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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index D > Category: Difficulty

Difficulty Quotes (196 quotes)

...great difficulties are felt at first and these cannot be overcome except by starting from experiments .. and then be conceiving certain hypotheses ... But even so, very much hard work remains to be done and one needs not only great perspicacity but often a degree of good fortune.
Letter to Tschirnhaus (1687). Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 37-38.
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La vérité ne diffère de l'erreur qu'en deux points: elle est un peu plus difficile à prouver et beaucoup plus difficile à faire admettre. (Dec 1880)
Truth is different from error in two respects: it is a little harder to prove and more difficult to admit.
In Recueil d'Œuvres de Léo Errera: Botanique Générale (1908), 193. Google translation by Webmaster.
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[As Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Ministry of Defence] We persist in regarding ourselves as a Great Power, capable of everything and only temporarily handicapped by economic difficulties. We are not a great power and never will be again. We are a great nation, but if we continue to behave like a Great Power we shall soon cease to be a great nation. Let us take warning from the fate of the Great Powers of the past and not burst ourselves with pride (see Aesop’s fable of the frog). (1949)
As quoted by Peter Hennessy, Whitehall (1989), 155.
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[When asked “Dr. Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?”] That is simple, my friend. It is because politics is more difficult than physics.
Einstein’s answer to a conferee at a meeting at Princeton, N.J. (Jan 1946), as recalled by Greenville Clark in 'Letters to the Times', in New York Times (22 Apr 1955), 24.
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A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.
Address at the formal opening of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (12 Sep 1876), collected in 'University Education', American Addresses: With a Lecture on the Study of Biology (1877), 100.
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After that, I thought about what a proposition generally needs in order to be true and certain because, since I had just found one that I knew was such, I thought I should also know what this certainty consists in. Having noticed that there is nothing at all in the proposition “I think, therefore I am” [cogito ergo sum] which convinces me that I speak the truth, apart from the fact that I see very clearly that one has to exist in order to think, I judged that I could adopt as a general rule that those things we conceive very clearly and distinctly are all true. The only outstanding difficulty is in recognizing which ones we conceive distinctly.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 4, 25.
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Although the way ahead [for immunology] is full of pitfalls and difficulties, this is indeed an exhilarating prospect. There is no danger of a shortage of forthcoming excitement in the subject. Yet, as always, the highlights of tomorrow are the unpredictabilities of today.
From Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1984), collected in Tore Frängsmyr and Jan Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures in Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 267.
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Among nonclassical ions the ratio of conceptual difficulty to molecular weight reaches a maximum with the cyclopropylcarbinyl-cyclobutyl system.
Nonclassical Ions (1965), 272.
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Among the minor, yet striking characteristics of mathematics, may be mentioned the fleshless and skeletal build of its propositions; the peculiar difficulty, complication, and stress of its reasonings; the perfect exactitude of its results; their broad universality; their practical infallibility.
In Charles S. Peirce, ‎Charles Hartshorne (ed.), ‎Paul Weiss (ed.), Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (1931), Vol. 4, 197.
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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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An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.
Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 54.
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An unelectrified atom is so elusive that unless more than a million million are present we have no means sufficiently sensitive to detect them, or, to put it another way, unless we had a better test for a man than for an unelectrified molecule, we should be unable to find out that the earth was inhabited. … A billion unelectrified atoms may escape our observation, whereas a dozen or so electrified ones are detected without difficulty.
From the Romanes Lecture (10 Jun 1914) delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, published as The Atomic Theory (1914), 9.
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Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of facts will certainly reject my theory.
The Origin of Species (1859), 482.
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Archimedes was not free from the prevailing notion that geometry was degraded by being employed to produce anything useful. It was with difficulty that he was induced to stoop from speculation to practice. He was half ashamed of those inventions which were the wonder of hostile nations, and always spoke of them slightingly as mere amusements, as trifles in which a mathematician might be suffered to relax his mind after intense application to the higher parts of his science.
In Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1887), in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1879), Vol. 1, 395.
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At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. ... I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world. After I had learned the fifth proposition, my brother told me that it was generally considered difficult, but I had found no difficulty whatsoever. This was the first time it had dawned on me that I might have some intelligence.
In Autobiography: 1872-1914 (1967), Vol. 1, 37-38.
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At the present time there exist problems beyond our ability to solve, not because of theoretical difficulties, but because of insufficient means of mechanical computation.
In 'Proposed Automatic Calculating Machine' (1937). As quoted in I. Bernard Cohen, Gregory W. Welch (eds.), Makin' Numbers: Howard Aiken and the Computer (1999), 13.
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Augustine's Law XVI: Software is like entropy. It is difficult to grasp, weighs nothing, and obeys the second law of thermodynamics; i.e. it always increases.
In Augustine's Laws (1997), 114.
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But how to raise a sum in the different States has been my greatest difficulty.
Letter from Robert Fulton from London (5 Feb 1797) to President George Washington, proposing benefits from building canals. In Henry Winram Dickinson, Robert Fulton, Engineer and Artist (1913), 57.
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But if anyone, well seen in the knowledge, not onely of Sacred and exotick History, but of Astronomical Calculation, and the old Hebrew Kalendar, shall apply himself to these studies, I judge it indeed difficult, but not impossible for such a one to attain, not onely the number of years, but even, of dayes from the Creation of the World.
In 'Epistle to the Reader', The Annals of the World (1658). As excerpted in Wallen Yep, Man Before Adam: A Correction to Doctrinal Theology, "The Missing Link Found" (2002), 18.
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Cavendish was a great Man with extraordinary singularities—His voice was squeaking his manner nervous He was afraid of strangers & seemed when embarrassed to articulate with difficulty—He wore the costume of our grandfathers. Was enormously rich but made no use of his wealth... He Cavendish lived latterly the life of a solitary, came to the Club dinner & to the Royal Society: but received nobody at his home. He was acute sagacious & profound & I think the most accomplished British Philosopher of his time.
Quoted in J. Z. Fullmer, 'Davy's Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia, 1967, 12, 133.
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Considering the difficulties represented by the lack of water, by extremes of temperature, by the full force of gravity unmitigated by the buoyancy of water, it must be understood that the spread to land of life forms that evolved to meet the conditions of the ocean represented the greatest single victory won by life over the inanimate environment.
(1965). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 194.
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Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.
From An Oration, Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1802, at the Anniversary Commemoration of the First Landing of our Ancestors at that Place (1802), 13.
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Difficulties [in defining mathematics with full generality, yet simplicity] are but consequences of our refusal to see that mathematics cannot be defined without acknowledging its most obvious feature: namely, that it is interesting. Nowhere is intellectual beauty so deeply felt and fastidiously appreciated.
In Personal Knowledge (1958, 2012), 200,
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Divers of Hermetic Books have such involv’d Obscuritys that they may justly be compar’d to Riddles written in Cyphers. For after a Man has surmounted the difficulty of decyphering the Words & Terms, he finds a new & greater difficulty to discover ye meaning of the seemingly plain Expression.
Fragment In Boyle papers. Cited by Lawrence Principe, 'Boyle's Alchemical Pursuits', In M. Hunter (ed.), Robert Boyle Reconsidered (1994), 95
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Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
In letter (7 Jan 1943) to Barbara Wilson, a junior high school student, who had difficulties in school with mathematics. In Einstein Archives, 42-606. Quoted in Alice Calaprice, Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children (2002), 140.
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Enzymes are things invented by biologists that explain things which otherwise require harder thinking.
In Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004), 475, but without citation. If you know a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Every consideration that did not relate to “what is best for the patient” was dismissed. This was Sir William [Gull]’s professional axiom. … But the carrying of it out not unfrequently involved him in difficulty, and led occasionally to his being misunderstood. … He would frequently refuse to repeat a visit or consultation on the ground that he wished the sufferer to feel that it was unnecessary.
In Memoir, as Editor, prefacing Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), xviii.
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Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.
In Connie Robertson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotations (1998), 82. This quoted widely, but all found by Webmaster so far give no reference. If you know a primary source, please contact the Webmaster.
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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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Examples ... show how difficult it often is for an experimenter to interpret his results without the aid of mathematics.
Quoted in E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics, xvi.
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Faced with the admitted difficulty of managing the creative process, we are doubling our efforts to do so. Is this because science has failed to deliver, having given us nothing more than nuclear power, penicillin, space travel, genetic engineering, transistors, and superconductors? Or is it because governments everywhere regard as a reproach activities they cannot advantageously control? They felt that way about the marketplace for goods, but trillions of wasted dollars later, they have come to recognize the efficiency of this self-regulating system. Not so, however, with the marketplace for ideas.
Quoted in Martin Moskovits (ed.), Science and Society, the John C. Polanyi Nobel Lareates Lectures (1995), 8.
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Feeling weightless… it’s so many things together. A feeling of pride, of healthy solitude, of dignified freedom from everything that’s dirty, sticky. You feel exquisitely comfortable . . . and you feel you have so much energy, such an urge to do things, such an ability to do things. And you work well, yes, you think well, without sweat, without difficulty as if the biblical curse in the sweat of thy face and in sorrow no longer exists, As if you’ve been born again.
…...
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From the point of view of the pure morphologist the recapitulation theory is an instrument of research enabling him to reconstruct probable lines of descent; from the standpoint of the student of development and heredity the fact of recapitulation is a difficult problem whose solution would perhaps give the key to a true understanding of the real nature of heredity.
Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology (1916), 312-3.
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Geology, perhaps more than any other department of natural philosophy, is a science of contemplation. It requires no experience or complicated apparatus, no minute processes upon the unknown processes of matter. It demands only an enquiring mind and senses alive to the facts almost everywhere presented in nature. And as it may be acquired without much difficulty, so it may be improved without much painful exertion.
'Lectures on Geology, 1805 Lecture', in R. Siegfried and R. H. Dott (eds.), Humphry Davy on Geology (1980), 13.
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Good work is no done by “humble” men. It is one of the first duties of a professor, for example, in any subject, to exaggerate a little both the importance of his subject and his own importance in it. A man who is always asking “Is what I do worth while?” and “Am I the right person to do it?” will always be ineffective himself and a discouragement to others. He must shut his eyes a little and think a little more of his subject and himself than they deserve. This is not too difficult: it is harder not to make his subject and himself ridiculous by shutting his eyes too tightly.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 66.
