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Physical Science Quotes (32 quotes)

Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. The physicist, with his facts, seeks reason; the biologist seeks something very much like rhyme, and rhyme is a kind of analogy.... This analogizing, this fine sweeping ability to see likenesses in the midst of differences is the great glory of biology, but biologists don't know it.... They have always been so fascinated and overawed by the superior prestige of exact physical science that they feel they have to imitate it.... In its central content, biology is not accurate thinking, but accurate observation and imaginative thinking, with great sweeping generalizations.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 98-100.
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Astronomy affords the most extensive example of the connection of physical sciences. In it are combined the sciences of number and quantity, or rest and motion. In it we perceive the operation of a force which is mixed up with everything that exists in the heavens or on earth; which pervades every atom, rules the motion of animate and inanimate beings, and is a sensible in the descent of the rain-drop as in the falls of Niagara; in the weight of the air, as in the periods of the moon.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 1.
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But, contrary to the lady's prejudices about the engineering profession, the fact is that quite some time ago the tables were turned between theory and applications in the physical sciences. Since World War II the discoveries that have changed the world are not made so much in lofty halls of theoretical physics as in the less-noticed labs of engineering and experimental physics. The roles of pure and applied science have been reversed; they are no longer what they were in the golden age of physics, in the age of Einstein, Schrödinger, Fermi and Dirac.
'The Age of Computing: a Personal Memoir', Daedalus (1992), 121, 120.
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During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true
In Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (ed.), A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 2.
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Even mistaken hypotheses and theories are of use in leading to discoveries. This remark is true in all the sciences. The alchemists founded chemistry by pursuing chimerical problems and theories which are false. In physical science, which is more advanced than biology, we might still cite men of science who make great discoveries by relying on false theories. It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles.
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865, translation 1927, 1957), 170.
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I think a strong claim can be made that the process of scientific discovery may be regarded as a form of art. This is best seen in the theoretical aspects of Physical Science. The mathematical theorist builds up on certain assumptions and according to well understood logical rules, step by step, a stately edifice, while his imaginative power brings out clearly the hidden relations between its parts. A well constructed theory is in some respects undoubtedly an artistic production. A fine example is the famous Kinetic Theory of Maxwell. ... The theory of relativity by Einstein, quite apart from any question of its validity, cannot but be regarded as a magnificent work of art.
Responding to the toast, 'Science!' at the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1932.)
Quoted in Lawrence Badash, 'Ernest Rutherford and Theoretical Physics,' in Robert Kargon and Peter Achinstein (eds.) Kelvin's Baltimore Lectures and Modern Theoretical Physics: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (1987), 352.
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In its earliest development knowledge is self-sown. Impressions force themselves upon men’s senses whether they will or not, and often against their will. The amount of interest in which these impressions awaken is determined by the coarser pains and pleasures which they carry in their train or by mere curiosity; and reason deals with the materials supplied to it as far as that interest carries it, and no further. Such common knowledge is rather brought than sought; and such ratiocination is little more than the working of a blind intellectual instinct. It is only when the mind passes beyond this condition that it begins to evolve science. When simple curiosity passes into the love of knowledge as such, and the gratification of the ζsthetic sense of the beauty of completeness and accuracy seems more desirable that the easy indolence of ignorance; when the finding out of the causes of things becomes a source of joy, and he is accounted happy who is successful in the search, common knowledge passes into what our forefathers called natural history, whence there is but a step to that which used to be termed natural philosophy, and now passes by the name of physical science.
In this final state of knowledge the phenomena of nature are regarded as one continuous series of causes and effects; and the ultimate object of science is to trace out that series, from the term which is nearest to us, to that which is at the farthest limit accessible to our means of investigation.
The course of nature as it is, as it has been, and as it will be, is the object of scientific inquiry; whatever lies beyond, above, or below this is outside science. But the philosopher need not despair at the limitation on his field of labor; in relation to the human mind Nature is boundless; and, though nowhere inaccessible, she is everywhere unfathomable.
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoφlogy (1880), 2-3. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789-790.
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In the world of human thought generally, and in physical science particularly, the most important and fruitful concepts are those to which it is impossible to attach a well-defined meaning.
In M. Dresen, H. A. Kramers: Between Tradition and Revolution (1987), 539. In Magdolna Hargittai, In Our Own Image (2000), 3.
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In the world of physics we watch a shadowgraph performance of the drama of familiar life. The shadow of my elbow rests on the shadow table as the shadow ink flows over the shadow paper. It is all symbolic, and as a symbol the physicist leaves it. ... The frank realization that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant of recent advances.
In The Nature of the Physical World (1928, 2005), xiv-xv.
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It is always observable that the physical and the exact sciences are the last to suffer under despotisms.
To Cuba and Back (1859), 192.

It seems perfectly clear that Economy, if it is to be a science at all, must be a mathematical science. There exists much prejudice against attempts to introduce the methods and language of mathematics into any branch of the moral sciences. Most persons appear to hold that the physical sciences form the proper sphere of mathematical method, and that the moral sciences demand some other method—I know not what.
The Theory of Political Economy (1871), 3.
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It would not become physical science to see in its self created, changeable, economical tools, molecules and atoms, realities behind phenomena... The atom must remain a tool for representing phenomena.
'The Economical Nature of Physics' (1882), in Popular Scientfic Lectures, trans. Thomas J. McConnack (1910), 206-7.
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Knowledge of physical science will not console me for ignorance of morality in time of affliction, but knowledge of morality will always console me for ignorance of physical science.
Pensιes (1670), No. 23, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer (1995), 6.
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Literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding.
The Two Cultures: The Rede Lecture (1959), 4.
