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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Comprehension

Comprehension Quotes (51 quotes)

'Tis certain that our senses are extremely disproportioned for comprehending the whole compass and latitude of things.
In Mathematical Magic; or the Wonders That May Be Performed by Mechanical Geometry (1680), 116
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Among the older records, we find chapter after chapter of which we can read the characters, and make out their meaning: and as we approach the period of man’s creation, our book becomes more clear, and nature seems to speak to us in language so like our own, that we easily comprehend it. But just as we begin to enter on the history of physical changes going on before our eyes, and in which we ourselves bear a part, our chronicle seems to fail us—a leaf has been torn out from nature's record, and the succession of events is almost hidden from our eyes.
Letter 1 to William Wordsworth. Quoted in the appendix to W. Wordsworth, A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Direction for the Tourist, with Mr Wordsworth's Description of the Scenery of the County and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District (1842), 14.
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But why, it has been asked, did you go there [the Antarctic]? Of what use to civilization can this lifeless continent be? ... [Earlier] expeditions contributed something to the accumulating knowledge of the Antarctic ... that helps us thrust back further the physical and spiritual shadows enfolding our terrestrial existence. Is it not true that one of the strongest and most continuously sustained impulses working in civilization is that which leads to discovery? As long as any part of the world remains obscure, the curiosity of man must draw him there, as the lodestone draws the mariner's needle, until he comprehends its secret.
In 'Hoover Presents Special Medal to Byrd...', New York Times (21 Jun 1930), 1.
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By science, then, I understand the consideration of all subjects, whether of a pure or mixed nature, capable of being reduced to measurement and calculation. All things comprehended under the categories of space, time and number properly belong to our investigations; and all phenomena capable of being brought under the semblance of a law are legitimate objects of our inquiries.
In Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1833), xxviii.
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From astronomy we find the east, west, south, and north, as well as the theory of the heavens, the equinox, solstice, and courses of the stars. If one has no knowledge of these matters, he will not be able to have any comprehension of the theory of sundials.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 10. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 10.
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Geologists have usually had recourse for the explanation of these changes to the supposition of sundry violent and extraordinary catastrophes, cataclysms, or general revolutions having occurred in the physical state of the earth's surface.
As the idea imparted by the term Cataclysm, Catastrophe, or Revolution, is extremely vague, and may comprehend any thing you choose to imagine, it answers for the time very well as an explanation; that is, it stops further inquiry. But it also has had the disadvantage of effectually stopping the advance of science, by involving it in obscurity and confusion.
Considerations on Volcanoes (1825), iv.
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Geology is rapidly taking its place as an introduction to the higher history of man. If the author has sought to exalt a favorite science, it has been with the desire that man—in whom geological history had its consummation, the prophecies of the successive ages their fulfilment—might better comprehend his own nobility and the true purpose of his existence.
Concluding remark in Preface (1 Nov 1862), in Manual of Geology, Treating of the Principles of the Science (1863), ix.
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However much the pits may be apparent, yet none, as far as can be comprehended by the senses, passes through the septum of the heart from the right ventricle into the left. I have not seen even the most obscure passages by which the septum of the ventricles is pervious, although they are mentioned by professors of anatomy since they are convinced that blood is carried from the right ventricle into the left. As a result—as I shall declare more openly elsewhere—I am in no little doubt regarding the function of the heart in this part.
In De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem [Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body] (revised ed. 1555), 734. Quoted and trans. in Charles Donald O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (1964), 281.
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I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls.
…...
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I had a dislike for [mathematics], and ... was hopelessly short in algebra. ... [One extraordinary teacher of mathematics] got the whole year's course into me in exactly six [after-school] lessons of half an hour each. And how? More accurately, why? Simply because he was an algebra fanatic—because he believed that algebra was not only a science of the utmost importance, but also one of the greatest fascination. ... [H]e convinced me in twenty minutes that ignorance of algebra was as calamitous, socially and intellectually, as ignorance of table manners—That acquiring its elements was as necessary as washing behind the ears. So I fell upon the book and gulped it voraciously. ... To this day I comprehend the binomial theorem.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261-262.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future; and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist just as if one could.
Spoken by Thomasina in Arcadia (1993), Act I, Scene 1, 13.
