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Detail Quotes (146 quotes)

Branches or types are characterized by the plan of their structure,
Classes, by the manner in which that plan is executed, as far as ways and means are concerned,
Orders, by the degrees of complication of that structure,
Families, by their form, as far as determined by structure,
Genera, by the details of the execution in special parts, and
Species, by the relations of individuals to one another and to the world in which they live, as well as by the proportions of their parts, their ornamentation, etc.
Essay on Classification (1857). Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1857), Vol. I, 170.
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Ces détails scientifiques qui effarouchent les fabricans d’un certain âge, ne seront qu’un jeu pour leurs enfans, quand ils auront apprit dans leurs collèges un peu plus de mathématiques et un peu moins de Latin; un peu plus de Chimie, et un peu moins de Grec!
The scientific details which now terrify the adult manufacturer will be mere trifles to his children when they shall be taught at school, a little more Mathematics and a little less Latin, a little more Chemistry, and a little less Greek.
As quoted in 'Sketches From Life of Some Eminent Foreign Scientific Lecturers: Dumas', Magazine of Popular Science, and Journal of the Useful Arts (1836). Vol. 1, 177.
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A definition of what we mean by “probability”. … The German Dictionary by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm gives us detailed information: The Latin term “probabilis”, we are told, was at one time translated by “like truth”, or, by “with an appearance of truth” (“mit einem Schein der Wahrheit”). Only since the middle of the seventeenth century has it been rendered by “wahrscheinlich” (lit. truth-resembling).
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939, 2nd. ed., 1957), 2.
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A final proof of our ideas can only be obtained by detailed studies on the alterations produced in the amino acid sequence of a protein by mutations of the type discussed here.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1962). Collected in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962 (1964).
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A first step in the study of civilization is to dissect it into details, and to classify these in their proper groups. Thus, in examining weapons, they are to be classed under spear, club, sling, bow and arrow, and so forth; among textile arts are to be ranged matting, netting, and several grades of making and weaving threads; myths are divided under such headings as myths of sunrise and sunset, eclipse-myths, earthquake-myths, local myths which account for the names of places by some fanciful tale, eponymic myths which account for the parentage of a tribe by turning its name into the name of an imaginary ancestor; under rites and ceremonies occur such practices as the various kinds of sacrifice to the ghosts of the dead and to other spiritual beings, the turning to the east in worship, the purification of ceremonial or moral uncleanness by means of water or fire. Such are a few miscellaneous examples from a list of hundreds … To the ethnographer, the bow and arrow is the species, the habit of flattening children’s skulls is a species, the practice of reckoning numbers by tens is a species. The geographical distribution of these things, and their transmission from region to region, have to be studied as the naturalist studies the geography of his botanical and zoological species.
In Primitive Culture (1871), Vol. 1, 7.
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A modern mathematical proof is not very different from a modern machine, or a modern test setup: the simple fundamental principles are hidden and almost invisible under a mass of technical details.
Unterrichtsblätter für Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften (1932), 38, 177-188. As translated by Abe Shenitzer, in 'Part I. Topology and Abstract Algebra as Two Roads of Mathematical Comprehension', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1995), 102, No. 7, 453.
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A noteworthy and often-remarked similarity exists between the facts and methods of geology and those of linguistic study. The science of language is, as it were, the geology of the most modern period, the Age of the Man, having for its task to construct the history of development of the earth and its inhabitants from the time when the proper geological record remains silent … The remains of ancient speech are like strata deposited in bygone ages, telling of the forms of life then existing, and of the circumstances which determined or affected them; while words are as rolled pebbles, relics of yet more ancient formations, or as fossils, whose grade indicates the progress of organic life, and whose resemblances and relations show the correspondence or sequence of the different strata; while, everywhere, extensive denudation has marred the completeness of the record, and rendered impossible a detailed exhibition of the whole course of development.
In Language and the Study of Language (1867), 47.
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A parable: A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones.” He asked a stone carver what he was doing. “I am carving a gargoyle.” And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said. “I am helping build a cathedral.”
...Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture.
[For example, in education, a teacher might say in the next class he was going to “explain Young's modulus and how to measure it,” rather than, “I am going to educate the students and prepare them for their future careers.”]
In The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (1975, 2005), 195.
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Adam, the first man, didn’t know anything about the nucleus but Dr. George Gamow, visiting professor from George Washington University, pretends he does. He says for example that the nucleus is 0.00000000000003 feet in diameter. Nobody believes it, but that doesn't make any difference to him.
He also says that the nuclear energy contained in a pound of lithium is enough to run the United States Navy for a period of three years. But to get this energy you would have to heat a mixture of lithium and hydrogen up to 50,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If one has a little stove of this temperature installed at Stanford, it would burn everything alive within a radius of 10,000 miles and broil all the fish in the Pacific Ocean.
If you could go as fast as nuclear particles generally do, it wouldn’t take you more than one ten-thousandth of a second to go to Miller's where you could meet Gamow and get more details.
'Gamow interviews Gamow' Stanford Daily, 25 Jun 1936. In Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historica1 Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 90.
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After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 9.
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Among the studies to which the [Rockefeller] Foundation is giving support is a series in a relatively new field, which may be called molecular biology, in which delicate modern techniques are being used to investigate ever more minute details of certain life processes.
In 'Molecular Biology', Annual Report of the Rockefeller Foundation (1938), 203-4. Reprinted in a letter to Science (6 Nov 1970), 170, 582.
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An author has always great difficulty in avoiding unnecessary and tedious detail on the one hand; while, on the other, he must notice such a number of facts as may convince a student, that he is not wandering in a wilderness of crude hypotheses or unsupported assumptions.
In A Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iii.
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Anthropology has reached that point of development where the careful investigation of facts shakes our firm belief in the far-reaching theories that have been built up. The complexity of each phenomenon dawns on our minds, and makes us desirous of proceeding more cautiously. Heretofore we have seen the features common to all human thought. Now we begin to see their differences. We recognize that these are no less important than their similarities, and the value of detailed studies becomes apparent. Our aim has not changed, but our method must change. We are still searching for the laws that govern the growth of human culture, of human thought; but we recognize the fact that before we seek for what is common to all culture, we must analyze each culture by careful and exact methods, as the geologist analyzes the succession and order of deposits, as the biologist examines the forms of living matter. We see that the growth of human culture manifests itself in the growth of each special culture. Thus we have come to understand that before we can build up the theory of the growth of all human culture, we must know the growth of cultures that we find here and there among the most primitive tribes of the Arctic, of the deserts of Australia, and of the impenetrable forests of South America; and the progress of the civilization of antiquity and of our own times. We must, so far as we can, reconstruct the actual history of mankind, before we can hope to discover the laws underlying that history.
The Jesup North Pacific Expedition: Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History (1898), Vol. 1, 4.
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Any chemist reading this book can see, in some detail, how I have spent most of my mature life. They can become familiar with the quality of my mind and imagination. They can make judgements about my research abilities. They can tell how well I have documented my claims of experimental results. Any scientist can redo my experiments to see if they still work—and this has happened! I know of no other field in which contributions to world culture are so clearly on exhibit, so cumulative, and so subject to verification.
From Design to Discovery (1990), 119-20.
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As usual, the author in his thorough, unobjective fashion has marshalled up all the good, indifferent and bad arguments ... I offer the following detailed comments ... though I realize that many of them will arouse him to a vigorous, if not violent rebuttal. In order to preserve the pH of Dr. Brown's digestive system I would not require a rebuttal as a condition of publication...
With heartiest greetings of the season to you and yours! Jack Roberts
PS The above comments should (help) to reduce your winter heating bill!
Jack Roberts' referee's report on Herbert Charles Brown's paper with Rachel Kornblum on the role of steric strain in carbonium ion reactions.
As quoted by D. A. Davenport, in 'On the Comparative Unimportance of the Invective Effect', Chemtech (Sep 1987), 17, 530.
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Beneath all the wealth of detail in a geological map lies an elegant, orderly simplicity.
As quoted G.D. Garland in obituary 'John Tuzo Wilson', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1995), 552.
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Biot, who assisted Laplace in revising it [The Mécanique Céleste] for the press, says that Laplace himself was frequently unable to recover the details in the chain of reasoning, and if satisfied that the conclusions were correct, he was content to insert the constantly recurring formula, “Il est àisé a voir” [it is easy to see].
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 427.
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By far the most important consequence of the conceptual revolution brought about in physics by relativity and quantum theory lies not in such details as that meter sticks shorten when they move or that simultaneous position and momentum have no meaning, but in the insight that we had not been using our minds properly and that it is important to find out how to do so.
'Quo Vadis'. In Gerald Holton (ed.), Science and the Modern Mind (1971), 84.
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Carbon is, as may easily be shown and as I shall explain in greater detail later, tetrabasic or tetratomic, that is 1 atom of carbon = C = 12 is equivalent to 4 At.H.
