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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Ancient Quotes (68 quotes)
Age-Old Quotes

Nous avons l’obligation aux Anciens de nous avoir épuisé la plus grande partie des idées fausses qu’on le pouvait faire
We are under obligation to the ancients for having exhausted all the false theories that could be formed.
In Digression sur les Anciens et les Modernes (1688), 165. Collected in Oeuvres Diverses (1727), Vol. 3, 139. English version as quoted in John Bagnell Bury, The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry Into Its Origin and Growth (1920), 104.
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[Et peut-être la posterité me saura gré de lui avoir fait connaître que les Anciens n’ont pas tout su.]
And perhaps, posterity will thank me for having shown that the ancients did not know everything.
'Relation of New Discoveries in the Science of Numbers', in Letter (Aug 1659) to Pierre de Carcavi, an amateur mathematician, collected in OEuvres de Fermat: Correspondance (1894), 436. Translation, used as an epigraph, in D.M. Burton, Elementary Number Theory (1976, 1989), 107.
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A few days ago, a Master of Arts, who is still a young man, and therefore the recipient of a modern education, stated to me that until he had reached the age of twenty he had never been taught anything whatever regarding natural phenomena, or natural law. Twelve years of his life previously had been spent exclusively amongst the ancients. The case, I regret to say, is typical. Now we cannot, without prejudice to humanity, separate the present from the past.
'On the Study of Physics', From a Lecture delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Spring of 1854. Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 284-5.
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A lodestone is a wonderful thing in very many experiments, and like living things. And one of its remarkable virtues in that which the ancients considered to be a living soul in the sky, in the globes and in the stars, in the sun and in the moon.
In De Magnete. Cited in Gerrit L. Verschuur, Hidden Attraction (1996), 19.
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A noteworthy and often-remarked similarity exists between the facts and methods of geology and those of linguistic study. The science of language is, as it were, the geology of the most modern period, the Age of the Man, having for its task to construct the history of development of the earth and its inhabitants from the time when the proper geological record remains silent … The remains of ancient speech are like strata deposited in bygone ages, telling of the forms of life then existing, and of the circumstances which determined or affected them; while words are as rolled pebbles, relics of yet more ancient formations, or as fossils, whose grade indicates the progress of organic life, and whose resemblances and relations show the correspondence or sequence of the different strata; while, everywhere, extensive denudation has marred the completeness of the record, and rendered impossible a detailed exhibition of the whole course of development.
In Language and the Study of Language (1867), 47.
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A persistent and age-old instinct makes us want to wander
Into regions yet untrod
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God.
Address upon receiving the Perkin Medal Award, 'The Big Things in Chemistry', The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Feb 1921), 13, No. 2, 163. These lines concluded his remarks, without citation, and since Webmaster has found no other source has assumed the words are his own. Contact Webmaster if you know a different primary source.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
…...
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Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe.
In Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1913), Vol. 3, 98, footnote 2.
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All over the world there lingers on the memory of a giant tree, the primal tree, rising up from the centre of the Earth to the heavens and ordering the universe around it. It united the three worlds: its roots plunged down into subterranean abysses, Its loftiest branches touched the empyrean. Thanks to the Tree, it became possible to breathe the air; to all the creatures that then appeared on Earth it dispensed its fruit, ripened by the sun and nourished by the water which it drew from the soil. From the sky it attracted the lightning from which man made fire and, beckoning skyward, where clouds gathered around its fall. The Tree was the source of all life, and of all regeneration. Small wonder then that tree-worship was so prevalent in ancient times.
From 'L'Arbre Sacre' ('The Sacred Tree'), UNESCO Courier (Jan 1989), 4. Epigraph to Chap 1, in Kenton Miller and Laura Tangley, Trees of Life: Saving Tropical Forests and Their Biological Wealt (1991), 1.
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Ancient stars in their death throes spat out atoms like iron which this universe had never known. ... Now the iron of old nova coughings vivifies the redness of our blood.
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st century (2003), 223. Quoted in Rob Brezsny, Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia (2005), 228.
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Astronomy is the most ancient of all the sciences, and has been the introducer of vast knowledge.
In W. Hazlitt (trans.), 'Of Astronomy and Astrology', The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther (1848), 341.
