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Who said: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
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Thumbnail of Baron William Thomson Kelvin (source)
Baron William Thomson Kelvin
(26 Jun 1824 - 17 Dec 1907)

Irish physicist, mathematician and engineer , born as William Thomson in Ireland, he became an influential physicist, mathematician and engineer who has been described as the Newton of his era.


William Thomson Kelvin
“Questions of personal priority”

Illustrated Quote - Medium (500 x 250 px)

“Questions of personal priority, however interesting they may be to the persons concerned, sink into insignificance in the prospect of any gain of deeper insight into the secrets of nature.”
— William Thomson Kelvin
As quoted in The Life of Lord Kelvin (1910).

More William Thomson Kelvin quotes on science >>

On 2 Aug 1871, as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Lord Kelvin addressed the society General Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland.

When reviewing progress in the investigation of the atomic nature of matter, he noted how Loschmidt in Vienna and Stoney independently in England “showed how to deduce from Clausius and Maxwell’s kinetic theory of gases a superior limit to the number of atoms in a given measurable space.” Meanwhile Kelvin himself had addressed the same issue. He said about his work that “I was unfortunately quite unaware of what Loschmidt and Stoney had done when I made a similar estimate on the same foundation, and communicated it to ‘Nature’ in an article on ‘The Size of Atoms.’” He continued:

“But questions of personal priority, however interesting they may be to the persons concerned, sink into insignificance in the prospect of any gain of deeper insight into the secrets of nature.”

In this case, he saw the multiple workers’ agreement as a good thing, saying next, “The triple coincidence of independent reasoning in this case is valuable as confirmation of a conclusion violently contravening ideas and opinions which had been almost universally held regarding the dimensions of the molecular structure of matter.”

Text by Webmaster, with quotes from Kelvin’s Presidential inaugural address, to the General Meeting of the British Association, Edinburgh (2 Aug 1871). In Report of the Forty-First Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1872), xciv. (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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