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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index 2 > Category: 20th Century

20th Century Quotes (19 quotes)

By the mid-1950s manatees were already scarce, and monk seals, once common as far north as Galveston, were gone. By the end of the 20th century, up to 90 percent of the sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlins, groupers, turtles, whales, and many other large creatures that prospered in the Gulf for millions of years had been depleted by overfishing.
From 'My Blue Wilderness', National Geographic Magazine (Oct 2010), 77.
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Considered in its entirety, psychoanalysis won’t do. It is an end product, moreover, like a dinosaur or a zeppelin, no better theory can ever be erected on its ruins, which will remain for ever one of the saddest and strangest of all landmarks in the history of twentieth century thought.
From 'Further Comments on Psychoanalysis', The Hope of Progress: A Scientist Looks at Problems in Philosophy, Literature and Science (1973), 69.
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Contrary to popular parlance, Darwin didn't discover evolution. He uncovered one (most would say the) essential mechanism by which it operates: natural selection. Even then, his brainstorm was incomplete until the Modern Synthesis of the early/mid-20th century when (among other things) the complementary role of genetic heredity was fully realized. Thousands upon thousands of studies have followed, providing millions of data points that support this understanding of how life on Earth has come to be as it is.
In online article, 'The Day That Botany Took on Bobby Jindal by Just Being Itself', Huffington Post (5 Aug 2013).
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Cosmology, for centuries consisting of speculation based on a minimum of observational evidence and a maximum of philosophical predilection, became in the twentieth century an observational science, its theories now subject to verification or refutation to a degree previously unimaginable.
Opening sentence in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 41.
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Earlier this week … scientists announced the completion of a task that once seemed unimaginable; and that is, the deciphering of the entire DNA sequence of the human genetic code. This amazing accomplishment is likely to affect the 21st century as profoundly as the invention of the computer or the splitting of the atom affected the 20th century. I believe that the 21st century will be the century of life sciences, and nothing makes that point more clearly than this momentous discovery. It will revolutionize medicine as we know it today.
Senate Session, Congressional Record (29 Jun 2000) Vol. 146, No 85, S6050.
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I think the next [21st] century will be the century of complexity. We have already discovered the basic laws that govern matter and understand all the normal situations. We don’t know how the laws fit together, and what happens under extreme conditions. But I expect we will find a complete unified theory sometime this century. The is no limit to the complexity that we can build using those basic laws.
[Answer to question: Some say that while the twentieth century was the century of physics, we are now entering the century of biology. What do you think of this?]
'"Unified Theory" Is Getting Closer, Hawking Predicts', interview in San Jose Mercury News (23 Jan 2000), 29A. Answer quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Question included in Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Nicholas Stern and Mario Molina , Global Sustainability: a Nobel Cause (2010), 13. Cite from Brent Davis and Dennis J. Sumara, Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research (2006), 171.
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If history is any guide at all, it seems to me to suggest that there is a final theory. In this century we have seen a convergence of the arrows of explanation, like the convergence of meridians toward the North Pole.
In Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature (1992), 232.
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One aim of physical sciences had been to give an exact picture the material world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable.
From The Ascent of Man (1973), 353.
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Psychoanalytic theory is the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century and a terminal product as well—something akin to a dinosaur or zeppelin in the history of ideas, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity.
'Victims of Psychiatry', The New York Review of Books (23 Jan 1975), 21. Cited in David E. Stannard, Shrinking History: On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory (1980), 150.
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Science has taught us to think the unthinkable. Because when nature is the guide—rather than a priori prejudices, hopes, fears or desires—we are forced out of our comfort zone. One by one, pillars of classical logic have fallen by the wayside as science progressed in the 20th century, from Einstein's realization that measurements of space and time were not absolute but observer-dependent, to quantum mechanics, which not only put fundamental limits on what we can empirically know but also demonstrated that elementary particles and the atoms they form are doing a million seemingly impossible things at once.
In op-ed, 'A Universe Without Purpose', Los Angeles Times (1 Apr 2012).
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Scientists wrote beautifully through the 19th century and on into the early 20th. But somewhere after that, coincident with the explosive growth of research, the art of writing science suffered a grave setback, and the stultifying convention descended that the best scientific prose should sound like a non-human author addressing a mechanical reader.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), Preface, xii.
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The greatest achievements in the science of this [twentieth] century are themselves the sources of more puzzlement than human beings have ever experienced. Indeed, it is likely that the twentieth century will be looked back at as the time when science provided the first close glimpse of the profundity of human ignorance. We have not reached solutions; we have only begun to discover how to ask questions.
In 'On Science and Certainty', Discover Magazine (Oct 1980).
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The mighty edifice of Government science dominated the scene in the middle of the 20th century as a Gothic cathedral dominated a 13th century landscape. The work of many hands over many years, it universally inspired admiration, wonder and fear.
In Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities (1957, 1964), 375.
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The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. Indeed, I regard this as the major discovery of the past hundred years of biology. It is, in its way, an illuminating piece of news. … It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect.
Essay, 'The Hazards of Science', collected in The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979), 73.
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The private motives of scientists are not the trend of science. The trend of science is made by the needs of society: navigation before the eighteenth century, manufacture thereafter; and in our age I believe the liberation of personality. Whatever the part which scientists like to act, or for that matter which painters like to dress, science shares the aims of our society just as art does.
From The Common Sense of Science (1951), 145.
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The rockets that have made spaceflight possible are an advance that, more than any other technological victory of the twentieth century, was grounded in science fiction… . One thing that no science fiction writer visualized, however, as far as I know, was that the landings on the Moon would be watched by people on Earth by way of television.
In Asimov on Physics (1976), 35. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 307.
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The world has changed far more in the past 100 years than in any other century in history. The reason is not political or economic but technological—technologies that flowed directly from advances in basic science. Clearly, no scientist better represents those advances than Albert Einstein: TIME’s Person of the Century.
'A Brief History of Relativity'. Time (31 Dec 1999).
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When we look back beyond one hundred years over the long trails of history, we see immediately why the age we live in differs from all other ages in human annals. … It remained stationary in India and in China for thousands of years. But now it is moving very fast. … A priest from Thebes would probably have felt more at home at the council of Trent, two thousand years after Thebes had vanished, than Sir Isaac Newton at a modern undergraduate physical society, or George Stephenson in the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The changes have have been so sudden and so gigantic, that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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[Heisenberg's seminal 1925 paper initiating quantum mechanics marked] one of the great jumps—perhaps the greatest—in the development of twentieth century physics.
In Abraham Pais, Niels Bohr's Times: in Physics, Philosophy, and Polity (1991), 276. Cited in Mauro Dardo, Nobel Laureates and Twentieth-Century Physics (2004), 179.
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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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