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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index A > Category: Absolute

Absolute Quotes (98 quotes)

Dass die bis jetzt unzerlegten chemischen Elemente absolut unzerlegbare Stoffe seien, ist gegenwärtig mindestens sehr unwahrscheinlich. Vielmehr scheint es, dass die Atome der Elemente nicht die letzten, sondern nur die näheren Bestandtheile der Molekeln sowohl der Elemente wie der Verbindungen bilden, die Molekeln oder Molecule als Massentheile erster, die Atome als solche zweiter Ordnung anzusehen sind, die ihrerseits wiederum aus Massentheilchen einer dritten höheren Ordnung bestehen werden.
That the as yet undivided chemical elements are absolutely irreducible substances, is currently at least very unlikely. Rather it seems, that the atoms of elements are not the final, but only the immediate constituents of the molecules of both the elements and the compounds—the Molekeln or molecule as foremost division of matter, the atoms being considered as second order, in turn consisting of matter particles of a third higher order.
[Speculating in 1870, on the existence of subatomic particles, in opening remark of the paper by which he became established as co-discoverer of the Periodic Law.]
'Die Natur der chemischen Elemente als Function ihrer Atomgewichte' ('The Nature of the Chemical Elements as a Function of their Atomic Weight'), Annalen der Chemie (1870), supp. b, 354. Original German paper reprinted in Lothar Meyer and Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleyev, Das natürliche System der chemischen Elemente: Abhandlungen (1895), 9. Translation by Webmaster, with punctuation faithful to the original, except a comma was changed to a dash to improve readability.
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A general course in mathematics should be required of all officers for its practical value, but no less for its educational value in training the mind to logical forms of thought, in developing the sense of absolute truthfulness, together with a confidence in the accomplishment of definite results by definite means.
In 'Mathematics at West Point and Annapolis', United States Bureau of Education, Bulletin 1912, No. 2, 11.
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A conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors.
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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Absolute space, of its own nature without reference to anything external, always remains homogenous and immovable. Relative space is any movable measure or dimension of this absolute space; such a measure or dimension is determined by our senses from the situation of the space with respect to bodies and is popularly used for immovable space, as in the case of space under the earth or in the air or in the heavens, where the dimension is determined from the situation of the space with respect to the earth. Absolute and relative space are the same in species and in magnitude, but they do not always remain the same numerically. For example, if the earth moves, the space of our air, which in a relative sense and with respect to the earth always remains the same, will now be one part of the absolute space into which the air passes, now another part of it, and thus will be changing continually in an absolute sense.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Definitions, Scholium, 408-9.
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Absolute space, that is to say, the mark to which it would be necessary to refer the earth to know whether it really moves, has no objective existence…. The two propositions: “The earth turns round” and “it is more convenient to suppose the earth turns round” have the same meaning; there is nothing more in the one than in the other.
From La Science et l’Hypothèse (1908), 141, as translated by George Bruce Halsted in Science and Hypothesis (1905), 85-86. From the original French, “L’espace absolu, c’est-à-dire le repère auquel il faudrait rapporter la terre pour savoir si réellement elle tourne, n’a aucune existence objective. … Ces deux propositions: ‘la terre tourne’, et: ‘il est plus commode de supposer que la terre tourne’, ont un seul et même sens; il n’y a rien de plus dans l’une que dans l’autre.”
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Absolute, true, and mathematical time, in and of itself and of its own nature, without reference to anything external, flows uniformly and by another name is called duration. Relative, apparent, and common time is any sensible and external measure (precise or imprecise) of duration by means of motion; such as a measure—for example, an hour, a day, a month, a year—is commonly used instead of true time.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Definitions, Scholium, 408.
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Art arises in those strange complexities of action that are called human beings. It is a kind of human behavior. As such it is not magic, except as human beings are magical. Nor is it concerned in absolutes, eternities, “forms,” beyond those that may reside in the context of the human being and be subject to his vicissitudes. Art is not an inner state of consciousness, whatever that may mean. Neither is it essentially a supreme form of communication. Art is human behavior, and its values are contained in human behavior.
