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Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
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Attempt Quotes (121 quotes)

230(231-1) ... is the greatest perfect number known at present, and probably the greatest that ever will be discovered; for; as they are merely curious without being useful, it is not likely that any person will attempt to find a number beyond it.
In An Elementary Investigation of the Theory of Numbers (1811), 43. The stated number, which evaluates as 2305843008139952128 was discovered by Euler in 1772 as the eighth known perfect number. It has 19 digits. By 2013, the 48th perfect number found had 34850340 digits.
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A conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors.
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A 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 neat and orderly laboratory is unlikely. It is, after all, so much a place of false starts and multiple attempts.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
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A premature attempt to explain something that thrills you will destroy your perceptivity rather than increase it, because your tendency will be to explain away rather than seek out.
Victor K. McElhenty, Insisting on the Impossible, 245.
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A vision of the whole of life!. Could any human undertaking be ... more grandiose? This attempt stands without rival as the most audacious enterprise in which the mind of man has ever engaged ... Here is man, surrounded by the vastness of a universe in which he is only a tiny and perhaps insignificant part—and he wants to understand it.
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Active conservation [of gorillas] involves simply going out into the forest, on foot, day after day after day, attempting to capture poachers, killing—regretfully—poacher dogs, which spread rabies within the park, and cutting down traps.
Interview at her camp in Rwanda (May 1985). As quoted in article from Times Wire Services, 'Naturalist Dian Fossey Slain at Camp in Rwanda: American Was Expert on Mountain Gorillas; Assailants Hunted', Los Angeles Times (29 Dec 1985). The newspaper states the interview was one of the last she gave, and the report said using “continuous anti-poaching surveillance…only her patrols adequately protected the apes.”
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All scientists must focus closely on limited targets. Whether or not one’s findings on a limited subject will have wide applicability depends to some extent on chance, but biologists of superior ability repeatedly focus on questions the answers to which either have wide ramifications or lead to new areas of investigation. One procedure that can be effective is to attempt both reduction and synthesis; that is, direct a question at a phenomenon on one integrative level, identify its mechanism at a simpler level, then extrapolate its consequences to a more complex level of integration.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 230-231,
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As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.
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Built up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, together with traces of a few other elements, yet of a complexity of structure that has hitherto resisted all attempts at complete analysis, protoplasm is at once the most enduring and the most easily destroyed of substances; its molecules are constantly breaking down to furnish the power for the manifestations of vital phenomena, and yet, through its remarkable property of assimilation, a power possessed by nothing else upon earth, it constantly builds up its substance anew from the surrounding medium.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 1.
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Catastrophe Theory is—quite likely—the first coherent attempt (since Aristotelian logic) to give a theory on analogy. When narrow-minded scientists object to Catastrophe Theory that it gives no more than analogies, or metaphors, they do not realise that they are stating the proper aim of Catastrophe Theory, which is to classify all possible types of analogous situations.
From 'La Théorie des catastrophes État présent et perspective', as quoted in Erick Christopher Zeeman, (ed.), Catastrophe Theory: Selected Papers, 1972-1977 (1977), 637, as cited in Martin Krampe (ed.), Classics of Semiotics (1987), 214.
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Clearly it is not reason that has failed. What has failed—as it has always failed—is the attempt to achieve certainty, to reach an absolute, to find the course of human events to a final end. ... It is not reason that has promised to eliminate risk in human undertakings; it is the emotional needs of men.
In The Quest For Identity (1958), 135.
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Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces the same effect as if you worked a love-story into the fifth proposition of Euclid.
By Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, fictional characters in The Sign of Four (1890), 6.
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Do not attempt to do a thing unless you are sure of yourself; but do not relinquish it simply because someone else is not sure of you.
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Do not do anything that anyone else can do readily.
In Alan R. Earls and Nasrin Rohani, Polaroid (2005), 16.
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Doubtless the reasoning faculty, the mind, is the leading and characteristic attribute of the human race. By the exercise of this, man arrives at the properties of the natural bodies. This is science, properly and emphatically so called. It is the science of pure mathematics; and in the high branches of this science lies the truly sublime of human acquisition. If any attainment deserves that epithet, it is the knowledge, which, from the mensuration of the minutest dust of the balance, proceeds on the rising scale of material bodies, everywhere weighing, everywhere measuring, everywhere detecting and explaining the laws of force and motion, penetrating into the secret principles which hold the universe of God together, and balancing worlds against worlds, and system against system. When we seek to accompany those who pursue studies at once so high, so vast, and so exact; when we arrive at the discoveries of Newton, which pour in day on the works of God, as if a second fiat had gone forth from his own mouth; when, further, we attempt to follow those who set out where Newton paused, making his goal their starting-place, and, proceeding with demonstration upon demonstration, and discovery upon discovery, bring new worlds and new systems of worlds within the limits of the known universe, failing to learn all only because all is infinite; however we may say of man, in admiration of his physical structure, that “in form and moving he is express and admirable,” it is here, and here without irreverence, we may exclaim, “In apprehension how like a god!” The study of the pure mathematics will of course not be extensively pursued in an institution, which, like this [Boston Mechanics’ Institute], has a direct practical tendency and aim. But it is still to be remembered, that pure mathematics lie at the foundation of mechanical philosophy, and that it is ignorance only which can speak or think of that sublime science as useless research or barren speculation.
