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Who said: “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.”
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Attention Quotes (115 quotes)

Question: Explain how to determine the time of vibration of a given tuning-fork, and state what apparatus you would require for the purpose.
Answer: For this determination I should require an accurate watch beating seconds, and a sensitive ear. I mount the fork on a suitable stand, and then, as the second hand of my watch passes the figure 60 on the dial, I draw the bow neatly across one of its prongs. I wait. I listen intently. The throbbing air particles are receiving the pulsations; the beating prongs are giving up their original force; and slowly yet surely the sound dies away. Still I can hear it, but faintly and with close attention; and now only by pressing the bones of my head against its prongs. Finally the last trace disappears. I look at the time and leave the room, having determined the time of vibration of the common “pitch” fork. This process deteriorates the fork considerably, hence a different operation must be performed on a fork which is only lent.
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), 176-7, Question 4. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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[About Francis Baily] The history of the astronomy of the nineteenth century will be incomplete without a catalogue of his labours. He was one of the founders of the Astronomical Society, and his attention to its affairs was as accurate and minute as if it had been a firm of which he was the chief clerk, with expectation of being taken into partnership.
In Supplement to the Penny Cyclopaedia. Quoted in Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan, Memoir of Augustus De Morgan (1882), 46
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A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because some one expended effort on them.
In Philip Dorf, Liberty Hyde Bailey: An Informal Biography: a Pioneer Educator in Horticulture (1956), 83.
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All interpretations made by a scientist are hypotheses, and all hypotheses are tentative. They must forever be tested and they must be revised if found to be unsatisfactory. Hence, a change of mind in a scientist, and particularly in a great scientist, is not only not a sign of weakness but rather evidence for continuing attention to the respective problem and an ability to test the hypothesis again and again.
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 831.
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Anthropology is the study of human beings as creatures of society. It fastens its attention upon those physical characteristics and industrial techniques, those conventions and values, which distinguish one community from all others that belong to a different tradition.
In 'The Science of Custom', Patterns of Culture (1934, 2005), 1.
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Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
…...
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As a teenage fisherman, I watched and followed terns to find fish. Later I studied terns for my Ph.D. During those studies I came to see and love other seabirds. Albatrosses are the biggest, so they get your attention.
In 'Field Notes', National Geographic (Dec 2007).
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Besides accustoming the student to demand, complete proof, and to know when he has not obtained it, mathematical studies are of immense benefit to his education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellencies of mathematical discipline, that the mathematician is never satisfied with à peu près. He requires the exact truth. Hardly any of the non-mathematical sciences, except chemistry, has this advantage. One of the commonest modes of loose thought, and sources of error both in opinion and in practice, is to overlook the importance of quantities. Mathematicians and chemists are taught by the whole course of their studies, that the most fundamental difference of quality depends on some very slight difference in proportional quantity; and that from the qualities of the influencing elements, without careful attention to their quantities, false expectation would constantly be formed as to the very nature and essential character of the result produced.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611. [The French phrase, à peu près means “approximately”. —Webmaster]
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Biological disciplines tend to guide research into certain channels. One consequence is that disciplines are apt to become parochial, or at least to develop blind spots, for example, to treat some questions as “interesting” and to dismiss others as “uninteresting.” As a consequence, readily accessible but unworked areas of genuine biological interest often lie in plain sight but untouched within one discipline while being heavily worked in another. For example, historically insect physiologists have paid relatively little attention to the behavioral and physiological control of body temperature and its energetic and ecological consequences, whereas many students of the comparative physiology of terrestrial vertebrates have been virtually fixated on that topic. For the past 10 years, several of my students and I have exploited this situation by taking the standard questions and techniques from comparative vertebrate physiology and applying them to insects. It is surprising that this pattern of innovation is not more deliberately employed.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 233.
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But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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But nothing is more estimable than a physician who, having studied nature from his youth, knows the properties of the human body, the diseases which assail it, the remedies which will benefit it, exercises his art with caution, and pays equal attention to the rich and the poor.
A Philosophical Dictionary: from the French? (2nd Ed.,1824), Vol. 5, 239-240.
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But that which will excite the greatest astonishment by far, and which indeed especially moved me to call the attention of all astronomers and philosophers, is this: namely, that I have observed four planets, neither known nor observed by any one of the astronomers before my time, which have their orbits round a certain bright star [Jupiter], one of those previously known, like Venus or Mercury round the sun, and are sometimes in front of it, sometimes behind it, though they never depart from it beyond certain limits. All of which facts were discovered and observed a few days ago by the help of a telescope devised by me, through God’s grace first enlightening my mind.
In pamphlet, The Sidereal Messenger (1610), reprinted in The Sidereal Messenger of Galileo Galilei: And a Part of the Preface to the Preface to Kepler's Dioptrics Containing the Original Account of Galileo's Astronomical Discoveries (1880), 9.
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Curiosity is as much the parent of attention, as attention is of memory.
From Annotation to Essay 50, 'Of Studies', in Bacon’s Essays: With Annotations (1856), 446.
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Despite the recurrence of events in which the debris-basin system fails in its struggle to contain the falling mountains, people who live on the front line are for the most part calm and complacent. It appears that no amount of front-page or prime-time attention will ever prevent such people from masking out the problem.
The Control of Nature
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During this [book preparation] time attacks have not been wanting—we must always be prepared for them. If they grow out of a scientific soil, they cannot but be useful, by laying bare weak points and stimulating to their correction; but if they proceed from that soil, from which the lilies of innocence and the palms of conciliation should spring up, where, however, nothing but the marsh-trefoil of credulity and the poisonous water-hemlock of calumniation grow, they deserve no attention.
Carl Vogt
From Carl Vogt and James Hunt (ed.), Lectures on Man: His Place in Creation, and in the History of the Earth (1861), Author's Preface, 2-3.
