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Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Celestial Quotes (53 quotes)

After a duration of a thousand years, the power of astrology broke down when, with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, the progress of astronomy overthrew the false hypothesis upon which the entire structure rested, namely the geocentric system of the universe. The fact that the earth revolves in space intervened to upset the complicated play of planetary influences, and the silent stars, related to the unfathomable depths of the sky, no longer made their prophetic voices audible to mankind. Celestial mechanics and spectrum analysis finally robbed them of their mysterious prestige.
Franz Cumont, translated by J.B. Baker, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans (1912, 2007), 6.
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After I had addressed myself to this very difficult and almost insoluble problem, the suggestion at length came to me how it could be solved with fewer and much simpler constructions than were formerly used, if some assumptions (which are called axioms) were granted me. They follow in this order.
There is no one center of all the celestial circles or spheres.
The center of the earth is not the center of the universe, but only of gravity and of the lunar sphere.
All the spheres revolve about the sun as their mid-point, and therefore the sun is the center of the universe.
The ratio of the earth's distance from the sun to the height of the firmament is so much smaller than the ratio of the earth's radius to its distance from the sun that the distance from the earth to the sun is imperceptible in comparison with the height of the firmament.
Whatever motion appears in the firmament arises not from any motion of the firmament, but from the earth's motion. The earth together with its circumjacent elements performs a complete rotation on its fixed poles in a daily motion, while the firmament and highest heaven abide unchanged.
What appears to us as motions of the sun arise not from its motion but from the motion of the earth and our sphere, with which we revolve about the sun like any other planet. The earth has, then, more than one motion.
The apparent retrograde and direct motion of the planets arises not from their motion but from the earth's. The motion of the earth alone, therefore, suffices to explain so many apparent inequalities in the heavens.
'The Commentariolus', in Three Copernican Treatises (c.1510), trans. E. Rosen (1939), 58-9.
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All these delusions of Divination have their root and foundation from Astrology. For whether the lineaments of the body, countenance, or hand be inspected, whether dream or vision be seen, whether marking of entrails or mad inspiration be consulted, there must be a Celestial Figure first erected, by the means of whole indications, together with the conjectures of Signs and Similitudes, they endeavour to find out the truth of what is desired.
In The Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (1530), translation (1676), 108.
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Anaximander son of Praxiades, of Miletus: he said that the principle and element is the Indefinite, not distinguishing air or water or anything else. … he was the first to discover a gnomon, and he set one up on the Sundials (?) in Sparta, according to Favorinus in his Universal History, to mark solstices and equinoxes; and he also constructed hour indicators. He was the first to draw an outline of earth and sea, but also constructed a [celestial] globe. Of his opinions he made a summary exposition, which I suppose Apollodorus the Athenian also encountered. Apollodorus says in his Chronicles that Anaximander was sixty-four years old in the year of the fifty-eighth Olympiad [547/6 B.C.], and that he died shortly afterwards (having been near his prime approximately during the time of Polycrates, tyrant of Samos).
Diogenes Laërtius II, 1-2. In G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1957), 99. The editors of this translation note that Anaximander may have introduced the gnomon into Greece, but he did not discover it—the Babylonians used it earlier, and the celestial sphere, and the twelve parts of the day.
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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point… . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy’s in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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As to what Simplicius said last, that to contend whether the parts of the Sun, Moon, or other celestial body, separated from their whole, should naturally return to it, is a vanity, for that the case is impossible, it being clear by the demonstrations of Aristotle that the celestial bodies are impassible, impenetrable, unpartable, etc., I answer that none of the conditions whereby Aristotle distinguishes the celestial bodies from the elementary has any foundation other than what he deduces from the diversity of their natural motions; so that, if it is denied that the circular motion is peculiar to celestial bodies, and affirmed instead that it is agreeable to all naturally moveable bodies, one is led by necessary confidence to say either that the attributes of generated or ungenerated, alterable or unalterable, partable or unpartable, etc., equally and commonly apply to all bodies, as well to the celestial as to the elementary, or that Aristotle has badly and erroneously deduced those from the circular motion which he has assigned to celestial bodies.