In Works (1872), Vol. 1, 180.
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Endowed with two qualities, which seemed incompatible with each other, a volcanic imagination and a pertinacity of intellect which the most tedious numerical calculations could not daunt, Kepler conjectured that the movements of the celestial bodies must be connected together by simple laws, or, to use his own expression, by harmonic laws. These laws he undertook to discover. A thousand fruitless attempts, errors of calculation inseparable from a colossal undertaking, did not prevent him a single instant from advancing resolutely toward the goal of which he imagined he had obtained a glimpse. Twenty-two years were employed by him in this investigation, and still he was not weary of it! What, in reality, are twenty-two years of labor to him who is about to become the legislator of worlds; who shall inscribe his name in ineffaceable characters upon the frontispiece of an immortal code; who shall be able to exclaim in dithyrambic language, and without incurring the reproach of anyone, “The die is cast; I have written my book; it will be read either in the present age or by posterity, it matters not which; it may well await a reader, since God has waited six thousand years for an interpreter of his words.”
In 'Eulogy on Laplace', in Smithsonian Report for the year 1874 (1875), 131-132.
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Entropy theory is indeed a first attempt to deal with global form; but it has not been dealing with structure. All it says is that a large sum of elements may have properties not found in a smaller sample of them.
In Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (1974), 21.
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Ere long intelligence—transmitted without wires—will throb through the earth like a pulse through a living organism. The wonder is that, with the present state of knowledge and the experiences gained, no attempt is being made to disturb the electrostatic or magnetic condition of the earth, and transmit, if nothing else, intelligence.
Electrical Engineer (24 Jun 1892), 11, 609.
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Essentially only one thing in life interests us: our psychical constitution, the mechanism of which was and is wrapped in darkness. All human resources, art, religion, literature, philosophy and historical sciences, all of them join in bringing lights in this darkness. But man has still another powerful resource: natural science with its strictly objective methods. This science, as we all know, is making huge progress every day. The facts and considerations which I have placed before you at the end of my lecture are one out of numerous attempts to employ a consistent, purely scientific method of thinking in the study of the mechanism of the highest manifestations of life in the dog, the representative of the animal kingdom that is man's best friend.
'Physiology of Digestion', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1904). In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 134
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Few intellectual tyrannies can be more recalcitrant than the truths that everybody knows and nearly no one can defend with any decent data (for who needs proof of anything so obvious). And few intellectual activities can be more salutary than attempts to find out whether these rocks of ages might crumble at the slightest tap of an informational hammer.
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Geology is part of that remarkable dynamic process of the human mind which is generally called science and to which man is driven by an inquisitive urge. By noticing relationships in the results of his observations, he attempts to order and to explain the infinite variety of phenomena that at first sight may appear to be chaotic. In the history of civilization this type of progressive scientist has been characterized by Prometheus stealing the heavenly fire, by Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, by the Faustian ache for wisdom.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454.
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He who attempts to draw any conclusion whatever as to the nation's wealth or poverty from the mere fact of a favorable or unfavorable Balance of Trade, has not grasped the first fundamental principle of Political Economy.
As quoted by Richard Theodore Ely in 'Transfers of Economic Goods, Including, as Agents of Transfers, Money, Credit, and Banking', Political Economy, Political Science and Sociology: a Practical and Scientific Presentation of Social and Economic Subjects (1899), 485. Engel's statement is presented in quotation marks, but since the author, Ely, qualifies it with 'Dr. Ernst Engel, once made the following observation at a meeting of a "Seminary," of which the writer was a member at the time.' This suggests the quote is only given as a recollection, and not Engel's exact words.
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Human personality resembles a coral reef: a large hard/dead structure built and inhabited by tiny soft/live animals. The hard/dead part of our personality consists of habits, memories, and compulsions and will probably be explained someday by some sort of extended computer metaphor. The soft/live part of personality consists of moment-to-moment direct experience of being. This aspect of personality is familiar but somewhat ineffable and has eluded all attempts at physical explanation.
Quoted in article 'Nick Herbert', in Gale Cengage Learning, Contemporary Authors Online (2002).
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I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence–as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.
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I am trying to get the hang of this new fangled writing machine, but I am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first attempt I have ever made & yet I perceive I shall soon & easily acquire a fine facility in its use. … The machine has several virtues. I believe it will print faster than I can write. One may lean back in his chair & work it. It piles an awful stack of words on one page. It don't muss things or scatter ink blots around. Of course it saves paper.
Letter (9 Dec 1874). Quoted in B. Blivens, Jr., The Wonderful Writing Machine (1954), 61.
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I do not believe that a moral philosophy can ever be founded on a scientific basis. … The valuation of life and all its nobler expressions can only come out of the soul’s yearning toward its own destiny. Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulas must fail. Of that I am perfectly convinced.
In 'Science and God: A Dialogue', Forum and Century (June 1930), 83, 374. Einstein’s dialogue was with James Murphy and J.W.N. Sullivan. Excerpted in David E. Rowe and Robert J. Schulmann, Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (2007), 230. The book introduces this quote as Einstein’s reply when Murphy asked, in the authors’ words, “how far he thought modern science might be able to go toward establishing practical ideals of life on the ruins of religious ideals.”