'On the so-called Copulated Compounds and the Theory of Polyatomic Radicals', Annalen (1857), 4, 133. Trans. in J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1972), Vol. 4, 536.
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Contingency is rich and fascinating; it embodies an exquisite tension between the power of individuals to modify history and the intelligible limits set by laws of nature. The details of individual and species’s lives are not mere frills, without power to shape the large-scale course of events, but particulars that can alter entire futures, profoundly and forever.
…...
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Curves that have no tangents are the rule. … Those who hear of curves without tangents, or of functions without derivatives, often think at first that Nature presents no such complications. … The contrary however is true. … Consider, for instance, one of the white flakes that are obtained by salting a solution of soap. At a distance its contour may appear sharply defined, but as we draw nearer its sharpness disappears. The eye can no longer draw a tangent at any point. … The use of a magnifying glass or microscope leaves us just as uncertain, for fresh irregularities appear every time we increase the magnification. … An essential characteristic of our flake … is that we suspect … that any scale involves details that absolutely prohibit the fixing of a tangent.
(1906). As quoted “in free translation” in Benoit B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1977, 1983), 7.
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Detail is the heart of realism, and the fatty degeneration of art.
In Art (1958), 149.
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Details are all that matters: God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don’t struggle to get them right.
…...
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During the first half of the present century we had an Alexander von Humboldt, who was able to scan the scientific knowledge of his time in its details, and to bring it within one vast generalization. At the present juncture, it is obviously very doubtful whether this task could be accomplished in a similar way, even by a mind with gifts so peculiarly suited for the purpose as Humboldt's was, and if all his time and work were devoted to the purpose.
In Hermann von Helmholtz and Edmund Atkinson (trans.), 'The Aim and Progress of Physical Science', Popular Scientific Lectures on Scientific Subjects (1873), 363.
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Each species has evolved a special set of solutions to the general problems that all organisms must face. By the fact of its existence, a species demonstrates that its members are able to carry out adequately a series of general functions. … These general functions offer a framework within which one can integrate one’s view of biology and focus one’s research. Such a view helps one to avoid becoming lost in a morass of unstructured detail—even though the ways in which different species perform these functions may differ widely. A few obvious examples will suffice. Organisms must remain functionally integrated. They must obtain materials from their environments, and process and release energy from these materials. … They must differentiate and grow, and they must reproduce. By focusing one’s questions on one or another of these obligatory and universal capacities, one can ensure that one’s research will not be trivial and that it will have some chance of achieving broad general applicability.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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Henry Thoreau quote Dews of fresh and living truth
photo credit: Inspired Images CC0 (source)
Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are … rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.
Essay, first published as 'Life Without Principle', Atlantic Monthly (Oct 1863). Collected in Yankee in Canada, Etc., (1866) 267. Also excerpted in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890, 2005), 102.
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Every writer must reconcile, as best he may, the conflicting claims of consistency and variety, of rigour in detail and elegance in the whole. The present author humbly confesses that, to him, geometry is nothing at all, if not a branch of art.
Concluding remark in preface to Treatise on Algebraic Plane Curves (1931), x.
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Everything material which is the subject of knowledge has number, order, or position; and these are her first outlines for a sketch of the universe. If our feeble hands cannot follow out the details, still her part has been drawn with an unerring pen, and her work cannot be gainsaid. So wide is the range of mathematical sciences, so indefinitely may it extend beyond our actual powers of manipulation that at some moments we are inclined to fall down with even more than reverence before her majestic presence. But so strictly limited are her promises and powers, about so much that we might wish to know does she offer no information whatever, that at other moments we are fain to call her results but a vain thing, and to reject them as a stone where we had asked for bread. If one aspect of the subject encourages our hopes, so does the other tend to chasten our desires, and he is perhaps the wisest, and in the long run the happiest, among his fellows, who has learned not only this science, but also the larger lesson which it directly teaches, namely, to temper our aspirations to that which is possible, to moderate our desires to that which is attainable, to restrict our hopes to that of which accomplishment, if not immediately practicable, is at least distinctly within the range of conception.
From Presidential Address (Aug 1878) to the British Association, Dublin, published in the Report of the 48th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1878), 31.
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Evolution ... is really two theories, the vague theory and the precise theory. The vague theory has been abundantly proved.... The precise theory has never been proved at all. However, like relativity, it is accepted on faith.... On getting down to actual details, difficulties begin.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 101 & 103.
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From the intensity of the spots near the centre, we can infer that the protein molecules are relatively dense globular bodies, perhaps joined together by valency bridges, but in any event separated by relatively large spaces which contain water. From the intensity of the more distant spots, it can be inferred that the arrangement of atoms inside the protein molecule is also of a perfectly definite kind, although without the periodicities characterising the fibrous proteins. The observations are compatible with oblate spheroidal molecules of diameters about 25 A. and 35 A., arranged in hexagonal screw-axis. ... At this stage, such ideas are merely speculative, but now that a crystalline protein has been made to give X-ray photographs, it is clear that we have the means of checking them and, by examining the structure of all crystalline proteins, arriving at a far more detailed conclusion about protein structure than previous physical or chemical methods have been able to give.
'X-Ray Photographs of Crystalline Pepsin', Nature (1934), 133, 795.
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Given one has before oneself a strong, healthy, youth rich in spirited blood and a powerless, weak, cachectic old man scarcely capable of breathing. If now the physician wishes to practise the rejuvenating art on the latter, he should make silver tubes which fit into each other: open then the artery of the healthy person and introduce one of the tubes into it and fasten it into the artery; thereupon he opens also the artery of the ill person...
[First detailed description of blood transfusion (1615)]
In N.S.R. Maluf, 'History of Blood Transfusion', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (1954), 9, No. 1, 59.
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God is in the details.
'On Restraint in Design', New York Herald Tribune (28 Jun 1959).
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Haemoglobin is a very large molecule by ordinary standards, containing about ten thousand atoms, but the chances are that your haemoglobin and mine are identical, and significantly different from that of a pig or horse. You may be impressed by how much human beings differ from one another, but if you were to look into the fine details of the molecules of which they are constructed, you would be astonished by their similarity.
In Of Molecules and Men (1966, 2004), 6.
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Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.
In Naturalist (1994), 11-12.
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His [Henry Cavendish’s] Theory of the Universe seems to have been, that it consisted solely of a multitude of objects which could be weighed, numbered, and measured; and the vocation to which he considered himself called was, to weigh, number and measure as many of those objects as his allotted three-score years and ten would permit. This conviction biased all his doings, alike his great scientific enterprises, and the petty details of his daily life.
In George Wilson, The Life of the Honourable Henry Cavendish: Including the Abstracts of his Important Scientific Papers (1851), 186.
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How few people will realize how much detail had to be gone into before Bakelite was a commercial success.
Diary entry (13 Oct 1909). In Savage Grace (1985, 2007), 65.
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However far the calculating reason of the mathematician may seem separated from the bold flight of the artist’s phantasy, it must be remembered that these expressions are but momentary images snatched arbitrarily from among the activities of both. In the projection of new theories the mathematician needs as bold and creative a phantasy as the productive artist, and in the execution of the details of a composition the artist too must calculate dispassionately the means which are necessary for the successful consummation of the parts. Common to both is the creation, the generation, of forms out of mind.
From Die Entwickelung der Mathematik im Zusammenhange mit der Ausbreitung der Kultur (1893), 4. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 185. From the original German, “Wie weit auch der rechnende Verstand des Mathematikers von dem kühnen Fluge der Phantasie des Künstlers getrennt zu sein scheint, so bezeichnen diese Ausdrücke doch blosse Augenblicksbilder, die willkürlich aus der Thätigkeit Beider herausgerissen sind. Bei dem Entwurfe neuer Theorieen bedarf der Mathematiker einer ebenso kühnen und schöpferischen Phantasie wie der schaffende Künstler, und bei der Ausführung der Einzelheiten eines Werkes muss auch der Künstler kühl alle Mittel berechnen, welche zum Gelingen der Theile erforderlich sind. Gemeinsam ist Beiden die Hervorbringung, die Erzeugung der Gebilde aus dem Geiste.”
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However far the mathematician’s calculating senses seem to be separated from the audacious flight of the artist’s imagination, these manifestations refer to mere instantaneous images, which have been arbitrarily torn from the operation of both. In designing new theories, the mathematician needs an equally bold and inspired imagination as creative as the artist, and in carrying out the details of a work the artist must unemotionally reckon all the resources necessary for the success of the parts. Common to both is the fabrication, the creation of the structure from the intellect.
