Celebrating 20 Years on the Web
TODAY IN SCIENCE HISTORY ®
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
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.”
more quiz questions >>
Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index M > James Clerk Maxwell Quotes > Science

Thumbnail of James Clerk Maxwell (source)
James Clerk Maxwell
(13 Jun 1831 - 5 Nov 1879)

Scottish mathematician and physicist whose researches united electricity and magnetism into the concept of the electro-magnetic field.


James Clerk Maxwell Quotes on Science (15 quotes)

>> Click for 53 Science Quotes by James Clerk Maxwell

>> Click for James Clerk Maxwell Quotes on | Atom | Energy | Equation | Experiment | Gas | Law | Light | Matter | Molecule | Poem | Symbol | Theory | Vibration |

All the mathematical sciences are founded on relations between physical laws and laws of numbers, so that the aim of exact science is to reduce the problems of nature to the determination of quantities by operations with numbers.
— James Clerk Maxwell
from Faraday's Lines of Force (1856)
Science quotes on:  |  Aim (165)  |  All (4107)  |  Determination (78)  |  Law (895)  |  Mathematics (1333)  |  Nature (1928)  |  Number (701)  |  Operation (213)  |  Operations (107)  |  Physical (508)  |  Physical Law (14)  |  Problem (679)  |  Reduce (95)  |  Science (3880)

For the evolution of science by societies the main requisite is the perfect freedom of communication between each member and anyone of the others who may act as a reagent.
The gaseous condition is exemplified in the soiree, where the members rush about confusedly, and the only communication is during a collision, which in some instances may be prolonged by button-holing.
The opposite condition, the crystalline, is shown in the lecture, where the members sit in rows, while science flows in an uninterrupted stream from a source which we take as the origin. This is radiation of science. Conduction takes place along the series of members seated round a dinner table, and fixed there for several hours, with flowers in the middle to prevent any cross currents.
The condition most favourable to life is an intermediate plastic or colloidal condition, where the order of business is (1) Greetings and confused talk; (2) A short communication from one who has something to say and to show; (3) Remarks on the communication addressed to the Chair, introducing matters irrelevant to the communication but interesting to the members; (4) This lets each member see who is interested in his special hobby, and who is likely to help him; and leads to (5) Confused conversation and examination of objects on the table.
I have not indicated how this programme is to be combined with eating.
— James Clerk Maxwell
Letter to William Grylls Adams (3 Dec 1873). In P. M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 949-50.
Science quotes on:  |  Act (272)  |  Business (149)  |  Chair (24)  |  Collision (16)  |  Colloid (5)  |  Communication (95)  |  Condition (357)  |  Conduction (8)  |  Confusion (57)  |  Conversation (43)  |  Crystal (69)  |  Current (118)  |  Dinner (15)  |  Eat (104)  |  Eating (46)  |  Evolution (593)  |  Examination (98)  |  Flow (84)  |  Flower (106)  |  Freedom (129)  |  Gas (83)  |  Greeting (9)  |  Hobby (6)  |  Hour (186)  |  Interest (386)  |  Interesting (153)  |  Intermediate (37)  |  Irrelevant (9)  |  Lead (385)  |  Lecture (106)  |  Life (1799)  |  Matter (801)  |  Most (1729)  |  Object (422)  |  Opposite (104)  |  Order (632)  |  Origin (241)  |  Other (2236)  |  Perfect (216)  |  Plastic (28)  |  Prevent (96)  |  Program (52)  |  Prolong (29)  |  Radiation (45)  |  Reagent (8)  |  Remark (28)  |  Requisite (11)  |  Say (984)  |  Science (3880)  |  See (1082)  |  Series (149)  |  Short (197)  |  Show (346)  |  Society (325)  |  Something (719)  |  Something To Say (4)  |  Special (184)  |  Stream (81)  |  Table (104)  |  Talk (100)  |  Uninterrupted (7)

