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Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Thumbnail of Andreas Vesalius (source)
Andreas Vesalius
(31 Dec 1514 - 15 Oct 1564)

Flemish anatomist who, as a university teacher insisted on conducting detailed dissections on human cadavers personally. Vesalius was the teacher of Gabriel Fallopius, who was in turn tutor to Hieronymous Fabricius, who then taught William Harvey. This lineage can be said to have started the modern science of medicine.


Introduction from The Ideas that Have Influenced Civilization (1902)

Volume 6: Advance In Knowledge 1650-1800

Painting of Andreas Vesalius, upper body, standing at table with dissected arm muscles of a body
Andreas Vesalius Showing Dissected Arm Muscles
Posthumous portrait by Pierre Poncet (1574-1640) from woodcut (source)

[p.5] The first attempts made in Christian Europe to revive the study of medicine sought to go back to the Greek and Roman school represented by Hippocrates, Galen, and Celsus. Paracelsus (1490? -1541) was the first to hold himself independent of both the Graeco-Roman and the Arabian schools. He was an astrologer and an alchemist and sought to find a remedy whose “spirit” was opposed to the “spirit” of the disease. Remedies were supposed to contain the essences of the things from which they were drawn. His familiarity with alchemy led him to introduce chemical remedies such as laudanum and antimony.

About this time Vesalius (1536-1564) began his work of correcting in many details the anatomical ideas of the ancients, and led the leaders of the science to depend somewhat on personal dissection and observation instead of entirely on authority. It is said that the heart of a Spanish noble, supposedly dead, seemed to palpitate under his dissecting knife, and that this brought him before the inquisition where he was at first condemned to death, but the sentence afterward commuted to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was shipwrecked when returning, and died of starvation at Zante. His “De Corporis Humani Fabrica” is the first comprehensive study of anatomy in modern times. It adds to and corrects in a number of minor points, the anatomy of the ancients, but his great work was to bring men to see things for themselves.

We now come to the discovery of the circulation of the blood and the beginning of physiology. The Galenic doctrine of the action of the heart and blood was that the blood in the left ventricle of [p.6] the heart ebbed and flowed along the arteries, the blood in the right ventricle along the veins, and that part of the blood of the right side of the heart found a mysterious passageway to the left side through invisible pores of the wall of the heart (septum).

Servetus (1511-1553) guessed that there was some sort of circulation through the lungs, but when he was burned at the stake by Calvin, almost all copies of his book, the “Restitutio,” were burned with him.

Caesalpinus (1519-1603) also had some glimmering of the truth, but it remained for Harvey to extend and prove the theory and to show its important bearings.

Text from Oliver Joseph Thatcher (ed.) The Ideas that Have Influenced Civilization, in the Original Documents: Vol. 6: Advance in Knowledge: 1650-1800 (1902), 5-6. (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: 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) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
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- 90 -
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Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
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- 80 -
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Bronislaw Malinowski
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
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Francis Bacon
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- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
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by Ian Ellis
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