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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index T > John Tyndall Quotes

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John Tyndall
(2 Aug 1820 - 4 Dec 1893)

Irish physicist.


Science Quotes by John Tyndall (34 quotes)

A few days ago, a Master of Arts, who is still a young man, and therefore the recipient of a modern education, stated to me that until he had reached the age of twenty he had never been taught anything whatever regarding natural phenomena, or natural law. Twelve years of his life previously had been spent exclusively amongst the ancients. The case, I regret to say, is typical. Now we cannot, without prejudice to humanity, separate the present from the past.
— John Tyndall
'On the Study of Physics', From a Lecture delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Spring of 1854. Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 284-5.
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Believing, as I do, in the continuity of nature, I cannot stop abruptly where our microscopes cease to be of use. Here the vision of the mind authoritatively supplements the vision of the eye. By a necessity engendered and justified by science I cross the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern in that Matter which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial Life.
— John Tyndall
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 191.
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Charles Darwin, the Abraham of scientific men—a searcher as obedient to the command of truth as was the patriarch to the command of God.
— John Tyndall
In 'Science and Man', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 370. Pesidential Address to the Birmingham and Midland Institute, 1877, in 'Science and Man', Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses, and Reviews (1879), Vol. 2, 370.
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Every occurrence in Nature is preceded by other occurrences which are its causes, and succeeded by others which are its effects. The human mind is not satisfied with observing and studying any natural occurrence alone, but takes pleasure in connecting every natural fact with what has gone before it, and with what is to come after it.
— John Tyndall
In Forms of Water in Clouds and Rivers, Ice and Glaciers (1872), 1.
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His [Faraday's] soul was above all littleness and proof to all egotism.
— John Tyndall
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 104.
Science quotes on:  |  Michael Faraday (58)

His [Faraday's] third great discovery is the Magnetization of Light, which I should liken to the Weisshorn among mountains-high, beautiful, and alone.
— John Tyndall
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 146.
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I have therefore tried to show the tendency displayed throughout history, by the most profound investigators, to pass from the world of the senses to a world where vision becomes spiritual, where principles are elaborated, and from which the explorer emerges with conceptions and conclusions, to be approved or rejected according as they coincide with sensible things.
— John Tyndall
Heat, A Mode of Motion (1880, 1915), 6th ed., viii.
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In our day grand generalizations have been reached. The theory of the origin of species is but one of them. Another, of still wider grasp and more radical significance, is the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy, the ultimate philosophical issues of which are as yet but dimly seem-that doctrine which 'binds nature fast in fate' to an extent not hitherto recognized, exacting from every antecedent its equivalent consequent, and bringing vital as well as physical phenomena under the dominion of that law of causal connexion which, so far as the human understanding has yet pierced, asserts itself everywhere in nature.
— John Tyndall
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 1801.
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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.
— John Tyndall
In Heat: A Mode of Motion (1800, 1915), 569.
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It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink facts because they are not to our taste.
— John Tyndall
In 'Science and Man', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 362.
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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.
— John Tyndall
In 'On the Methods and Tendencies of Physical Investigation', Scientific Addresses (1870), 7.
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Life is a wave, which in no two consecutive moments of its existence is composed of the same particles.
— John Tyndall
In 'Vitality', Scientific Use of the Imagination and Other Essays (1872), 62.
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On coming down the stairs at dinner Tris [Trismegistus = Frankland] who walked before me seemed impressed by a mechanical impulse which impelled him along the corridor with a fervid velocity. On reaching the stair bottom I discovered the cause of the attraction. Miss Edmondson, like a pure planet, had checked his gravitating tendencies and lo! He stood radiant with smiles dropping joysparkes from his eyes as he clasped her hand. His countenance became a transparency through which the full proportions of his soul shone manifest; his blood tingled from his eyebrows to his finger ends, and wealthy with rich emotions his face became the avenue of what he felt.
— John Tyndall
Journals of John Tyndall, 18 Jan 1848. Royal Institution Archives.
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Religious feeling is as much a verity as any other part of human consciousness; and against it, on its subjective side, the waves of science beat in vain.
— John Tyndall
In 'Professor Virchow and Evolution', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 376.
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Superstition may be defined as constructive religion which has grown incongruous with intelligence.
— John Tyndall
In 'Science and Man', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 370.
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Take care of your health. ... Imagine Hercules as oarsman in a rotten boat; what can he do there but by the very force of his stroke expedite the ruin of his craft. Take care of the timbers of your boat. ... The formation of right habits is essential to your permanent security. They diminish your chance of falling when assaulted, and they augment your chance of recovery when overthrown.
— John Tyndall
Concluding remark from 'An Address to Students of University College, London' (1869), in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 105.
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Taking him for all and all, I think it will be conceded that Michael Faraday was the greatest experimental philosopher the world has ever seen.
— John Tyndall
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 147.
Science quotes on:  |  Michael Faraday (58)

