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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index L > Gilbert Newton Lewis Quotes

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Gilbert Newton Lewis
(23 Oct 1875 - 23 Mar 1946)

American chemist.

Science Quotes by Gilbert Newton Lewis (7 quotes)

Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned to estimate such minute chances, and after we have overcome our fear of numbers which are very much larger or very much smaller than those ordinarily employed, we might proceed to calculate the chance of still more extraordinary occurrences, and even have the boldness to regard the living cell as a result of random arrangement and rearrangement of its atoms. However, we cannot but feel that this would be carrying extrapolation too far. This feeling is due not merely to a recognition of the enormous complexity of living tissue but to the conviction that the whole trend of life, the whole process of building up more and more diverse and complex structures, which we call evolution, is the very opposite of that which we might expect from the laws of chance.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 158-9.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (280)  |  Ιmile Borel (2)  |  Calculate (33)  |  Cell (137)  |  Chance (160)  |  Complexity (91)  |  Conviction (71)  |  Diversity (51)  |  Evolution (535)  |  Extraordinary (43)  |  Extrapolation (3)  |  Library (40)  |  Life (1131)  |  Monkey (40)  |  Nitrogen (19)  |  Number (282)  |  Opposite (50)  |  Oxygen (55)  |  Structure (225)  |  Tissue (27)  |  Typewriter (6)

I have no patience with attempts to identify science with measurement, which is but one of its tools, or with any definition of the scientist which would exclude a Darwin, a Pasteur or a Kekulé. The scientist is a practical man and his are practical aims. He does not seek the ultimate but the proximate. He does not speak of the last analysis but rather of the next approximation. His are not those beautiful structures so delicately designed that a single flaw may cause the collapse of the whole. The scientist builds slowly and with a gross but solid kind of masonry. If dissatisfied with any of his work, even if it be near the very foundations, he can replace that part without damage to the remainder. On the whole, he is satisfied with his work, for while science may never be wholly right it certainly is never wholly wrong; and it seems to be improving from decade to decade.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 6-7.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (166)  |  Approximation (22)  |  Collapse (17)  |  Damage (28)  |  Definition (192)  |  Dissatisfaction (6)  |  Flaw (10)  |  Foundation (108)  |  Improvement (74)  |  August Kekulι (13)  |  Masonry (3)  |  Measurement (161)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (333)  |  Louis Pasteur (81)  |  Practical (133)  |  Progress (368)  |  Right (197)  |  Satisfaction (56)  |  Structure (225)  |  Ultimate (84)  |  Wrong (139)

I take it that a monograph of this sort belongs to the ephemera literature of science. The studied care which is warranted in the treatment of the more slowly moving branches of science would be out of place here. Rather with the pen of a journalist we must attempt to record a momentary phase of current thought, which may at any instant change with kaleidoscopic abruptness.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
Valence and the Structure of Atoms and Molecules (1923), Preface.
Science quotes on:  |  Change (364)  |  Journalist (8)  |  Kaleidoscope (5)  |  Monograph (5)  |  Publication (91)  |  Thinking (231)

In the year 1902 (while I was attempting to explain to an elementary class in chemistry some of the ideas involved in the periodic law) becoming interested in the new theory of the electron, and combining this idea with those which are implied in the periodic classification, I formed an idea of the inner structure of the atom which, although it contained certain crudities, I have ever since regarded as representing essentially the arrangement of electrons in the atom ... In accordance with the idea of Mendeleef, that hydrogen is the first member of a full period, I erroneously assumed helium to have a shell of eight electrons. Regarding the disposition in the positive charge which balanced the electrons in the neutral atom, my ideas were very vague; I believed I inclined at that time toward the idea that the positive charge was also made up of discrete particles, the localization of which determined the localization of the electrons.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
Valence and the Structure of Atoms and Molecules (1923), 29-30.
Science quotes on:  |  Atomic Structure (3)  |  Charge (35)  |  Electron (72)  |  Helium (9)  |  Hydrogen (44)  |  Period (66)  |  Theory (696)

