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Who said: “We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by human kind.”
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'Why do you think it is...', I asked Dr. Cook ... 'that brain surgery, above all else—even rocket science—gets singled out as the most challenging of human feats, the one demanding the utmost of human intelligence?'
[Dr. Cook answered,] 'No margin for error.'
Lucky Man (2002), 208.
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...durch planmässiges Tattonieren.
(... through systematic, palpable experimentation.)
Response, when asked how he came upon his theorems.
Quoted in A.L. Mackay, Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1994).
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...the scientific cast of mind examines the world critically, as if many alternative worlds might exist, as if other things might be here which are not. Then we are forced to ask why what we see is present and not something else. Why are the Sun and moon and the planets spheres? Why not pyramids, or cubes, or dodecahedra? Why not irregular, jumbly shapes? Why so symmetrical, worlds? If you spend any time spinning hypotheses, checking to see whether they make sense, whether they conform to what else we know. Thinking of tests you can pose to substantiate or deflate hypotheses, you will find yourself doing science.
…...
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The Mighty Task is Done

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all the sea.

To north, the Redwood Empires gates;
To south, a happy playground waits,
In Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.

Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet Neer its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.

Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.

An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below lifes restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For Fate had meant it so.

Written upon completion of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, May 1937. In Allen Brown, Golden Gate: biography of a Bridge (1965), 229.
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Dogbert: So, Since Columbus is dead, you have no evidence that the earth is round.
Dilbert: Look. You can Ask Senator John Glenn. He orbited the earth when he was an astronaut.
Dogbert: So, your theory depends on the honesty of politicians.
Dilbert: Yes... no, wait...
Dilbert comic strip (10 Oct 1989).
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Every teacher certainly should know something of non-euclidean geometry. Thus, it forms one of the few parts of mathematics which, at least in scattered catch-words, is talked about in wide circles, so that any teacher may be asked about it at any moment. … Imagine a teacher of physics who is unable to say anything about Röntgen rays, or about radium. A teacher of mathematics who could give no answer to questions about non-euclidean geometry would not make a better impression.
On the other hand, I should like to advise emphatically against bringing non-euclidean into regular school instruction (i.e., beyond occasional suggestions, upon inquiry by interested pupils), as enthusiasts are always recommending. Let us be satisfied if the preceding advice is followed and if the pupils learn to really understand euclidean geometry. After all, it is in order for the teacher to know a little more than the average pupil.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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Quand les physiciens nous demandent la solution d'un problčme, ce n'est pas une corvée qu'ils nous impsent, c'est nous au contraire qui leur doivent des remercîments.
When the physicists ask us for the solution of a problem, it is not drudgery that they impose on us, on the contrary, it is us who owe them thanks.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 111.
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Quand on demande ŕ nos philosophes ŕ quoi sert ce nombre prodigieux d’étoiles fixes, dont une partie suffirait pour faire ce qu’elles font toutes, ils vous répondent froidement qu’elles servent ŕ leur réjouir la vue.
When our philosophers are asked what is the use of these countless myriads of fixed stars, of which a small part would be sufficient to do what they all do, they coolly tell us that they are made to give delight to their eyes.
In 'Premier Soir', Entretiens Sur La Pluralité Des Mondes (1686, 1863), 29. French and translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 117.
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Question: How would you disprove, experimentally, the assertion that white light passing through a piece of coloured glass acquires colour from the glass? What is it that really happens?
Answer: To disprove the assertion (so repeatedly made) that “white light passing through a piece of coloured glass acquires colour from the glass,” I would ask the gentleman to observe that the glass has just as much colour after the light has gone through it as it had before. That is what would really happen.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 178, Question 8. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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The Water-baby story character, Tom, asks: 'I heard, ma'am, that you were always making new beasts out of old.'
Mother Carey [Mother Nature] replies: 'So people fancy. But I am not going to trouble myself to make things, my little dear. I sit here and make them make themselves.'
[The author's indirect reference to evolution.]
The Water-babies (1886), 307.
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Wenn uns alle einzelnen Thatsachen, alle einzelnen Erscheinungen unmittelbar zugänglich wären, so wie wir nach der Kenntniss derselben verlangen; so wäre nie eine Wissenschaft entstanden.
If all the individual facts, all the individual phenomena, were directly accessible to us, as we ask for the knowledge of them; no science would ever have arisen.
From original German in Die Geschichte und die Wurzel des Satzes von der Erhaltung der Arbeit (1872), 30-31. English translation by Webmaster using Google translate until it made sense. Also found translated as “If all single facts, all separate phenomena, were as directly accessible to us as we demand that knowledge of them to be; science would never have arisen,” in Ernst Cassirer, The Problem of Knowledge: Philosophy, Science, and History since Hegel (1950), 108. Citing from
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When asked what he meant by a miracle:
Oh, anything with a probability of less than 20%.
Attributed.
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[David Harker asked: Dr Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas?]
Well David, I have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones.
David Harker was one of Pauling's students in the 1930s. Quoted in Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 529.
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[Responding to a student whose friend asked about studying Agricultural Chemistry at Johns Hopkins:]
We would be glad to have your friend come here to study, but tell him that we teach Chemistry here and not Agricultural Chemistry, nor any other special kind of chemistry. ... We teach Chemistry.
In Frederick Hutton Getman, The Life of Ira Remsen, 71.
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[When asked “Dr. Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?”] That is simple, my friend. It is because politics is more difficult than physics.
Einstein’s answer to a conferee at a meeting at Princeton, N.J. (Jan 1946), as recalled by Greenville Clark in 'Letters to the Times', in New York Times (22 Apr 1955), 24.
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A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?
The Two Cultures: The Rede Lecture (1959), 14-5.
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A graduate with a science degree asks: 'Why does it work?'
A graduate with an engineering degree asks: 'How does it work?'
A graduate with an accounting degree asks: 'How much will it cost?'
A graduate with an arts degree asks: 'Do you want fries with that?'
Anonymous
In Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Humor (2000), 83.
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A hot topic of late, expressed most notably in Bernie Siegel’s best-selling books, has emphasized the role of positive attitude in combating such serious diseases as cancer. From the depths of my skeptical and rationalist soul, I ask the Lord to protect me from California touchie-feeliedom.
…...
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Sigmund Freud quote: A layman will no doubt find it hard to understand how pathological disorders of the body and mind can be el
A layman will no doubt find it hard to understand how pathological disorders of the body and mind can be eliminated by 'mere' words. He will feel that he is being asked to believe in magic. And he will not be so very wrong, for the words which we use in our everyday speech are nothing other than watered-down magic. But we shall have to follow a roundabout path in order to explain how science sets about restoring to words a part at least of their former magical power.
Psychical (or Mental) Treatment (1905), In James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol. 7, 283.
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A lot of people ask, “Do you think humans are parasites?” It’s an interesting idea and one worth thinking about. People casually refer to humanity as a virus spreading across the earth. In fact, we do look like some strange kind of bio-film spreading across the landscape. A good metaphor? If the biosphere is our host, we do use it up for our own benefit. We do manipulate it. We alter the flows and fluxes of elements like carbon and nitrogen to benefit ourselves—often at the expense of the biosphere as a whole. If you look at how coral reefs or tropical forests are faring these days, you’ll notice that our host is not doing that well right now. Parasites are very sophisticated; parasites are highly evolved; parasites are very successful, as reflected in their diversity. Humans are not very good parasites. Successful parasites do a very good job of balancing—using up their hosts and keeping them alive. It’s all a question of tuning the adaptation to your particular host. In our case, we have only one host, so we have to be particularly careful.
Talk at Columbia University, 'The Power of Parasites'.
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A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height, spots a man down below and asks,“Excuse me, can you help me? I promised to return the balloon to its owner, but I don’t know where I am.”
The man below says: “You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 350 feet above mean sea level and 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and 42 degrees north latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees west longitude.”
“You must be an engineer,” says the balloonist.
“I am,” replies the man.“How did you know?”
“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost.”
The man below says, “You must be a manager.”
“I am,” replies the balloonist,“but how did you know?”
“Well,” says the engineer,“you don’t know where you are, or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem.The fact is you are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault.”
Anonymous
In Jon Fripp, Michael Fripp and Deborah Fripp, Speaking of Science (2000), 199.
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A man may fulfill the object of his existence by asking a question he cannot answer, and attempting a task he cannot achieve.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 121
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A metaphysician is one who, when you remark that twice two makes four, demands to know what you mean by twice, what by two, what by makes, and what by four. For asking such questions metaphysicians are supported in oriental luxury in the universities, and respected as educated and intelligent men.
A previously unpublished epigram, added in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 13-14.
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A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.
Anonymous
Widely found in varied accounts, so is most likely proverbial. Seen misattributed (?) to George Bernard Shaw, but Webmaster has not yet found a primary source as verification.
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A parable: A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones.” He asked a stone carver what he was doing. “I am carving a gargoyle.” And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said. “I am helping build a cathedral.”
...Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture.
[For example, in education, a teacher might say in the next class he was going to “explain Young's modulus and how to measure it,” rather than, “I am going to educate the students and prepare them for their future careers.”]
In The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (1975, 2005), 195.
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A prominent official was asked to deliver an after-dinner speech at the banquet recently held in Cambridge, Mass., for the Mathematicians at the International Congress. “What do you wish me to speak about?" he asked. "About five minutes," was the answer.
Anonymous
Found as a space filler, Pi Mu Epsilon Journal (1949), 1, No. 1, 102.
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A scientist can discover a new star but he cannot make one. He would have to ask an engineer to do it for him.
The Design of Design (1969), 1
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A single kind of red cell is supposed to have an enormous number of different substances on it, and in the same way there are substances in the serum to react with many different animal cells. In addition, the substances which match each kind of cell are different in each kind of serum. The number of hypothetical different substances postulated makes this conception so uneconomical that the question must be asked whether it is the only one possible. ... We ourselves hold that another, simpler, explanation is possible.
Landsteiner and Adriano Sturli, 'Hamagglutinine normaler Sera', Wiener klinische Wochenschrift (1902), 15, 38-40. Trans. Pauline M. H. Mazumdar.
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A week or so after I learned that I was to receive the Miller Award, our president, Marty Morton, phoned and asked me if I would utter a few words of scientific wisdom as a part of the ceremony. Unfortunately for me, and perhaps for you, I agreed to do so. In retrospect I fear that my response was a serious error, because I do not feel wise. I do not know whether to attribute my response to foolhardiness, to conceit, to an inordinate susceptibility to flattery, to stupidity, or to some combination of these unfortunate attributes all of which I have been told are recognizable in my personality. Personally, I tend to favor stupidity, because that is a condition over which I have little control.
Bartholomew, April 1993, unpublished remarks when receiving the Miller Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society.
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A wise man in China asked his gardener to plant a shrub. The gardener objected that it only flowered once in a hundred years. “In that case,” said the wise man, “plant it immediately.” [On the importance of fundamental research.]
'A Scientist and the World He Lives In', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (27 Nov 1986) in C. Frank Turner and Tim Dickson (eds.), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1986-1987 (1987), 149-161.
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A wonderful exhilaration comes from holding in the mind the deepest questions we can ask. Such questions animate all scientists. Many students of science were first attracted to the field as children by popular accounts of important unsolved problems. They have been waiting ever since to begin working on a mystery. [With co-author Arthur Zajonc]
In George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc, The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (2006), xii.
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A young man once asked [Erasmus Darwin] in, as he thought, an offensive manner, whether he did not find stammering very inconvenient. He answered, 'No, Sir, it gives me time for reflection, and saves me from asking impertinent questions.'
C. Darwin, The Life of Erasmus Darwin (1887), 40.
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According to the Boshongo people of central Africa, in the beginning, there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then some animals. The leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and finally, man. This creation myth, like many others, tries to answer the questions we all ask. Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Lecture (1987), 'The Origin of the Universe', collected in Black Holes And Baby Universes And Other Essays (1993), 99.
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Alexander is said to have asked Menćchmus to teach him geometry concisely, but Menćchmus replied: “O king, through the country there are royal roads and roads for common citizens, but in geometry there is one road for all.”
As quoted in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 152-153, citing Stobaeus, Edition Wachsmuth (1884), Ecl. II, 30.
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Algebra is generous; she often gives more than is asked of her.
Quoted in Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1905), 2, 285. As cited in Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 275.
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All possible truth is practical. To ask whether our conception of chair or table corresponds to the real chair or table apart from the uses to which they may be put, is as utterly meaningless and vain as to inquire whether a musical tone is red or yellow. No other conceivable relation than this between ideas and things can exist. The unknowable is what I cannot react upon. The active part of our nature is not only an essential part of cognition itself, but it always has a voice in determining what shall be believed and what rejected.
The Muscular Perception of Space (1878), 446.
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An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn is all that we ask in return for dazzling gifts. We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later.
