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

Contemplation Quotes (73 quotes)

...He cannot conclude however, without observing, that from the contemplation of so great a variety of extraneous fossils discovered in the cliffs which were evidently the produce of very different climates, he thinks himself rationally induced to believe that nothing short of an universal deluge could be a cause adequate to this effect.
Plantae Favershamiensis, Appendix, 'Establishing a short view of the fossil bodies of the adjacent island of Sheppey.' Quoted in David Beerling, The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History (2007), 145.
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Il est impossible de contempler le spectacle de l’univers étoilé sans se demander comment il s’est formé: nous devions peut-être attendre pour chercher une solution que nous ayons patiemment rassemblé les éléments …mais si nous étions si raisonnables, si nous étions curieux sans impatience, il est probable que nous n’avions jamais créé la Science et que nous nous serions toujours contentés de vivre notre petite vie. Notre esprit a donc reclamé impérieusement cette solution bien avant qu’elle fut mûre, et alors qu’il ne possédait que de vagues lueurs, lui permettant de la deviner plutôt que de l’attendre.
It is impossible to contemplate the spectacle of the starry universe without wondering how it was formed: perhaps we ought to wait, and not look for a solution until have patiently assembled the elements … but if we were so reasonable, if we were curious without impatience, it is probable we would never have created Science and we would always have been content with a trivial existence. Thus the mind has imperiously laid claim to this solution long before it was ripe, even while perceived in only faint glimmers—allowing us to guess a solution rather than wait for it.
From Leçons sur les Hypothèses Consmogoniques (1913) as cited in D. Ter Haar and A.G.W. Cameron, 'Historical Review of Theories of the Origin of the Solar System', collected in Robert Jastrow and A. G. W. Cameron (eds.), Origin of the Solar System: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, January 23-24, 1962, (1963), 3. 'Cosmogonical Hypotheses' (1913), collected in Harlow Shapley, Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (1960), 347.
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Il n'y a qu'un demi-siècle, un orateur chrétien, se défiant des hommes de la science leur disait: 'Arrêtez-vous enfin, et ne creusez pas jusqu'aux enfers.' Aujourd'hui, Messieurs, rassurés sur l'inébranlable constance de notre foi, nous vous disons: creusez, creusez encore; plus vous descendrez, plus vous rapprocherez du grand mystère de l'impuissance de l'homme et de la vérité de la religion. Creusez donc, creusez toujours,mundum tradidit disputationibus eorum; et quand la science aura donné son dernier coup de marteau sur les fondements de la terre, vous pourrez à la lueur du feu qu'il fera jaillir, lire encore l'idée de Dieu et contempler l'empreinte de sa main.
Only a half-century ago, a Christian speaker, mistrustful of men of science told them: 'Stop finally, and do not dig to hell.' Today, gentlemen, reassured about the steadfastness of our unshakeable faith, we say: dig, dig again; the further down you, the closer you come to the great mystery of the impotence of man and truth of religion. So dig, always dig: and when science has stuck its final hammer blow on the bosom of the earth, you will be able to ignite a burst of light, read furthermore the mind of God and contemplate the imprint of His hand.
As Monseigneur Rendu, Bishop of Annecy, Savoy, presiding at the closing session of a meeting of the Geological Society of France at Chambéry, Savoy (27 Aug 1844). In Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France 1843 à 1844, Tome 1, Ser. 2, 857. (1844), li. Google trans., edited by Webmaster.
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Les Leucocytes Et L'esprit De Sacrifice. — Il semble, d'après les recherches de De Bruyne (Phagocytose, 1895) et de ceux qui le citent, que les leucocytes des Lamellibranches — probablement lorsqu'ils ont phagocyté, qu'ils se sont chargés de résidus et de déchets, qu'ils ont, en un mot, accompli leur rôle et bien fait leur devoir — sortent du corps de l'animal et vont mourir dans le milieu ambiant. Ils se sacrifient. Après avoir si bien servi l'organisme par leur activité, ils le servent encore par leur mort en faisant place aux cellules nouvelles, plus jeunes.
N'est-ce pas la parfaite image du désintéressement le plus noble, et n'y a-t-il point là un exemple et un modèle? Il faut s'en inspirer: comme eux, nous sommes les unités d'un grand corps social; comme eux, nous pouvons le servir et envisager la mort avec sérénité, en subordonnant notre conscience individuelle à la conscience collective.
(30 Jan 1896)
Leukocytes and The Spirit Of Sacrifice. - It seems, according to research by De Bruyne (Phagocytosis, 1885) and those who quote it, that leukocytes of Lamellibranches [bivalves] - likely when they have phagocytized [ingested bacteria], as they become residues and waste, they have, in short, performed their role well and done their duty - leave the body of the animal and will die in the environment. They sacrifice themselves. Having so well served the body by their activities, they still serve in their death by making room for new younger cells.
Isn't this the perfect image of the noblest selflessness, and thereby presents an example and a model? It should be inspiring: like them, we are the units of a great social body, like them, we can serve and contemplate death with equanimity, subordinating our individual consciousness to collective consciousness.