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Combining in our survey then, the whole range of deposits from the most recent to the most ancient group, how striking a succession do they present:– so various yet so uniform–so vast yet so connected. In thus tracing back to the most remote periods in the physical history of our continents, one system of operations, as the means by which many complex formations have been successively produced, the mind becomes impressed with the singleness of nature's laws; and in this respect, at least, geology is hardly inferior in simplicity to astronomy.
The Silurian System (1839), 574.
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Developmental Biology, in capitals, is the wave of the future. The creeping reductionism of biochemistry and molecular biology has taken over the cell and heredity, and looks covetously toward the heights of development and evolution. Recent literature is last year. Ancient literature is a decade ago. The rest is history, doubtfully alive. There is no time and often no opportunity to find and study the work of experimental biologists of 50 or 100 years ago, yet that was a time when the world was fresh.
Developmental biology was a lowercase phrase that graduated about 1950 and had previously lived under the cloak of Experimental Zoology
In obituary by Charles R. Scriver, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1999), 45, 33.
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Direct observation of the testimony of the earth … is a matter of the laboratory, of the field naturalist, of indefatigable digging among the ancient archives of the earth’s history. If Mr. Bryan, with an open heart and mind, would drop all his books and all the disputations among the doctors and study first hand the simple archives of Nature, all his doubts would disappear; he would not lose his religion; he would become an evolutionist.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91. Written in response to an article a few days earlier in which William Jennings Bryan challenged the theory of evolution as lacking proof.
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DNA that used to have some function way back in evolution but currently does not (and might possibly be revived if, say, an ancient parasite reappeared), DNA that controls how genes switch their protein manufacturing on and off, DNA that controls those, and so on. Some may actually be genuine junk. And some (so the joke goes) may encode a message like ‘It was me, I’m God, I existed all along, ha ha.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 218.
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Gold and iron at the present day, as in ancient times, are the rulers of the world; and the great events in the world of mineral art are not the discovery of new substances, but of new and rich localities of old ones.
Lecture (26 Npv 1851), to the London Society of Arts, 'The General Bearing of the Great Exhibition on the Progress of Art and Science', collected in Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851' (1852), 3.
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I can assure you, reader, that in a very few hours, even during the first day, you will learn more natural philosophy about things contained in this book, than you could learn in fifty years by reading the theories and opinions of the ancient philosophers. Enemies of science will scoff at the astrologers: saying, where is the ladder on which they have climbed to heaven, to know the foundation of the stars? But in this respect I am exempt from such scoffing; for in proving my written reason, I satisfy sight, hearing, and touch: for this reason, defamers will have no power over me: as you will see when you come to see me in my little Academy.
The Admirable Discourses (1580), trans. Aurele La Rocque (1957), 27.
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I have long been interested in landscape history, and when younger and more robust I used to do much tramping of the English landscape in search of ancient field systems, drove roads, indications of prehistoric settlement. Towns and cities, too, which always retain the ghost of their earlier incarnations beneath today's concrete and glass.
From 'An Interview With Penelope Lively', in a Reading Guide to the book The Photograph on the publisher's Penguin website.
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I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1926).
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If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
In unpublished manuscript, 'Is There a God', (5 Mar 1952) written for the magazine, Illustrated. Collected in Bertrand Russell, John G. Slater (ed.) and Peter Köllner (ed.) The Collected Papers of Bertran Russell: Volume II: Last Philosophical Testament: 1943-68 (1997), 547-548.
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If the views we have ventured to advance be correct, we may almost consider {greek words} of the ancients to be realised in hydrogen, an opinion, by the by, not altogether new. If we actually consider the specific gravities of bodies in their gaseous state to represent the number of volumes condensed into one; or in other words, the number of the absolute weight of a single volume of the first matter ({greek words}) which they contain, which is extremely probable, multiples in weight must always indicate multiples in volume, and vice versa; and the specific gravities, or absolute weights of all bodies in a gaseous state, must be multiples of the specific gravity or absolute weight of the first matter, ({Greek words}), because all bodies in the gaseous state which unite with one another unite with reference to their volume.
'Correction of a Mistake in the Essay on the Relation between the Specific Gravities of Bodies in their Gaseous State and the Weights of their Atoms', Annals of Philosophy (1816), 7, 113.