From Die Entwickelung der Mathematik im Zusammenhange mit der Ausbreitung der Kultur (1893), 4. Translated by Webmaster using online resources. From the original German, “Wie weit auch der rechnende Verstand des Mathematikers von dem kühnen Fluge der Phantasie des Künstlers getrennt zu sein scheint, so bezeichnen diese Ausdrücke doch blosse Augenblicksbilder, die willkürlich aus der Thätigkeit Beider herausgerissen sind. Bei dem Entwurfe neuer Theorieen bedarf der Mathematiker einer ebenso kühnen und schöpferischen Phantasie wie der schaffende Künstler, und bei der Ausführung der Einzelheiten eines Werkes muss auch der Künstler kühl alle Mittel berechnen, welche zum Gelingen der Theile erforderlich sind. Gemeinsam ist Beiden die Hervorbringung, die Erzeugung der Gebilde aus dem Geiste.”
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I am glad of all details … whether they seem to you to be relevant or not.
In The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, collected in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), 294.
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I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.
Letter to Asa Gray (22 May 1860). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 236.
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I doubt that Fleming could have obtained a grant for the discovery of penicillin on that basis [a requirement for highly detailed research plans] because he could not have said, 'I propose to have an accident in a culture so that it will be spoiled by a mould falling on it, and I propose to recognize the possibility of extracting an antibiotic from this mould.'
Remarks to the Canadian Senate on Science Policy, in From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist (1964). In Ken G. Smith (ed.) and Michael A. Hitt (ed), Great Minds in Management: the Theory of Process Development (2005), 368
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I fear that the character of my knowledge is from year to year becoming more distinct and scientific; that, in exchange for vistas wide as heaven’s scope, I am being narrowed down to the field of the microscope. I see details, not wholes nor the shadow of the whole. I count some parts, and say, “I know.”
(19 Aug 1851). In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: II: 1850-September 15, 1851 (1906), 406.
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I have said that mathematics is the oldest of the sciences; a glance at its more recent history will show that it has the energy of perpetual youth. The output of contributions to the advance of the science during the last century and more has been so enormous that it is difficult to say whether pride in the greatness of achievement in this subject, or despair at his inability to cope with the multiplicity of its detailed developments, should be the dominant feeling of the mathematician. Few people outside of the small circle of mathematical specialists have any idea of the vast growth of mathematical literature. The Royal Society Catalogue contains a list of nearly thirty- nine thousand papers on subjects of Pure Mathematics alone, which have appeared in seven hundred serials during the nineteenth century. This represents only a portion of the total output, the very large number of treatises, dissertations, and monographs published during the century being omitted.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 285.
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I have said that the investigation for which the teeth of the shark had furnished an opportunity, was very near an end... But thereafter, while I was examining more carefully these details of both places and bodies [sedimentary deposits and shells], these day by day presented points of doubt to me as they followed one another in indissoluble connection, so that I saw myself again and again brought back to the starting-place, as it were, when I thought I was nearest the goal. I might compare those doubts to the heads of the Lernean Hydra, since when one of them had been got rid of, numberless others were born; at any rate, I saw that I was wandering about in a sort of labyrinth, where the nearer one approaches the exit, the wider circuits does one tread.
The Prodromus of Nicolaus Steno's Dissertation Concerning a Solid Body enclosed by Process of Nature within a Solid (1669), trans. J. G. Winter (1916), 206.
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I suspect that the most important effect of World War II on physical science lay in the change in the attitude of people to science. The politicians and the public were convinced that science was useful and were in no position to argue about the details. A professor of physics might be more sinister than he was in the 1930s, but he was no longer an old fool with a beard in a comic-strip. The scientists or at any rate the physicists, had changed their attitude. They not only believed in the interest of science for themselves, they had acquired also a belief that the tax-payer should and would pay for it and would, in some unspecified length of run, benefit by it.
'The Effect of World War II on the Development of Knowledge in the Physical Sciences', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1975, Series A, 342, 532.
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I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.
…...
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I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.
…...
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If a child left school at ten, knowing nothing of detailed information, but knowing the pleasure that comes from agreeable music, from reading, from making things, from finding things out, it would be better off than a man who left university at twenty-two, full of facts but without any desire to enquire further into such dry domains.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 9.
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If and when all the laws governing physical phenomena are finally discovered, and all the empirical constants occurring in these laws are finally expressed through the four independent basic constants, we will be able to say that physical science has reached its end, that no excitement is left in further explorations, and that all that remains to a physicist is either tedious work on minor details or the self-educational study and adoration of the magnificence of the completed system. At that stage physical science will enter from the epoch of Columbus and Magellan into the epoch of the National Geographic Magazine!
'Any Physics Tomorrow', Physics Today, January 1949, 2, 17.
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If some race of quadrumanous animals, especially one of the most perfect of them, were to lose, by force of circumstances or some other cause, the habit of climbing trees and grasping the branches with its feet in the same way as with its hands, in order to hold on to them; and if the individuals of this race were forced for a series of generations to use their feet only for walking, and to give up using their hands like feet; there is no doubt, according to the observations detailed in the preceding chapter, that these quadrumanous animals would at length be transformed into bimanous, and that the thumbs on their feet would cease to be separated from the other digits, when they only used their feet for walking.
Philosophie Zoologique (1809), Vol. 1, 349, trans. Hugh Elliot (1914), 170.
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If the world has begun with a single quantum, the notions of space and would altogether fail to have any meaning at the beginning; they would only begin to have a sensible meaning when the original quantum had been divided into a sufficient number of quanta. If this suggestion is correct, the beginning of the world happened a little before the beginning of space and time. I think that such a beginning of the world is far enough from the present order of Nature to be not at all repugnant. It may be difficult to follow up the idea in detail as we are not yet able to count the quantum packets in every case. For example, it may be that an atomic nucleus must be counted as a unique quantum, the atomic number acting as a kind of quantum number. If the future development of quantum theory happens to turn in that direction, we could conceive the beginning of the universe in the form of a unique atom, the atomic weight of which is the total mass of the universe. This highly unstable atom would divide in smaller and smaller atoms by a kind of super-radioactive process.
In 'The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory', Nature (1931), 127, 706.
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If we betake ourselves to the statistical method, we do so confessing that we are unable to follow the details of each individual case, and expecting that the effects of widespread causes, though very different in each individual, will produce an average result on the whole nation, from a study of which we may estimate the character and propensities of an imaginary being called the Mean Man.
'Does the Progress of Physical Science tend to give any advantage to the opinion of necessity (or determinism) over that of the continuency of Events and the Freedom of the Will?' In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 818.
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If you care to be a master or to make a true success of your profession, the smallest detail of your work must be done with thoroughness. To be thorough in medicine means that in the ever alluring present, we do not forget the past.
Opening address to the Medical Department of the University of Michigan, Sep 1914. Quoted by Howard Markel in 'When it Rains it Pours' : Endemic Goiter, Iodized Salt, and David Murray Cowie, M.D. American Journal of Public Health, Feb 1987, vol.77, No.2, page 227.
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If you dream of something worth doing and then simply go to work on it and don't think anything of personalities, or emotional conflicts, or of money, or of family distractions; if you think of, detail by detail, what you have to do next, it is a wonderful dream even though the end is a long way off, for there are about five thousand steps to be taken before we realize it; and [when you] start taking the first ten, and ... twenty after that, it is amazing how quickly you get through through the four thousand [nine hundred] and ninety. The last ten steps you never seem to work out. But you keep on coming nearer to giving the world something.
Victor K. McElheny, Insisting on the Impossible (1999), 1.
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In all works on Natural History, we constantly find details of the marvellous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found. But naturalists are now beginning to look beyond this, and to see that there must be some other principle regulating the infinitely varied forms of animal life. It must strike every one, that the numbers of birds and insects of different groups having scarcely any resemblance to each other, which yet feed on the same food and inhabit the same localities, cannot have been so differently constructed and adorned for that purpose alone. Thus the goat-suckers, the swallows, the tyrant fly-catchers, and the jacamars, all use the same kind ‘Of food, and procure it in the same manner: they all capture insects on the wing, yet how entirely different is the structure and the whole appearance of these birds!
In A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853), 83-84.
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In fact, whenever energy is transmitted from one body to another in time, there must be a medium or substance in which the energy exists after it leaves one body and before it reaches the other ... and if we admit this medium as an hypothesis, I think it ought to occupy a prominent place in our investigations, and that we ought to endeavour to construct a mental representation of all the details of its action, and this has been my constant aim in this treatise.
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 438.
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In our preoccupations with sex, our submission to gods and leaders, our sometimes suicidal commitment to ideas, religions, and trivial details of cultural style, we become the unconscious creators of the social organism’s exploits.
In 'The Clint Eastwood Conundrum', The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (1997), 8.
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In presenting a mathematical argument the great thing is to give the educated reader the chance to catch on at once to the momentary point and take details for granted: his successive mouthfuls should be such as can be swallowed at sight; in case of accidents, or in case he wishes for once to check in detail, he should have only a clearly circumscribed little problem to solve (e.g. to check an identity: two trivialities omitted can add up to an impasse). The unpractised writer, even after the dawn of a conscience, gives him no such chance; before he can spot the point he has to tease his way through a maze of symbols of which not the tiniest suffix can be skipped.
In A Mathematician's Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 49.