In a University we are especially bound to recognise not only the unity of science itself, but the communion of the workers in science. We are too apt to suppose that we are congregated here merely to be within reach of certain appliances of study, such as museums and laboratories, libraries and lecturers, so that each of us may study what he prefers. I suppose that when the bees crowd round the flowers it is for the sake of the honey that they do so, never thinking that it is the dust which they are carrying from flower to flower which is to render possible a more splendid array of flowers, and a busier crowd of bees, in the years to come. We cannot, therefore, do better than improve the shining hour in helping forward the cross-fertilization of the sciences.
— James Clerk Maxwell
'The Telephone', Nature, 15, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 743-4.
Science quotes on:  |  Appliance (9)  |  Bee (40)  |  Better (488)  |  Bound (119)  |  Certain (550)  |  Communion (3)  |  Congregation (3)  |  Do (1908)  |  Dust (65)  |  Fertilization (15)  |  Flower (106)  |  Forward (102)  |  Honey (15)  |  Hour (186)  |  Laboratory (197)  |  Lecturer (12)  |  Library (48)  |  Men Of Science (143)  |  Merely (316)  |  More (2559)  |  Museum (31)  |  Never (1087)  |  Possible (554)  |  Reach (281)  |  Recognition (88)  |  Render (93)  |  Sake (58)  |  Science (3880)  |  Shining (35)  |  Splendid (23)  |  Study (656)  |  Suppose (156)  |  Thinking (415)  |  Unity (78)  |  University (121)  |  Worker (31)  |  Year (932)

In Science, it is when we take some interest in the great discoverers and their lives that it becomes endurable, and only when we begin to trace the development of ideas that it becomes fascinating.
— James Clerk Maxwell
Quoted in Robert J. Scully, The Demon and the Quantum (2007), 5.
Science quotes on:  |  Become (815)  |  Begin (260)  |  Development (424)  |  Discoverer (42)  |  Discovery (785)  |  Fascinating (37)  |  Great (1575)  |  Idea (845)  |  Interest (386)  |  Live (629)  |  Science (3880)  |  Trace (104)

It is of great advantage to the student of any subject to read the original memoirs on that subject, for science is always most completely assimilated when it is in the nascent state.
— James Clerk Maxwell
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 1, Preface, xiii-xiv.
Science quotes on:  |  Advantage (135)  |  Assimilate (9)  |  Completely (135)  |  Great (1575)  |  Memoir (13)  |  Most (1729)  |  Nascent (3)  |  Read (288)  |  Science (3880)  |  State (491)  |  Student (301)  |  Subject (522)

It was a great step in science when men became convinced that, in order to understand the nature of things, they must begin by asking, not whether a thing is good or bad, noxious or beneficial, but of what kind it is? And how much is there of it? Quality and Quantity were then first recognised as the primary features to be observed in scientific inquiry.
— James Clerk Maxwell
'Address to the Mathematical and Physical Sections of the British Association, Liverpool, 15 Sep 1870', The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890 edition, reprint 2003), Vol. 2, 217.
Science quotes on:  |  Asking (74)  |  Bad (180)  |  Begin (260)  |  Beneficial (13)  |  Discovery (785)  |  Enquiry (87)  |  Experiment (696)  |  First (1284)  |  Good (889)  |  Great (1575)  |  Inquiry (79)  |  Kind (557)  |  Measurement (174)  |  Must (1526)  |  Nature (1928)  |  Nature Of Things (29)  |  Noxious (6)  |  Observed (149)  |  Order (632)  |  Primary (80)  |  Quality (134)  |  Quantity (132)  |  Question (622)  |  Science (3880)  |  Scientific (940)  |  Step (231)  |  Thing (1915)  |  Understand (607)  |  Understanding (514)

Science appears to us with a very different aspect after we have found out that it is not in lecture rooms only, and by means of the electric light projected on a screen, that we may witness physical phenomena, but that we may find illustrations of the highest doctrines of science in games and gymnastics, in travelling by land and by water, in storms of the air and of the sea, and wherever there is matter in motion.
— James Clerk Maxwell
'Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics' (1871). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 243.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (349)  |  Aspect (124)  |  Different (577)  |  Electric (76)  |  Find (999)  |  Game (101)  |  Illustration (48)  |  Lecture (106)  |  Light (609)  |  Matter (801)  |  Mean (809)  |  Means (580)  |  Motion (312)  |  Physical (508)  |  Project (73)  |  Projector (3)  |  Science (3880)  |  Sea (309)  |  Storm (51)  |  Storms (18)  |  Travel (114)  |  Travelling (17)  |  Water (482)  |  Wherever (51)  |  Witness (54)