Dialogue on the Great World Systems (1632). Revised and Annotated by Giorgio De Santillana (1953), 45.
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At the entrance to the observatory Stjerneborg located underground, Tycho Brahe built a Ionic portal. On top of this were three sculptured lions. On both sides were inscriptions and on the backside was a longer inscription in gold letters on a porfyr stone: Consecrated to the all-good, great God and Posterity. Tycho Brahe, Son of Otto, who realized that Astronomy, the oldest and most distinguished of all sciences, had indeed been studied for a long time and to a great extent, but still had not obtained sufficient firmness or had been purified of errors, in order to reform it and raise it to perfection, invented and with incredible labour, industry, and expenditure constructed various exact instruments suitable for all kinds of observations of the celestial bodies, and placed them partly in the neighbouring castle of Uraniborg, which was built for the same purpose, partly in these subterranean rooms for a more constant and useful application, and recommending, hallowing, and consecrating this very rare and costly treasure to you, you glorious Posterity, who will live for ever and ever, he, who has both begun and finished everything on this island, after erecting this monument, beseeches and adjures you that in honour of the eternal God, creator of the wonderful clockwork of the heavens, and for the propagation of the divine science and for the celebrity of the fatherland, you will constantly preserve it and not let it decay with old age or any other injury or be removed to any other place or in any way be molested, if for no other reason, at any rate out of reverence to the creator’s eye, which watches over the universe. Greetings to you who read this and act accordingly. Farewell!
(Translated from the original in Latin)
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Because the region of the Celestial World is of so great and such incredible magnitude as aforesaid, and since in what has gone before it was at least generally demonstrated that this comet continued within the limits of the space of the Aether, it seems that the complete explanation of the whole matter is not given unless we are also informed within narrower limits in what part of the widest Aether, and next to which orbs of the Planets [the comet] traces its path, and by what course it accomplishes this.
De Mundi Aetherei Recentioribus Phaenomenis (On Recent Phenomena in the Aetherial World) (1588). Quoted in M. Boas Hall, The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 (1962), 115.
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Consider the eighth category, which deals with stones. Wilkins divides them into the following classifications: ordinary (flint, gravel, slate); intermediate (marble, amber, coral); precious (pearl, opal); transparent (amethyst, sapphire); and insoluble (coal, clay, and arsenic). The ninth category is almost as alarming as the eighth. It reveals that metals can be imperfect (vermilion, quicksilver); artificial (bronze, brass); recremental (filings, rust); and natural (gold, tin, copper). The whale appears in the sixteenth category: it is a viviparous, oblong fish. These ambiguities, redundances, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.
Other Inquisitions 1937-1952 (1964), trans. Ruth L. C. Simms, 103.
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Endowed with two qualities, which seemed incompatible with each other, a volcanic imagination and a pertinacity of intellect which the most tedious numerical calculations could not daunt, Kepler conjectured that the movements of the celestial bodies must be connected together by simple laws, or, to use his own expression, by harmonic laws. These laws he undertook to discover. A thousand fruitless attempts, errors of calculation inseparable from a colossal undertaking, did not prevent him a single instant from advancing resolutely toward the goal of which he imagined he had obtained a glimpse. Twenty-two years were employed by him in this investigation, and still he was not weary of it! What, in reality, are twenty-two years of labor to him who is about to become the legislator of worlds; who shall inscribe his name in ineffaceable characters upon the frontispiece of an immortal code; who shall be able to exclaim in dithyrambic language, and without incurring the reproach of anyone, “The die is cast; I have written my book; it will be read either in the present age or by posterity, it matters not which; it may well await a reader, since God has waited six thousand years for an interpreter of his words.”
In 'Eulogy on Laplace', in Smithsonian Report for the year 1874 (1875), 131-132.
