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

Curious Quotes (43 quotes)

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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A few days afterwards, I went to him [the same actuary referred to in another quote] and very gravely told him that I had discovered the law of human mortality in the Carlisle Table, of which he thought very highly. I told him that the law was involved in this circumstance. Take the table of the expectation of life, choose any age, take its expectation and make the nearest integer a new age, do the same with that, and so on; begin at what age you like, you are sure to end at the place where the age past is equal, or most nearly equal, to the expectation to come. “You don’t mean that this always happens?”—“Try it.” He did try, again and again; and found it as I said. “This is, indeed, a curious thing; this is a discovery!” I might have sent him about trumpeting the law of life: but I contented myself with informing him that the same thing would happen with any table whatsoever in which the first column goes up and the second goes down.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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All versions written for nonscientists speak of fused males as the curious tale of the anglerfish–just as we so often hear about the monkey swinging through the trees, or the worm burrowing through soil. But if nature teaches us any lesson, it loudly proclaims life’s diversity. There ain’t no such abstraction as the clam, the fly, or the anglerfish. Ceratioid anglerfishes come in nearly 100 species, and each has its own peculiarity.
…...
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Applied science, purposeful and determined, and pure science, playful and freely curious, continuously support and stimulate each other. The great nation of the future will be the one which protects the freedom of pure science as much as it encourages applied science.
From a radio talk, collected in Warren Weaver (ed.), The Scientists Speak (1946)
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At times the [radio telescope] records exhibited a feature characteristic of interference, occurring some time later than the passage of the two known sources. This intermittent feature was curious, and I recall saying once that we would have to investigate the origin of that interference some day. We joked that it was probably due to the faulty ignition of some farm hand returning from a date.
From address to the 101st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Gainesville, Florida (27 Dec 1958). Printed in 'An Account of the Discovery of Jupiter as a Radio Source', The Astronomical Journal (Mar 1959), 64, No. 2, 37.
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Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year’s Southern Conference champion, from the NCAA championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple-two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton players shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from 20 feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots-the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball-and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.
A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton
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During a conversation with the writer in the last weeks of his life, Sylvester remarked as curious that notwithstanding he had always considered the bent of his mind to be rather analytical than geometrical, he found in nearly every case that the solution of an analytical problem turned upon some quite simple geometrical notion, and that he was never satisfied until he could present the argument in geometrical language.
In Proceedings London Royal Society, 63, 17.
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Exobiology—a curious development in view of the fact that this “science” has yet to demonstrate that its subject matter exists!
In This View of Life: The World of the Evolutionist (1964), 254.
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He [Winston Churchill] is rather like a layer cake. One layer was certainly seventeenth century. The eighteenth century in him is obvious. There was the nineteenth century, and a large slice, of course, of the twentieth century; and another, curious, layer which may possibly have been the twenty-first.
As quoted in Peter Stansky, Churchill: A Profile (1973), 197.
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I am curious in a super-apish way. I like finding out things. That … is all that the “noble self-sacrificing devotion to truth” of 99-44/100% of all scientists amounts to—simple curiosity. That is the spirit in which nearly all productive scientific research is carried on.
Letter from London (20 Apr 1937), No. 81, in George Gaylord Simpson and Léo F. LaPorte (ed.), Simple Curiosity: Letters from George Gaylord Simpson to His Family, 1921-1970 (1987), 34.
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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 have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
Letter to Carl Seelig (11 Mar 1952), AEA 39-013. As cited in Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (2008), 548.
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If we want an answer from nature, we must put our questions in acts, not words, and the acts may take us to curious places. Some questions were answered in the laboratory, others in mines, others in a hospital where a surgeon pushed tubes in my arteries to get blood samples, others on top of Pike’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains, or in a diving dress on the bottom of the sea. That is one of the things I like about scientific research. You never know where it will take you next.
From essay 'Some Adventures of a Biologist', as quoted in Ruth Moore, Man, Time, And Fossils (1953), 174.