In Art Is Action: A Discussion of Nine Arts in a Modern World (1939), 1.
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As advertising always convinces the sponsor even more than the public, the scientists have become sold, and remain sold, on the idea that they have the key to the Absolute, and that nothing will do for Mr. Average Citizen but to stuff himself full of electrons.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 26.
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Bigotry and science can have no communication with each other, for science begins where bigotry and absolute certainty end.
Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), Introduction, 8-9.
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Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behavior of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants.
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982, 1995), 47.
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But it is precisely mathematics, and the pure science generally, from which the general educated public and independent students have been debarred, and into which they have only rarely attained more than a very meagre insight. The reason of this is twofold. In the first place, the ascendant and consecutive character of mathematical knowledge renders its results absolutely insusceptible of presentation to persons who are unacquainted with what has gone before, and so necessitates on the part of its devotees a thorough and patient exploration of the field from the very beginning, as distinguished from those sciences which may, so to speak, be begun at the end, and which are consequently cultivated with the greatest zeal. The second reason is that, partly through the exigencies of academic instruction, but mainly through the martinet traditions of antiquity and the influence of mediaeval logic-mongers, the great bulk of the elementary text-books of mathematics have unconsciously assumed a very repellant form,—something similar to what is termed in the theory of protective mimicry in biology “the terrifying form.” And it is mainly to this formidableness and touch-me-not character of exterior, concealing withal a harmless body, that the undue neglect of typical mathematical studies is to be attributed.
In Editor’s Preface to Augustus De Morgan and Thomas J. McCormack (ed.), Elementary Illustrations of the Differential and Integral Calculus (1899), v.
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Clearly it is not reason that has failed. What has failed—as it has always failed—is the attempt to achieve certainty, to reach an absolute, to find the course of human events to a final end. ... It is not reason that has promised to eliminate risk in human undertakings; it is the emotional needs of men.
In The Quest For Identity (1958), 135.
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Crystals grew inside rock like arithmetic flowers. They lengthened and spread, added plane to plane in an awed and perfect obedience to an absolute geometry that even stones—maybe only the stones—understood.
In An American Childhood (1987), 139.
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Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.
In The Act of Creation (1964), 252.
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Everything you’ve learned in school as “obvious” becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.
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Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
In The Temper of Our Time (1967), 103.
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He who would lead a Christ-like life is he who is perfectly and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of science, or a young student at the University, or one who watches sheep upon a moor, or a maker of dramas like Shakespeare, or a thinker about God, like Spinoza. or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman who throws his nets into the sea. It does not matter what he is as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him.
In 'The Critic As Artist', Oscariana: Epigrams (1907), 27-28
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I had always looked upon the search for the absolute as the noblest and most worth while task of science.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 46.
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I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything, and of many things I don’t know anything about but I don’t have to know an answer.
Interview, in BBC TV program, 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out', Horizon (23 Nov 1981). As quoted in Caroline Baillie, Alice Pawley, Donna M. Riley, Engineering and Social Justice: In the University and Beyond (2012), 108.
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If finally, the science should prove that society at a certain time revert to the church and recover its old foundation of absolute faith in a personal providence and a revealed religion, it commits suicide.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919), 131.
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If matter is not eternal, its first emergence into being is a miracle beside which all others dwindle into absolute insignificance. But, as has often been pointed out, the process is unthinkable; the sudden apocalypse of a material world out of blank nonentity cannot be imagined; its emergence into order out of chaos when “without form and void” of life, is merely a poetic rendering of the doctrine of its slow evolution.
In Nineteenth Century (Sep c.1879?). Quoted in John Tyndall, 'Professor Virchow and Evolution', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 377.
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In abstract mathematical theorems, the approximation to absolute truth is perfect. … In physical science, on the contrary, we treat of the least quantities which are perceptible.
In The Principles of Science: A Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method (1913), 478.
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In its famous paradox, the equation of money and excrement, psychoanalysis becomes the first science to state what common sense and the poets have long known—that the essence of money is in its absolute worthlessness.
Life Against Death: the Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1985), 254.
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In the experimental sciences, the epochs of the most brilliant progress are almost always separated by long intervals of almost absolute repose.