The contemplation of Nature, and his own relation to her, produced in Faraday, a kind of spiritual exaltation which makes itself manifest here. His religious feeling and his philosophy could not be kept apart; there was an habitual overflow of the one into the other.
— John Tyndall
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 152.
Science quotes on:  |  Michael Faraday (58)

The earth and its atmosphere constitute a vast distilling apparatus in which the equatorial ocean plays the part of the boiler, and the chill regions of the poles the part of the condenser. In this process of distillation heat plays quite as necessary a part as cold.
— John Tyndall
In Forms of Water in Clouds and Rivers, Ice and Glaciers (1872), 21.
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The first experiment a child makes is a physical experiment: the suction-pump is but an imitation of the first act of every new-born infant.
— John Tyndall
'On the Study of Physics', From a Lecture delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Spring of 1854. Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 283.
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The law of conservation rigidly excludes both creation and annihilation. Waves may change to ripples, and ripples to waves,—magnitude may be substituted for number, and number for magnitude,—asteroids may aggregate to suns, suns may resolve themselves into florae and faunae, and florae and faunae melt in air,—the flux of power is eternally the same. It rolls in music through the ages, and all terrestrial energy,—the manifestations of life, as well as the display of phenomena, are but the modulations of its rhythm.
— John Tyndall
Conclusion to lecture 12 (10 Apr 1862) at the Royal Institution, collected in Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion: Being a Course of Twelve Lectures (1863), 449.
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The logical feebleness of science is not sufficiently borne in mind. It keeps down the weed of superstition, not by logic but by slowly rendering the mental soil unfit for its cultivation.
— John Tyndall
In 'Science and Spirits', Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 409.
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The mind of man may be compared to a musical instrument with a certain range of notes, beyond which in both directions we have an infinitude of silence. The phenomena of matter and force lie within our intellectual range, and as far as they reach we will at all hazards push our inquiries. But behind, and above, and around all, the real mystery of this universe [Who made it all?] lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution.
— John Tyndall
In 'Matter and Force', Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 93.
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The wintry clouds drop spangles on the mountains. If the thing occurred once in a century historians would chronicle and poets would sing of the event; but Nature, prodigal of beauty, rains down her hexagonal ice-stars year by year, forming layers yards in thickness. The summer sun thaws and partially consolidates the mass. Each winter's fall is covered by that of the ensuing one, and thus the snow layer of each year has to sustain an annually augmented weight. It is more and more compacted by the pressure, and ends by being converted into the ice of a true glacier, which stretches its frozen tongue far down beyond the limits of perpetual snow. The glaciers move, and through valleys they move like rivers.
— John Tyndall
The Glaciers of the Alps & Mountaineering in 1861 (1911), 247.
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There is, however, no genius so gifted as not to need control and verification. ... [T]he brightest flashes in the world of thought are incomplete until they have been proved to have their counterparts in the world of fact. Thus the vocation of the true experimentalist may be defined as the continued exercise of spiritual insight, and its incessant correction and realisation. His experiments constitute a body, of which his purified intuitions are, as it were, the soul.
— John Tyndall
In 'Vitality', Scientific Use of the Imagination and Other Essays (1872), 43.
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Those who are unacquainted with the details of scientific investigation have no idea of the amount of labour expended in the determination of those numbers on which important calculations or inferences depend. They have no idea of the patience shown by a Berzelius in determining atomic weights; by a Regnault in determining coefficients of expansion; or by a Joule in determining the mechanical equivalent of heat.
— John Tyndall
In Sound: A Course of Eight Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1867), 26.
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To him [Faraday], as to all true philosophers, the main value of a fact was its position and suggestiveness in the general sequence of scientific truth.
— John Tyndall
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 84.
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To Nature nothing can be added; from Nature nothing can be taken away; the sum of her energies is constant, and the utmost man can do in the pursuit of physical truth, or in the applications of physical knowledge, is to shift the constituents of the never-varying total. The law of conservation rigidly excludes both creation and annihilation. Waves may change to ripples, and ripples to waves; magnitude may be substituted for number, and number for magnitude; asteroids may aggregate to suns, suns may resolve themselves into florae and faunae, and floras and faunas melt in air: the flux of power is eternally the same. It rolls in music through the ages, and all terrestrial energy—the manifestations of life as well as the display of phenomena—are but the modulations of its rhythm.
— John Tyndall
Conclusion of Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion: Being a Course of Twelve Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Season of 1862 (1863), 449.
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Underneath his sweetness and gentleness was the heat of a volcano. [Michael Faraday] was a man of excitable and fiery nature; but through high self-discipline he had converted the fire into a central glow and motive power of life, instead of permitting it to waste itself in useless passion.
— John Tyndall
In Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 37.
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We live in the sky, not under it.
— John Tyndall
'Climbing in Search of the Sky', Fortnightly Review, No. 37 (1 Jan 1870), 13.
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Without the suitable conditions life could not exist. But both life and its conditions set forth the operations of inscrutable Power. We know not its origin; we know not its end. And the presumption, if not the degradation, rests with those who place upon the throne of the universe a magnified image of themselves, and make its doings a mere colossal imitation of their own.
— John Tyndall
In Forms of Water in Clouds and Rivers, Ice and Glaciers (1872), 125.
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[Louis Rendu, Bishop of Annecy] collects observations, makes experiments, and tries to obtain numerical results; always taking care, however, so to state his premises and qualify his conclusions that nobody shall be led to ascribe to his numbers a greater accuracy than they merit. It is impossible to read his work, and not feel that he was a man of essentially truthful mind and that science missed an ornament when he was appropriated by the Church.
— John Tyndall
In The Glaciers of the Alps (1860), 299.
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[Regarding evolution believers:] Their business is not with the possible, but the actual—not with a world which might be, but with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not unmixed with reverence, and according to methods which, like the quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one desire—to know the truth. They have but one fear—to believe a lie.
— John Tyndall
'Scientific Use of the Imagination', Discourse Delivered Before the British Association at Liverpool, (16 Sep 1870). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 134.
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[The Book of Genesis is] [p]rofoundly interesting and indeed pathetic to me are those attempts of the opening mind of man to appease its hunger for a Cause. But the Book of Genesis has no voice in scientific questions. It is a poem, not a scientific treatise. In the former aspect it is for ever beautiful; in the latter it has been, and it will continue to be, purely obstructive and hurtful.'
— John Tyndall
In 'Professor Virchow and Evolution', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 377. Tyndall is quoting himself from “four years ago”&mdashthus c.1875.
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Quotes by others about John Tyndall (4)