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In general, art has preceded science. Men have executed great, and curious, and beautiful works before they had a scientific insight into the principles on which the success of their labours was founded. There were good artificers in brass and iron before the principles of the chemistry of metals were known; there was wine among men before there was a philosophy of vinous fermentation; there were mighty masses raised into the air, cyclopean walls and cromlechs, obelisks and pyramids—probably gigantic Doric pillars and entablatures—before there was a theory of the mechanical powers. … Art was the mother of Science.
Lecture (26 Nov 1851), to the London Society of Arts, 'The General Bearing of the Great Exhibition on the Progress of Art and Science', collected in Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851' (1852), 7-8.
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It is a curious property of research activity that after the problem has been solved the solution seems obvious. This is true not only for those who have not previously been acquainted with the problem, but also for those who have worked over it for years.
Address at the Franklin Institute (1937). Journal of the Franklin Institute (1937), 224, 277. Also see Paul C. Wensberg, Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man who Invented It (1987), 31.
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It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.
The Sea Around Us (1951).
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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 sages and grey-haired philosophers who ought to sit up all night reading Alice in Wonderland in order to study that darkest problem of metaphysics, the borderland between reason and unreason, and the nature of the most erratic of spiritual forces, humour, which eternally dances between the two. That we do find a pleasure in certain long and elaborate stories, in certain complicated and curious forms of diction, which have no intelligible meaning whatever, is not a subject for children to play with; it is a subject for psychologists to go mad over.
In 'The Library of the Nursery', in Lunacy and Letters (1958), 26.
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It [mathematics] is in the inner world of pure thought, where all entia dwell, where is every type of order and manner of correlation and variety of relationship, it is in this infinite ensemble of eternal verities whence, if there be one cosmos or many of them, each derives its character and mode of being,—it is there that the spirit of mathesis has its home and its life.
Is it a restricted home, a narrow life, static and cold and grey with logic, without artistic interest, devoid of emotion and mood and sentiment? That world, it is true, is not a world of solar light, not clad in the colours that liven and glorify the things of sense, but it is an illuminated world, and over it all and everywhere throughout are hues and tints transcending sense, painted there by radiant pencils of psychic light, the light in which it lies. It is a silent world, and, nevertheless, in respect to the highest principle of art—the interpenetration of content and form, the perfect fusion of mode and meaning—it even surpasses music. In a sense, it is a static world, but so, too, are the worlds of the sculptor and the architect. The figures, however, which reason constructs and the mathematic vision beholds, transcend the temple and the statue, alike in simplicity and in intricacy, in delicacy and in grace, in symmetry and in poise. Not only are this home and this life thus rich in aesthetic interests, really controlled and sustained by motives of a sublimed and supersensuous art, but the religious aspiration, too, finds there, especially in the beautiful doctrine of invariants, the most perfect symbols of what it seeks—the changeless in the midst of change, abiding things hi a world of flux, configurations that remain the same despite the swirl and stress of countless hosts of curious transformations.
In 'The Universe and Beyond', Hibbert Journal (1904-1906), 3, 314.
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Mathematics … belongs to every inquiry, moral as well as physical. Even the rules of logic, by which it is rigidly bound, could not be deduced without its aid. The laws of argument admit of simple statement, but they must be curiously transposed before they can be applied to the living speech and verified by observation. In its pure and simple form the syllogism cannot be directly compared with all experience, or it would not have required an Aristotle to discover it. It must be transmuted into all the possible shapes in which reasoning loves to clothe itself. The transmutation is the mathematical process in the establishment of the law.
From Memoir (1870) read before the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, printed in 'Linear Associative Algebra', American Journal of Mathematics (1881), 4, 97-98.