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I am particularly concerned to determine the probability of causes and results, as exhibited in events that occur in large numbers, and to investigate the laws according to which that probability approaches a limit in proportion to the repetition of events. That investigation deserves the attention of mathematicians because of the analysis required. It is primarily there that the approximation of formulas that are functions of large numbers has its most important applications. The investigation will benefit observers in identifying the mean to be chosen among the results of their observations and the probability of the errors still to be apprehended. Lastly, the investigation is one that deserves the attention of philosophers in showing how in the final analysis there is a regularity underlying the very things that seem to us to pertain entirely to chance, and in unveiling the hidden but constant causes on which that regularity depends. It is on the regularity of the main outcomes of events taken in large numbers that various institutions depend, such as annuities, tontines, and insurance policies. Questions about those subjects, as well as about inoculation with vaccine and decisions of electoral assemblies, present no further difficulty in the light of my theory. I limit myself here to resolving the most general of them, but the importance of these concerns in civil life, the moral considerations that complicate them, and the voluminous data that they presuppose require a separate work.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), Introduction.
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I am very sorry, Pyrophilus, that to the many (elsewhere enumerated) difficulties which you may meet with, and must therefore surmount, in the serious and effectual prosecution of experimental philosophy I must add one discouragement more, which will perhaps is much surprise as dishearten you; and it is, that besides that you will find (as we elsewhere mention) many of the experiments published by authors, or related to you by the persons you converse with, false and unsuccessful (besides this, I say), you will meet with several observations and experiments which, though communicated for true by candid authors or undistrusted eye-witnesses, or perhaps recommended by your own experience, may, upon further trial, disappoint your expectation, either not at all succeeding constantly, or at least varying much from what you expected.
Opening paragraph of The First Essay Concerning the Unsuccessfulness of Experiments (1673), collected in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle in Six Volumes to Which is Prefixed the Life of the Author (1772), Vol. 1, 318-319.
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I believe scientists have a duty to share the excitement and pleasure of their work with the general public, and I enjoy the challenge of presenting difficult ideas in an understandable way.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I concluded that I might take as a general rule the principle that all things which we very clearly and obviously conceive are true: only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive.
In Discours de la Méthode (1637), as translated by J. Veitch, A Discourse on Method (1912), 27.
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I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.
In 'The Science Of Deduction', A Study In Scarlet (1887, 1904), 15-16.
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I fancy you give me credit for being a more systematic sort of cove than I really am in the matter of limits of significance. What would actually happen would be that I should make out Pt (normal) and say to myself that would be about 50:1; pretty good but as it may not be normal we'd best not be too certain, or 100:1; even allowing that it may not be normal it seems good enough and whether one would be content with that or would require further work would depend on the importance of the conclusion and the difficulty of obtaining suitable experience.
Letter to E. S. Pearson, 18 May 1929. E. S. Pearson, '"Student" as Statistician', Biometrika, 1939, 30, 244.
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I have been able to solve a few problems of mathematical physics on which the greatest mathematicians since Euler have struggled in vain … But the pride I might have held in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors. I am fain to compare myself with a wanderer on the mountains who, not knowing the path, climbs slowly and painfully upwards and often has to retrace his steps because he can go no further—then, whether by taking thought or from luck, discovers a new track that leads him on a little till at length when he reaches the summit he finds to his shame that there is a royal road by which he might have ascended, had he only the wits to find the right approach to it. In my works, I naturally said nothing about my mistake to the reader, but only described the made track by which he may now reach the same heights without difficulty.
(1891) As quoted in translation in Leo Koenigsberger and Frances A. Welby (trans.), Hermann von Helmholtz (1906), 180-181.
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I would have you to observe that the difficulty & mystery which often appear in matters of science & learning are only owing to the terms of art used in them, & if many gentlemen had not been rebuted by the uncouth dress in which science was offered to them, we must believe that many of these who now shew an acute & sound judgement in the affairs of life would also in science have excelled many of those who are devoted to it & who were engaged in it only by necessity & a phlegmatic temper. This is particularly the case with respect to chemistry, which is as easy to be comprehended as any of the common affairs of life, but gentlemen have been kept from applying to it by the jargon in which it has been industriously involved.
Cullen MSS, No. 23, Glasgow University library. In A. L. Donovan, Philosophical Chemistry In the Scottish Enlightenment: The Doctrines and Discoveries of Wllliam Cullen and Joseph Black (1975), 111.
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If a single cell, under appropriate conditions, becomes a man in the space of a few years, there can surely be no difficulty in understanding how, under appropriate conditions, a cell may, in the course of untold millions of years, give origin to the human race.
Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), 350.
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If feeling be not a property of matter, but owing to a superior principle, it must follow, that the motions of the heart, and other muscles of animals, after being separated from their bodies, are to be ascribed to this principle; and that any difficulties which may appear in this matter are owing to our ignorance of the nature of the soul, of the manner of its existence, and of its wonderful union with, and action upon the body.
In An Essay on the Vital and Other Involuntary Motions of Animals (1751), 389-390.
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If it were always necessary to reduce everything to intuitive knowledge, demonstration would often be insufferably prolix. This is why mathematicians have had the cleverness to divide the difficulties and to demonstrate separately the intervening propositions. And there is art also in this; for as the mediate truths (which are called lemmas, since they appear to be a digression) may be assigned in many ways, it is well, in order to aid the understanding and memory, to choose of them those which greatly shorten the process, and appear memorable and worthy in themselves of being demonstrated. But there is another obstacle, viz.: that it is not easy to demonstrate all the axioms, and to reduce demonstrations wholly to intuitive knowledge. And if we had chosen to wait for that, perhaps we should not yet have the science of geometry.
In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz and Alfred Gideon Langley (trans.), New Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1896), 413-414.
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In less than eight years “The Origin of Species” has produced conviction in the minds of a majority of the most eminent living men of science. New facts, new problems, new difficulties as they arise are accepted, solved, or removed by this theory; and its principles are illustrated by the progress and conclusions of every well established branch of human knowledge.
From a review of four books on the subject 'Mimicry, and Other Protective Resemblances Among Animals', in The Westminster Review (Jul 1867), 88, 1. Wallace is identified as the author in the article as reprinted in William Beebe, The Book of Naturalists: An Anthology of the Best Natural History (1988), 108.
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In the case of elements, as in that of individuals, the determination of character is often attended with very great difficulty, a true estimate being only slowly arrived at, and when at last such an estimate is found, it can only be very partially expressed in words.
In The Encyclopaedia Britannica: Ninth Edition (1877), Vol. 5, 714.
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In the mathematical investigations I have usually employed such methods as present themselves naturally to a physicist. The pure mathematician will complain, and (it must be confessed) sometimes with justice, of deficient rigour. But to this question there are two sides. For, however important it may be to maintain a uniformly high standard in pure mathematics, the physicist may occasionally do well to rest content with arguments which are fairly satisfactory and conclusive from his point of view. To his mind, exercised in a different order of ideas, the more severe procedure of the pure mathematician may appear not more but less demonstrative. And further, in many cases of difficulty to insist upon the highest standard would mean the exclusion of the subject altogether in view of the space that would be required.
In Preface to second edition, The Theory of Sound (1894), Vol. 1, vii.
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In the past, you wouldn’t have had any problem in getting a countryman to explain the difference between a blackbird and a song thrush, but you might have that difficulty with a kid now. Equally, if you asked a chap about gorillas in the 19th-century, he wouldn’t have heard of the creatures, but today an urban boy knows all about them.
Explaining how the success of nature documentaries may result in children who know more about gorillas than the wildlife in their own gardens. As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. … The old problems, such as the relation of science and religion, are still with us, and I believe present as difficult dilemmas as ever, but they are not often publicly discussed because of the limitations of specialization.
Opening statement, in transcript of talk to the Caltech Lunch Forum (2 May 1956), 'The Relation of Science and Religion', collected in Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (1999, 2005), 245-246.
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Invention is an Heroic thing, and plac'd above the reach of a low, and vulgar Genius. It requires an active, a bold, a nimble, a restless mind: a thousand difficulties must be contemn'd with which a mean heart would be broken: many attempts must be made to no purpose: much Treasure must sometimes be scatter'd without any return: much violence, and vigour of thoughts must attend it: some irregularities, and excesses must be granted it, that would hardly be pardon'd by the severe Rules of Prudence.
The History of the Royal Society (1667), 392.
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It certainly strikes the beholder with astonishment, to perceive what vast difficulties can be overcome by the pigmy arms of little mortal man, aided by science and directed by superior skill.
About his visit to Lockport on the Erie Canal, in Letter IX, to a friend in England from Lockport, New York (25 Jul 1831), collected in Narrative of a Tour in North America (1834), Vol. 1, 233-234,
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It is difficult to discriminate the voice of truth from amid the clamour raised by heated partisans.
From Schillers Sammtliche Werke (1834), 934. Given with translation, in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 382. The original German is: Schwer ist es, aus dem Geschrei erhitzter Parteien die Stimme der Wahrheit zu unterscheiden.
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It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
In Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
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It is of interest to inquire what happens when the aviator’s speed… approximates to the velocity of light. Lengths in the direction of flight become smaller and smaller, until for the speed of light they shrink to zero. The aviator and the objects accompanying him shrink to two dimensions. We are saved the difficulty of imagining how the processes of life can go on in two dimensions, because nothing goes on. Time is arrested altogether. This is the description according to the terrestrial observer. The aviator himself detects nothing unusual; he does not perceive that he has stopped moving. He is merely waiting for the next instant to come before making the next movement; and the mere fact that time is arrested means that he does not perceive that the next instant is a long time coming.
In Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory (1920, 1921), 26.
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It is sometimes easier to circumvent prevailing difficulties [in science] rather than to attack them.
Imagination in Science, inaugural lecture (1878), trans. G. F. Springer (1967), 8.
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It is true that I am the father [of the H-bomb] in the biological sense that I performed a necessary function and let nature take its course. After that a child had to be born. It might he robust or it might be stillborn, but something had to be born. The process of conception was by no means a pleasure: it was filled with difficulty and anxiety….
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 72.
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It is very difficult to say nowadays where the suburbs of London come to an end and where the country begins. The railways, instead of enabling Londoners to live in the country have turned the countryside into a city.
In The Three Clerks (1857, 1904), 30-31.
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It is very remarkable that while the words Eternal, Eternity, Forever, are constantly in our mouths, and applied without hesitation, we yet experience considerable difficulty in contemplating any definite term which bears a very large proportion to the brief cycles of our petty chronicles. There are many minds that would not for an instant doubt the God of Nature to have existed from all Eternity, and would yet reject as preposterous the idea of going back a million of years in the History of His Works. Yet what is a million, or a million million, of solar revolutions to an Eternity?
Memoir on the Geology of Central France (1827), 165.
