John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.
I should think of Bernoulli, with his -- the original Bernoulli, with his picture of gases colliding with each other and temperature having to do with the speed of the molecules. And Voltaire ridiculing that idea. It did not really take off again until at least a century later. But at that same time that Bernoulli gave this idea of the properties of a gas arising from molecules, Leibniz was proposing ideas which gave more occasion for Voltaire to ridicule. There are very few people whose considerations require a whole book to ridicule them, but Voltaire devoted the whole book Candide to ridiculing Leibniz's idea: this is the best of all possible worlds. They began, of course, with the tidal wave, which overcame Lisbon, and it resulted in so many deaths, and it goes on to incident after incident. But Leibniz was the great thinker and great universal man. If one goes into the building of the academy of sciences in Berlin, as one used to go into it, during the time of East German rule, there was Honecker, the President of East Germany on one side, but opposite was the portrait of Leibniz. He was the one who advocated the idea of a network of academies of science in all the great countries that could keep in touch with each other and forward science. But what was his greatest idea? My colleague, Oskar Morgenstern, told me about the enterprise under way to re-print the works of Leibniz, the enormous history, mathematics, science, inventing the calculus, understanding so much of the principles of physics. Even if Newton did not resonate to Leibniz, the rest of the world did. But my colleague, Oskar Morgenstern had the feeling that Leibniz may have discovered the magic principle by which anybody could discover truth, but was something of such great importance and strength that it could only be taught to people of the highest moral character, otherwise it would give too much power to the wrong people in the world. Well, it will be fascinating to see, as the work goes on in studying the writings of Leibniz, if there's any evidence there of his principle for discovering truth.
Title: Historic individuals in science: Bernoulli, Leibniz and Voltaire
Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).