As quoted in David Prerau, Seize the Daylight: The Curious And Contentious Story of Daylight (2006).
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Animals are such agreeable friends; they ask no questions, pass no criticisms.
(Mary Ann Evans, English Novelist)
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Anyone informed that the universe is expanding and contracting in pulsations of eighty billion years has a right to ask. What's in it for me?
The Glory of the Hummingbird (1974), 6. In Bill Swainson, Encarta book of Quotations (2000), 265.
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As for the skies, I quit using the flying machines in 1929 after the pilot of one of them, blinded by snow, handed the chart to me and asked me to find the Cleveland airport.
Remarks (in absentia) on receiving the National Medal for Literature (2 Dec 1971). In 'The Egg Is All', New York Times (7 Dec 1971).
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As I show you this liquid, I too could tell you, 'I took my drop of water from the immensity of creation, and I took it filled with that fecund jelly, that is, to use the language of science, full of the elements needed for the development of lower creatures. And then I waited, and I observed, and I asked questions of it, and I asked it to repeat the original act of creation for me; what a sight it would be! But it is silent! It has been silent for several years, ever since I began these experiments. Yes! And it is because I have kept away from it, and am keeping away from it to this moment, the only thing that it has not been given to man to produce, I have kept away from it the germs that are floating in the air, I have kept away from it life, for life is the germ, and the germ is life.'
Quoted in Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 169.
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As I strayed into the study of an eminent physicist, I observed hanging against the wall, framed like a choice engraving, several dingy, ribbon-like strips of, I knew not what... My curiosity was at once aroused. What were they? ... They might be shreds of mummy-wraps or bits of friable bark-cloth from the Pacific, ... [or] remnants from a grandmother’s wedding dress... They were none of these... He explained that they were carefully-prepared photographs of portions of the Solar Spectrum. I stood and mused, absorbed in the varying yet significant intensities of light and shade, bordered by mystic letters and symbolic numbers. As I mused, the pale legend began to glow with life. Every line became luminous with meaning. Every shadow was suffused with light shining from behind, suggesting some mighty achievement of knowledge; of knowledge growing more daring in proportion to the remoteness of the object known; of knowledge becoming more positive in its answers, as the questions which were asked seemed unanswerable. No Runic legend, no Babylonish arrowhead, no Egyptian hieroglyph, no Moabite stone, could present a history like this, or suggest thoughts of such weighty import or so stimulate and exalt the imagination.
The Sciences of Nature Versus the Science of Man: A Plea for the Science of Man (1871), 7-9.
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As soon as I hear the phrase “everybody knows,” I start to wonder. I start asking, “Does everybody know this? And how do they know it?”
As quoted in interview about earthquake predictions for magazine article in Joshua Fischman, 'Falling Into the Gap', Discover (Oct 1992), 13, No. 10, 58. The article writer appears to be quoting, but throughout the article has used no double quote marks. The article is also online.
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Ask a follower of Bacon what [science] the new philosophy, as it was called in the time of Charles the Second, has effected for mankind, and his answer is ready; “It has lengthened life; it has mitigated pain; it has extinguished diseases; it has increased the fertility of the soil; it has given new securities to the mariner; it has furnished new arms to the warrior; it has spanned great rivers and estuaries with bridges of form unknown to our fathers; it has guided the thunderbolt innocuously from heaven to earth; it has lighted up the night with the splendour of the day; it has extended the range of the human vision; it has multiplied the power of the human muscles; it has accelerated motion; it has annihilated distance; it has facilitated intercourse, correspondence, all friendly offices, all dispatch of business; it has enabled man to descend to the depths of the sea, to soar into the air, to penetrate securely into the noxious recesses of the earth, to traverse the land in cars which whirl along without horses, to cross the ocean in ships which run ten knots an hour against the wind. These are but a part of its fruits, and of its first-fruits; for it is a philosophy which never rests, which has never attained, which is never perfect. Its law is progress. A point which yesterday was invisible is its goal to-day, and will be its starting-point to-morrow.”
From essay (Jul 1837) on 'Francis Bacon' in Edinburgh Review. In Baron Thomas Babington Macaulay and Lady Trevelyan (ed.) The Works of Lord Macaulay Complete (1871), Vol. 6, 222.
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Ask a scientist a very profound question on his science, and he will be silent. Ask a religious person a very simple question on his religion, and he will be frenzied.
Quotations: Superultramodern Science and Philosophy (2005).
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Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be, and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty eyed: solemn because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty eyed because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare. If taunted he would probably mumble something about “Induction” and “Establishing the Laws of Nature”, but if anyone working in a laboratory professed to be trying to establish the Laws of Nature by induction, we should think he was overdue for leave.
From a Jayne Lecture (1968), 'Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought', printed in Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (1969), Vol. 75. Lecture republished as Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (2009), 11. Also included in Peter Medawar, Pluto’s Republic (1984), 80.
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Ask advice of him who governs himself well.
…...
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Ask her to wait a moment. I am almost done.
When told, while working, that his wife was dying.
Quoted in E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics, (1937).
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Ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country.
…...
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Ask why God made the GEM so small,
And why so huge the granite?
Because God meant, mankind should set
That higher value on it.
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Asked in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood the theory of general relativity, [Eddington] allegedly replied: “Who's the third?”
As described in Brian Stableford, Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia (2006), 150.
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At this very minute, with almost absolute certainty, radio waves sent forth by other intelligent civilizations are falling on the earth. A telescope can be built that, pointed in the right place, and tuned to the right frequency, could discover these waves. Someday, from somewhere out among the stars, will come the answers to many of the oldest, most important, and most exciting questions mankind has asked.
In Intelligent Life in Space (1962), 111.
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Attaching significance to invariants is an effort to recognize what, because of its form or colour or meaning or otherwise, is important or significant in what is only trivial or ephemeral. A simple instance of failing in this is provided by the poll-man at Cambridge, who learned perfectly how to factorize a˛-b˛ but was floored because the examiner unkindly asked for the factors of p˛–q˛.
In 'Recent Developments in Invariant Theory', The Mathematical Gazette (Dec 1926), 13, No. 185, 217. [Note: A poll-man is a student who takes the ordinary university degree, without honours. -Webmaster]
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Beauty, I hear you ask, do not the Graces flee where integrals stretch forth their necks?
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zy Graz (1888), 28-29, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 186. From the original German, “Schönheit höre ich Sie da fragen; entfliehen nicht die Grazien, wo Integrate ihre Hälse reckon.” [In Greek mythology, the Graces are three beautiful daughters of Zeus personifying charm, grace, and beauty. —Webmaster]
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Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.
From 'Mending Wall', in North of Boston (1914). Collected in Robert Frost and Thomas Fasano (ed.), Selected Early Poems of Robert Frost (2008), 52. Note: This passage may be the source which John F. Kennedy had in mind when he wrote in his personal notebook, "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up." (see John F. Kennedy quotes on this site). The words in that terse paraphrase are those of Kennedy, and are neither those of Frost, or, as often attributed, G.K. Chesterton (q.v).
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Buffon said unreservedly, "Genius is simply patience carried to the extreme." To those who asked how he achieved fame he replied: "By spending forty years of my life bent over my writing desk.”
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 39.
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But nature is remarkably obstinate against purely logical operations; she likes not schoolmasters nor scholastic procedures. As though she took a particular satisfaction in mocking at our intelligence, she very often shows us the phantom of an apparently general law, represented by scattered fragments, which are entirely inconsistent. Logic asks for the union of these fragments; the resolute dogmatist, therefore, does not hesitate to go straight on to supply, by logical conclusions, the fragments he wants, and to flatter himself that he has mastered nature by his victorious intelligence.
'On the Principles of Animal Morphology', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2 Apr 1888), 15, 289. Original as Letter to Mr John Murray, communicated to the Society by Professor Sir William Turner. Page given as in collected volume published 1889.
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But why, it has been asked, did you go there [the Antarctic]? Of what use to civilization can this lifeless continent be? ... [Earlier] expeditions contributed something to the accumulating knowledge of the Antarctic ... that helps us thrust back further the physical and spiritual shadows enfolding our terrestrial existence. Is it not true that one of the strongest and most continuously sustained impulses working in civilization is that which leads to discovery? As long as any part of the world remains obscure, the curiosity of man must draw him there, as the lodestone draws the mariner's needle, until he comprehends its secret.
In 'Hoover Presents Special Medal to Byrd...', New York Times (21 Jun 1930), 1.
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But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask; why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
…...
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By asking questions and quickly reading some books, [Melvin Calvin] felt comfortable in many fields of endeavor.
Co-author with Andrew A. Benson, 'Melvin Calvin', Biographical Memoirs of the US National Academy of Science.
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Charles Darwin [is my personal favorite Fellow of the Royal Society]. I suppose as a physical scientist I ought to have chosen Newton. He would have won hands down in an IQ test, but if you ask who was the most attractive personality then Darwin is the one you'd wish to meet. Newton was solitary and reclusive, even vain and vindictive in his later years when he was president of the society.
From interview with Graham Lawton, 'One Minute with Martin Rees', in New Scientist (12 Dec 2009), 204, No. 2738.
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Daniel Bernoulli used to tell two little adventures, which he said had given him more pleasure than all the other honours he had received. Travelling with a learned stranger, who, being pleased with his conversation, asked his name; “I am Daniel Bernoulli,” answered he with great modesty; “and I,” said the stranger (who thought he meant to laugh at him) “am Isaac Newton.” Another time, having to dine with the celebrated Koenig, the mathematician, who boasted, with some degree of self-complacency, of a difficult problem he had solved with much trouble, Bernoulli went on doing the honours of his table, and when they went to drink coffee he presented Koenig with a solution of the problem more elegant than his own.
In A Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 1, 226.
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Deductivism in mathematical literature and inductivism in scientific papers are simply the postures we choose to be seen in when the curtain goes up and the public sees us. The theatrical illusion is shattered if we ask what goes on behind the scenes. In real life discovery and justification are almost always different processes.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 26.
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Do not enter upon research unless you can not help it. Ask yourself the “why” of every statement that is made and think out your own answer. If through your thoughtful work you get a worthwhile idea, it will get you. The force of the conviction will compel you to forsake all and seek the relief of your mind in research work.
From Cameron Prize Lecture (1928), delivered before the University of Edinburgh. As quoted in J.B. Collip 'Frederick Grant Banting, Discoverer of Insulin', The Scientific Monthly (May 1941), 52, No. 5, 473.
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Don’t ask me to put up a shelf, but I love engineering.
As quoted on imdb.com biography page for Bruce Dickinson. Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for this quote. Can you help?
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Doubly galling was the fact that at the same time my roommate was taking a history course … filled with excitement over a class discussion. … I was busy with Ampere’s law. We never had any fascinating class discussions about this law. No one, teacher or student, ever asked me what I thought about it.
In Understanding the Universe: An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the Nature of Scientific Research (2013), ix.
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Dr. Paget was conducting a school examination, and in the course of his questions he happened to ask a small child the meaning of “Average.” He was utterly bewildered by the reply, “The thing that hens lay on,” until the child explained that he had read in a book that hens lay on an average so many eggs a year.
Anecdote jotted down by Lewis Carroll to possibly send to the magazine Punch, as given in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 157.
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During his Zurich stay the woman doctor, Paulette Brubacher, asked the whereabouts of his [Einstein's] laboratory. With a smile he took a fountain pen out of his breast pocket and said: 'here'.
C. Seelig, Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography (1956), 154.
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During the time that [Karl] Landsteiner gave me an education in the field of imununology, I discovered that he and I were thinking about the serologic problem in very different ways. He would ask, What do these experiments force us to believe about the nature of the world? I would ask, What is the most. simple and general picture of the world that we can formulate that is not ruled by these experiments? I realized that medical and biological investigators were not attacking their problems the same way that theoretical physicists do, the way I had been in the habit of doing.
‘Molecular Disease’, Pfizer Spectrum (1958), 6:9, 234.
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Einstein uses his concept of God more often than a Catholic priest. Once I asked him:
'Tomorrow is Sunday. Do you want me to come to you, so we can work?'
'Why not?'
'Because I thought perhaps you would like to rest on Sunday.'
Einstein settled the question by saying with a loud laugh: 'God does not rest on Sunday either.'
Quest: The Evolution of a Scientist (1941), 247.
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Euler was a believer in God, downright and straightforward. The following story is told by Thiebault, in his Souvenirs de vingt ans de séjour ŕ Berlin, … Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the Empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the Court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The Empress was much amused, but some of her counsellors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. The Empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest’s tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented: though the name of the mathematician is not given, it was Euler. He advanced toward Diderot, and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction:
Monsieur, (a + bn) / n = x, donc Dieu existe; repondez!

Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1878), 251. [The declaration in French expresses, “therefore God exists; please answer!” This Euler-Diderot anecdote, as embellished by De Morgan, is generally regarded as entirely fictional. Diderot before he became an encyclopedist was an accomplished mathematician and fully capable of recognizing—and responding to—the absurdity of an algebraic expression in proving the existence of God. See B.H. Brown, 'The Euler-Diderot Anecdote', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1942), 49, No. 5, 392-303. —Webmaster.]
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Every species of plant and animal is determined by a pool of germ plasm that has been most carefully selected over a period of hundreds of millions of years. We can understand now why it is that mutations in these carefully selected organisms almost invariably are detrimental.The situation can be suggested by a statement by Dr. J.B.S. Haldane: “My clock is not keeping perfect time. It is conceivable that it will run better if I shoot a bullet through it; but it is much more probable that it will stop altogether.” Professor George Beadle, in this connection, has asked: “What is the chance that a typographical error would improve Hamlet?”
In No More War! (1958), Chap. 4, 53.
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Everybody using C is a dangerous thing. We have other languages that don’t have buffer overflows. But what is the longer-term cost to us as an enterprise in increased vulnerability, increased need for add-on security services or whatever else is involved? Those kinds of questions don’t get asked often enough.
As quoted in magazine article, an interview by John McCormick, 'Computer Security as a Business Enabler', Baseline (7 Jul 2007).
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Everything material which is the subject of knowledge has number, order, or position; and these are her first outlines for a sketch of the universe. If our feeble hands cannot follow out the details, still her part has been drawn with an unerring pen, and her work cannot be gainsaid. So wide is the range of mathematical sciences, so indefinitely may it extend beyond our actual powers of manipulation that at some moments we are inclined to fall down with even more than reverence before her majestic presence. But so strictly limited are her promises and powers, about so much that we might wish to know does she offer no information whatever, that at other moments we are fain to call her results but a vain thing, and to reject them as a stone where we had asked for bread. If one aspect of the subject encourages our hopes, so does the other tend to chasten our desires, and he is perhaps the wisest, and in the long run the happiest, among his fellows, who has learned not only this science, but also the larger lesson which it directly teaches, namely, to temper our aspirations to that which is possible, to moderate our desires to that which is attainable, to restrict our hopes to that of which accomplishment, if not immediately practicable, is at least distinctly within the range of conception.
From Presidential Address (Aug 1878) to the British Association, Dublin, published in the Report of the 48th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1878), 31.
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Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
Lacon: Or, Many Things in Few Words (1865), 97.
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Experimentation is the least arrogant method of gaining knowledge. The experimenter humbly asks a question of nature.
[Unverified. Please contact Webmaster if you can identify the primary source.]
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For if as scientists we seek simplicity, then obviously we try the simplest surviving theory first, and retreat from it only when it proves false. Not this course, but any other, requires explanation. If you want to go somewhere quickly, and several alternate routes are equally likely to be open, no one asks why you take the shortest. The simplest theory is to be chosen not because it is the most likely to be true but because it is scientifically the most rewarding among equally likely alternatives. We aim at simplicity and hope for truth.
Problems and Projects (1972), 352.
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For if those who hold that there must be a physical basis for everything hold that these mystical views are nonsense, we may ask—What then is the physical basis of nonsense? ... In a world of ether and electrons we might perhaps encounter nonsense; we could not encounter damned nonsense.
…...
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For some months the astronomer Halley and other friends of Newton had been discussing the problem in the following precise form: what is the path of a body attracted by a force directed toward a fixed point, the force varying in intensity as the inverse of the distance? Newton answered instantly, “An ellipse.” “How do you know?” he was asked. “Why, I have calculated it.” Thus originated the imperishable Principia, which Newton later wrote out for Halley. It contained a complete treatise on motion.
In The Handmaiden of the Sciences (1937), 37.
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Frequently, I have been asked if an experiment I have planned is pure or applied science; to me it is more important to know if the experiment will yield new and probably enduring knowledge about nature. If it is likely to yield such knowledge, it is, in my opinion, good fundamental research; and this is more important than whether the motivation is purely aesthetic satisfaction on the part of the experimenter on the one hand or the improvement of the stability of a high-power transistor on the other.
Quoted in Richard R. Nelson, 'The Link Between Science and Invention: The Case of the Transistor,' The Rate and Direction of the Inventive Activity (1962). In Daniel S. Greenberg, The Politics of Pure Science (1999), 32, footnote.
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From religion comes a man's purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.
In Sir Kerr Grant, The Life and Work of Sir William Bragg (1952), 43.
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Gauss [replied], when asked how soon he expected to reach certain mathematical conclusions, “that he had them long ago, all he was worrying about was how to reach them.”
In Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1950), 365. Also excerpted in 'Mechanisms of Discovery', collected in I.S. Gordon and S. Sorkin (eds.) The Armchair Science Reader (1959), 336.
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Geometrical axioms are neither synthetic a priori conclusions nor experimental facts. They are conventions: our choice, amongst all possible conventions, is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. ... In other words, axioms of geometry are only definitions in disguise.
That being so what ought one to think of this question: Is the Euclidean Geometry true?
The question is nonsense. One might as well ask whether the metric system is true and the old measures false; whether Cartesian co-ordinates are true and polar co-ordinates false.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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George Stephenson, with a sagacity of mind in advance of the science of his day, answered, when asked what was the ultimate cause of motion of his locomotive engine, ‘that it went by the bottled-up rays of the sun.’
From 'Fuel', Lecture delivered to the British Association at Bradford, printed in Nature (25 Sep 1873), 8, 443.
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God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not the choice. You must accept it. The only choice is how.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 24
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Good people are seldom fully recognised during their lifetimes, and here, there are serious problems of corruption. One day it will be realised that my findings should have been acknowledged.
It was difficult, but she always smiled when asked why she went on when recognition eluded her in her own country.
Quoted in obituary by Anthony Tucker, 'Alice Stewart', The Guardian newspaper (28 Jun 2002).
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Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
Opening statement of 'A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace' (8 Feb 1996). Published on Electronic Frontier Foundation website. Reproduced in Lawrence Lessig, Code: Version 2.0) (2008), 302.
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Haldane was engaged in discussion with an eminent theologian. “What inference,” asked the latter, “might one draw about the nature of God from a study of his works?” Haldane replied: “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”
As quoted in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), André Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 253.
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Having been the discoverer of many splendid things, he is said to have asked his friends and relations that, after his death, they should place on his tomb a cylinder enclosing a sphere, writing on it the proportion of the containing solid to that which is contained.
Plutarch, Life of Marcellus, 17.12. Trans. R. W. Sharples.
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He (Anaxagoras) is said to have been twenty years old at the time of Xerxes' crossing, and to have lived to seventy-two. Apollodorus says in his Chronicles that he was born in the seventieth Olympiad (500-497 B.C.) and died in the first year of the eighty-eighth (428/7). He began to be a philosopher at Athens in the archonship of Callias (456/5), at the age of twenty, as Demetrius Phalereus tells us in his Register of Archons, and they say he spent thirty years there. … There are different accounts given of his trial. Sotion, in his Succession of Philosophers, says that he was prosecuted by Cleon for impiety, because he maintained that the sun was a red hot mass of metal, and after that Pericles, his pupil, had made a speech in his defence, he was fined five talents and exiled. Satyrus in his Uves, on the other hand, says that the charge was brought by Thucydides in his political campaign against Pericles; and he adds that the charge was not only for the impiety but for Medism as well; and he was condemned to death in his absence. ... Finally he withdrew to Lampsacus, and there died. It is said that when the rulers of the city asked him what privilege he wished to be granted, he replied that the children should be given a holiday every year in the month in which he died. The custom is preserved to the present day. When he died the Lampsacenes buried him with full honours.
Diogenes Laërtius 2.7. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 353.
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Heraclitus son of Bloson (or, according to some, of Herakon) of Ephesus. This man was at his prime in the 69th Olympiad. He grew up to be exceptionally haughty and supercilious, as is clear also from his book, in which he says: “Learning of many things does not teach intelligence; if so it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus.” … Finally he became a misanthrope, withdrew from the world, and lived in the mountains feeding on grasses and plants. However, having fallen in this way into a dropsy he came down to town and asked the doctors in a riddle if they could make a drought out of rainy weather. When they did not understand he buried himself in a cow-stall, expecting that the dropsy would be evaporated off by the heat of the manure; but even so he failed to effect anything, and ended his life at the age of sixty.
Diogenes Laertius 9.1. In G. S. Kirk, E. Raven, and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), 181.
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Here we come to a new and peculiar street railway … There is no steam on board. You ask how is this train propelled? Between the track and under ground is a cable running upon rollers for the length of the road…
In Travels with Jottings: From Midland to the Pacific (1880), 33.
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Here’s good advice for practice: go into partnership with nature; she does more than half the work and asks none of the fee.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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Hieron asked Archimedes to discover, without damaging it, whether a certain crown or wreath was made of pure gold, or if the goldsmith had fraudulently alloyed it with some baser metal. While Archimedes was turning the problem over in his mind, he chanced to be in the bath house. There, as he was sitting in the bath, he noticed that the amount of water that was flowing over the top of it was equal in volume to that part of his body that was immersed. He saw at once a way of solving the problem. He did not delay, but in his joy leaped out of the bath. Rushing naked through the streets towards his home, he cried out in a loud voice that he had found what he sought. For, as he ran, he repeatedly shouted in Greek; “Eureka! Eurekal I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”
Vitrivius Pollio, De Architectura, ix, prologue, section 10.
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His genius was in asking the right questions and seeing explanations that did not readily occur to others. He loved and lived science and was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him.
Co-author with Marilyn Taylor and Robert E. Connick, obituary, 'Melvin Calvin', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Dec 2000), 144, No. 4, 457.
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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.
Interview with American Analyst. Reprinted in Pacific Record of Medicine and Surgery (1886), 1, No. 3, 78.
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I also ask you my friends not to condemn me entirely to the mill of mathematical calculations, and allow me time for philosophical speculations, my only pleasures.
Letter to Vincenzo Bianchi (17 Feb 1619). Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 17, letter 827, l. 249-51, p. 327.
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I am reminded of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.”
Address at the University of California, Berkeley, California (23 March 1962), in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy (1962), 266. Kennedy used this story several times. The indicated source, Marshal Lyautey, has not been verified. Contact Webmaster if you know a primary source.
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I approached the bulk of my schoolwork as a chore rather than an intellectual adventure. The tedium was relieved by a few courses that seem to be qualitatively different. Geometry was the first exciting course I remember. Instead of memorizing facts, we were asked to think in clear, logical steps. Beginning from a few intuitive postulates, far reaching consequences could be derived, and I took immediately to the sport of proving theorems.
Autobiography in Gösta Ekspong (ed.), Nobel Lectures: Physics 1996-2000 (2002), 115.
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I ask any one who has adopted the calling of an engineer, how much time he lost when he left school, because he had to devote himself to pursuits which were absolutely novel and strange, and of which he had not obtained the remotest conception from his instructors? He had to familiarize himself with ideas of the course and powers of Nature, to which his attention had never been directed during his school-life, and to learn, for the first time, that a world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words.
From After-Dinner Speech (Apr 1869) delivered before the Liverpool Philomathic Society, 'Scientific Education', collected in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 63. Previously published in Macmillan’s Magazine.
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I ask myself whether the huge national commitment of technical talent to human spaceflight and the ever-present potential for the loss of precious human life are really justifiable.
In 'Is Human Spaceflight Obsolete?', Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2004). [Note: published one year after the loss of seven lives in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. —Webmaster]
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I asked Fermi whether he was not impressed by the agreement between our calculated numbers and his measured numbers. He replied, “How many arbitrary parameters did you use for your calculations?" I thought for a moment about our cut-off procedures and said, “Four." He said, “I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, with four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” With that, the conversation was over.
As given in 'A Meeting with Enrico Fermi', Nature (22 Jan 2004), 427, 297. As quoted in Steven A. Frank, Dynamics of Cancer: Incidence, Inheritance, and Evolution (2007), 87. Von Neumann meant nobody need be impressed when a complex model fits a data set well, because if manipulated with enough flexible parameters, any data set can be fitted to an incorrect model, even one that plots a curve on a graph shaped like an elephant!
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I can certainly wish for new, large, and properly constructed instruments, and enough of them, but to state where and by what means they are to be procured, this I cannot do. Tycho Brahe has given Mastlin an instrument of metal as a present, which would be very useful if Mastlin could afford the cost of transporting it from the Baltic, and if he could hope that it would travel such a long way undamaged… . One can really ask for nothing better for the observation of the sun than an opening in a tower and a protected place underneath.
As quoted in James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin, The Portable Renaissance Reader (1968), 605.
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I can still recall vividly how Freud said to me, “My dear Jung, promise me never to abandon the sexual theory. That is the most essential thing of all. You see, we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark” … In some astonishment I asked him, “A bulwark-against what?” To which he replied, “Against the black tide of mud”—and here he hesitated for a moment, then added—“of occultism.”