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Ever since celestial mechanics in the skillful hands of Leverrier and Adams led to the world-amazed discovery of Neptune, a belief has existed begotten of that success that still other planets lay beyond, only waiting to be found.
…...
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For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any certain way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry for the future as well as for the past.
From unauthorized preface Osiander anonymously added when he was entrusted with arranging the printing of the original work by Copernicus. As translated in Nicolaus Copernicus and Jerzy Dobrzycki (ed.), Nicholas Copernicus on the Revolutions (1978), xvi.
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Happy the men who made the first essay,
And to celestial regions found the way!
No earthly vices clogg’d their purer souls,
That they could soar so high as touch the poles:
Sublime their thoughts and from pollution clear,
Bacchus and Venus held no revels there;
From vain ambition free; no love of war
Possess’d their minds, nor wranglings at the bar;
No glaring grandeur captivates their eyes,
For such see greater glory in the skies:
Thus these to heaven attain.
In Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed., trans.), Beautiful Thoughts From Latin Authors, with English Translations (1864),
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How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make - leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone - we all dwell in a house of one room - the world with the firmament for its roof - and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.
John Muir
…...
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How peacefully he sleep!
Yet may his ever-questing spirit, freed at length
from all the frettings of this little world,
Wander at will among the uncharted stars.
Fairfield his name. Perchance celestial fields
disclosing long sought secrets of the past
Spread 'neath his enraptured gaze
And beasts and men that to his earthly sight
were merely bits of stone shall live again to
gladden those eager eyes.
o let us picture him—enthusiast—scientist—friend—
Seeker of truth and light through all eternity!
New York Sun (13 Nov 1935). Reprinted in 'Henry Fairfield Osborn', Supplement to Natural History (Feb 1936), 37:2, 135. Bound in Kofoid Collection of Pamphlets on Biography, University of California.
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However much we may enlarge our ideas of the time which has elapsed since the Niagara first began to drain the waters of the upper lakes, we have seen that this period was one only of a series, all belonging to the present zoological epoch; or that in which the living testaceous fauna, whether freshwater or marine, had already come into being. If such events can take place while the zoology of the earth remains almost stationary and unaltered, what ages may not be comprehended in those successive tertiary periods during which the Flora and Fauna of the globe have been almost entirely changed. Yet how subordinate a place in the long calendar of geological chronology do the successive tertiary periods themselves occupy! How much more enormous a duration must we assign to many antecedent revolutions of the earth and its inhabitants! No analogy can be found in the natural world to the immense scale of these divisions of past time, unless we contemplate the celestial spaces which have been measured by the astronomer.
Travels in North America (1845), Vol. 1, 51-2.
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I am much occupied with the investigation of the physical causes [of motions in the Solar System]. My aim in this is to show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but rather to a clockwork … insofar as nearly all the manifold movements are carried out by means of a single, quite simple magnetic force. This physical conception is to be presented through calculation and geometry.
Letter to Ilerwart von Hohenburg (10 Feb 1605) Quoted in Holton, Johannes Kepler's Universe: Its Physics and Metaphysics, 342, as cited by Hylarie Kochiras, Force, Matter, and Metaphysics in Newton's Natural Philosophy (2008), 57.
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I will give you a “celestial multiplication table.” We start with a star as the unit most familiar to us, a globe comparable to the sun. Then—
A hundred thousand million Stars make one Galaxy;
A hundred thousand million Galaxies make one Universe.
The figures may not be very trustworthy, but I think they give a correct impression.
In The Expanding Universe (1933), 4.
