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Who said: “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.”
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Difficult Quotes (62 quotes)


Ac astronomye is an hard thyng,
And yvel for to knowe;
Geometrie and geomesie,
So gynful of speche,
Who so thynketh werche with tho two
Thryveth ful late,
For sorcerie is the sovereyn book
That to tho sciences bilongeth.

Now, astronomy is a difficult discipline, and the devil to learn;
And geometry and geomancy have confusing terminology:
If you wish to work in these two, you will not succeed quickly.
For sorcery is the chief study that these sciences entail.
In William Langland and B. Thomas Wright (ed.) The Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman (1842), 186. Modern translation by Terrence Tiller in Piers Plowman (1981, 1999), 94.
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L’analyse mathématique est aussi étendue que la nature elle-même; elle définit tous les rapports sensibles, mesure les temps y les espaces, les forces, les températures; cette science difficile se forme avec lenteur, mais elle conserve tous les principes quelle a une fois acquis; elle s’accroît et s’affermit sans cesse au milieu de tant de variations et d’erreurs de l’esprit humain.
Mathematical analysis is as extensive as nature itself; it defines all perceptible relations, measures times, spaces, forces, temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it preserves every principle which it has once acquired; it grows and strengthens itself incessantly in the midst of the many variations and errors of the human mind.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), xiv, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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Altering a gene in the gene line to produce improved offspring is likely to be very difficult because of the danger of unwanted side effects. It would also raise obvious ethical problems.
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Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year’s Southern Conference champion, from the NCAA championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple-two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton players shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from 20 feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots-the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball-and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.
A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton
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Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
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Everyone is aware of the difficult and menacing situation in which human society–shrunk into one community with a common fate–now finds itself, but only a few act accordingly. Most people go on living their every-day life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghostly tragicomedy which is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world. But on that stage, on which the actors under the floodlights play their ordained parts, our fate of tomorrow, life or death of the nations, is being decided.
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Experience hobbles progress and leads to abandonment of difficult problems; it encourages the initiated to walk on the shady side of the street in the direction of experiences that have been pleasant. Youth without experience attacks the unsolved problems which maturer age with experience avoids, and from the labors of youth comes progress. Youth has dreams and visions, and will not be denied.
From speech 'In the Time of Henry Jacob Bigelow', given to the Boston Surgical Society, Medalist Meeting (6 Jun 1921). Printed in Journal of the Medical Association (1921), 77, 599.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult.
In Adam Bede (1859, 1860), 151.
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Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against a bastion and citadel of the stars.
Cosmos
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From Pythagoras (ca. 550 BC) to Boethius (ca AD 480-524), when pure mathematics consisted of arithmetic and geometry while applied mathematics consisted of music and astronomy, mathematics could be characterized as the deductive study of “such abstractions as quantities and their consequences, namely figures and so forth” (Aquinas ca. 1260). But since the emergence of abstract algebra it has become increasingly difficult to formulate a definition to cover the whole of the rich, complex and expanding domain of mathematics.
In 100 Years of Mathematics: a Personal Viewpoint (1981), 2.
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I do not think it is possible really to understand the successes of science without understanding how hard it is—how easy it is to be led astray, how difficult it is to know at any time what is the next thing to be done.
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I like a deep and difficult investigation when I happen to have made it easy to myself, if not to all others; and there is a spirit of gambling in this, whether, as by the cast of a die, a calculation è perte de vue shall bring out a beautiful and perfect result or shall be wholly thrown away. Scientific investigations are a sort of warfare carried on in the closet or on the couch against all one's contemporaries and predecessors; I have often gained a signal victory when I have been half asleep, but more frequently have found, upon being thoroughly awake, that the enemy had still the advantage of me, when I thought I had him fast in a corner, and all this you see keeps me alive.
Letter to Hudson Gurney, quoted in George Peacock, The Life of Thomas Young (1855), 239.
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I regret that it has been necessary for me in this lecture to administer such a large dose of four-dimensional geometry. I do not apologize, because I am really not responsible for the fact that nature in its most fundamental aspect is four-dimensional. Things are what they are; and it is useless to disguise the fact that “what things are” is often very difficult for our intellects to follow.
From The Concept of Nature (1920, 1964), 118.