Carl Jung
Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963), 147-8.
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I do not see any reason to assume that the heuristic significance of the principle of general relativity is restricted to gravitation and that the rest of physics can be dealt with separately on the basis of special relativity, with the hope that later on the whole may be fitted consistently into a general relativistic scheme. I do not think that such an attitude, although historically understandable, can be objectively justified. The comparative smallness of what we know today as gravitational effects is not a conclusive reason for ignoring the principle of general relativity in theoretical investigations of a fundamental character. In other words, I do not believe that it is justifiable to ask: What would physics look like without gravitation?
…...
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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York … a city neighborhood that included houses, lampposts, walls, and bushes. But with an early bedtime in the winter, I could look out my window and see the stars, and the stars were not like anything else in my neighborhood. [At age 5] I didn’t know what they were.
[At age 9] my mother … said to me, “You have a library card now, and you know how to read. Take the streetcar to the library and get a book on stars.” … I stepped up to the big librarian and asked for a book on stars. … I sat down and found out the answer, which was something really stunning.
I found out that the stars are glowing balls of gas. I also found out that the Sun is a star but really close and that the stars are all suns except really far away I didn’t know any physics or mathematics at that time, but I could imagine how far you’d have to move the Sun away from us till it was only as bright as a star. It was in that library, reading that book, that the scale of the universe opened up to me. There was something beautiful about it.
At that young age, I already knew that I’d be very happy if I could devote my life to finding out more about the stars and the planets that go around them. And it’s been my great good fortune to do just that.
Quoted in interview with Jack Rightmyer, in 'Stars in His Eyes', Highlights For Children (1 Jan 1997). Ages as given in Tom Head (ed.), Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), x.
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I grew up in love with science, asking the same questions all children ask as they try to codify the world to find out what makes it work. “Who is the smartest person in the world?” and “Where is the tallest mountain in the world?” turned into questions like, “How big is the universe?” and “What is it that makes us alive?”
In Introduction to Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), xix.
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I had fought on behalf of man against the sea, but I realised that it had become more urgent to fight on behalf of the sea against men.
From an interview on the 50th anniversary of his voyage, when asked about his avid support for environmentalism in later years.
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I had no books as a child. I had real machines, and I went out to work in the fields. I was driving farm machinery at five, and fixing it at age seven or eight. It’s no accident that I worked on Hubble 50 to 60 years later. My books were nature; it was very important to how I related to the Earth, and the Earth from space. No doubt when I go into space, I go back into the cool soil of Earth. I’m always thinking of it. Nature was my book. Other people come from that tradition - Emerson, Thoreau, and especially Whitman. Look at what they said in their philosophy - go out and have a direct relationship with nature.
When asked by Discover magazine what books helped inspire his passion as an astronaut.
'The 1998 Discover Science Gift Guide: Fantastic Voyages Children's Books That Mattered', Discover (Dec 1998).
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I had no more conception of what it meant to be a forester than the man in the moon. ... But at least a forester worked in the woods and with the woods - and I loved the woods and everything about them.
Gifford's thoughts, when upon entering Yale (1885) his father asked 'How would you like to be a forester?'
Breaking New Ground (1998), 2.
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I have been asked whether I would agree that the tragedy of the scientist is that he is able to bring about great advances in our knowledge, which mankind may then proceed to use for purposes of destruction. My answer is that this is not the tragedy of the scientist; it is the tragedy of mankind.
S. R. Weart and G. W. Sallard (eds.), Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts (1978), 229.
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I have been especially fortunate for about 50 years in having two memory banks available—whenever I can't remember something I ask my wife, and thus I am able to draw on this auxiliary memory bank. Moreover, there is a second way In which I get ideas ... I listen carefully to what my wife says, and in this way I often get a good idea. I recommend to ... young people ... that you make a permanent acquisition of an auxiliary memory bank that you can become familiar with and draw upon throughout your lives.
T. Goertzel and B. Goertzel, Linus Pauling (1995), 240.
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I have had a fairly long life, above all a very happy one, and I think that I shall be remembered with some regrets and perhaps leave some reputation behind me. What more could I ask? The events in which I am involved will probably save me from the troubles of old age. I shall die in full possession of my faculties, and that is another advantage that I should count among those that I have enjoyed. If I have any distressing thoughts, it is of not having done more for my family; to be unable to give either to them or to you any token of my affection and my gratitude is to be poor indeed.
Letter to Augez de Villiers, undated. Quoted in D. McKie, Antoine Lavoisier: Scientist, Economist, Social Reformer (1952), 303.
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I have lived much of my life among molecules. They are good company. I tell my students to try to know molecules, so well that when they have some question involving molecules, they can ask themselves, What would I do if I were that molecule? I tell them, Try to feel like a molecule; and if you work hard, who knows? Some day you may get to feel like a big molecule!
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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I have often had cause to feel that my hands are cleverer than my head. That is a crude way of characterizing the dialectics of experimentation. When it is going well, it is like a quiet conversation with Nature. One asks a question and gets an answer, then one asks the next question and gets the next answer. An experiment is a device to make Nature speak intelligibly. After that, one only has to listen.
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1967). In Nobel Lectures: Physiology Or Medicine: (1999), Vol. 4 (1963-197), 292.
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I have sometimes experienced from nitrous oxide, sensations similar to no others, and they have consequently been indescribable. This has been likewise often the case with other persons. Of two paralytic patients who were asked what they felt after breathing nitrous oxide, the first answered, “I do not know how, but very queer.” The second said, “I felt like the sound of a harp.”
Referring to his investigation of the effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas).
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I have very often reflected on what it is that really distinguishes the great genius from the common crowd. Here are a few observations I have made. The common individual always conforms to the prevailing opinion and the prevailing fashion; he regards the State in which everything now exists as the only possible one and passively accepts it ail. It does not occur to him that everything, from the shape of the furniture up to the subtlest hypothesis, is decided by the great council of mankind of which he is a member. He wears thin-soled shoes even though the sharp stones of the Street hurt his feet, he allows fashion to dictate to him that the buckles of his shoes must extend as far as the toes even though that means the shoe is often hard to get on. He does not reflect that the form of the shoe depends as much upon him as it does upon the fool who first wore thin shoes on a cracked pavement. To the great genius it always occurs to ask: Could this too not be false! He never gives his vote without first reflecting.
Aphorism 24 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 36.
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I hear one day the word “mountain,” and I ask someone “what is a mountain? I have never seen one.”
I join others in discussions of mountains.
One day I see in a book a picture of a mountain.
And I decide I must climb one.
I travel to a place where there is a mountain.
At the base of the mountain I see there are lots of paths to climb.
I start on a path that leads to the top of the mountain.
I see that the higher I climb, the more the paths join together.
After much climbing the many paths join into one.
I climb till I am almost exhausted but I force myself and continue to climb.
Finally I reach the top and far above me there are stars.
I look far down and the village twinkles far below.
It would be easy to go back down there but it is so beautiful up here.
I am just below the stars.
…...
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I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), 6. Often seen attributed to John F. Kennedy or Bobby Kennedy who restated this quote as “Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
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I once spoke to a human geneticist who declared that the notion of intelligence was quite meaningless, so I tried calling him unintelligent. He was annoyed, and it did not appease him when I went on to ask how he came to attach such a clear meaning to the notion of lack of intelligence. We never spoke again.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 25, footnote 2.
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I remember being with my grandmother and mother and my uncle came in and asked what I wanted to be when grew up. I said ‘A doctor,’ which took him aback. He was expecting me to say ‘nurse’ or ‘actress.’ And my mother and grandmother laughed like, ‘Kids say the darndest things.’ I grew up in a time when women were not expected to do anything interesting.
As quoted in Anna Azvolinsky, 'Fearless About Folding', The Scientist (Jan 2016).
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I saw a horrible brown heap on the floor in the corner, which, but for previous experience in this dismal wise, I might not have suspected to be “the bed.” There was something thrown upon it and I asked what it was. “’Tis the poor craythur that stays here, sur; and ’tis very bad she is, ’tis very bad she’s been this long time, and ’tis better she’ll never be, and ’tis slape she doos all day, and ’tis wake she doos all night, and ‘tis the lead, Sur.” “The what?” “The lead, Sur. Sure, ’tis the lead-mills, where women gets took on at eighteen pence a day, Sur, when they makes application early enough, and is lucky and wanted, and ’tis lead-pisoned she is, Sur, and some of them gits lead-pisoned soon and some of them gets lead-pisoned later, and some but not many, niver, and ’tis all according to the constitooshun, Sur, and some constitooshuns is strong, and some is weak, and her constitooshun is lead-pisoned, bad as can be, Sur, and her brain is coming out at her ear, and it hurts her dreadful, and that’s what it is and niver no more and niver so less, Sur.”
In 'New Uncommercial Samples: A Small Star in the East', All the Year Round (19 Dec 1868), New Series, No. 3, 62.
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I shall never forget the sight. The vessel of crystallization was three quarters full of slightly muddy water—that is, dilute water-glass—and from the sandy bottom there strove upwards a grotesque little landscape of variously colored growths: a confused vegetation of blue, green, and brown shoots which reminded one of algae, mushrooms, attached polyps, also moss, then mussels, fruit pods, little trees or twigs from trees, here, and there of limbs. It was the most remarkable sight I ever saw, and remarkable not so much for its profoundly melancholy nature. For when Father Leverkühn asked us what we thought of it and we timidly answered him that they might be plants: “No,” he replied, “they are not, they only act that way. But do not think the less of them. Precisely because they do, because they try as hard as they can, they are worthy of all respect.”
It turned out that these growths were entirely unorganic in their origin; they existed by virtue of chemicals from the apothecary's shop.
Description of a “chemical garden” in Doktor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, as Told by a Friend, (1947), 19.
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I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about the problem of space and time. These are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up.
In Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (1971), 10.
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I specifically paused to show that, if there were such machines with the organs and shape of a monkey or of some other non-rational animal, we would have no way of discovering that they are not the same as these animals. But if there were machines that resembled our bodies and if they imitated our actions as much as is morally possible, we would always have two very certain means for recognizing that, none the less, they are not genuinely human. The first is that they would never be able to use speech, or other signs composed by themselves, as we do to express our thoughts to others. For one could easily conceive of a machine that is made in such a way that it utters words, and even that it would utter some words in response to physical actions that cause a change in its organs—for example, if someone touched it in a particular place, it would ask what one wishes to say to it, or if it were touched somewhere else, it would cry out that it was being hurt, and so on. But it could not arrange words in different ways to reply to the meaning of everything that is said in its presence, as even the most unintelligent human beings can do. The second means is that, even if they did many things as well as or, possibly, better than anyone of us, they would infallibly fail in others. Thus one would discover that they did not act on the basis of knowledge, but merely as a result of the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument that can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need a specific disposition for every particular action.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 5, 40.
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I talk to myself through the computer. I ask myself questions, leave things to be looked at again, things that you would do with a notepad. It turns out today that it’s much better today to do with a personal computer rather than a notepad.
In transcript of a video history interview with Seymour Cray by David K. Allison at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, (9 May 1995), 30.
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I thank you for your Expt on the Hedge Hog; but why do you ask me such a question, by way of solving it. I think your solution is just; but why think, why not try the Expt.
[Often seen, without context, briefly as: But why think, why not try the experiment?']
Letter to Edward Jenner (2 Aug 1775). In A. J. Harding Rains (ed.), Letters From the Past: From John Hunter to Edward Jenner (1976), 9.
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I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.” To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said. I asked him to repeat the words. He answered “You said—‘Mr. Watson—-come here—I want to see you.’” We then changed places and I listened at S [the reed receiver] while Mr. Watson read a few passages from a book into the mouth piece M. It was certainly the case that articulate sounds proceeded from S. The effect was loud but indistinct and muffled. If I had read beforehand the passage given by Mr. Watson I should have recognized every word. As it was I could not make out the sense—but an occasional word here and there was quite distinct. I made out “to” and “out” and “further”; and finally the sentence “Mr. Bell do you understand what I say? Do—you—un—der—stand—what—I—say” came quite clearly and intelligibly. No sound was audible when the armature S was removed.
Notebook, 'Experiments made by A. Graham Bell, vol. I'. Entry for 10 March 1876. Quoted in Robert V. Bruce, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude (1973), 181.
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I think it is a duty I owe to my profession and to my sex to show that a woman has a right to the practice of her profession and cannot be condemned to abandon it merely because she marries. I cannot conceive how women’s colleges, inviting and encouraging women to enter professions can be justly founded or maintained denying such a principle.
(From a letter Brooks wrote to her dean, knowing that she would be told to resign if she married, she asked to keep her job. Nevertheless, she lost her teaching position at Barnard College in 1906. Dean Gill wrote that “The dignity of women’s place in the home demands that your marriage shall be a resignation.”)
As quoted by Margaret W. Rossiter in Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (1982).