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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Genius itself has been analyzed by the shrewdest observers into a higher capacity of attention. “Genius,” says Helvetius … “is nothing but a continued attention,” (une attention suivie). “Genius,” says Buffon, “is only a protracted patience,” (une longue patience). “In the exact sciences, at least,” says Cuvier, “it is the patience of a sound intellect, when invincible, which truly constitutes genius.” And Chesterfield has also observed, that “the power of applying an attention, steady and undissipated, to a single object, is the sure mark of a superior genius.”
In Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic (1860), Vol. 1, 179.
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How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics? ... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority. ... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 117-118.
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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 have turned my attention from technological progress to life, from the civilized to the wild.
In Autobiography of Values (1976), p. 358.
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I may finally call attention to the probability that the association of paternal and maternal chromosomes in pairs and their subsequent separation during the reducing division as indicated above may constitute the physical basis of the Mendelian law of heredity.
'On the Morphology of the Chromosome Group in Brachystola Magna', Biological Bulletin (1902), 4, 39.
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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 should like to draw attention to the inexhaustible variety of the problems and exercises which it [mathematics] furnishes; these may be graduated to precisely the amount of attainment which may be possessed, while yet retaining an interest and value. It seems to me that no other branch of study at all compares with mathematics in this. When we propose a deduction to a beginner we give him an exercise in many cases that would have been admired in the vigorous days of Greek geometry. Although grammatical exercises are well suited to insure the great benefits connected with the study of languages, yet these exercises seem to me stiff and artificial in comparison with the problems of mathematics. It is not absurd to maintain that Euclid and Apollonius would have regarded with interest many of the elegant deductions which are invented for the use of our students in geometry; but it seems scarcely conceivable that the great masters in any other line of study could condescend to give a moment’s attention to the elementary books of the beginner.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 10-11.
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I strongly oppose cloning, as do most Americans. We recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience. And while we must devote enormous energy to conquering disease, it is equally important that we pay attention to the moral concerns raised by the new frontier of human embryo stem cell research. Even the most noble ends do not justify any means.
'Address to the Nation on Stem Cell Research', (9 Aug 2001) in Public Papers Of The Presidents Of The United States, George W. Bush, 2001 (2004), Book 2, 955.
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I think that harping on [earthquake] prediction is something between a will-o'-the-wisp and a red herring. Attention is thereby diverted away from positive measures to eliminate earthquake risk.
From interview in the Earthquake Information Bulletin (Jul-Aug 1971), 3, No. 4, as abridged in article on USGS website.
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I will now direct the attention of scientists to a previously unnoticed cause which brings about the metamorphosis and decomposition phenomena which are usually called decay, putrefaction, rotting, fermentation and moldering. This cause is the ability possessed by a body engaged in decomposition or combination, i.e. in chemical action, to give rise in a body in contact with it the same ability to undergo the same change which it experiences itself.
Annalen der Pharmacie 1839, 30, 262. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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If I choose to impose individual blame for all past social ills, there will be no one left to like in some of the most fascinating periods of our history. For example ... if I place every Victorian anti-Semite beyond the pale of my attention, my compass of available music and literature will be pitifully small. Though I hold no shred of sympathy for active persecution, I cannot excoriate individuals who acquiesced passively in a standard societal judgment. Rail instead against the judgment, and try to understand what motivates men of decent will.
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If one be bird-witted, that is easily distracted and unable to keep his attention as long as he should, mathematics provides a remedy; for in them if the mind be caught away but a moment, the demonstration has to be commenced anew.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 6; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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If we imagine an observer to approach our planet from outer space, and, pushing aside the belts of red-brown clouds which obscure our atmosphere, to gaze for a whole day on the surface of the earth as it rotates beneath him, the feature, beyond all others most likely to arrest his attention would be the wedge-like outlines of the continents as they narrow away to the South.
The Face of the Earth (1904), Vol. 1, 1.
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If you want to find out anything from the theoretical physicists about the methods they use, I advise you to stick closely to one principle: don't listen to their words, fix your attention on their deeds. To him who is a discoverer in this field the products of his imagination appear so necessary and natural that he regards them, and would like to have them regarded by others, not as creations of thought but as given realities.
From 'On the Method of Theoretical Physics', in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 12.
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In Institutions of a lower grade [secondary schools], it [geology] receives far less attention than its merits deserve. Why should not a science, whose facts possess a thrilling interest; whose reasonings are admirably adapted for mental discipline, and often severely tax the strongest powers; and whose results are, many of them, as grand and ennobling as those of Astronomy itself; … why should not such a science be thought as essential in education as the kindred branches of Chemistry and Astronomy?
In 'Preface', Elementary Geology (1840, 1841), vi.
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In studying the fate of our forest king, we have thus far considered the action of purely natural causes only; but, unfortunately, man is in the woods, and waste and pure destruction are making rapid headway. If the importance of the forests were even vaguely understood, even from an economic standpoint, their preservation would call forth the most watchful attention of government
John Muir
In The Mountains of California (1894), 198.
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In the beginning of the year 1800 the illustrious professor conceived the idea of forming a long column by piling up, in succession, a disc of copper, a disc of zinc, and a disc of wet cloth, with scrupulous attention to not changing this order. What could be expected beforehand from such a combination? Well, I do not hesitate to say, this apparently inert mass, this bizarre assembly, this pile of so many couples of unequal metals separated by a little liquid is, in the singularity of effect, the most marvellous instrument which men have yet invented, the telescope and the steam engine not excepted.
In François Arago, 'Bloge for Volta' (1831), Oeuvres Completes de François Arago (1854), Vol. 1, 219-20.
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Invention is an Heroic thing, and plac'd above the reach of a low, and vulgar Genius. It requires an active, a bold, a nimble, a restless mind: a thousand difficulties must be contemn'd with which a mean heart would be broken: many attempts must be made to no purpose: much Treasure must sometimes be scatter'd without any return: much violence, and vigour of thoughts must attend it: some irregularities, and excesses must be granted it, that would hardly be pardon'd by the severe Rules of Prudence.
