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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Avoid Quotes (50 quotes)

Ein Fachmann ist ein Mann, der einige der gröbsten Fehler kennt, die man in dem betreffenden Fach machen kann, und der sie deshalb zu vermeiden versteht.
An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.
From the original German, “Ein Fachmann ist ein Mann, der einige der gröbsten Fehler kennt, die man in dem betreffenden Fach machen kann, und der sie deshalb zu vermeiden versteht”, in Der Teil und das Ganze: Gespräche im Umkreis der Atomphysik (The Part and the Whole: Conversations in the Atomic Physics) (1969, 2001), 247. Excerpt in magazine article, 'Kein Chaos, aus dem nicht wieder Ordnung würde,' Die Zeit (22 August 1969), 34. English version in Werner Heisenberg and Arnold J. Pomerans (trans.), Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971), 210.
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A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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A statistician is one who has learned how to get valid evidence from statistics and how (usually) to avoid being misled by irrelevant facts. It’s too bad that we apply the same name to this kind of person that we use for those who only tabulate. It’s as if we had the same name for barbers and brain surgeons because they both work on the head.
In How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (1983), 1.
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All government, in its essence, is organized exploitation, and in virtually all its existing forms it is the implacable enemy of every industrious and well-disposed man ... The typical politician is not only a rascal but also a jackass, so he greatly values the puerile notoriety and adulation that sensible men try to avoid.
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An author has always great difficulty in avoiding unnecessary and tedious detail on the one hand; while, on the other, he must notice such a number of facts as may convince a student, that he is not wandering in a wilderness of crude hypotheses or unsupported assumptions.
In A Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iii.
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But how is one to determine what is pleasing to God? ... Whatever is unpleasant to man is pleasant to God. The test is the natural instinct of man. If there arises within one’s dark recesses a hot desire to do this or that, then it is the paramount duty of a Christian to avoid doing this or that. And if, on the contrary, one cherishes an abhorrence of the business, then one must tackle it forthwith, all the time shouting ‘Hallelujah!’ A simple enough religion, surely–simple, satisfying and idiotic.
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Each species has evolved a special set of solutions to the general problems that all organisms must face. By the fact of its existence, a species demonstrates that its members are able to carry out adequately a series of general functions. … These general functions offer a framework within which one can integrate one’s view of biology and focus one’s research. Such a view helps one to avoid becoming lost in a morass of unstructured detail—even though the ways in which different species perform these functions may differ widely. A few obvious examples will suffice. Organisms must remain functionally integrated. They must obtain materials from their environments, and process and release energy from these materials. … They must differentiate and grow, and they must reproduce. By focusing one’s questions on one or another of these obligatory and universal capacities, one can ensure that one’s research will not be trivial and that it will have some chance of achieving broad general applicability.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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Equations are Expressions of Arithmetical Computation, and properly have no place in Geometry, except as far as Quantities truly Geometrical (that is, Lines, Surfaces, Solids, and Proportions) may be said to be some equal to others. Multiplications, Divisions, and such sort of Computations, are newly received into Geometry, and that unwarily, and contrary to the first Design of this Science. For whosoever considers the Construction of a Problem by a right Line and a Circle, found out by the first Geometricians, will easily perceive that Geometry was invented that we might expeditiously avoid, by drawing Lines, the Tediousness of Computation. Therefore these two Sciences ought not to be confounded. The Ancients did so industriously distinguish them from one another, that they never introduced Arithmetical Terms into Geometry. And the Moderns, by confounding both, have lost the Simplicity in which all the Elegance of Geometry consists. Wherefore that is Arithmetically more simple which is determined by the more simple Equation, but that is Geometrically more simple which is determined by the more simple drawing of Lines; and in Geometry, that ought to be reckoned best which is geometrically most simple.
In 'On the Linear Construction of Equations', Universal Arithmetic (1769), Vol. 2, 470.
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Eventually the process of aging, which is unlikely to be simple, should be understandable. Hopefully some of its processes can be slowed down or avoided. In fact, in the next century, we shall have to tackle the question of the preferred form of death.
(1986).
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Experience hobbles progress and leads to abandonment of difficult problems; it encourages the initiated to walk on the shady side of the street in the direction of experiences that have been pleasant. Youth without experience attacks the unsolved problems which maturer age with experience avoids, and from the labors of youth comes progress. Youth has dreams and visions, and will not be denied.