In Recueil d'Œuvres de Léo Errera: Botanique Générale (1908), 194. Google translation by Webmaster. Please give feedback if you can improve it.
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A mind which has once imbibed a taste for scientific enquiry, and has learnt the habit of applying its principles readily to the cases which occur, has within itself an inexhaustable source of pure and exciting contemplations:— One would think that Shakespeare had such a mind in view when he describes a contemplative man as finding
    “Tongues in trees—books in running brooks—
    Sermons in stones—and good in everything.”
Accustomed to trace the operations of general causes and the exemplification of general laws, in circumstances where the uninformed and uninquiring eye, perceives neither novelty nor beauty, he walks in the midst of wonders; every object which falls in his way elucidates some principle, affords some instruction and impresses him with a sense of harmony and order. Nor is it a mere passive pleasure which is thus communicated. A thousand questions are continually arising in his mind, a thousand objects of enquiry presenting themselves, which keep his faculties in constant exercise, and his thoughts perpetually on the wing, so that lassitude is excluded from his life, and that craving after artificial excitement and dissipation of the mind, which leads so many into frivolous, unworthy, and destructive pursuits, is altogether eradicated from his bosom.
In Dionysius Lardner (ed.), Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Vol 1, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), 14-15.
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A mind which has once imbibed a taste for scientific enquiry, and has learnt the habit of applying its principles readily to the cases which occur, has within itself an inexhaustible source of pure and exciting contemplations.
In Dionysius Lardner (ed.), Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Vol 1, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), 14-15.
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After having a wash I proceeded to the bar where—believe it or not—there was a white-coated barman who was not only serving drinks but also cigarettes! I hastened forward and rather timidly said ‘Can I have some cigarettes?’
‘What’s your rank?’ was the slightly unexpected reply.
‘I am afraid I haven’t got one,’ I answered.
‘Nonsense—everyone who comes here has a rank.’
‘I’m sorry but I just don’t have one.’
‘Now that puts me in a spot,’ said the barman, ‘for orders about cigarettes in this camp are clear—twenty for officers and ten for other ranks. Tell me what exactly are you?’
Now I really wanted those cigarettes so I drew myself up and said ‘I am the Professor of Chemistry at Manchester University.’
The barman contemplated me for about thirty seconds and then said ‘I’ll give you five.’
Since that day I have had few illusions about the importance of professors!
In A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist (1983), 59. This event took place after a visit to the Defence Research Establishment at Porton to observe a demonstration of a new chemical anti-tank weapon (1941).
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And I believe there are many Species in Nature, which were never yet taken notice of by Man, and consequently of no use to him, which yet we are not to think were created in vain; but it’s likely … to partake of the overflowing Goodness of the Creator, and enjoy their own Beings. But though in this sense it be not true, that all things were made for Man; yet thus far it is, that all the Creatures in the World may be some way or other useful to us, at least to exercise our Wits and Understandings, in considering and contemplating of them, and so afford us Subject of Admiring and Glorifying their and our Maker. Seeing them, we do believe and assert that all things were in some sense made for us, we are thereby obliged to make use of them for those purposes for which they serve us, else we frustrate this End of their Creation.
John Ray
The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691), 169-70.
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As an Art, Mathematics has its own standard of beauty and elegance which can vie with the more decorative arts. In this it is diametrically opposed to a Baroque art which relies on a wealth of ornamental additions. Bereft of superfluous addenda, Mathematics may appear, on first acquaintance, austere and severe. But longer contemplation reveals the classic attributes of simplicity relative to its significance and depth of meaning.
In The Skeleton Key of Mathematics (1949), 12.
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Astronomy was not studied by Kepler, Galileo, or Newton for the practical applications which might result from it, but to enlarge the bounds of knowledge, to furnish new objects of thought and contemplation in regard to the universe of which we form a part; yet how remarkable the influence which this science, apparently so far removed from the sphere of our material interests, has exerted on the destinies of the world!
In 'Report of the Secretary', Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1859 (1860), 15.
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Atoms and molecules … from their very nature can never be made the objects of sensuous contemplation.
In Ernst Mach and Thomas J. McCormack (trans.), 'Space and Geometry from the Point of View of Physical Inquiry', Space and Geometry in the Light of Physiological, Psychological and Physical Inquiry (1906), 138. Originally written as an article for The Monist (1 Oct 1903), 14, No. 1, Mach believed the realm of science should include only phenomena directly observable by the senses, and rejected theories of unseeable atomic orbitals.
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But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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But in practical affairs, particularly in politics, men are needed who combine human experience and interest in human relations with a knowledge of science and technology. Moreover, they must be men of action and not contemplation. I have the impression that no method of education can produce people with all the qualities required. I am haunted by the idea that this break in human civilization, caused by the discovery of the scientific method, may be irreparable.
Max Born
My Life & My Views (1968), 57-8.
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Confined to its true domain, mathematical reasoning is admirably adapted to perform the universal office of sound logic: to induce in order to deduce, in order to construct. … It contents itself to furnish, in the most favorable domain, a model of clearness, of precision, and consistency, the close contemplation of which is alone able to prepare the mind to render other conceptions also as perfect as their nature permits. Its general reaction, more negative than positive, must consist, above all, in inspiring us everywhere with an invincible aversion for vagueness, inconsistency, and obscurity, which may always be really avoided in any reasoning whatsoever, if we make sufficient effort.
In Synthèse Subjective (1856), 98. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 202-203. From the original French, “Bornée à son vrai domaine, la raison mathématique y peut admirablement remplir l’office universel de la saine logique: induire pour déduire, afin de construire. … Elle se contente de former, dans le domaine le plus favorable, un type de clarté, de précision, et de consistance, dont la contemplation familière peut seule disposer l’esprit à rendre les autres conceptions aussi parfaites que le comporte leur nature. Sa réaction générale, plus négative que positive, doit surtout consister à nous inspirer partout une invincible répugnance pour le vague, l’incohérence, et l’obscurité, que nous pouvons réellement éviter envers des pensées quelconques, si nous y faisons assez d’efforts.”
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Geology, perhaps more than any other department of natural philosophy, is a science of contemplation. It requires no experience or complicated apparatus, no minute processes upon the unknown processes of matter. It demands only an enquiring mind and senses alive to the facts almost everywhere presented in nature. And as it may be acquired without much difficulty, so it may be improved without much painful exertion.
'Lectures on Geology, 1805 Lecture', in R. Siegfried and R. H. Dott (eds.), Humphry Davy on Geology (1980), 13.
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He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more than his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men he should have known no more than other men.
From 'Thomas Hobbes', in Andrew Clark (ed.) Brief Lives (1898), Vol. 1, 349.
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He who studies it [Nature] has continually the exquisite pleasure of discerning or half discerning and divining laws; regularities glimmer through an appearance of confusion, analogies between phenomena of a different order suggest themselves and set the imagination in motion; the mind is haunted with the sense of a vast unity not yet discoverable or nameable. There is food for contemplation which never runs short; you are gazing at an object which is always growing clearer, and yet always, in the very act of growing clearer, presenting new mysteries.
From 'Natural History', Macmillan's Magazine (1875), 31, 366.
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Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 3. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 47.
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I am not insensible to natural beauty, but my emotional joys center on the improbable yet sometimes wondrous works of that tiny and accidental evolutionary twig called Homo sapiens. And I find, among these works, nothing more noble than the history of our struggle to understand nature—a majestic entity of such vast spatial and temporal scope that she cannot care much for a little mammalian afterthought with a curious evolutionary invention, even if that invention has, for the first time in so me four billion years of life on earth, produced recursion as a creature reflects back upon its own production and evolution. Thus, I love nature primarily for the puzzles and intellectual delights that she offers to the first organ capable of such curious contemplation.
…...
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I trust ... I have succeeded in convincing you that modern chemistry is not, as it has so long appeared, an ever-growing accumulation of isolated facts, as impossible for a single intellect to co-ordinate as for a single memory to grasp.
The intricate formulae that hang upon these walls, and the boundless variety of phenomena they illustrate, are beginning to be for us as a labyrinth once impassable, but to which we have at length discovered the clue. A sense of mastery and power succeeds in our minds to the sort of weary despair with which we at first contemplated their formidable array. For now, by the aid of a few general principles, we find ourselves able to unravel the complexities of these formulae, to marshal the compounds which they represent in orderly series; nay, even to multiply their numbers at our will, and in a great measure to forecast their nature ere we have called them into existence. It is the great movement of modern chemistry that we have thus, for an hour, seen passing before us. It is a movement as of light spreading itself over a waste of obscurity, as of law diffusing order throughout a wilderness of confusion, and there is surely in its contemplation something of the pleasure which attends the spectacle of a beautiful daybreak, something of the grandeur belonging to the conception of a world created out of chaos.
Concluding remark for paper presented at the Friday Discourse of the the Royal Institution (7 Apr 1865). 'On the Combining Power of Atoms', Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1865), 4, No. 42, 416.
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In our search after the Knowledge of Substances, our want of Ideas, that are suitable to such a way of proceeding, obliges us to a quite different method. We advance not here, as in the other (where our abstract Ideas are real as well as nominal Essences) by contemplating our Ideas, and considering their Relations and Correspondencies; that helps us very little, for the Reasons, and in another place we have at large set down. By which, I think it is evident, that Substances afford Matter of very little general Knowledge; and the bare Contemplation of their abstract Ideas, will carry us but a very little way in the search of Truth and Certainty. What then are we to do for the improvement of our Knowledge in Substantial beings? Here we are to take a quite contrary Course, the want of Ideas of their real essences sends us from our own Thoughts, to the Things themselves, as they exist.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 9, 644.
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It hath been an old remark, that Geometry is an excellent Logic. And it must be owned that when the definitions are clear; when the postulata cannot be refused, nor the axioms denied; when from the distinct contemplation and comparison of figures, their properties are derived, by a perpetual well-connected chain of consequences, the objects being still kept in view, and the attention ever fixed upon them; there is acquired a habit of reasoning, close and exact and methodical; which habit strengthens and sharpens the mind, and being transferred to other subjects is of general use in the inquiry after truth.
In 'The Analyst', in The Works of George Berkeley (1898), Vol. 3, 10.
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It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.