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Imperceptibly a change had been wrought in me until I no longer felt alone in a strange, silent country. I had learned to hear the echoes of a time when every living thing upon this land and even the varied overshadowing skies had its voice, a voice that was attentively heard and devoutly heeded by the ancient people of America. Henceforth, to me the plants, the trees, the clouds and all things had become vocal with human hopes, fears and supplications.
From Preface, Indian Games and Dances with Native Songs (1915), v.
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In ancient days two aviators procured to themselves wings. Daedalus flew safely through the middle air and was duly honored on his landing. Icarus soared upwards to the sun till the wax melted which bound his wings and his flight ended in fiasco. In weighing their achievements, there is something to be said for Icarus. The classical authorities tell us that he was only “doing a stunt,” but I prefer to think of him as the man who brought to light a serious constructional defect in the flying machines of his day.
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In science it is a service of the highest merit to seek out those fragmentary truths attained by the ancients, and to develop them further.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 198.
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In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society - the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life determines the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression for the same thing - with the property relations within which they have been at work before. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic - in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so we can not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines we can designate the Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal, and the modern bourgeois modes of production as so many progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production - antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation constitutes, therefore, the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human society.
Karl Marx
…...
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In these days of conflict between ancient and modern studies, there must surely be something to be said for a study which did not begin with Pythagoras, and will not end with Einstein, but is the oldest and the youngest of all.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 76.
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It may be said of some very old places, as of some very old books, that they are destined to be forever new. The nearer we approach them, the more remote they seem: the more we study them, the more we have yet to learn. Time augments rather than diminishes their everlasting novelty; and to our descendants of a thousand years hence it may safely be predicted that they will be even more fascinating than to ourselves. This is true of many ancient lands, but of no place is it. so true as of Egypt.
Opening remark in Pharaohs, Fellahs and Explorers (1891), 3.
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Living with my Indian friends I found I was a stranger in my native land. As time went on, the outward aspect of nature remained the same, but change was wrought in me. I learned to hear the echoes of a time when every living thing even the sky had a voice. That voice devoutly heard by the ancient people of America I desired to make audible to others.
On the plaque over her cremated remains in the patio of the Art Museum at Sante Fe. Edited by William Henry Homes from the preface she wrote in her last book, a small collection of Indian Games and Dances (1915). As stated in concluding pages of Joan T. Mark, A Stranger in Her Native Land: Alice Fletcher and the American Indians (1988), 354-355.
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Marriage is an ancient institution and most of our knowledge of antiquity is gleaned from shattered pottery.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips & Quotes (1968, 1995), 40.
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May we attribute to the color of the herbage and plants, which no doubt clothe the plains of Mars, the characteristic hue of that planet, which is noticeable by the naked eye, and which led the ancients to personify it as a warrior?
In 'Mars, by the Latest Observations', Popular Science (Dec 1873), 4, 190.
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Medicine is essentially a learned profession. Its literature is ancient, and connects it with the most learned periods of antiquity; and its terminology continues to be Greek or Latin. You cannot name a part of the body, and scarcely a disease, without the use of a classical term. Every structure bears upon it the impress of learning, and is a silent appeal to the student to cultivate an acquaintance with the sources from which the nomenclature of his profession is derived.
From Address (Oct 1874) delivered at Guy’s Hospital, 'On The Study of Medicine', printed in British Medical journal (1874), 2, 425. Collected in Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), 11.
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Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.
In Orthodoxy (1908), 24.
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Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught, except a little ancient geography and history. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Especial attention was paid to versemaking, and this I could never do well. I had many friends, and got together a good collection of old verses, which by patching together, sometimes aided by other boys, I could work into any subject.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 8.
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Now when you cut a forest, an ancient forest in particular, you are not just removing a lot of big trees and a few birds fluttering around in the canopy. You are drastically imperiling a vast array of species within a few square miles of you. The number of these species may go to tens of thousands. ... Many of them are still unknown to science, and science has not yet discovered the key role undoubtedly played in the maintenance of that ecosystem, as in the case of fungi, microorganisms, and many of the insects.
On Human Nature (2000). In John H. Morgan, Naturally Good (2005), 252.
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One can claim that chemical engineering was practiced even by the ancient Greeks and Romans when they were making soap or wine, or treating ores in Lavrion or Sicily.
In 'The Origins of Academic Chemical Engineering', collected in Nicholas A. Peppas, One Hundred Years of Chemical Engineering: From Lewis M. Norton (M.I.T. 1888) to Present (2012), 1.