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I hardly know of a great physical truth whose universal reception has not been preceded by an epoch in which the most estimable persons have maintained that the phenomena investigated were directly dependent on the Divine Will, and that the attempt to investigate them was not only futile but blasphemous. And there is a wonderful tenacity of life about this sort of opposition to physical science. Crushed and maimed in every battle, it yet seems never to be slain; and after a hundred defeats it is at this day as rampant, though happily not so mischievous, as in the time of Galileo.
In Address (10 Feb 1860) to weekly evening meeting, 'On Species and Races, and their Origin', Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution: Vol. III: 1858-1862 (1862), 199.
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I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late James Watt, who said ... that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This has so far been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country, and however much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which far exceeds riches.
From letter to Davies Gilbert, written a few months before Trevithick's last illness. Quoted in Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick: With an Account of his Inventions (1872), Vol. 2, 395-6.
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I have soared also above my pitch, attempting an Eagles flight with the wings of a Wrenne.
In 'To the Reader', The Optick Glass of Humors (1607), 10-11. This is quoted by William Henry Hudson: “As the proverb says, ‘You cannot fly like an Eagle with the wings of a wren.’” in Afoot in England (1909, 1922), 80.
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I respect Kirkpatrick both for his sponges and for his numinous nummulosphere. It is easy to dismiss a crazy theory with laughter that debars any attempt to understand a man’s motivation–and the nummulosphere is a crazy theory. I find that few men of imagination are not worth my attention. Their ideas may be wrong, even foolish, but their methods often repay a close study ... The different drummer often beats a fruitful tempo.
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I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaître first proposed this [Big Bang] theory. ... There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. .... It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago.
[Expressing his belief that the Big Bang is a myth devised to explain creation. He said he heard Lemaître (who was, at the time both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist) say in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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If there is a just God, how humanity would writhe in its attempt to justify its treatment of animals.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 334.
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If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must employ methods never before attempted.
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If we compare a mathematical problem with an immense rock, whose interior we wish to penetrate, then the work of the Greek mathematicians appears to us like that of a robust stonecutter, who, with indefatigable perseverance, attempts to demolish the rock gradually from the outside by means of hammer and chisel; but the modern mathematician resembles an expert miner, who first constructs a few passages through the rock and then explodes it with a single blast, bringing to light its inner treasures.
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 9. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 114. From the original German, “Vergleichen wir ein mathematisches Problem mit einem gewaltigen Felsen, in dessen Inneres wir eindringen wollen, so erscheint die Arbeit der griechischen Mathematiker uns als die eines rüstigen Steinhauers, der mit Hammer und Meissel in unermüdlicher Ausdauer den Felsen langsam von aussen her zu zerbröckeln beginnt; der moderne Mathematiker aber als ein trefflicher Minirer, der diesen Felsen zunächst mit wenigen Gängen durchzieht, von denen aus er dann den Felsblock mit einem gewaltigem Schlage zersprengt und die Schätze des Inneren zu Tage fördert.”
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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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In all disciplines in which there is systematic knowledge of things with principles, causes, or elements, it arises from a grasp of those: we think we have knowledge of a thing when we have found its primary causes and principles, and followed it back to its elements. Clearly, then, systematic knowledge of nature must start with an attempt to settle questions about principles.
Aristotle
In Physics Book 1, Chap 1, as translated in J.L. Ackrill, A New Aristotle Reader (1988), 81.
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In every case the awakening touch has been the mathematical spirit, the attempt to count, to measure, or to calculate. What to the poet or the seer may appear to be the very death of all his poetry and all his visions—the cold touch of the calculating mind,—this has proved to be the spell by which knowledge has been born, by which new sciences have been created, and hundreds of definite problems put before the minds and into the hands of diligent students. It is the geometrical figure, the dry algebraical formula, which transforms the vague reasoning of the philosopher into a tangible and manageable conception; which represents, though it does not fully describe, which corresponds to, though it does not explain, the things and processes of nature: this clothes the fruitful, but otherwise indefinite, ideas in such a form that the strict logical methods of thought can be applied, that the human mind can in its inner chamber evolve a train of reasoning the result of which corresponds to the phenomena of the outer world.
In A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1896), Vol. 1, 314.
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In order to translate a sentence from English into French two things are necessary. First, we must understand thoroughly the English sentence. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of expression peculiar to the French language. The situation is very similar when we attempt to express in mathematical symbols a condition proposed in words. First, we must understand thoroughly the condition. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of mathematical expression.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 174.
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In the case of a Christian clergyman, the tragic-comical is found in this: that the Christian religion demands love from the faithful, even love for the enemy. This demand, because it is indeed superhuman, he is unable to fulfill. Thus intolerance and hatred ring through the oily words of the clergyman. The love, which on the Christian side is the basis for the conciliatory attempt towards Judaism is the same as the love of a child for a cake. That means that it contains the hope that the object of the love will be eaten up.
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In the realm of science all attempts to find any evidence of supernatural beings, of metaphysical conceptions, as God, immortality, infinity, etc., thus far have failed, and if we are honest we must confess that in science there exists no God, no immortality, no soul or mind as distinct from the body.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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It has become accepted doctrine that we must attempt to study the whole man. Actually we cannot study even a whole tree or a whole guinea pig. But it is a whole tree and a whole guinea pig that have survived and evolved, and we must make the attempt.
Personality (1947), 5.