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I try to identify myself with the atoms ... I ask what I would do If I were a carbon atom or a sodium atom.
Comment made to George Gray (Rockefeller's resident science writer and publicist). Quoted In Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 377.
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I was suffering from a sharp attack of intermittent fever, and every day during the cold and succeeding hot fits had to lie down for several hours, during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me. One day something brought to my recollection Malthus's 'Principles of Population', which I had read about twelve years before. I thought of his clear exposition of 'the positive checks to increase'—disease, accidents, war, and famine—which keep down the population of savage races to so much lower an average than that of more civilized peoples. It then occurred to me that these causes or their equivalents are continually acting in the case of animals also; and as animals usually breed much more rapidly than does mankind, the destruction every year from these causes must be enormous in order to keep down the numbers of each species, since they evidently do not increase regularly from year to year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been densely crowded with those that breed most quickly. Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live? The answer was clearly, that on the whole the best fitted live. From the effects of disease the most healthy escaped; from enemies, the strongest, swiftest, or the most cunning; from famine, the best hunters or those with the best digestion; and so on. Then it suddenly flashed upon me that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain—that is, the fittest would survive.
[The phrase 'survival of the fittest,' suggested by the writings of Thomas Robert Malthus, was expressed in those words by Herbert Spencer in 1865. Wallace saw the term in correspondence from Charles Darwin the following year, 1866. However, Wallace did not publish anything on his use of the expression until very much later, and his recollection is likely flawed.]
My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions (1905), Vol. 1, 361-362, or in reprint (2004), 190.
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I was x years old in the year x2.
When asked about his age (43).
Quoted in H. Eves, In Mathematical Circles (1969).
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I will ask you to mark again that rather typical feature of the development of our subject; how so much progress depends on the interplay of techniques, discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order of decreasing importance.
This is the original quote, which gave rise to the commonly seen misstated shortened quote as: “Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order”—with the qualifying words “interplay” and “decreasing importance” omitted. From Brenner’s own handwritten notes of a Speech (20 Mar 1980), 'Biology in the 1980s', at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland. Reproduced in his article 'Life sentences: Detective Rummage investigates', The Scientist (19 Aug 2002), 16, No. 16, 15. He reflects on the original wording of the quote, from his notes that he “came across”, while rummaging through “the piles of papers that I have accumulated,” (hence “Detective Rummage” in the title). See more on the commonly seen misstated shortened quote also on the Sydney Brenner Quotes web page of this site, beginning, “Progress in science…”.
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I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give any woman the instrument to procure abortion. … I will not cut a person who is suffering with stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of such work.
From 'The Oath', as translated by Francis Adams in The Genuine Works of Hippocrates (1849), Vol. 2, 780.
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I would picture myself as a virus, or as a cancer cell, for example, and try to sense what it would be like to be either. I would also imagine myself as the immune system, and I would try to reconstruct what I would do as an immune system engaged in combating a virus or cancer cell. When I had played through a series of such scenarios on a particular problem and had acquired new insights, I would design laboratory experiments accordingly… Based upon the results of the experiment, I would then know what question to ask next… When I observed phenomena in the laboratory that I did not understand, I would also ask questions as if interrogating myself: “Why would I do that if I were a virus or a cancer cell, or the immune system?” Before long, this internal dialogue became second nature to me; I found that my mind worked this way all the time.
In Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983), 7, footnote b, as quoted and cited in Roger Frantz, Two Minds: Intuition and Analysis in the History of Economic Thought (2006), 7.
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I'd climb in the car as it went down the assembly line and introduce myself. Then I'd ask for ideas.
[How, as Ford manager of development for the Taurus car, he sought input from Ford production employees.]
Quoted in Business Week, Issues 3015-3023 (1987). In Robert H. Waterman, The Renewal Factor (1988), 147.
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I'm not smart. I try to observe. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton was the one who asked 'why.'
Quoted in New York Post (24 Jun 1965). In Alfred J. Kolatch, Great Jewish Quotations (1996), 38-39.
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If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.
In 'The Ethics of Belief', Contemporary Review (Jan 1877), collected in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays: By the Late William Kingdon Clifford, F.R.S. (1886), 346.
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If a mathematician wishes to disparage the work of one of his colleagues, say, A, the most effective method he finds for doing this is to ask where the results can be applied. The hard pressed man, with his back against the wall, finally unearths the researches of another mathematician B as the locus of the application of his own results. If next B is plagued with a similar question, he will refer to another mathematician C. After a few steps of this kind we find ourselves referred back to the researches of A, and in this way the chain closes.
From final remarks in 'The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics' (1944), collected in Leonard Linsky (ed.), Semantics and the Philosophy of Language: A Collection of Readings (1952), 41.
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If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
…...
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If a specific question has meaning, it must be possible to find operations by which an answer may be given to it ... I believe that many of the questions asked about social and philosophical subjects will be found to be meaningless when examined from the point of view of operations.
The Logic of Modern Physics (1960), 28.
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If any layman were to ask a number of archaeologists to give, on the spur of the moment, a definition of archaeology, I suspect that such a person might find the answers rather confusing. He would, perhaps, sympathize with Socrates who, when he hoped to learn from the poets and artisans something about the arts they practised, was forced to go away with the conviction that, though they might themselves be able to accomplish something, they certainly could give no clear account to others of what they were trying to do.
Opening statement in lecture at Columbia University (8 Jan 1908), 'Archaeology'. Published by the Columbia University Press (1908).
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If any one should ask me what I consider the most distinctive, progressive feature of California, I should answer promptly, its cable-car system. And it is not alone its system which seems to have reached a point of perfection, but the amazing length of the ride that is given you for the chink of a nickel. I have circled this city of San Francisco, … for this smallest of Southern coins.
In Letters from California (1888), 33.
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If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all.
…...
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If any spiritualistic medium can do stunts, there is no more need for special conditions than there is for a chemist to turn down lights, start operations with a hymn, and ask whether there's any chemical present that has affinity with something named Hydrogen.
Lo! (1932). In The Complete Books of Charles Fort (1975), 575.
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If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
In The Sense of Wonder (1956, 1998), 54.
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If I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education, I should say: “Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.”
[This is widely seen quoted in a paraphrased form: Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.]
In essay, 'Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal', collected in John Dewey and Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), The Early Works, 1882-1898: Volume 4: 1893-1894: Early Essays and The Study of Ethics (1967, 2008), 50.
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If it were possible for a metaphysician to be a golfer, he might perhaps occasionally notice that his ball, instead of moving forward in a vertical plane (like the generality of projectiles, such as brickbats and cricket balls), skewed away gradually to the right. If he did notice it, his methods would naturally lead him to content himself with his caddies’s remark-“ye heeled that yin,” or “Ye jist sliced it.” … But a scientific man is not to be put off with such flimsy verbiage as that. He must know more. What is “Heeling”, what is “slicing”, and why would either operation (if it could be thoroughly carried out) send a ball as if to cover point, thence to long slip, and finally behind back-stop? These, as Falstaff said, are “questions to be asked.”
In 'The Unwritten Chapter on Golf, Nature (1887), 36, 502.
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If one were to bring ten of the wisest men in the world together and ask them what was the most stupid thing in existence, they would not be able to discover anything so stupid as astrology.
Quoted in D MacHale, Comic Sections (1993)
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If the average man in the street were asked to name the benefits derived from sunshine, he would probably say “light and warmth” and there he would stop. But, if we analyse the matter a little more deeply, we will soon realize that sunshine is the one great source of all forms of life and activity on this old planet of ours. … [M]athematics underlies present-day civilization in much the same far-reaching manner as sunshine underlies all forms of life, and that we unconsciously share the benefits conferred by the mathematical achievements of the race just as we unconsciously enjoy the blessings of the sunshine.
From Address (25 Feb 1928) to National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Boston. Abstract published in 'Mathematics and Sunshine', The Mathematics Teacher (May 1928), 21, No. 5, 245.
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If there’s one thing in physics I feel more responsible for than any other, it’s this perception of how everything fits together. I like to think of myself as having a sense of judgment. I’m willing to go anywhere, talk to anybody, ask any question that will make headway. I confess to being an optimist about things, especially about someday being able to understand how things are put together. So many young people are forced to specialize in one line or another that a young person can’t afford to try and cover this waterfront — only an old fogy who can afford to make a fool of himself. If I don't, who will?
Stated during a 1983 interview. Quoted in Dennis Overbye, 'John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term Black Hole, Is Dead at 96', New York Times (14 Apr 2008).
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If to-day you ask a physicist what he has finally made out the æther or the electron to be, the answer will not be a description in terms of billiard balls or fly-wheels or anything concrete; he will point instead to a number of symbols and a set of mathematical equations which they satisfy. What do the symbols stand for? The mysterious reply is given that physics is indifferent to that; it has no means of probing beneath the symbolism. To understand the phenomena of the physical world it is necessary to know the equations which the symbols obey but not the nature of that which is being symbolised. …this newer outlook has modified the challenge from the material to the spiritual world.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 30.
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If we are ever in doubt what to do, it is a good rule to ask ourselves what we shall wish on the morrow that we had done.
The Pleasures of Life (1887, 2007), 21.
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If we take in our hand any Volume; of Divinity or School Metaphysics, for Instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract Reasoning concerning Quantity or Number? No. Does it contain any experimental Reasoning concerning Matter of Fact and Existence? No. Commit it then to the Flames: For it can contain nothing but Sophistry and Illusion.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 256.
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If you ask ... the man in the street ... the human significance of mathematics, the answer of the world will be, that mathematics has given mankind a metrical and computatory art essential to the effective conduct of daily life, that mathematics admits of countless applications in engineering and the natural sciences, and finally that mathematics is a most excellent instrumentality for giving mental discipline... [A mathematician will add] that mathematics is the exact science, the science of exact thought or of rigorous thinking.
Address (28 Mar 1912), Michigan School Masters' Club, Ann Arbor, 'The Humanization of the Teaching of Mathematics. Printed in Science (26 Apr 1912). Collected in The Human Worth of Rigorous Thinking: Essays and Addresses (1916), 65-66.
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If you ask a person, “What were you thinking?” you may get an answer that is richer and more revealing of the human condition than any stream of thoughts a novelist could invent. I try to see through people’s faces into their minds and listen through their words into their lives, and what I find there is beyond imagining.
…...
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If you ask mathematicians what they do, you always get the same answer. They think. They think about difficult and unusual problems. (They never think about ordinary problems—they just write down the answers.)
As translated from Russian in 'A byl li brak?', Literaturnaya Gazeta (5 Dec 1979), 49, 12, as quoted and cited in The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 1980), 87, No. 97, 696.
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If you ask me whether science has solved, or is likely to solve, the problem of this universe, I must shake my head in doubt. We have been talking of matter and force; but whence came matter, and whence came force? You remember the first Napoleon’s question, when the savans who accompanied him to Egypt discussed in his presence the problem of the universe, and solved it to their apparent satisfaction. He looked aloft to the starry heavens, and said—“It is all very well, gentlemen, but who made all these!” That question still remains unanswered, and science makes no attempt to answer it.
Lecture 'On Matter and Force', to nearly 3,000 working men, at the Dundee Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Sep 1867), reported in 'Dundee Meeting, 1867', Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science (Nov 1867)
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If you ask the fish whether they’d rather have an oil spill or a season of fishing, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d vote for another blowout.
As quoted by Mark Bittman in 'What's Worse Than an Oil Spill?', New York Times (20 Apr 2011), A23.
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If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is better in arithmetic, you or your mother?
From 'Arithmetic', Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960), 116.
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If you do not ask me what time is, I know it; if you ask me, I do not know.
Attributed as quoted by Locke, quoted in Alfred W. Benn, review of the book 'Metaphysik' by F. Erhardt, Mind (1894), 3, 547.
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If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.
Widely quoted without citation. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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If you know you're right, you don't care. You know that sooner or later, it will come out in the wash.
When asked about the long delay in recognition for her discovery.
Quoted in Thomson Gale (Online), 'Barbara McClintock', World of Biology. Also quoted in Claudia Wallis, 'Honoring a Modern Mendel', Time (24 Oct 1983), 43-4.
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In 1684 Dr Halley came to visit him at Cambridge, after they had been some time together, the Dr asked him what he thought the Curve would be that would be described by the Planets supposing the force of attraction towards the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it. Sr Isaac replied immediately that it would be an Ellipsis, the Doctor struck with joy & amazement asked him how he knew it, why saith he I have calculated it, whereupon Dr Halley asked him for his calculation without any farther delay. Sr Isaac looked among his papers but could not find it, but he promised him to renew it, & then to send it him.
[Recollecting Newton's account of the meeting after which Halley prompted Newton to write The Principia. When asking Newton this question, Halley was aware, without revealing it to Newton that Robert Hooke had made this hypothesis of plantary motion a decade earlier.]
Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 403.
