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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Light Quotes (131 quotes)

'Unless,' said I [Socrates], either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings:. and rulers take to the pursuit of' philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun.
The Republic 5 474ce, trans. P. Shorey (1930), Vol. 1, Book 5, 509.
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Boss: I just heard that light travels faster than sound. I'm wondering if I should shout when I speak, just so my lips appear to sync-up with my words.
Dilbert (thought): A little knowledge can be a ridiculous thing.
Dilbert comic strip (10 Sep 1992).
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Dogbert (gazing at night sky) No matter how bad the day is, the stars are always there.
Dilbert Actually, many of them burned out years ago, but their light is just now reaching earth.
DogbertThank you for shattering my comfortable misconception.
DilbertIt's the miracle of science.
Dilbert comic strip (21 Nov 1990).
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Energie is the operation, efflux or activity of any being: as the light of the Sunne is the energie of the Sunne, and every phantasm of the soul is the energie of the soul.
[The first recorded definition of the term energy in English]
In Platonica: A Platonicall Song of the Soul (1642). In this book of poems, More uses the word energie many times, and in the opening section, 'To the Reader'. The definition quoted appears at the end of the book in 'The interpretation of the more unusual names or words that occurre in the foregoing Poems.'
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Il n'y a qu'un demi-siècle, un orateur chrétien, se défiant des hommes de la science leur disait: 'Arrêtez-vous enfin, et ne creusez pas jusqu'aux enfers.' Aujourd'hui, Messieurs, rassurés sur l'inébranlable constance de notre foi, nous vous disons: creusez, creusez encore; plus vous descendrez, plus vous rapprocherez du grand mystère de l'impuissance de l'homme et de la vérité de la religion. Creusez donc, creusez toujours,mundum tradidit disputationibus eorum; et quand la science aura donné son dernier coup de marteau sur les fondements de la terre, vous pourrez à la lueur du feu qu'il fera jaillir, lire encore l'idée de Dieu et contempler l'empreinte de sa main.
Only a half-century ago, a Christian speaker, mistrustful of men of science told them: 'Stop finally, and do not dig to hell.' Today, gentlemen, reassured about the steadfastness of our unshakeable faith, we say: dig, dig again; the further down you, the closer you come to the great mystery of the impotence of man and truth of religion. So dig, always dig: and when science has stuck its final hammer blow on the bosom of the earth, you will be able to ignite a burst of light, read furthermore the mind of God and contemplate the imprint of His hand.
As Monseigneur Rendu, Bishop of Annecy, Savoy, presiding at the closing session of a meeting of the Geological Society of France at Chambéry, Savoy (27 Aug 1844). In Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France 1843 à 1844, Tome 1, Ser. 2, 857. (1844), li. Google trans., edited by Webmaster.
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Qu. 31. Have not the small Particles of Bodies certain Powers, Virtues or Forces, by which they act at a distance, not only upon the Rays of Light for reflecting, refracting and reflecting them, but also upon one another for producing a great part of the Phænomena of Nature?
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 350.
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Question: Account for the delicate shades of colour sometimes seen on the inside of an oyster shell. State and explain the appearance presented when a beam of light falls upon a sheet of glass on which very fine equi-distant parallel lines have been scratched very close to one another.
Answer: The delicate shades are due to putrefaction; the colours always show best when the oyster has been a bad one. Hence they are considered a defect and are called chromatic aberration.
The scratches on the glass will arrange themselves in rings round the light, as any one may see at night in a tram car.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 182, Question 27. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Une même expression, dont les géomètres avaient considéré les propriétés abstraites, … représente'aussi le mouvement de la lumière dans l’atmosphère, quelle détermine les lois de la diffusion de la chaleur dans la matière solide, et quelle entre dans toutes les questions principales de la théorie des probabilités.
The same expression whose abstract properties geometers had considered … represents as well the motion of light in the atmosphere, as it determines the laws of diffusion of heat in solid matter, and enters into all the chief problems of the theory of probability.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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After the German occupation of Holland in May 1940, the [last] two dark years of the war I spent hiding indoors from the Nazis, eating tulip bulbs to fill the stomach and reading Kramers' book “Quantum Theorie des Elektrons und der Strahlung” by the light of a storm lamp.
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All the fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no closer to answer the question, “What are light quanta?” Of course today every rascal thinks he knows the answer, but he is deluding himself.
(1951). Quoted in Raymond W. Lam, Seasonal Affective Disorder and Beyond (1998), 1.
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An age is called Dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see.
From Space: A Novel (1983), 709. As cited by David G. Anderson, 'Archaic Mounds and Southeastern Tribal Societies', in Jon L. Gibson, Philip J. Carr (ed.), Signs of Power: The Rise of Cultural Complexity in the Southeast (2004), 297. A footnote by Anderson explains that Michener described the supernova of 1054 A.D. which blazed for 23 days and was recorded around the world, except in western Europe where religious dogma insisted the heavens were immutable. The quote above was Michener’s comment on that “refusal to see.”.
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And by the influence of heat, light, and electrical powers, there is a constant series of changes [in animal and vegetal substances]; matter assumes new forms, the destruction of one order of beings tends to the conservation of another, solution and consolidation, decay and renovation, are connected, and whilst the parts of the system, continue in a state of fluctuation and change, the order and harmony of the whole remain unalterable.
The Elements of Agricultural Chemistry (1813), in J. Davy (ed.) The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy(1839-40), Vol 7, 182.
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And God made two great lights, great for their use
To man, the greater to have rule by day, The less by night…
Paradise Lost: A poem, in Twelve Books (1750), Book 7, 36-37.
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And if one look through a Prism upon a white Object encompassed with blackness or darkness, the reason of the Colours arising on the edges is much the same, as will appear to one that shall a little consider it. If a black Object be encompassed with a white one, the Colours which appear through the Prism are to be derived from the Light of the white one, spreading into the Regions of the black, and therefore they appear in a contrary order to that, when a white Object is surrounded with black. And the same is to be understood when an Object is viewed, whose parts are some of them less luminous than others. For in the borders of the more and less luminous Parts, Colours ought always by the same Principles to arise from the Excess of the Light of the more luminous, and to be of the same kind as if the darker parts were black, but yet to be more faint and dilute.
Opticks (1704), Book I, Part 2, Prop. VIII, Prob. III, 123.
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Are not all Hypotheses erroneous, in which Light is supposed to consist in Pression or Motion, propagated through a fluid Medium? For in all these Hypotheses the Phaenomena of Light have been hitherto explain'd by supposing that they arise from new Modifications of the Rays; which is an erroneous Supposition.