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It usually takes me from five to seven years to perfect a thing. Some things I have been working on for twenty-five years—and some of them are still unsolved. My average would be about seven years. The incandescent light was the hardest one of all: it took many years not only of concentrated thought but also of world-wide research. The storage battery took eight years. It took even longer to perfect the phonograph.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 86.
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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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It would seem at first sight as if the rapid expansion of the region of mathematics must be a source of danger to its future progress. Not only does the area widen but the subjects of study increase rapidly in number, and the work of the mathematician tends to become more and more specialized. It is, of course, merely a brilliant exaggeration to say that no mathematician is able to understand the work of any other mathematician, but it is certainly true that it is daily becoming more and more difficult for a mathematician to keep himself acquainted, even in a general way, with the progress of any of the branches of mathematics except those which form the field of his own labours. I believe, however, that the increasing extent of the territory of mathematics will always be counteracted by increased facilities in the means of communication. Additional knowledge opens to us new principles and methods which may conduct us with the greatest ease to results which previously were most difficult of access; and improvements in notation may exercise the most powerful effects both in the simplification and accessibility of a subject. It rests with the worker in mathematics not only to explore new truths, but to devise the language by which they may be discovered and expressed; and the genius of a great mathematician displays itself no less in the notation he invents for deciphering his subject than in the results attained. … I have great faith in the power of well-chosen notation to simplify complicated theories and to bring remote ones near and I think it is safe to predict that the increased knowledge of principles and the resulting improvements in the symbolic language of mathematics will always enable us to grapple satisfactorily with the difficulties arising from the mere extent of the subject.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A., (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Kirchhoff’s whole tendency, and its true counterpart, the form of his presentation, was different [from Maxwell’s “dramatic bulk”]. … He is characterized by the extreme precision of his hypotheses, minute execution, a quiet rather than epic development with utmost rigor, never concealing a difficulty, always dispelling the faintest obscurity. … he resembled Beethoven, the thinker in tones. — He who doubts that mathematical compositions can be beautiful, let him read his memoir on Absorption and Emission … or the chapter of his mechanics devoted to Hydrodynamics.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 30, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 187. From the original German, “Kirchhoff … seine ganze Richtung war eine andere, und ebenso auch deren treues Abbild, die Form seiner Darstellung. … Ihn charakterisirt die schärfste Präcisirung der Hypothesen, feine Durchfeilung, ruhige mehr epische Fortentwicklung mit eiserner Consequenz ohne Verschweigung irgend einer Schwierigkeit, unter Aufhellung des leisesten Schattens. … er glich dem Denker in Tönen: Beethoven. – Wer in Zweifel zieht, dass mathematische Werke künstlerisch schön sein können, der lese seine Abhandlung über Absorption und Emission oder den der Hydrodynamik gewidmeten Abschnitt seiner Mechanik.” The memoir reference is Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1882), 571-598.
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Knowledge and wisdom are indeed not identical; and every man’s experience must have taught him that there may be much knowledge with little wisdom, and much wisdom with little knowledge. But with imperfect knowledge it is difficult or impossible to arrive at right conclusions. Many of the vices, many of the miseries, many of the follies and absurdities by which human society has been infested and disgraced may be traced to a want of knowledge.
Presidential Address to Anniversary meeting of the Royal Society (30 Nov 1859), Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (1860), 10, 163.
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Lagrange, in one of the later years of his life, imagined that he had overcome the difficulty (of the parallel axiom). He went so far as to write a paper, which he took with him to the Institute, and began to read it. But in the first paragraph something struck him that he had not observed: he muttered: 'Il faut que j'y songe encore', and put the paper in his pocket.' [I must think about it again]
Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 173.
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Like almost every subject of human interest, this one [mathematics] is just as easy or as difficult as we choose to make it. A lifetime may be spent by a philosopher in discussing the truth of the simplest axiom. The simplest fact as to our existence may fill us with such wonder that our minds will remain overwhelmed with wonder all the time. A Scotch ploughman makes a working religion out of a system which appalls a mental philosopher. Some boys of ten years of age study the methods of the differential calculus; other much cleverer boys working at mathematics to the age of nineteen have a difficulty in comprehending the fundamental ideas of the calculus.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 19-20.
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Looking at the thunder machine which had been set up, I saw not the slightest indication of the presence of electricity. However, while they were putting the food on the table, I obtained extraordinary electric sparks from the wire. My wife and others approached from it, for the reason that I wished to have witnesses see the various colors of fire about which the departed Professor Richmann used to argue with me. Suddenly it thundered most violently at the exact time that I was holding my hand to the metal, and sparks crackled. All fled away from me, and my wife implored that I go away. Curiosity kept me there two or three minutes more, until they told me that the soup was getting cold. By that time the force of electricity greatly subsided. I had sat at table only a few minutes when the man servant of the departed Richmann suddenly opened the door, all in tears and out of breath from fear. I thought that some one had beaten him as he was on his way to me, but he said, with difficulty, that the professor had been injured by thunder… . Nonetheless, Mr. Richmann died a splendid death, fulfilling a duty of his profession.
As quoted in Boris Menshutkin, 'Lomonosov: Excerpts', collected in Thomas Riha (ed.), Readings for Introduction to Russian Civilization (1963), Vol. 2, 30.
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Man is a rational animal—so at least I have been told. … Aristotle, so far as I know, was the first man to proclaim explicitly that man is a rational animal. His reason for this view was … that some people can do sums. … It is in virtue of the intellect that man is a rational animal. The intellect is shown in various ways, but most emphatically by mastery of arithmetic. The Greek system of numerals was very bad, so that the multiplication table was quite difficult, and complicated calculations could only be made by very clever people.
From An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1937, 1943), 5. Collected in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 45.
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Many have argued that a vacuum does not exist, others claim it exists only with difficulty in spite of the repugnance of nature; I know of no one who claims it easily exists without any resistance from nature.
Letter to Michelangelo Ricci (11 Jun 1644). Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 27
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Many will, no doubt, prefer to retain old unsystematic names as far as possible, but it is easy to see that the desire to avoid change may carry us too far in this direction; it will undoubtedly be very inconvenient to the present generation of chemists to abandon familiar and cherished names, but nevertheless it may be a wise course to boldly face the difficulty, rather than inflict on coming generations a partially illogical and unsystematic nomenclature.
'International Conference on Chemical Nomenclature', Nature (19 May 1892), 46, 57.
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Mathematicians seem to have no difficulty in creating new concepts faster than the old ones become well understood.
Acceptance Speech for the Kyoto Prize (1991), 'A scientist by choice'. On kyotoprize.org website.
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Mere numbers cannot bring out … the intimate essence of the experiment. This conviction comes naturally when one watches a subject at work. … What things can happen! What reflections, what remarks, what feelings, or, on the other hand, what blind automatism, what absence of ideas! … The experimenter judges what may be going on in [the subject’s] mind, and certainly feels difficulty in expressing all the oscillations of a thought in a simple, brutal number, which can have only a deceptive precision. How, in fact, could it sum up what would need several pages of description!
In La Suggestibilité (1900), 119-20.
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More about the selection theory: Jerne meant that the Socratic idea of learning was a fitting analogy for 'the logical basis of the selective theories of antibody formation': Can the truth (the capability to synthesize an antibody) be learned? If so, it must be assumed not to pre-exist; to be learned, it must be acquired. We are thus confronted with the difficulty to which Socrates calls attention in Meno [ ... ] namely, that it makes as little sense to search for what one does not know as to search for what one knows; what one knows, one cannot search for, since one knows it already, and what one does not know, one cannot search for, since one does not even know what to search for. Socrates resolves this difficulty by postulating that learning is nothing but recollection. The truth (the capability to synthesize an antibody) cannot be brought in, but was already inherent.
'The Natural Selection Theory', in John Cairns, Gunther S. Stent, and James D. Watson (eds.) Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology (1966), 301.
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My dear friend, to be both powerful and fair has always been difficult for mankind. Power and justice have always been seen like day and night; this being the case, when one of them is there the other disappears.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence—don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.
From letter to Edith Rix with hints for studying (about Mar 1885), in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 241.
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No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.
Seen, for example, in The Grain and Feed Review (1931), 21, 34.
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No question is so difficult as that to which the answer is obvious.
Anonymous
Saying.
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Not only did he teach by accomplishment, but he taught by the inspiration of a marvelous imagination that refused to accept the permanence of what appeared to others to be insuperable difficulties: an imagination of the goals of which, in a number of instances, are still in the realms of speculation.
Testimonial on Tesla’s 75th birthday, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia. In Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (2001), 86.
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Now of the difficulties bound up with the public in which we doctors work, I hesitate to speak in a mixed audience. Common sense in matters medical is rare, and is usually in inverse ratio to the degree of education.
'Teaching and Thinking' (1894). In Aequanimitas with Other Addresses to Medical Students, Nurses and Practitioners of Medicine (1904), 131.
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Observation by means of the microscope will reveal more wonderful things than those viewed in regard to mere structure and connection: for while the heart is still beating the contrary (i.e., in opposite directions in the different vessels) movement of the blood is observed in the vessels—though with difficulty—so that the circulation of the blood is clearly exposed.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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Ohm (a distinguished mathematician, be it noted) brought into order a host of puzzling facts connecting electromotive force and electric current in conductors, which all previous electricians had only succeeded in loosely binding together qualitatively under some rather vague statements. Even as late as 20 years ago, “quantity” and “tension” were much used by men who did not fully appreciate Ohm's law. (Is it not rather remarkable that some of Germany's best men of genius should have been, perhaps, unfairly treated? Ohm; Mayer; Reis; even von Helmholtz has mentioned the difficulty he had in getting recognised. But perhaps it is the same all the world over.)
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On our planet, all objects are subject to continual and inevitable changes which arise from the essential order of things. These changes take place at a variable rate according to the nature, condition, or situation of the objects involved, but are nevertheless accomplished within a certain period of time. Time is insignificant and never a difficulty for Nature. It is always at her disposal and represents an unlimited power with which she accomplishes her greatest and smallest tasks.
Hydrogéologie (1802), trans. A. V. Carozzi (1964), 61.
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On the whole, I cannot help saying that it appears to me not a little extraordinary, that a theory so new, and of such importance, overturning every thing that was thought to be the best established in chemistry, should rest on so very narrow and precarious a foundation, the experiments adduced in support of it being not only ambiguous or explicable on either hypothesis, but exceedingly few. I think I have recited them all, and that on which the greatest stress is laid, viz. That of the formation of water from the decomposition of the two kinds of air, has not been sufficiently repeated. Indeed it required so difficult and expensive an apparatus, and so many precautions in the use of it, that the frequent repetition of the experiment cannot be expected; and in these circumstances the practised experimenter cannot help suspecting the accuracy of the result and consequently the certainty of the conclusion.