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In 1768, some peasants, near Luce in France, heard a thunderclap and saw a large stone fall from the sky. Reports of this strange phenomenon reached the French Academy of Sciences. The Academy asked Lavoisier, the premier chemist, to investigate. Lavoisier knew that stones do not fall out of the sky; so, in his knowledgeable arrogance, he reported that the witnesses were either lying or mistaken. The academy did not accept the fact of meteorites until the following century.
In 'Forum: A Case of Spontaneous Human Combustion', New Scientist (15 May 1986), 70.
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In 1906 I indulged my temper by hurling invectives at Neo-Darwinians in the following terms. “I really do not wish to be abusive [to Neo-Darwinians]; but when I think of these poor little dullards, with their precarious hold of just that corner of evolution that a blackbeetle can understand—with their retinue of twopenny-halfpenny Torquemadas wallowing in the infamies of the vivisector’s laboratory, and solemnly offering us as epoch-making discoveries their demonstrations that dogs get weaker and die if you give them no food; that intense pain makes mice sweat; and that if you cut off a dog’s leg the three-legged dog will have a four-legged puppy, I ask myself what spell has fallen on intelligent and humane men that they allow themselves to be imposed on by this rabble of dolts, blackguards, imposters, quacks, liars, and, worst of all, credulous conscientious fools.”
In Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi
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In a recent newspaper interview I was asked what, above all, I associated with Socialism in this modern age. I answered that if there was one word I would use to identify modern Socialism it was “science.”
In The Relevance of British Socialism (1964), 41. See also Sir Alan Cottrell, Physics Bulletin (Mar 1976), 102.
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In an examination those who do not wish to know ask questions of those who cannot tell.
'Some Thoughts on Examinations', inLaughter from a Cloud (1923), 120.
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In assessing Audubon, whose firm grip on the popular imagination has scarcely lessened since 1826, we must as historians of science seriously ask who would remember him if he had not been an artist of great imagination and flair. ... The chances seem to be very poor that had he not been an artist, he would be an unlikely candidate for a dictionary of scientific biography, if remembered to science at all.
In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1972), Vol. 1, 331.
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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 1-2.
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In his wretched life of less than twenty-seven years Abel accomplished so much of the highest order that one of the leading mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century (Hermite, 1822-1901) could say without exaggeration, “Abel has left mathematicians enough to keep them busy for five hundred years.” Asked how he had done all this in the six or seven years of his working life, Abel replied, “By studying the masters, not the pupils.”
The Queen of the Sciences (1931, 1938), 10.
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In mathematics, if a pattern occurs, we can go on to ask, Why does it occur? What does it signify? And we can find answers to these questions. In fact, for every pattern that appears, a mathematician feels he ought to know why it appears.
in Prelude to mathematics (1955), 23.
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In my youth I often asked what could be the use and necessity of smelting by putting powdered charcoal at the bottom of the furnace. Nobody could give me any other reason except that the metal and especially lead, could bury itself in the charcoal and so be protected against the action of the bellows which would calcine or dissipate it. Nevertheless it is evident that this does not answer the question. I accordingly examined the operation of a metallurgical furnace and how it was used. In assaying some litharge [lead oxide], I noticed each time a little charcoal fell into the crucible, I always obtained a bit of lead … I do not think up to the present time foundry-men ever surmised that in the operation of founding with charcoal there was something [phlogiston] which became corporeally united with the metal.
Traité de Soufre (1766), 64. French translation published 1766, first published in German in 1718.
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In science, each of us knows that what he has accomplished will be antiquated in ten, twenty, fifty years. That is the fate to which science is subjected; it is the very meaning of scientific work, to which it is devoted in a quite specific sense, as compared with other spheres of culture for which in general the same holds. Every scientific “fulfilment” raises new “questions”; it asks to be “surpassed” and outdated. Whoever wishes to serve science has to resign himself to this fact. Scientific works certainly can last as “gratifications” because of their artistic quality, or they may remain important as a means of training. Yet they will be surpassed scientifically—let that be repeated—for it is our common fate and, more our common goal. We cannot work without hoping that others will advance further than we have. In principle, this progress goes on ad infinitum.
Max Weber
From a Speech (1918) presented at Munich University, published in 1919, and collected in 'Wissenschaft als Beruf', Gessammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (1922), 524-525. As given in H.H. Gerth and C. Wright-Mills (translators and eds.), 'Science as a Vocation', Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946), 138. A different translation of a shorter excerpt from this quote, beginning “[In] the realm of science, …” is also on the Max Weber Quotes web page on this site.
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In the 1860s, Pasteur not only applied his germ theory to create “Pasteurization,” rescuing France’s wine and vinegar industries, but also found both the cause and cure of silkworm disease, saving growers millions of dollars. When Napoleon asked the scientist why he had not legitimately profited by his findings, Pasteur replied: “In France scientists would consider they lowered themselves by doing so.”
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 190.
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In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast … “To physics and metaphysics.” Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy—truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and … the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind (as I was saying a moment ago) from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else. The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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In the context of biological research one can reasonably identify creativity with the capacity 1 to ask new and incisive questions, 2 to form new hypotheses, 3 to examine old questions in new ways or with new techniques, and 4 to perceive previously unnoticed relationships.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 231.
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In the course of the last century science has become so dizzy with its successes, that it has forgotten to ask the pertinent questions—or refused to ask them under the pretext that they are meaningless, and in any case not the scientists concern.
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), xi.
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In the early days of telephone engineering, the mere sending of a message was so much of a miracle that nobody asked how it should be sent.
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 4.
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In the fall of 1967, [I was invited] to a conference … on pulsars. … In my talk, I argued that we should consider the possibility that the center of a pulsar is a gravitationally completely collapsed object. I remarked that one couldn't keep saying “gravitationally completely collapsed object” over and over. One needed a shorter descriptive phrase. “How about black hole?” asked someone in the audience. I had been searching for the right term for months, mulling it over in bed, in the bathtub, in my car, whenever I had quiet moments. Suddenly this name seemed exactly right. When I gave a more formal Sigma Xi-Phi Beta Kappa lecture … on December 29, 1967, I used the term, and then included it in the written version of the lecture published in the spring of 1968. (As it turned out, a pulsar is powered by “merely” a neutron star, not a black hole.)
[Although John Wheeler is often identified as coining the term “black hole,” he in fact merely popularized the expression. In his own words, this is his explanation of the true origin: a suggestion from an unidentified person in a conference audience.]
In Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2000), 296-297.
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In the past, you wouldn’t have had any problem in getting a countryman to explain the difference between a blackbird and a song thrush, but you might have that difficulty with a kid now. Equally, if you asked a chap about gorillas in the 19th-century, he wouldn’t have heard of the creatures, but today an urban boy knows all about them.
Explaining how the success of nature documentaries may result in children who know more about gorillas than the wildlife in their own gardens. As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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In the performance of our duty one feeling should direct us; the case we should consider as our own, and we should ask ourselves, whether, placed under similar circumstances, we should choose to submit to the pain and danger we are about to inflict.
Quoted in Bransby Blake Cooper, The Life of Sir Astley Cooper (1843), Vol. 2, 207.
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It has just occurred to me to ask if you are familiar with Lissajous’ experiments. I know nothing about them except what I found in Flammarion’s great “Astronomie Populaire.” One extraordinary chapter on numbers gives diagrams of the vibrations of harmonics—showing their singular relation to the geometrical designs of crystal-formation;—and the chapter is aptly closed by the Pythagorian quotation: Ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς ὁ μέγας γεωμετρεῖ—“God geometrizes everywhere.” … I should imagine that the geometry of a fine opera would—were the vibrations outlined in similar fashion—offer a network of designs which for intricate beauty would double discount the arabesque of the Alhambra.
In letter to H.E. Krehbiel (1887), collected in Elizabeth Bisland The Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (1922), Vol. 14, 8.
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It is a natural inquiry to ask—To what most nearly are these new phenomena [the newly-born science of radioactivity and the spontaneous disintegration of elements] correlated? Is it possible to give, by the help of an analogy to familiar phenomena, any correct idea of the nature of this new phenomenon “Radioactivity”? The answer may surprise those who hold to the adage that there is nothing new under the sun. Frankly, it is not possible, because in these latest developments science has broken fundamentally new ground, and has delved one distinct step further down into the foundations of knowledge.
In The Interpretation of Radium: Being the Substance of Six Free Popular Lectures Delivered at the University of Glasgow (1909, 1912), 2. The original lectures of early 1908, were greatly edited, rearranged and supplemented by the author for the book form.
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It is one of the laws of life that each acquisition has its cost. No organism can exercise power without yielding up part of its substance. The physiological law of Transfer of Energy is the basis of human success and happiness. There is no action without expenditure of energy and if energy be not expended the power to generate it is lost. This law shows itself in a thousand ways in the life of man. The arm which is not used becomes palsied. The wealth which comes by chance weakens and destroys. The good which is unused turns to evil. The charity which asks no effort cannot relieve the misery she creates.
In The Strength of Being Clean: A Study of the Quest for Unearned Happiness (1900), 6.
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It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atom bomb, and then puts its hands over its eye and says, 'My God what have I done?
The Stalin in Soul (1973). Quoted in Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations (2005), 322.
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It is profitable nevertheless to permit ourselves to talk about 'meaningless' terms in the narrow sense if the preconditions to which all profitable operations are subject are so intuitive and so universally accepted as to form an almost unconscious part of the background of the public using the term. Physicists of the present day do constitute a homogenous public of this character; it is in the air that certain sorts of operation are valueless for achieving certain sorts of result. If one wants to know how many planets there are one counts them but does not ask a philosopher what is the perfect number.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950), 6.
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It is structure that we look for whenever we try to understand anything. All science is built upon this search; we investigate how the cell is built of reticular material, cytoplasm, chromosomes; how crystals aggregate; how atoms are fastened together; how electrons constitute a chemical bond between atoms. We like to understand, and to explain, observed facts in terms of structure. A chemist who understands why a diamond has certain properties, or why nylon or hemoglobin have other properties, because of the different ways their atoms are arranged, may ask questions that a geologist would not think of formulating, unless he had been similarly trained in this way of thinking about the world.
‘The Place of Chemistry In the Integration of the Sciences’, Main Currents in Modern Thought (1950), 7, 110.
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It may very properly be asked whether the attempt to define distinct species, of a more or less permanent nature, such as we are accustomed to deal with amongst the higher plants and animals, is not altogether illusory amongst such lowly organised forms of life as the bacteria. No biologist nowadays believes in the absolute fixity of species … but there are two circumstances which here render the problem of specificity even more difficult of solution. The bacteriologist is deprived of the test of mutual fertility or sterility, so valuable in determining specific limits amongst organisms in which sexual reproduction prevails. Further, the extreme rapidity with which generation succeeds generation amongst bacteria offers to the forces of variation and natural selection a field for their operation wholly unparalleled amongst higher forms of life.
'The Evolution of the Streptococci', The Lancet, 1906, 2, 1415-6.
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It never occurred to me that there was going to be any stumbling block. Not that I had the answer, but [I had] the joy of going at it. When you have that joy, you do the right experiments. You let the material tell you where to go, and it tells you at every step what the next has to be because you're integrating with an overall brand new pattern in mind.
When asked how she could have worked for two years without knowing the outcome.
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 125.
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It seems to me that there is a good deal of ballyhoo about scientific method. I venture to think that the people who talk most about it are the people who do least about it. Scientific method is what working scientists do, not what other people or even they themselves may say about it. No working scientist, when he plans an experiment in the laboratory, asks himself whether he is being properly scientific, nor is he interested in whatever method he may be using as method.
…...
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It was shortly after midday on December 12, 1901, [in a hut on the cliffs at St. John's, Newfoundland] that I placed a single earphone to my ear and started listening. The receiver on the table before me was very crude—a few coils and condensers and a coherer—no valves [vacuum tubes], no amplifiers, not even a crystal. I was at last on the point of putting the correctness of all my beliefs to test. ... [The] answer came at 12:30. ... Suddenly, about half past twelve there sounded the sharp click of the “tapper” ... Unmistakably, the three sharp clicks corresponding to three dots sounded in my ear. “Can you hear anything, Mr. Kemp?” I asked, handing the telephone to my assistant. Kemp heard the same thing as I. ... I knew then that I had been absolutely right in my calculations. The electric waves which were being sent out from Poldhu [Cornwall, England] had travelled the Atlantic, serenely ignoring the curvature of the earth which so many doubters considered a fatal obstacle. ... I knew that the day on which I should be able to send full messages without wires or cables across the Atlantic was not far distant.
Quoted in Degna Marconi, My Father, Marconi (2000), 93.
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It was the method which attracted me [to physics]—the experimental method, which was born with physics, and is now universal in science. It’s asking a question of nature, and listening for the answer from nature … the way in which you’re going about asking the question and detecting the answer. And in my view it’s this kind of method that attracts me.
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 197.