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I watched Baeyer activating magnesium with iodine for a difficult Grignard reaction; it was done in a test tube, which he watched carefully as he moved it gently by hand over a flame for three quarters of an hour. The test tube was the apparatus to Baeyer.
In Richard Willstätter, Arthur Stoll (ed. of the original German) and Lilli S. Hornig (trans.), From My Life: The Memoirs of Richard Willstätter (1958), 140.
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I would not leave anything to a man of action; as he would be tempted to give up work. On the other hand I would like to help dreamers as they find it difficult to get on in life.
A few months before his death. As translated and stated in H. Schück and ‎Ragnar Sohlman, The Life of Alfred Nobel (1929), 241.
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If I were working in astrophysics I would find it quite hard to explain to people what I was doing. Natural history is a pretty easy thing to explain. It does have its complexities, but nowhere do you speak about things that are outside people’s experience. You might speak about a species that is outside their experience, but nothing as remote as astrophysics.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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If the observation of the amount of heat the sun sends the earth is among the most important and difficult in astronomical physics, it may also be termed the fundamental problem of meteorology, nearly all whose phenomena would become predictable, if we knew both the original quantity and kind of this heat.
In Report of the Mount Whitney Expedition, quoted in Charles Greeley Abbot, Adventures in the World of Science (1958), 17. Also quoted and cited in David H. Devorkin, 'Charles Greeley Abbot', Biographical Memoirs (1998), 4.
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Infinite space cannot be conceived by anybody; finite but unbounded space is difficult to conceive but not impossible. … [We] are using a conception of space which must have originated a million years ago and has become rather firmly imbedded in human thought. But the space of Physics ought not to be dominated by this creation of the dawning mind of an enterprising ape."
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 80-81.
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Inventions are best developed on your own. When you work for other people or borrow money from them, maintaining freedom of intellect is difficult.
As quoted by Franz Lidz in 'Dr. NakaMats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name', Smithsonian Magazine (Dec 2012).
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It is a scale of proportions which makes the bad difficult and the good easy.
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It is by no means hopeless to expect to make a machine for really very difficult mathematical problems. But you would have to proceed step-by-step. I think electricity would be the best thing to rely on.
In Charles Sanders Peirce, ‎Max Harold Fisch, ‎Christian J. W. Kloesel Writings of Charles S. Peirce: 1884-1886 (1993), 422.
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It is difficult even to attach a precise meaning to the term “scientific truth.” So different is the meaning of the word “truth” according to whether we are dealing with a fact of experience, a mathematical proposition or a scientific theory. “Religious truth” conveys nothing clear to me at all.
From 'Scientific Truth' in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 11.
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It is difficult to know how to treat the errors of the age. If a man oppose them, he stands alone; if he surrender to them, they bring him neither joy nor credit.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 185.
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It is so very difficult for a sick man not to be a scoundrel.
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It is very difficult not to be excited by 10,000 king penguins.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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It might be thought … that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already very well understood.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 138-139.
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It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, the thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.
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Mathematics is like checkers in being suitable for the young, not too difficult, amusing, and without peril to the state.
Plato
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Most impediments to scientific understanding are conceptual locks, not factual lacks. Most difficult to dislodge are those biases that escape our scrutiny because they seem so obviously, even ineluctably, just. We know ourselves best and tend to view other creatures as mirrors of our own constitution and social arrangements. (Aristotle, and nearly two millennia of successors, designated the large bee that leads the swarm as a king.)
