Accident Quotes (58 quotes)
The Devil: Reformers … will thrust you first into religion, where you will sprinkle water on babies to save their souls from me ; then it will drive you from religion into science, where you will snatch the babies from the water sprinkling and inoculate them with disease to save them from catching it accidentally.
A great surgeon performs operations for stone by a single method; later he makes a statistical summary of deaths and recoveries, and he concludes from these statistics that the mortality law for this operation is two out of five. Well, I say that this ratio means literally nothing scientifically and gives us no certainty in performing the next operation; for we do not know whether the next case will be among the recoveries or the deaths. What really should be done, instead of gathering facts empirically, is to study them more accurately, each in its special determinism. We must study cases of death with great care and try to discover in them the cause of mortal accidents so as to master the cause and avoid the accidents.
Although species may be discrete, they have no immutable essence. Variation is the raw material of evolutionary change. It represents the fundamental reality of nature, not an accident about a created norm. Variation is primary; essences are illusory. Species must be defined as ranges of irreducible variation.
An evolutionary perspective of our place in the history of the earth reminds us that Homo sapiens sapiens has occupied the planet for the tiniest fraction of that planet's four and a half thousand million years of existence. In many ways we are a biological accident, the product of countless propitious circumstances. As we peer back through the fossil record, through layer upon layer of long-extinct species, many of which thrived far longer than the human species is ever likely to do, we are reminded of our mortality as a species. There is no law that declares the human animal to be different, as seen in this broad biological perspective, from any other animal. There is no law that declares the human species to be immortal.
Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they can produce other organisms like themselves. This is their normal function, they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t do this, and it’s not plausible that this is the reason why they abound in the world. In other words, living organisms are very complicated aggregations of elementary parts, and by any reasonable theory of probability or thermodynamics highly improbable. That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude; the only thing which removes, or mitigates, this miracle is that they reproduce themselves. Therefore, if by any peculiar accident there should ever be one of them, from there on the rules of probability do not apply, and there will be many of them, at least if the milieu is reasonable. But a reasonable milieu is already a thermodynamically much less improbable thing. So, the operations of probability somehow leave a loophole at this point, and it is by the process of self-reproduction that they are pierced.
Could this have just happened? Was it an accident that a bunch of flotsam and jetsam suddenly started making these orbits of its own accord? I can't believe that. … Some power put all this into orbit and keeps it there.
Crystallographic science does not consist in the scrupulous description of all the accidents of crystalline form, but in specifying, by the description of these forms, the more or less close relationship they have with each other.
Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.
Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects.
How did I discover saccharin? Well, it was partly by accident and partly by study. I had worked a long time on the compound radicals and substitution products of coal tar... One evening I was so interested in my laboratory that I forgot about my supper till quite late, and then rushed off for a meal without stopping to wash my hands. I sat down, broke a piece of bread, and put it to my lips. It tasted unspeakably sweet. I did not ask why it was so, probably because I thought it was some cake or sweetmeat. I rinsed my mouth with water, and dried my moustache with my napkin, when, to my surprise the napkin tasted sweeter than the bread. Then I was puzzled. I again raised my goblet, and, as fortune would have it, applied my mouth where my fingers had touched it before. The water seemed syrup. It flashed on me that I was the cause of the singular universal sweetness, and I accordingly tasted the end of my thumb, and found it surpassed any confectionery I had ever eaten. I saw the whole thing at once. I had discovered some coal tar substance which out-sugared sugar. I dropped my dinner, and ran back to the laboratory. There, in my excitement, I tasted the contents of every beaker and evaporating dish on the table.
I doubt that Fleming could have obtained a grant for the discovery of penicillin on that basis [a requirement for highly detailed research plans] because he could not have said, 'I propose to have an accident in a culture so that it will be spoiled by a mould falling on it, and I propose to recognize the possibility of extracting an antibiotic from this mould.'
I never did anything worth doing entirely by accident and none of my inventions came about totally by accident. They came about by hard work.
I view the major features of my own odyssey as a set of mostly fortunate contingencies. I was not destined by inherited mentality or family tradition to become a paleontologist. I can locate no tradition for scientific or intellectual careers anywhere on either side of my eastern European Jewish background ... I view my serious and lifelong commitment to baseball in entirely the same manner: purely as a contingent circumstance of numerous, albeit not entirely capricious, accidents.
If more of our resources were invested in preventing sickness and accidents, fewer would have to be spent on costly cures. … In short, we should build a true “health” system—and not a “sickness” system alone.