The History of the Royal Society (1667), 392.
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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It has been my misfortune never to have had any neighbours whose studies have led them towards the pursuit of natural knowledge; so that, for want of a companion to quicken my industry and sharpen my attention, I have made but slender progress in a kind of information to which I have been attached from my childhood.
In Letter to Thomas Pennant (4 Aug 1767), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 27.
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It is characteristic of the unlearned that they are forever proposing something which is old, and because it has recently come to their own attention, supposing it to be new.
Address at Holy Cross College (25 Jun 1919), collected in Have Faith In Massachusetts: A Collection of Speeches and Messages (1919, 2nd Ed.), 231. (This speech was not included in the period covered by the first edition.)
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It is said of Jacobi, that he attracted the particular attention and friendship of Böckh, the director of the philological seminary at Berlin, by the great talent he displayed for philology, and only at the end of two years’ study at the University, and after a severe mental struggle, was able to make his final choice in favor of mathematics.
In Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 661.
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It is sometimes well for a blatant error to draw attention to overmodest truths.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 89.
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It must happen that in some cases the author is not understood, or is very imperfectly understood; and the question is what is to be done. After giving a reasonable amount of attention to the passage, let the student pass on, reserving the obscurity for future efforts. … The natural tendency of solitary students, I believe, is not to hurry away prematurely from a hard passage, but to hang far too long over it; the just pride that does not like to acknowledge defeat, and the strong will that cannot endure to be thwarted, both urge to a continuance of effort even when success seems hopeless. It is only by experience we gain the conviction that when the mind is thoroughly fatigued it has neither the power to continue with advantage its course in .an assigned direction, nor elasticity to strike out a new path; but that, on the other hand, after being withdrawn for a time from the pursuit, it may return and gain the desired end.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 68.
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Lately, however, on abandoning the brindled and grey mosquitos and commencing similar work on a new, brown species, of which I have as yet obtained very few individuals, I succeeded in finding in two of them certain remarkable and suspicious cells containing pigment identical in appearance to that of the parasite of malaria. As these cells appear to me to be very worthy of attention … I think it would be advisable to place on record a brief description both of the cells and of the mosquitos.
In 'On Some Peculiar Pigmented Cells Found in Two Mosquitoes Fed on Malarial Blood', British Medical Journal (18 Dec 1897), 1786. Ross continued this study and identified how malaria was transmitted.
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Many people are shrinking from the future and from participation in the movement toward a new, expanded reality. And, like homesick travelers abroad, they are focusing their anxieties on home. The reasons are not far to seek. We are at a turning point in human history... We could turn our attention to the problems that going to the moon certainly will not solve ... But I think this would be fatal to our future... A society that no longer moves forward does not merely stagnate; it begins to die.
…...
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Mathematicians do not study objects, but the relations between objects; to them it is a matter of indifference if these objects are replaced by others, provided that the relations do not change. Matter does not engage their attention, they are interested in form alone.
In Science and Hypothesis (1901, 1907). Translated by W.J.G. from the original French, “Les mathématiciens n'étudient pas des objets, mais des relations entre les objets ; il leur est donc indifférent de remplacer ces objets par d'autres, pourvu que les relations ne changent pas. La matière ne leur importe pas, la forme seule les intéresse.”
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Mathematics … engages, it fructifies, it quickens, compels attention, is as circumspect as inventive, induces courage and self-confidence as well as modesty and submission to truth. It yields the essence and kernel of all things, is brief in form and overflows with its wealth of content. It discloses the depth and breadth of the law and spiritual element behind the surface of phenomena; it impels from point to point and carries within itself the incentive toward progress; it stimulates the artistic perception, good taste in judgment and execution, as well as the scientific comprehension of things.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 40. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 49.
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My final remark to young women and men going into experimental science is that they should pay little attention to the speculative physics ideas of my generation. After all, if my generation has any really good speculative ideas, we will be carrying these ideas out ourselves.
'Reflections on the Discovery of the Tau Lepton', Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1995). In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1991-1995 (1997), 193.
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Nature offers us a thousand simple pleasures—plays of light and color, fragrance in the air, the sun’s warmth on skin and muscle, the audible rhythm of life’s stir and push—for the price of merely paying attention. What joy! But how unwilling or unable many of us are to pay this price in an age when manufactured sources of stimulation and pleasure are everywhere at hand. For me, enjoying nature’s pleasures takes conscious choice, a choice to slow down to seed time or rock time, to still the clamoring ego, to set aside plans and busyness, and to simply to be present in my body, to offer myself up.
In Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose and Poetry (1991), 43.
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No occupation is more worthy of an intelligent and enlightened mind, than the study of Nature and natural objects; and whether we labour to investigate the structure and function of the human system, whether we direct our attention to the classification and habits of the animal kingdom, or prosecute our researches in the more pleasing and varied field of vegetable life, we shall constantly find some new object to attract our attention, some fresh beauties to excite our imagination, and some previously undiscovered source of gratification and delight.
In A Practical Treatise on the Cultivation of the Dahlia (1838), 1-2.
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None of the myriad scientific papers I’d read prepared me for the patience and diligence that go into scientific research. None had prepared me for the acute attention to minutiae that keeps science accurate, and scientific integrity intact. Or for the tedium. … I accepted the idea that finding out you don’t like something can be invaluable.
Recalling undergraduate junior year tropical biology program exploring Costa Rica’s forest jungles. In 'Concentration Crisis', Brown Alumni Magazine (Jul-Aug 2007)
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Objections … inspired Kronecker and others to attack Weierstrass’ “sequential” definition of irrationals. Nevertheless, right or wrong, Weierstrass and his school made the theory work. The most useful results they obtained have not yet been questioned, at least on the ground of their great utility in mathematical analysis and its implications, by any competent judge in his right mind. This does not mean that objections cannot be well taken: it merely calls attention to the fact that in mathematics, as in everything else, this earth is not yet to be confused with the Kingdom of Heaven, that perfection is a chimaera, and that, in the words of Crelle, we can only hope for closer and closer approximations to mathematical truth—whatever that may be, if anything—precisely as in the Weierstrassian theory of convergent sequences of rationals defining irrationals.
In Men of Mathematics (1937), 431-432.
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Of all the intellectual faculties, judgment is the last to arrive at maturity. The child should give its attention either to subjects where no error is possible at all, such as mathematics, or to those in which there is no particular danger in making a mistake, such as languages, natural science, history, and so on.
In Arthur Schopenhauer and T. Bailey (ed., trans.) Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer (1902), 67.
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One of the greatest experimental scientists of the time who was really doing something, William Harvey, said that what Bacon said science was, was the science that a lord-chancellor would do. He [Bacon] spoke of making observations, but omitted the vital factor of judgment about what to observe and what to pay attention to.
From address (1966) at the 14th Annual Convention of the National Science Teachers Association, New York City, printed in 'What is science?', The Physics Teacher (1969), 7, No. 6, 321.
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One rarely hears of the mathematical recitation as a preparation for public speaking. Yet mathematics shares with these studies [foreign languages, drawing and natural science] their advantages, and has another in a higher degree than either of them.
Most readers will agree that a prime requisite for healthful experience in public speaking is that the attention of the speaker and hearers alike be drawn wholly away from the speaker and concentrated upon the thought. In perhaps no other classroom is this so easy as in the mathematical, where the close reasoning, the rigorous demonstration, the tracing of necessary conclusions from given hypotheses, commands and secures the entire mental power of the student who is explaining, and of his classmates. In what other circumstances do students feel so instinctively that manner counts for so little and mind for so much? In what other circumstances, therefore, is a simple, unaffected, easy, graceful manner so naturally and so healthfully cultivated? Mannerisms that are mere affectation or the result of bad literary habit recede to the background and finally disappear, while those peculiarities that are the expression of personality and are inseparable from its activity continually develop, where the student frequently presents, to an audience of his intellectual peers, a connected train of reasoning. …
One would almost wish that our institutions of the science and art of public speaking would put over their doors the motto that Plato had over the entrance to his school of philosophy: “Let no one who is unacquainted with geometry enter here.”
In A Scrap-book of Elementary Mathematics: Notes, Recreations, Essays (1908), 210-211.
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One wonders whether the rare ability to be completely attentive to, and to profit by, Nature’s slightest deviation from the conduct expected of her is not the secret of the best research minds and one that explains why some men turn to most remarkably good advantage seemingly trivial accidents. Behind such attention lies an unremitting sensitivity.
In The Furtherance of Medical Research (1941), 98.
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Our attention will focus on the institutional context of technological innovation rather than … individual inventors, for the actual course of work that leads to the conception and use of technology always involves a group that has worked for a considerable period of time on the basic idea before success is achieved.
In The Social Context of Innovation: Bureaucrats, Families, and Heroes in the Early Industrial Revolution as Foreseen in Bacon’s New Atlantis (1982, 2003), 3.
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Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
In Walden (1854, 1906), 57.
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Paradox has been defined as “Truth standing on her head to get attention.”
In 'When Doctors Agree', The Paradoxes of Mr Pond (1937), 71.
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Problems in human engineering will receive during the coming years the same genius and attention which the nineteenth century gave to the more material forms of engineering.
We have laid good foundations for industrial prosperity, now we want to assure the happiness and growth of the workers through vocational education, vocational guidance, and wisely managed employment departments. A great field for industrial experimentation and statemanship is opening up.
Letter printed in Engineering Magazine (Jan 1917), cover. Quoted in an article by Meyer Bloomfield, 'Relation of Foremen to the Working Force', reproduced in Daniel Bloomfield, Selected Articles on Employment Management (1919), 301.
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Rachel Carson. Her very name evokes the beatific luminosity of the canonized. Yet Carson was not a saint, but better, a prophet—that rare soul who diverts our attention into the path of the oncoming truth.
In his Foreward to Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us (1950, 2003), xvi.
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Recurrences of like cases in which A is always connected with B, that is, like results under like circumstances, that is again, the essence of the connection of cause and effect, exist but in the abstraction which we perform for the purpose of mentally reproducing the facts. Let a fact become familiar, and we no longer require this putting into relief of its connecting marks, our attention is no longer attracted to the new and surprising, and we cease to speak of cause and effect.
In The Science of Mechanics (1893), 483.
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Red is the color in which the interior of the body is painted. If an operation be thought of as a painting in progress, and blood red the color on the brush, it must be suitably restrained and attract no undue attention; yet any insufficiency of it will increase the perishability of the canvas.
In 'Letter to a Young Surgeon II', Letters to a Young Doctor (1996), 47.
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Reflexion is careful and laborious thought, and watchful attention directed to the agreeable effect of one’s plan. Invention, on the other hand, is the solving of intricate problems and the discovery of new principles by means of brilliancy and versatility.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 2, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 14.
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Relations between authors and referees are, of course, almost always strained. Authors are convinced that the malicious stupidity of the referee is alone preventing them from laying their discoveries before an admiring world. Referees are convinced that authors are too arrogant and obtuse to recognize blatant fallacies in their own reasoning, even when these have been called to their attention with crystalline lucidity. All physicists know this, because all physicists are both authors and referees, but it does no good. The ability of one person to hold both views is an example of what Bohr called complementarity.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), 19-20.
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Running overtime is the one unforgivable error a lecturer can make. After fifty minutes (one microcentury as von Neumann used to say) everybody's attention will turn elsewhere.
In 'Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 197.
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SCience is about paying attention to tiny things, and that’s how you end up uncovering the fundamental laws of nature.