Opticks, 2nd edition (1718), Book 3, Query 28, 337.
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As physicists have arranged an extensive series of effects under the general term of Heat, so they have named another series Light, and a third they have called Electricity. We find ... that all these principles are capable of being produced through the medium of living bodies, for nearly all animals have the power of evolving heat; many insects, moreover, can voluntarily emit light; and the property of producing electricity is well evinced in the terrible shock of the electric eel, as well as in that of some other creatures. We are indeed in the habit of talking of the Electric fluid, or the Galvanic fluid, but this in reality is nothing but a licence of expression suitable to our finite and material notions.
In the Third Edition of Elements of Electro-Metallurgy: or The Art of Working in Metals by the Galvanic Fluid (1851), 1.
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As, pricked out with less and greater lights, between the poles of the universe, the Milky Way so gleameth white as to set very sages questioning.
In The Paradiso of Dante Alighieri (1899, 1904), 175.
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Astronomers work always with the past; because light takes time to move from one place to another, they see things as they were, not as they are.
The Telescope Handbook and Star Atlas (1967), 33.
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At Gabriel College there was a very holy object on the high altar of the Oratory, covered with a black velvet cloth... At the height of the invocation the Intercessor lifted the cloth to reveal in the dimness a glass dome inside which there was something too distant to see, until he pulled a string attached to a shutter above, letting a ray of sunlight through to strike the dome exactly. Then it became clear: a little thing like a weathervane, with four sails black on one side and white on the other, began to whirl around as the light struck it. It illustrated a moral lesson, the Intercessor explained, for the black of ignorance fled from the light, whereas the wisdom of white rushed to embrace it.
[Alluding to Crookes's radiometer.]
Northern Lights (2001), 149.
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But in the heavens we discover by their light, and by their light alone, stars so distant from each other that no material thing can ever have passed from one to another; and yet this light, which is to us the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds, tells us also that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds as those which we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule, therefore, throughout the universe, bears impressed on it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the double royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac ... the exact quantity of each molecule to all others of same kind gives it, as Sir John Herschel has well said, the essential character of a manufactured article and precludes the idea of its being external and self-existent.
'Molecules', 1873. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 375-6.
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But it will be found... that one universal law prevails in all these phenomena. Where two portions of the same light arrive in the eye by different routes, either exactly or very nearly in the same direction, the appearance or disappearance of various colours is determined by the greater or less difference in the lengths of the paths.
Lecture XIV. 'Of Physical Optics'. In A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Natural and Experimental Philosophy (1802), 112-4.
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But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It speaks, and yet says nothing.
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2.
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But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values.
Regarding the atomic bomb project.
From speech at Los Alamos (17 Oct 1945). Quoted in David C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century (2009), 214.
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By death the moon was gathered in Long ago, ah long ago;
Yet still the silver corpse must spin
And with another's light must glow.
Her frozen mountains must forget
Their primal hot volcanic breath,
Doomed to revolve for ages yet,
Void amphitheatres of death.
And all about the cosmic sky,
The black that lies beyond our blue,
Dead stars innumerable lie,
And stars of red and angry hue
Not dead but doomed to die.
'Cosmic Death' (1923), in The Captive Shrew and Other Poems of a Biologist (1932), 30.
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Can imagination picture what the future of this invention is to be! … We may talk by light to any visible distance without any conducting wire.
Letter to his father (26 Feb 1880), describing his photophone research. Transcript with Bell Papers, Library of Congress.
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Chemistry without catalysis, would be a sword without a handle, a light without brilliance, a bell without sound.
R. B. Desper, 'Alwin Mittasch', Journal of Chemlca1 Education (1948), 25, 531-2.
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Computers and rocket ships are examples of invention, not of understanding. ... All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It's an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no “why&rdqo; in those examples. We don't understand why electricity travels. We don't know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 22.
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Damn the Solar System. Bad light; planets too distant; pestered with comets; feeble contrivance; could make a better myself.
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Darwin's Origin of Species had come into the theological world like a plough into an ant-hill. Everywhere those thus rudely awakened from their old comfort and repose had swarmed forth angry and confused. Reviews, sermons, books light and heavy, came flying at the new thinker from all sides.
From The Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom (1898), 70.
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Do not Bodies and Light act mutually upon one another; that is to say, Bodies upon Light in emitting, reflecting, refracting and inflecting it, and Light upon Bodies for heating them, and putting their parts into a vibrating motion wherein heat consists?
Opticks (1704), Book 3, Query 5, 133.
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Do not great Bodies conserve their heat the longest, their parts heating one another, and may not great dense and fix'd Bodies, when heated beyond a certain degree, emit Light so copiously, as by the Emission and Re-action of its Light, and the Reflexions and Refractions of its Rays within its Pores to grow still hotter, till it comes to a certain period of heat, such as is that of the Sun?
Opticks (1704), Book 3, Query II, 135.
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Do not try the parallels in that way: I know that way all along. I have measured that bottomless night, and all the light and all the joy of my life went out there.
Having himself spent a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to prove Euclid's postulate that parallel lines do not meet, Farkas discouraged his son János from any further attempt.
Letter (4 Apr 1820), to his son, János Bolyai. In J. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson, 'Farkas Wolfgang Bolyai' (Mar 2004), web article in MacTutor..
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Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are ... rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.
Yankee in Canada, Etc., 167. Excerpt in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890,2005), 102.
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Exper. I. I made a small hole in a window-shutter, and covered it with a piece of thick paper, which I perforated with a fine needle. For greater convenience of observation I placed a small looking-glass without the window-shutter, in such a position as to reflect the sun's light, in a direction nearly horizontal, upon the opposite wall, and to cause the cone of diverging light to pass over a table on which were several little screens of card-paper. I brought into the sunbeam a slip of card, about one-thirtieth of an inch in breadth, and observed its shadow, either on the wall or on other cards held at different distances. Besides the fringes of colour on each side of the shadow, the shadow itself was divided by similar parallel fringes, of smaller dimensions, differing in number, according to the distance at which the shadow was observed, but leaving the middle of the shadow always white. Now these fringes were the joint effects of the portions of light passing on each side of the slip of card and inflected, or rather diffracted, into the shadow. For, a little screen being placed a few inches from the card, so as to receive either edge of the shadow on its margin, all the fringes which had before been observed in the shadow on the wall, immediately disappeared, although the light inflected on the other side was allowed to retain its course, and although this light must have undergone any modification that the proximity of the other edge of the slip of card might have been capable of occasioning... Nor was it for want of a sufficient intensity of light that one of the two portions was incapable of producing the fringes alone; for when they were both uninterrupted, the lines appeared, even if the intensity was reduced to one-tenth or one-twentieth.