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My mother, my dad and I left Cuba when I was two [January, 1959]. Castro had taken control by then, and life for many ordinary people had become very difficult. My dad had worked [as a personal bodyguard for the wife of Cuban president Batista], so he was a marked man. We moved to Miami, which is about as close to Cuba as you can get without being there. It’s a Cuba-centric society. I think a lot of Cubans moved to the US thinking everything would be perfect. Personally, I have to say that those early years were not particularly happy. A lot of people didn’t want us around, and I can remember seeing signs that said: “No children. No pets. No Cubans.” Things were not made easier by the fact that Dad had begun working for the US government. At the time he couldn’t really tell us what he was doing, because it was some sort of top-secret operation. He just said he wanted to fight against what was happening back at home. [Estefan’s father was one of the many Cuban exiles taking part in the ill-fated, anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow dictator Fidel Castro.] One night, Dad disappered. I think he was so worried about telling my mother he was going that he just left her a note. There were rumours something was happening back home, but we didn’t really know where Dad had gone. It was a scary time for many Cubans. A lot of men were involved—lots of families were left without sons and fathers. By the time we found out what my dad had been doing, the attempted coup had taken place, on April 17, 1961. Intitially he’d been training in Central America, but after the coup attempt he was captured and spent the next wo years as a political prisoner in Cuba. That was probably the worst time for my mother and me. Not knowing what was going to happen to Dad. I was only a kid, but I had worked out where my dad was. My mother was trying to keep it a secret, so she used to tell me Dad was on a farm. Of course, I thought that she didn’t know what had really happened to him, so I used to keep up the pretence that Dad really was working on a farm. We used to do this whole pretending thing every day, trying to protect each other. Those two years had a terrible effect on my mother. She was very nervous, just going from church to church. Always carrying her rosary beads, praying her little heart out. She had her religion, and I had my music. Music was in our family. My mother was a singer, and on my father’s side there was a violinist and a pianist. My grandmother was a poet.
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Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
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No question is so difficult to answer as that which the answer is obvious.
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One can ask: “If I crystallize a virus to obtain a crystal consisting of the molecules that make up the virus, are those molecules lifeless or not?” … The properties of living organisms are those of aggregates of molecules. It’s very difficult to draw a line between molecules that are lifeless and molecules that are not lifeless.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 738.
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One of my surgical giant friends had in his operating room a sign “If the operation is difficult, you aren’t doing it right.” What he meant was, you have to plan every operation You cannot ever be casual You have to realize that any operation is a potential fatality.
From Cornelia Dean, 'A Conversation with Joseph E. Murray', New York Times (25 Sep 2001), F5.
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People will work every bit as hard to fool themselves as they will to fool others—which makes it very difficult to tell just where the line between foolishness and fraud is located.
Voodoo Science. In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 77.
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Physics is becoming too difficult for the physicists.
Quoted in C Reid, Hilbert (London 1970)
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Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians.
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Sometimes one has got to say difficult things, but one ought to say them as simply as one knows how.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 47.
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Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, like a violent volcano. The nuclear reactions had led to overheating in the underground burial grounds. The explosion poured radioactive dust and materials high up into the sky. It was just the wrong weather for such a tragedy. Strong winds blew the radioactive clouds hundreds of miles away. It was difficult to gauge the extent of the disaster immediately, and no evacuation plan was put into operation right away. Many villages and towns were only ordered to evacuate when the symptoms of radiation sickness were already quite apparent. Tens of thousands of people were affected, hundreds dying, though the real figures have never been made public. The large area, where the accident happened, is still considered dangerous and is closed to the public.
'Two Decades of Dissidence', New Scientist (4 Nov 1976), 72, No. 72, 265.
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Talent, in difficult situations, strives to untie knots, which genius instantly cuts with one swift decision.
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203.
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Thanks to the sharp eyes of a Minnesota man, it is possible that two identical snowflakes may finally have been observed. While out snowmobiling, Oley Skotchgaard noticed a snowflake that looked familiar to him. Searching his memory, he realized it was identical to a snowflake he had seen as a child in Vermont. Weather experts, while excited, caution that the match-up will be difficult to verify.
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 105.
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That the master manufacturer, by dividing the work to be executed into different processes, each requiring different degrees of skill or of force, can purchase precisely the precise quantity of both which is necessary for each process; whereas, if the whole work were executed by one workman, that person must possess sufficient skill to perform the most difficult, and sufficient strength to execute the most laborious, of the operations into which the art is divided.
In Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832), 137-38.
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The discovery of the famous original [Rosetta Stone] enabled Napoleon’s experts to begin the reading of Egypt’s ancient literature. In like manner the seismologists, using the difficult but manageable Greek of modern physics, are beginning the task of making earthquakes tell the nature of the earth’s interior and translating into significant speech the hieroglyphics written by the seismograph.
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The geneticist to-day is in a rather difficult position. He must have at least a bowing acquaintance with anatomy, cytology, and mathematics. He must dabble in taxonomy, physics, and even psychology.
In 'The Biochemistry of the Individual' (1937), collected in Neurath Hans (ed.), Perspectives in Biochemistry (1989), 6.
