Challenge Quotes (61 quotes)
'Why do you think it is...', I asked Dr. Cook ... 'that brain surgery, above all else—even rocket science—gets singled out as the most challenging of human feats, the one demanding the utmost of human intelligence?'
[Dr. Cook answered,] 'No margin for error.'
[Dr. Cook answered,] 'No margin for error.'
A discovery in science, or a new theory, even when it appears most unitary and most all-embracing, deals with some immediate element of novelty or paradox within the framework of far vaster, unanalysed, unarticulated reserves of knowledge, experience, faith, and presupposition. Our progress is narrow; it takes a vast world unchallenged and for granted. This is one reason why, however great the novelty or scope of new discovery, we neither can, nor need, rebuild the house of the mind very rapidly. This is one reason why science, for all its revolutions, is conservative. This is why we will have to accept the fact that no one of us really will ever know very much. This is why we shall have to find comfort in the fact that, taken together, we know more and more.
A great discovery solves a great problem, but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest, but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.
A teacher of mathematics has a great opportunity. If he fills his allotted time with drilling his students in routine operations he kills their interest, hampers their intellectual development, and misuses his opportunity. But if he challenges the curiosity of his students by setting them problems proportionate to their knowledge, and helps them to solve their problems with stimulating questions, he may give them a taste for, and some means of, independent thinking.
A theoretical physicist can spend his entire lifetime missing the intellectual challenge of experimental work, experiencing none of the thrills and dangers — the overhead crane with its ten-ton load, the flashing skull and crossbones and danger, radioactivity signs. A theorist’s only real hazard is stabbing himself with a pencil while attacking a bug that crawls out of his calculations.
Adventure isn’t hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life - facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, discovering our own unique potential.
Astrophysicists closing in on the grand structure of matter and emptiness in the universe are ruling out the meatball theory, challenging the soap bubble theory, and putting forward what may be the strongest theory of all: that the cosmos is organized like a sponge.
Behavioral avoidance, not physiological adaptations, is an organism’s primary response to an environmental challenge. This point is elementary, but it is by no means trivial.
Education must be subversive if it is to be meaningful. By this I mean that it must challenge all the things we take for granted, examine all accepted assumptions, tamper with every sacred cow, and instil a desire to question and doubt.
Focusing on the science-technology relationship may strike some as strange, because conventional wisdom views this relationship as an unproblematic given. … Technology is seen as being, at best, applied science … the conventional view perceives science as clearly preceding and founding technology. … Recent studies in the history of technology have begun to challenge this assumed dependency of technology on science. … But the conventional view of science is persistent.
For me, the first challenge for computing science is to discover how to maintain order in a finite, but very large, discrete universe that is intricately intertwined. And a second, but not less important challenge is how to mould what you have achieved in solving the first problem, into a teachable discipline: it does not suffice to hone your own intellect (that will join you in your grave), you must teach others how to hone theirs. The more you concentrate on these two challenges, the clearer you will see that they are only two sides of the same coin: teaching yourself is discovering what is teachable.
For the environmentalists, The Space Option is the ultimate environmental solution. For the Cornucopians, it is the technological fix that they are relying on. For the hard core space community, the obvious by-product would be the eventual exploration and settlement of the solar system. For most of humanity however, the ultimate benefit is having a realistic hope in a future with possibilities.... If our species does not soon embrace this unique opportunity with sufficient commitment, it may miss its one and only chance to do so. Humanity could soon be overwhelmed by one or more of the many challenges it now faces. The window of opportunity is closing as fast as the population is increasing. Our future will be either a Space Age or a Stone Age.
Great thinkers build their edifices with subtle consistency. We do our intellectual forebears an enormous disservice when we dismember their visions and scan their systems in order to extract a few disembodied ‘gems’–thoughts or claims still accepted as true. These disarticulated pieces then become the entire legacy of our ancestors, and we lose the beauty and coherence of older systems that might enlighten us by their unfamiliarity–and their consequent challenge in our fallible (and complacent) modern world.
His spiritual insights were in three major areas: First, he has inspired mankind to see the world anew as the ultimate reality. Second, he perceived and described the physical universe itself as immanently divine. And finally, he challenged us to accept the ultimate demands of modern science which assign humanity no real or ultimate importance in the universe while also aspiring us to lives of spiritual celebration attuned to the awe, beauty and wonder about us.
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.