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In the natural sciences, and particularly in chemistry, generalities must come after the detailed knowledge of each fact and not before it.
Maurice Crosland, Gay-Lussac, Scientist and Bourgeois (1978), 69.
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It has been said that computing machines can only carry out the processes that they are instructed to do. This is certainly true in the sense that if they do something other than what they were instructed then they have just made some mistake. It is also true that the intention in constructing these machines in the first instance is to treat them as slaves, giving them only jobs which have been thought out in detail, jobs such that the user of the machine fully understands what in principle is going on all the time. Up till the present machines have only been used in this way. But is it necessary that they should always be used in such a manner? Let us suppose we have set up a machine with certain initial instruction tables, so constructed that these tables might on occasion, if good reason arose, modify those tables. One can imagine that after the machine had been operating for some time, the instructions would have altered out of all recognition, but nevertheless still be such that one would have to admit that the machine was still doing very worthwhile calculations. Possibly it might still be getting results of the type desired when the machine was first set up, but in a much more efficient manner. In such a case one would have to admit that the progress of the machine had not been foreseen when its original instructions were put in. It would be like a pupil who had learnt much from his master, but had added much more by his own work. When this happens I feel that one is obliged to regard the machine as showing intelligence.
Lecture to the London Mathematical Society, 20 February 1947. Quoted in B. E. Carpenter and R. W. Doran (eds.), A. M. Turing's Ace Report of 1946 and Other Papers (1986), 122-3.
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It is a temptation for philosophers that they should weave a fairy tale of the adjustment of factors; and then as an appendix introduce the notion of frustration, as a secondary aspect. I suggest to you that this is the criticism to be made on the monistic idealisms of the nineteenth century, and even of the great Spinoza. It is quite incredible that the Absolute, as conceived in monistic philosophy, should evolve confusion about its own details.
In Modes of Thought (1938), 69-70.
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It is difficult to give an idea of the vast extent of modern mathematics. The word “extent” is not the right one: I mean extent crowded with beautiful detail—not an extent of mere uniformity such as an objectless plain, but of a tract of beautiful country seen at first in the distance, but which will bear to be rambled through and studied in every detail of hillside and valley, stream, rock, wood, and flower.
President’s address (1883) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in The Collected Mathematical Papers (1895), Vol. 8, xxii.
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It is not so bad being ignorant if you are totally ignorant; the hard thing is knowing in some detail the reality of ignorance...
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 74.
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It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
In Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 105. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 19.
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It is now widely realized that nearly all the “classical” problems of molecular biology have either been solved or will be solved in the next decade. The entry of large numbers of American and other biochemists into the field will ensure that all the chemical details of replication and transcription will be elucidated. Because of this, I have long felt that the future of molecular biology lies in the extension of research to other fields of biology, notably development and the nervous system.
Letter to Max Perua, 5 June 1963. Quoted in William B. Wood (ed.), The Nematode Caenorhabditis Elegans (1988), x-xi.
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It is often held that scientific hypotheses are constructed, and are to be constructed, only after a detailed weighing of all possible evidence bearing on the matter, and that then and only then may one consider, and still only tentatively, any hypotheses. This traditional view however, is largely incorrect, for not only is it absurdly impossible of application, but it is contradicted by the history of the development of any scientific theory. What happens in practice is that by intuitive insight, or other inexplicable inspiration, the theorist decides that certain features seem to him more important than others and capable of explanation by certain hypotheses. Then basing his study on these hypotheses the attempt is made to deduce their consequences. The successful pioneer of theoretical science is he whose intuitions yield hypotheses on which satisfactory theories can be built, and conversely for the unsuccessful (as judged from a purely scientific standpoint).
Co-author with Raymond Arthur Lyttleton, in 'The Internal Constitution of the Stars', Occasional Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society 1948, 12, 90.
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It is the care we bestow on apparently trifling, unattractive detail and very troublesome minutiae which determines the result.
As quoted in William Bulloch, Obituary, 'Theobald Smith', Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology (May 1935), 40, No. 3, 621-625.
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It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, thought, and perception of an individual.
In a speech at Edinburgh University (1951). As cited in John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (18th ed., 2012), 647.
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It must ... be admitted that very simple relations ... exist between the volumes of gaseous substances and the numbers of simple or compound molecules which form them. The first hypothesis to present itself in this connection, and apparently even the only admissible one, is the supposition that the number of integral molecules in any gases is always the same for equal volumes, or always proportional to the volumes. Indeed, if we were to suppose that the number of molecules contained in a given volume were different for different gases, it would scarcely be possible to conceive that the law regulating the distance of molecules could give in all cases relations so simple as those which the facts just detailed compel us to acknowledge between the volume and the number of molecules.
'Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies, and the Proportions in which they enter into these Compounds', Journal de Physique, 1811, 73, 58-76. In Foundations of the Molecular Theory; Alembic Club Reprints, Number 4 (1923), 28-9.
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It was found after many troublesome experiments that when the vacuum within the lamp globe was good, and the contact between the carbon and the conductor which supported it sufficient, there was no blackening of the globes, and no appreciable wasting away of the carbons. Thus was swept away a pernicious error, which, like a misleading finger post proclaiming “No road this way,” tended to bar progress along a good thoroughfare. It only remained to perfect the details of the lamp, to find the best material from which to form the carbon, and to fix this material in the lamp in the best manner. These points, I think, I have now satisfactorily settled, and you see the result in the lamp before me on the table.
In Lecture (20 Oct 1880) at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, as quoted in United States Courts of Appeals Reports: Cases Adjudged in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals (1894), Vol. 11, 419-420.
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It was necessary to invent everything. Dynamos, regulators, meters, switches, fuses, fixtures, underground conductors with their necessary connecting boxes, and a host of other detail parts, even down to insulating tape.
Concerning the electrical system to power his customers’ electric lights.
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It will be a general expression of the facts that have been detailed, relating to the changes and transitions by electricity, in common philosophical language, to say, that hydrogen, the alkaline substances, the metals, and certain metallic oxides, are all attracted by negatively electrified metallic surfaces; and contrariwise, that oxygen and acid substances are attracted by positively electrified metallic surfaces and rejected by negatively electrified metallic surfaces; and these attractive and repulsive forces are sufficiently energetic to destroy or suspend the usual operation of elective affinity.
Bakerian Lecture, 'On Some Chemical Agencies of Electricity', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1807, 97, 28-29.
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It will be possible, through the detailed determination of amino-acid sequences of hemoglobin molecules and of other molecules too, to obtain much information about the course of the evolutionary process, and to illuminate the question of the origin of species.
'Molecular Disease and Evolution'. Typescript of the Rudolph Virchow Lecture (5 Nov 1962). Quoted in T. Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1997), 541.
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It would be difficult and perhaps foolhardy to analyze the chances of further progress in almost every part of mathematics one is stopped by unsurmountable difficulties, improvements in the details seem to be the only possibilities which are left… All these difficulties seem to announce that the power of our analysis is almost exhausted, even as the power of ordinary algebra with regard to transcendental geometry in the time of Leibniz and Newton, and that there is a need of combinations opening a new field to the calculation of transcendental quantities and to the solution of the equations including them.
From Rapport historique sur les progrès des sciences mathématiques depuis 1789, et sur leur état actuel (1810), 131. As translated in George Sarton, The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 13. In the original French: “Il seroit difficile et peut-être téméraire d’analyser les chances que l’avenir offre à l’avancement des mathématiques: dans presque toutes les parties, on est arrêté par des difficultés insurmontables; des perfectionnements de détail semblent la seule chose qui reste à faire… Toutes ces difficultés semblent annoncer que la puissance de notre analyse est à-peu-près épuisée, comme celle de l’algèbre ordinaire l’étoit par rapport à la géométrie transcendante au temps de Leibnitz et de Newton, et qu’il faut des combinaisons qui ouvrent un nouveau champ au calcul des transcendantes et à la résolution des équations qui les contiennent.” Sarton states this comes from “the report on mathematical progress prepared for the French Academy of Sciences at Napoleon’s request”.
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Let him who so wishes take pleasure in boring us with all the wonders of nature: let one spend his life observing insects, another counting the tiny bones in the hearing membrane of certain fish, even in measuring, if you will, how far a flea can jump, not to mention so many other wretched objects of study; for myself, who am curious only about philosophy, who am sorry only not to be able to extend its horizons, active nature will always be my sole point of view; I love to see it from afar, in its breadth and its entirety, and not in specifics or in little details, which, although to some extent necessary in all the sciences, are generally the mark of little genius among those who devote themselves to them.
'L'Homme Plante', in Oeuvres Philosophiques de La Mettrie (1796), Vol. 2, 70-1. Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, edited by Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 377.
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Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience.
{Commenting on the Scopes Monkey Trial, while reporting for the Baltimore Sun.]
In Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters (2006), 26.