It must be admitted that science has its castes. The man whose chief apparatus is the differential equation looks down upon one who uses a galvanometer, and he in turn upon those who putter about with sticky and smelly things in test tubes. But all of these, and most biologists too, join together in their contempt for the pariah who, not through a glass darkly, but with keen unaided vision, observes the massing of a thundercloud on the horizon, the petal as it unfolds, or the swarming of a hive of bees. And yet sometimes I think that our laboratories are but little earthworks which men build about themselves, and whose puny tops too often conceal from view the Olympian heights; that we who work in these laboratories are but skilled artisans compared with the man who is able to observe, and to draw accurate deductions from the world about him.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 170- 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Bee (27)  |  Caste (2)  |  Cloud (69)  |  Deduction (69)  |  Differentiation (18)  |  Equation (96)  |  Flower (77)  |  Galvanometer (4)  |  Laboratory (132)  |  Observation (450)  |  Science (2067)  |  Test Tube (9)  |  Thunder (14)  |  World (898)

It was not easy for a person brought up in the ways of classical thermodynamics to come around to the idea that gain of entropy eventually is nothing more nor less than loss of information.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
Letter to Irving Langmuir, 5 Aug 1930. Quoted in Nathan Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History 1900-1939 (1981), 400.
Science quotes on:  |  Entropy (42)  |  Idea (580)  |  Information (122)  |  Loss (73)  |  Thermodynamics (29)

There is always the danger in scientific work that some word or phrase will be used by different authors to express so many ideas and surmises that, unless redefined, it loses all real significance.
— Gilbert Newton Lewis
'Valence and Tautomerism', Journal of the American Chemical Society (1913), 35, 1448.
Science quotes on:  |  Author (62)  |  Idea (580)  |  Nomenclature (138)  |  Word (302)

Quotes by others about Gilbert Newton Lewis (2)

The members of the department became like the Athenians who, according to the Apostle Paul, “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Anyone who thought he had a bright idea rushed out to try it out on a colleague. Groups of two or more could be seen every day in offices, before blackboards or even in corridors, arguing vehemently about these 'brain storms.' It is doubtful whether any paper ever emerged for publication that had not run the gauntlet of such criticism. The whole department thus became far greater than the sum of its individual members.
Obituary of Gilbert Newton Lewis, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science (1958), 31, 212.
Science quotes on:  |  Blackboard (9)  |  Brainstorm (2)  |  Colleague (23)  |  Criticism (60)  |  Department (47)  |  Idea (580)  |  Individual (221)  |  Obituary (10)  |  Publication (91)

In Melvin Calvin’s office there were four photographs: Michael Polanyi, Joel Hildebrand, Gilbert N. Lewis, and Ernest O. Lawrence. These scientists were his mentors: Polanyi for introducing him to the chemistry of phthalocyanine; Hildebrand for bringing him to Berkeley; Lewis, perhaps his most influential teacher; and Lawrence, who provided him the opportunity to work with the new scientific tool of radioactive carbon, which enabled the search for the path of carbon in photosynthesis to be successful.
Co-author with Marilyn Taylor and Robert E. Connick, obituary, 'Melvin Calvin', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Dec 2000), 144, No. 4, 454.
Science quotes on:  |  Berkeley (3)  |  Biography (232)  |  Melvin Calvin (11)  |  Carbon (49)  |  Carbon-14 (2)  |  Chemistry (252)  |  Enable (46)  |  Joel H. Hildebrand (17)  |  Influential (4)  |  Introduce (42)  |  Introduced (3)  |  Ernest Orlando Lawrence (5)  |  Mentor (3)  |  New (496)  |  Opportunity (63)  |  Path (84)  |  Photograph (19)  |  Photosynthesis (19)  |  Michael Polanyi (4)  |  Radioactive (8)  |  Scientific (236)  |  Scientist (522)  |  Search (105)  |  Successful (40)  |  Teacher (120)  |  Tool (87)  |  Work (635)

See also:

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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