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory—if we look for confirmations. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions... A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or refute it.
Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963), 36.
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It is not therefore the business of philosophy, in our present situation in the universe, to attempt to take in at once, in one view, the whole scheme of nature; but to extend, with great care and circumspection, our knowledge, by just steps, from sensible things, as far as our observations or reasonings from them will carry us, in our enquiries concerning either the greater motions and operations of nature, or her more subtile and hidden works. In this way Sir Isaac Newton proceeded in his discoveries.
An Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries, in Four Books (1748), 19.
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It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
In Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 105. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 19.
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It is the constant attempt in this country [Canada] to make fundamental science responsive to the marketplace. Because technology needs science, it is tempting to require that scientific projects be justified in terms of the worth of the technology they can be expected to generate. The effect of applying this criterion is, however, to restrict science to developed fields where the links to technology are most evident. By continually looking for a short-term payoff we disqualify the sort of science that … attempts to answer fundamental questions, and, having answered them, suggests fundamentally new approaches in the realm of applications.
'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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It is the duty of every man of good will to strive steadfastly in his own little world to make this teaching of pure humanity a living force, so far as he can. If he makes an honest attempt in this direction without being crushed and trampled under foot by his contemporaries, he may consider himself and the community to which he belongs lucky.
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It must be gently but firmly pointed out that analogy is the very corner-stone of scientific method. A root-and-branch condemnation would invalidate any attempt to explain the unknown in terms of the known, and thus prune away every hypothesis.
In 'On Analogy', The Cambridge Magazine (2 Mar 1918), 476. As quoted in Robert Scott Root-Bernstein and Michèle Root-Bernstein, Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative (2001), 144.
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It troubles me that we are so easily pressured by purveyors of technology into permitting so-called “progress” to alter our lives without attempting to control it—as if technology were an irrepressible force of nature to which we must meekly submit.
Quoted in The American Land (1979). In Barbara K. Rodes and Rice Odell, A Dictionary of Environmental Quotations (1992), 274.
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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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Kepler’s principal goal was to explain the relationship between the existence of five planets (and their motions) and the five regular solids. It is customary to sneer at Kepler for this. … It is instructive to compare this with the current attempts to “explain” the zoology of elementary particles in terms of irreducible representations of Lie groups.
In Celestial Mechanics (1969), Vol. 1, 95.
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Kin Hubbard is dead. To us folks that attempt to write a little humor his death is just like Edison's would be to the world of invention. No man in our generation was within a mile of him, and I am so glad that I didn't wait for him to go to send flowers. I have said it from the stage and in print for twenty years. … Just think — only two lines a day, yet he expressed more original philosophy in ’em than all the rest of the paper combined. What a kick Twain and all that gang will get out of Kin.
In 'Will Rogers Pays Tribute To Hubbard and His Humor', The New York Times (27 Dec 1930), 15.
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Many people regard mathematicians as a race apart, possessed of almost supernatural powers. While this is very flattering for successful mathematicians, it is very bad for those who, for one reason or another, are attempting to learn the subject.
Opening paragraph in Chap. 1 of Mathematician's Delight (1943, 2012), 7.
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Mathematicians deal with possible worlds, with an infinite number of logically consistent systems. Observers explore the one particular world we inhabit. Between the two stands the theorist. He studies possible worlds but only those which are compatible with the information furnished by observers. In other words, theory attempts to segregate the minimum number of possible worlds which must include the actual world we inhabit. Then the observer, with new factual information, attempts to reduce the list further. And so it goes, observation and theory advancing together toward the common goal of science, knowledge of the structure and observation of the universe.
Lecture to Sigma Xi, 'The Problem of the Expanding Universe' (1941), printed in Sigma Xi Quarterly (1942), 30, 104-105. Reprinted in Smithsonian Institution Report of the Board of Regents (1943), 97, 123. As cited by Norriss S. Hetherington in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 63.
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Mathematics is the most exact science, and its conclusions are capable of absolute proof. But this is so only because mathematics does not attempt to draw absolute conclusions. All mathematical truths are relative, conditional.
(1923). Quoted, without source, in E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (1937), Vol. 1, li.
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Mathematics may be likened to a large rock whose interior composition we wish to examine. The older mathematicians appear as persevering stone cutters slowly attempting to demolish the rock from the outside with hammer and chisel. The later mathematicians resemble expert miners who seek vulnerable veins, drill into these strategic places, and then blast the rock apart with well placed internal charges.
From In Mathematical Circles (1969), 7.
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Mere instruction to memorise data is empty. The attempt to enforce conventional mediocrity on the young is criminal.
As quoted, without citation, in Ronald William Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell (1976), 423.
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Metaphysics: An attempt to prove the incredible by an appeal to the unintelligible.