'Experiments and Calculations Relative to Physical Optics' (read in 1803), Philosophical Transactions (1804), 94, 2-3.
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Faith is like electricity. You can't see it, but you can see its light shining on you.
In 'Quotes and Quips', Hinduism Today Magazine (Jan-Mar 2009), web edition.
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Firm support has been found for the assertion that electricity occurs at thousands of points where we at most conjectured that it was present. Innumerable electrical particles oscillate in every flame and light source. We can in fact assume that every heat source is filled with electrons which will continue to oscillate ceaselessly and indefinitely. All these electrons leave their impression on the emitted rays. We can hope that experimental study of the radiation phenomena, which are exposed to various influences, but in particular to the effect of magnetism, will provide us with useful data concerning a new field, that of atomistic astronomy, as Lodge called it, populated with atoms and electrons instead of planets and worlds.
'Light Radiation in a Magnetic Field', Nobel Lecture, 2 May 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1901-1921 (1967), 40.
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First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
By her just standard, which is still the same:
Unerring nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchanged, and universal light,
Life, force, and beauty must to all impart,
At once the source, and end, and test of art.
#039;Essay On Criticism#039;, Miscellaneous Poems and Translations: by Several Hands (1720), 38.
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For nature is a perpetuall circulatory worker, generating fluids out of solids, and solids out of fluids, fixed things out of volatile, & volatile out of fixed, subtile out of gross, & gross out of subtile, Some things to ascend & make the upper terrestriall juices, Rivers and the Atmosphere; & by consequence others to descend for a Requitall to the former. And as the Earth, so perhaps may the Sun imbibe this spirit copiously to conserve his Shineing, & keep the Planets from recedeing further from him. And they that will, may also suppose, that this Spirit affords or carryes with it thither the solary fewell & materiall Principle of Light; And that the vast aethereall Spaces between us, & the stars are for a sufficient repository for this food of the Sunn and Planets.
Letter to Oldenburg (7 Dec 1675). In H. W. Turnbull (ed.), The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, 1661-1675 (1959), Vol. 1, 366.
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For the rest of my life I will reflect on what light is.
(1917). Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 69.
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For, as the element of water lies in the middle of the globe, so, the branches run out from the root in its circuit on all sides towards the plains and towards the light. From this root very many branches are born. One branch is the Rhine, another the Danube, another the Nile, etc.
'The Philosophy of the Generation of the Elements', Book the Fourth, Text II. In The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, of Hohenheim, called Paracelsus the Great, trans. A. E. Waite (1894), Vol. 1, 232.
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From the aspect of energy, renewed by radio-active phenomena, material corpuscles may now be treated as transient reservoirs of concentrated power. Though never found in a state of purity, but always more or less granulated (even in light) energy nowadays represents for science the most primitive form of universal stuff.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 42. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Gas Lights - Without Oil, Tallow, Wicks or Smoke. It is not necessary to invite attention to the gas lights by which my salon of paintings is now illuminated; those who have seen the ring beset with gems of light are sufficiently disposed to spread their reputation; the purpose of this notice is merely to say that the Museum will be illuminated every evening until the public curiosity be gratified.
[Promoting the gas lights Peale installed to attract paying visitors to his museum of portraits and natural history exhibits.]
First advertisement for Peale's Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (13 Jun 1816) (source)
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Go into a room where the shutters are always shut (in a sick-room or a bed-room there should never be shutters shut), and though the room be uninhabited—though the air has never been polluted by the breathing of human beings, you will observe a close, musty smell of corrupt air—of air unpurified by the effect of the sun's rays.
Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1860), 120.
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I ... express a wish that you may, in your generation, be fit to compare to a candle; that you may, like it, shine as lights to those about you; that, in all your actions, you may justify the beauty of the taper by making your deeds honourable and effectual in the discharge of your duty to your fellow-men.
[Concluding remarks for the final lecture (Christmas 1860-61) for children at the Royal Institution. These six lectures were the first series in the tradition of Christmas lectures continued to the present day.]
A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle (1861), 183.
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I happen to have discovered a direct relation between magnetism and light, also electricity and light, and the field it opens is so large and I think rich.
Letter to Christian Schönbein (13 Nov 1845), The Letters of Faraday and Schoenbein, 1836-1862 (1899), 148.
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I say it is impossible that so sensible a people [citizens of Paris], under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing.
[Describing the energy-saving benefit of adopting daylight saving time. (1784)]
'An Economical Project', The Life and Miscellaneous Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1839), 58. A translation of this letter appeared in one of the Paris daily papers about 1784. He estimated, during six months, a saving of over 64 million pound weight of candles, worth over 96 million livres tournois.
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I took a glass retort, capable of containing eight ounces of water, and distilled fuming spirit of nitre according to the usual method. In the beginning the acid passed over red, then it became colourless, and lastly again all red: no sooner did this happen, than I took away the receiver; and tied to the mouth of the retort a bladder emptied of air, which I had moistened in its inside with milk of lime lac calcis, (i.e. lime-water, containing more quicklime than water can dissolve) to prevent its being corroded by the acid. Then I continued the distillation, and the bladder gradually expanded. Here-upon I left every thing to cool, tied up the bladder, and took it off from the mouth of the retort.— I filled a ten-ounce glass with this air and put a small burning candle into it; when immediately the candle burnt with a large flame, of so vivid a light that it dazzled the eyes. I mixed one part of this air with three parts of air, wherein fire would not burn; and this mixture afforded air, in every respect familiar to the common sort. Since this air is absolutely necessary for the generation of fire, and makes about one-third of our common air, I shall henceforth, for shortness sake call it empyreal air, [literally fire-air] the air which is unserviceable for the fiery phenomenon, and which makes abut two-thirds of common air, I shall for the future call foul air [literally corrupted air].
Chemische Abhandlung von der Luft und dem Feuer (1777), Chemical Observations and Experiments on Air and Fire (1780), trans. J. R. Forster, 34-5.
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I trust ... I have succeeded in convincing you that modern chemistry is not, as it has so long appeared, an ever-growing accumulation of isolated facts, as impossible for a single intellect to co-ordinate as for a single memory to grasp.