Brian Cox
As quoted in interview with Decca Aitkenhead, 'Prof Brian Cox: Being anti-expert – that’s the way back to the cave', The Guardian (2 Jul 2016)
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Science, then, is the attentive consideration of common experience; it is common knowledge extended and refined. Its validity is of the same order as that of ordinary perception; memory, and understanding. Its test is found, like theirs, in actual intuition, which sometimes consists in perception and sometimes in intent. The flight of science is merely longer from perception to perception, and its deduction more accurate of meaning from meaning and purpose from purpose. It generates in the mind, for each vulgar observation, a whole brood of suggestions, hypotheses, and inferences. The sciences bestow, as is right and fitting, infinite pains upon that experience which in their absence would drift by unchallenged or misunderstood. They take note, infer, and prophesy. They compare prophesy with event, and altogether they supply—so intent are they on reality—every imaginable background and extension for the present dream.
The Life of Reason, or the Phases of Human Progress (1954), 393.
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Several times every day I observed the portions of the polyp with a magnifying glass. On the 4th December, that is to say on the ninth day after having cut the polyp, I seemed in the morning to be able to perceive, on the edges of the anterior end of the second part (the part that had neither head nor arms), three little points arising from those edges. They immediately made me think of the horns that serve as the legs and arms of the polyp. Nevertheless I did not want to decide at once that these were actually arms that were beginning to grow. Throughout the next day I continually observed these points: this excited me extremely, and awaited with impatience the moment when I should know with certainty what they were. At last, on the following day, they were so big that there was no longer any room for doubt that they were actually arms growing at the anterior extremity of this second part. The next day two more arms started to grow out, and a few days later three more. The second part thus had eight of them, and they were all in a short time as long as those of the first part, that is to say as long as those the polyp possessed before it was cut. I then no longer found any difference between the second part and a polyp that had never been cut. I had remarked the same thing about the first part since the day after the operation. When I observed them with the magnifying glass with all the attention of which I was capable, each of the two appeared perceptibly to be a complete polyp, and they performed all the functions that were known to me: they extended, contracted, and walked.
Mémoires, pour servir à l'histoire d'un genre de polyps d'eau douce à bras en forme de cornes (1744), 7-16. Trans. John R. Baker, in Abraham Trembley of Geneva: Scientist and Philosopher 1710-1784 (1952), 32.
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Sir Mortimer Wheeler is perhaps the most distinguished archaeologist in Europe. But he owes the greatest of his achievements to the rare combination of two qualities: namely a scientific expertise in the technique of excavation which has always been marked by a meticulous attention to minute detail, and a gift of imaginative vision.
Book review of two books by Mortimer Wheeler, 'Achaeology From the Earth' and 'Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers', in Blackfriars (Jan 1955), 36, No. 418, 597-598.
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Society expresses its sympathy for the geniuses of the past to distract attention from the fact that it has no intention of being sympathetic to the geniuses of the present.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 4.
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Sooner or later for good or ill, a united mankind, equipped with science and power, will probably turn its attention to the other planets, not only for economic exploitation, but also as possible homes for man... The goal for the solar system would seem to be that it should become an interplanetary community of very diverse worlds... each contributing to the common experience its characteristic view of the universe. Through the pooling of this wealth of experience, through this “commonwealth of worlds,” new levels of mental and spiritual development should become possible, levels at present quite inconceivable to man.
…...
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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Sylvester was incapable of reading mathematics in a purely receptive way. Apparently a subject either fired in his brain a train of active and restless thought, or it would not retain his attention at all. To a man of such a temperament, it would have been peculiarly helpful to live in an atmosphere in which his human associations would have supplied the stimulus which he could not find in mere reading. The great modern work in the theory of functions and in allied disciplines, he never became acquainted with …
What would have been the effect if, in the prime of his powers, he had been surrounded by the influences which prevail in Berlin or in Gottingen? It may be confidently taken for granted that he would have done splendid work in those domains of analysis, which have furnished the laurels of the great mathematicians of Germany and France in the second half of the present century.
In Address delivered at a memorial meeting at the Johns Hopkins University (2 May 1897), published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Jun 1897), 303. Also in Johns Hopkins University Circulars, 16 (1897), 54.
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Technology can relieve the symptoms of a problem without affecting the underlying causes. Faith in technology as the ultimate solution to all problems can thus divert our attention from the most fundamental problem—the problem of growth in a finite system
et al., The Limits to Growth (1972).
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The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
In 'The Humanization of Teaching of Mathematics', Science, New Series, 35, 645-46.
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The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention, but nobody will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.
Quoted from his manuscript autobiography (cited as in the Franklin Library, Philadelphia), in James T. Lloyd, Lloyd's Steamboat Directory: And Disasters of the Western Waters (1856), 24.
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The difference between an ordinary mind and the mind of Newton consists principally in this, that the one is capable of a more continuous attention than the other,—that a Newton is able, without fatigue, to connect inference with inference in one long series towards a determinate end; while the man of inferior capacity is soon obliged to break or let full the thread which lie had begun to spin.
In Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic (1860), Vol. 1, 178.
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The examples which a beginner should choose for practice should be simple and should not contain very large numbers. The powers of the mind cannot be directed to two things at once; if the complexity of the numbers used requires all the student’s attention, he cannot observe the principle of the rule which he is following.
In Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1902), chap. 3.
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The fact that human life can be prolonged with fewer physical problems requires that we give increasing attention to improving the quality of life. As the poet Edwin Markham stated: “We are all fools until we know that in the common plan, nothing is worth the building if it does not build the man; why build these temples glorious, if man unbuilded goes?”
In 'Millenial Musings', Chemical & Engineering News (6 Dec 1999), 77, No. 49, 48.
