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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”
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Easy Quotes (86 quotes)

Die Natur hates sich nicht angelegen sein lassen, uns die Auffindung ihrer Gesetze bequem zu machen.
Nature did not deem it her business to make the discovery of her laws easy for us.
English translation as in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, (1987), Vol. 5, 202. Also seen translated elsewhere as “Nature has not made it a priority for us to discover its laws,” or “Nature did not care to comfort us with the discovery of its laws.” Original German in letter from Prague to Erwin Freundlich (1 Sep 1911). Freundlich was an assistant at the Royal Observatory of Prussia in Berlin wishing to investigate the bending of starlight by the gravitational field of Jupiter, but Einstein pointed out it was not massive enough for a detectable effect. Einstein in the letter also lamented “If only we had an orderly planet larger than Jupiter!”
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Question: State what are the conditions favourable for the formation of dew. Describe an instrument for determining the dew point, and the method of using it.
Answer: This is easily proved from question 1. A body of gas as it ascends expands, cools, and deposits moisture; so if you walk up a hill the body of gas inside you expands, gives its heat to you, and deposits its moisture in the form of dew or common sweat. Hence these are the favourable conditions; and moreover it explains why you get warm by ascending a hill, in opposition to the well-known law of the Conservation of Energy.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 179, Question 12. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Salviati: …Now you see how easy it is to understand.
Sagredo: So are all truths, once they are discovered; the point is in being able to discover them.
[Commonly seen merged in a paraphrase as: All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.]
Lines of two characters in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), as translated by S. Drake (1967). As quoted and cited in Barnaby Sheppard, The Logic of Infinity (2014), 398 & 440 footnote. Galileo’s work is written as a series of dialogues over four days between Salviati (supporting the Copernican system), Sagredo (a neutral layman) and Simplicio (supporting the Ptolemaic system).
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Bell’s theorem is easy to understand but hard to believe.
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Between two truths of the real domain, the easiest and shortest path quite often passes through the complex domain.
From the French, “…entre deux vérités du domaine réel, le chemin le plus facile et le plus court passe bien souvent par le domaine complexe,” in Notice sur les Travaux Scientifiques (1900), 2. Widely seen incorrectly attributed to Hadamard, who quoted it himself as from an unnamed source, and paraphrased thus, “It has been written that the shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain,” in Jacques Hadamard, An Essay on the Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field (1945), 123. Now often seen misattributed to Hadamard in a shorter paraphrase, for example as, “The shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain,” in Craig Smorynski, 'The Need for Abstraction', The College Mathematics Journal (Jan 1985), 16, No. 1, 11. For a longer discussion of the Painlevé source, see homepage.math.uiowa.edu/~jorgen/hadamardquotesource.html, which is the source for the English translation in the subject quote.
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Biot, who assisted Laplace in revising it [The Mécanique Céleste] for the press, says that Laplace himself was frequently unable to recover the details in the chain of reasoning, and if satisfied that the conclusions were correct, he was content to insert the constantly recurring formula, “Il est àisé a voir” [it is easy to see].
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 427.
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Both died, ignored by most; they neither sought nor found public favour, for high roads never lead there. Laurent and Gerhardt never left such roads, were never tempted to peruse those easy successes which, for strongly marked characters, offer neither allure nor gain. Their passion was for the search for truth; and, preferring their independence to their advancement, their convictions to their interests, they placed their love for science above that of their worldly goods; indeed above that for life itself, for death was the reward for their pains. Rare example of abnegation, sublime poverty that deserves the name nobility, glorious death that France must not forget!
'Éloge de Laurent et Gerhardt', Moniteur Scientifique (1862), 4, 473-83, trans. Alan J. Rocke.
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But just as much as it is easy to find the differential of a given quantity, so it is difficult to find the integral of a given differential. Moreover, sometimes we cannot say with certainty whether the integral of a given quantity can be found or not.
Webmaster has looked and found no citation, and no example, in books with this wording, earlier than in a list of quotes, without citation, in Baumslag Benjamin, Fundamentals Of Teaching Mathematics At University Level (2000), 214. The original would be in native French, so different translations are possible. Can you help?
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By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.
Confucius
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 109
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Calculating machines do sums better than even the cleverest people… As arithmetic has grown easier, it has come to be less respected.
From An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1937, 1943), 5. Collected in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 46.