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In all our academies we attempt far too much. ... In earlier times lectures were delivered upon chemistry and botany as branches of medicine, and the medical student learned enough of them. Now, however, chemistry and botany are become sciences of themselves, incapable of comprehension by a hasty survey, and each demanding the study of a whole life, yet we expect the medical student to understand them. He who is prudent, accordingly declines all distracting claims upon his time, and limits himself to a single branch and becomes expert in one thing.
Quoted in Johann Hermann Baas, Henry Ebenezer Handerson (trans.), Outlines of the History of Medicine and the Medical Profession (1889), 842-843.
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In essence, science is a perpetual search for an intelligent and integrated comprehension of the world we live in.
In Matthew M. Radmanesh, Cracking the Code of Our Physical Universe (2006), 248.
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In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle. ‘All space’ in this context may mean either all of an infinite universe, or all of a finite universe which curves back on itself like the surface of a sphere. Neither possibility is easy to comprehend, but this will not get in our way; it matters hardly at all in the early universe whether space is finite or infinite. At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high­energy nuclear physics.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 5.
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It is always the nearest, plainest and simplest principles that learned men comprehend last.
In Elbert Hubbard (ed. and publ.), The Philistine (Mar 1908), 26, No. 4, cover.
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It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977, 1993), 154.
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Kant, discussing the various modes of perception by which the human mind apprehends nature, concluded that it is specially prone to see nature through mathematical spectacles. Just as a man wearing blue spectacles would see only a blue world, so Kant thought that, with our mental bias, we tend to see only a mathematical world.
In The Mysterious Universe (1930), 115.
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Life arose as a living molecule or protogene, the progression from this stage to that of the ameba is at least as great as from ameba to man. All the essential problems of living organisms are already solved in the one-celled (or, as many now prefer to say, noncellular) protozoan and these are only elaborated in man or the other multicellular animals. The step from nonlife to life may not have been so complex, after all, and that from cell to multicellular organism is readily comprehensible. The change from protogene to protozoan was probably the most complex that has occurred in evolution, and it may well have taken as long as the change from protozoan to man.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 16
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Man is the summit, the crown of nature's development, and must comprehend everything that has preceded him, even as the fruit includes within itself all the earlier developed parts of the plant. In a word, Man must represent the whole world in miniature.
In Lorenz Oken, trans. by Alfred Tulk, Elements of Physiophilosophy (1847), 2.
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Many consider that the conflict of religion and science is a temporary phase, and that in due course the two mighty rivers of human understanding will merge into an even mightier Amazon of comprehension. I take the opposite view, that reconciliation is impossible. I consider that Science is mightier than the Word, and that the river of religion will (or, at least, should) atrophy and die.
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
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My original decision to devote myself to science was a direct result of the discovery which has never ceased to fill me with enthusiasm since my early youth—the comprehension of the far from obvious fact that the laws of human reasoning coincide with the laws governing the sequences of the impressions we receive from the world about us; that, therefore, pure reasoning can enable man to gain an insight into the mechanism of the latter. In this connection, it is of paramount importance that the outside world is something independent from man, something absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute appeared to me as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 13.
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Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend.
The Rambler, Number 117, 30 Apr 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Stranss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 2, 258-9.
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One should not understand this compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws ('a world of identical cases') as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange a world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible:—we thereby create a world which is calculable, simplified, comprehensible, etc., for us.
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 3, no. 521. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 282.
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Only by following out the injunction of our great predecessor [William Harvey] to search out and study the secrets of Nature by way of experiment, can we hope to attain to a comprehension of 'the wisdom of the body and the understanding of the heart,' and thereby to the mastery of disease and pain, which will enable us to relieve the burden of mankind.
'The Wisdom of the Body', The Lancet (1923), 205, 870.
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Scarcely anyone who comprehends this theory can escape its magic.
Quoted, without citation, in Norman K. Glendenning, Our Place in the Universe (2007), 107. Webmaster has not found any other source for this quote, and cautions doubt about its authenticity. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Science bestowed immense new powers on man, and, at the same time, created conditions which were largely beyond his comprehension.
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Science quickens and cultivates directly the faculty of observation, which in very many persons lies almost dormant through life, the power of accurate and rapid generalizations, and the mental habit of method and arrangement; it accustoms young persons to trace the sequence of cause and effect; it familiarizes then with a kind of reasoning which interests them, and which they can promptly comprehend; and it is perhaps the best corrective for that indolence which is the vice of half-awakened minds, and which shrinks from any exertion that is not, like an effort of memory, merely mechanical.