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One aim of physical sciences had been to give an exact picture the material world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable.
From The Ascent of Man (1973), 353.
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Physical science enjoys the distinction of being the most fundamental of the experimental sciences, and its laws are obeyed universally, so far as is known, not merely by inanimate things, but also by living organisms, in their minutest parts, as single individuals, and also as whole communities. It results from this that, however complicated a series of phenomena may be and however many other sciences may enter into its complete presentation, the purely physical aspect, or the application of the known laws of matter and energy, can always be legitimately separated from the other aspects.
In Matter and Energy (1912), 9-10.
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Physical science has taught us to associate Deity with the normal rather than with the abnormal.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 348.
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Physical science is like simple addition: it is either infallible or it is false.
In All Things Considered (1908), 187.
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Physical scientists probably deserve the reputation they enjoy for incorruptibility and unswerving devotion to pure truth. The reason for this is that it is not worth while to bribe them.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 168-69.
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Sir Hiram Maxim is a genuine and typical example of the man of science, romantic, excitable, full of real but somewhat obvious poetry, a little hazy in logic and philosophy, but full of hearty enthusiasm and an honorable simplicity. He is, as he expresses it, “an old and trained engineer,” and is like all of the old and trained engineers I have happened to come across, a man who indemnifies himself for the superhuman or inhuman concentration required for physical science by a vague and dangerous romanticism about everything else.
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 87.
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That our knowledge only illuminates a small corner of the Universe, that it is incomplete, approximate, tentative and merely probable need not concert us. It is genuine nevertheless. Physical science stands as one of the great achievements of the human spirit.
Scientific Method: An Inquiry into the Character and Validy of Natural Law (1923), 201-202.
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The laws expressing the relations between energy and matter are, however, not solely of importance in pure science. They necessarily come first in order ... in the whole record of human experience, and they control, in the last resort, the rise or fall of political systems, the freedom or bondage of nations, the movements of commerce and industry, the origin of wealth and poverty, and the general physical welfare of the race.
In Matter and Energy (1912), 10-11.
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The life and soul of science is its practical application, and just as the great advances in mathematics have been made through the desire of discovering the solution of problems which were of a highly practical kind in mathematical science, so in physical science many of the greatest advances that have been made from the beginning of the world to the present time have been made in the earnest desire to turn the knowledge of the properties of matter to some purpose useful to mankind.
From 'Electrical Units of Measurement', a lecture delivered at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London (3 May 1883), Popular Lectures and Addresses Vol. 1 (1891), 86-87.
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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions. As instances of such discoveries, which are in most cases due to the increasing order of accuracy made possible by improvements in measuring instruments, may be mentioned: first, the departure of actual gases from the simple laws of the so-called perfect gas, one of the practical results being the liquefaction of air and all known gases; second, the discovery of the velocity of light by astronomical means, depending on the accuracy of telescopes and of astronomical clocks; third, the determination of distances of stars and the orbits of double stars, which depend on measurements of the order of accuracy of one-tenth of a second-an angle which may be represented as that which a pin's head subtends at a distance of a mile. But perhaps the most striking of such instances are the discovery of a new planet or observations of the small irregularities noticed by Leverrier in the motions of the planet Uranus, and the more recent brilliant discovery by Lord Rayleigh of a new element in the atmosphere through the minute but unexplained anomalies found in weighing a given volume of nitrogen. Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that “our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4.
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The new mathematics is a sort of supplement to language, affording a means of thought about form and quantity and a means of expression, more exact, compact, and ready than ordinary language. The great body of physical science, a great deal of the essential facts of financial science, and endless social and political problems are only accessible and only thinkable to those who have had a sound training in mathematical analysis, and the time may not be very remote when it will be understood that for complete initiation as an efficient citizen of the great complex world-wide States that are now developing, it is as necessary to be able to compute, to think in averages and maxima and minima, as it is now to be able to read and write.
Mankind in the Making (1903), 204.
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The people has no definite disbelief in the temples of theology. The people has a very fiery and practical disbelief in the temples of physical science.
In Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906, 1910), 176.
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The plain message physical science has for the world at large is this, that were our political and social and moral devices only as well contrived to their ends as a linotype machine, an antiseptic operating plant, or an electric tram-car, there need now at the present moment be no appreciable toil in the world.
A Modern Utopia (1904, 2006), 49.
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The theory that gravitational attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance leads by remorseless logic to the conclusion that the path of a planet should be an ellipse .... It is this logical thinking that is the real meat of the physical sciences. The social scientist keeps the skin and throws away the meat.... His theorems no more follow from his postulates than the hunches of a horse player follow logically from the latest racing news. The result is guesswork clad in long flowing robes of gobbledygook.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 149-50.
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The year 1896 ... marked the beginning of what has been aptly termed the heroic age of Physical Science. Never before in the history of physics has there been witnessed such a period of intense activity when discoveries of fundamental importance have followed one another with such bewildering rapidity.
'The Electrical Structure of Matter', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1924), C2.
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There are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before. … we can't allow our nation to fall behind. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened. Federal funding in the physical sciences as a portion of our gross domestic product has fallen by nearly half over the past quarter century. Time and again we've allowed the research and experimentation tax credit, which helps businesses grow and innovate, to lapse.
Speech to the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting (27 Apr 2009).
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While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice.
'Spectroscopy, Molecular Orbitals, and Chemical Bonding', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1966). In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972), 159.
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[When thinking about the new relativity and quantum theories] I have felt a homesickness for the paths of physical science where there are ore or less discernible handrails to keep us from the worst morasses of foolishness.
The Nature Of The Physical World (1928), 343.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton