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Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Conceivable

Conceivable Quotes (28 quotes)

The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified; and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest.
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 4.
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...I may perhaps venture a short word on the question much discussed in certain quarters, whether in the work of excavation it is a good thing to have cooperation between men and women ... Of a mixed dig ... I have seen something, and it is an experiment that I would be reluctant to try again. I would grant if need be that women are admirable fitted for the work, yet I would uphold that they should undertake it by themselves ... the work of an excavator on the dig and off it lays on those who share it a bond of closer daily intercourse than is conceivable ... between men and women, except in chance cases, I do not believe that such close and unavoidable companionship can ever be other than a source of irritation; at any rate, I believe that however it may affect women, the ordinary male at least cannot stand it ... A minor ... objection lies in one particular form of contraint ... moments will occur on the best regulated dig when you want to say just what you think without translation, which before the ladies, whatever their feelings about it, cannot be done.
Archaeological Excavation (1915), 63-64. In Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky Breaking Ground (2006), 557-558. By (), 163-164.
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[About the demand of the Board of Regents of the University of California that professors sign non-Communist loyalty oaths or lose their jobs within 65 days.] No conceivable damage to the university at the hands of hypothetical Communists among us could possibly have equaled the damage resulting from the unrest, ill-will and suspicion engendered by this series of events.
As quoted in 'Professors in West Call Oath “Indignity”', New York Times (26 Feb 1950), 38.
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A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn’t concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. … Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. … In our business, we don’t expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter’s search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body.
Describing the skill of his co-worker, Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the Turkana Boy, the most complete specimen of Homo erectus, on a slope covered with black lava pebbles.
Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992), 26.
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A moment's consideration of this case shows what a really great advance in the theory and practise of breeding has been obtained through the discovery of Mendel's law. What a puzzle this case would have presented to the biologist ten years ago! Agouti crossed with chocolate gives in the second filial generation (not in the first) four varieties, viz., agouti, chocolate, black and cinnamon. We could only have shaken our heads and looked wise (or skeptical).
Then we had no explanation to offer for such occurrences other than the 'instability of color characters under domestication,' the 'effects of inbreeding,' 'maternal impressions.' Serious consideration would have been given to the proximity of cages containing both black and cinnamon-agouti mice.
Now we have a simple, rational explanation, which anyone can put to the test. We are able to predict the production of new varieties, and to produce them.
We must not, of course, in our exuberance, conclude that the powers of the hybridizer know no limits. The result under consideration consists, after all, only in the making of new combinations of unit characters, but it is much to know that these units exist and that all conceivable combinations of them are ordinarily capable of production. This valuable knowledge we owe to the discoverer and to the rediscoverers of Mendel's law.
'New Colour Variety of the Guinea Pig', Science, 1908, 28, 250-252.
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All in all, the total amount of power conceivably available from the uranium and thorium supplies of the earth is about twenty times that available from the coal and oil we have left.
In The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science: The physical sciences (1960), 371.
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All possible truth is practical. To ask whether our conception of chair or table corresponds to the real chair or table apart from the uses to which they may be put, is as utterly meaningless and vain as to inquire whether a musical tone is red or yellow. No other conceivable relation than this between ideas and things can exist. The unknowable is what I cannot react upon. The active part of our nature is not only an essential part of cognition itself, but it always has a voice in determining what shall be believed and what rejected.
The Muscular Perception of Space (1878), 446.
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Chance alone is at the source of every innovaton, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, only chance, absolute but blind liberty is at the root of the prodigious edifice that is evolution... It today is the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.
Stating life began by the chance collision of particles of nucleic acid in the “prebiotic soup.”
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 112-113.
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Every species of plant and animal is determined by a pool of germ plasm that has been most carefully selected over a period of hundreds of millions of years. We can understand now why it is that mutations in these carefully selected organisms almost invariably are detrimental.The situation can be suggested by a statement by Dr. J.B.S. Haldane: “My clock is not keeping perfect time. It is conceivable that it will run better if I shoot a bullet through it; but it is much more probable that it will stop altogether.” Professor George Beadle, in this connection, has asked: “What is the chance that a typographical error would improve Hamlet?”
In No More War! (1958), Chap. 4, 53.
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For me, the idea of a creation is not conceivable without invoking the necessity of design. One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be design and purpose behind it all.