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I will not now discuss the Controversie betwixt some of the Modern Atomists, and the Cartesians; the former of whom think, that betwixt the Earth and the Stars, and betwixt these themselves there are vast Tracts of Space that are empty, save where the beams of Light do pass through them; and the later of whom tell us, that the Intervals betwixt the Stars and Planets (among which the Earth may perhaps be reckon'd) are perfectly fill'd, but by a Matter far subtiler than our Air, which some call Celestial, and others Æther. I shall not, I say, engage in this controversie, but thus much seems evident, That If there be such a Celestial Matter, it must ' make up far the Greatest part of the Universe known to us. For the Interstellar part of the world (If I may so stile it) bears so very great a proportion to the Globes, and their Atmospheres too, (If other Stars have any as well as the Earth,) that It Is almost incomparably Greater in respect of them, than all our Atmosphere is in respect of the Clouds, not to make the comparison between the Sea and the Fishes that swim in it.
A Continuation of New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring and Weight of the Air, and their Effects (1669), 127.
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If, again with the light of science, we trace forward into the future the condition of our globe, we are compelled to admit that it cannot always remain in its present condition; that in time, the store of potential energy which now exists in the sun and in the bodies of celestial space which may fall into it will be dissipated in radiant heat, and consequently the earth, from being the theatre of life, intelligence, of moral emotions, must become a barren waste.
Address (Jul 1874) at the grave of Joseph Priestley, in Joseph Henry and Arthur P. Molella, et al. (eds.), A Scientist in American Life: Essays and Lectures of Joseph Henry (1980), 120.
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In general I would be cautious against … plays of fancy and would not make way for their reception into scientific astronomy, which must have quite a different character. Laplace’s cosmogenic hypotheses belong in that class. Indeed, I do not deny that I sometimes amuse myself in a similar manner, only I would never publish the stuff. My thoughts about the inhabitants of celestial bodies, for example, belong in that category. For my part, I am (contrary to the usual opinion) convinced … that the larger the cosmic body, the smaller are the inhabitants and other products. For example, on the sun trees, which in the same ratio would be larger than ours, as the sun exceeds the earth in magnitude, would not be able to exist, for on account of the much greater weight on the surface of the sun, all branches would break themselves off, in so far as the materials are not of a sort entirely heterogeneous with those on earth.
Letter to Heinrich Schumacher (7 Nov 1847). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 411.
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In the celestial spaces above the Earth’s atmosphere; in which spaces, where there is no air to resist their motions, all bodies will move with the greatest freedom; and the Planets and Comets will constantly pursue their revolutions in orbits … by the mere laws of gravity.
In 'General Scholium' from The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729), Vol. 2, Book 3, 388.
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In this great celestial creation, the catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident in life with us, and in all probability such final and general Doomsdays may be as frequent there, as even Birthdays or mortality with us upon the earth. This idea has something so cheerful in it, that I know I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers; and that men endowed with sense and reason should neglect a science they are naturally so much interested in, and so capable of enlarging their understanding, as next to a demonstration must convince them of their immortality, and reconcile them to all those little difficulties incident to human nature, without the least anxiety. All this the vast apparent provision in the starry mansions seem to promise: What ought we then not to do, to preserve our natural birthright to it and to merit such inheritance, which alas we think created all to gratify alone a race of vain-glorious gigantic beings, while they are confined to this world, chained like so many atoms to a grain of sand.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 132.
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It is a vulgar belief that our astronomical knowledge dates only from the recent century when it was rescued from the monks who imprisoned Galileo; but Hipparchus … who among other achievements discovered the precession of the eqinoxes, ranks with the Newtons and the Keplers; and Copernicus, the modern father of our celestial science, avows himself, in his famous work, as only the champion of Pythagoras, whose system he enforces and illustrates. Even the most modish schemes of the day on the origin of things, which captivate as much by their novelty as their truth, may find their precursors in ancient sages, and after a careful analysis of the blended elements of imagination and induction which charaterise the new theories, they will be found mainly to rest on the atom of Epicurus and the monad of Thales. Scientific, like spiritual truth, has ever from the beginning been descending from heaven to man.
Lothair (1879), preface, xvii.