Considerations on the Doctrine of Phlogiston (1796), 57-8.
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Once established, an original river advances through its long life, manifesting certain peculiarities of youth, maturity and old age, by which its successive stages of growth may be recognized without much difficulty.
'The Rivers and Valleys of Pennsylvania', The National Geographic Magazine, 1889, 1, 203.
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One feature which will probably most impress the mathematician accustomed to the rapidity and directness secured by the generality of modern methods is the deliberation with which Archimedes approaches the solution of any one of his main problems. Yet this very characteristic, with its incidental effects, is calculated to excite the more admiration because the method suggests the tactics of some great strategist who foresees everything, eliminates everything not immediately conducive to the execution of his plan, masters every position in its order, and then suddenly (when the very elaboration of the scheme has almost obscured, in the mind of the spectator, its ultimate object) strikes the final blow. Thus we read in Archimedes proposition after proposition the bearing of which is not immediately obvious but which we find infallibly used later on; and we are led by such easy stages that the difficulties of the original problem, as presented at the outset, are scarcely appreciated. As Plutarch says: “It is not possible to find in geometry more difficult and troublesome questions, or more simple and lucid explanations.” But it is decidedly a rhetorical exaggeration when Plutarch goes on to say that we are deceived by the easiness of the successive steps into the belief that anyone could have discovered them for himself. On the contrary, the studied simplicity and the perfect finish of the treatises involve at the same time an element of mystery. Though each step depends on the preceding ones, we are left in the dark as to how they were suggested to Archimedes. There is, in fact, much truth in a remark by Wallis to the effect that he seems “as it were of set purpose to have covered up the traces of his investigation as if he had grudged posterity the secret of his method of inquiry while he wished to extort from them assent to his results.” Wallis adds with equal reason that not only Archimedes but nearly all the ancients so hid away from posterity their method of Analysis (though it is certain that they had one) that more modern mathematicians found it easier to invent a new Analysis than to seek out the old.
In The Works of Archimedes (1897), Preface, vi.
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One of the principal obstacles to the rapid diffusion of a new idea lies in the difficulty of finding suitable expression to convey its essential point to other minds. Words may have to be strained into a new sense, and scientific controversies constantly resolve themselves into differences about the meaning of words. On the other hand, a happy nomenclature has sometimes been more powerful than rigorous logic in allowing a new train of thought to be quickly and generally accepted.
Opening Address to the Annual Meeting of the British Association by Prof. Arthur Schuster, in Nature (4 Aug 1892), 46, 325.
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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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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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Philosophy would long ago have reached a high level if our predecessors and fathers had put this into practice; and we would not waste time on the primary difficulties, which appear now as severe as in the first centuries which noticed them. We would have the experience of assured phenomena, which would serve as principles for a solid reasoning; truth would not be so deeply sunken; nature would have taken off most of her envelopes; one would see the marvels she contains in all her individuals. ...
Les Préludes de l'Harmonie Universelle (1634), 135-139. In Charles Coulston Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 316.
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Research has deserted the individual and entered the group. The individual worker find the problem too large, not too difficult. He must learn to work with others.
Letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (11 Oct 1933), in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan 1934), 27, No. 1, 20.
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Science by itself produces a very badly deformed man who becomes rounded out into a useful creative being only with great difficulty and large expenditure of time. … It is a much smaller matter to both teach and learn pure science than it is to intelligently apply this science to the solution of problems as they arise in daily life.
As quoted in Gary W. Matkin, Technology Transfer and the University (1990), 24.
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Science has not solved difficulties, only shifted the points of difficulty.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 382:32 .
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Sea-water is, of course, opaque and this is the first difficulty that faces the oceanographer. Most of the tools needed to investigate the sea must use physical principles which are more complicated than the optical methods that are so satisfactory for studying the surface features of the land.
In 'Man Explores the Sea', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts (Sep 1963), 111, No. 5086, 786.
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Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game of chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight?
Yet, it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well the highest stakes are paid with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated—without haste, but without remorse.
Address to the South London Working Men’s College. 'A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It', in David Masson, (ed.), Macmillan’s Magazine (Mar 1868), 17, 369. Also in 'A Liberal Education and Where to Find it' (1868). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 82.
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Suppose that you are in love with a lady on Neptune and that she returns the sentiment. It will be some consolation for the melancholy separation if you can say to yourself at some possibly pre-arranged moment, “She is thinking of me now.” Unfortunately a difficulty has arisen because we have had to abolish Now. There is no absolute Now, but only the various relative Nows, differing according to their reckoning of different observers and covering the whole neutral wedge which at the distance of Neptune is about eight hours thick. She will have to think of you continuously for eight hours on end in order to circumvent the ambiguity “Now.”
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 49.
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Surprisingly, history is much more difficult than chemistry.
Louis Hammett Symposium (31 Aug 1983), Advances in Physical Organic Chemistry (1985), 21, 2.
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Sylvester’s writings are flowery and eloquent. He was able to make the dullest subject bright, fresh and interesting. His enthusiasm is evident in every line. He would get quite close up to his subject, so that everything else looked small in comparison, and for the time would think and make others think that the world contained no finer matter for contemplation. His handwriting was bad, and a trouble to his printers. His papers were finished with difficulty. No sooner was the manuscript in the editor’s hands than alterations, corrections, ameliorations and generalizations would suggest themselves to his mind, and every post would carry further directions to the editors and printers.
In Nature (1897), 55, 494.
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That mathematics “do not cultivate the power of generalization,”; … will be admitted by no person of competent knowledge, except in a very qualified sense. The generalizations of mathematics, are, no doubt, a different thing from the generalizations of physical science; but in the difficulty of seizing them, and the mental tension they require, they are no contemptible preparation for the most arduous efforts of the scientific mind. Even the fundamental notions of the higher mathematics, from those of the differential calculus upwards are products of a very high abstraction. … To perceive the mathematical laws common to the results of many mathematical operations, even in so simple a case as that of the binomial theorem, involves a vigorous exercise of the same faculty which gave us Kepler’s laws, and rose through those laws to the theory of universal gravitation. Every process of what has been called Universal Geometry—the great creation of Descartes and his successors, in which a single train of reasoning solves whole classes of problems at once, and others common to large groups of them—is a practical lesson in the management of wide generalizations, and abstraction of the points of agreement from those of difference among objects of great and confusing diversity, to which the purely inductive sciences cannot furnish many superior. Even so elementary an operation as that of abstracting from the particular configuration of the triangles or other figures, and the relative situation of the particular lines or points, in the diagram which aids the apprehension of a common geometrical demonstration, is a very useful, and far from being always an easy, exercise of the faculty of generalization so strangely imagined to have no place or part in the processes of mathematics.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 612-13.
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That no generally applicable law of the formulation and development of hybrids has yet been successfully formulated can hardly astonish anyone who is acquainted with the extent of the task and who can appreciate the difficulties with which experiments of this kind have to contend.
'Experiments on Plant Hybrids' (1865). In Curt Stern and Eva R. Sherwood (eds.), The Origin of Genetics: A Mendel Source Book (1966), 2.
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That was the beginning, and the idea seemed so obvious to me and so elegant that I fell deeply in love with it. And, like falling in love with a woman, it is only possible if you do not know much about her, so you cannot see her faults. The faults will become apparent later, but after the love is strong enough to hold you to her. So, I was held to this theory, in spite of all difficulties, by my youthful enthusiasm.
Expressing how his work on quantum electrodynamics began with an original idea. In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 157.
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The accomplishments of those born blind are a sure proof of how much the spirit can achieve when difficulties are placed in its way.
Aphorism 50 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 51.
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The advancement of science is slow; it is effected only by virtue of hard work and perseverance. And when a result is attained, should we not in recognition connect it with the efforts of those who have preceded us, who have struggled and suffered in advance? Is it not truly a duty to recall the difficulties which they vanquished, the thoughts which guided them; and how men of different nations, ideas, positions, and characters, moved solely by the love of science, have bequeathed to us the unsolved problem? Should not the last comer recall the researches of his predecessors while adding in his turn his contribution of intelligence and of labor? Here is an intellectual collaboration consecrated entirely to the search for truth, and which continues from century to century.
[Respecting how the work of prior researchers had enabled his isolation of fluorine.]
Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1897). In Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to July 1897 (1898), 262.
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The advances of biology during the past 20 years have been breathtaking, particularly in cracking the mystery of heredity. Nevertheless, the greatest and most difficult problems still lie ahead. The discoveries of the 1970‘s about the chemical roots of memory in nerve cells or the basis of learning, about the complex behavior of man and animals, the nature of growth, development, disease and aging will be at least as fundamental and spectacular as those of the recent past.
As quoted in 'H. Bentley Glass', New York Times (12 Jan 1970), 96.
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The art of research [is] the art of making difficult problems soluble by devising means of getting at them.
Pluto's Republic (1982), 2.
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The average English author [of mathematical texts] leaves one under the impression that he has made a bargain with his reader to put before him the truth, the greater part of the truth, and nothing but the truth; and that if he has put the facts of his subject into his book, however difficult it may be to unearth them, he has fulfilled his contract with his reader. This is a very much mistaken view, because effective teaching requires a great deal more than a bare recitation of facts, even if these are duly set forth in logical order—as in English books they often are not. The probable difficulties which will occur to the student, the objections which the intelligent student will naturally and necessarily raise to some statement of fact or theory—these things our authors seldom or never notice, and yet a recognition and anticipation of them by the author would be often of priceless value to the student. Again, a touch of humour (strange as the contention may seem) in mathematical works is not only possible with perfect propriety, but very helpful; and I could give instances of this even from the pure mathematics of Salmon and the physics of Clerk Maxwell.
In Perry, Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 59-61.
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The biggest difficulty with mankind today is that our knowledge has increased so much faster than our wisdom
…...
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The complexity of contemporary biology has led to an extreme specialization, which has inevitably been followed by a breakdown in communication between disciplines. Partly as a result of this, the members of each specialty tend to feel that their own work is fundamental and that the work of other groups, although sometimes technically ingenious, is trivial or at best only peripheral to an understanding of truly basic problems and issues. There is a familiar resolution to this problem but it is sometimes difficulty to accept emotionally. This is the idea that there are a number of levels of biological integration and that each level offers problems and insights that are unique to it; further, that each level finds its explanations of mechanism in the levels below, and its significances in the levels above it.