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Emotions are among the toughest things in the world to manufacture out of whole cloth; it is easier to manufacture seven facts than one emotion.
In Life on the Mississippi (1883), 199
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Everything around us is filled with mystery and magic. I find this no cause for despair, no reason to turn for solace to esoteric formulae or chariots of gods. On the contrary, our inability to find easy answers fills me with a fierce pride in our ambivalent biology ... with a constant sense of wonder and delight that we should be part of anything so profound.
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Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult.
In Adam Bede (1859, 1860), 151.
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For the most part we humans live with the false impression of security and a feeling of being at home in a seemingly trustworthy physical and human environment. But when the expected course of everyday life is interrupted, we are like shipwrecked people on a miserable plank in the open sea, having forgotten where they came from and not knowing whither they are drifting. But once we fully accept this, life becomes easier and there is no longer any disappointment.
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How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make - leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone - we all dwell in a house of one room - the world with the firmament for its roof - and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.
John Muir
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How much easier is self-sacrifice than self-realization!
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 30.
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I do not think it is possible really to understand the successes of science without understanding how hard it is—how easy it is to be led astray, how difficult it is to know at any time what is the next thing to be done.
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I hate science. It denies a man’s responsibility for his own deeds, abolishes the brotherhood that springs from God’s fatherhood. It is a hectoring, dictating expertise, which makes the least lovable of the Church Fathers seem liberal by contrast. It is far easier for a Hitler or a Stalin to find a mock-scientific excuse for persecution than it was for Dominic to find a mock-Christian one.
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I hear one day the word “mountain,” and I ask someone “what is a mountain? I have never seen one.”
I join others in discussions of mountains.
One day I see in a book a picture of a mountain.
And I decide I must climb one.
I travel to a place where there is a mountain.
At the base of the mountain I see there are lots of paths to climb.
I start on a path that leads to the top of the mountain.
I see that the higher I climb, the more the paths join together.
After much climbing the many paths join into one.
I climb till I am almost exhausted but I force myself and continue to climb.
Finally I reach the top and far above me there are stars.
I look far down and the village twinkles far below.
It would be easy to go back down there but it is so beautiful up here.
I am just below the stars.
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I like a deep and difficult investigation when I happen to have made it easy to myself, if not to all others; and there is a spirit of gambling in this, whether, as by the cast of a die, a calculation è perte de vue shall bring out a beautiful and perfect result or shall be wholly thrown away. Scientific investigations are a sort of warfare carried on in the closet or on the couch against all one's contemporaries and predecessors; I have often gained a signal victory when I have been half asleep, but more frequently have found, upon being thoroughly awake, that the enemy had still the advantage of me, when I thought I had him fast in a corner, and all this you see keeps me alive.
Letter to Hudson Gurney, quoted in George Peacock, The Life of Thomas Young (1855), 239.
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I never found it easy. People say I was lucky twice but I resent that. We stuck with [cimetidine] for four years with no progress until we eventually succeeded. It was not luck, it was bloody hard work.
[Rejecting that drug discovery was easier in the past.]
Quoted in Andrew Jack, "An Acute Talent for Innovation", Financial Times (1 Feb 2009).
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I respect Kirkpatrick both for his sponges and for his numinous nummulosphere. It is easy to dismiss a crazy theory with laughter that debars any attempt to understand a man’s motivation–and the nummulosphere is a crazy theory. I find that few men of imagination are not worth my attention. Their ideas may be wrong, even foolish, but their methods often repay a close study ... The different drummer often beats a fruitful tempo.
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I should not like to leave an impression that all structural problems can be settled by X-ray analysis or that all crystal structures are easy to solve. I seem to have spent much more of my life not solving structures than solving them.
In 'X-ray Analysis of Complicated Molecules', Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1964). In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964), 88.
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I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.
In Pierre Curie (1936), 167.
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If a man dies of cancer in fear and despair, then cry for his pain and celebrate his life. The other man, who fought like hell and laughed in the end, but also died, may have had an easier time in his final months, but took his leave with no more humanity.
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If I were working in astrophysics I would find it quite hard to explain to people what I was doing. Natural history is a pretty easy thing to explain. It does have its complexities, but nowhere do you speak about things that are outside people’s experience. You might speak about a species that is outside their experience, but nothing as remote as astrophysics.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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If we had a reliable way to label our toys good and bad, it would be easy to regulate technology wisely. But we can rarely see far enough ahead to know which road leads to damnation. Whoever concerns himself with big technology, either to push it forward
Disturbing the Universe (1979).