The equations of dynamics completely express the laws of the historical method as applied to matter, but the application of these equations implies a perfect knowledge of all the data. But the smallest portion of matter which we can subject to experiment consists of millions of molecules, not one of which ever becomes individually sensible to us. We cannot, therefore, ascertain the actual motion of anyone of these molecules; so that we are obliged to abandon the strict historical method, and to adopt the statistical method of dealing with large groups of molecules … Thus molecular science teaches us that our experiments can never give us anything more than statistical information, and that no law derived from them can pretend to absolute precision. But when we pass from the contemplation of our experiments to that of the molecules themselves, we leave a world of chance and change, and enter a region where everything is certain and immutable.
— James Clerk Maxwell
'Molecules' (1873). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 374.
Science quotes on:  |  Abandon (68)  |  Absolute (146)  |  Actual (117)  |  All (4107)  |  Application (242)  |  Applied (176)  |  Ascertain (38)  |  Become (815)  |  Certain (550)  |  Certainty (174)  |  Chance (239)  |  Change (595)  |  Completely (135)  |  Consist (223)  |  Contemplation (73)  |  Data (156)  |  Derivation (13)  |  Dynamics (9)  |  Enter (142)  |  Equation (132)  |  Everything (476)  |  Experiment (696)  |  Express (187)  |  Historical (70)  |  History (675)  |  Immutable (22)  |  Information (166)  |  Knowledge (1536)  |  Large (394)  |  Law (895)  |  Matter (801)  |  Method (506)  |  Molecule (174)  |  More (2559)  |  Motion (312)  |  Never (1087)  |  Pass (238)  |  Perfect (216)  |  Portion (84)  |  Precision (68)  |  Science (3880)  |  Statistics (157)  |  Subject (522)  |  Themselves (433)  |  World (1778)

The experimental investigation by which Ampere established the law of the mechanical action between electric currents is one of the most brilliant achievements in science. The whole theory and experiment, seems as if it had leaped, full grown and full armed, from the brain of the 'Newton of Electricity'. It is perfect in form, and unassailable in accuracy, and it is summed up in a formula from which all the phenomena may be deduced, and which must always remain the cardinal formula of electro-dynamics.
— James Clerk Maxwell
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 162.
Science quotes on:  |  Accuracy (78)  |  Achievement (180)  |  Action (328)  |  All (4107)  |  André-Marie Ampère (11)  |  Arm (81)  |  Brain (270)  |  Brilliant (53)  |  Cardinal (9)  |  Current (118)  |  Deduction (82)  |  Electric (76)  |  Electricity (160)  |  Electrodynamics (10)  |  Experiment (696)  |  Experimental (192)  |  Form (960)  |  Formula (98)  |  Investigation (231)  |  Law (895)  |  Leap (53)  |  Mechanical (140)  |  Mechanics (132)  |  Most (1729)  |  Must (1526)  |  Perfect (216)  |  Perfection (130)  |  Phenomenon (319)  |  Remain (349)  |  Science (3880)  |  Summary (11)  |  Theory (972)  |  Whole (738)

The experimental investigation by which Ampère established the law of the mechanical action between electric currents is one of the most brilliant achievements in science. The whole, theory and experiment, seems as if it had leaped, full grown and full armed, from the brain of the “Newton of Electricity”. It is perfect in form, and unassailable in accuracy, and it is summed up in a formula from which all the phenomena may be deduced, and which must always remain the cardinal formula of electro-dynamics.
— James Clerk Maxwell
In James Clerk Maxwell, Electricity and Magnetism (1881), Vol. 2, 163
Science quotes on:  |  Accuracy (78)  |  Achievement (180)  |  Action (328)  |  All (4107)  |  André-Marie Ampère (11)  |  Arm (81)  |  Brain (270)  |  Brilliant (53)  |  Cardinal (9)  |  Current (118)  |  Deduce (25)  |  Electric (76)  |  Electricity (160)  |  Establish (57)  |  Experiment (696)  |  Experimental (192)  |  Form (960)  |  Formula (98)  |  Investigation (231)  |  Law (895)  |  Leap (53)  |  Mechanical (140)  |  Most (1729)  |  Must (1526)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (335)  |  Perfect (216)  |  Phenomenon (319)  |  Remain (349)  |  Science (3880)  |  Theory (972)  |  Unassailable (3)  |  Whole (738)