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Our experience up to date justifies us in feeling sure that in Nature is actualized the ideal of mathematical simplicity. It is my conviction that pure mathematical construction enables us to discover the concepts and the laws connecting them, which gives us the key to understanding nature… In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.
In Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford (10 Jun 1933), 'On the Methods of Theoretical Physics'. Printed in Discovery (Jul 1933), 14, 227. Also quoted in Stefano Zambelli and ‎Donald A. R. George, Nonlinearity, Complexity and Randomness in Economics (2012).
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Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to the cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.
…...
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Religion and science ... constitute deep-rooted and ancient efforts to find richer experience and deeper meaning than are found in the ordinary biological and social satisfactions. As pointed out by Whitehead, religion and science have similar origins and are evolving toward similar goals. Both started from crude observations and fanciful concepts, meaningful only within a narrow range of conditions for the people who formulated them of their limited tribal experience. But progressively, continuously, and almost simultaneously, religious and scientific concepts are ridding themselves of their coarse and local components, reaching higher and higher levels of abstraction and purity. Both the myths of religion and the laws of science, it is now becoming apparent, are not so much descriptions of facts as symbolic expressions of cosmic truths.
'On Being Human,' A God Within, Scribner (1972).
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Science only means knowledge; and for [Greek] ancients it did only mean knowledge. Thus the favorite science of the Greeks was Astronomy, because it was as abstract as Algebra. ... We may say that the great Greek ideal was to have no use for useful things. The Slave was he who learned useful things; the Freeman was he who learned useless things. This still remains the ideal of many noble men of science, in the sense they do desire truth as the great Greeks desired it; and their attitude is an external protest against vulgarity of utilitarianism.
'About Beliefs', in As I was Saying: A Book of Essays (1936), 65-66. Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 318.
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Some things mankind can finish and be done with, but not ... science, that persists, and changes from ancient Chaldeans studying the stars to a new telescope with a 200-inch reflector and beyond; not religion, that persists, and changes from old credulities and world views to new thoughts of God and larger apprehensions of his meaning.
In 'What Keeps Religion Going?', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 51-52.
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The ancients had a taste, let us say rather a passion, for the marvellous, which caused … grouping together the lofty deeds of a great number of heroes, whose names they have not even deigned to preserve, and investing the single personage of Hercules with them. … In our own time the public delight in blending fable with history. In every career of life, in the pursuit of science especially, they enjoy a pleasure in creating Herculeses.
In François Arago, trans. by William Henry Smyth, Baden Powell and Robert Grant, 'Fourier', Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859), Vol. 1, 408. This comment indicates that a single scientist or inventor may be held as the exemplar, such as James Watt and the steam-engine, although groundwork was laid by predecessors.
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The discovery of the famous original [Rosetta Stone] enabled Napoleon’s experts to begin the reading of Egypt’s ancient literature. In like manner the seismologists, using the difficult but manageable Greek of modern physics, are beginning the task of making earthquakes tell the nature of the earth’s interior and translating into significant speech the hieroglyphics written by the seismograph.
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The essence of modernity is that progress no longer waits on genius; instead we have learned to put our faith in the organized efforts of ordinary men. Science is as old as the race, but the effective organization of science is new. Ancient science, like placer mining, was a pursuit of solitary prospectors. Nuggets of truth were found, but the total wealth of knowledge increased slowly. Modern man began to transform this world when he began to mine the hidden veins of knowledge systematically.
In School and Society (1930), 31, 581.
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The fact that, with respect to size, the viruses overlapped with the organisms of the biologist at one extreme and with the molecules of the chemist at the other extreme only served to heighten the mystery regarding the nature of viruses. Then too, it became obvious that a sharp line dividing living from non-living things could not be drawn and this fact served to add fuel for discussion of the age-old question of “What is life?”
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1946), 'The Isolation and Properties of Crystalline Tobacco Mosaic Virus', collected in Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), 140.
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The frillshark has many anatomical features similar to those of the ancient sharks that lived 25 to 30 million years ago. It has too many gills and too few dorsal fins for a modern shark, and its teeth, like those of fossil sharks, are three-pronged and briarlike. Some ichthyologists regard it as a relic derived from very ancient shark ancestors that have died out in the upper waters but, through this single species, are still carrying on their struggle for earthly survival, in the quiet of the deep sea.