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My mother, my dad and I left Cuba when I was two [January, 1959]. Castro had taken control by then, and life for many ordinary people had become very difficult. My dad had worked [as a personal bodyguard for the wife of Cuban president Batista], so he was a marked man. We moved to Miami, which is about as close to Cuba as you can get without being there. It’s a Cuba-centric society. I think a lot of Cubans moved to the US thinking everything would be perfect. Personally, I have to say that those early years were not particularly happy. A lot of people didn’t want us around, and I can remember seeing signs that said: “No children. No pets. No Cubans.” Things were not made easier by the fact that Dad had begun working for the US government. At the time he couldn’t really tell us what he was doing, because it was some sort of top-secret operation. He just said he wanted to fight against what was happening back at home. [Estefan’s father was one of the many Cuban exiles taking part in the ill-fated, anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow dictator Fidel Castro.] One night, Dad disappered. I think he was so worried about telling my mother he was going that he just left her a note. There were rumours something was happening back home, but we didn’t really know where Dad had gone. It was a scary time for many Cubans. A lot of men were involved—lots of families were left without sons and fathers. By the time we found out what my dad had been doing, the attempted coup had taken place, on April 17, 1961. Intitially he’d been training in Central America, but after the coup attempt he was captured and spent the next wo years as a political prisoner in Cuba. That was probably the worst time for my mother and me. Not knowing what was going to happen to Dad. I was only a kid, but I had worked out where my dad was. My mother was trying to keep it a secret, so she used to tell me Dad was on a farm. Of course, I thought that she didn’t know what had really happened to him, so I used to keep up the pretence that Dad really was working on a farm. We used to do this whole pretending thing every day, trying to protect each other. Those two years had a terrible effect on my mother. She was very nervous, just going from church to church. Always carrying her rosary beads, praying her little heart out. She had her religion, and I had my music. Music was in our family. My mother was a singer, and on my father’s side there was a violinist and a pianist. My grandmother was a poet.
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Nature has not arranged her productions on a single and direct line. They branch at every step, and in every direction, and he who attempts to reduce them into departments is left to do it by the lines of his own fancy.
In Letter (22 Feb 1814) to Dr. John Manners. Collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1905), Vol 13, 99.
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No scientist is admired for failing in the attempt to solve problems that lie beyond his competence. … Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them.
The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 7.
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On Tuesday evening at Museum, at a ball in the gardens. The night was chill, I dropped too suddenly from Differential Calculus into ladies’ society, and could not give myself freely to the change. After an hour’s attempt so to do, I returned, cursing the mode of life I was pursuing; next morning I had already shaken hands, however, with Diff. Calculus, and forgot the ladies….
From his diary for 10 Aug 1851, as quoted in J. Helen Gardner and Robin J. Wilson, 'Thomas Archer Hirst—Mathematician Xtravagant II: Student Days in Germany', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jun-Jul 1993), 6, No. 100, 534.
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Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.
From the original Spanish, “Sólo el que ensaya lo absurdo es capaz de conquistar lo imposible,” in Vida de D. Quijote y Sancho: Según Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Explicada y Comentada por Miguel de Unamuno (1905), 175-176. Translated by J.E. Crawford Flitch in Miguel de Unamuno: Essays and Soliloquies (1925), 104-105. This predates the quote attributed (without a known primary source) to M.C. Escher: “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.”
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Only the impossible is worth attempting. In everything else one is sure to fail.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 1.
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Owing to his lack of knowledge, the ordinary man cannot attempt to resolve conflicting theories of conflicting advice into a single organized structure. He is likely to assume the information available to him is on the order of what we might think of as a few pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle. If a given piece fails to fit, it is not because it is fraudulent; more likely the contradictions and inconsistencies within his information are due to his lack of understanding and to the fact that he possesses only a few pieces of the puzzle. Differing statements about the nature of things, differing medical philosophies, different diagnoses and treatments—all of these are to be collected eagerly and be made a part of the individual's collection of puzzle pieces. Ultimately, after many lifetimes, the pieces will fit together and the individual will attain clear and certain knowledge.
'Strategies of Resort to Curers in South India', contributed in Charles M. Leslie (ed.), Asian Medical Systems: A Comparative Study (1976), 185.
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Professor Sylvester’s first high class at the new university Johns Hopkins consisted of only one student, G. B. Halsted, who had persisted in urging Sylvester to lecture on the modem algebra. The attempt to lecture on this subject led him into new investigations in quantics.
In Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 264.
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Progress is made by trial and failure; the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes; yet they are usually left unchronicled. The reason is that the investigator feels that even though he has failed in achieving an expected result, some other more fortunate experimenter may succeed, and it is unwise to discourage his attempts.
From 'Radium and its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 110, No. 655, 52.
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Qualified scientists in Washington believe that the atom-blasting of Japan is the start toward heating plants the size of telephone booths for great factories, and motor-car trips of 1,000 hours on one gram of fuel. One expert estimated that with a few grams of uranium it might be possible to power the Queen Mary from Europe to the U.S. and back again. One of America’s leading scientists, Doctor Vollrath, said that the new discovery brings man’s attempt to reach the moon within bounds of possibility.
Newspaper
The Maple Leaf (8 Aug 1945), 4.
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Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics. … The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible. … I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s Algebra published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Religion closes off the central questions of existence by attempting to dissuade us from further enquiry by asserting that we cannot ever hope to comprehend. We are, religion asserts, simply too puny.
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
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Scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of Error is without some latent charm derived from Truth.
In 'Lecture 7', Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852), 101.
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Science attempts to find logic and simplicity in nature. Mathematics attempts to establish order and simplicity in human thought.
The Pursuit of Simplicity (1980), 17.
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Science can be the basis of an objective criticism of political power because it claims no power itself. Politics can afford the independence of science because science does not attempt to dictate its purposes.
In The Scientific Estate (1965), 191.