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In at least two-thirds of the American States one of the easiest ways to get into public office is to denounce him [Charles Darwin] as a scoundrel. But by the year 2030, I daresay, what remains of his doctrine, if anything, will be accepted as complacently as the Copernican cosmography is now accepted.
From Baltimore Evening Sun (6 Apr 1931). Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 330.
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In diagnosis, think of the easy first.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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In soloing—as in other activities—it is far easier to start something than it is to finish it. Almost every beginner hops off with a whoop of joy, though he is likely to end his flight with something akin to the D.T.’s.
In 20 Hrs., 40 Min. (1928), 55.
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It is a scale of proportions which makes the bad difficult and the good easy.
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It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.
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It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor. There may even be a certain antagonism between love of humanity and love of neighbor; a low capacity for getting along with those near us often goes hand in hand with a high receptivity to the idea of the brotherhood of men. About a hundred years ago a Russian landowner by the name of Petrashevsky recorded a remarkable conclusion: “Finding nothing worthy of my attachment either among women or among men, I have vowed myself to the service of mankind.” He became a follower of Fourier, and installed a phalanstery on his estate. The end of the experiment was sad, but what one might perhaps have expected: the peasants—Petrashevsky’s neighbors-burned the phalanstery.
In 'Brotherhood', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 91.
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It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it.
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It is easy to follow in the sacred writings of the Jewish people the development of the religion of fear into the moral religion, which is carried further in the New Testament. The religions of all civilized peoples, especially those of the Orient, are principally moral religions. An important advance in the life of a people is the transformation of the religion of fear into the moral religion.
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It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship; endure any insult, for a moment’s additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.
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It is exceptional that one should be able to acquire the understanding of a process without having previously acquired a deep familiarity with running it, with using it, before one has assimilated it in an instinctive and empirical way. Thus any discussion of the nature of intellectual effort in any field is difficult, unless it presupposes an easy, routine familiarity with that field. In mathematics this limitation becomes very severe.
In 'The Mathematician', Works of the Mind (1947), 1, No. 1. Collected in James Roy Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2053.
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It is not easy to be a pioneer—but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world.
As quoted, without citation, in Arlene J. Morris-Lipsman, Notable Women (1990), 70. The author dates this to “twenty years after her graduation,” [which was on 23 Jan 1849]. Please contact Webmaster if you know the primary source.
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It is not possible to find in all geometry more difficult and more intricate questions or more simple and lucid explanations [than those given by Archimedes]. Some ascribe this to his natural genius; while others think that incredible effort and toil produced these, to all appearance, easy and unlaboured results. No amount of investigation of yours would succeed in attaining the proof, and yet, once seen, you immediately believe you would have discovered it; by so smooth and so rapid a path he leads you to the conclusion required.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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It is so easy to believe in pleasant impossibilities.
In novel, Half a Million of Money (1865), Vol. 2, 122.
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It is the easiest thing in the world to deny a fact. People do it all the time. Yet it remains a fact just the same.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 97.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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It’s easier for a woman to go into a strange village than a man. If a strange man wanders in, the natives are afraid he’ll take their wives away, but a woman can work with the mothers and children.
Explaining her ability in observing Pacific Island cultures. As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 143.
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It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.
Anonymous
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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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Mathematics is often considered a difficult and mysterious science, because of the numerous symbols which it employs. Of course, nothing is more incomprehensible than a symbolism which we do not understand. … But this is not because they are difficult in themselves. On the contrary they have invariably been introduced to make things easy. … [T]he symbolism is invariably an immense simplification. It … represents an analysis of the ideas of the subject and an almost pictorial representation of their relations to each other.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59-60.
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Mathematics is the science which uses easy words for hard ideas.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 4.