The popularisation of scientific doctrines is producing as great an alteration in the mental state of society as the material applications of science are effecting in its outward life. Such indeed is the respect paid to science, that the most absurd opinions may become current, provided they are expressed in language, the sound of which recals [sic] some well-known scientific phrase.
— James Clerk Maxwell
'Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics' (1871). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 242.
Science quotes on:  |  Absurd (59)  |  Alteration (30)  |  Application (242)  |  Become (815)  |  Current (118)  |  Doctrine (75)  |  Express (187)  |  Great (1575)  |  Indeed (323)  |  Known (454)  |  Language (293)  |  Life (1799)  |  Material (353)  |  Mental (177)  |  Mind (1339)  |  Most (1729)  |  Opinion (281)  |  Phrase (61)  |  Respect (207)  |  Science (3880)  |  Science And Society (24)  |  Scientific (940)  |  Society (325)  |  Sound (183)  |  State (491)

The present state of electrical science seems peculiarly unfavorable to speculation … to appreciate the requirements of the science, the student must make himself familiar with a considerable body of most intricate mathematics, the mere retention of which in the memory materially interferes with further progress. The first process therefore in the effectual study of the science, must be one of simplification and reduction of the results of previous investigation to a form in which the mind can grasp them.
— James Clerk Maxwell
First sentence of Maxwell’s first paper (read 10 Dec 1855), 'On Faraday’s Lines of Force', Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (1857), Vol. X, part I. Collected in William Davidson Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 1, 155.
Science quotes on:  |  Appreciate (63)  |  Body (537)  |  Considerable (75)  |  Effective (59)  |  Electrical (57)  |  Electricity (160)  |  Familiar (43)  |  First (1284)  |  Form (960)  |  Grasp (63)  |  Himself (461)  |  Interfere (17)  |  Intricate (29)  |  Investigation (231)  |  Mathematics (1333)  |  Memory (134)  |  Mind (1339)  |  Most (1729)  |  Must (1526)  |  Present (620)  |  Process (423)  |  Progress (468)  |  Reduction (51)  |  Requirement (63)  |  Result (678)  |  Retention (5)  |  Science (3880)  |  Science And Education (16)  |  Simplification (20)  |  Speculation (126)  |  State (491)  |  Student (301)  |  Study (656)  |  Unfavorable (3)

This characteristic of modern experiments–that they consist principally of measurements,–is so prominent, that the opinion seems to have got abroad, that in a few years all the great physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the only occupation which will then be left to men of science will be to carry these measurements to another place of decimals … But we have no right to think thus of the unsearchable riches of creation, or of the untried fertility of those fresh minds into which these riches will continue to be poured.
— James Clerk Maxwell
Maxwell strongly disagreed with the prominent opinion, and was attacking it. Thus, he was saying he did not believe in such a future of merely making “measurements to another place of decimals.” In 'Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics', (Oct 1871). In W.D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 244. Note that his reference to making measurements to another place of decimals is often seen extracted as a short quote without the context showing - obscuring the fact that he actually despised that opinion.
Science quotes on:  |  Abroad (18)  |  All (4107)  |  Carry (127)  |  Characteristic (148)  |  Consist (223)  |  Constant (144)  |  Continue (165)  |  Creation (329)  |  Creativity (76)  |  Decimal (20)  |  Experiment (696)  |  Fertility (19)  |  Fresh (67)  |  Great (1575)  |  Measurement (174)  |  Men Of Science (143)  |  Mind (1339)  |  Modern (385)  |  Occupation (48)  |  Opinion (281)  |  Physical (508)  |  Research (677)  |  Riches (14)  |  Right (452)  |  Science (3880)  |  Think (1086)  |  Will (2354)  |  Year (932)