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Science is the attempt to discern the order that underlies the chaos of nature; art is the attempt to discern the order that underlies the chaos of man.
In The Strength To Dream: Literature and the Imagination (1961), 197.
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Science is the organised attempt of mankind to discover how things work as causal systems. The scientific attitude of mind is an interest in such questions. It can be contrasted with other attitudes, which have different interests; for instance the magical, which attempts to make things work not as material systems but as immaterial forces which can be controlled by spells; or the religious, which is interested in the world as revealing the nature of God.
In The Scientific Attitude (1941), Foreword, 9.
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Science offends the modesty of all real women. It makes them feel as though it were an attempt to peek under their skin—or, worse yet, under their dress and ornamentation!
Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 5, p. 95, eds. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Berlin, de Gruyter (1980). Beyond Good and Evil, 'Fourth Part: Maxims and Interludes,' section 127 (1886).
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Science tries to answer the question: ‘How?’ How do cells act in the body? How do you design an airplane that will fly faster than sound? How is a molecule of insulin constructed? Religion, by contrast, tries to answer the question: ‘Why?’ Why was man created? Why ought I to tell the truth? Why must there be sorrow or pain or death? Science attempts to analyze how things and people and animals behave; it has no concern whether this behavior is good or bad, is purposeful or not. But religion is precisely the quest for such answers: whether an act is right or wrong, good or bad, and why.
Science and Imagination, ch. 4, Basic Books (1967).
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Science, regarded as the pursuit of truth, which can only be attained by patient and unprejudiced investigation, wherein nothing is to be attempted, nothing so minute as to be justly disregarded, must ever afford occupation of consummate interest, and subject of elevated meditation.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 2-3.
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Scientists are attempting to come to God head-first. They must come to Him heart-first. Then let their heads interpret what they have found.
In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887), 144.
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Since an organism is inseparable from its environment, any person who attempts to understand an organism’s distribution must keep constantly in mind that the item being studied is neither a stuffed skin, a pickled specimen, nor a dot on a map. It is not even the live organism held in the hand, caged in a laboratory, or seen in the field. It is a complex interaction between a self-sustaining physicochemical system and the environment. An obvious corollary is that to know the organism it is necessary to know its environment.
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 83.
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Since religion intrinsically rejects empirical methods, there should never be any attempt to reconcile scientific theories with religion. [An infinitely old universe, always evolving may not be compatible with the Book of Genesis. However, religions such as Buddhism get along without having any explicit creation mythology and are in no way contradicted by a universe without a beginning or end.] Creatio ex nihilo, even as religious doctrine, only dates to around AD 200. The key is not to confuse myth and empirical results, or religion and science.
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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Taking … the mathematical faculty, probably fewer than one in a hundred really possess it, the great bulk of the population having no natural ability for the study, or feeling the slightest interest in it*. And if we attempt to measure the amount of variation in the faculty itself between a first-class mathematician and the ordinary run of people who find any kind of calculation confusing and altogether devoid of interest, it is probable that the former could not be estimated at less than a hundred times the latter, and perhaps a thousand times would more nearly measure the difference between them.
[* This is the estimate furnished me by two mathematical masters in one of our great public schools of the proportion of boys who have any special taste or capacity for mathematical studies. Many more, of course, can be drilled into a fair knowledge of elementary mathematics, but only this small proportion possess the natural faculty which renders it possible for them ever to rank high as mathematicians, to take any pleasure in it, or to do any original mathematical work.]
In Darwinism, chap. 15.
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The attempt of the engineers and the doctors who have worked on the design of the capsule interior has been to give the impression, to create the fact, of roominess in a confined space.
Describing the Mercury capsule in Life (14 Sep 1959), 38.
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The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 1.
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The average gambler will say “The player who stakes his whole fortune on a single play is a fool, and the science of mathematics can not prove him to be otherwise.” The reply is obvious: “The science of mathematics never attempts the impossible, it merely shows that other players are greater fools.”
Concluding remarks to his mathematical proof, with certain assumptions, that the best betting strategy for “Gambler’s Ruin” would be to always make his largest stake on his first play. In 'Gambler’s Ruin', Annals of Mathematics (Jul 1909), 2nd Series, 10, No. 4, 189. This is also seen, without primary source, quoted as “It is true that a man who does this is a fool. I have only proved that a man who does anything else is an even bigger fool,” in Harold Eves, Return to Mathematical Circles (1988), 39.
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The engineer is concerned to travel from the abstract to the concrete. He begins with an idea and ends with an object. He journeys from theory to practice. The scientist’s job is the precise opposite. He explores nature with his telescopes or microscopes, or much more sophisticated techniques, and feeds into a computer what he finds or sees in an attempt to define mathematically its significance and relationships. He travels from the real to the symbolic, from the concrete to the abstract. The scientist and the engineer are the mirror image of each other.
In The Development of Design (1981), 19-20.
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The first difficulty of all is the production of a lamp which shall be thoroughly reliable, and neither complicated nor expensive. All attempts up to the present lamp in this direction are acknowledged to be failures, and, as I have pointed out, there does not seem to be any novelty such as would authorize us to hope for a better success in the present one.
In 'A Scientific View of It: Prof. Henry Morton Not Sanguine About Edison’s Success', New York Times (28 Dec 1879), 1.