In François Arago, trans. by William Henry Smyth, Baden Powell and Robert Grant, 'Fourier', Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859), Vol. 1, 411.
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In the field of thinking, the whole history of science from geocentrism to the Copernican revolution, from the false absolutes of Aristotle’s physics to the relativity of Galileo’s principle of inertia and to Einstein’s theory of relativity, shows that it has taken centuries to liberate us from the systematic errors, from the illusions caused by the immediate point of view as opposed to “decentered” systematic thinking.
As quoted in D. E. Berlyne, Structure and Direction in Thinking (1965), 232.
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In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven.
From Address (22 Apr 1857) for Inauguration of Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, collected in 'Academical Education', Orations and Speeches on Various Occasions (1870), Vol. 3, 514. This is seen misattributed to Eric Temple Bell, who only quoted it, attributing it to Everett, in for example, Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Sciences (1938), 20.
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It is a temptation for philosophers that they should weave a fairy tale of the adjustment of factors; and then as an appendix introduce the notion of frustration, as a secondary aspect. I suggest to you that this is the criticism to be made on the monistic idealisms of the nineteenth century, and even of the great Spinoza. It is quite incredible that the Absolute, as conceived in monistic philosophy, should evolve confusion about its own details.
In Modes of Thought (1938), 69-70.
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It is from this absolute indifference and tranquility of the mind, that mathematical speculations derive some of their most considerable advantages; because there is nothing to interest the imagination; because the judgment sits free and unbiased to examine the point. All proportions, every arrangement of quantity, is alike to the understanding, because the same truths result to it from all; from greater from lesser, from equality and inequality.
In On the Sublime and Beautiful, Part 3, sect. 2.
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It is impossible to devise an experiment without a preconceived idea; devising an experiment, we said, is putting a question; we never conceive a question without an idea which invites an answer. I consider it, therefore, an absolute principle that experiments must always be devised in view of a preconceived idea, no matter if the idea be not very clear nor very well defined.
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865, translation 1927, 1957), 23.
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It is ironical that, in the very field in which Science has claimed superiority to Theology, for example—in the abandoning of dogma and the granting of absolute freedom to criticism—the positions are now reversed. Science will not tolerate criticism of special relativity, while Theology talks freely about the death of God, religionless Christianity, and so on.
In 'Preface', Science at the Crossroads (1972), 13.
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It may well be doubted whether, in all the range of Science, there is any field so fascinating to the explorer—so rich in hidden treasures—so fruitful in delightful surprises—as that of Pure Mathematics. The charm lies chiefly, I think, in the absolute certainty of its results: for that is what, beyond all mental treasures, the human intellect craves for. Let us only be sure of something! More light, more light … “And if our fate be death, give light and let us die” This is the cry that, through all the ages, is going up from perplexed Humanity, and Science has little else to offer, that will really meet the demands of its votaries, than the conclusions of Pure Mathematics.
Opening of 'Introduction', A New Theory of Parallels (1890), xv. As a non-fiction work, the author’s name on the title page of this book was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Being better known for his works of fiction as Lewis Carroll, all quotes relating to this one person, published under either name, are gathered on this single web page under his pen name.
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Let the artist have just enough to eat, and the tools of this trade: ask nothing of him. Materially make the life of the artist sufficiently miserable to be unattractive, and no-one will take to art save those in whom the divine daemon is absolute.
In Art (1958), 172.
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Man has never been a particularly modest or self-deprecatory animal, and physical theory bears witness to this no less than many other important activities. The idea that thought is the measure of all things, that there is such a thing as utter logical rigor, that conclusions can be drawn endowed with an inescapable necessity, that mathematics has an absolute validity and controls experience—these are not the ideas of a modest animal. Not only do our theories betray these somewhat bumptious traits of self-appreciation, but especially obvious through them all is the thread of incorrigible optimism so characteristic of human beings.
In The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 135-136.
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Mathematical “truth” is no “truer” than any other, and Pilate’s question is still meaningless. There are no absolutes, even in mathematics.
In 'What Mathematics Has Meant to Me', Mathematics Magazine (Jan-Feb 1951), 24, 161. [Note: Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). —Webmaster]
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Mathematicians practice absolute freedom.