In 1945 J.A. Ratcliffe … suggested that I [join his group at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge] to start an investigation of the radio emission from the Sun, which had recently been discovered accidentally with radar equipment. … [B]oth Ratcliffe and Sir Lawrence Bragg, then Cavendish Professor, gave enormous support and encouragement to me. Bragg’s own work on X-ray crystallography involved techniques very similar to those we were developing for “aperture synthesis,” and he always showed a delighted interest in the way our work progressed.
In order that an inventory of plants may be begun and a classification of them correctly established, we must try to discover criteria of some sort for distinguishing what are called “species”. After a long and considerable investigation, no surer criterion for determining species had occurred to me than distinguishing features that perpetuate themselves in propagation from seed. Thus, no matter what variations occur in the individuals or the species, if they spring from the seed of one and the same plant, they are accidental variations and not such as to distinguish a species. For these variations do not perpetuate themselves in subsequent seeding. Thus, for example, we do not regard caryophylli with full or multiple blossoms as a species distinct from caryophylli with single blossoms, because the former owe their origin to the seed of the latter and if the former are sown from their own seed, they once more produce single-blossom caryophylli. But variations that never have as their source seed from one and the same species may finally be regarded as distinct species. Or, if you make a comparison between any two plants, plants which never spring from each other's seed and never, when their seed is sown, are transmuted one into the other, these plants finally are distinct species. For it is just as in animals: a difference in sex is not enough to prove a difference of species, because each sex is derived from the same seed as far as species is concerned and not infrequently from the same parents; no matter how many and how striking may be the accidental differences between them; no other proof that bull and cow, man and woman belong to the same species is required than the fact that both very frequently spring from the same parents or the same mother. Likewise in the case of plants, there is no surer index of identity of species than that of origin from the seed of one and the same plant, whether it is a matter of individuals or species. For animals that differ in species preserve their distinct species permanently; one species never springs from the seed of another nor vice versa.
— John Ray
In this physical world there is no real chaos; all is in fact orderly; all is ordered by the physical principles. Chaos is but unperceived order- it is a word indicating the limitations of the human mind and the paucity of observational facts. The words “chaos,” “accidental,” “chance,” “unpredictable," are conveniences behind which we hide our ignorance.
It has the property of detonating very violently in certain circumstances. On one occasion a small amount of ether solution of pyroglycerin condensed in a glass bowl. ... When the bowl was heated over a spirit lamp, an extremely violent explosion occurred, which shattered it into small fragments. On another occasion a drop was heated in a test-tube, and exploded with such violence that the glass splinters cut deep into my face and hands, and hurt other people who were standing some distance off in the room.
[Describing early experiments on his discovery of nitroglycerin.]
[Describing early experiments on his discovery of nitroglycerin.]
It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning.
It is tempting to wonder if our present universe, large as it is and complex though it seems, might not be merely the result of a very slight random increase in order over a very small portion of an unbelievably colossal universe which is virtually entirely in heat-death. Perhaps we are merely sliding down a gentle ripple that has been set up, accidently and very temporarily, in a quiet pond, and it is only the limitation of our own infinitesimal range of viewpoint in space and time that makes it seem to ourselves that we are hurtling down a cosmic waterfall of increasing entropy, a waterfall of colossal size and duration.
It was not by any accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.
Life through many long periods has been manifested in a countless host of varying structures, all circumscribed by one general plan, each appointed to a definite place, and limited to an appointed duration. On the whole the earth has been thus more and more covered by the associated life of plants and animals, filling all habitable space with beings capable of enjoying their own existence or ministering to the enjoyment of others; till finally, after long preparation, a being was created capable of the wonderful power of measuring and weighing all the world of matter and space which surrounds him, of treasuring up the past history of all the forms of life, and considering his own relation to the whole. When he surveys this vast and co-ordinated system, and inquires into its history and origin, can he be at a loss to decide whether it be a work of Divine thought and wisdom, or the fortunate offspring of a few atoms of matter, warmed by the anima mundi, a spark of electricity, or an accidental ray of sunshine?
Like other departments of philosophy, medicine began with an age of wonder. The accidents of disease and the features of death aroused surprise and stimulated interest, and a beginning was made when man first asked in astonishment, Why should these things be?