From speech 'In the Time of Henry Jacob Bigelow', given to the Boston Surgical Society, Medalist Meeting (6 Jun 1921). Printed in Journal of the Medical Association (1921), 77, 599.
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Geometrical axioms are neither synthetic a priori conclusions nor experimental facts. They are conventions: our choice, amongst all possible conventions, is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. ... In other words, axioms of geometry are only definitions in disguise.
That being so what ought one to think of this question: Is the Euclidean Geometry true?
The question is nonsense. One might as well ask whether the metric system is true and the old measures false; whether Cartesian co-ordinates are true and polar co-ordinates false.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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Humans are not by nature the fact-driven, rational beings we like to think we are. We get the facts wrong more often than we think we do. And we do so in predictable ways: we engage in wishful thinking. We embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject evidence that challenges them. Our minds tend to take shortcuts, which require some effort to avoid … [and] more often than most of us would imagine, the human mind operates in ways that defy logic.
As co-author with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (2007), 69.
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I believe that certain erroneous developments in particle theory ... are caused by a misconception by some physicists that it is possible to avoid philosophical arguments altogether. Starting with poor philosophy, they pose the wrong questions. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that good physics has at times been spoiled by poor philosophy.
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I confess that in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years...Ever since, I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.
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I have tried to avoid long numerical computations, thereby following Riemann’s postulate that proofs should be given through ideas and not voluminous computations.
In Report on Number Theory (1897). As given in epigraph, without citation, in Eberhard Zeidler and Juergen Quandt (trans.), Nonlinear Functional Analysis and its Applications: IV: Applications to Mathematical Physics (2013), 448.
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If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.
In 'The Ethics of Belief', Contemporary Review (Jan 1877), collected in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays: By the Late William Kingdon Clifford, F.R.S. (1886), 346.
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If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been afflicted by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction.
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967).
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If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself. Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted.
In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), 22.
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In a manner which matches the fortuity, if not the consequence, of Archimedes’ bath and Newton’s apple, the [3.6 million year old] fossil footprints were eventually noticed one evening in September 1976 by the paleontologist Andrew Hill, who fell while avoiding a ball of elephant dung hurled at him by the ecologist David Western.
Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man
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In Euclid each proposition stands by itself; its connection with others is never indicated; the leading ideas contained in its proof are not stated; general principles do not exist. In modern methods, on the other hand, the greatest importance is attached to the leading thoughts which pervade the whole; and general principles, which bring whole groups of theorems under one aspect, are given rather than separate propositions. The whole tendency is toward generalization. A straight line is considered as given in its entirety, extending both ways to infinity, while Euclid is very careful never to admit anything but finite quantities. The treatment of the infinite is in fact another fundamental difference between the two methods. Euclid avoids it, in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only thus is generality obtained.
In 'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition).
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In working out physical problems there should be, in the first place, no pretence of rigorous formalism. The physics will guide the physicist along somehow to useful and important results, by the constant union of physical and geometrical or analytical ideas. The practice of eliminating the physics by reducing a problem to a purely mathematical exercise should be avoided as much as possible. The physics should be carried on right through, to give life and reality to the problem, and to obtain the great assistance which the physics gives to the mathematics.
In Electromagnetic Theory (1892), Vol. 2, 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 now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.
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It is still true, even at the graduate level, that students study to avoid the consequences of not studying.
In 'B.F. Skinner Addresses Standing-Room-Only Crowd at Conference', Engineering Education News (Aug 1980), 7, No. 2, 3.
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It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which be long in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims.
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Natural historians tend to avoid tendentious preaching in this philosophical mode (although I often fall victim to such temptations in these essays). Our favored style of doubting is empirical: if I wish to question your proposed generality, I will search for a counterexample in flesh and blood. Such counterexamples exist in abundance, for the form a staple in a standard genre of writing in natural history–the “wonderment of oddity” or “strange ways of the beaver” tradition.
In 'Reversing Established Orders', Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (2011), 394.
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Noitaton Hsilop esrever diova!