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It is natural for man to relate the units of distance by which he travels to the dimensions of the globe that he inhabits. Thus, in moving about the earth, he may know by the simple denomination of distance its proportion to the whole circuit of the earth. This has the further advantage of making nautical and celestial measurements correspond. The navigator often needs to determine, one from the other, the distance he has traversed from the celestial arc lying between the zeniths at his point of departure and at his destination. It is important, therefore, that one of these magnitudes should be the expression of the other, with no difference except in the units. But to that end, the fundamental linear unit must be an aliquot part of the terrestrial meridian. ... Thus, the choice of the metre was reduced to that of the unity of angles.
Lecture at the École Normale to the Year III (Apr 1795), Oeuvres Completes de Laplace (1878-1912), Vol. 14, 141. In Charles Coulston Gillispie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1978), Vol. 15, 335.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
…...
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It seems to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and not absolutely, as I have always understood that Copernicus spoke. To say that on the supposition of the Earth's movement and the Sun's quiescence all the celestial appearances are explained better than by the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is to speak with excellent good sense and to run no risk whatsoever. Such a manner of speaking is enough for a mathematician. But to want to affirm that the Sun, in very truth, is at the center of the universe and only rotates on its axis without going from east to west, is a very dangerous attitude and one calculated not only to arouse all Scholastic philosophers and theologians but also to injure our holy faith by contradicting the Scriptures.
Letter to Paolo Antonio Foscarini, 12 April 1615. Quoted in Giorgio De Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (1955), 99.
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Laplace considers astronomy a science of observation, because we can only observe the movements of the planets; we cannot reach them, indeed, to alter their course and to experiment with them. “On earth,” said Laplace, “we make phenomena vary by experiments; in the sky, we carefully define all the phenomena presented to us by celestial motion.” Certain physicians call medicine a science of observations, because they wrongly think that experimentation is inapplicable to it.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 18. A footnote cites Laplace, Système du monde, Chap. 2.
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Man must at all costs overcome the Earth’s gravity and have, in reserve, the space at least of the Solar System. All kinds of danger wait for him on the Earth… We are talking of disaster that can destroy the whole of mankind or a large part of it… For instance, a cloud of bolides [meteors] or a small planet a few dozen kilometers in diameter could fall on the Earth, with such an impact that the solid, liquid or gaseous blast produced by it could wipe off the face of the Earth all traces of man and his buildings. The rise of temperature accompanying it could alone scorch or kill all living beings… We are further compelled to take up the struggle against gravity, and for the utilization of celestial space and all its wealth, because of the overpopulation of our planet. Numerous other terrible dangers await mankind on the Earth, all of which suggest that man should look for a way into the Cosmos. We have said a great deal about the advantages of migration into space, but not all can be said or even imagined.
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Natural Magick therefore is that, which considering well the strength and force of Natural and Celestial beings, and with great curiosity labouring to discover their affections, produces into open Act the hidden and concealed powers of Nature.
In The Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (1530), translation (1676), 111.
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Newton and Laplace need myriads of ages and thick-strewn celestial areas. One may say a gravitating solar system is already prophesied in the nature of Newton’s mind.
In Essay on History.
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One important object of this original spectroscopic investigation of the light of the stars and other celestial bodies, namely to discover whether the same chemical elements as those of our earth are present throughout the universe, was most satisfactorily settled in the affirmative. (1909)
In Publications of Sir William Huggins's Observatory (1909), Vol. 2, 49, footnote added to emphasize the significance of the results shown in this collection’s reprint of William Huggins and Dr. Miller, 'On the Spectra of Some of the Fixed Stars', Philosophical Transactions (1864), 64, 413-435.
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One of his followers said to him, “O Perfect One, why do you do this thing? For though we find joy in it, we know not the celestial reason nor the correspondency of it.” And Sabbah answered: “I will tell you first what I do; I will tell you the reasons afterward.”
In 'The Perfect One'. The Century Magazine (Dec 1918), 95, No. 2, 320. Collected in Ironical Tales (1927), 17.