In 'The Exceeding Beauty of the Earth', This Week Magazine (1952). As cited in Karen F. Stein, Rachel Carson: Challenging Authors (2013), 55.
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It is curious to observe how differently these great men [Plato and Bacon] estimated the value of every kind of knowledge. Take Arithmetic for example. Plato, after speaking slightly of the convenience of being able to reckon and compute in the ordinary transactions of life, passes to what he considers as a far more important advantage. The study of the properties of numbers, he tells us, habituates the mind to the contemplation of pure truth, and raises us above the material universe. He would have his disciples apply themselves to this study, not that they may be able to buy or sell, not that they may qualify themselves to be shop-keepers or travelling merchants, but that they may learn to withdraw their minds from the ever-shifting spectacle of this visible and tangible world, and to fix them on the immutable essences of things.
Bacon, on the other hand, valued this branch of knowledge only on account of its uses with reference to that visible and tangible world which Plato so much despised. He speaks with scorn of the mystical arithmetic of the later Platonists, and laments the propensity of mankind to employ, on mere matters of curiosity, powers the whole exertion of which is required for purposes of solid advantage. He advises arithmeticians to leave these trifles, and employ themselves in framing convenient expressions which may be of use in physical researches.
In 'Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1837). Collected in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (1857), Vol. 1, 394.
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It is interesting to transport one’s self back to the times when Astronomy began; to observe how discoveries were connected together, how errors have got mixed up with truth, have delayed the knowledge of it, and retarded its progress; and, after having followed the various epochs and traversed every climate, finally to contemplate the edifice founded on the labours of successive centuries and of various nations.
Description of Bailly’s plan when writing his history of astronomy books, quoted by François Arago, trans. by William Henry Smyth, Baden Powell and Robert Grant, in 'Bailly', Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859), Vol. 1, 114. Arago first presented this biography of Bailly when he read it to the Academy of Sciences (26 Feb 1844).
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It is very remarkable that while the words Eternal, Eternity, Forever, are constantly in our mouths, and applied without hesitation, we yet experience considerable difficulty in contemplating any definite term which bears a very large proportion to the brief cycles of our petty chronicles. There are many minds that would not for an instant doubt the God of Nature to have existed from all Eternity, and would yet reject as preposterous the idea of going back a million of years in the History of His Works. Yet what is a million, or a million million, of solar revolutions to an Eternity?
Memoir on the Geology of Central France (1827), 165.
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Magic is a faculty of wonderful virtue, full of most high mysteries, containing the most profound contemplation of most secret things, together with the nature, power, quality, substance and virtues thereof, as also the knowledge of whole Nature, and it doth instruct us concerning the differing and agreement of things amongst themselves, whence it produceth its wonderful effects, by uniting the virtues of things through the application of them one to the other.
In De Occulta Philosophia (1533), Vol. 1. Translation by J.F. (1651) reprinted as The Philosophy of Natural Magic (1913), 38-39.
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MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  212.
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Mankind have been slow to believe that order reigns in the universe—that the world is a cosmos and a chaos.
… The divinities of heathen superstition still linger in one form or another in the faith of the ignorant, and even intelligent men shrink from the contemplation of one supreme will acting regularly, not fortuitously, through laws beautiful and simple rather than through a fitful and capricious system of intervention.
... The scientific spirit has cast out the demons, and presented us with nature clothed in her right mind and living under the reign of law. It has given us, for the sorceries of the alchemist, the beautiful laws of chemistry; for the dreams of the astrologer, the sublime truths of astronomy; for the wild visions of cosmogony, the monumental records of geology; for the anarchy of diabolism, the laws of God.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 216.
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Mathematics as an expression of the human mind reflects the active will, the contemplative reason, and the desire for aesthetic perfection. Its basic elements are logic and intuition, analysis and construction, generality and individuality. Though different traditions may emphasize different aspects, it is only the interplay of these antithetic forces and the struggle for their synthesis that constitute the life, usefulness, and supreme value of mathematical science.
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), x.
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Mathematics is not a contemplative but a creative subject.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 43.
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No Roman ever died in contemplation over a geometrical diagram.
Referring to the death of Archimedes, to show the difference between the Greek and Roman mind. As quoted, without citation, in Howard W. Eves, Mathematical Circles Squared (1972), 153.
