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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.”
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Current Quotes (29 quotes)

'O tell me, when along the line
From my full heart the message flows,
What currents are induced in thine?
One click from thee will end my woes'.
Through many an Ohm the Weber flew,
And clicked the answer back to me,
'I am thy Farad, staunch and true,
Charged to a Volt with love for thee'.
From 'Valentine from A Telegraph Clerk ♂ to a Telegraph Clerk ♀'. In Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 631.
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...each metal has a certain power, which is different from metal to metal, of setting the electric fluid in motion...
Le Opere, Vol. 1, 149. In Giuliano Pancaldi, Volta: Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment (2005), 190.
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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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All that concerns the Mediterranean is of the deepest interest to civilized man, for the history of its progress is the history of the development of the world; the memory of the great men who have lived and died around its banks; the recollection of the undying works that have come thence to delight us for ever; the story of patient research and brilliant discoveries connected with every physical phenomenon presented by its waves and currents, and with every order of creatures dwelling in and around its waters.
From Literary Papers (1855), 106. As quoted in On Early Explorations in the Mediterranean.In George Wilson and Archibald Geikie, Memoir of Edward Forbes F.R.S. (1861), 279. Geike introduces the Forbes quote as “the recollection of these, his earliest explorations in the Mediterranean,” as written down years later.
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Already the steam-engine works our mines, impels our ships, excavates our ports and our rivers, forges iron, fashions wood, grinds grain, spins and weaves our cloths, transports the heaviest burdens, etc. It appears that it must some day serve as a universal motor, and be substituted for animal power, waterfalls, and air currents.
'Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu' (1824) translated by R.H. Thurston in Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, and on Machines Fitted to Develop that Power (1890), 38.
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At the sea shore you pick up a pebble, fashioned after a law of nature, in the exact form that best resists pressure, and worn as smooth as glass. It is so perfect that you take it as a keepsake. But could you know its history from the time when a rough fragment of rock fell from the overhanging cliff into the sea, to be taken possession of by the under currents, and dragged from one ocean to another, perhaps around the world, for a hundred years, until in reduced and perfect form it was cast upon the beach as you find it, you would have a fit illustration of what many principles, now in familiar use, have endured, thus tried, tortured and fashioned during the ages.
From Address (1 Aug 1875), 'The Growth of Principles' at Saratoga. Collected in William L. Snyder (ed.), Great Speeches by Great Lawyers: A Collection of Arguments and Speeches (1901), 246.
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Custom is the most certain mistress of language, as the public stamp makes the current money.
In 'Timber: or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter', The Works of Ben Jonson (1756), Vol. 7, 132.
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Dear Mr. Bell: … Sir Wm. Thomson … speaks with much enthusiasm of your achievement. What yesterday he would have declared impossible he has today seen realized, and he declares it the most wonderful thing he has seen in America. You speak of it as an embryo invention, but to him it seems already complete, and he declares that, before long, friends will whisper their secrets over the electric wire. Your undulating current he declares a great and happy conception.
Letter to Alexander Graham Bell (25 Jun 1876). Quoted in Alexander Graham Bell, The Bell Telephone: The Deposition of Alexander Graham Bell, in the Suit Brought by the United States to Annul the Bell Patents (1908), 101. Note: William Thomson is better known as Lord Kelvin.
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I have no doubt but that my engines will propel boats against the current of the Mississippi, and wagons on turnpike roads, with great profit.
Address to Lancaster turnpike company (25 Sep 1804). As cited in 'On the Origin of Steam Boats and Steam Wagons', Thomas Cooper (ed.), The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (Feb 1814), 2, No. 2, 213.
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I have read somewhere that the resistance offered by a wire ... is affected by the tension of the wire. If this is so, a continuous current of electricity passed through a vibrating wire should meet with a varying resistance, and hence a pulsatory action should be induced in the current ... [corresponding] in amplitude, as well as in rate of movement, to the vibrations of the string ... [Thus] the timbre of a sound [a quality essential to intelligible speech] could be transmitted ... [and] the strength of the current can be increased ad libitum without destroying the relative intensities of the vibrations.
Letter to Gardiner Greene Hubbard (4 May 1875), 3-4. Bell Papers, Library of Congress.