The intricate formulae that hang upon these walls, and the boundless variety of phenomena they illustrate, are beginning to be for us as a labyrinth once impassable, but to which we have at length discovered the clue. A sense of mastery and power succeeds in our minds to the sort of weary despair with which we at first contemplated their formidable array. For now, by the aid of a few general principles, we find ourselves able to unravel the complexities of these formulae, to marshal the compounds which they represent in orderly series; nay, even to multiply their numbers at our will, and in a great measure to forecast their nature ere we have called them into existence. It is the great movement of modern chemistry that we have thus, for an hour, seen passing before us. It is a movement as of light spreading itself over a waste of obscurity, as of law diffusing order throughout a wilderness of confusion, and there is surely in its contemplation something of the pleasure which attends the spectacle of a beautiful daybreak, something of the grandeur belonging to the conception of a world created out of chaos.
Concluding remark for paper presented at the Friday Discourse of the the Royal Institution (7 Apr 1865). 'On the Combining Power of Atoms', Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1865), 4, No. 42, 416.
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I was working with a Crookes tube covered by a shield of black cardboard. A piece of barium platino-cyanide paper lay on the bench there. I had been passing a current through the tube, and I noticed a peculiar black line across the paper. ...
The effect was one which could only be produced in ordinary parlance by the passage of light. No light could come from the tube because the shield which covered it was impervious to any light known even that of the electric arc. ...
I did not think I investigated. ...
I assumed that the effect must have come from the tube since its character indicated that it could come from nowhere else. ... It seemed at first a new kind of invisible light. It was clearly something new something unrecorded. ...
There is much to do, and I am busy, very busy. [Describing to a journalist the discovery of X-rays that he had made on 8 Nov 1895.]
In H.J.W. Dam in 'The New Marvel in Photography", McClure's Magazine (Apr 1896), 4:5, 413.
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If a photographic plate under the center of a lens focused on the heavens is exposed for hours, it comes to reveal stars so far away that even the most powerful telescopes fail to reveal them to the naked eye. In a similar way, time and concentration allow the intellect to perceive a ray of light in the darkness of the most complex problem.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 34.
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If the Humours of the Eye by old Age decay, so as by shrinking to make the Cornea and Coat of the Crystalline Humour grow flatter than before, the Light will not be refracted enough, and for want of a sufficient Refraction will not converge to the bottom of the Eye but to some place beyond it, and by consequence paint in the bottom of the Eye a confused Picture, and according to the Indistinctuess of this Picture the Object will appear confused. This is the reason of the decay of sight in old Men, and shews why their Sight is mended by Spectacles. For those Convex glasses supply the defect of plumpness in the Eye, and by increasing the Refraction make the rays converge sooner, so as to convene distinctly at the bottom of the Eye if the Glass have a due degree of convexity. And the contrary happens in short-sighted Men whose Eyes are too plump. For the Refraction being now too great, the Rays converge and convene in the Eyes before they come at the bottom; and therefore the Picture made in the bottom and the Vision caused thereby will not be distinct, unless the Object be brought so near the Eye as that the place where the converging Rays convene may be removed to the bottom, or that the plumpness of the Eye be taken off and the Refractions diminished by a Concave-glass of a due degree of Concavity, or lastly that by Age the Eye grow flatter till it come to a due Figure: For short-sighted Men see remote Objects best in Old Age, and therefore they are accounted to have the most lasting Eyes.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Axiom VII, 10-11.
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If we do not learn to eliminate waste and to be more productive and more efficient in the ways we use energy, then we will fall short of this goal [for the Nation to derive 20 percent of all the energy we use from the Sun, by 2000]. But if we use our technological imagination, if we can work together to harness the light of the Sun, the power of the wind, and the strength of rushing streams, then we will succeed.
Speech, at dedication of solar panels on the White House roof, 'Solar Energy Remarks Announcing Administration Proposals' (20 Jun 1979).
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Imagine the world so greatly magnified that particles of light look like twenty-four-pound cannon balls.
As given, without source, in James Geary, Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists (2008), 341.
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In early life I had felt a strong desire to devote myself to the experimental study of nature; and, happening to see a glass containing some camphor, portions of which had been caused to condense in very beautiful crystals on the illuminated side, I was induced to read everything I could obtain respecting the chemical and mechanical influences of light, adhesion, and capillary attraction.
In preface to Scientific Memoirs (1878), xii.
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In every combustion there is disengagement of the matter of fire or of light. A body can burn only in pure air [oxygen]. There is no destruction or decomposition of pure air and the increase in weight of the body burnt is exactly equal to the weight of air destroyed or decomposed. The body burnt changes into an acid by addition of the substance that increases its weight. Pure air is a compound of the matter of fire or of light with a base. In combustion the burning body removes the base, which it attracts more strongly than does the matter of heat, which appears as flame, heat and light.
'Memoire sur la combustion en général', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1777, 592. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 225-33, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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In fact, the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere, compared with the size of the Earth, is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a schoolroom globe is to the diameter of the globe. That's the air that nurtures us and almost all other life on Earth, that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun, that through the greenhouse effect brings the surface temperature above the freezing point. (Without the greenhouse effect, the entire Earth would plunge below the freezing point of water and we'd all be dead.) Now that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology. We are pumping all kinds of stuff into it. You know about the concern that chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the ozone layer; and that carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases are producing global warming, a steady trend amidst fluctuations produced by volcanic eruptions and other sources. Who knows what other challenges we are posing to this vulnerable layer of air that we haven't been wise enough to foresee?
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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In order that the relations between science and the age may be what they ought to be, the world at large must be made to feel that science is, in the fullest sense, a ministry of good to all, not the private possession and luxury of a few, that it is the best expression of human intelligence and not the abracadabra of a school, that it is a guiding light and not a dazzling fog.
'Hindrances to Scientific Progress', The Popular Science Monthly (Nov 1890), 38, 121.
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In space there are countless constellations, suns and planets; we see only the suns because they give light; the planets remain invisible, for they are small and dark. There are also numberless earths circling around their suns, no worse and no less than this globe of ours. For no reasonable mind can assume that heavenly bodies that may be far more magnificent than ours would not bear upon them creatures similar or even superior to those upon our human earth.
As quoted in Dave Goldberg, The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality (2013), 74.
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In the firmament of science Mayer and Joule constitute a double star, the light of each being in a certain sense complementary to that of the other.
In Heat: A Mode of Motion (1800, 1915), 569.
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In the heavens we discover [stars] by their light, and by their light alone ... the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds ... that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule therefore throughout the universe bears impressed upon it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac.
[Footnote: Where Maxwell uses the term “molecule” we now use the term “atom.”]
Lecture to the British Association at Bradford (1873), 'Atoms and Molecules'. Quoted by Ernest Rutherford, in 'The Constitution of Matter and the Evolution of the Elements', The Popular Science Monthly (Aug 1915), 112.