From 'Interaction of physiology and behavior under natural conditions', collected in R.I. Bowman (ed.), The Galapagos (1966), 39.
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The difficulty lies not in solving problems but expressing them.
From 'The Evolution of Chastity' (Feb 1934), as translated by René Hague in Toward the Future (1975), 86.
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The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.
In Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler (1987).
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The difficulty really is psychological and exists in the perpetual torment that results from your saying to yourself, “But how can it be like that?” which is a reflection of uncontrolled but utterly vain desire to see it in terms of something familiar. … If you will simply admit that maybe [Nature] does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possible avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get 'down the drain', into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.
[About wave-particle duality.]
'Probability abd Uncertainty—the Quantum Mechanical View of Nature', the sixth of his Messenger Lectures (1964), Cornell University. Collected in The Character of Physical Law (1967), 129.
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The extensive literature addressed to the definition or characterization of science is filled with inconsistent points of view and demonstrates that an adequate definition is not easy to attain. Part of the difficulty arises from the fact that the meaning of science is not fixed, but is dynamic. As science has evolved, so has its meaning. It takes on a new meaning and significance with successive ages.
Opening statement on 'The Meaning of “Science”', in Scientific Method: Optimizing Applied Research Decisions (1962), 1.
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The first difficulty of all is the production of a lamp which shall be thoroughly reliable, and neither complicated nor expensive. All attempts up to the present lamp in this direction are acknowledged to be failures, and, as I have pointed out, there does not seem to be any novelty such as would authorize us to hope for a better success in the present one.
In 'A Scientific View of It: Prof. Henry Morton Not Sanguine About Edison’s Success', New York Times (28 Dec 1879), 1.
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The first successes were such that one might suppose all the difficulties of science overcome in advance, and believe that the mathematician, without being longer occupied in the elaboration of pure mathematics, could turn his thoughts exclusively to the study of natural laws.
From Preface to Traité de calcul différentiel et de calcul intégral (1864-70), i. Quoted in address to the section of Algebra and Analysis, International Congress of Arts and Sciences, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), 'On the Development of Mathematical Analysis and its Relation to Certain Other Sciences,' as translated by M.W. Haskell in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (May 1905), 11, 408.
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The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.
'Quantum Mechanics of Many-Electron Systems', Proceedings of the Royal Society (1929), A, 123, 714-733. Quoted in Steven M. Bachrach, Computational Organic Chemistry, Preface, xiii.
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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 greatest difficulty comes at the start. It’s called "getting ready."
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 119.
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The greatest enemy, however, to true arithmetic work is found in so-called practical or illustrative problems, which are freely given to our pupils, of a degree of difficulty and complexity altogether unsuited to their age and mental development. … I am, myself, no bad mathematician, and all the reasoning powers with which nature endowed me have long been as fully developed as they are ever likely to be; but I have, not infrequently, been puzzled, and at times foiled, by the subtle logical difficulty running through one of these problems, given to my own children. The head-master of one of our Boston high schools confessed to me that he had sometimes been unable to unravel one of these tangled skeins, in trying to help his own daughter through her evening’s work. During this summer, Dr. Fairbairn, the distinguished head of one of the colleges of Oxford, England, told me that not only had he himself encountered a similar difficulty, in the case of his own children, but that, on one occasion, having as his guest one of the first mathematicians of England, the two together had been completely puzzled by one of these arithmetical conundrums.
Address before the Grammar-School Section of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association (25 Nov 1887), 'The Teaching of Arithmetic in the Boston Schools', printed The Academy (Jan 1888). Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 253.
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The idea of a method that contains firm, unchanging, and absolutely binding principles for conducting the business of science meets considerable difficulty when confronted with the results of historical research. We find, then, that there is not a single rule, however plausible, and however firmly grounded in epistemology, that is not violated at some time or another.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975, 1993), 14.
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The importance of a result is largely relative, is judged differently by different men, and changes with the times and circumstances. It has often happened that great importance has been attached to a problem merely on account of the difficulties which it presented; and indeed if for its solution it has been necessary to invent new methods, noteworthy artifices, etc., the science has gained more perhaps through these than through the final result. In general we may call important all investigations relating to things which in themselves are important; all those which have a large degree of generality, or which unite under a single point of view subjects apparently distinct, simplifying and elucidating them; all those which lead to results that promise to be the source of numerous consequences; etc.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 44. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 444.
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The increasing technicality of the terminology employed is also a serious difficulty. It has become necessary to learn an extensive vocabulary before a book in even a limited department of science can be consulted with much profit. This change, of course, has its advantages for the initiated, in securing precision and concisement of statement; but it tends to narrow the field in which an investigator can labour, and it cannot fail to become, in the future, a serious impediment to wide inductive generalisations.
Year Book of Science (1892), preface, from review in Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science (14 Apr 1892), 65, 190.
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The indescribable pleasure—which pales the rest of life's joys—is abundant compensation for the investigator who endures the painful and persevering analytical work that precedes the appearance of the new truth, like the pain of childbirth. It is true to say that nothing for the scientific scholar is comparable to the things that he has discovered. Indeed, it would be difficult to find an investigator willing to exchange the paternity of a scientific conquest for all the gold on earth. And if there are some who look to science as a way of acquiring gold instead of applause from the learned, and the personal satisfaction associated with the very act of discovery, they have chosen the wrong profession.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 50.
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The investigation of causal relations between economic phenomena presents many problems of peculiar difficulty, and offers many opportunities for fallacious conclusions. Since the statistician can seldom or never make experiments for himself, he has to accept the data of daily experience, and discuss as best he can the relations of a whole group of changes; he cannot, like the physicist, narrow down the issue to the effect of one variation at a time. The problems of statistics are in this sense far more complex than the problems of physics.
Udny Yule
In 'On the Theory of Correlation', Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Dec 1897), 60, 812, as cited in Stephen M. Stigler, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 (1986), 348.
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The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed. Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this way it is easy, but the fact that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim at shows the difficulty of it. Perhaps, as difficulties are of two kinds, the cause of the present difficulty is not in the facts but in us.
Aristotle
Metaphysics, 993a, 30-993b, 9. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1569-70.
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The main difficulty the student of groups meets is not that of following the argument, which is nearly always straightforward, but of grasping the purpose of the investigation.
In 'On Groups', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 201.
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The Mathematics, I say, which effectually exercises, not vainly deludes or vexatiously torments studious Minds with obscure Subtilties, perplexed Difficulties, or contentious Disquisitions; which overcomes without Opposition, triumphs without Pomp, compels without Force, and rules absolutely without Loss of Liberty; which does not privately over-reach a weak Faith, but openly assaults an armed Reason, obtains a total Victory, and puts on inevitable Chains; whose Words are so many Oracles, and Works as many Miracles; which blabs out nothing rashly, nor designs anything from the Purpose, but plainly demonstrates and readily performs all Things within its Verge; which obtrudes no false Shadow of Science, but the very Science itself, the Mind firmly adhering to it, as soon as possessed of it, and can never after desert it of its own Accord, or be deprived of it by any Force of others: Lastly the Mathematics, which depends upon Principles clear to the Mind, and agreeable to Experience; which draws certain Conclusions, instructs by profitable Rules, unfolds pleasant Questions; and produces wonderful Effects; which is the fruitful Parent of, I had almost said all, Arts, the unshaken Foundation of Sciences, and the plentiful Fountain of Advantage to human Affairs.
Address to the University of Cambridge upon being elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (14 Mar 1664). In Mathematical Lectures (1734), xxviii.
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The next difficulty is in the economical production of small lights by electricity. This is what is commonly meant by the phrase, ‘dividing the electric light.’ Up to the present time, and including Mr. Edison’s latest experiments, it appears that this involves an immense loss of efficiency. Next comes the difficulty of distributing on any large scale the immense electric currents which would be needed.
In 'A Scientific View of It: Prof. Henry Morton Not Sanguine About Edison’s Success', New York Times (28 Dec 1879), 1.
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The number of mathematical students … would be much augmented if those who hold the highest rank in science would condescend to give more effective assistance in clearing the elements of the difficulties which they present.
In Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1902), Preface.
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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 power of the eye could not be extended further in the opened living animal, hence I had believed that this body of the blood breaks into the empty space, and is collected again by a gaping vessel and by the structure of the walls. The tortuous and diffused motion of the blood in divers directions, and its union at a determinate place offered a handle to this. But the dried lung of the frog made my belief dubious. This lung had, by chance, preserved the redness of the blood in (what afterwards proved to be) the smallest vessels, where by means of a more perfect lens, no more there met the eye the points forming the skin called Sagrino, but vessels mingled annularly. And, so great is the divarication of these vessels as they go out, here from a vein, there from an artery, that order is no longer preserved, but a network appears made up of the prolongations of both vessels. This network occupies not only the whole floor, but extends also to the walls, and is attached to the outgoing vessel, as I could see with greater difficulty but more abundantly in the oblong lung of a tortoise, which is similarly membranous and transparent. Here it was clear to sense that the blood flows away through the tortuous vessels, that it is not poured into spaces but always works through tubules, and is dispersed by the multiplex winding of the vessels.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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The pragmatist knows that doubt is an art which has to be acquired with difficulty.
In Charles S. Peirce, ‎Charles Hartshorne (ed.), ‎Paul Weiss (ed.), Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (1931), Vol. 6, 498. Also published in combined volumes 5 & 6 (1974), 343.
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The progress of science requires more than new data; it needs novel frameworks and contexts. And where do these fundamentally new views of the world arise? They are not simply discovered by pure observation; they require new modes of thought. And where can we find them, if old modes do not even include the right metaphors? The nature of true genius must lie in the elusive capacity to construct these new modes from apparent darkness. The basic chanciness and unpredictability of science must also reside in the inherent difficulty of such a task.
…...
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The purpose of the present course is the deepening and development of difficulties underlying contemporary theory...
…...
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The real difficulty about vulcanism is not to see how it can start, but how it can stop.
Earthquakes and Mountains, 2nd edition (1950), 187.
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The real difficulty, however, that we all have to face in life is not so much the science of cookery as the stupidity of cooks.
In Epigrams of Oscar Wilde (2007), 165.
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The reason Dick's [Richard Feynman] physics was so hard for ordinary people to grasp was that he did not use equations. The usual theoretical physics was done since the time of Newton was to begin by writing down some equations and then to work hard calculating solutions of the equations. This was the way Hans [Bethe] and Oppy [Oppenheimer] and Julian Schwinger did physics. Dick just wrote down the solutions out of his head without ever writing down the equations. He had a physical picture of the way things happen, and the picture gave him the solutions directly with a minimum of calculation. It was no wonder that people who had spent their lives solving equations were baffled by him. Their minds were analytical; his was pictorial.
