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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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Background Quotes (24 quotes)

Bias has to be taught. If you hear your parents downgrading women or people of different backgrounds, why, you are going to do that.
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Cosmology is a science which has only a few observable facts to work with. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation added one—the present radiation temperature of the universe. This, however, was a significant increase in our knowledge since it requires a cosmology with a source for the radiation at an early epoch and is a new probe of that epoch. More sensitive measurements of the background radiation in the future will allow us to discover additional facts about the universe.
'Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background', in B. Bertotti (ed.) Modern Cosmology in Retrospect (1990), 304.
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Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its train of reasoning.
In Science and the Modern World (1925), 7.
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First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.
From biography on University of California, Berkeley, website.
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From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreigness (an indifferent Universe) and one of intimacy (a benevolent Universe) means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust.
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Gradually, … the aspect of science as knowledge is being thrust into the background by the aspect of science as the power of manipulating nature. It is because science gives us the power of manipulating nature that it has more social importance than art. Science as the pursuit of truth is the equal, but not the superior, of art. Science as a technique, though it may have little intrinsic value, has a practical importance to which art cannot aspire.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), xxiv.
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I view the major features of my own odyssey as a set of mostly fortunate contingencies. I was not destined by inherited mentality or family tradition to become a paleontologist. I can locate no tradition for scientific or intellectual careers anywhere on either side of my eastern European Jewish background ... I view my serious and lifelong commitment to baseball in entirely the same manner: purely as a contingent circumstance of numerous, albeit not entirely capricious, accidents.
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If the question were, “What ought to be the next objective in science?” my answer would be the teaching of science to the young, so that when the whole population grew up there would be a far more general background of common sense, based on a knowledge of the real meaning of the scientific method of discovering truth.
Marion Savin Selections from the Scientific Correspondence of Elihu Thomson (1971), v.
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In our days everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it… . At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance.
Karl Marx
In Speech (14 Apr 1856) on the 4th Anniversary of the People’s Paper, collected in David McLellan (ed.), Karl Marx: Selected Writings (2000), 368.
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In recent years scientists have grown self-conscious, perhaps because they have only lately become of age. They realize that they are now part of the drama of human history, and they look to the professional historian for background and perspective.
(1932). Epigraph, without citation, in I. Bernard Cohen, Science, Servant of Man: A Layman's Primer for the Age of Science (1948), 1.
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Quantum theory—at least in the Heisenberg interpretation—describes the way the world works as a literal moment-to-moment emergence of actual facts out of a background of less factual 'potentia.'
Quoted in article 'Nick Herbert', in Gale Cengage Learning, Contemporary Authors Online (2002).
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So many people today–and even professional scientists–seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest . A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is–in my opinion–the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.
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The beauty of natural history programmes is that you can be straightforward and fascinate the 7s and the 70s. If you just present it as it is, all kinds of people of all ages and all educational backgrounds love it. That’s the joy of natural history—it’s a godsend for blokes like me.
In Rowan Hooper, 'One Minute With… David Attenborough', New Scientist (2 Feb 2013), 217, No. 2902, 25.
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The greatest of all spectral classifiers, Antonia Maury had two strikes on her: the biggest one was, she was a woman. A woman had no chance at anything in astronomy except at Harvard in the 1880’s and 1890’s. And even there, things were rough. It now turns out that her director, E.C. Pickering, did not like the way she classified; she then refused to change to suit him; and after her great publication in Harvard Annals 28 (1897), she left Harvard—and in a sense, astronomy. ... I would say the most remarkable phenomenological investigation in modern astronomy is Miss Maury’s work in Harvard Annals 28. She didn’t have anything astrophysical to go on. Investigations between 1890 and 1900 were the origin of astrophysics. But these were solar, mostly. And there Miss Maury was on the periphery. I’ve seen pictures of groups, where she’d be standing away a little bit to one side of the other people, a little bit in the background. It was a very sad thing. When Hertzsprung wrote Pickering to congratulate him on Miss Maury’s work that had led to Hertzsprung’s discovery of super giants, Pickering is supposed to have replied that Miss Maury’s work was wrong — could not possibly be correct.