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Nothing afflicted Marcellus so much as the death of Archimedes, who was then, as fate would have it, intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he never noticed the incursion of the Romans, nor that the city was taken. In this transport of study and contemplation, a soldier, unexpectedly coming up to him, commanded him to follow to Marcellus, which he declined to do before he had worked out his problem to a demonstration; the soldier, enraged, drew his sword and ran him through. Others write, that a Roman soldier, running upon him with a drawn sword, offered to kill him; and that Archimedes, looking back, earnestly besought him to hold his hand a little while, that he might not leave what he was at work upon inconclusive and imperfect; but the soldier, nothing moved by his entreaty, instantly killed him. Others again relate, that as Archimedes was carrying to Marcellus mathematical instruments, dials, spheres, and angles, by which the magnitude of the sun might be measured to the sight, some soldiers seeing him, and thinking that he carried gold in a vessel, slew him. Certain it is, that his death was very afflicting to Marcellus; and that Marcellus ever after regarded him that killed him as a murderer; and that he sought for his kindred and honoured them with signal favours.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Nothing afflicted Marcellus so much as the death of Archimedes, who was then, as fate would have it, intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he never noticed the incursion of the Romans, nor that the city was taken. In this transport of study and contemplation, a soldier, unexpectedly coming up to him, commanded him to follow to Marcellus, which he declined to do before he had worked out his problem to a demonstration; the soldier, enraged, drew his sword and ran him through. Others write, that a Roman soldier, running upon him with a drawn sword, offered to kill him; and that Archimedes, looking back, earnestly besought him to hold his hand a little while, that he might not leave what he was at work upon inconclusive and imperfect; but the soldier, nothing moved by his entreaty, instantly killed him. Others again relate, that as Archimedes was carrying to Marcellus mathematical instruments, dials, spheres, and angles, by which the magnitude of the sun might be measured to the sight, some soldiers seeing him, and thinking that he carried gold in a vessel, slew him. Certain it is, that his death was very afflicting to Marcellus; and that Marcellus ever after regarded him that killed him as a murderer; and that he sought for his kindred and honoured them with signal favours.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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People who have read a great deal seldom make great discoveries. I do not say this to excuse laziness, for invention presupposes an extensive contemplation of things on one's own account; one must see for oneself more than let oneself be told.
Aphorism 85 in Notebook E (1775-1776), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 77.
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Sylvester’s writings are flowery and eloquent. He was able to make the dullest subject bright, fresh and interesting. His enthusiasm is evident in every line. He would get quite close up to his subject, so that everything else looked small in comparison, and for the time would think and make others think that the world contained no finer matter for contemplation. His handwriting was bad, and a trouble to his printers. His papers were finished with difficulty. No sooner was the manuscript in the editor’s hands than alterations, corrections, ameliorations and generalizations would suggest themselves to his mind, and every post would carry further directions to the editors and printers.
In Nature (1897), 55, 494.
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The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
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The breaking up of the terrestrial globe, this it is we witness. It doubtless began a long time ago, and the brevity of human life enables us to contemplate it without dismay. It is not only in the great mountain ranges that the traces of this process are found. Great segments of the earth's crust have sunk hundreds, in some cases, even thousands, of feet deep, and not the slightest inequality of the surface remains to indicate the fracture; the different nature of the rocks and the discoveries made in mining alone reveal its presence. Time has levelled all.
The Face of the Earth (1904), Vol. 1, 604.
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The contemplation of celestial things will make a man both speak and think more sublimely and magnificently when he descends to human affairs.
In Louis Klopsch, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896), 18.
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The contemplation of Nature, and his own relation to her, produced in Faraday, a kind of spiritual exaltation which makes itself manifest here. His religious feeling and his philosophy could not be kept apart; there was an habitual overflow of the one into the other.
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 152.
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The contemplation of the eternal is the end of philosophy, as the contemplation of the mysteries is the end of religion.
Plutarch
As quoted in Benjamin Farrington, Greek Science: Its Meaning for Us (Thales to Aristotle) (1944), 39.
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The discovery of the conic sections, attributed to Plato, first threw open the higher species of form to the contemplation of geometers. But for this discovery, which was probably regarded in Plato’s tune and long after him, as the unprofitable amusement of a speculative brain, the whole course of practical philosophy of the present day, of the science of astronomy, of the theory of projectiles, of the art of navigation, might have run in a different channel; and the greatest discovery that has ever been made in the history of the world, the law of universal gravitation, with its innumerable direct and indirect consequences and applications to every department of human research and industry, might never to this hour have been elicited.
In 'A Probationary Lecture on Geometry, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 7.
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The earth's becoming at a particular period the residence of human beings, was an era in the moral, not in the physical world, that our study and contemplation of the earth, and the laws which govern its animate productions, ought no more to be considered in the light of a disturbance or deviation from the system, than the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter should be regarded as a physical event in the history of those heavenly bodies, however influential they may have become from that time in advancing the progress of sound philosophy among men.
In Principles of Geology, Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the of the Earth's Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation(1830), Vol. 1, 163.
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The empirical domain of objective contemplation, and the delineation of our planet in its present condition, do not include a consideration of the mysterious and insoluble problems of origin and existence.
In lecture, 'Organic Life', collected in Cosmos, the Elements of the Physical World (1849), 348, as translated by E.C. Otté. Also seen translated as “The mysterious and unsolved problem of how things came to be does not enter the empirical province of objective research, which is confined to a description of things as they are.”
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The enthusiasm of Sylvester for his own work, which manifests itself here as always, indicates one of his characteristic qualities: a high degree of subjectivity in his productions and publications. Sylvester was so fully possessed by the matter which for the time being engaged his attention, that it appeared to him and was designated by him as the summit of all that is important, remarkable and full of future promise. It would excite his phantasy and power of imagination in even a greater measure than his power of reflection, so much so that he could never marshal the ability to master his subject-matter, much less to present it in an orderly manner.