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Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal. Note his history, as sketched above. It seems plain to me that whatever he is he is not a reasoning animal. His record is the fantastic record of a maniac. I consider that the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that with that record back of him he blandly sets himself up as the head animal of the lot: whereas by his own standards he is the bottom one.
In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which the other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh—not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.
In Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings (),
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Mathematicians attach great importance to the elegance of their methods and their results. This is not pure dilettantism. What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details. But this is exactly what yields great results, in fact the more we see this aggregate clearly and at a single glance, the better we perceive its analogies with other neighboring objects, consequently the more chances we have of divining the possible generalizations. Elegance may produce the feeling of the unforeseen by the unexpected meeting of objects we are not accustomed to bring together; there again it is fruitful, since it thus unveils for us kinships before unrecognized. It is fruitful even when it results only from the contrast between the simplicity of the means and the complexity of the problem set; it makes us then think of the reason for this contrast and very often makes us see that chance is not the reason; that it is to be found in some unexpected law. In a word, the feeling of mathematical elegance is only the satisfaction due to any adaptation of the solution to the needs of our mind, and it is because of this very adaptation that this solution can be for us an instrument. Consequently this esthetic satisfaction is bound up with the economy of thought.
In 'The Future of Mathematics', Monist, 20, 80. Translated from the French by George Bruce Halsted.
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Mathematicians can and do fill in gaps, correct errors, and supply more detail and more careful scholarship when they are called on or motivated to do so. Our system is quite good at producing reliable theorems that can be backed up. It’s just that the reliability does not primarily come from mathematicians checking formal arguments; it come from mathematicians thinking carefully and critically about mathematical ideas.
Concerning revision of proofs. In 'On Proof and Progress in Mathematics', For the Learning of Mathematics (Feb 1995), 15, No. 1, 33. Reprinted from Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (1994), 30, No. 2, 170.
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Medicine in its present state is, it seems to me, by now completely discovered, insofar as it teaches in each instance the particular details and the correct measures. For anyone who has an understanding of medicine in this way depends very little upon good luck, but is able to do good with or without luck. For the whole of medicine has been established, and the excellent principles discovered in it clearly have very little need of good luck.
Places in Man, in Hippocrates, trans. P. Potter (1995), Vol. 8, 93.
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Modern cytological work involves an intricacy of detail, the significance of which can be appreciated by the specialist alone; but Miss Stevens had a share in a discovery of importance, and her work will be remembered for this, when the minutiae of detailed investigations that she carried out have become incorporated in the general body of the subject.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 468.
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Molecular genetics, our latest wonder, has taught us to spell out the connectivity of the tree of life in such palpable detail that we may say in plain words, “This riddle of life has been solved.”
From Nobel Lecture (10 Dec 1969), 'A Physicist's Renewed Look at Biology – Twenty Years Later.' in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1963-1970 (1972), 405.
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Much of the work we do as scientists involves filling in the details about matters that are basically understood already, or applying standard techniques to new specific cases. But occasionally there is a question that offers an opportunity for a really major discovery.
In Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Crater of Doom (1997), 42.
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My own thinking (and that of many of my colleagues) is based on two general principles, which I shall call the Sequence Hypothesis and the Central Dogma. The direct evidence for both of them is negligible, but I have found them to be of great help in getting to grips with these very complex problems. I present them here in the hope that others can make similar use of them. Their speculative nature is emphasized by their names. It is an instructive exercise to attempt to build a useful theory without using them. One generally ends in the wilderness.
The Sequence Hypothesis
This has already been referred to a number of times. In its simplest form it assumes that the specificity of a piece of nucleic acid is expressed solely by the sequence of its bases, and that this sequence is a (simple) code for the amino acid sequence of a particular protein...
The Central Dogma
This states that once 'information' has passed into protein it cannot get out again. In more detail, the transfer of information from nucleic acid to nucleic acid, or from nucleic acid to protein may be possible, but transfer from protein to protein, or from protein to nucleic acid is impossible. Information means here the precise determination of sequence, either of bases in the nucleic acid or of amino acid residues in the protein. This is by no means universally held—Sir Macfarlane Burnet, for example, does not subscribe to it—but many workers now think along these lines. As far as I know it has not been explicitly stated before.
'On Protein Synthesis', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology: The Biological Replication of Macromolecules, 1958, 12, 152-3.
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My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
As quoted in obituary, 'Einstein Noted as an Iconoclast In Research, Politics and Religion', The New York Times (19 Apr 1955), 25.
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No other explanation of living forms is allowed than heredity, and any which is founded on another basis must be rejected. The present fashion requires that even the smallest and most indifferent inquiry must be dressed in phylogenetic costume, and whilst in former centuries authors professed to read in every natural detail some intention of the creator mundi, modern scientists have the aspiration to pick out from every occasional observation a fragment of the ancestral history of the living world.
'On the Principles of Animal Morphology', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2 Apr 1888), 15, 294. Original as Letter to Mr John Murray, communicated to the Society by Professor Sir William Turner. Page given as in collected volume published 1889.
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Nothing is more consonant with Nature than that she puts into operation in the smallest detail that which she intends as a whole.
Jeremy Naydler (ed.), Goethe On Science: An Anthology of Goethe’s Scientific Writings (1996), 59.
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Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.
…...
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Occurrences that other men would have noted only with the most casual interest became for Whitney exciting opportunities to experiment. Once he became disturbed by a scientist's seemingly endless pursuit of irrelevant details in the course of an experiment, and criticized this as being as pointless as grabbing beans out of a pot, recording the numbers, and then analyzing the results. Later that day, after he had gone home, his simile began to intrigue him, and he asked himself whether it would really be pointless to count beans gathered in such a random manner. Another man might well have dismissed this as an idle fancy, but to Whitney an opportunity to conduct an experiment was not to be overlooked. Accordingly, he set a pot of beans beside his bed, and for several days each night before retiring he would take as many beans as he could grasp in one hand and make a note of how many were in the handful. After several days had passed he was intrigued to find that the results were not as unrewarding as he had expected. He found that each handful contained more beans than the one before, indicating that with practice he was learning to grasp more and more beans. “This might be called research in morphology, the science of animal structure,” he mused. “My hand was becoming webbed … so I said to myself: never label a real experiment useless, it may reveal something unthought of but worth knowing.”
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 358-359.
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October 9, 1863
Always, however great the height of the balloon, when I have seen the horizon it has roughly appeared to be on the level of the car though of course the dip of the horizon is a very appreciable quantity or the same height as the eye. From this one might infer that, could the earth be seen without a cloud or anything to obscure it, and the boundary line of the plane approximately the same height as the eye, the general appearance would be that of a slight concavity; but I have never seen any part of the surface of the earth other than as a plane.
Towns and cities, when viewed from the balloon are like models in motion. I shall always remember the ascent of 9th October, 1863, when we passed over London about sunset. At the time when we were 7,000 feet high, and directly over London Bridge, the scene around was one that cannot probably be equalled in the world. We were still so low as not to have lost sight of the details of the spectacle which presented itself to our eyes; and with one glance the homes of 3,000,000 people could be seen, and so distinct was the view, that every large building was easily distinguishable. In fact, the whole of London was visible, and some parts most clearly. All round, the suburbs were also very distinct, with their lines of detached villas, imbedded as it were in a mass of shrubs; beyond, the country was like a garden, its fields, well marked, becoming smaller and smaller as the eye wandered farther and farther away.
Again looking down, there was the Thames, throughout its whole length, without the slightest mist, dotted over its winding course with innumerable ships and steamboats, like moving toys. Gravesend was visible, also the mouth of the Thames, and the coast around as far as Norfolk. The southern shore of the mouth of the Thames was not so clear, but the sea beyond was seen for many miles; when at a higher elevation, I looked for the coast of France, but was unable to see it. On looking round, the eye was arrested by the garden-like appearance of the county of Kent, till again London claimed yet more careful attention.
Smoke, thin and blue, was curling from it, and slowly moving away in beautiful curves, from all except one part, south of the Thames, where it was less blue and seemed more dense, till the cause became evident; it was mixed with mist rising from the ground, the southern limit of which was bounded by an even line, doubtless indicating the meeting of the subsoils of gravel and clay. The whole scene was surmounted by a canopy of blue, everywhere free from cloud, except near the horizon, where a band of cumulus and stratus extended all round, forming a fitting boundary to such a glorious view.
As seen from the earth, the sunset this evening was described as fine, the air being clear and the shadows well defined; but, as we rose to view it and its effects, the golden hues increased in intensity; their richness decreased as the distance from the sun increased, both right and left; but still as far as 90º from the sun, rose-coloured clouds extended. The remainder of the circle was completed, for the most part, by pure white cumulus of well-rounded and symmetrical forms.
I have seen London by night. I have crossed it during the day at the height of four miles. I have often admired the splendour of sky scenery, but never have I seen anything which surpassed this spectacle. The roar of the town heard at this elevation was a deep, rich, continuous sound the voice of labour. At four miles above London, all was hushed; no sound reached our ears.