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I was working with a Crookes tube covered by a shield of black cardboard. A piece of barium platino-cyanide paper lay on the bench there. I had been passing a current through the tube, and I noticed a peculiar black line across the paper. …
The effect was one which could only be produced in ordinary parlance by the passage of light. No light could come from the tube because the shield which covered it was impervious to any light known even that of the electric arc. …
I did not think; I investigated. …
I assumed that the effect must have come from the tube since its character indicated that it could come from nowhere else. … It seemed at first a new kind of invisible light. It was clearly something new something unrecorded. …
There is much to do, and I am busy, very busy. [Describing to a journalist the discovery of X-rays that he had made on 8 Nov 1895.]
In H.J.W. Dam in 'The New Marvel in Photography", McClure's Magazine (Apr 1896), 4:5, 413.
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In that memorable year, 1822: Oersted, a Danish physicist, held in his hands a piece of copper wire, joined by its extremities to the two poles of a Volta pile. On his table was a magnetized needle on its pivot, and he suddenly saw (by chance you will say, but chance only favours the mind which is prepared) the needle move and take up a position quite different from the one assigned to it by terrestrial magnetism. A wire carrying an electric current deviates a magnetized needle from its position. That, gentlemen, was the birth of the modern telegraph.
Inaugural Address as newly appointed Professor and Dean (Sep 1854) at the opening of the new Faculté des Sciences at Lille (7 Dec 1854). In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 76.
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It appears, according to the reported facts, that the electric conflict is not restricted to the conducting wire, but that it has a rather extended sphere of activity around it .. the nature of the circular action is such that movements that it produces take place in directions precisely contrary to the two extremities of a given diameter. Furthermore, it seems that the circular movement, combined with the progressive movement in the direction of the length of the conjunctive wire, should form a mode of action which is exerted as a helix around this wire as an axis.
Recherches sur l'identité des forces chimiques et électriques (1813), 248. In James R Hofmann, André-Marie Ampère (1996), 231.
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It is a custom often practiced by seafaring people to throw a bottle overboard, with a paper, stating the time and place at which it is done. In the absence of other information as to currents, that afforded by these mute little navigators is of great value.
In The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), 28.
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It is always the case with the best work, that it is misrepresented, and disparaged at first, for it takes a curiously long time for new ideas to become current, and the older men who ought to be capable of taking them in freely, will not do so through prejudice.
From letter reprinted in Journal of Political Economy (Feb 1977), 85, No. 1, back cover, as cited in Stephen M. Stigler, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 (1986), 307. Stigler notes the letter is held by David E. Butler of Nuffield College, Oxford.
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It seems to me, he says, that the test of “Do we or not understand a particular subject in physics?” is, “Can we make a mechanical model of it?” I have an immense admiration for Maxwell’s model of electromagnetic induction. He makes a model that does all the wonderful things that electricity docs in inducing currents, etc., and there can be no doubt that a mechanical model of that kind is immensely instructive and is a step towards a definite mechanical theory of electromagnetism.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 132. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 54-55.
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Ohm (a distinguished mathematician, be it noted) brought into order a host of puzzling facts connecting electromotive force and electric current in conductors, which all previous electricians had only succeeded in loosely binding together qualitatively under some rather vague statements. Even as late as 20 years ago, “quantity” and “tension” were much used by men who did not fully appreciate Ohm's law. (Is it not rather remarkable that some of Germany's best men of genius should have been, perhaps, unfairly treated? Ohm; Mayer; Reis; even von Helmholtz has mentioned the difficulty he had in getting recognised. But perhaps it is the same all the world over.)
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One dictionary that I consulted remarks that “natural history” now commonly means the study of animals and plants “in a popular and superficial way,” meaning popular and superficial to be equally damning adjectives. This is related to the current tendency in the biological sciences to label every subdivision of science with a name derived from the Greek. “Ecology” is erudite and profound; while “natural history” is popular and superficial. Though, as far as I can see, both labels apply to just about the same package of goods.
In The Nature of Natural History (1961, 2014), 7.