In A Letter to American Teachers of History (1910), 169.
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Mathematics gives the young man a clear idea of demonstration and habituates him to form long trains of thought and reasoning methodically connected and sustained by the final certainty of the result; and it has the further advantage, from a purely moral point of view, of inspiring an absolute and fanatical respect for truth. In addition to all this, mathematics, and chiefly algebra and infinitesimal calculus, excite to a high degree the conception of the signs and symbols—necessary instruments to extend the power and reach of the human mind by summarizing an aggregate of relations in a condensed form and in a kind of mechanical way. These auxiliaries are of special value in mathematics because they are there adequate to their definitions, a characteristic which they do not possess to the same degree in the physical and mathematical [natural?] sciences.
There are, in fact, a mass of mental and moral faculties that can be put in full play only by instruction in mathematics; and they would be made still more available if the teaching was directed so as to leave free play to the personal work of the student.
In 'Science as an Instrument of Education', Popular Science Monthly (1897), 253.
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Mathematics is the most exact science, and its conclusions are capable of absolute proof. But this is so only because mathematics does not attempt to draw absolute conclusions. All mathematical truths are relative, conditional.
(1923). Quoted, without source, in E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (1937), Vol. 1, li.
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Mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the world, but every possible world, must conform.
In 'The Study of Mathematics', The New Quarterly (1907), reprinted in Philosophical Essays (1910). As quoted and cited in 'The Retreat From Pythagoras', The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903-1959 (1992), 254.
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My original decision to devote myself to science was a direct result of the discovery which has never ceased to fill me with enthusiasm since my early youth—the comprehension of the far from obvious fact that the laws of human reasoning coincide with the laws governing the sequences of the impressions we receive from the world about us; that, therefore, pure reasoning can enable man to gain an insight into the mechanism of the latter. In this connection, it is of paramount importance that the outside world is something independent from man, something absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute appeared to me as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 13.
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Neither the absolute nor the relative size of the brain can be used to measure the degree of mental ability in animal or in man. So far as man is concerned, the weights of the brains or the volumes of the cranial cavities of a hundred celebrities of all branches of knowledge all over the world have been listed. … At the bottom of those lists are Gall, the famous phrenologist, Anatole France, the French novelist, and Gambetta, the French statesman, each with about 1,100 cc brain mass. The lists are topped by Dean Jonathan Swift, the English writer, Lord Byron, the English poet, and Turgenev, the Russian novelist, all with about 2,000 cc … Now our mental test! Had Turgenev really twice the mental ability of Anatole France?
In 'The Human Brain in the Light of Its Phylogenetic Development', Scientific Monthly (Aug 1948), 67, No. 2, 104-105. Collected in Sherwood Larned Washburn and ‎Davida Wolffson (eds.), The Shorter Anthropological Papers of Franz Weidenreich Published in the Period 1939-1948: A Memorial Volume (1949), 18.
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Occasionally and frequently the exercise of the judgment ought to end in absolute reservation. It may be very distasteful, and great fatigue, to suspend a conclusion; but as we are not infallible, so we ought to be cautious; we shall eventually find our advantage, for the man who rests in his position is not so far from right as he who, proceeding in a wrong direction, is ever increasing his distance.
Lecture at the Royal Institution, 'Observations on the Education of the Judgment'. Collected in Edward Livingston Youmans (ed)., Modern Culture (1867), 219.
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One point at which our magicians attempt their sleight-of-hand is when they slide quickly from the Hubble, redshift-distance relation to redshift-velocity of expansion. There are now five or six whole classes of objects that violate this absolutely basic assumption. It really gives away the game to realize how observations of these crucial objects have been banned from the telescope and how their discussion has met with desperate attempts at suppression.
In 'Letters: Wrangling Over the Bang', Science News (27 Jul 1991), 140, No. 4, 51. Also quoted in Roy C. Martin, Astronomy on Trial: A Devastating and Complete Repudiation of the Big Bang Fiasco (1999), Appendix I, 217.