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The first [quality] to be named must always be the power of attention, of giving one's whole mind to the patient without the interposition of anything of oneself. It sounds simple but only the very greatest doctors ever fully attain it. … The second thing to be striven for is intuition. This sounds an impossibility, for who can control that small quiet monitor? But intuition is only interference from experience stored and not actively recalled. … The last aptitude I shall mention that must be attained by the good physician is that of handling the sick man's mind.
In 'Art and Science in Medicine', The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 98.
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The following lesson is of great and important significance, worthy of committing to memory, namely, in arranging the composition of medications one should pay careful attention and direct one’s willpower, because many times antagonistic medicines become mixed in which are useless and inappropriate for their intended use.
As quoted in Fred Rosner, The Medical Legacy of Moses Maimonides (1998), 51.
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The framing of hypotheses is, for the enquirer after truth, not the end, but the beginning of his work. Each of his systems is invented, not that he may admire it and follow it into all its consistent consequences, but that he may make it the occasion of a course of active experiment and observation. And if the results of this process contradict his fundamental assumptions, however ingenious, however symmetrical, however elegant his system may be, he rejects it without hesitation. He allows no natural yearning for the offspring of his own mind to draw him aside from the higher duty of loyalty to his sovereign, Truth, to her he not only gives his affections and his wishes, but strenuous labour and scrupulous minuteness of attention.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 57.
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The function of ignoring, of inattention, is as vital a factor in mental progress as the function of attention itself.
In The Principles of Psychology (1918), Vol. 2, 371.
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The history of mathematics may be instructive as well as agreeable; it may not only remind us of what we have, but may also teach us to increase our store. Says De Morgan, “The early history of the mind of men with regards to mathematics leads us to point out our own errors; and in this respect it is well to pay attention to the history of mathematics.” It warns us against hasty conclusions; it points out the importance of a good notation upon the progress of the science; it discourages excessive specialization on the part of the investigator, by showing how apparently distinct branches have been found to possess unexpected connecting links; it saves the student from wasting time and energy upon problems which were, perhaps, solved long since; it discourages him from attacking an unsolved problem by the same method which has led other mathematicians to failure; it teaches that fortifications can be taken by other ways than by direct attack, that when repulsed from a direct assault it is well to reconnoiter and occupy the surrounding ground and to discover the secret paths by which the apparently unconquerable position can be taken.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 1-2.
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The Johns Hopkins University certifies that John Wentworth Doe does not know anything but Biochemistry. Please pay no attention to any pronouncements he may make on any other subject, particularly when he joins with others of his kind to save the world from something or other. However, he worked hard for this degree and is potentially a most valuable citizen. Please treat him kindly.
[An imaginary academic diploma reworded to give a more realistic view of the value of the training of scientists.]
'Our Splintered Learning and the Nature of Scientists', Science (15 Apr 1955), 121, 516.
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The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence) might well have thought that, at [Dayton C.] Miller's announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a “positive effect” [indicating that the speed of light is not independent from the motion of the observer, as Einstein's theory of relativity demands] in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller's results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong.
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958, 1998), 13. Miller had earlier presented his evidence against the validity of the relativity theory at the annual meeting, 28 Apr 1925, of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller believed he had, by a much-refined and improved repetition of the so-called Michelson-Morley experiment, shown that there is a definite and measurable motion of the earth through the ether. In 1955, a paper by R.S. Shankland, et al., in Rev. Modern Phys. (1955), 27, 167, concluded that statistical fluctuations and temperature effects in the data had simulated what Miller had taken to be he apparent ether drift.
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The metaphysical philosopher from his point of view recognizes mathematics as an instrument of education, which strengthens the power of attention, develops the sense of order and the faculty of construction, and enables the mind to grasp under the simple formulae the quantitative differences of physical phenomena.
In Dialogues of Plato (1897), Vol. 2, 78.
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The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
…...
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The one who stays in my mind as the ideal man of science is, not Huxley or Tyndall, Hooker or Lubbock, still less my friend, philosopher and guide Herbert Spencer, but Francis Galton, whom I used to observe and listen to—I regret to add, without the least reciprocity—with rapt attention. Even to-day. I can conjure up, from memory’s misty deep, that tall figure with its attitude of perfect physical and mental poise; the clean-shaven face, the thin, compressed mouth with its enigmatical smile; the long upper lip and firm chin, and, as if presiding over the whole personality of the man, the prominent dark eyebrows from beneath which gleamed, with penetrating humour, contemplative grey eyes. Fascinating to me was Francis Galton’s all-embracing but apparently impersonal beneficence. But, to a recent and enthusiastic convert to the scientific method, the most relevant of Galton’s many gifts was the unique contribution of three separate and distinct processes of the intellect; a continuous curiosity about, and rapid apprehension of individual facts, whether common or uncommon; the faculty for ingenious trains of reasoning; and, more admirable than either of these, because the talent was wholly beyond my reach, the capacity for correcting and verifying his own hypotheses, by the statistical handling of masses of data, whether collected by himself or supplied by other students of the problem.
In My Apprenticeship (1926), 134-135.
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The phosphorous smell which is developed when electricity (to speak the profane language) is passing from the points of a conductor into air, or when lightning happens to fall upon some terrestrial object, or when water is electrolysed, has been engaging my attention the last couple of years, and induced me to make many attempts at clearing up that mysterious phenomenon. Though baffled for a long time, at last, I think, I have succeeded so far as to have got the clue which will lead to the discovery of the true cause of the smell in question.
[His first reference to investigating ozone, for which he is remembered.]
Letter to Michael Faraday (4 Apr 1840), The Letters of Faraday and Schoenbein, 1836-1862 (1899), 73. This letter was communicated to the Royal Society on 7 May, and an abstract published in the Philosophical Magazine.
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The process of self-estrangement and its removal underlies all education. The mind must fix its attention upon what is alien to it and penetrate its disguise, making it become familiar. … Wonder is only the first stage of this estrangement. It must be followed by recognition.
