe without a beginning or end. Creatio ex nihilo, even as religious doctrine, only dates to around AD 200. The key is not to confuse myth and empirical results, or religion and science."
- "The difference between myth and science is the difference between divine inspiration of `unaided reason' on the one hand and theories developed in observational contact with the real world on the other. [It is] the difference between the belief in prophets and critical thinking, between Credo quia absurdum [I believe because it is absurd--Tertullian.] and De omnibus est dubitandum [Everything should be questioned--Descartes.]. To try to write a grand cosmical drama leads necessarily to myth. To try to let knowledge substitute ignorance in increasingly large regions of space and time is science."
- "I have no trouble publishing in Soviet astrophysical journals, but my work is unacceptable to the American astrophysical journals."
- "To try to write a grand cosmical drama leads necessarily to myth. To try to let knowledge substitute ignorance in increasingly larger regions of space and time is science."
Quotes about Alfven
- "During Alfvén's visit he gave a lecture at the University of Chicago, which was attended by Enrico Fermi. As Alfvén described his work, Fermi nodded his head and said, 'Of course.' The next day the entire world of physics said. 'Oh. of course.'"
- Alex Dessler, editor Geophysical Research Letters
- "When I entered the field of space physics in 1956, I recall that I fell in with the crowd believing, for example, that electric fields could not exist in the highly conducting plasma of space. It was three years later that I was shamed by S. Chandrasekhar into investigating Alfvén's work objectively. My degree of shock and surprise in finding Alfvén right and his critics wrong can hardly be described. I learned that a cosmic ray acceleration mechanism basically identical to the famous mechanism suggested by Fermi in 1949 had [previously] been put forth by Alfvén."