Anonymous
Report of the Royal Commission on Education (1861), Parliamentary Papers (1864), Vol 20, 32-33, as cited in Paul White, Thomas Huxley: Making the "Man of Science" (2003), 77, footnote. Also quoted in John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life (1887, 2007), 63.
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Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know—and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know—even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction—than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.
Widely seen on the Web, but always without citation, so regard attribution as uncertain. Webmaster has not yet found reliable verification. Contact Webmaster if you know a primary print source.
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The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me purely factitious, fabricated on the one hand by short-sighted religious people, who confound theology with religion; and on the other by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.
…...
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The central task of science is to arrive, stage by stage, at a clearer comprehension of nature, but this does not mean, as it is sometimes claimed to mean, a search for mastery over nature.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 153.
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The meaning of human life and the destiny of man cannot be separable from the meaning and destiny of life in general. 'What is man?' is a special case of 'What is life?' Probably the human species is not intelligent enough to answer either question fully, but even such glimmerings as are within our powers must be precious to us. The extent to which we can hope to understand ourselves and to plan our future depends in some measure on our ability to read the riddles of the past. The present, for all its awesome importance to us who chance to dwell in it, is only a random point in the long flow of time. Terrestrial life is one and continuous in space and time. Any true comprehension of it requires the attempt to view it whole and not in the artificial limits of any one place or epoch. The processes of life can be adequately displayed only in the course of life throughout the long ages of its existence.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 9.
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The mind comprehends a thing the more correctly the closer the thing approaches toward pure quantity as its origin.
Letter to Mästlin (19 Apr 1597). In Gerald James Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein (1985), 74.
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The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms — this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.
As quoted in Philip Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times (1947), chap. 12, sec. 5 - “Einstein’s Attitude Toward Religion.”
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The Nihilists do not believe in nothing; they only believe in nothing that does not commend itself to themselves; that is, they will not allow that anything may be beyond their comprehension. As their comprehension is not great their creed is, after all, very nearly nihil.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 216.
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The overwhelming astonishment, the queerest structure we know about so far in the whole universe, the greatest of all cosmological scientific puzzles, confounding all our efforts to comprehend it, is the earth.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 16.
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The universe is then one, infinite, immobile. ... It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infinite and indeterminable, and consequently immobile.
In Giordano Bruno and Jack Lindsay, 'Fifth Dialogue', Cause, Principle, and Unity: Five Dialogues (1976), 135.
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The whole biological community needs to be talking to one another so that people can get a comprehension of the turmoil in which our planet is involved at the moment, which is a biological turmoil above anything else.
In short extract from interview with Alice Roberts for the Biology: Changing the World project, 'Attenborough: The Earth is in “Biological Turmoil”', The Biologist (Apr/May 2015), 62, No. 2, 4.
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The wonderful arrangement and harmony of the cosmos would only originate in the plan of an almighty omniscient being. This is and remains my greatest comprehension.
…...
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The world is not as it was when it came from its Maker’s hands. It has been modified by many great revolutions, brought about by an inner mechanism of which we very imperfectly comprehend the movements; but of which we gain a glimpse by studying their effects: and their many causes still acting on the surface of our globe with undiminished power, which are changing, and will continue to change it, as long as it shall last.
Letter 1 to William Wordsworth. Quoted in the appendix to W. Wordsworth, A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Direction for the Tourist, with Mr Wordsworth's Description of the Scenery of the County and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District (1841), 6.
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There are many things akin to highest deity that are still obscure. Some may be too subtle for our powers of comprehension, others imperceptible to us because such exalted majesty conceals itself in the holiest part of its sanctuary, forbidding access to any power save that of the spirit. How many heavenly bodies revolve unseen by human eye!
From Quaestiones Naturales as translated in Charles Singer, From Magic to Science (1958), 57.
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There are then two kinds of intellect: the one able to penetrate acutely and deeply into the conclusions of given premises, and this is the precise intellect; the other able to comprehend a great number of premises without confusing them, and this is the mathematical intellect. The one has force and exactness, the other comprehension. Now the one quality can exist without the other; the intellect can be strong and narrow, and can also be comprehensive and weak.
In Pascal’s Pensées (1958), 3.