Considering that he was also somewhat of a poet, it will be easier to overlook the poetic flights which pervade his writing, often bombastic, sometimes furnishing apt illustrations; more damaging is the complete lack of form and orderliness of his publications and their sketchlike character, … which must be accredited at least as much to lack of objectivity as to a superfluity of ideas. Again, the text is permeated with associated emotional expressions, bizarre utterances and paradoxes and is everywhere accompanied by notes, which constitute an essential part of Sylvester’s method of presentation, embodying relations, whether proximate or remote, which momentarily suggested themselves. These notes, full of inspiration and occasional flashes of genius, are the more stimulating owing to their incompleteness. But none of his works manifest a desire to penetrate the subject from all sides and to allow it to mature; each mere surmise, conceptions which arose during publication, immature thoughts and even errors were ushered into publicity at the moment of their inception, with utmost carelessness, and always with complete unfamiliarity of the literature of the subject. Nowhere is there the least trace of self-criticism. No one can be expected to read the treatises entire, for in the form in which they are available they fail to give a clear view of the matter under contemplation.
Sylvester’s was not a harmoniously gifted or well-balanced mind, but rather an instinctively active and creative mind, free from egotism. His reasoning moved in generalizations, was frequently influenced by analysis and at times was guided even by mystical numerical relations. His reasoning consists less frequently of pure intelligible conclusions than of inductions, or rather conjectures incited by individual observations and verifications. In this he was guided by an algebraic sense, developed through long occupation with processes of forms, and this led him luckily to general fundamental truths which in some instances remain veiled. His lack of system is here offset by the advantage of freedom from purely mechanical logical activity.
The exponents of his essential characteristics are an intuitive talent and a faculty of invention to which we owe a series of ideas of lasting value and bearing the germs of fruitful methods. To no one more fittingly than to Sylvester can be applied one of the mottos of the Philosophic Magazine:
“Admiratio generat quaestionem, quaestio investigationem investigatio inventionem.”
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), 50, 155-160. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 176-178.
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The equations of dynamics completely express the laws of the historical method as applied to matter, but the application of these equations implies a perfect knowledge of all the data. But the smallest portion of matter which we can subject to experiment consists of millions of molecules, not one of which ever becomes individually sensible to us. We cannot, therefore, ascertain the actual motion of anyone of these molecules; so that we are obliged to abandon the strict historical method, and to adopt the statistical method of dealing with large groups of molecules … Thus molecular science teaches us that our experiments can never give us anything more than statistical information, and that no law derived from them can pretend to absolute precision. But when we pass from the contemplation of our experiments to that of the molecules themselves, we leave a world of chance and change, and enter a region where everything is certain and immutable.
'Molecules' (1873). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 374.
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The great object of all knowledge is to enlarge and purify the soul, to fill the mind with noble contemplations, to furnish a refined pleasure, and to lead our feeble reason from the works of nature up to its great Author and Sustainer. Considering this as the ultimate end of science, no branch of it can surely claim precedence of Astronomy. No other science furnishes such a palpable embodiment of the abstractions which lie at the foundation of our intellectual system; the great ideas of time, and space, and extension, and magnitude, and number, and motion, and power. How grand the conception of the ages on ages required for several of the secular equations of the solar system; of distances from which the light of a fixed star would not reach us in twenty millions of years, of magnitudes compared with which the earth is but a foot-ball; of starry hosts—suns like our own—numberless as the sands on the shore; of worlds and systems shooting through the infinite spaces.
Oration at Inauguration of the Dudley Astronomical Observatory, Albany (28 Jul 1856). Text published as The Uses of Astronomy (1856), 36.
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The great truths with which it [mathematics] deals, are clothed with austere grandeur, far above all purposes of immediate convenience or profit. It is in them that our limited understandings approach nearest to the conception of that absolute and infinite, towards which in most other things they aspire in vain. In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there, when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven. They existed not merely in metaphysical possibility, but in the actual contemplation of the supreme reason. The pen of inspiration, ranging all nature and life for imagery to set forth the Creator’s power and wisdom, finds them best symbolized in the skill of the surveyor. "He meted out heaven as with a span;" and an ancient sage, neither falsely nor irreverently, ventured to say, that “God is a geometer”.
In Orations and Speeches (1870), Vol. 3, 614.
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The greater is the circle of light, the greater is the boundary of the darkness by which it is confined. But, notwithstanding this, the more light get, the more thankful we ought to be, for by this means we have the greater range for satisfactory contemplation. time the bounds of light will be still farther extended; and from the infinity of the divine nature, and the divine works, we may promise ourselves an endless progress in our investigation them: a prospect truly sublime and glorious.
Experiments and Observations with a Continuation of the Observations on Air (1781), Vol. 2, ix.
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The man imbued with the proper spirit of science does not seek for immediate pecuniary reward from the practical applications of his discoveries, but derives sufficient gratification from his pursuit and the consciousness of enlarging the bounds of human contemplation, and the magnitude of human power, and leaves to others to gather the golden fruit he may strew along his pathway.
In Letter (3 Feb 1873) to the Committee of Arrangements, in Proceedings of the Farewell Banquet to Professor Tyndall (4 Feb 1873), 19. Reprinted as 'On the Importance of the Cultivation of Science', The Popular Science Monthly (1873), Vol. 2, 645.