Travels in the Air (1871), 99-100.
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On 17th July there came to us at Potsdam the eagerly-awaited news of the trial of the atomic bomb in the [New] Mexican desert. Success beyond all dreams crowded this sombre, magnificent venture of our American allies. The detailed reports ... could leave no doubt in the minds of the very few who were informed, that we were in the presence of a new factor in human affairs, and possessed of powers which were irresistible.
From Churchill's final review of the war and his first major speech as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons (16 Aug 1945). In Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963 (1974), Vol. 1, 7210.
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Once regarded as the herald of enlightenment in all spheres of knowledge, science is now increasingly seen as a strictly instrumental system of control. Its use as a means of social manipulation and its role in restricting human freedom now parallel in every detail its use as a means of natural manipulation.
In The Ecology of Freedom (1982).
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One [idea] was that the Universe started its life a finite time ago in a single huge explosion, and that the present expansion is a relic of the violence of this explosion. This big bang idea seemed to me to be unsatisfactory even before detailed examination showed that it leads to serious difficulties.
In radio talk on the BBC Third Programme, as subsequently printed in the BBC’s The Listener magazine (9 Mar 1950), Vol.43, 420. This was his further use of the term “big bang” that he first expressed in a radio talk on 28 Mar 1949.
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Our knowledge of the external world must always consist of numbers, and our picture of the universe—the synthesis of our knowledge—must necessarily be mathematical in form. All the concrete details of the picture, the apples, the pears and bananas, the ether and atoms and electrons, are mere clothing that we ourselves drape over our mathematical symbols— they do not belong to Nature, but to the parables by which we try to make Nature comprehensible. It was, I think, Kronecker who said that in arithmetic God made the integers and man made the rest; in the same spirit, we may add that in physics God made the mathematics and man made the rest.
From Address (1934) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Aberdeen, 'The New World—Picture of Modern Physics'. Printed in Nature (Sep 1934) 134, No. 3384, 356. As quoted and cited in Wilbur Marshall Urban, Language and Reality: The Philosophy of Language and the Principles of Symbolism (2004), Vol. 15, 542.
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Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify.
In Walden; or Life in the Woods (1854), 99.
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Research may start from definite problems whose importance it recognizes and whose solution is sought more or less directly by all forces. But equally legitimate is the other method of research which only selects the field of its activity and, contrary to the first method, freely reconnoitres in the search for problems which are capable of solution. Different individuals will hold different views as to the relative value of these two methods. If the first method leads to greater penetration it is also easily exposed to the danger of unproductivity. To the second method we owe the acquisition of large and new fields, in which the details of many things remain to be determined and explored by the first method.
In Zum Gedächtniss an Julius Plucker', Göttinger Abhandlungen (1871), 16, Mathematische Classe, 6.
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Science began to be powerful when it began to be cumulative, when observers began to preserve detailed records, to organize cooperating groups in order to pool and criticize their experiences.
In School and Society (1930), 31, 581.
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Science is the topography of ignorance. From a few elevated points we triangulate vast spaces, inclosing infinite unknown details. We cast the lead, and draw up a little sand from abysses we may never reach with our dredges.
'Border Lines of Knowledge in Some Provinces of Medical Science', an introductory lecture to the Medical Class of Harvard University (6 Nov 1861). In Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1892), 211.
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Scientists and Drapers. Why should the botanist, geologist or other-ist give himself such airs over the draper’s assistant? Is it because he names his plants or specimens with Latin names and divides them into genera and species, whereas the draper does not formulate his classifications, or at any rate only uses his mother tongue when he does? Yet how like the sub-divisions of textile life are to those of the animal and vegetable kingdoms! A few great families—cotton, linen, hempen, woollen, silk, mohair, alpaca—into what an infinite variety of genera and species do not these great families subdivide themselves? And does it take less labour, with less intelligence, to master all these and to acquire familiarity with their various habits, habitats and prices than it does to master the details of any other great branch of science? I do not know. But when I think of Shoolbred’s on the one hand and, say, the ornithological collections of the British Museum upon the other, I feel as though it would take me less trouble to master the second than the first.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 218.
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Scientists come in two varieties, hedgehogs and foxes. I borrow this terminology from Isaiah Berlin (1953), who borrowed it from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. Archilochus told us that foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are broad, hedgehogs are deep. Foxes are interested in everything and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are only interested in a few problems that they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble were hedgehogs. Charley Townes, who invented the laser, and Enrico Fermi, who built the first nuclear reactor in Chicago, were foxes.
In 'The Future of Biotechnology', A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007), 1.
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Simple as the law of gravity now appears, and beautifully in accordance with all the observations of past and of present times, consider what it has cost of intellectual study. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, all the great names which have exalted the character of man, by carrying out trains of reasoning unparalleled in every other science; these, and a host of others, each of whom might have been the Newton of another field, have all labored to work out, the consequences which resulted from that single law which he discovered. All that the human mind has produced—the brightest in genius, the most persevering in application, has been lavished on the details of the law of gravity.
in The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment (1838), 57.
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Sir Mortimer Wheeler is perhaps the most distinguished archaeologist in Europe. But he owes the greatest of his achievements to the rare combination of two qualities: namely a scientific expertise in the technique of excavation which has always been marked by a meticulous attention to minute detail, and a gift of imaginative vision.
Book review of two books by Mortimer Wheeler, 'Achaeology From the Earth' and 'Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers', in Blackfriars (Jan 1955), 36, No. 418, 597-598.
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So why fret and care that the actual version of the destined deed was done by an upper class English gentleman who had circumnavigated the globe as a vigorous youth, lost his dearest daughter and his waning faith at the same time, wrote the greatest treatise ever composed on the taxonomy of barnacles, and eventually grew a white beard, lived as a country squire just south of London, and never again traveled far enough even to cross the English Channel? We care for the same reason that we love okapis, delight in the fossil evidence of trilobites, and mourn the passage of the dodo. We care because the broad events that had to happen, happened to happen in a certain particular way. And something unspeakably holy –I don’t know how else to say this–underlies our discovery and confirmation of the actual details that made our world and also, in realms of contingency, assured the minutiae of its construction in the manner we know, and not in any one of a trillion other ways, nearly all of which would not have included the evolution of a scribe to record the beauty, the cruelty, the fascination, and the mystery.
…...
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Tedious as it may appear to some to dwell on the discovery of odds and ends that have, no doubt, been thrown away by the owner as rubbish ... yet it is by the study of such trivial details that Archaeology is mainly dependent for determining the date of earthworks. ... Next to coins fragments of pottery afford the most reliable of all evidence ... In my judgement, a fragment of pottery, if it throws light on the history of our own country and people, is of more interest to the scientific collector of evidence in England, than even a work of art and merit that is associated only with races that we are remotely connected with.
On the importance of pottery to an archaeologist.
Excavations in Bokerly and Wansdyke, vol. 3, ix-30. Quoted in Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Proceedings (1895), vol. 8, 180.
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TELESCOPE, n. A device having a relation to the eye similar to that of the telephone to the ear, enabling distant objects to plague us with a multitude of needless details. Luckily it is unprovided with a bell summoning us to the sacrifice.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  342.
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That which, to the anatomist, is the end,—is, to the sculptor, the means. The former desires details, for their own sake; the latter, that by means of them, he may kindle his work with life, and stamp it with beauty.
In 'Sculpture', The True and the Beautiful in Nature, Art, Morals, and Religion (1872), 205.
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The automatic computing engine now being designed at N. P. L. [National Physics Laboratory] is atypical large scale electronic digital computing machine. In a single lecture it will not be possible to give much technical detail of this machine, and most of what I shall say will apply equally to any other machine of this type now being planned. From the point of view of the mathematician the property of being digital should be of greater interest than that of being electronic. That it is electronic is certainly important because these machines owe their high speed to this, and without the speed it is doubtful if financial support for their construction would be forthcoming. But this is virtually all that there is to be said on that subject. That the machine is digital however has more subtle significance. It means firstly that numbers are represented by sequences of digits which can be as long as one wishes. One can therefore work to any desired degree of accuracy. This accuracy is not obtained by more careful machining of parts, control of temperature variations, and such means, but by a slight increase in the amount of equipment in the machine.
Lecture to the London Mathematical Society, 20 February 1947. Quoted in B. E. Carpenter and R. W. Doran (eds.), A. M. Turing's Ace Report of 1946 and Other Papers (1986), 106.
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The automatic computing engine now being designed at N.P.L. [National Physics Laboratory] is atypical large scale electronic digital computing machine. In a single lecture it will not be possible to give much technical detail of this machine, and most of what I shall say will apply equally to any other machine of this type now being planned. From the point of view of the mathematician the property of being digital should be of greater interest than that of being electronic. That it is electronic is certainly important because these machines owe their high speed to this, and without the speed it is doubtful if financial support for their construction would be forthcoming. But this is virtually all that there is to be said on that subject. That the machine is digital however has more subtle significance. It means firstly that numbers are represented by sequences of digits which can be as long as one wishes. One can therefore work to any desired degree of accuracy. This accuracy is not obtained by more careful machining of parts, control of temperature variations, and such means, but by a slight increase in the amount of equipment in the machine.
