style

nobody else in science writes quite like you, Johnny! … Your style — elegant and crystal clear, with twists of amazement and amusement; poetry in the midst of prose; the pithy phrase pregnant with insight ; parenthetical allusions to whole bodies of knowledge which the reader might have encountered elsewhere; argument by analogy and paradox…..

Kip Thorne

Ciufolini, Ignazio, and Richard A Matzner, eds. General Relativity and John Archibald Wheeler. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. Print.

John’s most obvious peculiarity was a sort of Germanic sentence structure in which you try, as much as you can in English, to put the verb at the end, having started out with a bunch of other qualifications, until the whole point gets made, with emphasis.

Charles Misner

Ciufolini, Ignazio, and Richard A Matzner, eds. General Relativity and John Archibald Wheeler. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. Print.

I read the paper with emotion… There it was, not only done, but done with a style I had not seen before.  Deep, elegant physics that read as literature.  Equations written with words instead of symbols.  Generosity in giving credit to the work of others.

Claudio Bunster

Quantum Mechanics of Fundamental Systems Henneaux, Marc, and Jorge Zanelli, eds. Quantum Mechanics of Fundamental Systems: The Quest for Beauty and Simplicity: Claudio Bunster Festschrift. New York: Springer, 2009. Print.

Wheeler’s class teaching was in the style of the old masters.  He would come to the class often without notes, and would begin his gentle and deliberate narration step by step from memory, writing down the concepts and formulas in details and explaining the thinking that was needed at each step,, as if he was thinking aloud.   In the process, we students could observe how a great mind was at work, as if pulling out the thread of the silk continuously form a cocoon.  On a few occasions, he might get stuck in the middle of the narration, and would stop in front of the blackboard,  We students would wait eagerly to see how he would resolve the difficult points in question.  A short pause later, he would resume and march on to get the key concepts across.  He was well know for drawing pictorial representations of objects that were informative, complex, and often with philosophical implications.  His pictorial depiction of the Participatory Universe and its participating observers by the letter U … with an eye at the end is legendary!

Cheuk-Yin Wong

Wong, Cheuk-Yin. “Remembering Professor John Wheeler.” AAAPPS Bulletin 19.2 (2009) : 56-58. Print.

Throughout his life, [Wheeler] has oscillated between two styles of writing and thinking that I like to call prosaic and poetic.  In the [1939] fission paper, I met the prosaic Wheeler, a master craftsman using the tools of orthodox physical theory to calculate quantities that can be compared with experiment.  The prosaic Wheeler always has his feet on the ground.  He is temperamentally conservative, taking the existing theories for granted and using them with skill and imagination to solve practical problems.  But from time to time, we see a different Wheeler, the poetic Wheeler, who asks outrageous questions and takes nothing for granted.  The poetic Wheeler writes papers and books with titles such as “Beyond the black hole,” “Beyond the end of time,” and “Law without law.”  His message is a call for radical revolution.   …… The poetic Wheeler is a prophet, standing like Moses on the top of Mount Pisgah looking out over the Promised Land that his people will one day inherit.

Freeman Dyson

Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology,and Complexity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge, 2004.

Wheeler’s poetic imagination – with its deep, almost philosophical questions such as How come the quantum?  and How come existence? – combined with his engineering common sense that brought many of his lofty ideas down to earth was his trademark way of doing physics.

Charles Misner, Kip Thorne, & Wojciech Zurek

“John Wheeler, Relativity, and Quantum Information.” Physics Today April 2009. Web. 8 Apr 2011.