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The objects which astronomy discloses afford subjects of sublime contemplation, and tend to elevate the soul above vicious passions and groveling pursuits.
In Elijah H. Burritt, 'Introduction', The Geography of the Heavens (1844), 16.
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The physicist cannot simply surrender to the philosopher the critical contemplation of the theoretical foundations for he himself knows best and feels most surely where the shoe pinches. … he must try to make clear in his own mind just how far the concepts which he uses are justified … The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking. It is for this reason that the critical thinking of the physicist cannot possibly be restricted by the examination of the concepts of his own specific field. He cannot proceed without considering critically a much more difficult problem, the problem of analyzing the nature of everyday thinking.
‘Physics and Reality’, Franklin Institute Journal (Mar 1936). Collected in Out of My Later Years (1950), 59.
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The pursuit of mathematical science makes its votary appear singularly indifferent to the ordinary interests and cares of men. Seeking eternal truths, and finding his pleasures in the realities of form and number, he has little interest in the disputes and contentions of the passing hour. His views on social and political questions partake of the grandeur of his favorite contemplations, and, while careful to throw his mite of influence on the side of right and truth, he is content to abide the workings of those general laws by which he doubts not that the fluctuations of human history are as unerringly guided as are the perturbations of the planetary hosts.
In 'Imagination in Mathematics', North American Review, 85, 227.
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The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or the Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings.
In W. J. B. Owen (ed.), Preface to the Lyrical Ballads (1800, 1957), 124-125.
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The study of letters is the study of the operation of human force, of human freedom and activity; the study of nature is the study of the operation of non-human forces, of human limitation and passivity. The contemplation of human force and activity tends naturally to heighten our own force and activity; the contemplation of human limits and passivity tends rather to check it. Therefore the men who have had the humanistic training have played, and yet play, so prominent a part in human affairs, in spite of their prodigious ignorance of the universe.
Schools and Universities on the Continent (1868), in R. H. Super (ed.) The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold: Schools and Universities on the Continent (1964), Vol. 4, 292.
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The universe, that vast assemblage of every thing that exists, presents only matter and motion: the whole offers to our contemplation, nothing but an immense, an uninterrupted succession of causes and effects.
The System of Nature (1770), trans. Samuel Wilkinson (1820), Vol. 1, 12-13.
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The world of ideas which it [mathematics] discloses or illuminates, the contemplation of divine beauty and order which it induces, the harmonious connexion of its parts, the infinite hierarchy and absolute evidence of the truths with which it is concerned, these, and such like, are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet, and the mind of man qualified to take in the whole scheme of creation at a glance.
In Presidential Address to British Association (19 Aug 1869), 'A Plea for the Mathematician', published in Nature (6 Jan 1870), 1, 262. Collected in Collected Mathematical Papers (1908), Vol. 2, 659.
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The young genius early exults in the contemplation of power and beauty. During Scott’s childhood, a frightful thunder-storm raged at Edinburgh, which made his brothers and the domestics huddle together in one room, shivering with fear at every peal. Young Walter was found lying on his back in the garden, the rain pitilessly pelting his face, while he, almost convulsed with delight, shouted, at every flash, “bonnie! bonnie!” Schiller was found by his father, on a similar occasion, perched upon a tree, and, on being harshly questioned as to his object, whimpered out that he wanted to see where the thunder came from.
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 204. A variation of the anecdote about Walter Scott is given in George Gilfillan (ed.), 'Memoir of Sir Walter Scott', The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott: With memoir and critical dissertation (1857), viii. The anecdote about Schiller is of dubious authenticity, according to Charles Follen (ed.), The Life of Friedrich Schiller: Comprehending an Examination of His Works (1837), 7
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There was this huge world out there, independent of us human beings and standing before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partly accessible to our inspection and thought. The contemplation of that world beckoned like a liberation.
…...
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These Disciplines [mathematics] serve to inure and corroborate the Mind to a constant Diligence in Study; to undergo the Trouble of an attentive Meditation, and cheerfully contend with such Difficulties as lie in the Way. They wholly deliver us from a credulous Simplicity, most strongly fortify us against the Vanity of Scepticism, effectually restrain from a rash Presumption, most easily incline us to a due Assent, perfectly subject us to the Government of right Reason, and inspire us with Resolution to wrestle against the unjust Tyranny of false Prejudices. If the Fancy be unstable and fluctuating, it is to be poized by this Ballast, and steadied by this Anchor, if the Wit be blunt it is sharpened upon this Whetstone; if luxuriant it is pared by this Knife; if headstrong it is restrained by this Bridle; and if dull it is rouzed by this Spur. The Steps are guided by no Lamp more clearly through the dark Mazes of Nature, by no Thread more surely through the intricate Labyrinths of Philosophy, nor lastly is the Bottom of Truth sounded more happily by any other Line. I will not mention how plentiful a Stock of Knowledge the Mind is furnished from these, with what wholesome Food it is nourished, and what sincere Pleasure it enjoys. But if I speak farther, I shall neither be the only Person, nor the first, who affirms it; that while the Mind is abstracted and elevated from sensible Matter, distinctly views pure Forms, conceives the Beauty of Ideas, and investigates the Harmony of Proportions; the Manners themselves are sensibly corrected and improved, the Affections composed and rectified, the Fancy calmed and settled, and the Understanding raised and excited to more divine Contemplations. All which I might defend by Authority, and confirm by the Suffrages of the greatest Philosophers.