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Intellect is void of affection and sees an object as it stands in the light of science, cool and disengaged. The intellect goes out of the individual, floats over its own personality, and regards it as a fact, and not as I and mine.
From 'Intellect', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 326.
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Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. ... The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself....Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful—the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life. ... The universe has always been in motion and at this moment continues to be in motion. But will it still be in motion tomorrow? ... What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it and around it of evolution. ... Thus in all probability, between our modern earth and the ultimate earth, there stretches an immense period, characterized not by a slowing-down but a speeding up and by the definitive florescence of the forces of evolution along the line of the human shoot.
In The Phenomenon of Man (1975), pp 218, 220, 223, 227, 228, 277.
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Is not Fire a Body heated so hot as to emit Light copiously? For what else is a red hot Iron than Fire? And what else is a burning Coal than red hot Wood?
Opticks (1704), Book 3, Query 9, 134.
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It did not cause anxiety that Maxwell’s equations did not apply to gravitation, since nobody expected to find any link between electricity and gravitation at that particular level. But now physics was faced with an entirely new situation. The same entity, light, was at once a wave and a particle. How could one possibly imagine its proper size and shape? To produce interference it must be spread out, but to bounce off electrons it must be minutely localized. This was a fundamental dilemma, and the stalemate in the wave-photon battle meant that it must remain an enigma to trouble the soul of every true physicist. It was intolerable that light should be two such contradictory things. It was against all the ideals and traditions of science to harbor such an unresolved dualism gnawing at its vital parts. Yet the evidence on either side could not be denied, and much water was to flow beneath the bridges before a way out of the quandary was to be found. The way out came as a result of a brilliant counterattack initiated by the wave theory, but to tell of this now would spoil the whole story. It is well that the reader should appreciate through personal experience the agony of the physicists of the period. They could but make the best of it, and went around with woebegone faces sadly complaining that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they must look on light as a wave; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle. On Sundays they simply prayed.
The Strange Story of the Quantum (1947), 42.
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It is impossible to travel faster than light, and certainly not desirable, as one’s hat keeps blowing off.
Side Effects (1981), 36.
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It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works—that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 159.
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It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick that, second only to their need of fresh air, is their need of light; that, after a close room, what hurts them most is a dark room and that it is not only light but direct sunlight they want.
Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1860), 120.
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It is very different to make a practical system and to introduce it. A few experiments in the laboratory would prove the practicability of system long before it could be brought into general use. You can take a pipe and put a little coal in it, close it up, heat it and light the gas that comes out of the stem, but that is not introducing gas lighting. I'll bet that if it were discovered to-morrow in New York that gas could be made out of coal it would be at least five years before the system would be in general use.
From the New York Herald (30 Jan 1879), as cited in Leslie Tomory, 'Building the First Gas Network, 1812-1820', Technology and Culture (Jan 2011), 52, No. 1, 75-102.
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Knowledge once gained casts a faint light beyond its own immediate boundaries. There is no discovery so limited as not to illuminate something beyond itself.
In 'On the Methods and Tendencies of Physical Investigation', Scientific Addresses (1870), 7.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 19.
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Let me describe briefly how a black hole might be created. Imagine a star with a mass 10 times that of the sun. During most of its lifetime of about a billion years the star will generate heat at its center by converting hydrogen into helium. The energy released will create sufficient pressure to support the star against its own gravity, giving rise to an object with a radius about five times the radius of the sun. The escape velocity from the surface of such a star would be about 1,000 kilometers per second. That is to say, an object fired vertically upward from the surface of the star with a velocity of less than 1,000 kilometers per second would be dragged back by the gravitational field of the star and would return to the surface, whereas an object with a velocity greater than that would escape to infinity.
When the star had exhausted its nuclear fuel, there would be nothing to maintain the outward pressure, and the star would begin to collapse because of its own gravity. As the star shrank, the gravitational field at the surface would become stronger and the escape velocity would increase. By the time the radius had got down to 10 kilometers the escape velocity would have increased to 100,000 kilometers per second, the velocity of light. After that time any light emitted from the star would not be able to escape to infinity but would be dragged back by the gravitational field. According to the special theory of relativity nothing can travel faster than light, so that if light cannot escape, nothing else can either. The result would be a black hole: a region of space-time from which it is not possible to escape to infinity.
'The Quantum Mechanics of Black Holes', Scientific American, 1977, 236, 34-40.
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Light brings us the news of the Universe.
The Universe of Light (1933), 1.
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Mediocre men often have the most acquired knowledge. It is in the darker. It is in the darker regions of science that great men are recognized; they are marked by ideas which light up phenomena hitherto obscure and carry science forward.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (reprint 1999), 42.
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Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau!
Mock on, mock on: 'Tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.
The atoms of Democritus
And Newton's particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.
Notebook Drafts (c. 1804). In W. H. Stevenson (ed.), The Poems of William Blake (1971), 481.
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My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments: In order to which, I shall premise the following Definitions and Axioms.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Introduction, 1.
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My experiences with science led me to God. They challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun?
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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My position is perfectly definite. Gravitation, motion, heat, light, electricity and chemical action are one and the same object in various forms of manifestation.
Annalen der Chemie und der Pharmacie (1842). Trans. A. S. Eve and C. H. Creasey, The Life and Work of John Tyndall (1945), 94.
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No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.
In Living Under Tension Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 206.
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Now, all causes of natural effects must be expressed by means of lines, angles and figures, for otherwise it is impossible to grasp their explanation. This is evident as follows. A natural agent multiplies its power from itself to the recipient, whether it acts on sense or on matter. This power is sometimes called species, sometimes a likeness, and it is the same thing whatever it may be called; and the agent sends the same power into sense and into matter, or into its own contrary, as heat sends the same thing into the sense of touch and into a cold body. For it does not act, by deliberation and choice, and therefore it acts in a single manner whatever it encounters, whether sense or something insensitive, whether something animate or inanimate. But the effects are diversified by the diversity of the recipient, for when this power is received by the senses, it produces an effect that is somehow spiritual and noble; on the other hand, when it is received by matter, it produces a material effect. Thus the sun produces different effects in different recipients by the same power, for it cakes mud and melts ice.
De Uneis, Angulis et Figuris seu Fractionibus Reflexionibus Radiorum (On Lines, Angles and Figures or On the Refraction and Reflection of Rays) [1230/31], trans. D. C. Lindberg, quoted in E. Grant (ed.), A Source Book in Medieval Science (1974), 385-6.