Many Species of Animals have been lost out of the World, which Philosophers and Divines are unwilling to admit, esteeming the Destruction of anyone Species a Dismembring of the Universe, and rendring the World imperfect; whereas they think the Divine Providence is especially concerned, and solicitous to secure and preserve the Works of the Creation. And truly so it is, as appears, in that it was so careful to lodge all Land Animals in the Ark at the Time of the general Deluge; and in that, of all Animals recorded in Natural Histories, we cannot say that there hath been anyone Species lost, no not of the most infirm, and most exposed to Injury and Ravine. Moreover, it is likely, that as there neither is nor can be any new Species of Animals produced, all proceeding from Seeds at first created; so Providence, without which one individual Sparrow falls not to the ground, doth in that manner watch over all that are created, that an entire Species shall not be lost or destroyed by any Accident. Now, I say, if these Bodies were sometimes the Shells and Bones of Fish, it will thence follow, that many Species have been lost out of the World... To which I have nothing to reply, but that there may be some of them remaining some where or other in the Seas, though as yet they have not come to my Knowledge. Far though they may have perished, or by some Accident been destroyed out of our Seas, yet the Race of them may be preserved and continued still in others.
— John Ray
Maybe we have to accept that after reaching the deepest possible level of understanding science can offer, there will nevertheless be aspects of the universe that remain unexplained. Maybe we will have to accept that certain features of the universe are the way they are because of happenstance, accident, or divine choice.
Name the greatest of all inventors: Accident.
Nature is the principle of movement of its own accord and not by accident.
Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.
No discovery is the work of accident.
Nothing drives progress like the imagination. The idea precedes the deed. The only exceptions are accidents and natural selection.
Nothing is accidental in the universe— this is one of my Laws of Physics—except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.
One hardly knows where, in the history of science, to look for an important movement that had its effective start in so pure and simple an accident as that which led to the building of the great Washington telescope, and went on to the discovery of the satellites of Mars.
One wonders whether the rare ability to be completely attentive to, and to profit by, Nature’s slightest deviation from the conduct expected of her is not the secret of the best research minds and one that explains why some men turn to most remarkably good advantage seemingly trivial accidents. Behind such attention lies an unremitting sensitivity.
Organs, faculties, powers, capacities, or whatever else we call them; grow by use and diminish from disuse, it is inferred that they will continue to do so. And if this inference is unquestionable, then is the one above deduced from it—that humanity must in the end become completely adapted to its conditions—unquestionable also. Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity.
PLAN, v. t. To bother about the best method of accomplishing an accidental result.
Scholarship, save by accident, is never the measure of a man's power.
Seldom has there occurred a more pitifully tragic disaster than the sudden fall of the Wright aeroplane, involving the death of that promising young officer Lieut. Thomas Selfridge, and inflicting shocking injuries on the talented inventor, Orville Wright. But although the accident is deplorable, it should not be allowed to discredit the art of aeroplane navigation. If it emphasizes the risks, there is nothing in the mishap to shake our faith in the principles upon which the Wright brothers built their machine, and achieved such brilliant success.
Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, like a violent volcano. The nuclear reactions had led to overheating in the underground burial grounds. The explosion poured radioactive dust and materials high up into the sky. It was just the wrong weather for such a tragedy. Strong winds blew the radioactive clouds hundreds of miles away. It was difficult to gauge the extent of the disaster immediately, and no evacuation plan was put into operation right away. Many villages and towns were only ordered to evacuate when the symptoms of radiation sickness were already quite apparent. Tens of thousands of people were affected, hundreds dying, though the real figures have never been made public. The large area, where the accident happened, is still considered dangerous and is closed to the public.
That the Universe was formed by a fortuitous Concourse of Atoms, I will no more believe than that the accidental Jumbling of the Letters of the Alphabet would fall by Chance into a most ingenious and learned Treatise of Philosophy, Risum teneatis Amici, Hor.
The first concept of continental drift first came to me as far back as 1910, when considering the map of the world, under the direct impression produced by the congruence of the coast lines on either side of the Atlantic. At first I did not pay attention to the ideas because I regarded it as improbable. In the fall of 1911, I came quite accidentally upon a synoptic report in which I learned for the first time of palaeontological evidence for a former land bridge between Brazil and Africa. As a result I undertook a cursory examination of relevant research in the fields of geology and palaeontology, and this provided immediately such weighty corroboration that a conviction of the fundamental soundness of the idea took root in my mind.
The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with booths in formal streets … so that it see’d to be a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not only splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in diverse places, and the very seas so lock’d up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in. London, by reason of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steame of the sea-coale, that hardly could one see crosse the streets, and this filling the breast, so as one could hardly breath. Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers other tradesmen worke, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents.
The mathematicians are well acquainted with the difference between pure science, which has only to do with ideas, and the application of its laws to the use of life, in which they are constrained to submit to the imperfections of matter and the influence of accidents.