In Psychologic Foundations of Education: An Attempt to Show the Genesis of the Higher Faculties of the Mind (1907), 289.
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The seeds of discoveries presented to us by chance will remain barren, if attention do not render them fruitful.
From the original French, “Les semences des découvertes présentées à tous par le hazard, sont stériles, si l’attention ne les séconde,” in De l'Homme, de ses Facultés Intellectuelles, et de son Éducation (1773), Tome 1, Discours 3, Chap. 3, 269. English version from Claude Adrien Helvétius and W. Hooper (trans.), 'On Man and his Education', A Treatise on Man, His Intellectual Faculties and His Education: A Posthumous Work of M. Helvetius (1777), Vol. 1, Essay 3, Chap. 3, 261.
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The situation with regard to insulin is particularly clear. In many parts of the world diabetic children still die from lack of this hormone. ... [T]hose of us who search for new biological facts and for new and better therapeutic weapons should appreciate that one of the central problems of the world is the more equitable distribution and use of the medical and nutritional advances which have already been established. The observations which I have recently made in parts of Africa and South America have brought this fact very forcible to my attention.
'Studies on Diabetes and Cirrhosis', Proceedings, American Philosophical Society (1952) 96, No. 1, 29.
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The student should read his author with the most sustained attention, in order to discover the meaning of every sentence. If the book is well written, it will endure and repay his close attention: the text ought to be fairly intelligible, even without illustrative examples. Often, far too often, a reader hurries over the text without any sincere and vigorous effort to understand it; and rushes to some example to clear up what ought not to have been obscure, if it had been adequately considered. The habit of scrupulously investigating the text seems to me important on several grounds. The close scrutiny of language is a very valuable exercise both for studious and practical life. In the higher departments of mathematics the habit is indispensable: in the long investigations which occur there it would be impossible to interpose illustrative examples at every stage, the student must therefore encounter and master, sentence by sentence, an extensive and complicated argument.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 67.
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The teacher can seldom afford to miss the questions: What is the unknown? What are the data? What is the condition? The student should consider the principal parts of the problem attentively, repeatedly, and from various sides.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 77
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The truly scientific mind is altogether unafraid of the new, and while having no mercy for ideas which have served their turn or shown their uselessness, it will not grudge to any unfamiliar conception its moment of full and friendly attention, hoping to expand rather than to minimize what small core of usefulness it may happen to contain.
In 'Observation and Experiment and Their Use in the Medical Sciences', British Medical Journal (1930), 2, 129-34. As cited in Edward J. Huth and T.J. Murray, Medicine in Quotations: Views of Health and Disease Through the Ages (2006), 357 and 512.
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The wise man should study the acquisition of science and riches as if he were not subject to sickness and death; but to the duties of religion he should attend as if death had seized him by the hair.
In Charles Wilkins (trans.) Fables and Proverbs from the Sanskrit: being the Hitopadesa (1885), 18.
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There is no royal road to learning. But it is equally an error to confine attention to technical processes, excluding consideration of general ideas. Here lies the road to pedantry.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 8.
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These expert men, technologists, engineers, or whatever name may best suit them, make up the indispensable General staff of the industrial system; and without their immediate and unremitting guidance and correction the industrial system will not work. It is a mechanically organized structure of technical processes designed, installed, and conducted by these production engineers. Without them and their constant attention the industrial equipment, the mechanical appliances of industry, will foot up to just so much junk.
Collected in 'The Captains of Finance and the Engineers', The Engineers and the Price System (1921), 69. Previously published in The Dial (1919).
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This law [of gravitation] has been called “the greatest generalization achieved by the human mind”. … I am interested not so much in the human mind as in the marvel of a nature which can obey such an elegant and simple law as this law of gravitation. Therefore our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found it all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 14.
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To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.
…...
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To connect the dinosaurs, creatures of interest to everyone but the veriest dullard, with a spectacular extra­terrestrial event like the deluge of meteors … seems a little like one of those plots that a clever publisher might concoct to guarantee enormous sales. All the Alvarez-Raup theories lack is some sex and the involvement of the Royal family and the whole world would be paying attention to them.
In The Canberra Times (20 May 1984).
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Upon the whole, Chymistry is as yet but an opening science, closely connected with the usefull and ornamental arts, and worthy the attention of the liberal mind. And it must always become more and more so: for though it is only of late, that it has been looked upon in that light, the great progress already made in Chymical knowledge, gives us a pleasant prospect of rich additions to it. The Science is now studied on solid and rational grounds. While our knowledge is imperfect, it is apt to run into error: but Experiment is the thread that will lead us out of the labyrinth.
In Alexander Law, Notes of Black's Lectures, vol. 3, 88. Cited in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography: Volumes 1-2 (1981), 181.
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Watson and I had been often discussing the problem, the ways you could go wrong solving problems of this sort, the techniques you have to use, and in particular, such rather curious things as you mustn’t pay too much attention to the all the experimental evidence, some of it may be wrong, for example.
From Transcript of BBC TV program, The Prizewinners (1962).
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We are told that “Mathematics is that study which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation.” I think no statement could have been made more opposite to the facts of the case; that mathematical analysis is constantly invoking the aid of new principles, new ideas, and new methods, not capable of being defined by any form of words, but springing direct from the inherent powers and activities of the human mind, and from continually renewed introspection of that inner world of thought of which the phenomena are as varied and require as close attention to discern as those of the outer physical world (to which the inner one in each individual man may, I think, be conceived to stand somewhat in the same relation of correspondence as a shadow to the object from which it is projected, or as the hollow palm of one hand to the closed fist which it grasps of the other), that it is unceasingly calling forth the faculties of observation and comparison, that one of its principal weapons is induction, that it has frequent recourse to experimental trial and verification, and that it affords a boundless scope for the exercise of the highest efforts of the imagination and invention.
In Presidential Address to British Association, Exeter British Association Report (1869), pp. 1-9, in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 654.