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It would be very discouraging if somewhere down the line you could ask a computer if the Riemann hypothesis is correct and it said, “Yes, it is true, but you won’t be able to understand the proof.”
As quoted in John Horgan, 'The Death of Proof', Scientific American (Oct 1993), 269, No. 4, 103.
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It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, the thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.
…...
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Its [science’s] effectiveness is almost inevitable because it narrows the possibility of refutation and failure. Science begins by saying it can only answer this type of question and ends by saying these are the only questions that can be asked. Once the implications and shallowness of this trick are fully realised, science will be humbled and we shall be free to celebrate ourselves once again.
From Understanding the Present: An Alternative History of Science (2004), 249.
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It’s the Heisenberg principle. Me asking the question changes the answer.
On caution collecting opinions from advisors to refine decision-making. As quoted in Michael Lewis, 'Obama’s Way', Vanity Fair (Oct 2012).
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I’ve been very involved in science literacy because it’s critically important in our world today. … As a public, we’re asked to vote on issues, we’re asked to accept explanations, we’re asked to figure out what to do with our own health care, and you can’t do that unless you have some level of science literacy. Science literacy isn’t about figuring out how to solve equations like E=MC˛. Rather, it’s about being able to read an article in the newspaper about the environment, about health care and figuring out how to vote on it. It’s about being able to prepare nutritious meals. It’s about being able to think your way through the day.
As quoted in 'Then & Now: Dr. Mae Jemison' (19 Jun 2005) on CNN web site.
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I’ve never made a discovery myself, unless by accident. If you write glibly, you fool people. When I first met Asimov, I asked him if he was a professor at Boston University. He said no and … asked me where I got my Ph.D. I said I didn’t have one and he looked startled. “You mean you’re in the same racket I am,” he said, “you just read books by the professors and rewrite them?” That’s really what I do.
Quoted in Sally Helgeson, 'Every Day', Bookletter (6 Dec 1976), 3, No. 8, 3. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 8-9.
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Knowing he [Bob Serber] was going to the [first atom bomb] test, I asked him how he planned to deal with the danger of rattlesnakes. He said, “I’ll take along a bottle of whiskey.” … I ended by asking, “What would you do about those possibilities [of what unknown phenomena might cause a nuclear explosion to propagate in the atmosphere]?” Bob replied, “Take a second bottle of whiskey.”
Edward Teller with Judith L. Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001), 211.
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Leibniz never married; he had considered it at the age of fifty; but the person he had in mind asked for time to reflect. This gave Leibniz time to reflect, too, and so he never married.
From the original French, “Leibnitz ne s'était point marié ; il y avait pensé ŕ l'âge de cinquante ans; mais la personne qu’il avait en vue voulut avoir le temps de faire ses réflexions. Cela donna ŕ Leibnitz le loisir de faire aussi les siennes, et il ne se maria point.” In 'Éloge de Leibniz' (1768), in Éloges de Fontenelle (1883), 132.
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Leo Szilard’s Ten Commandments:
1. Recognize the connections of things and the laws of conduct of men, so that you may know what you are doing.
2. Let your acts be directed towards a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end.
3. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world; lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of the creation.
4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.
5. Touch no dish, except that you are hungry.
6. Do not covet what you cannot have.
7. Do not lie without need.
8. Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love.
9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become.
10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever you are called.
Circulated by Mrs. Szilard in July 1964, in a letter to their friends (translated by Dr. Jacob Bronowski). As printed in Robert J. Levine, Ethics and Regulation of Clinical Research (1988), 431.
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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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Let us now declare the means whereby our understanding can rise to knowledge without fear of error. There are two such means: intuition and deduction. By intuition I mean not the varying testimony of the senses, nor the deductive judgment of imagination naturally extravagant, but the conception of an attentive mind so distinct and so clear that no doubt remains to it with regard to that which it comprehends; or, what amounts to the same thing, the self-evidencing conception of a sound and attentive mind, a conception which springs from the light of reason alone, and is more certain, because more simple, than deduction itself. …
It may perhaps be asked why to intuition we add this other mode of knowing, by deduction, that is to say, the process which, from something of which we have certain knowledge, draws consequences which necessarily follow therefrom. But we are obliged to admit this second step; for there are a great many things which, without being evident of themselves, nevertheless bear the marks of certainty if only they are deduced from true and incontestable principles by a continuous and uninterrupted movement of thought, with distinct intuition of each thing; just as we know that the last link of a long chain holds to the first, although we can not take in with one glance of the eye the intermediate links, provided that, after having run over them in succession, we can recall them all, each as being joined to its fellows, from the first up to the last. Thus we distinguish intuition from deduction, inasmuch as in the latter case there is conceived a certain progress or succession, while it is not so in the former; … whence it follows that primary propositions, derived immediately from principles, may be said to be known, according to the way we view them, now by intuition, now by deduction; although the principles themselves can be known only by intuition, the remote consequences only by deduction.
In Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Philosophy of Descartes. [Torrey] (1892), 64-65.
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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?
In 'The Evolution of Internal Medicine', Modern Medicine: Its Theory and Practice, (1907), Vol. 1, xvi.
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Look at life as an energy economy game. Each day, ask yourself, Are my energy expenditures (actions, reactions, thoughts, and feelings) productive or nonproductive? During the course of my day, have I accumulated more stress or more peace?
Doc Childre and Howard Martin
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Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
…...
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MESMERISM, n. Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a carriage and asked Incredulity to dinner.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  217.
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Microorganisms will give you anything you want if you know how to ask them.
as quoted by Koki Horikoshi, in his closing remarks atThe 5th Japan Science and Technology Corporation International Symposium:New Frontiers in Microbiology, 30-31 Jan 1997, Tokyo, Japan
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Most loss of life and property has been due to the collapse of antiquated and unsafe structures, mostly of brick and other masonry. ... There is progress of California toward building new construction according to earthquake-resistant design. We would have less reason to ask for earthquake prediction if this was universal.
From interview with Henry Spall, as in an abridged version of Earthquake Information Bulletin (Jan-Feb 1980), 12, No. 1, that was on the USGS website.
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Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine enquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was well, and bid us a cordial good night. These remarks were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around.
Scientific American (22 Dec 1877). Quoted in By John Henry Pepper, The Boy's Playbook of Science, Revised (1881), 251.
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My children have often asked me why I never received a Nobel Prize. I used to tell them it was because the Nobel committee couldn’t make up its mind which of my projects to recognize.
As quoted by Malcolm W. Browne, in '3 American Physicists Get Nobel for Landmark Work', New York Times (20 Oct 1988), B12. (Lederman was a co-winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physics.)
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My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. … “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference - asking good questions - made me become a scientist.
In letters column of New York Times (19 Jan 1988) from Donald Sheff, who quoted what his friend, Arthur Sackler, received in answer, upon asking Rabi why he became a scientist.
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Neither on my deathbed nor before will I ask myself such a question. Nature is not an engineer or a contractor, and I myself am a part of Nature.
responding to a question concerning what would determine the success or failure of his life, November 12, 1930, in Albert Einstein, the Human Side by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman (1979).
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Never ask me what I have said or what I have written; but if you will ask what my present opinions are, I will tell you.
As quoted by Drewry Ottley, 'The Life of John Hunter', in James Frederick Palmer (ed.), The Works of John Hunter (1835), Vol. 1, 48.
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Never, I believe, did a vessel leave England better provided, or fitted for the service she was destined to perform, and for the health and comfort of her crew, than the Beagle. If we did want any thing which could have been carried, it was our own fault; for all that was asked for, from the Dockyard, Victualling Department, Navy Board, or Admiralty, was granted.
In Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the Years 1826 and 1836 (1839), Vol. 2, 43.
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Newton could not admit that there was any difference between him and other men, except in the possession of such habits as … perseverance and vigilance. When he was asked how he made his discoveries, he answered, “by always thinking about them;” and at another time he declared that if he had done anything, it was due to nothing but industry and patient thought: “I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait till the first dawning opens gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
In History of the Inductive Sciences, Bk. 7, chap, 1, sect. 5.
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No aphorism is more frequently repeated in connection with field trials, than that we must ask Nature few questions, or, ideally, one question, at a time. The writer is convinced that this view is wholly mistaken. Nature, he suggests, will best respond to a logical and carefully thought out questionnaire; indeed, if we ask her a single question, she will often refuse to answer until some other topic has been discussed.
'The Arrangement of Field Experiments', The Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture, 1926, 33, 511.
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No history of civilization can be tolerably complete which does not give considerable space to the explanation of scientific progress. If we had any doubts about this, it would suffice to ask ourselves what constitutes the essential difference between our and earlier civilizations. Throughout the course of history, in every period, and in almost every country, we find a small number of saints, of great artists, of men of science. The saints of to-day are not necessarily more saintly than those of a thousand years ago; our artists are not necessarily greater than those of early Greece; they are more likely to be inferior; and of course, our men of science are not necessarily more intelligent than those of old; yet one thing is certain, their knowledge is at once more extensive and more accurate. The acquisition and systematization of positive knowledge is the only human activity which is truly cumulative and progressive. Our civilization is essentially different from earlier ones, because our knowledge of the world and of ourselves is deeper, more precise, and more certain, because we have gradually learned to disentangle the forces of nature, and because we have contrived, by strict obedience to their laws, to capture them and to divert them to the gratification of our own needs.
Introduction to the History of Science (1927), Vol. 1, 3-4.
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Nobody in the world of policy appears to be asking what is best for society, wild fish or farmed fish. And what sort of farmed fish, anyway? Were this question to be asked, and answered honestly, we might find that our interests lay in prioritizing wild fish and making their ecosystems more productive by leaving them alone enough of the time.
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat (2008), 313.
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Nonmathematical people sometimes ask me, “You know math, huh? Tell me something I’ve always wondered, What is infinity divided by infinity?” I can only reply, “The words you just uttered do not make sense. That was not a mathematical sentence. You spoke of ‘infinity’ as if it were a number. It’s not. You may as well ask, 'What is truth divided by beauty?’ I have no clue. I only know how to divide numbers. ‘Infinity,’ ‘truth,’ ‘beauty’—those are not numbers.”
From Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics (2003), 16.
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Not long ago the head of what should be a strictly scientific department in one of the major universities commented on the odd (and ominous) phenomenon that persons who can claim to be scientists on the basis of the technical training that won them the degree of Ph.D. are now found certifying the authenticity of the painted rag that is called the “Turin Shroud” or adducing “scientific” arguments to support hoaxes about the “paranormal” or an antiquated religiosity. “You can hire a scientist [sic],” he said, “to prove anything.” He did not adduce himself as proof of his generalization, but he did boast of his cleverness in confining his own research to areas in which the results would not perturb the Establishment or any vociferous gang of shyster-led fanatics. If such is indeed the status of science and scholarship in our darkling age, Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.
…...
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Nothing in our experience suggests the introduction of [complex numbers]. Indeed, if a mathematician is asked to justify his interest in complex numbers, he will point, with some indignation, to the many beautiful theorems in the theory of equations, of power series, and of analytic functions in general, which owe their origin to the introduction of complex numbers. The mathematician is not willing to give up his interest in these most beautiful accomplishments of his genius.
In 'The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,' Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics (Feb 1960), 13, No. 1 (February 1960). Collected in Eugene Paul Wigner, A.S. Wightman (ed.), Jagdish Mehra (ed.), The Collected Works of Eugene Paul Wigner (1955), Vol. 6, 537.
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Now I should like to ask you for an observation; since I possess no instruments, I must appeal to others.
As quoted in James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin, The Portable Renaissance Reader (1968), 600.
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Now it must be asked if we can comprehend why comets signify the death of magnates and coming wars, for writers of philosophy say so. The reason is not apparent, since vapor no more rises in a land where a pauper lives than where a rich man resides, whether he be king or someone else. Furthermore, it is evident that a comet has a natural cause not dependent on anything else; so it seems that it has no relation to someone’s death or to war. For if it be said that it does relate to war or someone’s death, either it does so as a cause or effect or sign.
De Cometis (On Comets) [before 1280], trans. Lynn Thorndike, from ed. Borgnet, IV, 499-508, quoted in Lynn Thorndike (ed.), Latin Treatises on Comets between 1238 and 1368 A.D. (1950), 75.
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Now, I must tell you of a strange experience which bore fruit in my later life. ... We had a cold [snap] drier that ever observed before. People walking in the snow left a luminous trail behind them and a snowball thrown against an obstacle gave a flare of light like a loaf of sugar hit with a knife. [As I stroked] MaÄŤak's back, [it became] a sheet of light and my hand produced a shower of sparks. ... My father ... remarked, this is nothing but electricity, the same thing you see on the trees in a storm. My mother seemed alarmed. Stop playing with the cat, she said, he might start a fire. I was thinking abstractly. Is nature a cat? If so, who strokes its back? It can only be God, I concluded. ...