Quoted in Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer Thompson, Beyond Einstein: the Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe (1987, 1999), 56-57, citing Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (1979, 1981), 55-56.
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The role of hypothesis in research can be discussed more effectively if we consider first some examples of discoveries which originated from hypotheses. One of the best illustrations of such a discovery is provided by the story of Christopher Columbus’ voyage; it has many of the features of a classic discovery in science. (a) He was obsessed with an idea—that since the world is round he could reach the Orient by sailing West, (b) the idea was by no means original, but evidently he had obtained some additional evidence from a sailor blown off his course who claimed to have reached land in the west and returned, (c) he met great difficulties in getting someone to provide the money to enable him to test his idea as well as in the actual carrying out of the experimental voyage, (d) when finally he succeeded he did not find the expected new route, but instead found a whole new world, (e) despite all evidence to the contrary he clung to the bitter end to his hypothesis and believed that he had found the route to the Orient, (f) he got little credit or reward during his lifetime and neither he nor others realised the full implications of his discovery, (g) since his time evidence has been brought forward showing that he was by no means the first European to reach America.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 41.
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The solution of the difficulties which formerly surrounded the mathematical infinite is probably the greatest achievement of which our age has to boast.
In 'The Study of Mathematics', Philosophical Essays (1910), 77.
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The surveyor ought to work in solitude. He must no more admit company while mapping than a writer admits visitors to his study while writing. This applies even to geological company, nay, even to the company of a skilled fellow-surveyor... The two authors of this book [Edward Greenly and Howell Williams] once thought that it would be pleasant to have a day's mapping together, and decided to break through their rule. The result was a ludicrous paralysis. The commonest operation seemed a mountain of difficulty. Next day the senior author (whose ground it was) swept an india-rubber over every line and went out again, when, hey presto! And all was clear.
Edward Greenly and Howell Williams, Methods in Geological Surveying (1930), 375-6.
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The symbol A is not the counterpart of anything in familiar life. To the child the letter A would seem horribly abstract; so we give him a familiar conception along with it. “A was an Archer who shot at a frog.” This tides over his immediate difficulty; but he cannot make serious progress with word-building so long as Archers, Butchers, Captains, dance round the letters. The letters are abstract, and sooner or later he has to realise it. In physics we have outgrown archer and apple-pie definitions of the fundamental symbols. To a request to explain what an electron really is supposed to be we can only answer, “It is part of the A B C of physics”.
In Introduction to The Nature of the Physical World (1928), xiv.
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The teacher manages to get along still with the cumbersome algebraic analysis, in spite of its difficulties and imperfections, and avoids the smooth infinitesimal calculus, although the eighteenth century shyness toward it had long lost all point.
Elementary Mathematics From an Advanced Standpoint (1908). 3rd edition (1924), trans. E. R. Hedrick and C. A. Noble (1932), Vol. 1, 155.
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The teaching of elementary mathematics should be conducted so that the way should be prepared for the building upon them of the higher mathematics. The teacher should always bear in mind and look forward to what is to come after. The pupil should not be taught what may be sufficient for the time, but will lead to difficulties in the future. … I think the fault in teaching arithmetic is that of not attending to general principles and teaching instead of particular rules. … I am inclined to attack Teaching of Mathematics on the grounds that it does not dwell sufficiently on a few general axiomatic principles.
In John Perry (ed.), Discussion on the Teaching of Mathematics (1901), 33. The discussion took place on 14 Sep 1901 at the British Association at Glasgow, during a joint meeting of the mathematics and physics sections with the education section. The proceedings began with an address by John Perry. Professor Hudson was the first speak in the Discussion which followed.
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The tendency of the sciences has long been an increasing proclivity of separation and dismemberment … The mathematician turns away from the chemist; the chemist from the naturalist; the mathematician, left to himself divides himself into a pure mathematician and a mixed mathematician, who soon part company … And thus science, even mere physical science, loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings at York, Oxford and Cambridge, in the last three summers. There was no general term by which these gentlemen could describe themselves with reference to their pursuits … some ingenious gentleman [William Whewell] proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form Scientist, and added that there could be no scruple … when we have words such as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
In Review of Mrs Somerville, 'On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences', The Quarterly Review (1834), 51, 58-61.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The ultimate origin of the difficulty lies in the fact (or philosophical principle) that we are compelled to use the words of common language when we wish to describe a phenomenon, not by logical or mathematical analysis, but by a picture appealing to the imagination. Common language has grown by everyday experience and can never surpass these limits. Classical physics has restricted itself to the use of concepts of this kind; by analysing visible motions it has developed two ways of representing them by elementary processes; moving particles and waves. There is no other way of giving a pictorial description of motions—we have to apply it even in the region of atomic processes, where classical physics breaks down.
Max Born
Atomic Physics (1957), 97.
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The unprecedented identification of the spectrum of an apparently stellar object in terms of a large red-shift suggests either of the two following explanations.
The stellar object is a star with a large gravitational red-shift. Its radius would then be of the order of 10km. Preliminary considerations show that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to account for the occurrence of permitted lines and a forbidden line with the same red-shift, and with widths of only 1 or 2 per cent of the wavelength.
The stellar object is the nuclear region of a galaxy with a cosmological red-shift of 0.158, corresponding to an apparent velocity of 47,400 km/sec. The distance would be around 500 megaparsecs, and the diameter of the nuclear region would have to be less than 1 kiloparsec. This nuclear region would be about 100 times brighter optically than the luminous galaxies which have been identified with radio sources thus far. If the optical jet and component A of the radio source are associated with the galaxy, they would be at a distance of 50 kiloparsecs implying a time-scale in excess of 105 years. The total energy radiated in the optical range at constant luminosity would be of the order of 1059 ergs.
Only the detection of irrefutable proper motion or parallax would definitively establish 3C 273 as an object within our Galaxy. At the present time, however, the explanation in terms of an extragalactic origin seems more direct and less objectionable.
'3C 273: A Star-like Object with Large Red-Shift', Nature (1963), 197, 1040.
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The whole question of imagination in science is often misunderstood by people in other disciplines. They try to test our imagination in the following way. They say, “Here is a picture of some people in a situation. What do you imagine will happen next?” When we say, “I can’t imagine,” they may think we have a weak imagination. They overlook the fact that whatever we are allowed to imagine in science must be consistent with everything else we know; that the electric fields and the waves we talk about are not just some happy thoughts which we are free to make as we wish, but ideas which must be consistent with all the laws of physics we know. We can’t allow ourselves to seriously imagine things which are obviously in contradiction to the laws of nature. And so our kind of imagination is quite a difficult game. One has to have the imagination to think of something that has never been seen before, never been heard of before. At the same time the thoughts are restricted in a strait jacket, so to speak, limited by the conditions that come from our knowledge of the way nature really is. The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty
In The Feynman Lectures in Physics (1964), Vol. 2, Lecture 20, p.20-10 to p.20-11.
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The work … was … so blinding that I could scarcely see afterwards, and the difficulty was increased by the fact that my microscope was almost worn out, the screws being rusted with sweat from my hands and forehead, and my only remaining eye-piece being cracked… Fortunately invaluable oil-imraersion object-glass remained good.
From 'Researches on Malaria', Journal of the Raoyal Army Medical Corps (May 1905), 4, No. 5, 549.
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The world of mathematics, which you condemn, is really a beautiful world; it has nothing to do with life and death and human sordidness, but is eternal, cold and passionless. To me, pure, mathematics is one of the highest forms of art; it has a sublimity quite special to itself, and an immense dignity derived, from the fact that its world is exempt I, from change and time. I am quite serious in this. The only difficulty is that none but mathematicians can enter this enchanted region, and they hardly ever have a sense of beauty. And mathematics is the only thing we know of that is capable of perfection; in thinking about it we become Gods.
Letter to Helen Thomas (30 Dec 1901). Quoted in Nicholas Griffin (ed.), The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell (1992), Vol. 1, 224.
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There is another ground of hope that must not be omitted. Let men but think over their infinite expenditure of understanding, time, and means on matters and pursuits of far less use and value; whereof, if but a small part were directed to sound and solid studies, there is no difficulty that might not be overcome.
Translation of Novum Organum, CXI. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 144.
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There is no art or science that is too difficult for industry to attain to; it is the gift of tongues, and makes a man understood and valued in all countries, and by all nations; it is the philosopher's stone, that turns all metals, and even stones, into gold, and suffers not want to break into its dwelling; it is the northwest passage, that brings the merchant's ships as soon to him as he can desire: in a word, it conquers all enemies, and makes fortune itself pay contribution.
'Essay on Industry' (1670). In Thomas Henry Lister, Life and Administration of Edward, first Earl of Clarendon (1838), Vol. 2, 566.
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There is no art so difficult as the art of observation: it requires a skillful, sober spirit and a well-trained experience, which can only be acquired by practice; for he is not an observer who only sees the thing before him with his eyes, but he who sees of what parts the thing consists, and in what connexion the parts stand to the whole. One person overlooks half from inattention; another relates more than he sees while he confounds it with that which he figures to himself; another sees the parts of the whole, but he throws things together that ought to be separated. ... When the observer has ascertained the foundation of a phenomenon, and he is able to associate its conditions, he then proves while he endeavours to produce the phenomena at his will, the correctness of his observations by experiment. To make a series of experiments is often to decompose an opinion into its individual parts, and to prove it by a sensible phenomenon. The naturalist makes experiments in order to exhibit a phenomenon in all its different parts. When he is able to show of a series of phenomena, that they are all operations of the same cause, he arrives at a simple expression of their significance, which, in this case, is called a Law of Nature. We speak of a simple property as a Law of Nature when it serves for the explanation of one or more natural phenomena.
'The Study of the Natural Sciences: An Introductory Lecture to the Course of Experimental Chemistry in the University of Munich, for the Winter Session of 1852-53,' as translated and republished in The Medical Times and Gazette (22 Jan 1853), N.S. Vol. 6, 82.
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There is one great difficulty with a good hypothesis. When it is completed and rounded, the corners smooth and the content cohesive and coherent, it is likely to become a thing in itself, a work of art. It is then like a finished sonnet or a painting completed. One hates to disturb it. Even if subsequent information should shoot a hole in it, one hates to tear it down because it once was beautiful and whole. One of our leading scientists, having reasoned a reef in the Pacific, was unable for a long time to reconcile the lack of a reef, indicated by soundings, with the reef his mind told him was there.