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Perhaps... some day the precision of the data will be brought so far that the mathematician will be able to calculate at his desk the outcome of any chemical combination, in the same way, so to speak, as he calculates the motions of celestial bodies.
Oeuvres (1862), Vol. 2, 550-1. Trans. John Heilbron, Weighing Imponderables and Other Quantitative Science around 1800 (1993), 14.
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Placed in a universe of constant change, on an isolated globe surrounded by distant celestial objects on all sides, subjected to influences of various kinds, it is a sublime occupation to measure the earth and weigh the planets, to predict their changes, and even to discover the materials of which they are composed; to investigate the causes of the tempest and volcano; to bring the lightning from the clouds; to submit it to experiment by which it shall reveal its character; and to estimate the size and weight of those invisible atoms which constitute the universe of things.
In Letter (3 Feb 1873) to the Committee of Arrangements, in Proceedings of the Farewell Banquet to Professor Tyndall (4 Feb 1873), 19. Reprinted as 'On the Importance of the Cultivation of Science', The Popular Science Monthly (1873), Vol. 2, 645.
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So when, by various turns of the Celestial Dance,
In many thousand years,
A Star, so long unknown, appears,
Tho’ Heaven itself more beauteous by it grow,
It troubles and alarms the World below,
Does to the Wise a Star, to Fools a Meteor show.
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Such is always the pursuit of knowledge. The celestial fruits, the golden apples of the Hesperides, are ever guarded by a hundred-headed dragon which never sleeps, so that it is an Herculean labor to pluck them.
In The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: V; Excursions and Poems (1906), 307.
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The celestial order and the beauty of the universe compel me to admit that there is some excellent and eternal Being, who deserves the respect and homage of men.
…...
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The contemplation of celestial things will make a man both speak and think more sublimely and magnificently when he descends to human affairs.
In Louis Klopsch, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896), 18.
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The earth's atmosphere is an imperfect window on the universe. Electromagnetic waves in the optical part of the spectrum (that is, waves longer than X rays and shorter than radio waves) penetrate to the surface of the earth only in a few narrow spectral bands. The widest of the transmitted bands corresponds roughly to the colors of visible light; waves in the flanking ultraviolet and infrared regions of the optical spectrum are almost totally absorbed by the atmosphere. In addition, atmospheric turbulence blurs the images of celestial objects, even when they are viewed through the most powerful ground-based telescopes.
in an article promoting the construction of the Hubble Space Telescope
Scientific American (July 1977)
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The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 9, chap. 14, sect. 3.
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The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist. Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being (except in name) utterly rejected.
From Aphorism 45, Novum Organum, Book I (1620). Collected in James Spedding (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1858), Vol. 4, 55.
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The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
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The roads by which men arrive at their insights into celestial matters seem to me almost as worthy of wonder as those matters themselves.
Quoted in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Feb 1959), 59, citing tr. Arthur Koestler, in Encounter (Dec 1958). Also in The Watershed: A Biography of Johannes Kepler (1960), 59.
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The sublime discoveries of Newton, and, together with these, his not less fruitful than wonderful application, of the higher mathesis to the movement of the celestial bodies, and to the laws of light, gave almost religious sanction to the corpuscular system and mechanical theory. It became synonymous with philosophy itself. It was the sole portal at which truth was permitted to enter. The human body was treated an hydraulic machine... In short, from the time of Kepler to that of Newton, and from Newton to Hartley, not only all things in external nature, but the subtlest mysteries of life, organization, and even of the intellect and moral being, were conjured within the magic circle of mathematical formulae.
Hints Towards the Formation of a more Comprehensive Theory of Life (1848). In The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Shorter Works and Fragments (1995), H. J. Jackson and J. R. de J. Jackson (eds.), Vol. 11, 1, 498.
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Those to whom the harmonious doors
Of Science have unbarred celestial stores,
To whom a burning energy has given
That other eye which darts thro’ earth and heaven,
Roams through all space and unconfined,
Explores the illimitable tracts of mind,
And piercing the profound of time can see
Whatever man has been and man can be.