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Our ideals. laws and customs should he based on the proposition that each, in turn, becomes the custodian rather than the absolute owner of our resources and each generation has the obligation to pass this inheritance on to the future.
…...
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Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.
In Pensées (1670), Section 23, No. 67. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 50. Also seen translated as “…in movement, absolute rest…”. From the French, “Notre nature est dans le mouvement; le repos entier est la mort,” in Pensées de Blaise Pascal (1847), 315.
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Perhaps the problem is the seeming need that people have of making black-and-white cutoffs when it comes to certain mysterious phenomena, such as life and consciousness. People seem to want there to be an absolute threshold between the living and the nonliving, and between the thinking and the “merely mechanical,” ... But the onward march of science seems to force us ever more clearly into accepting intermediate levels of such properties.
‘Shades of Gray Along the Consciousness Continuum’, Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought (1995), 310.
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Progress is achieved by exchanging our theories for new ones which go further than the old, until we find one based on a larger number of facts. … Theories are only hypotheses, verified by more or less numerous facts. Those verified by the most facts are the best, but even then they are never final, never to be absolutely believed.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 165.
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Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The Life of Reason, or the Phases of Human Progress (1954), 82.
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Pure mathematics … reveals itself as nothing but symbolic or formal logic. It is concerned with implications, not applications. On the other hand, natural science, which is empirical and ultimately dependent upon observation and experiment, and therefore incapable of absolute exactness, cannot become strictly mathematical. The certainty of geometry is thus merely the certainty with which conclusions follow from non-contradictory premises. As to whether these conclusions are true of the material world or not, pure mathematics is indifferent.
In 'Non-Euclidian Geometry of the Fourth Dimension', collected in Henry Parker Manning (ed.), The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained (1910), 58.
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Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.
In Letter (1 Jun 1988) to Father George V. Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory. On vatican.va website.
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Science derives its conclusions by the laws of logic from our sense perceptions, Thus it does not deal with the real world, of which we know nothing, but with the world as it appears to our senses. … All our sense perceptions are limited by and attached to the conceptions of time and space. … Modern physics has come to the same conclusion in the relativity theory, that absolute space and absolute time have no existence, but, time and space exist only as far as things or events fill them, that is, are forms of sense perception.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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Science has hitherto been proceeding without the guidance of any rational theory of logic, and has certainly made good progress. It is like a computer who is pursuing some method of arithmetical approximation. Even if he occasionally makes mistakes in his ciphering, yet if the process is a good one they will rectify themselves. But then he would approximate much more rapidly if he did not commit these errors; and in my opinion, the time has come when science ought to be provided with a logic. My theory satisfies me; I can see no flaw in it. According to that theory universality, necessity, exactitude, in the absolute sense of these words, are unattainable by us, and do not exist in nature. There is an ideal law to which nature approximates; but to express it would require an endless series of modifications, like the decimals expressing surd. Only when you have asked a question in so crude a shape that continuity is not involved, is a perfectly true answer attainable.
Letter to G. F. Becker, 11 June 1893. Merrill Collection, Library of Congress. Quoted in Nathan Reingold, Science in Nineteenth-Century America: A Documentary History (1966), 231-2.
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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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Science is a method for testing claims about the natural world, not an immutable compendium of absolute truths. The fundamentalists, by ‘knowing’ the answers before they start, and then forcing nature into the straitjacket of their discredited preconceptions, lie outside the domain of science–or of any honest intellectual inquiry.
…...
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Science, testing absolutely all thoughts, all works, has already burst well upon the world—a sun, mounting, most illuminating, most glorious—surely never again to set.
In Specimen Days & Collect (1882), 244.
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Scientists do not believe in fundamental and absolute certainties. For the scientist, certainty is never an end, but a search; not the ordering of certainty, but its exploration. For the scientist, certainty represents the highest degree of probability.
Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), Introduction, 7-8.
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Suppose that you are in love with a lady on Neptune and that she returns the sentiment. It will be some consolation for the melancholy separation if you can say to yourself at some possibly pre-arranged moment, “She is thinking of me now.” Unfortunately a difficulty has arisen because we have had to abolish Now. There is no absolute Now, but only the various relative Nows, differing according to their reckoning of different observers and covering the whole neutral wedge which at the distance of Neptune is about eight hours thick. She will have to think of you continuously for eight hours on end in order to circumvent the ambiguity “Now.”