I believe scientists have a duty to share the excitement and pleasure of their work with the general public, and I enjoy the challenge of presenting difficult ideas in an understandable way.
I cannot find anything showing early aptitude for acquiring languages; but that he [Clifford] had it and was fond of exercising it in later life is certain. One practical reason for it was the desire of being able to read mathematical papers in foreign journals; but this would not account for his taking up Spanish, of which he acquired a competent knowledge in the course of a tour to the Pyrenees. When he was at Algiers in 1876 he began Arabic, and made progress enough to follow in a general way a course of lessons given in that language. He read modern Greek fluently, and at one time he was furious about Sanskrit. He even spent some time on hieroglyphics. A new language is a riddle before it is conquered, a power in the hand afterwards: to Clifford every riddle was a challenge, and every chance of new power a divine opportunity to be seized. Hence he was likewise interested in the various modes of conveying and expressing language invented for special purposes, such as the Morse alphabet and shorthand. … I have forgotten to mention his command of French and German, the former of which he knew very well, and the latter quite sufficiently; …
I claim that many patterns of Nature are so irregular and fragmented, that, compared with Euclid—a term used in this work to denote all of standard geometry—Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity … The existence of these patterns challenges us to study these forms that Euclid leaves aside as being “formless,” to investigate the morphology of the “amorphous.”
I was inspired by the remarks in those books; not by the parts in which everything was proved and demonstrated [but by] the remarks about the fact that this doesn’t make any sense. … So I had this as a challenge and an inspiration.
I … decided that the challenge of starting with a completely clean slate and mapping out a program that would influence astronomy for fifty years was just more than I could turn down.
In fact, the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere, compared with the size of the Earth, is in about the same ratio as the thickness of a coat of shellac on a schoolroom globe is to the diameter of the globe. That's the air that nurtures us and almost all other life on Earth, that protects us from deadly ultraviolet light from the sun, that through the greenhouse effect brings the surface temperature above the freezing point. (Without the greenhouse effect, the entire Earth would plunge below the freezing point of water and we'd all be dead.) Now that atmosphere, so thin and fragile, is under assault by our technology. We are pumping all kinds of stuff into it. You know about the concern that chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the ozone layer; and that carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases are producing global warming, a steady trend amidst fluctuations produced by volcanic eruptions and other sources. Who knows what other challenges we are posing to this vulnerable layer of air that we haven't been wise enough to foresee?
In the next twenty centuries … humanity may begin to understand its most baffling mystery—where are we going? The earth is, in fact, traveling many thousands of miles per hour in the direction of the constellation Hercules—to some unknown destination in the cosmos. Man must understand his universe in order to understand his destiny. Mystery, however, is a very necessary ingredient in our lives. Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis for man’s desire to understand. Who knows what mysteries will be solved in our lifetime, and what new riddles will become the challenge of the new generation? Science has not mastered prophesy. We predict too much for the next year yet far too little for the next ten. Responding to challenges is one of democracy’s great strengths. Our successes in space can be used in the next decade in the solution of many of our planet’s problems.
It is above all the duty of the methodical text-book to adapt itself to the pupil’s power of comprehension, only challenging his higher efforts with the increasing development of his imagination, his logical power and the ability of abstraction. This indeed constitutes a test of the art of teaching, it is here where pedagogic tact becomes manifest. In reference to the axioms, caution is necessary. It should be pointed out comparatively early, in how far the mathematical body differs from the material body. Furthermore, since mathematical bodies are really portions of space, this space is to be conceived as mathematical space and to be clearly distinguished from real or physical space. Gradually the student will become conscious that the portion of the real space which lies beyond the visible stellar universe is not cognizable through the senses, that we know nothing of its properties and consequently have no basis for judgments concerning it. Mathematical space, on the other hand, may be subjected to conditions, for instance, we may condition its properties at infinity, and these conditions constitute the axioms, say the Euclidean axioms. But every student will require years before the conviction of the truth of this last statement will force itself upon him.
It is so hard for an evolutionary biologist to write about extinction caused by human stupidity ... Let me then float an unconventional plea, the inverse of the usual argument ... The extinction of Partula is unfair to Partula. That is the conventional argument, and I do not challenge its primacy. But we need a humanistic ecology as well, both for the practical reason that people will always touch people more than snails do or can, and for the moral reason that humans are legitimately the measure of all ethical questions–for these are our issues, not nature’s.