(1961).
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The helicopter approaches closer than any other [transport] to fulfillment of mankind’s ancient dream of the flying horse and the magic carpet.
In The Story of the Winged-S: The Autobiography of Igor I. Sikorsky (2011).
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The history of the word sankhyā shows the intimate connection which has existed for more than 3000 years in the Indian mind between ‘adequate knowledge’ and ‘number.’ As we interpret it, the fundamental aim of statistics is to give determinate and adequate knowledge of reality with the help of numbers and numerical analysis. The ancient Indian word Sankhyā embodies the same idea, and this is why we have chosen this name for the Indian Journal of Statistics.
Editorial, Vol. 1, Part 1, in the new statistics journal of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sankhayā (1933). Also reprinted in Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (Feb 2003), 65, No. 1, xii.
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The mechanical speculations of the ancients, particularly of the Greeks, related wholly to statics. Dynamics was founded by Galileo.
In The Science of Mechanics (1893), 128.
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The more we know about this universe, the more mysterious it is. The old world that Job knew was marvelous enough, and his description of its wonders is among the noblest poetry of the race, but today the new science has opened to our eyes vistas of mystery that transcend in their inexplicable marvel anything the ancients ever dreamed.
In 'What Keeps Religion Going?', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 53.
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The mystic and the physicist arrive at the same conclusion; one starting from the inner realm, the other from the outer world. The harmony between their views confirms the ancient Indian wisdom that Brahman, the ultimate reality without, is identical to Atman, the reality within.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 305.
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There is thus a possibility that the ancient dream of philosophers to connect all Nature with the properties of whole numbers will some day be realized. To do so physics will have to develop a long way to establish the details of how the correspondence is to be made. One hint for this development seems pretty obvious, namely, the study of whole numbers in modern mathematics is inextricably bound up with the theory of functions of a complex variable, which theory we have already seen has a good chance of forming the basis of the physics of the future. The working out of this idea would lead to a connection between atomic theory and cosmology.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 129.
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These two orders of mountains [Secondary and Tertiary] offer the most ancient chronicle of our globe, least liable to falsifications and at the same time more legible than the writing of the primitive ranges. They are Nature's archives, prior to even the most remote records and traditions that have been preserved for our observant century to investigate, comment on and bring to the light of day, and which will not be exhausted for several centuries after our own.
Observations sur la Formation des Montagnes', Acta Academiae Scientiarum Imperialis Petropolitanae (1777) [1778], 46. Trans. Albert Carozzi.
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Thus the system of the world only oscillates around a mean state from which it never departs except by a very small quantity. By virtue of its constitution and the law of gravity, it enjoys a stability that can be destroyed only by foreign causes, and we are certain that their action is undetectable from the time of the most ancient observations until our own day. This stability in the system of the world, which assures its duration, is one of the most notable among all phenomena, in that it exhibits in the heavens the same intention to maintain order in the universe that nature has so admirably observed on earth for the sake of preserving individuals and perpetuating species.
'Sur l'Équation Séculaire de la Lune' (1786, published 1788). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 11, 248-9, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 145.
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Thus we conclude, that the strata both primary and secondary, both those of ancient and those of more recent origin, have had their materials furnished from the ruins of former continents, from the dissolution of rocks, or the destruction of animal or vegetable bodies, similar, at least in some respects, to those that now occupy the surface of the earth.
Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802), 14-5.
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Till Algebra, that great Instrument and Instance of Humane Sagacity, was discovered, Men, with amazement, looked on several of the Demonstrations of ancient Mathematicians, and could scarce forbear to think the finding some of those Proofs, more than humane.
In 'Of Reason', Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), Book 4, Ch. 17, Sec. 11, 345. Note: humane (obsolete) = human.
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We have before us the restoration of that ancient land whose name was a synonym for abundance, prosperity, and grandeur for many generations. Records as old as those of Egypt and as well attested tell of fertile lands and teeming populations, mighty kings and warriors, sages and wise men, over periods of thousands of years. ... A land such as this is worth resuscitating. Once we have apprehended the true cause of its present desolate and abandoned condition, we are on our way to restoring it to its ancient fertility. A land which so readily responded to ancient science, and gave a return which sufficed for the maintenance of a Persian Court in all its splendor, will surely respond to the efforts of modern science and return manifold the money and talent spent on its regeneration.