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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My mother, my dad and I left Cuba when I was two [January, 1959]. Castro had taken control by then, and life for many ordinary people had become very difficult. My dad had worked [as a personal bodyguard for the wife of Cuban president Batista], so he was a marked man. We moved to Miami, which is about as close to Cuba as you can get without being there. It’s a Cuba-centric society. I think a lot of Cubans moved to the US thinking everything would be perfect. Personally, I have to say that those early years were not particularly happy. A lot of people didn’t want us around, and I can remember seeing signs that said: “No children. No pets. No Cubans.” Things were not made easier by the fact that Dad had begun working for the US government. At the time he couldn’t really tell us what he was doing, because it was some sort of top-secret operation. He just said he wanted to fight against what was happening back at home. [Estefan’s father was one of the many Cuban exiles taking part in the ill-fated, anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow dictator Fidel Castro.] One night, Dad disappered. I think he was so worried about telling my mother he was going that he just left her a note. There were rumours something was happening back home, but we didn’t really know where Dad had gone. It was a scary time for many Cubans. A lot of men were involved—lots of families were left without sons and fathers. By the time we found out what my dad had been doing, the attempted coup had taken place, on April 17, 1961. Intitially he’d been training in Central America, but after the coup attempt he was captured and spent the next wo years as a political prisoner in Cuba. That was probably the worst time for my mother and me. Not knowing what was going to happen to Dad. I was only a kid, but I had worked out where my dad was. My mother was trying to keep it a secret, so she used to tell me Dad was on a farm. Of course, I thought that she didn’t know what had really happened to him, so I used to keep up the pretence that Dad really was working on a farm. We used to do this whole pretending thing every day, trying to protect each other. Those two years had a terrible effect on my mother. She was very nervous, just going from church to church. Always carrying her rosary beads, praying her little heart out. She had her religion, and I had my music. Music was in our family. My mother was a singer, and on my father’s side there was a violinist and a pianist. My grandmother was a poet.
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Nothing can be more fatal to progress than a too confident reliance upon mathematical symbols; for the student is only too apt to take the easier course, and consider the formula and not the fact as the physical reality.
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, viii.
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Nothing is easy to the unwilling.
…...
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Obviously we biologists should fit our methods to our materials. An interesting response to this challenge has been employed particularly by persons who have entered biology from the physical sciences or who are distressed by the variability in biology; they focus their research on inbred strains of genetically homogeneous laboratory animals from which, to the maximum extent possible, variability has been eliminated. These biologists have changed the nature of the biological system to fit their methods. Such a bold and forthright solution is admirable, but it is not for me. Before I became a professional biologist, I was a boy naturalist, and I prefer a contrasting approach; to change the method to fit the system. This approach requires that one employ procedures which allow direct scientific utilization of the successful long-term evolutionary experiments which are documented by the fascinating diversity and variability of the species of animals which occupy the earth. This is easy to say and hard to do.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 232.
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Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
you have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
where never lark, or even eagle flew
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
…...
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On principle, there is nothing new in the postulate that in the end exact science should aim at nothing more than the description of what can really be observed. The question is only whether from now on we shall have to refrain from tying description to a clear hypothesis about the real nature of the world. There are many who wish to pronounce such abdication even today. But I believe that this means making things a little too easy for oneself.
…...
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Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.
…...
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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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Only entropy comes easy.
Quoted in Ben Greenman, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Celebrity Chekhov: Stories by Anton Chekhov (2010), xiii.
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Overfishing—really easy to do with megaships equipped with sonar for fast fish finding—and the eventual result is no fish. When smaller boats were still in use, fisheries were sustainable, more or less. But in the past forty years, hyper-efficient hi-tech practices have put paid to a third of the productive ocean. … Now you've got bigger and bigger boats chasing smaller and fewer fish.
In Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008), 191.
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Samoa culture demonstrates how much the tragic or the easy solution of the Oedipus situation depends upon the inter-relationship between parents and children, and is not created out of whole cloth by the young child’s biological impulses.
Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World (1949), 119.
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She knew only that if she did or said thus-and-so, men would unerringly respond with the complimentary thus-and-so. It was like a mathematical formula and no more difficult, for mathematics was the one subject that had come easy to Scarlett in her schooldays.
In Gone With the Wind (1936), 60.
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Some mathematics problems look simple, and you try them for a year or so, and then you try them for a hundred years, and it turns out that they're extremely hard to solve. There's no reason why these problems shouldn't be easy, and yet they turn out to be extremely intricate. [Fermat's] Last Theorem is the most beautiful example of this.
From interview for PBS website on the NOVA program, 'The Proof'.
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Teaching thermal physics
Is as easy as a song:
You think you make it simpler
When you make it slightly wrong!
In The Physics Teacher (Sep 1970). As quoted and cited in Clifford Swartz, Cliff's Nodes: Editorials from The Physics Teacher (2006), 192.