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We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.
From Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1841), Vol. 1, 1.
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What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
From 'Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World', quoted in Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest (1971), 40-41.
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What intellectual phenomenon can be older, or more oft repeated, than the story of a large research program that impaled itself upon a false central assumption accepted by all practitioners? Do we regard all people who worked within such traditions as dishonorable fools? What of the scientists who assumed that the continents were stable, that the hereditary material was protein, or that all other galaxies lay within the Milky Way? These false and abandoned efforts were pursued with passion by brilliant and honorable scientists. How many current efforts, now commanding millions of research dollars and the full attention of many of our best scientists, will later be exposed as full failures based on false premises?
…...
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What struck me most in England was the perception that only those works which have a practical tendency awake attention and command respect, while the purely scientific, which possess far greater merit are almost unknown. And yet the latter are the proper source from which the others flow. Practice alone can never lead to the discovery of a truth or a principle. In Germany it is quite the contrary. Here in the eyes of scientific men no value, or at least but a trifling one, is placed upon the practical results. The enrichment of science is alone considered worthy attention.
Letter to Michael Faraday (19 Dec 1844). In Bence Jones (ed.), The life and letters of Faraday (1870), Vol. 2, 188-189.
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When first I applied my mind to Mathematics I read straight away most of what is usually given by the mathematical writers, and I paid special attention to Arithmetic and Geometry because they were said to be the simplest and so to speak the way to all the rest. But in neither case did I then meet with authors who fully satisfied me. I did indeed learn in their works many propositions about numbers which I found on calculation to be true. As to figures, they in a sense exhibited to my eyes a great number of truths and drew conclusions from certain consequences. But they did not seem to make it sufficiently plain to the mind itself why these things are so, and how they discovered them. Consequently I was not surprised that many people, even of talent and scholarship, should, after glancing at these sciences, have either given them up as being empty and childish or, taking them to be very difficult and intricate, been deterred at the very outset from learning them. … But when I afterwards bethought myself how it could be that the earliest pioneers of Philosophy in bygone ages refused to admit to the study of wisdom any one who was not versed in Mathematics … I was confirmed in my suspicion that they had knowledge of a species of Mathematics very different from that which passes current in our time.
In Elizabeth S. Haldane (trans.) and G.R.T. Ross (trans.), 'Rules for the Direction of the Mind', The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911, 1973), Vol. 1, Rule 4, 11.
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While there is still much to learn and discover through space exploration, we also need to pay attention to our unexplored world here on earth. Our next big leap into the unknown can be every bit as exciting and bold as our pioneering work in space. It possesses the same “wow” factor: alien worlds, dazzling technological feats and the mystery of the unknown.
In 'Why Exploring the Ocean is Mankind’s Next Giant Leap', contributed to CNN 'Lightyears Blog' (13 Mar 2012)
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You may perceive something of the distinction which I think necessary to keep in view between art and science, between the artist and the man of knowledge, or the philosopher. The man of knowledge, the philosopher, is he who studies and acquires knowledge in order to improve his own mind; and with a desire of extending the department of knowledge to which he turns his attention, or to render it useful to the world, by discoveries, or by inventions, which may be the foundation of new arts, or of improvements in those already established. Excited by one or more of these motives, the philosopher employs himself in acquiring knowledge and in communicating it. The artist only executes and practises what the philosopher or man of invention has discovered or contrived, while the business of the trader is to retail the productions of the artist, exchange some of them for others, and transport them to distant places for that purpose.
From the first of a series of lectures on chemistry, collected in John Robison (ed.), Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry: Delivered in the University of Edinburgh (1807), Vol. 1, 3.
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[Benjamin Peirce's] lectures were not easy to follow. They were never carefully prepared. The work with which he rapidly covered the blackboard was very illegible, marred with frequent erasures, and not infrequent mistakes (he worked too fast for accuracy). He was always ready to digress from the straight path and explore some sidetrack that had suddenly attracted his attention, but which was likely to have led nowhere when the college bell announced the close of the hour and we filed out, leaving him abstractedly staring at his work, still with chalk and eraser in his hands, entirely oblivious of his departing class.
Writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, a former student of Peirce, in 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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[F. Werner, while a student in Princeton,] came to me and expressed his bewilderment with the fact that we make a rather narrow selection when choosing the data on which we test our theories. “How do we know that, if we made a theory which focuses its attention on phenomena we disregard and disregards some of the phenomena now commanding our attention, that we could not build another theory which has little in common with the present one but which, nevertheless, explains just as many phenomena as the present theory?” It has to be admitted that we have no definite evidence that there is no such theory.
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, 535.
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… the reasoning process [employed in mathematics] is not different from that of any other branch of knowledge, … but there is required, and in a great degree, that attention of mind which is in some part necessary for the acquisition of all knowledge, and in this branch is indispensably necessary. This must be given in its fullest intensity; … the other elements especially characteristic of a mathematical mind are quickness in perceiving logical sequence, love of order, methodical arrangement and harmony, distinctness of conception.
In Treatise on Infinitesimal Calculus (1868), Vol. 8, 6.
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“Science studies everything,” say the scientists. But, really, everything is too much. Everything is an infinite quantity of objects; it is impossible at one and the same time to study all. As a lantern cannot light up everything, but only lights up the place on which it is turned or the direction in which the man carrying it is walking, so also science cannot study everything, but inevitably only studies that to which its attention is directed. And as a lantern lights up most strongly the place nearest to it, and less and less strongly objects that are more and more remote from it, and does not at all light up those things its light does not reach, so also human science, of whatever kind, has always studied and still studies most carefully what seems most important to the investigators, less carefully what seems to them less important, and quite neglects the whole remaining infinite quantity of objects. ... But men of science to-day ... have formed for themselves a theory of “science for science's sake,” according to which science is to study not what mankind needs, but everything.
In 'Modern Science', Essays and Letters (1903), 223.
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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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