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One of the most curious and interesting reptiles which I met with in Borneo was a large tree-frog, which was brought me by one of the Chinese workmen. He assured me that he had seen it come down in a slanting direction from a high tree, as if it flew. On examining it, I found the toes very long and fully webbed to their very extremity, so that when expanded they offered a surface much larger than the body. The forelegs were also bordered by a membrane, and the body was capable of considerable inflation. The back and limbs were of a very deep shining green colour, the undersurface and the inner toes yellow, while the webs were black, rayed with yellow. The body was about four inches long, while the webs of each hind foot, when fully expanded, covered a surface of four square inches, and the webs of all the feet together about twelve square inches. As the extremities of the toes have dilated discs for adhesion, showing the creature to be a true tree frog, it is difficult to imagine that this immense membrane of the toes can be for the purpose of swimming only, and the account of the Chinaman, that it flew down from the tree, becomes more credible. This is, I believe, the first instance known of a “flying frog,” and it is very interesting to Darwinians as showing that the variability of the toes which have been already modified for purposes of swimming and adhesive climbing, have been taken advantage of to enable an allied species to pass through the air like the flying lizard. It would appear to be a new species of the genus Rhacophorus, which consists of several frogs of a much smaller size than this, and having the webs of the toes less developed.
Malay Archipelago
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Our world is not an optimal place, fine tuned by omnipotent forces of selection. It is a quirky mass of imperfections, working well enough (often admirably); a jury-rigged set of adaptations built of curious parts made available by past histories in different contexts ... A world optimally adapted to current environments is a world without history, and a world without history might have been created as we find it. History matters; it confounds perfection and proves that current life transformed its own past.
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People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live...[We] never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.
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People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
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Scientists are not robotic inducing machines that infer structures of explanation only from regularities observed in natural phenomena (assuming, as I doubt, that such a style of reasoning could ever achieve success in principle). Scientists are human beings, immersed in culture, and struggling with all the curious tools of inference that mind permits ... Culture can potentiate as well as constrain–as Darwin’s translation of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economic models into biology as the theory of natural selection. In any case, objective minds do not exist outside culture, so we must make the best of our ineluctable embedding.
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The chief malady of man is restless curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose.
In Pensées. As translated by W.F. Trotter in Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works (1910), 13.
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The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 9, chap. 14, sect. 3.
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The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. … It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.
In 'Decay of Lying', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 5.
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The poets did well to conjoin music and medicine, in Apollo, because the office of medicine is but to tune the curious harp of man's body and reduce it to harmony.
The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book 2. Reprinted in The Two Books of Francis Bacon: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human (2009), 106.
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There is a curious illusion today that nature is both wise and good. The awful truth is that nature is a bitch from the human point of view I care about the whooping crane a little. I would even give $10 to save the whooping crane. The whooping crane doesn’t give a damn about me.
From paper presented at Laramie College of Commerce and Industry, University of Wyoming, 'Energy and the Environment' (Jan 1976), 12, as quoted in Kenneth Ewart Boulding and Richard P. Beilock (ed.), Illustrating Economics: Beasts, Ballads and Aphorisms (1980, 2009), 153.
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There is always more in one of Ramanujan’s formulae than meets the eye, as anyone who sets to work to verify those which look the easiest will soon discover. In some the interest lies very deep, in others comparatively near the surface; but there is not one which is not curious and entertaining.
Commenting on the formulae in the letters sent by Ramanujan from India, prior to going to England. Footnote in obituary notice by G.H. Hardy in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (2) (1921), 19, xl—lviii. The same notice was printed, with slight changes, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (A) (1921), 94, xiii—xxix. Reprinted in G.H. Hardy, P.V. Seshu Aiyar and B.M. Wilson (eds.) Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxi.
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This boulder seemed like a curious volume, regularly paged, with a few extracts from older works. Bacon tells us that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Of the last honour I think the boulder fully worthy.
In The Story of a Boulder: or, Gleanings from the Note-book of a Field Geologist (1858), 4.
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Till the fifteenth century little progress appears to have been made in the science or practice of music; but since that era it has advanced with marvelous rapidity, its progress being curiously parallel with that of mathematics, inasmuch as great musical geniuses appeared suddenly among different nations, equal in their possession of this special faculty to any that have since arisen. As with the mathematical so with the musical faculty it is impossible to trace any connection between its possession and survival in the struggle for existence.
