Colleague Quotes (23 quotes)
Background art by Nils86, (cc by-sa 3.0) (source)
A scientist may exhaust himself; he frequently exhausts his colleagues, always exhausts his money, but never exhausts his subject.
Although my Aachen colleagues and students at first regarded the “pure mathematician” with suspicion, I soon had the satisfaction of being accepted a useful member not merely in teaching but also engineering practice; thus I was requested to render expert opinions and to participate in the Ingenieurverein [engineering association].
Consider the plight of a scientist of my age. I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1940. In the 41 years since then the amount of biological information has increased 16 fold; during these 4 decades my capacity to absorb new information has declined at an accelerating rate and now is at least 50% less than when I was a graduate student. If one defines ignorance as the ratio of what is available to be known to what is known, there seems no alternative to the conclusion that my ignorance is at least 25 times as extensive as it was when I got my bachelor’s degree. Although I am sure that my unfortunate condition comes as no surprise to my students and younger colleagues, I personally find it somewhat depressing. My depression is tempered, however, by the fact that all biologists, young or old, developing or senescing, face the same melancholy situation because of an interlocking set of circumstances.
Environmentalists may get off on climate porn, but most people just turn away. 'If it was really so bad, they'd do something,' says one colleague, without specifying who 'they' are. The human tendency to convince yourself that everything is OK, because no one else is worried, is deeply ingrained.
Evolutionists sometimes take as haughty an attitude toward the next level up the conventional ladder of disciplines: the human sciences. They decry the supposed atheoretical particularism of their anthropological colleagues and argue that all would be well if only the students of humanity regarded their subject as yet another animal and therefore yielded explanatory control to evolutionary biologists.
I do not understand modern physics at all, but my colleagues who know a lot about the physics of very small things, like the particles in atoms, or very large things, like the universe, seem to be running into one queerness after another, from puzzle to puzzle.
I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
I think that the event which, more than anything else, led me to the search for ways of making more powerful radio telescopes, was the recognition, in 1952, that the intense source in the constellation of Cygnus was a distant galaxy—1000 million light years away. This discovery showed that some galaxies were capable of producing radio emission about a million times more intense than that from our own Galaxy or the Andromeda nebula, and the mechanisms responsible were quite unknown. ... [T]he possibilities were so exciting even in 1952 that my colleagues and I set about the task of designing instruments capable of extending the observations to weaker and weaker sources, and of exploring their internal structure.
If a mathematician wishes to disparage the work of one of his colleagues, say, A, the most effective method he finds for doing this is to ask where the results can be applied. The hard pressed man, with his back against the wall, finally unearths the researches of another mathematician B as the locus of the application of his own results. If next B is plagued with a similar question, he will refer to another mathematician C. After a few steps of this kind we find ourselves referred back to the researches of A, and in this way the chain closes.
In Japan, an exceptional dexterity that comes from eating with chopsticks … is especially useful in micro-assembly. (This … brings smiles from my colleagues, but I stand by it. Much of modern assembly is fine tweezer work, and nothing prepares for it better than eating with chopsticks from early childhood.)
Mathematics and art are quite different. We could not publish so many papers that used, repeatedly, the same idea and still command the respect of our colleagues.
More and more of out colleagues fail to understand our work because of the high specialization of research problems. We must not be discouraged if the products of our labor are not read or even known to exist. The joy of research must be found in doing since every other harvest is uncertain.
Much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.
My colleagues in elementary particle theory in many lands [and I] are driven by the usual insatiable curiosity of the scientist, and our work is a delightful game. I am frequently astonished that it so often results in correct predictions of experimental results. How can it be that writing down a few simple and elegant formulae, like short poems governed by strict rules such as those of the sonnet or the waka, can predict universal regularities of Nature?
My profession often gets bad press for a variety of sins, both actual and imagined: arrogance, venality, insensitivity to moral issues about the use of knowledge, pandering to sources of funding with insufficient worry about attendant degradation of values. As an advocate for science, I plead ‘mildly guilty now and then’ to all these charges. Scientists are human beings subject to all the foibles and temptations of ordinary life. Some of us are moral rocks; others are reeds. I like to think (though I have no proof) that we are better, on average, than members of many other callings on a variety of issues central to the practice of good science: willingness to alter received opinion in the face of uncomfortable data, dedication to discovering and publicizing our best and most honest account of nature’s factuality, judgment of colleagues on the might of their ideas rather than the power of their positions.
Nobody knows how the stand of our knowledge about the atom would be without him. Personally, [Niels] Bohr is one of the amiable colleagues I have met. He utters his opinions like one perpetually groping and never like one who believes himself to be in possession of the truth.
Overdrafts on aquifers are one reason some of our geologist colleagues are convinced that water shortages will bring the human population explosion to a halt. There are substitutes for oil; there is no substitute for fresh water.
The members of the department became like the Athenians who, according to the Apostle Paul, “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Anyone who thought he had a bright idea rushed out to try it out on a colleague. Groups of two or more could be seen every day in offices, before blackboards or even in corridors, arguing vehemently about these 'brain storms.' It is doubtful whether any paper ever emerged for publication that had not run the gauntlet of such criticism. The whole department thus became far greater than the sum of its individual members.
The scientist has to take 95 per cent of his subject on trust. He has to because he can't possibly do all the experiments, therefore he has to take on trust the experiments all his colleagues and predecessors have done. Whereas a mathematician doesn't have to take anything on trust. Any theorem that's proved, he doesn't believe it, really, until he goes through the proof himself, and therefore he knows his whole subject from scratch. He's absolutely 100 per cent certain of it. And that gives him an extraordinary conviction of certainty, and an arrogance that scientists don't have.
You have chosen the most fascinating and dynamic profession there is, a profession with the highest potential for greatness, since the physician’s daily work is wrapped up in the subtle web of history. Your labors are linked with those of your colleagues who preceded you in history, and those who are now working all over the world. It is this spiritual unity with our colleagues of all periods and all countries that has made medicine so universal and eternal. For this reason we must study and try to imitate the lives of the “Great Doctors” of history.
You have … been told that science grows like an organism. You have been told that, if we today see further than our predecessors, it is only because we stand on their shoulders. But this [Nobel Prize Presentation] is an occasion on which I should prefer to remember, not the giants upon whose shoulders we stood, but the friends with whom we stood arm in arm … colleagues in so much of my work.
[Concerning] the usual contempt with which an orthodox analytic group treats all outsiders and strangers ... I urge you to think of the young psychoanalysts as your colleagues, collaborators and partners and not as spies, traitors and wayward children. You can never develop a science that way, only an orthodox church.
… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.