In Michael Stueben Twenty Years Before the Blackboard, (1998), 131. The sentence is written backwards from “Avoid reverse Polish notation!” [Note the E. Kim Nebeuts is probably a pen name since, also reversed, it reads Mike Stueben. —Webmaster]
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One of the endearing things about mathematicians is the extent to which they will go to avoid doing any real work.
As quoted, without citation, in Howard W. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, (1988), 156.
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People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.
Carl Jung
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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Reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but ... hypotheses may not.
Lönnrot to Treviranus in 'Death and the Compass', trans. from the Spanish (1956) by Anthony Kerrigan, collected in Ficciones (1962), 130.
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Science is not about building a body of known “facts”. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes us feel good.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 90.
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Science is not the enemy of humanity but one of the deepest expressions of the human desire to realize that vision of infinite knowledge. Science shows us that the visible world is neither matter nor spirit; the visible world is the invisible organization of energy.
The Cosmic Code (1982), 348.
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Since the examination of consistency is a task that cannot be avoided, it appears necessary to axiomatize logic itself and to prove that number theory and set theory are only parts of logic. This method was prepared long ago (not least by Frege’s profound investigations); it has been most successfully explained by the acute mathematician and logician Russell. One could regard the completion of this magnificent Russellian enterprise of the axiomatization of logic as the crowning achievement of the work of axiomatization as a whole.
Address (11 Sep 1917), 'Axiomatisches Denken' delivered before the Swiss Mathematical Society in Zürich. Translated by Ewald as 'Axiomatic Thought', (1918), in William Bragg Ewald, From Kant to Hilbert (1996), Vol. 2, 1113.
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The arithmetization of mathematics … which began with Weierstrass … had for its object the separation of purely mathematical concepts, such as number and correspondence and aggregate, from intuitional ideas, which mathematics had acquired from long association with geometry and mechanics. These latter, in the opinion of the formalists, are so firmly entrenched in mathematical thought that in spite of the most careful circumspection in the choice of words, the meaning concealed behind these words, may influence our reasoning. For the trouble with human words is that they possess content, whereas the purpose of mathematics is to construct pure thought. But how can we avoid the use of human language? The … symbol. Only by using a symbolic language not yet usurped by those vague ideas of space, time, continuity which have their origin in intuition and tend to obscure pure reason—only thus may we hope to build mathematics on the solid foundation of logic.
In Tobias Dantzig and Joseph Mazur (ed.), Number: The Language of Science (1930, ed. by Joseph Mazur 2007), 99.
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The aim of poetry is to give a high and voluptuous plausibility to what is palpably not true. I offer the Twenty-third Psalm as an example: ‘The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.’ It is immensely esteemed by the inmates of almshouses, and by gentlemen waiting to be hanged. I have to limit my own reading of it, avoiding soft and yielding moods, for I too, in my way, am a gentleman waiting to be hanged, as you are.
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The canyon country does not always inspire love. To many it appears barren, hostile, repellent—a fearsome, mostly waterless land of rock and heat, sand dunes and quicksand. cactus, thornbush, scorpion, rattlesnake, and agoraphobic distances. To those who see our land in that manner, the best reply is, yes, you are right, it is a dangerous and terrible place. Enter at your own risk. Carry water. Avoid the noon-day sun. Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently.
The Journey Home
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The competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids clever tricks like the plague.
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The contributions of physiological knowledge to an understanding of distribution are necessarily inferential. Distribution is a historical phenomenon, and the data ordinarily obtained by students of physiology are essentially instantaneous. However, every organism has a line of ancestors which extends back to the beginning of life on earth and which, during this immensity of time, has invariably been able to avoid, to adapt to, or to compensate for environmental changes.
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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The errors of definitions multiply themselves according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see but cannot avoid, without reckoning anew from the beginning.
In Thomas Hobbes and William Molesworth (ed.) Leviathan: Or the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil (1839), Vol. 3, 24.
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The footsteps of Nature are to be trac'd, not only in her ordinary course, but when she seems to be put to her shifts, to make many doublings and turnings, and to use some kind of art in endeavouring to avoid our discovery.
Micrographia (1665, reprint 2008), 17.
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The most remarkable feature about the magnitude scale was that it worked at all and that it could be extended on a worldwide basis. It was originally envisaged as a rather rough-and-ready procedure by which we could grade earthquakes. We would have been happy if we could have assigned just three categories, large, medium, and small; the point is, we wanted to avoid personal judgments. It actually turned out to be quite a finely tuned scale.