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 49.
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The absolute extent of land in the Archipelago is not greater than that contained by Western Europe from Hungary to Spain; but, owing to the manner in which the land is broken up and divided, the variety of its productions is rather in proportion to the immense surface over which the islands are spread, than to the quantity of land which they contain.
Malay Archipelago
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The classification of facts and the formation of absolute judgments upon the basis of this classification—judgments independent of the idiosyncrasies of the individual mind—essentially sum up the aim and method of modern science. The scientific man has above all things to strive at self-elimination in his judgments, to provide an argument which is as true for each individual mind as for his own.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 7-8.
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The classification of facts and the formation of absolute judgments upon the basis of this classification—judgments independent of the idiosyncrasies of the individual mind—is peculiarly the scope and method of modern science.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 7.
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The existence of a first cause of the universe is a necessity of thought ... Amid the mysteries which become more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that we are over in the presence of an Infinite, Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.
As quoted in John Murdoch, India's Needs: Material, Political, Social, Moral, and Religious (1886), 126.
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The eye which can appreciate the naked and absolute beauty of a scientific truth is far more rare than that which is attracted by a moral one.
In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1862), 381.
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The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.
The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of the most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of math, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.
The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check [bill], the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon of this field.)
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982, 1995), 47-48.
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The future is too interesting and dangerous to be entrusted to any predictable, reliable agency. We need all the fallibility we can get. Most of all, we need to preserve the absolute unpredictability and total improbability of our connected minds. That way we can keep open all the options, as we have in the past.
In 'Computers', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 132-133.
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The great truths with which it [mathematics] deals, are clothed with austere grandeur, far above all purposes of immediate convenience or profit. It is in them that our limited understandings approach nearest to the conception of that absolute and infinite, towards which in most other things they aspire in vain. In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there, when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven. They existed not merely in metaphysical possibility, but in the actual contemplation of the supreme reason. The pen of inspiration, ranging all nature and life for imagery to set forth the Creator’s power and wisdom, finds them best symbolized in the skill of the surveyor. "He meted out heaven as with a span;" and an ancient sage, neither falsely nor irreverently, ventured to say, that “God is a geometer”.
In Orations and Speeches (1870), Vol. 3, 614.
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The history of science teaches only too plainly the lesson that no single method is absolutely to be relied upon, that sources of error lurk where they are least expected, and that they may escape the notice of the most experienced and conscientious worker.
Transactions of the Sections', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1883), 438.
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The history of thermodynamics is a story of people and concepts. The cast of characters is large. At least ten scientists played major roles in creating thermodynamics, and their work spanned more than a century. The list of concepts, on the other hand, is surprisingly small; there are just three leading concepts in thermodynamics: energy, entropy, and absolute temperature.
In Great Physicists (2001), 93.
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The idea of a method that contains firm, unchanging, and absolutely binding principles for conducting the business of science meets considerable difficulty when confronted with the results of historical research. We find, then, that there is not a single rule, however plausible, and however firmly grounded in epistemology, that is not violated at some time or another.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975, 1993), 14.
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The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties, blind faith the one unpardonable sin. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
In Lecture (7 Jan 1866), a Lay Sermon delivered at St. Martin’s Hall, 'Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1872), 18. Previously published in Fortnightly Review.
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The intrinsic character of mathematical research and knowledge is based essentially on three properties: first, on its conservative attitude towards the old truths and discoveries of mathematics; secondly, on its progressive mode of development, due to the incessant acquisition of new knowledge on the basis of the old; and thirdly, on its self-sufficiency and its consequent absolute independence.
In Mathematical Essays and Recreations (1898), 87.
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The mystery of life is certainly the most persistent problem ever placed before the thought of man. There is no doubt that from the time humanity began to think it has occupied itself with the problem of its origin and its future which undoubtedly is the problem of life. The inability of science to solve it is absolute. This would be truly frightening were it not for faith.