Just as it will never be successfully challenged that the French language, progressively developing and growing more perfect day by day, has the better claim to serve as a developed court and world language, so no one will venture to estimate lightly the debt which the world owes to mathematicians, in that they treat in their own language matters of the utmost importance, and govern, determine and decide whatever is subject, using the word in the highest sense, to number and measurement.
Let us dismiss the question, “Have you proven that your model is valid?” with a quick NO. Then let us take up the more rewarding and far more challenging question: “Have you proven that your model is useful for learning more… ” [Co-author]
Literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.
Many quite nefarious ideologies pass for common sense. For decades of American history, it was common sense in some quarters for white people to own slaves and for women not to vote. … If common sense sometimes preserves the social status quo, and that status quo sometimes treats unjust social hierarchies as natural, it makes good sense on such occasions to find ways of challenging common sense.
My experiences with science led me to God. They challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun?
Obviously we biologists should fit our methods to our materials. An interesting response to this challenge has been employed particularly by persons who have entered biology from the physical sciences or who are distressed by the variability in biology; they focus their research on inbred strains of genetically homogeneous laboratory animals from which, to the maximum extent possible, variability has been eliminated. These biologists have changed the nature of the biological system to fit their methods. Such a bold and forthright solution is admirable, but it is not for me. Before I became a professional biologist, I was a boy naturalist, and I prefer a contrasting approach; to change the method to fit the system. This approach requires that one employ procedures which allow direct scientific utilization of the successful long-term evolutionary experiments which are documented by the fascinating diversity and variability of the species of animals which occupy the earth. This is easy to say and hard to do.
Our challenge is to give what account we can of what becomes of life in the solar system, this corner of the universe that is our home; and, most of all, what becomes of men—all men, of all nations, colors, and creeds. This has become one world, a world for all men. It is only such a world that can now offer us life, and the chance to go on.
Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air. We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging environments. The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement.
Science and poetry are, in fact, inseparable. By providing a vision of life, of Earth, of the universe in all its splendor, science does not challenge human values; it can inspire human values. It does not negate faith; it celebrates faith.
Science will never be able to reduce the value of a sunset to arithmetic. Nor can it reduce friendship or statesmanship to a formula. Laughter and love, pain and loneliness, the challenge of beauty and truth: these will always surpass the scientific mastery of nature.
Science, then, is the attentive consideration of common experience; it is common knowledge extended and refined. Its validity is of the same order as that of ordinary perception; memory, and understanding. Its test is found, like theirs, in actual intuition, which sometimes consists in perception and sometimes in intent. The flight of science is merely longer from perception to perception, and its deduction more accurate of meaning from meaning and purpose from purpose. It generates in the mind, for each vulgar observation, a whole brood of suggestions, hypotheses, and inferences. The sciences bestow, as is right and fitting, infinite pains upon that experience which in their absence would drift by unchallenged or misunderstood. They take note, infer, and prophesy. They compare prophesy with event, and altogether they supply—so intent are they on reality—every imaginable background and extension for the present dream.
Scientists are going to discover many subtle genetic factors in the makeup of human beings. Those discoveries will challenge the basic concepts of equality on which our society is based. Once we can say that there are differences between people that are easily demonstrable at the genetic level, then society will have to come to grips with understanding diversity—and we are not prepared for that.
Since natural selection demands only adequacy, elegance of design is not relevant; any combination of behavioural adjustment, physiological regulation, or anatomical accommodation that allows survival and reproduction may be favoured by selection. Since all animals are caught in a phylogenetic trap by the nature of past evolutionary adjustments, it is to be expected that a given environmental challenge will be met in a variety of ways by different animals. The delineation of the patterns of the accommodations of diverse types of organisms to the environment contributes much of the fascination of ecologically relevant physiology.
The existence of these patterns [fractals] challenges us to study forms that Euclid leaves aside as being formless, to investigate the morphology of the amorphous. Mathematicians have disdained this challenge, however, and have increasingly chosen to flee from nature by devising theories unrelated to anything we can see or feel.
The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, “What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?” and my answer must at once be, “It is no use.” There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
The full impact of the Lobatchewskian method of challenging axioms has probably yet to be felt. It is no exaggeration to call Lobatchewsky the Copernicus of Geometry [as did Clifford], for geometry is only a part of the vaster domain which he renovated; it might even be just to designate him as a Copernicus of all thought.