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The great masters of modern analysis are Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss, who were contemporaries. It is interesting to note the marked contrast in their styles. Lagrange is perfect both in form and matter, he is careful to explain his procedure, and though his arguments are general they are easy to follow. Laplace on the other hand explains nothing, is indifferent to style, and, if satisfied that his results are correct, is content to leave them either with no proof or with a faulty one. Gauss is as exact and elegant as Lagrange, but even more difficult to follow than Laplace, for he removes every trace of the analysis by which he reached his results, and studies to give a proof which while rigorous shall be as concise and synthetical as possible.
History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 468.
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The idea that time may vary from place to place is a difficult one, but it is the idea Einstein used, and it is correct—believe it or not.
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The layman is delighted to learn that after all, in spite of science being so impossibly difficult to understand, Scientists Are Human!
In What Mad Pursuit (1988), 83.
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The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things.
From edited version of a speech, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (15 Apr 1992), as reprinted from the Independent newspaper in Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (2004), 84.
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The only objections that have occurred to me are, 1st that you have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly. . . . And 2nd, it is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variation should occur at all. However, I must read the book two or three times more before I presume to begin picking holes.
Comments after reading Darwin's book, Origin of Species.]
Letter to Charles Darwin (23 Nov 1859). 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), 214.
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The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
In Second Inaugural Address (21 Jan 2013) at the United States Capitol.
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The trouble about always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do it without destroying the health of the mind.
In 'The Health of the Mind', Illustrated London News (10 Aug 1929), collected in Selected Essays (1955), 22.
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There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms–if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us–the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus.
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There can be but one opinion as to the beauty and utility of this analysis of Laplace; but the manner in which it has been hitherto presented has seemed repulsive to the ablest mathematicians, and difficult to ordinary mathematical students.[Co-author with Peter Guthrie Tait.]
In William Thomson Baron Kelvin, Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1879), Vol. 1, Preface, vii.
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There could not be a language more universal and more simple, more exempt from errors and obscurities, that is to say, more worthy of expressing the invariable relations of natural objects. Considered from this point of view, it is coextensive with nature itself; it defines all the sensible relations, measures the times, the spaces, the forces, the temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it retains all the principles it has once acquired. It grows and becomes more certain without limit in the midst of so many errors of the human mind.
From introduction to Theory of Heat as quoted in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359.
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There may be a golden ignorance. If Professor Bell had known how difficult a task he was attempting, he would never have given us the telephone.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 178.
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This is the reason why all attempts to obtain a deeper knowledge of the foundations of physics seem doomed to me unless the basic concepts are in accordance with general relativity from the beginning. This situation makes it difficult to use our empirical knowledge, however comprehensive, in looking for the fundamental concepts and relations of physics, and it forces us to apply free speculation to a much greater extent than is presently assumed by most physicists.
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This quality of genius is, sometimes, difficult to be distinguished from talent, because high genius includes talent. It is talent, and something more. The usual distinction between genius and talent is, that one represents creative thought, the other practical skill: one invents, the other applies. But the truth is, that high genius applies its own inventions better than talent alone can do. A man who has mastered the higher mathematics, does not, on that account, lose his knowledge of arithmetic. Hannibal, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Newton, Scott, Burke, Arkwright, were they not men of talent as well as men of genius?
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203.
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We were trying. In spite of several failures, we felt we were getting close. It’s difficult to translate the optimism of the Brigham staff and hospital. The administration really backed us.
Concerning the early years trying to solve the problem of rejection of a transplanted kidney. As quoted by Alvin Powell in 'A Transplant Makes History', Harvard Gazette (22 Sep 2011). The writer of the articles stated: “Through those dark years, he and his colleagues pressed on, inspired by the dying patients who volunteered for surgery in hopes that, even if they didn’t make it, enough could be learned that success would come one day.”
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What is more difficult, to think of an encampment on the moon or of Harlem rebuilt? Both are now within the reach of our resources. Both now depend upon human decision and human will.
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You may drink the ocean dry; you may uproot from its base the mountain Meru: you may swallow fire. But more difficult than all these, oh Good One! is control over the mind.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 258.
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[The toughest part of being in charge is] killing ideas that are great but poorly timed. And delivering tough feedback that’s difficult to hear but that I know will help people—and the team—in the long term.
In Issie Lapowsky, 'Scott Belsky', Inc. (Nov 2013), 140. Biography in Context,
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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