Address (10 Sep 1934) to the International Congress of Electro-Radio Biology, Venice. In Associated Press, 'Life a Closed Book, Declares Marconi', New York Times (11 Sep 1934), 15.
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The point of mathematics is that in it we have always got rid of the particular instance, and even of any particular sorts of entities. So that for example, no mathematical truths apply merely to fish, or merely to stones, or merely to colours. So long as you are dealing with pure mathematics, you are in the realm of complete and absolute abstraction. … Mathematics is thought moving in the sphere of complete abstraction from any particular instance of what it is talking about.
In Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925 (1925), 31.
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The regularity with which we conclude that further advances in a particular field are impossible seems equaled only by the regularity with which events prove that we are of too limited vision. And it always seems to be those who have the fullest opportunity to know who are the most limited in view. What, then, is the trouble? I think that one answer should be: we do not realize sufficiently that the unknown is absolutely infinite, and that new knowledge is always being produced.
Quoted in Guy Suits, 'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357.
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The results of systematic symbolical reasoning must always express general truths, by their nature; and do not, for their justification, require each of the steps of the process to represent some definite operation upon quantity. The absolute universality of the interpretation of symbols is the fundamental principle of their use.
In 'The Foundations of Higher Mathematics', The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Part I, Bk. 2, 149.
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The scientific value of truth is not, however, ultimate or absolute. It rests partly on practical, partly on aesthetic interests. As our ideas are gradually brought into conformity with the facts by the painful process of selection,—for intuition runs equally into truth and into error, and can settle nothing if not controlled by experience,—we gain vastly in our command over our environment. This is the fundamental value of natural science
In The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory (1896), 22.
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The study of Nature is intercourse with the highest mind. You should never trifle with Nature. At her lowest her works are the works of the highest powers, the highest something in the universe, in whichever way we look at it… This is the charm of Study from Nature itself; she brings us back to absolute truth wherever we wander.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147. Last sentence included with the quote in Peter Haring Judd (ed.), Affection: Ninety Years of Family Letters, 1850s-1930s: Haring, White, Griggs, Judd Families of New York and Waterbury, Connecticut (206), 102, where it is also noted that this comes from what must have been one of his last lectures since Agassiz died shortly thereafter.
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The Theory of Relativity confers an absolute meaning on a magnitude which in classical theory has only a relative significance: the velocity of light. The velocity of light is to the Theory of Relativity as the elementary quantum of action is to the Quantum Theory: it is its absolute core.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 47.
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The velocity of light occupies an extraordinary place in modern physics. It is lèse-majesté to make any criticism of the velocity of light. It is a sacred cow within a sacred cow, and it is just about the Absolutest Absolute in the history of human thought.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 73.
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The world of ideas which it [mathematics] discloses or illuminates, the contemplation of divine beauty and order which it induces, the harmonious connexion of its parts, the infinite hierarchy and absolute evidence of the truths with which it is concerned, these, and such like, are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet, and the mind of man qualified to take in the whole scheme of creation at a glance.
In Presidential Address to British Association (19 Aug 1869), 'A Plea for the Mathematician', published in Nature (6 Jan 1870), 1, 262. Collected in Collected Mathematical Papers (1908), Vol. 2, 659.
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There are three chief requisites for a successful business man. The first is honesty—absolute honesty … the second … is industry … [and] perseverance is the third.
From address to the Brown University YMCA, as quoted in 'Young Rockefeller: Defending Trusts, Uses American Beauty Similitude,' Cincinnati Enquirer (9 Feb 1902), 4, citing the New York Journal.
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There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.
In 'For Public and Potent Building', The New York Times Magazine (9 Oct 1960), M34.
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There is no absolute scale of size in the Universe, for it is boundless towards the great and also boundless towards the small.
As restated by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, in On Growth and Form (1917, 1959), 24. Note that Thompson does not uses quotation marks when he gives this as what “Oliver Heaviside used to say.”
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.
From 'The Power of Words', collected in Siân Miles (ed.), Simone Weil: An Anthology (2000), 222-223.
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There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 298.
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There is no such thing as absolute truth and absolute falsehood. The scientific mind should never recognise the perfect truth or the perfect falsehood of any supposed theory or observation. It should carefully weigh the chances of truth and error and grade each in its proper position along the line joining absolute truth and absolute error.