From The Restoration of the Ancient Irrigation Works on the Tigris: or, The Re-creation of Chaldea (1903), 30.
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We have only indirect means of knowing the courage and activity of the Neanderthals in the chase, through the bones of animals hunted for food which are found intermingled with the flints around their ancient hearths.
In 'Customs of the Chase and of cave Life', Men of the Old Stone Age: Their Environment, Life and Art (1921), 211.
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We reverence ancient Greece as the cradle of western science. Here for the first time the world witnessed the miracle of a logical system which proceeded from step to step with such precision that every single one of its propositions was absolutely indubitable—I refer to Euclid’s geometry. This admirable triumph of reasoning gave the human intellect the necessary confidence in itself for its subsequent achievements. If Euclid failed to kindle your youthful enthusiasm, then you were not born to be a scientific thinker.
From 'On the Method of Theoretical Physics', in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 13.
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What marvel is this? We begged you for drinkable springs,
O earth, and what is your lap sending forth?
Is there life in the deeps as well? A race yet unknown
Hiding under the lava? Are they who had fled returning?
Come and see, Greeks; Romans, come! Ancient Pompeii Is found again, the city of Hercules rises!
Translation as given, without citation, as epigraph in C.W. Ceram, Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology (1986), 1. There are other translations of the Schiller’s original German, for example, in 'Pompeii and Herculaneum', Life of Schiller: Poetical Works (1902), 249.
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When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires - Mali, Songhai, Egypt - had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.
In Current Biography Yearbook (1993), Vol. 54, 280.
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When you enter some grove, peopled with ancient trees, such as are higher than ordinary, and whose boughs are so closely interwoven that you cannot see the sky; the stately loftiness of the wood, the privacy of the place, and the awful gloom, cannot but strike you, as with the presence of a deity.
Epistle LXI, 'On The God Within Us', The Epistles of Lucius Annæus Seneca trans. Thomas Morell (1786), Vol. 1, 142. Also translated by Richard Mott Gummere (1916) as “If ever you come upon a grove of ancient trees which have grown to an exceptional height, shutting out a view of sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity.”
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[Jethro Tull] was the first Englishman—perhaps the first writer, ancient and modern—who has attempted, with any tolerable degree of success, to reduce the art of agriculture to certain and uniform principles; and it must be acknowledged that he has done more towards establishing a rational and practical method of husbandry than all the writers who have gone before him.
Anonymous
In Letter (18 Oct 1764), signed only “D.Y.” from Hungerford, in Sylvanus Urban (ed.), 'Observations on the late Improvements in Agriculture', The Gentleman’s Magazine (Nov 1764), 525.
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[To the cultures of Asia and the continent of Africa] it is the Western impact which has stirred up the winds of change and set the processes of modernization in motion. Education brought not only the idea of equality but also another belief which we used to take for granted in the West—the idea of progress, the idea that science and technology can be used to better human conditions. In ancient society, men tended to believe themselves fortunate if tomorrow was not worse than today and anyway, there was little they could do about it.
Lecture at State University of Iowa (6 Apr 1961). In Barbara Ward, The Unity of the Free World (1961), 12.
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… the embryological record, as it is usually presented to us, is both imperfect and misleading. It may be compared to an ancient manuscript, with many of the sheets lost, others displaced, and with spurious passages interpolated by a later hand. … Like the scholar with his manuscript, the embryologist has by a process of careful and critical examination to determine where the gaps are present, to detect the later insertions, and to place in order what has been misplaced.
A Treatise on Comparative Embryology (1885), Vol. 1, 3-4.
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…at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he look’d, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.
In poem, 'Lucifer in Starlight', collected in Arthur Quiller-Couch (ed.), The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900 (1919), 942.
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…because of the ancient principle of WYGIWYGAINGW.
“What You Get Is What You’re Given And It’s No Use Whining.” In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 50.
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“One must go further, one must go further.” This impulse to go further is an ancient thing in the world.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 5
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“The Ancient Mariner” — This poem would not have taken so well if it had been called “The Old Sailor,” so that Wardour Street has its uses.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 229. Note: “Wardour Street prose” implies the use of near-obsolete words for effect, and derives from former times when the street was known for its many antique shops.
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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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