In fact a favourite problem of [Tyndall] is—Given the molecular forces in a mutton chop, deduce Hamlet or Faust therefrom. He is confident that the Physics of the Future will solve this easily.
Letter to Herbert Spencer (3 Aug 1861). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900), Vol. 1, 249.
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Professor Tyndall once said the finest inspiration he ever received was from an old man who could scarcely read. This man acted as his servant. Each morning the old man would knock on the door of the scientist and call, “Arise, Sir: it is near seven o'clock and you have great work to do today.”
A Thousand & One Epigrams: Selected from the Writings of Elbert Hubbard (1911), 72.
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Question: Explain why pipes burst in cold weather.
Answer: People who have not studied acoustics think that Thor bursts the pipes, but we know that is nothing of the kind for Professor Tyndall has burst the mythologies and has taught us that it is the natural behaviour of water (and bismuth) without which all fish would die and the earth be held in an iron grip. (1881)
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1881), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 186-7, Question 10. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.) Webmaster notes that “fish would die” may refer to being taught that water's greatest density is at 4°C, and sinks below a frozen surface, so bodies of water can remain liquid underneath, to the benefit of the fish. The student was likely taught that bismuth, like water, expands when it freezes.
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Your printers have made but one blunder,
Correct it instanter, and then for the thunder!
We'll see in a jiffy if this Mr S[pencer]
Has the ghost of a claim to be thought a good fencer.
To my vision his merits have still seemed to dwindle,
Since I have found him allied with the great Dr T[yndall]
While I have, for my part, grown cockier and cockier,
Since I found an ally in yourself, Mr L[ockyer]
And am always, in consequence, thoroughly willin',
To perform in the pages of Nature's M[acmillan].
Postcard from Tait to Lockyer, editor of Nature, cited by H. Dingle, Nature (1969), 224, 829.
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See also:
  • todayinsci icon 2 Aug - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Tyndall's birth.
  • book icon A Vision of Modern Science: John Tyndall and the Role of the Scientist in Victorian Culture, by Ursula DeYoung. - book suggestion.

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