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One important object of this original spectroscopic investigation of the light of the stars and other celestial bodies, namely to discover whether the same chemical elements as those of our earth are present throughout the universe, was most satisfactorily settled in the affirmative. (1909)
In Publications of Sir William Huggins's Observatory (1909), Vol. 2, 49, footnote added to emphasize the significance of the results shown in this collection’s reprint of William Huggins and Dr. Miller, 'On the Spectra of Some of the Fixed Stars', Philosophical Transactions (1864), 64, 413-435.
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One may conceive light to spread successively, by spherical waves.
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Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphous, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
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Over the last century, physicists have used light quanta, electrons, alpha particles, X-rays, gamma-rays, protons, neutrons and exotic sub-nuclear particles for this purpose [scattering experiments]. Much important information about the target atoms or nuclei or their assemblage has been obtained in this way. In witness of this importance one can point to the unusual concentration of scattering enthusiasts among earlier Nobel Laureate physicists. One could say that physicists just love to perform or interpret scattering experiments.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1994), in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1994 (1995).
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Patience must first explore the depths where the pearl lies hid, before Genius boldly dives and brings it up full into light.
In Memoirs of the life of the Right Honorable Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1825), Vol. 1, 209.
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People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color, and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the objects presented to patients, are actual means of recovery.
Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1860), 84.
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Perhaps I can best describe my experience of doing mathematics in terms of a journey through a dark unexplored mansion. You enter the first room of the mansion and it's completely dark. You stumble around bumping into the furniture, but gradually you learn where each piece of furniture is. Finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch, you turn it on, and suddenly it''s all illuminated. You can see exactly where you were. Then you move into the next room and spend another six months in the dark. So each of these breakthroughs, while sometimes they're momentary, sometimes over a period of a day or two, they are the culmination of—and couldn't exist without—the many months of stumbling around in the dark that proceed them.
Quoted in interview for website for PBS TV Nova program, 'The Proof'.
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Proposition IX. Radiant light consists in Undulations of the Luminiferous Ether.
'On the Theory of Light and Colours' (read in 1801), Philosophical Transactions (1802), 92, 44.
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Science and religion no more contradict each other than light and electricity.
In Tryon Edwards, C. N. Catrevas, The New Dictionary of Thoughts: a Cyclopedia of Quotations (1891, 1960), 554.
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Science is spectral analysis. Art is light synthesis.
Pro domo et Mundo, (1912) Chap. 4. In 'Riddles and Solutions', Half-Truths and One-And-A-Half-Truths: Selected Aphorisms, editted by Harry Zohn (1976), 47.
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Scientific truth is marvellous, but moral truth is divine; and whoever breathes its air and walks by its light has found the lost paradise.
'A Few Thoughts for a Young Man' Monthly Literary Miscellany (1851), Vol. 4 & 5, 155.
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Seeing therefore the variety of Motion which we find in the World is always decreasing, there is a necessity of conserving and recruiting it by active Principles, such as are the cause of Gravity, by which Planets and Comets keep their Motions in their Orbs, and Bodies acquire great Motion in falling; and the cause of Fermentation, by which the Heart and Blood of Animals are kept in perpetual Motion and Heat; the inward Parts of the Earth are constantly warm'd, and in some places grow very hot; Bodies burn and shine, Mountains take fire, the Caverns of the Earth are blown up, and the Sun continues violently hot and lucid, and warms all things by his Light. For we meet with very little Motion in the World, besides what is owing to these active Principles.
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 375.
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So numerous are the objects which meet our view in the heavens, that we cannot imagine a point of space where some light would not strike the eye;—innumerable stars, thousands of double and multiple systems, clusters in one blaze with their tens of thousands of stars, and the nebulae amazing us by the strangeness of their forms and the incomprehensibility of their nature, till at last, from the limit of our senses, even these thin and airy phantoms vanish in the distance.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 420.
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Sound … cannot travel across what we call a vacuum. … Light and our eyes that see it deal with the doings of the whole universe; sound belongs to the world only. I may talk of the universe of light, but I can only talk of the world of sound.
In The World of Sound (1921), 10.
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The Atomic Age began at exactly 5.30 Mountain War Time on the morning of July 15, 1945, on a stretch of semi-desert land about 50 airline miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico. And just at that instance there rose from the bowels of the earth a light not of this world, the light of many suns in one. ... At first it was a giant column that soon took the shape of a supramundane mushroom.
On the first atomic explosion in New Mexico, 16 Jul 1945.
In New York Times (26 Sep 1945).
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The cases of action at a distance are becoming, in a physical point of view, daily more and more important. Sound, light, electricity, magnetism, gravitation, present them as a series.
The nature of sound and its dependence on a medium we think we understand, pretty well. The nature of light as dependent on a medium is now very largely accepted. The presence of a medium in the phenomena of electricity and magnetism becomes more and more probable daily. We employ ourselves, and I think rightly, in endeavouring to elucidate the physical exercise of these forces, or their sets of antecedents and consequents, and surely no one can find fault with the labours which eminent men have entered upon in respect of light, or into which they may enter as regards electricity and magnetism. Then what is there about gravitation that should exclude it from consideration also? Newton did not shut out the physical view, but had evidently thought deeply of it; and if he thought of it, why should not we, in these advanced days, do so too?
Letter to E. Jones, 9 Jun 1857. In Michael Faraday, Bence Jones (ed.), The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870), Vol. 2, 387.
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The changing of Bodies into Light, and Light into Bodies, is very conformable to the Course of Nature, which seems delighted with Transmutations.
Opticks, 2nd edition (1718), Book 3, Query 30, 349.
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The discovery of the telephone has made us acquainted with many strange phenomena. It has enabled us, amongst other things, to establish beyond a doubt the fact that electric currents actually traverse the earth's crust. The theory that the earth acts as a great reservoir for electricity may be placed in the physicist's waste-paper basket, with phlogiston, the materiality of light, and other old-time hypotheses.
From Recent Progress in Telephony: British Association Report (1882). Excerpted in John Joseph Fahie, A History of Wireless Telegraphy (1902), 136.
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The generalized theory of relativity has furnished still more remarkable results. This considers not only uniform but also accelerated motion. In particular, it is based on the impossibility of distinguishing an acceleration from the gravitation or other force which produces it. Three consequences of the theory may be mentioned of which two have been confirmed while the third is still on trial: (1) It gives a correct explanation of the residual motion of forty-three seconds of arc per century of the perihelion of Mercury. (2) It predicts the deviation which a ray of light from a star should experience on passing near a large gravitating body, the sun, namely, 1".7. On Newton's corpuscular theory this should be only half as great. As a result of the measurements of the photographs of the eclipse of 1921 the number found was much nearer to the prediction of Einstein, and was inversely proportional to the distance from the center of the sun, in further confirmation of the theory. (3) The theory predicts a displacement of the solar spectral lines, and it seems that this prediction is also verified.