The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems.
The importance of rice will grow in the coming decades because of potential changes in temperature, precipitation, and sea-level rise, as a result of global warming. Rice grows under a wide range of latitudes and altitudes and can become the anchor of food security in a world confronted with the challenge of climate change.
The invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that.
The preeminent transnational community in our culture is science. With the release of nuclear energy in the first half of the twentieth century that model commonwealth decisively challenged the power of the nation-state.
The problems of the infinite have challenged man’s mind and have fired his imagination as no other single problem in the history of thought. The infinite appears both strange and familiar, at times beyond our grasp, at times easy and natural to understand. In conquering it, man broke the fetters that bound him to earth. All his faculties were required for this conquest—his reasoning powers, his poetic fancy, his desire to know.
The story of a theory’s failure often strikes readers as sad and unsatisfying. Since science thrives on self-correction, we who practice this most challenging of human arts do not share such a feeling. We may be unhappy if a favored hypothesis loses or chagrined if theories that we proposed prove inadequate. But refutation almost always contains positive lessons that overwhelm disappointment, even when no new and comprehensive theory has yet filled the void.
The structure known, but not yet accessible by synthesis, is to the chemist what the unclimbed mountain, the uncharted sea, the untilled field, the unreached planet, are to other men … The unique challenge which chemical synthesis provides for the creative imagination and the skilled hand ensures that it will endure as long as men write books, paint pictures, and fashion things which are beautiful, or practical, or both.
There is no way to guarantee in advance what pure mathematics will later find application. We can only let the process of curiosity and abstraction take place, let mathematicians obsessively take results to their logical extremes, leaving relevance far behind, and wait to see which topics turn out to be extremely useful. If not, when the challenges of the future arrive, we won’t have the right piece of seemingly pointless mathematics to hand.
This notion that “science” is something that belongs in a separate compartment of its own, apart from everyday life, is one that I should like to challenge. We live in a scientific age; yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priest-like in their laboratories. This is not true. It cannot be true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally.
To-day we no longer beg of nature; we command her, because we have discovered certain of her secrets and shall discover others each day. We command her in the name of laws she can not challenge because they are hers; these laws we do not madly ask her to change, we are the first to submit to them. Nature can only be governed by obeying her.
We are a caring nation, and our values should also guide us on how we harness the gifts of science. New medical breakthroughs bring the hope of cures for terrible diseases and treatments that can improve the lives of millions. Our challenge is to make sure that science serves the cause of humanity instead of the other way around.
We should be most careful about retreating from the specific challenge of our age. We should be reluctant to turn our back upon the frontier of this epoch… We cannot be indifferent to space, because the grand slow march of our intelligence has brought us, in our generation, to a point from which we can explore and understand and utilize it. To turn back now would be to deny our history, our capabilities.
Whatever terrain the environmental historian chooses to investigate, he has to address the age-old predicament of how humankind can feed itself without degrading the primal source of life. Today as ever, that problem is the fundamental challenge in human ecology, and meeting it will require knowing the earth well—knowing its history and knowing its limits.
When the greatest of American logicians, speaking of the powers that constitute the born geometrician, had named Conception, Imagination, and Generalization, he paused. Thereupon from one of the audience there came the challenge, “What of reason?” The instant response, not less just than brilliant, was: “Ratiocination—that is but the smooth pavement on which the chariot rolls.”
When we accept tough jobs as a challenge and wade into them with joy and enthusiasm, miracles can happen.
Willis Rodney Whitney ... once compared scientific research to a bridge being constructed by a builder who was fascinated by the construction problems involved. Basic research, he suggested, is such a bridge built wherever it strikes the builder's fancy—wherever the construction problems seem to him to be most challenging. Applied research, on the other hand, is a bridge built where people are waiting to get across the river. The challenge to the builder's ingenuity and skill, Whitney pointed out, can be as great in one case as the other.
Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserved—as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds—because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed.
[Albert Einstein] is not challenging the fact of science; he is challenging the action of science. Not only is he challenging the action of science, but the action of science has surrendered to his challenge.
[Janos] Bolyai when in garrison with cavalry officers, was provoked by thirteen of them and accepted all their challenges on condition that he be permitted after each duel to play a bit on his violin. He came out victor from his thirteen duels, leaving his thirteen adversaries on the square.
[W]e have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it.