From interview with Henry Spall, as in an abridged version of Earthquake Information Bulletin (Jan-Feb 1980), 12, No. 1, that is on the USGS website.
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The preservation of a few samples of undeveloped territory is one of the most clamant issues before us today. Just a few more years of hesitation and the only trace of that wilderness which has exerted such a fundamental influence in molding American character will lie in the musty pages of pioneer books. … To avoid this catastrophe demands immediate action.
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The routine produces. But each day, nevertheless, when you try to get started you have to transmogrify, transpose yourself; you have to go through some kind of change from being a normal human being, into becoming some kind of slave.
I simply don’t want to break through that membrane. I’d do anything to avoid it. You have to get there and you don’t want to go there because there’s so much pressure and so much strain and you just want to stay on the outside and be yourself. And so the day is a constant struggle to get going.
And if somebody says to me, You’re a prolific writer—it seems so odd. It’s like the difference between geological time and human time. On a certain scale, it does look like I do a lot. But that’s my day, all day long, sitting there wondering when I’m going to be able to get started. And the routine of doing this six days a week puts a little drop in a bucket each day, and that’s the key. Because if you put a drop in a bucket every day, after three hundred and sixty-five days, the bucket’s going to have some water in it.
https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5997/john-mcphee-the-art-of-nonfiction-no-3-john-mcphee
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There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.[Greatly abbreviated and paraphrased.]
The original 1784 version of this quote begins “A provision of endless apparatus…” (see elsewhere on this page). Over the years, the original 35-word quote has been paraphrased, re-paraphrased and abbreviated to these 18 words. In this form, it was published by B.C. Forbes in 'Why Do So Many Men Never Amount to Anything?',The American Magazine (Jan 1921). The journalist, having visited Thomas Edison’s laboratory, wrote that Edison showed him a placard inscribed with this quote, including the name of Joshua Reynolds, with the intention of having copies placed “all over the plant.” The quote was subsequently repeated by other writers, (describing Edison’s use of the sign), some of whom omitted the name of Joshua Reynolds incorrectly implying attribution to Edison.
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Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.
Cosmos (1985), 275.
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Thought-economy is most highly developed in mathematics, that science which has reached the highest formal development, and on which natural science so frequently calls for assistance. Strange as it may seem, the strength of mathematics lies in the avoidance of all unnecessary thoughts, in the utmost economy of thought-operations. The symbols of order, which we call numbers, form already a system of wonderful simplicity and economy. When in the multiplication of a number with several digits we employ the multiplication table and thus make use of previously accomplished results rather than to repeat them each time, when by the use of tables of logarithms we avoid new numerical calculations by replacing them by others long since performed, when we employ determinants instead of carrying through from the beginning the solution of a system of equations, when we decompose new integral expressions into others that are familiar,—we see in all this but a faint reflection of the intellectual activity of a Lagrange or Cauchy, who with the keen discernment of a military commander marshalls a whole troop of completed operations in the execution of a new one.
In Populär-wissenschafliche Vorlesungen (1903), 224-225.
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We must avoid war under all possible circumstances, except, my opinion, one: when the freedom of human beings is at stake. … I don't want to kill anybody. I am passionately opposed to killing, but I'm even more passionately fond of freedom.
From debate (20 Feb 1958) between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller on WQED-TV, San Francisco. Transcript published as Fallout and Disarmament: The Pauling-Teller Debate (1958). Reprinted in 'Fallout and Disarmament: A Debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller', Daedalus (Spring 1958), 87, No. 2, 154 & 163.
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We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
In Second Inaugural Address (21 Jan 2013) at the United States Capitol.
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You too can win Nobel Prizes. Study diligently. Respect DNA. Don't smoke. Don't drink. Avoid women and politics. That's my formula.
As given in David Pratt, 'What makes a Nobel laureate?', Los Angeles Times (9 Oct 2013). Cited as the response to telegram of congratulations from Caltech students (Oct 1958) in David Pratt, The Impossible Takes Longer: The 1,000 Wisest Things Ever Said by Nobel Prize Laureates (2007), 10 and 178.
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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 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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