Studies in Optics (1927), 160-1.
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The greater is the circle of light, the greater is the boundary of the darkness by which it is confined. But, notwithstanding this, the more light get, the more thankful we ought to be, for by this means we have the greater range for satisfactory contemplation. time the bounds of light will be still farther extended; and from the infinity of the divine nature, and the divine works, we may promise ourselves an endless progress in our investigation them: a prospect truly sublime and glorious.
Experiments and Observations with a Continuation of the Observations on Air (1781), Vol. 2, ix.
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The idiot, the Indian, the child and unschooled farmer’s boy stand nearer to the light by which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.
Concluding sentence in 'History', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 41.
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The laws of light and of heat translate each other;—so do the laws of sound and colour; and so galvanism, electricity and magnetism are varied forms of this selfsame energy.
In 'Letters and Social Aims: Poetry and Imagination', Prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1880), Vol. 3, 198.
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The man of true genius never lives before his time, he never undertakes impossibilities, and always embarks on his enterprise at the suitable place and period. Though he may catch a glimpse of the coming light as it gilds the mountain top long before it reaches the eyes of his contemporaries, and he may hazard a prediction as to the future, he acts with the present.
Closing Address (19 Mar 1858) at the Exhibition of the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute, of Washington. Published as a pamphlet by the M.M. Institute (1853). Collected in Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 30.
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The mercury light doesn't show red. It makes the blood in your skin look blue-black. But see how splendidly it brings out the green in the plants.
From George MacAdam, 'Steinmetz, Electricity's Mastermind, Enters Politics', New York Times (2 Nov 1913), SM3. Answering the reporter’s question about why he lit the cactus collection in his conservatory with the blue light from a mercury lamp, which makes a man look like a corpse.
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The most striking impression was that of an overwhelming bright light. I had seen under similar conditions the explosion of a large amount—100 tons—of normal explosives in the April test, and I was flabbergasted by the new spectacle. We saw the whole sky flash with unbelievable brightness in spite of the very dark glasses we wore. Our eyes were accommodated to darkness, and thus even if the sudden light had been only normal daylight it would have appeared to us much brighter than usual, but we know from measurements that the flash of the bomb was many times brighter than the sun. In a fraction of a second, at our distance, one received enough light to produce a sunburn. I was near Fermi at the time of the explosion, but I do not remember what we said, if anything. I believe that for a moment I thought the explosion might set fire to the atmosphere and thus finish the earth, even though I knew that this was not possible.
Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147.
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The nature of light is a subject of no material importance to the concerns of life or to the practice of the arts, but it is in many other respects extremely interesting.
Lecture 39, 'On the Nature of Light and Colours', A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts (1845), Vol. 1, 359.
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The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.
Adonais (1821), St. 52. In K. Raine (ed.), Shelley (1974), 209.
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The phenomena in these exhausted tubes reveal to physical science a new world—a world where matter may exist in a fourth state, where the corpuscular theory of light may be true, and where light does not always move in straight lines, but where we can never enter, and with which we must be content to observe and experiment from the outside.
'On the Illumination of Lines of Molecular Pressure and the Trajectory of Molecules', Philosophical Transactions 1879, 170, 164.

The photons which constitute a ray of light behave like intelligent human beings: out of all possible curves they always select the one which will take them most quickly to their goal.
In Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1968), 186.
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The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace,
Where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees.
Yo ho, it's hot, the sun is not a place where we could live.
But here on earth there'd be no life without the light it gives.
We need its light, we need its heat, we need its energy.
Without the sun, without a doubt, there'd be no you and me.
Hy Zaret
From song 'Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas)' on LP record album Space Songs (1961), in the series Ballads for the Age of Science. Music by Louis Singer, and sung by Tom Glazer, and also recorded by the group They Might Be Giants (1998). The group followed up with 'Why Does The Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma)' on CD album Here Comes Acience (2009), which corrects several scientific inaccuracies in the lyrics
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The Sun is no lonelier than its neighbors; indeed, it is a very common-place star,—dwarfish, though not minute,—like hundreds, nay thousands, of others. By accident the brighter component of Alpha Centauri (which is double) is almost the Sun's twin in brightness, mass, and size. Could this Earth be transported to its vicinity by some supernatural power, and set revolving about it, at a little less than a hundred million miles' distance, the star would heat and light the world just as the Sun does, and life and civilization might go on with no radical change. The Milky Way would girdle the heavens as before; some of our familiar constellations, such as Orion, would be little changed, though others would be greatly altered by the shifting of the nearer stars. An unfamiliar brilliant star, between Cassiopeia and Perseus would be—the Sun. Looking back at it with our telescopes, we could photograph its spectrum, observe its motion among the stars, and convince ourselves that it was the same old Sun; but what had happened to the rest of our planetary system we would not know.
The Solar System and its Origin (1935), 2-3.
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The sun's rays proceed from the sun along straight lines and are reflected from every polished object at equal angles, i.e. the reflected ray subtends, together with the line tangential to the polished object which is in the plane of the reflected ray, two equal angles. Hence it follows that the ray reflected from the spherical surface, together with the circumference of the circle which is in the plane of the ray, subtends two equal angles. From this it also follows that the reflected ray, together with the diameter of the circle, subtends two equal angles. And every ray which is reflected from a polished object to a point produces a certain heating at that point, so that if numerous rays are collected at one point, the heating at that point is multiplied: and if the number of rays increases, the effect of the heat increases accordingly.
In H. J. J. Winter, 'A Discourse of the Concave Spherical Mirror by Ibn Al-Haitham', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1950, 16, 2.
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The tendency of modern physics is to resolve the whole material universe into waves, and nothing but waves. These waves are of two kinds: bottled-up waves, which we call matter, and unbottled waves, which we call radiation or light. If annihilation of matter occurs, the process is merely that of unbottling imprisoned wave-energy and setting it free to travel through space. These concepts reduce the whole universe to a world of light, potential or existent, so that the whole story of its creation can be told with perfect accuracy and completeness in the six words: 'God said, Let there be light'.
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 37-8.
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The Theory of Relativity confers an absolute meaning on a magnitude which in classical theory has only a relative significance: the velocity of light. The velocity of light is to the Theory of Relativity as the elementary quantum of action is to the Quantum Theory: it is its absolute core.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 47.