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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How do we discover the individual laws of Physics, and what is their nature? It should be remarked, to begin with, that we have no right to assume that any physical law exists, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future. It is perfectly conceivable that one fine day Nature should cause an unexpected event to occur which would baffle us all; and if this were to happen we would be powerless to make any objection, even if the result would be that, in spite of our endeavors, we should fail to introduce order into the resulting confusion. In such an event, the only course open to science would be to declare itself bankrupt. For this reason, science is compelled to begin by the general assumption that a general rule of law dominates throughout Nature.
Max Planck, Walter Henry Johnston, The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 58.
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I should like to draw attention to the inexhaustible variety of the problems and exercises which it [mathematics] furnishes; these may be graduated to precisely the amount of attainment which may be possessed, while yet retaining an interest and value. It seems to me that no other branch of study at all compares with mathematics in this. When we propose a deduction to a beginner we give him an exercise in many cases that would have been admired in the vigorous days of Greek geometry. Although grammatical exercises are well suited to insure the great benefits connected with the study of languages, yet these exercises seem to me stiff and artificial in comparison with the problems of mathematics. It is not absurd to maintain that Euclid and Apollonius would have regarded with interest many of the elegant deductions which are invented for the use of our students in geometry; but it seems scarcely conceivable that the great masters in any other line of study could condescend to give a moment’s attention to the elementary books of the beginner.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 10-11.
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In any conceivable method ever invented by man, an automaton which produces an object by copying a pattern, will go first from the pattern to a description to the object. It first abstracts what the thing is like, and then carries it out. It’s therefore simpler not to extract from a real object its definition, but to start from the definition.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Inductive reasoning is, of course, good guessing, not sound reasoning, but the finest results in science have been obtained in this way. Calling the guess a “working hypothesis,” its consequences are tested by experiment in every conceivable way.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), 2.
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It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory—if we look for confirmations. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions... A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or refute it.
Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963), 36.
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President Clinton at podium + Quote “our children's children will know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars”
President Clinton at the Human Genome Announcement at the White House (20 Jun 2000), with Francis S. Collins (left) and Craig Ventner. (source)
It is now conceivable that our children's children will know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars. [Speaking on the Human Genome Project's progress.]
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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Mechanical action may be derived from heat, and heat may be generated by mechanical action, by means of forces either acting between contiguous parts of bodies, or due to electric excitation; but in no other way known, or even conceivable, in the present state of science. Hence thermo-dynamics falls naturally into two divisions, of which the subjects are respectively, the relation of heat to the forces acting between contiguous parts of bodies, and the relation of heat to electrical agency.
In 'On the Dynamical Theory of Heat, with Numerical Results Deduced from Mr Joule's Equivalent of a Thermal Unit, and M. Regnault's Observations on Steam' (1851). Part VI, 'Thermo Electric Currents' (1854). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882), Vol. 1, 232.
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My belief (is) that one should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments. If they are unsuccessful one is not then discouraged since many possible reasons for failure can be thought of, and improvements can be made. Much can often be learned by the repetition under different conditions, even if the desired result is not obtained. If every conceivable precaution is taken at first, one is often too discouraged to proceed at all.
Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), Vol. 3, 364.
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Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. …
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable … that it may become possible to set up nuclear chain reactions in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat or exploded in a port, might well destroy the whole port altogether with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.
Letter to President Franklin P. Roosevelt, (2 Aug 1939, delivered 11 Oct 1939). In Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (Eds.) Einstein on Peace (1960, reprinted 1981), 294-95.
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The best that Gauss has given us was likewise an exclusive production. If he had not created his geometry of surfaces, which served Riemann as a basis, it is scarcely conceivable that anyone else would have discovered it. I do not hesitate to confess that to a certain extent a similar pleasure may be found by absorbing ourselves in questions of pure geometry.
Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 350.
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The difficulties connected with my criterion of demarcation (D) are important, but must not be exaggerated. It is vague, since it is a methodological rule, and since the demarcation between science and nonscience is vague. But it is more than sharp enough to make a distinction between many physical theories on the one hand, and metaphysical theories, such as psychoanalysis, or Marxism (in its present form), on the other. This is, of course, one of my main theses; and nobody who has not understood it can be said to have understood my theory.
The situation with Marxism is, incidentally, very different from that with psychoanalysis. Marxism was once a scientific theory: it predicted that capitalism would lead to increasing misery and, through a more or less mild revolution, to socialism; it predicted that this would happen first in the technically highest developed countries; and it predicted that the technical evolution of the 'means of production' would lead to social, political, and ideological developments, rather than the other way round.