In 'The Highest Aim of the Physicist: Presidential Address Delivered at the 2nd Meeting of the Society, October 28th, 1899', Bulletin of the American Physical Society (1899), 1, 13.
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There is nothing which Nature so clearly reveals, and upon which science so strongly insists, as the universal reign of law, absolute, universal, invariable law... Not one jot or tittle of the laws of Nature are unfulfilled. I do not believe it is possible to state this fact too strongly... Everything happens according to law, and, since law is the expression of Divine will, everything happens according to Divine will, i.e. is in some sense ordained, decreed.
Lecture 18, 'Predestination and Free-Will', Religion and Science: A Series of Sunday Lectures (1874), 278.
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There was positive, clear-cut, unquestioned direction of the project at all levels. Authority was invariably delegated with responsibility, and this delegation was absolute and without reservation. Only in this way could the many apparently autonomous organizations working on the many apparently independent tasks be pulled together to achieve our final objective.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 415.
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Thus, remarkably, we do not know the true number of species on earth even to the nearest order of magnitude. My own guess, based on the described fauna and flora and many discussions with entomologists and other specialists, is that the absolute number falls somewhere between five and thirty million.
Conservation for the 21st Century
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To some men knowledge of the universe has been an end possessing in itself a value that is absolute: to others it has seemed a means of useful applications.
In The Structure of Physical Chemistry (1951, 2005), 2.
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To think I have spent my life on absolute muck.
Exclaimed after Littlewood explained Eddington’s writings about relativity to Russell, who at that time knew no such physics. In John E. Littlewood and Béla Bollobás (ed.), A Mathematician’s Miscellany, (1953, 1986), 129.
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Truth can only be found by the human intellect, exercised in perfect freedom, and trained to submit itself to the facts of nature. This is the essence of the Scientific Method, which is the exact opposite of the Theological Method. Science teaches men to think with absolute independence of all arbitrary authority, but to submit all their thoughts to the test of actual experiences of Nature. Christianity teaches them to think only according to its own foregone dogmatic conclusions, and to stick to these dogmatic conclusion in defiance of all possible experience.
Leading article in Francis Ellingwood Abbot (ed.), The Index (1 Jan 1880), Volume 11, No. 523, 1.
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We are gliding across the world in total silence, with absolute smoothness; a motion of stately grace which makes me feel godlike as I stand erect in my sideways chariot, cruising the night sky.
…...
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We cannot rest and sit down lest we rust and decay. Health is maintained only through work. And as it is with all life so it is with science. We are always struggling from the relative to the absolute.
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), 200.
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Wherever possible, scientists experiment. Which experiments suggest themselves often depends on which theories currently prevail. Scientists are intent of testing those theories to the breaking point. They do not trust what is intuitively obvious. That the Earth is flat was once obvious. That heavy bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious. That bloodsucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious. That some people are naturally and by divine decree slaves was once obvious. That there is such a place as the center of the Universe, and that the Earth sits in that exalted spot was once obvious. That there is an absolute standard of rest was once obvious. The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment is how we get a handle on it.
In The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995), 36.
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While the easiest way in metaphysics is to condemn all metaphysics as nonsense, the easiest way in morals is to elevate the common practice of the community into a moral absolute.
In The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948, 1993), 111.
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[Before the time of Benjamin Peirce it never occurred to anyone that mathematical research] was one of the things for which a mathematical department existed. Today it is a commonplace in all the leading universities. Peirce stood alone—a mountain peak whose absolute height might be hard to measure, but which towered above all the surrounding country.
In 'The Story of Mathematics at Harvard', Harvard Alumni Bulletin (3 Jan 1924), 26, 376. Cited by R. C. Archibald in 'Benjamin Peirce: V. Biographical Sketch', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 10.
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[Bolyai’s Science Absolute of Space is] the most extraordinary two dozen pages in the history of thought!
In János Bolyai, Science Absolute of Space, translated from the Latin by George Bruce Halsted (1896), Translator's Introduction, xviii.
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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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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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