In 'Darwinism Applied to Man', Darwinism: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection with Some of Its Applications (1901), Chap. 15, 468.
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Watson and I had been often discussing the problem, the ways you could go wrong solving problems of this sort, the techniques you have to use, and in particular, such rather curious things as you mustn’t pay too much attention to the all the experimental evidence, some of it may be wrong, for example.
From Transcript of BBC TV program, The Prizewinners (1962).
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We may see how unexpectedly recondite parts of pure mathematics may bear upon physical science, by calling to mind the circumstance that Fresnel obtained one of the most curious confirmations of the theory (the laws of Circular Polarization by reflection) through an interpretation of an algebraical expression, which, according to the original conventional meaning of the symbols, involved an impossible quantity.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 2, chap. 14, sect. 8.
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We want to explore. We’re curious people. Look back over history, people have put their lives at stake to go out and explore... We believe in what we’re doing. Now it’s time to go.
…...
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What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern?
In Origin of Species (1869), 516.
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When Cayley had reached his most advanced generalizations he proceeded to establish them directly by some method or other, though he seldom gave the clue by which they had first been obtained: a proceeding which does not tend to make his papers easy reading. …
His literary style is direct, simple and clear. His legal training had an influence, not merely upon his mode of arrangement but also upon his expression; the result is that his papers are severe and present a curious contrast to the luxuriant enthusiasm which pervades so many of Sylvester’s papers. He used to prepare his work for publication as soon as he carried his investigations in any subject far enough for his immediate purpose. … A paper once written out was promptly sent for publication; this practice he maintained throughout life. … The consequence is that he has left few arrears of unfinished or unpublished papers; his work has been given by himself to the world.
In Proceedings of London Royal Society (1895), 58, 23-24.
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When I consider how, after sunset, the stars come out gradually in troops from behind the hills and woods, I confess that I could not have contrived a more curious and inspiring night.
(26 Jul 1840). In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: I: 1837-1846 (1906), 170.
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When you believe you have found an important scientific fact, and are feverishly curious to publish it, constrain yourself for days, weeks, years sometimes, fight yourself, try and ruin your own experiments, and only proclaim your discovery after having exhausted all contrary hypotheses. But when, after so many efforts you have at last arrived at a certainty, your joy is one of the greatest which can be felt by a human soul.
From Speech (14 Nov 1888) at the Inauguration of the Pasteur Institute, as translated in René Vallery-Radot and Mrs R.L. Devonshire (trans.), The Life of Pasteur (1915), 443.
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[My dream dinner guest is] Charles Darwin. It’s an obvious answer, but it’s the truth. Think of any problem and before you start theorising, just check up whether Charles Darwin mentioned it in one of those green books sitting on your shelf. Whether it’s earthworms, human gestures or the origin of species, the observations that man made are unbelievable. He touched on so many subjects. Then, Alexander von Humboldt, the last polymath. There was no aspect of the natural world that he wasn’t curious about or didn’t write about in Kosmos, an extraordinary book.
From interview with Alice Roberts, 'Attenborough: My Life on Earth', The Biologist (Aug 2015), 62, No. 4, 16.
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[The mathematician's] subject is the most curious of all—there is none in which truth plays such odd pranks. It has the most elaborate and the most fascinating technique, and gives unrivaled openings for the display of sheer professional skill.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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…indeed what reason may not go to Schoole to the wisdome of Bees, Aunts, and Spiders? what wise hand teacheth them to doe what reason cannot teach us? Ruder heads stand amazed at those prodigious pieces of nature, Whales, Elephants, Dromidaries and Camels; these I confesse, are the Colossus and Majestick pieces of her hand; but in these narrow Engines there is more curious Mathematicks, and the civilitie of these little Citizens more neatly sets forth the wisedome of their Maker.
In Religio Medici and Other Writings (1909), 17.
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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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