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The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject ... And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them ... Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate ... Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all.
Natural Questions, Book 7. As translated by Thomas H. Corcoran in Seneca in Ten Volumes: Naturales Quaestiones II (1972), 279 and 293.
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There is no more convincing proof of the truth of a comprehensive theory than its power of absorbing and finding a place for new facts, and its capability of interpreting phenomena which had been previously looked upon as unaccountable anomalies. It is thus that the law of universal gravitation and the undulatory theory of light have become established and universally accepted by men of science. Fact after fact has been brought forward as being apparently inconsistent with them, and one alter another these very facts have been shown to be the consequences of the laws they were at first supposed to disprove. A false theory will never stand this test. Advancing knowledge brings to light whole groups of facts which it cannot deal with, and its advocates steadily decrease in numbers, notwithstanding the ability and scientific skill with which it may have been supported.
From a review of four books on the subject 'Mimicry, and Other Protective Resemblances Among Animals', in The Westminster Review (Jul 1867), 88, 1. Wallace is identified as the author in the article as reprinted in William Beebe, The Book of Naturalists: An Anthology of the Best Natural History (1988), 108.
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This fundamental discovery that all bodies owe their origin to arrangements of single initial corpuscular type is the beacon that lights the history of the universe to our eyes. In its own way, matter obeyed from the beginning that great law of biology to which we shall have to recur time and time again, the law of “complexification.”
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 48. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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This world was once a fluid haze of light,
Till toward the centre set the starry tides,
And eddied into suns, that wheeling cast
The planets: then the monster, then the man.
&039;The Princess&039; (1847), part 2, collected in Alfred Tennyson and William James Rolfe (ed.) The Poetic and Dramatic Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1898), 124.
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Unless there exist peculiar institutions for the support of such inquirers, or unless the Government directly interfere, the contriver of a thaumatrope may derive profit from his ingenuity, whilst he who unravels the laws of light and vision, on which multitudes of phenomena depend, shall descend unrewarded to the tomb.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 19.
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We can scarcely avoid the inference that light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.
'On Physical Lines of Force' (1862). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 1, 500.
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Well do I remember that dark hot little office in the hospital at Begumpett, with the necessary gleam of light coming in from under the eaves of the veranda. I did not allow the punka to be used because it blew about my dissected mosquitoes, which were partly examined without a cover-glass; and the result was that swarms of flies and of 'eye-flies' - minute little insects which try to get into one's ears and eyelids - tormented me at their pleasure
In Memoirs, With a Full Account of the Great Malaria Problem and its Solution (1923), 221.
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Well-observed facts, though brought to light by passing theories, will never die; they are the material on which alone the house of science will at last be built.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 165.
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What binds us to space-time is our rest mass, which prevents us from flying at the speed of light, when time stops and space loses meaning. In a world of light there are neither points nor moments of time; beings woven from light would live “nowhere” and “nowhen”; only poetry and mathematics are capable of speaking meaningfully about such things.
In 'Mathematics and Physics', collected in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 130.
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What scientist would not long to go on living, if only to see how the little truths he has brought to light will grow up?
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 254.
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What, then, is light according to the electromagnetic theory? It consists of alternate and opposite rapidly recurring transverse magnetic disturbances, accompanied with electric displacements, the direction of the electric displacement being at the right angles to the magnetic disturbance, and both at right angles to the direction of the ray.
'A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field' (1864). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell(1890), Vol. 2, 1862-1973, 195.
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Whatsoever accidents Or qualities our sense make us think there be in the world, they are not there, but are seemings and apparitions only. The things that really are in the world without us, are those motions by which these seemings are caused. And this is the great deception of sense, which also is by sense to be corrected. For as sense telleth me, when I see directly, that the colour seemeth to be in the object; so also sense telleth me, when I see by reflection, that colour is not in the object.
The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic (1640), Ferdinand Tonnies edn. (1928), Part 1, Chapter 2, 6.
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When God said “Let there be light” he surely must have meant perfectly coherent light.
[co-author with Willis Lamb, Wolfgang Schleich and Marlan Scully]
Article, 'Laser Physics: Quantum Controversy in Action', in Benjamin Bederson (ed.) More Things in Heaven and Earth: a Celebration of Physics at the Millennium (1999), 443.
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When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.
In Adolf Hitler, Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper, translated by Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens, '14 October 1941', Secret Conversations (1941 - 1944) (1953), 50
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[A comparison] of the mind of a bigot to the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts.
In The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), 167. Holmes continued by writing that he was renouncing any claim to being the first to utter that idea, having been shown “that it occurs in a Preface to certain Political Poems of Thomas Moore’s.” He also wrote he was sensitive to charges of plagiarism, but, nevertheless, he asserted that when he uttered it, it was with the belief that it was his own novel idea. But, “It is impossible to tell, in a great many cases, whether a comparison which suddenly suggests itself is a new conception or a recollection.” Moore had written in Corruption and Intolerance (1808) that “The minds of some men, like the pupil of the human eye, contract themselves the more, the stronger light there is shed upon them.”
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[S]uppose you make a hole in an ordinary evacuated electric light bulb and allow the air molecules to pass in at the rate of 1,000,000 a second, the bulb will become full of air in approximately 100,000,000 years.
In Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 99.
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[When I was a child] I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and I was a street kid. … [T]here was one aspect of that environment that, for some reason, struck me as different, and that was the stars. … I could tell they were lights in the sky, but that wasn’t an explanation. I mean, what were they? Little electric bulbs on long black wires, so you couldn’t see what they were held up by? What were they? … My mother said to me, "Look, we’ve just got you a library card … get out a book and find the answer.” … It was in there. It was stunning. The answer was that the Sun was a star, except very far away. … The dazzling idea of a universe vast beyond imagining swept over me. … I sensed awe.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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“Science studies everything,” say the scientists. But, really, everything is too much. Everything is an infinite quantity of objects; it is impossible at one and the same time to study all. As a lantern cannot light up everything, but only lights up the place on which it is turned or the direction in which the man carrying it is walking, so also science cannot study everything, but inevitably only studies that to which its attention is directed. And as a lantern lights up most strongly the place nearest to it, and less and less strongly objects that are more and more remote from it, and does not at all light up those things its light does not reach, so also human science, of whatever kind, has always studied and still studies most carefully what seems most important to the investigators, less carefully what seems to them less important, and quite neglects the whole remaining infinite quantity of objects. ... But men of science to-day ... have formed for themselves a theory of “science for science's sake,” according to which science is to study not what mankind needs, but everything.
In 'Modern Science', Essays and Letters (1903), 223.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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