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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Thumbnail of Ptolemy
Ptolemy
(c. 100 - c. 170)

Greek astronomer who wrote the famous book of mathematical astronomy, known as the Almagest, which described the Ptolemaic (geocentric) universe.

Ptolemy
“When I trace at my pleasure the windings”

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 400 px)

 Ptolemy quote When I trace at my pleasure the windings
Conjunction of the moon, Venus and Jupiter (source)
“When I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself.”
— Ptolemy
Translation of epigraph opening the Almagest.

More Ptolemy quotes on science >>

More Ptolemy quotes on science >>

Neil DeGrasse Tyson used a longer version of this quote by Ptolemy in a magazine article he wrote1. He gave examples of scientists in centuries past reaching the boundary where their understanding fades to ignorance. At that point, as Tyson points out, the scientist faces a choice: “invoke a deity or continue the quest for knowledge.” He gives as an example:

“Consider the second-century a.d. Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy. Armed with a description, but no real understanding, of what the planets were doing up there, he could not contain his religious fervor:

I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia, food of the gods.

As with anything Neil Degrasse Tyson writes, the whole article is worth reading. He includes further examples of scientists making a divine invocation to the “God of the Gaps,” namely: Isaac Newton, Pierre-Simon de Laplace, Christiaan Huygens, and Galileo. He closes with his own commentary on “Science is a philosophy of discovery,” and we sit in awe as others “boldly go where no mortal has gone before.”

1 'The Perimeter of Ignorance', Natural History (1 Nov 2005) (source) .

Text by Webmaster, with quotes from Neil DeGrasse Tyson article given in footnote. The subject quote is a translation of the epigraph opening Ptolemy’s book, the Almagest. It can also be found quoted in various books, for example, in Dava Sobel, The Planets (2005), 33. (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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- 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



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