'Oral History Transcript: Dr. William Wilson Morgan' (8 Aug 1978) in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
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The mythology of science asserts that with many different scientists all asking their own questions and evaluating the answers independently, whatever personal bias creeps into their individual answers is cancelled out when the large picture is put together. This might conceivably be so if scientists were women and men from all sorts of different cultural and social backgrounds who came to science with very different ideologies and interests. But since, in fact, they have been predominantly university-trained white males from privileged social backgrounds, the bias has been narrow and the product often reveals more about the investigator than about the subject being researched.
'Have Only Men Evolved?' Women Look at Biology Looking At Women, eds. Ruth Hubbard, Mary Sue Henifin, and Barbara Fried (1979).
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The purpose of the history of science is to establish the genesis and the development of scientific facts and ideas, taking into account all intellectual exchanges and all influences brought into play by the very progress of civilization. It is indeed a history of civilization considered from its highest point of view. The center of interest is the evolution of science, but general history remains always in the background.
In The Monist (1916), 26, 333; as cited in 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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The results of mathematics are seldom directly applied; it is the definitions that are really useful. Once you learn the concept of a differential equation, you see differential equations all over, no matter what you do. This you cannot see unless you take a course in abstract differential equations. What applies is the cultural background you get from a course in differential equations, not the specific theorems. If you want to learn French, you have to live the life of France, not just memorize thousands of words. If you want to apply mathematics, you have to live the life of differential equations. When you live this life, you can then go back to molecular biology with a new set of eyes that will see things you could not otherwise see.
In 'A Mathematician's Gossip', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 213.
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The true contrast between science and religion is that science unites the world and makes it possible for people of widely differing backgrounds to work together and to cooperate. Religion, on the other hand, by its very claim to know “The Truth” through “revelation,” is inherently divisive and a creator of separatism and hostility.
Conclusion to 'Uniting the World—Or Dividing It: Which Outlook Is Truly Universal, which Parochial in the Extreme?', Free Inquiry (Spring 1998), 18, No.2. Collected in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, 148. Not found in that article, a widely circulated, brief form of this idea is: “Religion divides us, while it is our human characteristics that bind us to each other.” but Webmaster has not yet confirmed any source for that form. If you know a primary source for it, please contact Webmaster.
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The typical nature photograph shows a butterfly on a pretty flower. The conservation photograph shows the same thing, but with a bulldozer coming at it in the background.
As quoted in Jaymi Heimbuch, 'How One Photographer's Foolishness is Saving Endangered Wildlife' (23 Jan 2014) on Mother Nature Network webpage.
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There are now several women astronauts who have a test pilot background, and that was not true for a long time. For quite some time, women at NASA only had scientific backgrounds. So it would’ve been impossible to have an all-women crew because there weren’t women pilots. But now it would be very possible!
Interview conducted on Scholastic website (20 Nov 1998).
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There are so many stars shining in the sky, so many beautiful things winking at you, but when Venus comes out, all the others are waned, they are pushed to the background.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy—since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all.
'Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe' (1848). Collected in The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1857), Vol. 2, 183.
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[A]s you know, scientific education is fabulously neglected … This is an evil that is inherited, passed on from generation to generation. The majority of educated persons are not interested in science, and are not aware that scientific knowledge forms part of the idealistic background of human life. Many believe—in their complete ignorance of what science really is—that it has mainly the ancillary task of inventing new machinery, or helping to invent it, for improving our conditions of life. They are prepared to leave this task to the specialists, as they leave the repairing of their pipes to the plumber. If persons with this outlook decide upon the curriculum of our children, the result is necessarily such as I have just described it.
Opening remarks of the second of four public lectures for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at University College, Dublin (Feb 1950), The Practical Achievements of Science Tending to Obliterate its True Import', collected in Science and Humanism: Physics in Our Time (1951). Reprinted in 'Nature and the Greeks' and 'Science and Humanism' (1996), 113.
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[Ignorance] of the principle of conservation of energy … does not prevent inventors without background from continually putting forward perpetual motion machines… Also, such persons undoubtedly have their exact counterparts in the fields of art, finance, education, and all other departments of human activity… persons who are unwilling to take the time and to make the effort required to find what the known facts are before they become the champions of unsupported opinions—people who take sides first and look up facts afterward when the tendency to distort the facts to conform to the opinions has become well-nigh irresistible.
From Evolution in Science and Religion (1927), 58-59. An excerpt from the book including this quote appears in 'New Truth and Old', Christian Education (Apr 1927), 10, No. 7, 394-395.
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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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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
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Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
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Bertrand Russell
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
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Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
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James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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Rachel Carson
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Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
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Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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Richard Feynman
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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