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There are three stages in the development of science: First, there is the observation of things and facts—the scientists map out and inventory the objects in each department of Nature; secondly, the interrelations are investigated, and this leads to a knowledge of forces and influences which produce or modify those objects…. This is the dynamic stage, the discovery of forces and laws connecting each fact with all other facts, and each province of Nature with all other provinces of Nature. The goal of this second stage of science is to make each fact in Nature throw light on all the other facts, and thus to illuminate each by all. … Science in its third and final stage learns to know everything in Nature as a part of a process which it studies in the history of its development. When it comes to see each thing in the perspective of its evolution, it knows it and comprehends it.
In Psychologic Foundations of Education: An Attempt to Show the Genesis of the Higher Faculties of the Mind (1907), 378.
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There is a finite number of species of plants and animals—even of insects—upon the earth. … Moreover, the universality of the genetic code, the common character of proteins in different species, the generality of cellular structure and cellular reproduction, the basic similarity of energy metabolism in all species and of photosynthesis in green plants and bacteria, and the universal evolution of living forms through mutation and natural selection all lead inescapably to a conclusion that, although diversity may be great, the laws of life, based on similarities, are finite in number and comprehensible to us in the main even now.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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This revelation of the secrets of nature, long mercifully withheld from man, should arouse the most solemn reflections in the mind and conscience of every human being capable of comprehension. We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce to peace among the nations, and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe, may become a perennial fountain of world prosperity.
[Concerning use of the atomic bomb.]
Statement drafted by Churchill following the use of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Due to the change in government, the statement was released by Clement Attlee (6 Aug 1945). In Sir Winston Churchill, Victory: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston Churchill (1946), 289.
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Through fear of being shown to be vacuous, religion denies the awesome power of human comprehension. It seeks to thwart, by encouraging awe in things unseen, the disclosure of the emptiness of faith.
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
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Truth travels down from the heights of philosophy to the humblest walks of life, and up from the simplest perceptions of an awakened intellect to the discoveries which almost change the face of the world. At every stage of its progress it is genial, luminous, creative. When first struck out by some distinguished and fortunate genius, it may address itself only to a few minds of kindred power. It exists then only in the highest forms of science; it corrects former systems, and authorizes new generalizations. Discussion, controversy begins; more truth is elicited, more errors exploded, more doubts cleared up, more phenomena drawn into the circle, unexpected connexions of kindred sciences are traced, and in each step of the progress, the number rapidly grows of those who are prepared to comprehend and carry on some branches of the investigation,— till, in the lapse of time, every order of intellect has been kindled, from that of the sublime discoverer to the practical machinist; and every department of knowledge been enlarged, from the most abstruse and transcendental theory to the daily arts of life.
In An Address Delivered Before the Literary Societies of Amherst College (25 Aug 1835), 16-17.
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We can trace the development of a nervous system, and correlate with it the parallel phenomena of sensation and thought. We see with undoubting certainty that they go hand in hand. But we try to soar in a vacuum the moment we seek to comprehend the connexion between them … Man the object is separated by an impassable gulf from man the subject.
In 'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast' (19 Aug 1874), in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 194-195.
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Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice the men will have forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances. Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your textbooks, burnt your lecture notes, and forgotten the minutiae which you learned by heart for the examination. What, in the way of detail, you continually require will stick in your memory as obvious facts like the sun and the moon; and what you casually require can be looked up in any work of reference. The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles. When I speak of principles I am hardly even thinking of verbal formulations. A principle which has thoroughly soaked into you is rather a mental habit than a formal statement. It becomes the way the mind reacts to the appropriate stimulus in the form of illustrative circumstances. Nobody goes about with his knowledge clearly and consciously before him. Mental cultivation is nothing else than the satisfactory way in which the mind will function when it is poked up into activity.
In The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 37
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When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a long history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention is the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, does the study of natural history become!
From the Conclusion of Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (3rd. ed., 1861), 521.
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[Scientific research reveals] the majestic spectacle of the order of nature gradually unfolding itself to man’s consciousness and placing in his hands the implements of ever augmenting power to control his destinies and attain that ultimate comprehension of the universe which has in all ages constituted the supreme aspiration of man.
As quoted in book review by Ian Clunies Ross, "The Spirit of Research', The Australian Quarterly (Dec 1931), 3, No. 12, 126.
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…what is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160. There are versions by other translators. For example, an alternate translation for the last sentence is: [Man is] “equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
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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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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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