Thus science strips off, one after the other, the more or less gross materialisations by which we endeavour to form an objective image of the soul, till men of science, speculating, in their non-scientific intervals, like other men on what science may possibly lead to, have prophesied that we shall soon have to confess that the soul is nothing else than a function of certain complex material systems.
— James Clerk Maxwell
Review of B. Stewart and P. G. Tait's book on Paradoxical Philosophy, in Nature, 19, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 760.
Science quotes on:  |  Certain (550)  |  Complex (188)  |  Confess (42)  |  Confession (8)  |  Endeavour (63)  |  Form (960)  |  Function (229)  |  Gross (7)  |  Image (96)  |  Lead (385)  |  Material (353)  |  Men Of Science (143)  |  More (2559)  |  More Or Less (68)  |  Non-Scientific (7)  |  Nothing (969)  |  Objective (92)  |  Other (2236)  |  Possibly (111)  |  Prophesy (10)  |  Science (3880)  |  Scientific (940)  |  Soon (186)  |  Soul (227)  |  Speculation (126)  |  System (537)

[Helmholtz] is not a philosopher in the exclusive sense, as Kant, Hegel, Mansel are philosophers, but one who prosecutes physics and physiology, and acquires therein not only skill in developing any desideratum, but wisdom to know what are the desiderata, e.g., he was one of the first, and is one of the most active, preachers of the doctrine that since all kinds of energy are convertible, the first aim of science at this time. should be to ascertain in what way particular forms of energy can be converted into each other, and what are the equivalent quantities of the two forms of energy.
— James Clerk Maxwell
Letter to Lewis Campbell (21 Apr 1862). In P.M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1990), Vol. 1, 711.
Science quotes on:  |  Acquire (39)  |  Active (76)  |  Aim (165)  |  All (4107)  |  Ascertain (38)  |  Conservation Of Energy (29)  |  Conversion (17)  |  Desideratum (5)  |  Doctrine (75)  |  Energy (346)  |  Equivalent (45)  |  Exclusive (29)  |  First (1284)  |  Form (960)  |  Hermann von Helmholtz (29)  |  Immanuel Kant (50)  |  Kind (557)  |  Know (1519)  |  Most (1729)  |  Other (2236)  |  Philosopher (259)  |  Physic (516)  |  Physics (533)  |  Physiology (95)  |  Preacher (13)  |  Prosecute (3)  |  Quantity (132)  |  Science (3880)  |  Sense (770)  |  Skill (109)  |  Time (1877)  |  Two (937)  |  Way (1216)  |  Wisdom (221)


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
Quotations by:Albert EinsteinIsaac NewtonLord KelvinCharles DarwinSrinivasa RamanujanCarl SaganFlorence NightingaleThomas EdisonAristotleMarie CurieBenjamin FranklinWinston ChurchillGalileo GalileiSigmund FreudRobert BunsenLouis PasteurTheodore RooseveltAbraham LincolnRonald ReaganLeonardo DaVinciMichio KakuKarl PopperJohann GoetheRobert OppenheimerCharles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about:Atomic  BombBiologyChemistryDeforestationEngineeringAnatomyAstronomyBacteriaBiochemistryBotanyConservationDinosaurEnvironmentFractalGeneticsGeologyHistory of ScienceInventionJupiterKnowledgeLoveMathematicsMeasurementMedicineNatural ResourceOrganic ChemistryPhysicsPhysicianQuantum TheoryResearchScience and ArtTeacherTechnologyUniverseVolcanoVirusWind PowerWomen ScientistsX-RaysYouthZoology  ... (more topics)
Sitewide search within all Today In Science History pages:
Visit our Science and Scientist Quotations index for more Science Quotes from archaeologists, biologists, chemists, geologists, inventors and inventions, mathematicians, physicists, pioneers in medicine, science events and technology.

Names index: | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

Categories index: | 1 | 2 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |
- 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


by Ian Ellis
who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.