But the (so-called) socialist revolution came first in one of the technically backward countries. And instead of the means of production producing a new ideology, it was Lenin's and Stalin's ideology that Russia must push forward with its industrialization ('Socialism is dictatorship of the proletariat plus electrification') which promoted the new development of the means of production.
Thus one might say that Marxism was once a science, but one which was refuted by some of the facts which happened to clash with its predictions (I have here mentioned just a few of these facts).
However, Marxism is no longer a science; for it broke the methodological rule that we must accept falsification, and it immunized itself against the most blatant refutations of its predictions. Ever since then, it can be described only as nonscience—as a metaphysical dream, if you like, married to a cruel reality.
Psychoanalysis is a very different case. It is an interesting psychological metaphysics (and no doubt there is some truth in it, as there is so often in metaphysical ideas), but it never was a science. There may be lots of people who are Freudian or Adlerian cases: Freud himself was clearly a Freudian case, and Adler an Adlerian case. But what prevents their theories from being scientific in the sense here described is, very simply, that they do not exclude any physically possible human behaviour. Whatever anybody may do is, in principle, explicable in Freudian or Adlerian terms. (Adler's break with Freud was more Adlerian than Freudian, but Freud never looked on it as a refutation of his theory.)
The point is very clear. Neither Freud nor Adler excludes any particular person's acting in any particular way, whatever the outward circumstances. Whether a man sacrificed his life to rescue a drowning, child (a case of sublimation) or whether he murdered the child by drowning him (a case of repression) could not possibly be predicted or excluded by Freud's theory; the theory was compatible with everything that could happen—even without any special immunization treatment.
Thus while Marxism became non-scientific by its adoption of an immunizing strategy, psychoanalysis was immune to start with, and remained so. In contrast, most physical theories are pretty free of immunizing tactics and highly falsifiable to start with. As a rule, they exclude an infinity of conceivable possibilities.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 127-128.
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The genius of Man in our time has gone into jet-propulsion, atom-splitting, penicillin-curing, etc. There is left none over for works of imagination; of spiritual insight or mystical enlightenment. I asked for bread and was given a tranquilizer. It is important to recognize that in our time man has not written one word, thought one thought, put two notes or two bricks together, splashed color on to canvas or concrete into space, in a manner which will be of any conceivable imaginative interest to posterity.
The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge (1966), 70.
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The object of pure mathematics is those relations which may be conceptually established among any conceived elements whatsoever by assuming them contained in some ordered manifold; the law of order of this manifold must be subject to our choice; the latter is the case in both of the only conceivable kinds of manifolds, in the discrete as well as in the continuous.
In Über das System der rein mathematischen Wissenschaften, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Bd. 1, 36. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 3.
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The teaching process, as commonly observed, has nothing to do with the investigation and establishment of facts, assuming that actual facts may ever be determined. Its sole purpose is to cram the pupils, as rapidly and as painlessly as possible, with the largest conceivable outfit of current axioms, in all departments of human thought—to make the pupil a good citizen, which is to say, a citizen differing as little as possible, in positive knowledge and habits of mind, from all other citizens.
From Baltimore Evening Sun (12 Mar 1923). Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 316.
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The way of pure research is opposed to all the copy-book maxims concerning the virtues of industry and a fixed purpose, and the evils of guessing, but it is damned useful when it comes off. It is the diametrical opposite of Edison’s reputed method of trying every conceivable expedient until he hit the right one. It requires, not diligence, but experience, information, and a good nose for the essence of a problem.
Letter to Paul de Kruif (3 Aug 1933), as quoted in Nathan Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History 1900-1939 (1981), 409.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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When, in an experiment, all known causes being allowed for, there remain certain unexplained effects (excessively slight it may be), these must be carefully investigated, and every conceivable variation of arrangement of apparatus, etc., tried ; until, if possible, we manage so to exaggerate the residual phenomenon as to be able to detect its cause. It is here, perhaps, that in the present state of science we may most reasonably look for extensions of our knowledge
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, 306.
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You cannot have a thing “matter” by itself which shall have no motion in it, nor yet a thing “motion” by itself which shall exist apart from matter; you must have both or neither. You can have matter moving much, or little, and in all conceivable ways; but you cannot have matter without any motion more than you can have motion without any matter that is moving.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 74.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
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Carl Gauss
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
Ralph Emerson
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Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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