The proof given by Wright, that non-adaptive differentiation will occur in small populations owing to “drift,” or the chance fixation of some new mutation or recombination, is one of the most important results of mathematical analysis applied to the facts of neo-mendelism. It gives accident as well as adaptation a place in evolution, and at one stroke explains many facts which puzzled earlier selectionists, notably the much greater degree of divergence shown by island than mainland forms, by forms in isolated lakes than in continuous river-systems.
The reduced variability of small populations is not always due to accidental gene loss, but sometimes to the fact that the entire population was started by a single pair or by a single fertilized female. These “founders” of the population carried with them only a very small proportion of the variability of the parent population. This “founder” principle sometimes explains even the uniformity of rather large populations, particularly if they are well isolated and near the borders of the range of the species.
The Sun is no lonelier than its neighbors; indeed, it is a very common-place star,—dwarfish, though not minute,—like hundreds, nay thousands, of others. By accident the brighter component of Alpha Centauri (which is double) is almost the Sun's twin in brightness, mass, and size. Could this Earth be transported to its vicinity by some supernatural power, and set revolving about it, at a little less than a hundred million miles' distance, the star would heat and light the world just as the Sun does, and life and civilization might go on with no radical change. The Milky Way would girdle the heavens as before; some of our familiar constellations, such as Orion, would be little changed, though others would be greatly altered by the shifting of the nearer stars. An unfamiliar brilliant star, between Cassiopeia and Perseus would be—the Sun. Looking back at it with our telescopes, we could photograph its spectrum, observe its motion among the stars, and convince ourselves that it was the same old Sun; but what had happened to the rest of our planetary system we would not know.
The world is very complicated and it is clearly impossible for the human mind to understand it completely. Man has therefore devised an artifice which permits the complicated nature of the world to be blamed on something which is called accidental and thus permits him to abstract a domain in which simple laws can be found.
There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these treats universally of being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attribute of this part; this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do. Now since we are seeking the first principles and the highest causes, clearly there must be some thing to which these belong in virtue of its own nature. If then those who sought the elements of existing things were seeking these same principles, it is necessary that the elements must be elements of being not by accident but just because it is being. Therefore it is of being as being that we also must grasp the first causes.
There may be instances of mere accidental discovery; but, setting these aside, the great advances made in the inductive sciences are, for the most part, preceded by a more or less probable hypothesis. The imagination, having some small light to guide it, goes first. Further observation, experiment, and reason follow.
This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity?
Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as a creator and governor of the realm of matter. …
We fooled ourselves into thinking this thing wouldn’t crash. When I was in astronaut training I asked, “what is the likelihood of another accident?” The answer I got was: one in 10,000, with an asterisk. The asterisk meant, “we don’t know.”
We have seen that a proton of energy corresponding to 30,000 volts can effect the transformation of lithium into two fast α-particles, which together have an energy equivalent of more than 16 million volts. Considering the individual process, the output of energy in the transmutation is more than 500 times greater than the energy carried by the proton. There is thus a great gain of energy in the single transmutation, but we must not forget that on an average more than 1000 million protons of equal energy must be fired into the lithium before one happens to hit and enter the lithium nucleus. It is clear in this case that on the whole the energy derived from transmutation of the atom is small compared with the energy of the bombarding particles. There thus seems to be little prospect that we can hope to obtain a new source of power by these processes. It has sometimes been suggested, from analogy with ordinary explosives, that the transmutation of one atom might cause the transmutation of a neighbouring nucleus, so that the explosion would spread throughout all the material. If this were true, we should long ago have had a gigantic explosion in our laboratories with no one remaining to tell the tale. The absence of these accidents indicates, as we should expect, that the explosion is confined to the individual nucleus and does not spread to the neighbouring nuclei, which may be regarded as relatively far removed from the centre of the explosion.
We must regard it rather as an accident that the Earth (and presumably the whole solar system) contains a preponderance of negative electrons and positive protons. It is quite possible that for some of the stars it is the other way about.
When scientists discovered that liquid water, which brought forth life on Earth, exists nowhere else in great quantities in the solar system, the most significant lesson they taught was not that water, or the life that depends on it, is necessarily the result of some chemical accident in space; their most important revelation was that water is rare in infinity, that we should prize it, preserve it, conserve it.
When the most abstract and “useless” disciplines have been cultivated for a time, they are often seized upon as practical tools by other departments of science. I conceive that this is no accident, as if one bought a top hat for a wedding, and discovered later when a fire broke out, that it could be used as a water bucket.
You can be a thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics, poetry, conscience, or decency. For “Natural Selection” has no moral significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose, no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals could bear to live.