In An Evening Walk (1793). In E. de Selincourt (ed.), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (1940), Vol. 1, 13.
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Thus identified with astronomy, in proclaiming truths supposed to be hostile to Scripture, Geology has been denounced as the enemy of religion. The twin sisters of terrestrial and celestial physics have thus been joint-heirs of intolerance and persecution—unresisting victims in the crusade which ignorance and fanaticism are ever waging against science. When great truths are driven to make an appeal to reason, knowledge becomes criminal, and philosophers martyrs. Truth, however, like all moral powers, can neither be checked nor extinguished. When compressed, it but reacts the more. It crushes where it cannot expand—it burns where it is not allowed to shine. Human when originally divulged, it becomes divine when finally established. At first, the breath of a rage—at last it is the edict of a god. Endowed with such vital energy, astronomical truth has cut its way through the thick darkness of superstitious times, and, cheered by its conquests, Geology will find the same open path when it has triumphed over the less formidable obstacles of a civilized age.
More Worlds than One: The Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian (1854), 42.
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To a body of infinite size there can be ascribed neither center nor boundary ... Just as we regard ourselves as at the center of that universally equidistant circle, which is the great horizon and the limit of our own encircling ethereal region, so doubtless the inhabitants of the moon believe themselves to be at the center (of a great horizon) that embraces this earth, the sun, and the stars, and is the boundary of the radii of their own horizon. Thus the earth no more than any other world is at the center; moreover no points constitute determined celestial poles for our earth, just as she herself is not a definite and determined pole to any other point of the ether, or of the world-space; and the same is true for all other bodies. From various points of view these may all be regarded either as centers, or as points on the circumference, as poles, or zeniths and so forth. Thus the earth is not in the center of the universe; it is central only to our own surrounding space.
Irving Louis Horowitz, The Renaissance Philosophy of Giordano Bruno (1952), 60.
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To the Victorian scientist, science was the pursuit of truth about Nature. In imagination, each new truth discovered could be ticked off on a list kept perhaps in a celestial planning office, so reducing by one the total number of truths to be discovered. But the practising scientist now knows that he is dealing with a living, growing thing. His task is never done.
Opening remark in article 'Musical Acoustics Today', New Scientist (1 Nov 1962), 16 No. 311, 256.
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Twin sister of natural and revealed religion, and of heavenly birth, science will never belie her celestial origin, nor cease to sympathize with all that emanates from the same pure home. Human ignorance and prejudice may for a time seem to have divorced what God has joined together; but human ignorance and prejudice shall at length pass away, and then science and religion shall be seen blending their particolored rays into one beautiful bow of light, linking heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
…...
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Whereas at the outset geometry is reported to have concerned herself with the measurement of muddy land, she now handles celestial as well as terrestrial problems: she has extended her domain to the furthest bounds of space.
In The Story of Euclid. (1902) 14-15.
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Why, then, are we surprised that comets, such a rare spectacle in the universe, are not known, when their return is at vast intervals?. … The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject … And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them …. Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate … Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all. Someday there will be a man who will show in what regions comets have their orbit, why they travel so remote from other celestial bodies, how large they are and what sort they are.
Natural Questions, Book 7. As translated by Thomas H. Corcoran in Seneca in Ten Volumes: Naturales Quaestiones II (1972), 279 and 293.
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[W]hen Galileo discovered he could use the tools of mathematics and mechanics to understand the motion of celestial bodies, he felt, in the words of one imminent researcher, that he had learned the language in which God recreated the universe. Today we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most devine and sacred gift.
From White House Announcement of the Completion of the First Survey of the Entire Human Genome Project, broadcast on the day of the publication of the first draft of the human genome. Quoted in transcript on the National Archives, Clinton White House web site, 'Text of Remarks on the Completion of the First Survey of the Entire Human Genome Project' (26 Jun 2000).
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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