In John Steinbeck and Edward Flanders Ricketts Sea of Cortez: a Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), 179-80.
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There was a golden period that I look back upon with great regret, in which the cheapest of experimental animals were medical students. Graduate students were even better. In the old days, if you offered a graduate student a thiamine-deficient diet, he gladly went on it, for that was the only way he could eat. Science is getting to be more and more difficult.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
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There was a seminar for advanced students in Zürich that I was teaching and von Neumann was in the class. I came to a certain theorem, and I said it is not proved and it may be difficult. Von Neumann didn’t say anything but after five minutes he raised his hand. When I called on him he went to the blackboard and proceeded to write down the proof. After that I was afraid of von Neumann.
In George Pólya and Gerald L. Alexanderson (ed.) The Pólya Picture Album: Encounters of a Mathematician (1987), 154. Also footnoted in Matti Tedre, The Development of Computer Science: a Sociocultural Perspective (2006), 198, cited as from How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (1957), xv.
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These Disciplines [mathematics] serve to inure and corroborate the Mind to a constant Diligence in Study; to undergo the Trouble of an attentive Meditation, and cheerfully contend with such Difficulties as lie in the Way. They wholly deliver us from a credulous Simplicity, most strongly fortify us against the Vanity of Scepticism, effectually restrain from a rash Presumption, most easily incline us to a due Assent, perfectly subject us to the Government of right Reason, and inspire us with Resolution to wrestle against the unjust Tyranny of false Prejudices. If the Fancy be unstable and fluctuating, it is to be poized by this Ballast, and steadied by this Anchor, if the Wit be blunt it is sharpened upon this Whetstone; if luxuriant it is pared by this Knife; if headstrong it is restrained by this Bridle; and if dull it is rouzed by this Spur. The Steps are guided by no Lamp more clearly through the dark Mazes of Nature, by no Thread more surely through the intricate Labyrinths of Philosophy, nor lastly is the Bottom of Truth sounded more happily by any other Line. I will not mention how plentiful a Stock of Knowledge the Mind is furnished from these, with what wholesome Food it is nourished, and what sincere Pleasure it enjoys. But if I speak farther, I shall neither be the only Person, nor the first, who affirms it; that while the Mind is abstracted and elevated from sensible Matter, distinctly views pure Forms, conceives the Beauty of Ideas, and investigates the Harmony of Proportions; the Manners themselves are sensibly corrected and improved, the Affections composed and rectified, the Fancy calmed and settled, and the Understanding raised and excited to more divine Contemplations. All which I might defend by Authority, and confirm by the Suffrages of the greatest Philosophers.
Prefatory Oration in Mathematical Lectures (1734), xxxi.
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These parsons are so in the habit of dealing with the abstractions of doctrines as if there was no difficulty about them whatever, so confident, from the practice of having the talk all to themselves for an hour at least every week with no one to gainsay a syllable they utter, be it ever so loose or bad, that they gallop over the course when their field is Botany or Geology as if we were in the pews and they in the pulpit ... There is a story somewhere of an Englishman, Frenchman, and German being each called on to describe a camel. The Englishman immediately embarked for Egypt, the Frenchman went to the Jardin des Plantes, and the German shut himself up in his study and thought it out!
Letter to Asa Gray (29 Mar 1857). Quoted in Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1918), Vol. 1, 477.
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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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Time is in itself [not] a difficulty, but a time-rate, assumed on very insufficient grounds, is used as a master-key, whether or not it fits, to unravel all difficulties. What if it were suggested that the brick-built Pyramid of Hawara had been laid brick by brick by a single workman? Given time, this would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. But Nature, like the Pharaohs, had greater forces at her command to do the work better and more expeditiously than is admitted by Uniformitarians.
'The Position of Geology', The Nineteenth Century (1893), 34, 551.
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To stop short in any research that bids fair to widen the gates of knowledge, to recoil from fear of difficulty or adverse criticism, is to bring reproach on science. There is nothing for the investigator to do but go straight on, 'to explore up and down, inch by inch, with the taper his reason;' to follow the light wherever it may lead, even should it at times resemble a will-o'-the-wisp.
Referring to his interest in psychical (spiritual) research.
Presidential address to the British Association (1898). Quoted in Harold Begbie in Pall Mall magazine (Jan 1903). In Albert Shaw, The American Monthly Review of Reviews (1903), 27, 232.
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To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859, 1882), 143-144.
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To the average mathematician who merely wants to know his work is securely based, the most appealing choice is to avoid difficulties by means of Hilbert's program. Here one regards mathematics as a formal game and one is only concerned with the question of consistency ... . The Realist position is probably the one which most mathematicians would prefer to take. It is not until he becomes aware of some of the difficulties in set theory that he would even begin to question it. If these difficulties particularly upset him, he will rush to the shelter of Formalism, while his normal position will be somewhere between the two, trying to enjoy the best of two worlds.
In Axiomatic Set Theory (1971), 9-15. In Thomas Tymoczko, New Directions in the Philosophy of Mathematics: an Anthology (), 11-12.
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To the east was our giant neighbor Makalu, unexplored and unclimbed, and even on top of Everest the mountaineering instinct was sufficient strong to cause me to spend some moments conjecturing as to whether a route up that mountain might not exist. Far away across the clouds the great bulk of Kangchenjunga loomed on the horizon. To the west, Cho Oyu, our old adversary from 1952, dominated the scene and we could see the great unexplored ranges of Nepal stretching off into the distance. The most important photograph, I felt, was a shot down the north ridge, showing the North Col and the old route that had been made famous by the struggles of those great climbers of the 1920s and 1930s. I had little hope of the results being particularly successful, as I had a lot of difficulty in holding the camera steady in my clumsy gloves, but I felt that they would at least serve as a record. After some ten minutes of this, I realized that I was becoming rather clumsy-fingered and slow-moving, so I quickly replaced my oxygen set and experience once more the stimulating effect of even a few liters of oxygen. Meanwhile, Tenzing had made a little hole in the snow and in it he placed small articles of food – a bar of chocolate, a packet of biscuits and a handful of lollies. Small offerings, indeed, but at least a token gifts to the gods that all devoted Buddhists believe have their home on this lofty summit. While we were together on the South Col two days before, Hunt had given me a small crucifix that he had asked me to take to the top. I, too, made a hole in the snow and placed the crucifix beside Tenzing’s gifts.
As quoted in Whit Burnett, The Spirit of Adventure: The Challenge (1955), 349.
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Unfortunately what is little recognized is that the most worthwhile scientific books are those in which the author clearly indicates what he does not know; for an author most hurts his readers by concealing difficulties.
As quoted in Nicholas J. Rose, Mathematical Maxims and Minims (1988). Also used as an epigraph without citation in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought From Ancient to Modern Times (1990), Vol. 2, 752. If you know the primary source, perhaps in French, please contact Webmaster.
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Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find it, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain.
As quoted in Peter Pešic, Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 2.
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Vous avez trouve par de long ennuis
Ce que Newton trouva sans sortir de chez lui.
In Letter to La Condamine, whose surveying expedition (after Newton’s death) had measured the arc at the equator. As Newton had calculated, the Earth was a flattened sphere, due to the effects of rotation and gravitational pull. Roughly translates as, “You have found by prolonged difficulty / What Newton found without leaving home.” In The Royal Society Newton Tercentenary Celebrations: 15-19 July 1946 (1946), 15. [Newton was born in 1642; the tercentenary celebration was delayed by WW II —Webmaster.]
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We have also here an acting cause to account for that balance so often observed in nature,—a deficiency in one set of organs always being compensated by an increased development of some others—powerful wings accompanying weak feet, or great velocity making up for the absence of defensive weapons; for it has been shown that all varieties in which an unbalanced deficiency occurred could not long continue their existen The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.
In 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type', Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, Zoology (1858), 3, 61-62.
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We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone. The Man of Science, the Chemist and Mathematician, whatever difficulties and disgusts they may have had to struggle with, know and feel this. However painful may be the objects with which the Anatomist's knowledge is connected, he feels that his knowledge is pleasure; and where he has no pleasure he has no knowledge.
In Lyrical Ballads: With Pastoral and Other Poems (3rd Ed., 1802), Vol. 1, Preface, xxxiv.
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We live in a glass-soaked civilization, but as for the bird in the Chinese proverb who finds it so difficult to discover air, the substance is almost invisible to us. To use a metaphor drawn from glass, it may be revealing for us to re-focus, to stop looking through glass, and let our eyes dwell on it for a moment to contemplate its wonder. [Co-author with Gerry Martin.]
Glass: A World History (2002), 4.
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We may safely say, that the whole form of modern mathematical thinking was created by Euler. It is only with the greatest difficulty that one is able to follow the writings of any author immediately preceding Euler, because it was not yet known how to let the formulas speak for themselves. This art Euler was the first one to teach.
As quoted in W. Ahrens Scherz und Ernst in der Mathematik (1904), 251. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 183.
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We may, I think, draw a yet higher and deeper teaching from the phenomena of degeneration. We seem to learn from it the absolute necessity of labour and effort, of struggle and difficulty, of discomfort and pain, as the condition of all progress, whether physical or mental, and that the lower the organism the more need there is of these ever-present stimuli, not only to effect progress, but to avoid retrogression. And if so, does not this afford us the nearest attainable solution of the great problem of the origin of evil? What we call evil is the essential condition of progress in the lower stages of the development of conscious organisms, and will only cease when the mind has become so thoroughly healthy, so well balanced, and so highly organised, that the happiness derived from mental activity, moral harmony, and the social affections, will itself be a sufficient stimulus to higher progress and to the attainment of a more perfect life.
In 'Two Darwinian Essays', Nature (1880), 22, 142.
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We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted...So any nation which in its youth lives only for the day, reaps without sowing, and consumes without husbanding, must expect the penalty of the prodigal whose labor could with difficulty find him the bare means of life.
'Arbor Day: A Message to the School-Children of the United States', 15 Apr 1907. In Presidential Addresses and State Papers (1910), Vol. 11, 1207-8.
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We spend long hours discussing the curious situation that the two great bodies of biological knowledge, genetics and embryology, which were obviously intimately interrelated in development, had never been brought together in any revealing way. An obvious difficulty was that the most favorable organisms for genetics, Drosophila as a prime example, were not well suited for embryological study, and the classical objects of embryological study, sea urchins and frogs as examples, were not easily investigated genetically. What might we do about it? There were two obvious approaches: one to learn more about the genetics of an embryologically favourable organism, the other to better understand the development of Drosophila. We resolved to gamble up to a year of our lives on the latter approach, this in Ephrussi’s laboratory in Paris which was admirably equipped for tissue culture, tissue or organ transplantation, and related techniques.