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The discovery of the telephone has made us acquainted with many strange phenomena. It has enabled us, amongst other things, to establish beyond a doubt the fact that electric currents actually traverse the earth's crust. The theory that the earth acts as a great reservoir for electricity may be placed in the physicist's waste-paper basket, with phlogiston, the materiality of light, and other old-time hypotheses.
From Recent Progress in Telephony: British Association Report (1882). Excerpted in John Joseph Fahie, A History of Wireless Telegraphy (1902), 136.
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The experimental investigation by which Ampere established the law of the mechanical action between electric currents is one of the most brilliant achievements in science. The whole theory and experiment, seems as if it had leaped, full grown and full armed, from the brain of the 'Newton of Electricity'. It is perfect in form, and unassailable in accuracy, and it is summed up in a formula from which all the phenomena may be deduced, and which must always remain the cardinal formula of electro-dynamics.
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 162.
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The nervous system is the most complex and delicate instrument on our planet, by means of which relations, connections are established between the numerous parts of the organism, as well as between the organism, as a highly complex system, and the innumerable, external influences. If the closing and opening of electric current is now regarded as an ordinary technical device, why should there be any objection to the idea that the same principle acts in this wonderful instrument? On this basis the constant connection between the external agent and the response of the organism, which it evokes, can be rightly called an unconditioned reflex, and the temporary connection—a conditioned reflex.
The Conditioned Reflex (1935), 249.
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The primary rocks, ... I regard as the deposits of a period in which the earth's crust had sufficiently cooled down to permit the existence of a sea, with the necessary denuding agencies,—waves and currents,—and, in consequence, of deposition also; but in which the internal heat acted so near the surface, that whatever was deposited came, matter of course, to be metamorphosed into semi-plutonic forms, that retained only the stratification. I dare not speak of the scenery of the period. We may imagine, however, a dark atmosphere of steam and vapour, which for age after age conceals the face of the sun, and through which the light of moon or star never penetrates; oceans of thermal water heated in a thousand centres to the boiling point; low, half-molten islands, dim through the log, and scarce more fixed than the waves themselves, that heave and tremble under the impulsions of the igneous agencies; roaring geysers, that ever and anon throw up their intermittent jets of boiling fluid, vapour, and thick steam, from these tremulous lands; and, in the dim outskirts of the scene, the red gleam of fire, shot forth from yawning cracks and deep chasms, and that bears aloft fragments of molten rock and clouds of ashes. But should we continue to linger amid a scene so featureless and wild, or venture adown some yawning opening into the abyss beneath, where all is fiery and yet dark,—a solitary hell, without suffering or sin,—we would do well to commit ourselves to the guidance of a living poet of the true faculty,—Thomas Aird and see with his eyes.
Lecture Sixth, collected in Popular Geology: A Series of Lectures Read Before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, with Descriptive Sketches from a Geologist's Portfolio (1859), 297-298.
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The scientist knows that the ultimate of everything is unknowable. No matter What subject you take, the current theory of it if carried to the ultimate becomes ridiculous. Time and space are excellent examples of this.
As quoted in 'Electricity Will Keep The World From Freezing Up', New York Times (12 Nov 1911), SM4.
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This maze of symbols, electric and magnetic potential, vector potential, electric force, current, displacement, magnetic force, and induction, have been practically reduced to two, electric and magnetic force.
Describing Heaviside’s refinement of the original Maxwell Equations. In Joseph Larmore (ed.), The Scientific Writings of the Late George Francis Fitzgerald (1902) 294.
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Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
In 'Where I Lived and What I Lived For', in Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (1854, 1899), 112.
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Truth, like Gold, is not the less so, for being newly brought out of the Mine. ’Tis Trial and Examination must give it price, and not any antick Fashion: And though it be not yet current by the publick stamp; yet it may, for all that, be as old as Nature, and is certainly not the less genuine.
In 'The Epistle Dedicatory', Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), second unnumbered page.
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When a scientist is ahead of his times, it is often through misunderstanding of current, rather than intuition of future truth. In science there is never any error so gross that it won't one day, from some perspective, appear prophetic.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), Chap. 7.
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Why is it so easy to acquire the solutions of past problems and so difficult to solve current ones
(Attributed ??) This quote is often seen, but without a citation, even on the official Marshall McLuhan website. If you known a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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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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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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