I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvelous sight on my childish imagination. Day after day I asked myself what is electricity and found no answer. Eighty years have gone by since and I still ask the same question, unable to answer it.
Letter to Miss Pola Fotitch, 'A Story of Youth Told by Age' (1939). In John Ratzlaff, editor, Tesla Said (1984), 283-84. Cited in Marc J. Seifer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla (1998), 5.
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Occurrences that other men would have noted only with the most casual interest became for Whitney exciting opportunities to experiment. Once he became disturbed by a scientist's seemingly endless pursuit of irrelevant details in the course of an experiment, and criticized this as being as pointless as grabbing beans out of a pot, recording the numbers, and then analyzing the results. Later that day, after he had gone home, his simile began to intrigue him, and he asked himself whether it would really be pointless to count beans gathered in such a random manner. Another man might well have dismissed this as an idle fancy, but to Whitney an opportunity to conduct an experiment was not to be overlooked. Accordingly, he set a pot of beans beside his bed, and for several days each night before retiring he would take as many beans as he could grasp in one hand and make a note of how many were in the handful. After several days had passed he was intrigued to find that the results were not as unrewarding as he had expected. He found that each handful contained more beans than the one before, indicating that with practice he was learning to grasp more and more beans. “This might be called research in morphology, the science of animal structure,” he mused. “My hand was becoming webbed … so I said to myself: never label a real experiment useless, it may reveal something unthought of but worth knowing.”
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 358-359.
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Of the nucleosides from deoxyribonucleic acids, all that was known with any certainty [in the 1940s] was that they were 2-deoxy-­D-ribosides of the bases adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine and it was assumed that they were structurally analogous to the ribonucleosides. The chemistry of the nucleotides—the phosphates of the nucleosides—was in a correspondingly primitive state. It may well be asked why the chemistry of these groups of compounds was not further advanced, particularly since we recognize today that they occupy a central place in the history of the living cell. True, their full significance was for a long time unrecognized and emerged only slowly as biochemical research got into its stride but I think a more important reason is to be found in the physical properties of compounds of the nucleotide group. As water-soluble polar compounds with no proper melting points they were extremely difficult to handle by the classic techniques of organic chemistry, and were accordingly very discouraging substances to early workers. It is surely no accident that the major advances in the field have coincided with the appearance of new experimental techniques such as paper and ion-exchange chromatography, paper electrophoresis, and countercurrent distribution, peculiarly appropriate to the compounds of this group.
In 'Synthesis in the Study of Nucleotides', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1957. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964), 524.
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Oh these mathematicians make me tired! When you ask them to work out a sum they take a piece of paper, cover it with rows of A’s, B’s, and X's and Y’s … scatter a mess of flyspecks over them, and then give you an answer that’s all wrong!
Matthew Josephson, Edison (1959), 283.
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On one occasion committee members were asked by the chairman, who was also in charge of the project, to agree that a certain machine be run at a power which was ten percent lower than the design value. [Franz Eugen] Simon objected, arguing that “design value” should mean what it said. Thereupon the chairman remarked, “Professor Simon, don’t you see that we are not talking about science, but about engineering, which is an art.” Simon was persistent: “What would happen if the machine were run at full power?” “It might get too hot.” “But, Mr. Chairman,” came Simon’s rejoinder, “Can’t artists use thermometers?”
(1908). From N. Kurti, 'Franz Eugen Simon', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1958), 4, 247.
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On one occasion when [William] Smart found him engrossed with his fundamental theory, he asked Eddington how many people he thought would understand what he was writing—after a pause came the reply, 'Perhaps seven.'
A. V. Douglas, The Life of Arthur Stanley Eddington (1956), 110.
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On Sept 15th [1852] Mr Goulburn, Chancellor of the Exchequer, asked my opinion on the utility of Mr Babbage's calculating machine, and the propriety of spending further sums of money on it. I replied, entering fully into the matter, and giving my opinion that it was worthless.
In George Biddell Airy and Wilfrid Airy (ed.), Autobiography of Sir George Biddell Airy (1896), 152.
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On the appearance of anything new the mass of people ask: What is the use of it? And they are not wrong. For it is only through the use of anything that they can perceive its value.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 189.
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On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
In 'Difference Engine No. 1', Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), Chap. 5, 59.
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Once when lecturing to a class he [Lord Kelvin] used the word “mathematician,” and then interrupting himself asked his class: “Do you know what a mathematician is?” Stepping to the blackboard he wrote upon it:— [an integral expression equal to the square root of pi]
Then putting his finger on what he had written, he turned to his class and said: “A mathematician is one to whom that is as obvious as that twice two makes four is to you. Liouville was a mathematician.”
In Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), 1139.
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Once you ask the question, where is the Carbon-14, and where does it go, it’s like one, two, three, you have [radiocarbon] dating.
As quoted, without citation, in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 120.
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Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.
[Co-author with Charles Weingartner.]
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1971), 23.
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One can ask: “If I crystallize a virus to obtain a crystal consisting of the molecules that make up the virus, are those molecules lifeless or not?” … The properties of living organisms are those of aggregates of molecules. It’s very difficult to draw a line between molecules that are lifeless and molecules that are not lifeless.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 738.
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One day the zoo-keeper noticed that the orangutan was reading two books—the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species. In surprise, he asked the ape,“Why are you reading both those books?”
“Well,” said the orangutan, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper, or my keeper’s brother.”
Anonymous
In Jon Fripp, Michael Fripp and Deborah Fripp, Speaking of Science (2000), 27.
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One does not ask whether a scientific theory is true, but only whether it is convenient.
La Science et l'Hypothčse (1902) as quoted in Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Gale Research (1998)
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One naturally asks, what was the use of this great engine set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth? We have our answer in the fertile soil which spreads over the temperate regions of the globe. The glacier was God’s great plough.
In 'Ice-Period in America', Geological Sketches (1875), 99.
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One of his followers said to him, “O Perfect One, why do you do this thing? For though we find joy in it, we know not the celestial reason nor the correspondency of it.” And Sabbah answered: “I will tell you first what I do; I will tell you the reasons afterward.”
In 'The Perfect One'. The Century Magazine (Dec 1918), 95, No. 2, 320. Collected in Ironical Tales (1927), 17.
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One of the earliest questions asked by an intelligent child is: “What is this made of?” “What is that made of?” And the answer is generally more or less satisfactory. For example, if the question relates to butter, the reply may be, “From cream.” It may be explained, besides, that when cream is beaten up, or churned, the butter separates, leaving skim-milk behind. But the question has not been answered. The child may ask, “Was the butter in the milk before it was churned? or has it been made out of the milk by the churning?” Possibly the person to whom the question is addressed may know that the milk contained the butter in the state of fine globules, and that the process of churning breaks up the globules, and causes them to stick together. The original question has not really been answered; and indeed it is not an easy one to reply to. Precisely such questions suggested themselves to the people of old, and they led to many speculations.
Opening paragraph of Modern Chemistry (1900, rev. 1907), 1.
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One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
In The Sense of Wonder (1956, 2017), 59.
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Our confused wish finds expression in the confused question as to the nature of force and electricity. But the answer which we want is not really an answer to this question. It is not by finding out more and fresh relations and connections that it can be answered; but by removing the contradictions existing between those already known, and thus perhaps by reducing their number. When these painful contradictions are removed, the question as to the nature of force will not have been answered; but our minds, no longer vexed, will cease to ask illegitimate questions.
Principles of Mechanics (1899), 7-8.
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Our contemporary culture, primed by population growth and driven by technology, has created problems of environmental degradation that directly affect all of our senses: noise, odors and toxins which bring physical pain and suffering, and ugliness, barrenness, and homogeneity of experience which bring emotional and psychological suffering and emptiness. In short, we are jeopardizing our human qualities by pursuing technology as an end rather than a means. Too often we have failed to ask two necessary questions: First, what human purpose will a given technology or development serve? Second, what human and environmental effects will it have?
Report of the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution (7 Aug 1969). 'Environmental Quality: Summary and Discussion of Major Provisions', U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Legal Compilation, (Jan 1973), Water, Vol. 3, 1365. EPA website.
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Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We scientists who released this immense power have an overwhelming responsibility in this world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity’s destruction. … We need two hundred thousand dollars at once for a nation-wide campaign to let people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels. This appeal is sent to you only after long consideration of the immense crisis we face. … We ask your help at this fateful moment as a sign that we scientists do not stand alone.
In 'Atomic Education Urged by Einstein', New York Times (25 May 1946), 13. Extract from a telegram (24 May 1946) to “several hundred prominent Americans”, signed by Albert Einstein as Chairman, with other members, of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. It was also signed by the Federation of American Scientists.
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Pauli … asked me to tell him what was happening in America. I told him that Mrs. Wu is trying to measure whether parity is conserved. He answered me: “Mrs. Wu is wasting her time. I would bet you a large sum that parity is conserved.” When this letter came I already knew that parity is violated. I could have sent a telegram to Pauli that the bet was accepted. But I wrote him a letter. He said: “I could never let it out that this is possible. I am glad that we did not actually do the bet because I can risk to lose my reputation, but I cannot risk losing my capital.”
In Discussion after paper presented by Chien-Shiung Wu to the International Conference on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries, Erice, Sicily (27 Jul-4 Aug 1994), 'Parity Violation' collected in Harvey B. Newman, Thomas Ypsilantis (eds.), History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1996), 381.
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People ask me often [whether] the Nobel Prize [was] the thing you were aiming for all your life, and I say that would be crazy. Nobody would aim for a Nobel Prize because, if you didn’t get it, your whole life would be wasted. What we were aiming at was getting people well, and the satisfaction of that is much greater than any prize you can get.
Quoted in interview by Mary Ellen Avery (1997).
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People ask, “Is the science going to run ahead of the ethics?” I don't think that’s always the problem. I think it’s that the science runs ahead of the politics. Bioethics can alert people to something coming down the road, but it doesn't mean policy and politicians are going to pay attention. They tend to respond when there’s an immediate crisis. The job of the ethicist, in some ways, is to warn or be prophetic. You can yell loudly, but you can’t necessarily get everybody to leave the cinema, so to speak.
Interview by Karen Pallarito in The Scientist (Jan 2008), supplement, 74.
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People have wracked their brains for an explanation of benzene and how the celebrated man [Kekulé] managed to come up with the concept of the benzene theory. With regard to the last point especially, a friend of mine who is a farmer and has a lively interest in chemistry has asked me a question which I would like to share with you. My “agricultural friend” apparently believes he has traced the origins of the benzene theory. “Has Kekulé,” so ran the question, “once been a bee-keeper? You certainly know that bees too build hexagons; they know well that they can store the greatest amount of honey that way with the least amount of wax. I always liked it,” my agricultural friend went on, “When I received a new issue of the Berichte; admittedly, I don't read the articles, but I like the pictures very much. The patterns of benzene, naphthalene and especially anthracene are indeed wonderful. When I look at the pictures I always have to think of the honeycombs of my bee hives.”
A. W. Hofmann, after-dinner speech at Kekulé Benzolfest (Mar 1890). Trans. in W. H. Brock, O. Theodor Benfrey and Susanne Stark, 'Hofmann's Benzene Tree at the Kekulé Festivities', Journal of Chemical Education (1991), 68, 888.
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People think of the inventor as a screwball, but no one asks the inventor what he thinks of other people.
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 443.
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People think of the inventor as a screwball, but no one ever asks the inventor what he thinks of other people.
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Philosophy asks the simple question, What is it all about?
In 'Remarks: Analysis of Meaning', The Philosophical Review (Mar 1937), 46, No. 2, 178. Collected in Barbara MacKinnon, American Philosophy: A Historical Anthology (1985), 406.
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Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won a Nobel Prize for inventing a technique that permitted scientists to probe the structure of atoms and molecules in the 1930s, attributed his success to the way his mother used to greet him when he came home from school each day. “Did you ask any good questions today, Isaac?” she would say.
Thomas J. Peters, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties (1992).
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Professors have a tendency to think that independent, creative thinking cannot be done by non-science students, and that only advanced science majors have learned enough of the material to think critically about it. I believe this attitude is false. … [Ask] students to use their native intelligence to actually confront subtle scientific issues.
In Understanding the Universe: An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the Nature of Scientific Research (2013), ix.
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Psychiatrist: A man who asks you a lot of expensive questions your wife asks you for nothing.
Attributed.
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Random search for data on ... off-chance is hardly scientific. A questionnaire on 'Intellectual Immoralities' was circulated by a well-known institution. 'Intellectual Immorality No. 4' read: 'Generalizing beyond one's data'. [Wilder Dwight] Bancroft asked whether it would not be more correct to word question no. 4 'Not generalizing beyond one's data.'
From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist (1964), 279. In Henry Mintzberg, essay, 'Developing Theory About the Development of Theory,' in Ken G. Smith and Michael A. Hitt, Great Minds in Management: the Theory of Process Development (2005), 361.
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