Lecture to the London Mathematical Society, 20 February 1947. Quoted in B. E. Carpenter and R. W. Doran (eds.), A. M. Turing's Ace Report of 1946 and Other Papers (1986), 106.
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The bottom line for mathematicians is that the architecture has to be right. In all the mathematics that I did, the essential point was to find the right architecture. It’s like building a bridge. Once the main lines of the structure are right, then the details miraculously fit. The problem is the overall design.
In interview by Donald J. Albers, in 'Freeman Dyson: Mathematician, Physicist, and Writer', The College Mathematics Journal (Jan 1994), 25, No. 1, 20.
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The complacent manner in which geologists have produced their theories has been extremely amusing; for often with knowledge (and that frequently inaccurate) not extending beyond a given province, they have described the formation of a world with all the detail and air of eye-witnesses. That much good ensues, and that the science is greatly advanced, by the collision of various theories, cannot be doubted. Each party is anxious to support opinions by facts. Thus, new countries are explored, and old districts re-examined; facts come to light that do not suit either party; new theories spring up; and, in the end, a greater insight into the real structure of the earth's surface is obtained.
Sections and Views Illustrative of Geological Phenomena (1830), iii.
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The fact is, a biologist to-day [1928] is pretty much where an engineer would be if he knew even in detail the cycle of chemical changes which took place within an internal combustion engine but was wholly ignorant of the disposition of tho moving parts.
As guest of honour, closing day address (Jun 1928), Sixth Colloid Symposium, Toronto, Canada, 'Living Matter', printed in Harry Boyer Weiser (ed.), Colloid Symposium Monograph (1928), Vol. 6, 7.
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The first fundamental rule of historical science and research, when by these is sought a knowledge of the general destinies of mankind, is to keep these and every object connected with them steadily in view, without losing ourselves in the details of special inquiries and particular facts, for the multitude and variety of these subjects is absolutely boundless; and on the ocean of historical science the main subject easily vanishes from the eye.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 8.
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The fundamental act of medical care is assumption of responsibility. Surgery has assumed responsibility for disease which is largely acute, local or traumatic. This is responsibility for the entire range of injuries and wounds, local infections, benign and malignant tumors, as well as a large fraction of those pathologic processes and anomalies which are localized in the organs of the body. The study of surgery is a study of these diseases, the conditions and details of their care.
Metabolic Care of the Surgical Patient (1959), Preface. In Loyal Davis, David C. Sabiston, Jr., David C. Sabiston, Frederick Christopher, Davis-Christopher Textbook of Surgery (1972), 19.
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The genius of Laplace was a perfect sledge hammer in bursting purely mathematical obstacles; but, like that useful instrument, it gave neither finish nor beauty to the results. In truth, in truism if the reader please, Laplace was neither Lagrange nor Euler, as every student is made to feel. The second is power and symmetry, the third power and simplicity; the first is power without either symmetry or simplicity. But, nevertheless, Laplace never attempted investigation of a subject without leaving upon it the marks of difficulties conquered: sometimes clumsily, sometimes indirectly, always without minuteness of design or arrangement of detail; but still, his end is obtained and the difficulty is conquered.
In 'Review of “Théorie Analytique des Probabilites” par M. le Marquis de Laplace, 3eme edition. Paris. 1820', Dublin Review (1837), 2, 348.
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The goal is nothing other than the coherence and completeness of the system not only in respect of all details, but also in respect of all physicists of all places, all times, all peoples, and all cultures.
Acht Vorlesungen (1910), 'Vorwort': 4. Translated in J. L. Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man (1986), 51.
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The inherent unpredictability of future scientific developments—the fact that no secure inference can be drawn from one state of science to another—has important implications for the issue of the limits of science. It means that present-day science cannot speak for future science: it is in principle impossible to make any secure inferences from the substance of science at one time about its substance at a significantly different time. The prospect of future scientific revolutions can never be precluded. We cannot say with unblinking confidence what sorts of resources and conceptions the science of the future will or will not use. Given that it is effectively impossible to predict the details of what future science will accomplish, it is no less impossible to predict in detail what future science will not accomplish. We can never confidently put this or that range of issues outside “the limits of science”, because we cannot discern the shape and substance of future science with sufficient clarity to be able to say with any assurance what it can and cannot do. Any attempt to set “limits” to science—any advance specification of what science can and cannot do by way of handling problems and solving questions—is destined to come to grief.
The Limits of Science (1984), 102-3.
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The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming.
In Disturbing the Universe (1979), 250. As cited in Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (1996), 163.
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The reason I cannot really say that I positively enjoy nature is that I do not quite realize what it is that I enjoy. A work of art, on the other hand, I can grasp. I can — if I may put it this way — find that Archimedian point, and as soon as I have found it, everything is readily clear for me. Then I am able to pursue this one main idea and see how all the details serve to illuminate it.
Søren Kierkegaard, translation by Howard Vincent Hong and Edna Hatlestad Hong Søren Kierkegaard’s Journal and Papers (1834), 50.
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The steady states of the fluid matrix of the body are commonly preserved by physiological reactions, i.e., by more complicated processes than are involved in simple physico-chemical equilibria. Special designations, therefore, are appropriate:—“homeostasis” to designate stability of the organism; “homeostatic conditions,” to indicate details of the stability; and “homeostatic reactions,” to signify means for maintaining stability.
'Physiological Regulation of Normal States: Some Tentative Postulates Concerning Biological Homeostatics', 1926. Reprinted in L. L. Langley (ed.), Homeostasis: Origins of the Concept (1973), 246.
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The theory of quantum mechanics also explained all kinds of details, such as why an oxygen atom combines with two hydrogen atoms to make water, and so on. Quantum mechanics thus supplied the theory behind chemistry. So, fundamental theoretical chemistry is really physics.
In 'Introduction', QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985), 5.
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There is thus a possibility that the ancient dream of philosophers to connect all Nature with the properties of whole numbers will some day be realized. To do so physics will have to develop a long way to establish the details of how the correspondence is to be made. One hint for this development seems pretty obvious, namely, the study of whole numbers in modern mathematics is inextricably bound up with the theory of functions of a complex variable, which theory we have already seen has a good chance of forming the basis of the physics of the future. The working out of this idea would lead to a connection between atomic theory and cosmology.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 129.
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There were details like clothing, hair styles and the fragile objects that hardly ever survive for the archaeologist—musical instruments, bows and arrows, and body ornaments depicted as they were worn. … No amounts of stone and bone could yield the kinds of information that the paintings gave so freely
As quoted in Current Biography Yearbook (1985), 259.
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Therefore on long pondering this uncertainty of mathematical traditions on the deduction of the motions of the system of the spheres, I began to feel disgusted that no more certain theory of the motions of the mechanisms of the universe, which has been established for us by the best and most systematic craftsman of all, was agreed by the philosophers, who otherwise theorised so minutely with most careful attention to the details of this system. I therefore set myself the task of reading again the books of all philosophers which were available to me, to search out whether anyone had ever believed that the motions of the spheres of the, universe were other than was supposed by those who professed mathematics in the schools.
'To His Holiness Pope Paul III', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 25.
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This is the element that distinguishes applied science from basic. Surprise is what makes the difference. When you are organized to apply knowledge, set up targets, produce a usable product, you require a high degree of certainty from the outset. All the facts on which you base protocols must be reasonably hard facts with unambiguous meaning. The challenge is to plan the work and organize the workers so that it will come out precisely as predicted. For this, you need centralized authority, elaborately detailed time schedules, and some sort of reward system based on speed and perfection. But most of all you need the intelligible basic facts to begin with, and these must come from basic research. There is no other source. In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.
The Planning of Science, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, (1974) .
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Those who are unacquainted with the details of scientific investigation have no idea of the amount of labour expended in the determination of those numbers on which important calculations or inferences depend. They have no idea of the patience shown by a Berzelius in determining atomic weights; by a Regnault in determining coefficients of expansion; or by a Joule in determining the mechanical equivalent of heat.
In Sound: A Course of Eight Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1867), 26.
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Those who have occasion to enter into the depths of what is oddly, if generously, called the literature of a scientific subject, alone know the difficulty of emerging with an unsoured disposition. The multitudinous facts presented by each corner of Nature form in large part the scientific man's burden to-day, and restrict him more and more, willy-nilly, to a narrower and narrower specialism. But that is not the whole of his burden. Much that he is forced to read consists of records of defective experiments, confused statement of results, wearisome description of detail, and unnecessarily protracted discussion of unnecessary hypotheses. The publication of such matter is a serious injury to the man of science; it absorbs the scanty funds of his libraries, and steals away his poor hours of leisure.