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The flights of the imagination which occur to the pure mathematician are in general so much better described in his formulas than in words, that it is not remarkable to find the subject treated by outsiders as something essentially cold and uninteresting— … the only successful attempt to invest mathematical reasoning with a halo of glory—that made in this section by Prof. Sylvester—is known to a comparative few, …
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1871), Nature Vol. 4, 271,
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The great horde of physicians are always servile imitators, who can neither perceive nor correct the faults of their system, and are always ready to growl at and even to worry the ingenious person that could attempt it. Thus was the system of Galen secured in the possession of the schools of physic.
In Lectures Introductory to the Practice of Physic, Collected in The Works of William Cullen: Containing his Physiology, Nosology, and first lines of the practice of physic (1827), Vol. 1, 386.
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The harmony of the universe knows only one musical form - the legato; while the symphony of number knows only its opposite - the staccato. All attempts to reconcile this discrepancy are based on the hope that an accelerated staccato may appear to our senses as a legato.
…...
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The history of civilization proves beyond doubt just how sterile the repeated attempts of metaphysics to guess at nature’s laws have been. Instead, there is every reason to believe that when the human intellect ignores reality and concentrates within, it can no longer explain the simplest inner workings of life’s machinery or of the world around us.
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), 2.
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The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. … It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.
In 'Decay of Lying', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 5.
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The most remarkable discovery made by scientists is science itself. The discovery must be compared in importance with the invention of cave-painting and of writing. Like these earlier human creations, science is an attempt to control our surroundings by entering into them and understanding them from inside. And like them, science has surely made a critical step in human development which cannot be reversed. We cannot conceive a future society without science.
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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The observer is not he who merely sees the thing which is before his eyes, but he who sees what parts the thing is composed of. To do this well is a rare talent. One person, from inattention, or attending only in the wrong place, overlooks half of what he sees; another sets down much more than he sees, confounding it with what he imagines, or with what he infers; another takes note of the kind of all the circumstances, but being inexpert in estimating their degree, leaves the quantity of each vague and uncertain; another sees indeed the whole, but makes such an awkward division of it into parts, throwing into one mass things which require to be separated, and separating others which might more conveniently be considered as one, that the result is much the same, sometimes even worse than if no analysis had been attempted at all.
In A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 216.
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The ruthless destruction of their forests by the Chinese is one of the reasons why famine and plague today hold this nation in their sinister grasp. Denudation, wherever practiced, leaves naked soil; floods and erosion follow, and when the soil is gone men must also go—and the process does not take long. The great plains of Eastern China were centuries ago transformed from forest into agricultural land. The mountain plateau of Central China have also within a few hundred years been utterly devastated of tree growth, and no attempt made at either natural or artificial reforestation. As a result, the water rushes off the naked slopes in veritable floods, gullying away the mountain sides, causing rivers to run muddy with yellow soil, and carrying enormous masses of fertile earth to the sea. Water courses have also changed; rivers become uncontrollable, and the water level of the country is lowered perceptibly. In consequence, the unfortunate people see their crops wither and die for lack of water when it is most needed.
Statement (11 May 1921) by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) concerning the famine in China in seven out of every ten years. Reported in 'Blames Deforestation: Department of Agriculture Ascribes Chinese Famine to it', New York Times (12 May 1921), 12.
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The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin's theory, like all other attempts, to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural. I believe he has not even made the best conjecture possible in the present state of our knowledge.
In Evolution and Permanence of Type (1874), 12.
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There is beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All illiterate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan, and the musician.
From address (1958), upon being appointed Chancellor of the University of California.
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There may be a golden ignorance. If Professor Bell had known how difficult a task he was attempting, he would never have given us the telephone.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 178.
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This is the reason why all attempts to obtain a deeper knowledge of the foundations of physics seem doomed to me unless the basic concepts are in accordance with general relativity from the beginning. This situation makes it difficult to use our empirical knowledge, however comprehensive, in looking for the fundamental concepts and relations of physics, and it forces us to apply free speculation to a much greater extent than is presently assumed by most physicists.
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Those who intend to practise Midwifery, ought first of all to make themselves masters of anatomy, and acquire a competent knowledge in surgery and physic; because of their connections with the obstetric art, if not always, at least in many cases. He ought to take the best opportunities he can find of being well instructed; and of practising under a master, before he attempts to deliver by himself. ... He should also embrace every occasion of being present at real labours, ... he will assist the poor as well as the rich, behaving always with charity and compassion.
In A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery (1766), 440-441.
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To keep pace with the growth of mathematics, one would have to read about fifteen papers a day, most of them packed with technical details and of considerable length. No one dreams of attempting this task.
In 'The Extent of Mathematics', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 11.
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Truth is something that we can attempt to doubt, and then perhaps, after much exertion, discover that part of the doubt is not justified.
Quoted in Bill Becker, 'Pioneer of the Atom', New York Times Sunday Magazine (20 Oct 1957), 52.
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Two years ago 1 tried to appeal to Rockefeller’s conscience about the absurd method of allocating grants, unfortunately without success. Bohr has now gone to see him, in an attempt to persuade him to take some action on behalf of the exiled German scientists.
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We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers… one saying to the other: “You don’t know what you are talking about!” The second one says: “What do you mean by know? What do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you?
In 'Motion', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 8-2.