In 'Recollections', Annual Review of Biochemistry, 1974, 43, 6.
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We took on things which people might think would take a year or two. They weren't particularly hard. What was hard was believing they weren't hard.
[Recalling high-pressure, short-deadline problem solving leading up to planned release date of Polaroid instant color film.]
Quoted in Alix Kerr, 'What It Took: Intuition, Goo,' Life (25 Jan 1963), 54, No. 4, 86.
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Western field-work conjures up images of struggle on horseback ... –toughing it out on one canteen a day as you labor up and down mountains. The value of a site is supposedly correlated with the difficulty of getting there. This, of course, is romantic drivel. Ease of access is no measure of importance. The famous La Brea tar pits are right in downtown Los Angeles. To reach the Clarkia lake beds, you turn off the main road at Buzzard’s Roost Trophy Company and drive the remaining fifty yards right up to the site.
…...
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What certainty can there be in a Philosophy which consists in as many Hypotheses as there are Phaenomena to be explained. To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. 'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing.
Quoted in Richard S. Westfall, The Life of Isaac Newton (1994), 256.
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What is peculiar and new to the [19th] century, differentiating it from all its predecessors, is its technology. It was not merely the introduction of some great isolated inventions. It is impossible not to feel that something more than that was involved. … The process of change was slow, unconscious, and unexpected. In the nineteeth century, the process became quick, conscious, and expected. … The whole change has arisen from the new scientific information. Science, conceived not so much in its principles as in its results, is an obvious storehouse of ideas for utilisation. … Also, it is a great mistake to think that the bare scientific idea is the required invention, so that it has only to be picked up and used. An intense period of imaginative design lies between. One element in the new method is just the discovery of how to set about bridging the gap between the scientific ideas, and the ultimate product. It is a process of disciplined attack upon one difficulty after another This discipline of knowledge applies beyond technology to pure science, and beyond science to general scholarship. It represents the change from amateurs to professionals. … But the full self-conscious realisation of the power of professionalism in knowledge in all its departments, and of the way to produce the professionals, and of the importance of knowledge to the advance of technology, and of the methods by which abstract knowledge can be connected with technology, and of the boundless possibilities of technological advance,—the realisation of all these things was first completely attained in the nineteeth century.
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 1997), 96.
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What makes the theory of relativity so acceptable to physicists in spite of its going against the principle of simplicity is its great mathematical beauty. This is a quality which cannot be defined, any more than beauty in art can be defined, but which people who study mathematics usually have no difficulty in appreciating. … The restricted theory changed our ideas of space and time in a way that may be summarised by stating that the group of transformations to which the space-time continuum is subject must be changed from the Galilean group to the Lorentz group.
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, 123.
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When I was reading Mathematics for University honours, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.
From letter to Edith Rix with hints for studying (about Mar 1885), in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 240-241.
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When only one course of action is possible, there is no difficulty in deciding what to do.
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 282.
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When the difficulty of a problem lies only in finding out what follows from certain fixed premises, mathematical methods furnish invaluable wings for flying over intermediate obstructions.
From The Economic Theory of the Location of Railways (1887, 1914), viii.
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Why is it so easy to acquire the solutions of past problems and so difficult to solve current ones
(Attributed ??) This quote is often seen, but without a citation, even on the official Marshall McLuhan website. If you known a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Will fluorine ever have practical applications?
It is very difficult to answer this question. I may, however, say in all sincerity that I gave this subject little thought when I undertook my researches, and I believe that all the chemists whose attempts preceded mine gave it no more consideration.
A scientific research is a search after truth, and it is only after discovery that the question of applicability can be usefully considered.
Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1897). In Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to July 1897 (1898), 261.
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Workers must root out the idea that by keeping the results of their labors to themselves a fortune will be assured to them. Patent fees are so much wasted money. The flying machine of the future will not be born fully fledged and capable of a flight for 1,000 miles or so. Like everything else it must be evolved gradually. The first difficulty is to get a thing that will fly at all. When this is made, a full description should be published as an aid to others. Excellence of design and workmanship will always defy competition.
As quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 218.
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Yet the widespread [planetary theories], advanced by Ptolemy and most other [astronomers], although consistent with the numerical [data], seemed likewise to present no small difficulty. For these theories were not adequate unless they also conceived certain equalizing circles, which made the planet appear to move at all times with uniform velocity neither on its deferent sphere nor about its own [epicycle's] center … Therefore, having become aware of these [defects], I often considered whether there could perhaps be found a more reasonable arrangement of circles, from which every apparent irregularity would be derived while everything in itself would move uniformly, as is required by the rule of perfect motion.
From Nicholaus Copernicus, Edward Rosen (trans.), Pawel Czartoryski (ed.) 'Commentariolus', in Nicholas Copernicus: Minor Works (1985), 81-83. Excerpted in Lisa M. Dolling, Arthur F. Gianelli and Glenn N. Statile (eds.) The Tests of Time: Readings in the Development of Physical Theory (2003), 40.
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You, in this country [the USA], are subjected to the British insularity in weights and measures; you use the foot, inch and yard. I am obliged to use that system, but must apologize to you for doing so, because it is so inconvenient, and I hope Americans will do everything in their power to introduce the French metrical system. ... I look upon our English system as a wickedly, brain-destroying system of bondage under which we suffer. The reason why we continue to use it, is the imaginary difficulty of making a change, and nothing else; but I do not think in America that any such difficulty should stand in the way of adopting so splendidly useful a reform.
Journal of the Franklin Institute, Nov 1884, 118, 321-341
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[1665-07-31] ...Thus we end this month, as I said, after the greatest glut of content that ever I had; only, under some difficulty because of the plague, which grows mightily upon us, the last week being about 1700 or 1800 of the plague. ...
Diary of Samuel Pepys (31 Jul 1665)
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[Choosing to become a geophysicist was] entirely accidental and was due to the difficulty of getting a job during the depression. There happened to be one available in Cambridge at the time when I needed it.
Quoted in 'Edward Crisp Bullard,' Current Biography (1954)
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[In mathematics] we behold the conscious logical activity of the human mind in its purest and most perfect form. Here we learn to realize the laborious nature of the process, the great care with which it must proceed, the accuracy which is necessary to determine the exact extent of the general propositions arrived at, the difficulty of forming and comprehending abstract concepts; but here we learn also to place confidence in the certainty, scope and fruitfulness of such intellectual activity.
In Ueber das Verhältnis der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammtheit der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 176. Also seen translated as “In mathematics we see the conscious logical activity of our mind in its purest and most perfect form; here is made manifest to us all the labor and the great care with which it progresses, the precision which is necessary to determine exactly the source of the established general theorems, and the difficulty with which we form and comprehend abstract conceptions; but we also learn here to have confidence in the certainty, breadth, and fruitfulness of such intellectual labor”, in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 20. From the original German, “Hier sehen wir die bewusste logische Thätigkeit unseres Geistes in ihrer reinsten und vollendetsten Form; wir können hier die ganze Mühe derselben kennen lernen, die grosse Vorsicht, mit der sie vorschreiten muss, die Genauigkeit, welche nöthig ist, um den Umfang der gewonnenen allgemeinen Sätze genau zu bestimmen, die Schwierigkeit, abstracte Begriffe zu bilden und zu verstehen; aber ebenso auch Vertrauen fassen lernen in die Sicherheit, Tragweite und Fruchtbarkeit solcher Gedankenarbeit.”
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[My] numberless observations... made on the Strata... [have] made me confident of their uniformity throughout this Country & [have] led me to conclude that the same regularity... will be found to extend to every part of the Globe for Nature has done nothing by piecemeal. [T]here is no inconsistency in her productions. [T]he Horse never becomes an Ass nor the Crab an Apple by any intermixture or artificial combination whatever[. N]or will the Oak ever degenerate into an Ash or an Ash into an Elm. [H]owever varied by Soil or Climate the species will still be distinct on this ground. [T]hen I argue that what is found here may be found elsewhere[.] When proper allowances are made for such irregularities as often occur and the proper situation and natural agreement is well understood I am satisfied there will be no more difficulty in ascertaining the true quality of the Strata and the place of its possition [sic] than there is now in finding the true Class and Character of Plants by the Linean [sic] System.
Natural Order of the Strata in England and Wales Accurately Delineated and Described, unpublished manuscript, Department of Geology, University of Oxford, 1801, f. 7v.
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[On the 11th day of November 1572], in the evening, after sunset, when, according to my habit, I was contemplating the stars in a clear sky, I noticed that a new and unusual star, surpassing all others in brilliancy, was shining almost directly over my head; and since I had, almost from boyhood, known all the stars of the heavens perfectly (there is no great difficulty in gaining that knowledge), it was quite evident to me that there had never before been any star in that place in the sky, even the smallest, to say nothing of a star so conspicuously bright as this. I was so astonished at this sight that I was not ashamed to doubt the trustworthiness of my own eyes. But when I observed that others, too, on having the place pointed out to them, could see that there was a star there, I had no further doubts. A miracle indeed, either the greatest of all that have occurred in the whole range of nature since the beginning of the world, or one certainly that is to be classed with those attested by the Holy Oracles.
De Stello. Nova (On the New Star) (1573). Quoted in H. Shapley and A. E. Howarth (eds.), Source Book in Astronomy (1929), 13.
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…it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
The Prince (1532). W. K. Marriott (translator) and Rob McMahon (editor), The Prince (2008), 71.
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“Crawling at your feet,” said the Gnat … “you may observe a Bread-and-Butterfly. …”
“And what does it live on?”
“Weak tea with cream in it.”
A new difficulty came into Alice's head. “Supposing it couldn't find any?” she suggested.
“Then it would die, of course.”
“But that must happen very often,” Alice remarked thoughtfully.
“It always happens,” said the Gnat.
In Through the Looking Glass: And what Alice Found There (1893), 66-67.
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“Yes,” he said. “But these things (the solutions to problems in solid geometry such as the duplication of the cube) do not seem to have been discovered yet.” “There are two reasons for this,” I said. “Because no city holds these things in honour, they are investigated in a feeble way, since they are difficult; and the investigators need an overseer, since they will not find the solutions without one. First, it is hard to get such an overseer, and second, even if one did, as things are now those who investigate these things would not obey him, because of their arrogance. If however a whole city, which did hold these things in honour, were to oversee them communally, the investigators would be obedient, and when these problems were investigated continually and with eagerness, their solutions would become apparent.”
Plato
In The Republic 7 528bc, trans. R.W. Sharples.
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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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