'Physiology, including Experimental Pathology and Experimental Physiology', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1899, 891-2.
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To keep pace with the growth of mathematics, one would have to read about fifteen papers a day, most of them packed with technical details and of considerable length. No one dreams of attempting this task.
In 'The Extent of Mathematics', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 11.
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To make still bigger telescopes will be useless, for the light absorption and temperature variations of the earth’s atmosphere are what now limits the ability to see fine detail. If bigger telescopes are to be built, it will have to be for use in an airless observatory, perhaps an observatory on the moon.
(1965). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 284.
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To my knowledge there are no written accounts of Fermi’s contributions to the [first atomic bomb] testing problems, nor would it be easy to reconstruct them in detail. This, however, was one of those occasions in which Fermi’s dominion over all physics, one of his most startling characteristics, came into its own. The problems involved in the Trinity test ranged from hydrodynamics to nuclear physics, from optics to thermodynamics, from geophysics to nuclear chemistry. Often they were closely interrelated, and to solve one’it was necessary to understand all the others. Even though the purpose was grim and terrifying, it was one of the greatest physics experiments of all time. Fermi completely immersed himself in the task. At the time of the test he was one of the very few persons (or perhaps the only one) who understood all the technical ramifications.
In Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 145
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Traditional dinosaur theory is full of short circuits. Like the antiquated wiring in an old house, the details sputter and burn out when specific parts are tested.
The Dinosaur Heresies (1986), 27.
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Very old and wide-spread is the opinion that forests have an important impact on rainfall. ... If forests enhance the amount and frequency of precipitation simply by being there, deforestation as part of agricultural expansion everywhere, must necessarily result in less rainfall and more frequent droughts. This view is most poignantly expressed by the saying: Man walks the earth and desert follows his steps! ... It is not surprising that under such circumstances the issue of a link between forests and climate has ... been addressed by governments. Lately, the Italian government has been paying special attention to reforestation in Italy and its expected improvement of the climate. ... It must be prevented that periods of heavy rainfall alternate with droughts. ...In the Unites States deforestation plays an important role as well and is seen as the cause for a reduction in rainfall. ... committee chairman of the American Association for Advancement of Science demands decisive steps to extend woodland in order to counteract the increasing drought. ... some serious concerns. In 1873, in Vienna, the congress for agriculture and forestry discussed the problem in detail; and when the Prussian house of representatives ordered a special commission to examine a proposed law pertaining to the preservation and implementation of forests for safeguarding, it pointed out that the steady decrease in the water levels of Prussian rivers was one of the most serious consequences of deforestation only to be rectified by reforestation programs. It is worth mentioning that ... the same concerns were raised in Russia as well and governmental circles reconsidered the issue of deforestation.
as quoted in Eduard Brückner - The Sources and Consequences of Climate Change and Climate Variability in Historical Times editted by N. Stehr and H. von Storch (2000)
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We are like the explorers of a great continent, who have penetrated its margins in most points of the compass and have mapped the major mountain chains and rivers. There are still innumerable details to fill in, but the endless horizons no longer exist.
Stating his belief that within a generation or two, scientific progress was likely to halt. In Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24. Quoted in obituary by Douglas Martin, New York Times (20 Jan 2005).
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We may... have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the truth... The developmental process described in this essay has been a process of evolution from primitive beginnings—a process whose successive stages are characterized by an increasingly detailed and refined understanding of nature. But nothing that has been or will be said makes it a process of evolution toward anything.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), 169-70.
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We should admit in theory what is already very largely a case in practice, that the main currency of scientific information is the secondary sources in the forms of abstracts, reports, tables, &c., and that the primary sources are only for detailed reference by very few people. It is possible that the fate of most scientific papers will be not to be read by anyone who uses them, but with luck they will furnish an item, a number, some facts or data to such reports which may, but usually will not, lead to the original paper being consulted. This is very sad but it is the inevitable consequence of the growth of science. The number of papers that can be consulted is absolutely limited, no more time can be spent in looking up papers, by and large, than in the past. As the number of papers increase the chance of any one paper being looked at is correspondingly diminished. This of course is only an average, some papers may be looked at by thousands of people and may become a regular and fixed part of science but most will perish unseen.
'The Supply of Information to the Scientist: Some Problems of the Present Day', The Journal of Documentation, 1957, 13, 195.
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We think in generalities, but we live in detail. To make the past live, we must perceive it in detail in addition to thinking of it in generalities.
In 'The Education of an Englishman', The Atlantic Monthly (Aug 1926), 138, 192.
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We will now discuss in a little more detail the Struggle for Existence.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859, 1902), 57.
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We’ll get to the details of what’s around here, but it looks like a collection of just about every variety of shape - angularity, granularity, about every variety of rock. The colors - well, there doesn’t appear to be too much of a general color at all; however, it looks as though some of the rocks and boulders [are] going to have some interesting colors to them. Over.
…...
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What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient but restless mind, of sacrificing one’s ease or vanity, or uniting a love of detail to foresight, and of passing through hard times bravely [and cheerfully].
In The Wish of His Life (1878), Vol. 1, 25. The ending "and cheerfully" is not part of the original text, though it is seen added in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors, Both Ancient and Modern (1891), 320. The original text ends “whistling the air of ‘Marlbrough’.”
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What I really want is a creative person. You can always hire a Ph.D. to take care of the details.
A recollection by Ray Hunder on Drew's philosophy, as quoted in A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (2002), 27. (Note: The quote is in the words of Ray Hunder, and not necessarily a verbatim quote as spoken by Drew.)
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What I want to stress is that the pre-condition of scientific discovery is a society which does not demand “usefulness” from the scientist, but grants him the liberty which he needs for concentration and for the conscientious detailed work without which creation is impossible.
In 'Science Needs Freedom', World Digest (1943), 55, 50. As cited in John R. Baker, Science and the Planned State (1945), 42-43 and 115, footnote 98.
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What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.
From 'L’Avenir des Mathématiques', Science et Méthode (1908, 1920), Livre Premier, Chap. 2, 25. English as in Henri Poincaré and George Bruce Halsted (trans.), 'The Future of Mathematics', Science and Method collected in The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method (1913), 372. From the French, “Qu’est-ce qui nous donne en effet dans une solution, dans une démonstration, le sentiment de l’élégance? C’est l’harmonie des diverses parties, leur symétrie, leur heureux balancement; c’est en un mot tout ce qui y met de l'ordre, tout ce qui leur donne de l’unité, ce qui nous permet par conséquent d’y voir clair et d’en comprendre l’ensemble en même temps que les détails”.
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Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice the men will have forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances. Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your textbooks, burnt your lecture notes, and forgotten the minutiae which you learned by heart for the examination. What, in the way of detail, you continually require will stick in your memory as obvious facts like the sun and the moon; and what you casually require can be looked up in any work of reference. The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles. When I speak of principles I am hardly even thinking of verbal formulations. A principle which has thoroughly soaked into you is rather a mental habit than a formal statement. It becomes the way the mind reacts to the appropriate stimulus in the form of illustrative circumstances. Nobody goes about with his knowledge clearly and consciously before him. Mental cultivation is nothing else than the satisfactory way in which the mind will function when it is poked up into activity.
In 'The Rhythm of Education', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 41.
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When experimental results are found to be in conflict with those of an earlier investigator, the matter is often taken too easily and disposed of for an instance by pointing out a possible source of error in the experiments of the predessessor, but without enquiring whether the error, if present, would be quantitatively sufficient to explain the discrepancy. I think that disagreement with former results should never be taken easily, but every effort should be made to find a true explanation. This can be done in many more cases than it actually is; and as a result, it can be done more easily by the man “on the spot” who is already familiar with the essential details. But it may require a great deal of imagination, and very often it will require supplementary experiments.
From 'August Krogh' in Festkrift Københavns Universitet 1950 (1950), 18, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 501. The DSB quote is introduced, “All his life Krogh was more interested in physical than in chemiical problems in biology, and he explained his critical attitude thus.”
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When one ponders on the tremendous journey of evolution over the past three billion years or so, the prodigious wealth of structures it has engendered, and the extraordinarily effective teleonomic performances of living beings from bacteria to man, one may well find oneself beginning to doubt again whether all this could conceiveably be the product of an enormous lottery presided over by natural selection, blindly picking the rare winners from among numbers drawn at random. [Nevertheless,] a detailed review of the accumulated modern evidence [shows] that this conception alone is compatible with the facts.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 138.
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[American] Fathers are spending too much time taking care of babies. No other civilization ever let responsible and important men spend their time in this way. They should not be involved in household details. They should take the children on trips, explore with them and talk things over. Men today have lost something by turning towards the home instead of going out of it.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 147.
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[Edward Teller is a conceptual thinker,] an ‘order of magnitude’ man. That’s his language. He’s like the architect who likes to make the big drawing, the broad sketch, and not worry himself about the plumbing details.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 62.
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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 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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