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We inhabit a complex world. Some boundaries are sharp and permit clean and definite distinctions. But nature also includes continua that cannot be neatly parceled into two piles of unambiguous yeses and noes. Biologists have rejected, as fatally flawed in principle, all attempts by antiabortionists to define an unambiguous ‘beginning of life,’ because we know so well that the sequence from ovulation or spermatogenesis to birth is an unbreakable continuum–and surely no one will define masturbation as murder.
…...
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We live in an essential and unresolvable tension between our unity with nature and our dangerous uniqueness. Systems that attempt to place and make sense of us by focusing exclusively either on the uniqueness or the unity are doomed to failure. But we must not stop asking and questing because the answers are complex and ambiguous.
In 'Our Natural Place', Hen's Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1994, 2010), 250.
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We love to discover in the cosmos the geometrical forms that exist in the depths of our consciousness. The exactitude of the proportions of our monuments and the precision of our machines express a fundamental character of our mind. Geometry does not exist in the earthly world. It has originated in ourselves. The methods of nature are never so precise as those of man. We do not find in the universe the clearness and accuracy of our thought. We attempt, therefore, to abstract from the complexity of phenomena some simple systems whose components bear to one another certain relations susceptible of being described mathematically.
In Man the Unknown (1935), 8.
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We never attempted to decipher the meaning of life; we wanted only to testify to the miracle of life.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 39.
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Will fluorine ever have practical applications?
It is very difficult to answer this question. I may, however, say in all sincerity that I gave this subject little thought when I undertook my researches, and I believe that all the chemists whose attempts preceded mine gave it no more consideration.
A scientific research is a search after truth, and it is only after discovery that the question of applicability can be usefully considered.
Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1897). In Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to July 1897 (1898), 261.
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Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.
…...
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[Great scientists] are men of bold ideas, but highly critical of their own ideas: they try to find whether their ideas are right by trying first to find whether they are not perhaps wrong. They work with bold conjectures and severe attempts at refuting their own conjectures.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 118-119.
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[Jethro Tull] was the first Englishman—perhaps the first writer, ancient and modern—who has attempted, with any tolerable degree of success, to reduce the art of agriculture to certain and uniform principles; and it must be acknowledged that he has done more towards establishing a rational and practical method of husbandry than all the writers who have gone before him.
Anonymous
In Letter (18 Oct 1764), signed only “D.Y.” from Hungerford, in Sylvanus Urban (ed.), 'Observations on the late Improvements in Agriculture', The Gentleman’s Magazine (Nov 1764), 525.
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[Luis] Alvarez could no more refrain from invention than he could from breathing. In the midst of an illness so severe as to incapacitate him for most of a summer, he amused himself by attempting to build a better detector of gallstones.
In 'Luie's Gadgets: A Profile of Luis Alvarez', The American Scholar (Winter 1992), 61, No. 1, 90.
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[The Book of Genesis is] [p]rofoundly interesting and indeed pathetic to me are those attempts of the opening mind of man to appease its hunger for a Cause. But the Book of Genesis has no voice in scientific questions. It is a poem, not a scientific treatise. In the former aspect it is for ever beautiful; in the latter it has been, and it will continue to be, purely obstructive and hurtful.'
In 'Professor Virchow and Evolution', Fragments of Science (1879), Vol. 2, 377. Tyndall is quoting himself from “four years ago”&mdashthus c.1875.
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[The famous attack of Sir William Hamilton on the tendency of mathematical studies] affords the most express evidence of those fatal lacunae in the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to the human intellect, it is a thorough acquaintance with the modes by which human intellect has proceeded, in the case where, by universal acknowledgment, grounded on subsequent direct verification, it has succeeded in ascertaining the greatest number of important and recondite truths. This requisite Sir W. Hamilton had not, in any tolerable degree, fulfilled. Even of pure mathematics he apparently knew little but the rudiments. Of mathematics as applied to investigating the laws of physical nature; of the mode in which the properties of number, extension, and figure, are made instrumental to the ascertainment of truths other than arithmetical or geometrical—it is too much to say that he had even a superficial knowledge: there is not a line in his works which shows him to have had any knowledge at all.
In Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1878), 607.
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[The original development of the Spinning Mule was a] continual endeavour to realise a more perfect principle of spinning; and though often baffled, I as often renewed the attempt, and at length succeeded to my utmost desire, at the expense of every shilling I had in the world.
'Extract from a manuscript document circulated by Crompton about the year 1809 or 1810', reprinted in The Basis of Mr. Samuel Crompton’s Claims to a Second Remuneration for his Discovery of the Mule Spinning Machine, (1868), 29.
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[We should] abandon all attempts to construct perceptual models of atomic processes.
In Physics and Beyond (1971), 76.
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[Young] was afterwards accustomed to say, that at no period of his life was he particularly fond of repeating experiments, or even of very frequently attempting to originate new ones; considering that, however necessary to the advancement of science, they demanded a great sacrifice of time, and that when the fact was once established, that time was better employed in considering the purposes to which it might be applied, or the principles which it might tend to elucidate.
Hudson Gurney, Memoir of the Life of Thomas Young, M.D. F.R.S. (1831), 12-3.
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~~[Misattributed]~~ Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.
No known primary source exists for this quote in Escher’s works. It is likely misattributed from a quote by Miguel de Unamuno translated as, “Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.” See the Miguel de Unamuno Quotes page on this site.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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