Prefatory Oration in Mathematical Lectures (1734), xxxi.
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To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behaviour of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is one needs to know. And yet those with the courage to tread this path to real discovery are not only offered practically no guidance on how to do so, they are actively discouraged and have to set about it in secret, pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the frantic diversions and to conform with the deadening personal opinions which are continually being thrust upon them.
In 'Appendix 1', The Laws of Form (1969), 110.
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To be always poring over the same Object, dulls the Intellects and tires the Mind, which is delighted and improved by a Variety: and therefore it ought, at times, to be relaxed from the more severe mathematical Contemplations, and to be employed upon something more light and agreeable, as Poetry, Physic, History, &c
In Dr. Boerhaave's Academical Lectures on the Theory of Physic (1746), Vol. 6, 264.
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To the scientist, nature is always and merely a 'phenomenon,' not in the sense of being defective in reality, but in the sense of being a spectacle presented to his intelligent observation; whereas the events of history are never mere phenomena, never mere spectacles for contemplation, but things which the historian looks, not at, but through, to discern the thought within them.
The Idea of History (1946), 214.
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Tyndall declared that he saw in Matter the promise and potency of all forms of life, and with his Irish graphic lucidity made a picture of a world of magnetic atoms, each atom with a positive and a negative pole, arranging itself by attraction and repulsion in orderly crystalline structure. Such a picture is dangerously fascinating to thinkers oppressed by the bloody disorders of the living world. Craving for purer subjects of thought, they find in the contemplation of crystals and magnets a happiness more dramatic and less childish than the happiness found by mathematicians in abstract numbers, because they see in the crystals beauty and movement without the corrupting appetites of fleshly vitality.
In Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi-lxii.
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Very few people, including authors willing to commit to paper, ever really read primary sources–certainly not in necessary depth and contemplation, and often not at all ... When writers close themselves off to the documents of scholarship, and then rely only on seeing or asking, they become conduits and sieves rather than thinkers. When, on the other hand, you study the great works of predecessors engaged in the same struggle, you enter a dialogue with human history and the rich variety of our own intellectual traditions. You insert yourself, and your own organizing powers, into this history–and you become an active agent, not merely a ‘reporter.’
…...
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We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone. The Man of Science, the Chemist and Mathematician, whatever difficulties and disgusts they may have had to struggle with, know and feel this. However painful may be the objects with which the Anatomist's knowledge is connected, he feels that his knowledge is pleasure; and where he has no pleasure he has no knowledge.
In Lyrical Ballads: With Pastoral and Other Poems (3rd Ed., 1802), Vol. 1, Preface, xxxiv.
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We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye ... The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.
The Ascent of Man (1973), 115-6.
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We live in a glass-soaked civilization, but as for the bird in the Chinese proverb who finds it so difficult to discover air, the substance is almost invisible to us. To use a metaphor drawn from glass, it may be revealing for us to re-focus, to stop looking through glass, and let our eyes dwell on it for a moment to contemplate its wonder. [Co-author with Gerry Martin.]
Glass: A World History (2002), 4.
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When Newton saw an apple fall, he found
In that slight startle from his contemplation—
'Tis said (for I'll not answer above ground
For any sage's creed or calculation)—
A mode of proving that the earth turn'd round
In a most natural whirl, called 'gravitation';
And this is the sole mortal who could grapple,
Since Adam, with a fall, or with an apple.
Don Juan (1821), Canto 10, Verse I. In Jerome J. McGann (ed.), Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works (1986), Vol. 5, 437.
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Without my attempts in natural science, I should never have learned to know mankind such as it is. In nothing else can we so closely approach pure contemplation and thought, so closely observe the errors of the senses and of the understanding, the weak and strong points of character.
Fri 13 Feb 1829. Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe, ed. J. K. Moorhead and trans. J. Oxenford (1971), 293.
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[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. ... On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 82-83.
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[When nature appears complicated:] The moment we contemplate it as it is, and attain a position from which we can take a commanding view, though but of a small part of its plan, we never fail to recognize that sublime simplicity on which the mind rests satisfied that it has attained the truth.
Concluding remark in Dionysius Lardner (ed.), Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Vol 1, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), 361.
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’Tis late; the astronomer in his lonely height
Exploring all the dark, descries from far
Orbs that like distant isles of splendor are,
And mornings whitening in the infinite.…
He summons one disheveled, wandering star,—
Return ten centuries hence on such a night.
That star will come. It dare not by one hour
Cheat science, or falsify her calculation;
Men will have passed, but watchful in the tower
Man shall remain in sleepless contemplation;
And should all men have perished there in turn,
Truth in their stead would watch that star’s return.
From poem, 'The Appointment', as translated by Arthur O’Shaughnessy, collected in Samuel Waddington (ed.), The Sonnets of Europe (1886), 154.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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