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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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The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.
…...
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The fact is that up to now the free society has not been good for the intellectual. It has neither accorded him a superior status to sustain his confidence nor made it easy for him to acquire an unquestioned sense of social usefulness. For he derives his sense of usefulness mainly from directing, instructing, and planning-from minding other people’s business-and is bound to feel superfluous and neglected where people believe themselves competent to manage individual and communal affairs, and are impatient of supervision and regulation. A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman’s sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
In 'Concerning Individual Freedom', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 141.
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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
From Commencement Address, Caltech (1974), 'Cargo Cult Science'. On Caltech library website. This quote may be the origin of a paraphrase (which by itself seems to have no verbatim source): “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself”, also seen as, “Science is a way to not fool ourselves”.
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The great masters of modern analysis are Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss, who were contemporaries. It is interesting to note the marked contrast in their styles. Lagrange is perfect both in form and matter, he is careful to explain his procedure, and though his arguments are general they are easy to follow. Laplace on the other hand explains nothing, is indifferent to style, and, if satisfied that his results are correct, is content to leave them either with no proof or with a faulty one. Gauss is as exact and elegant as Lagrange, but even more difficult to follow than Laplace, for he removes every trace of the analysis by which he reached his results, and studies to give a proof which while rigorous shall be as concise and synthetical as possible.
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 468.
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The path of a cosmonaut is not an easy, triumphant march to glory, as some people make it out to be. You have to put in a lot of work, a lot of sweat, and have to get to know the meaning not just of joy but also of grief, before being allowed in the spacecraft cabin.
In First Man in Space: The Life and Achievement of Yuri Gagarin: a Collection (1984), 104. Cited as written as a foreword of a book at the request of the author.
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The problems of the infinite have challenged man’s mind and have fired his imagination as no other single problem in the history of thought. The infinite appears both strange and familiar, at times beyond our grasp, at times easy and natural to understand. In conquering it, man broke the fetters that bound him to earth. All his faculties were required for this conquest—his reasoning powers, his poetic fancy, his desire to know.
With co-author James R Newman, in 'Beyond the Google', Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 35.
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The sciences are like a beautiful river, of which the course is easy to follow, when it has acquired a certain regularity; but if one wants to go back to the source, one will find it nowhere, because it is everywhere; it is spread so much [as to be] over all the surface of the earth; it is the same if one wants to go back to the origin of the sciences, one will find only obscurity, vague ideas, vicious circles; and one loses oneself in the primitive ideas.
In Essai sur les machines en général (1783), conclusion, as translated in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840 (1990), Vol. 1, 32.
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This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
The World as I See It (1999)
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Th’invention all admir’d, and each, how he
To be th’inventor miss’d; so easy it seem’d,
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible.
From Paradise Lost (1821), Book 6, 183.
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To ask what qualities distinguish good from routine scientific research is to address a question that should be of central concern to every scientist. We can make the question more tractable by rephrasing it, “What attributes are shared by the scientific works which have contributed importantly to our understanding of the physical world—in this case the world of living things?” Two of the most widely accepted characteristics of good scientific work are generality of application and originality of conception. . These qualities are easy to point out in the works of others and, of course extremely difficult to achieve in one’s own research. At first hearing novelty and generality appear to be mutually exclusive, but they really are not. They just have different frames of reference. Novelty has a human frame of reference; generality has a biological frame of reference. Consider, for example, Darwinian Natural Selection. It offers a mechanism so widely applicable as to be almost coexistent with reproduction, so universal as to be almost axiomatic, and so innovative that it shook, and continues to shake, man’s perception of causality.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 230.
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To fully understand the mathematical genius of Sophus Lie, one must not turn to books recently published by him in collaboration with Dr. Engel, but to his earlier memoirs, written during the first years of his scientific career. There Lie shows himself the true geometer that he is, while in his later publications, finding that he was but imperfectly understood by the mathematicians accustomed to the analytic point of view, he adopted a very general analytic form of treatment that is not always easy to follow.
In Lectures on Mathematics (1911), 9.
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To mess around with Ebola is an easy way to die. Better to work with something safer, such as anthrax.
The Hot Zone
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To overturn orthodoxy is no easier in science than in philosophy, religion, economics, or any of the other disciplines through which we try to comprehend the world and the society in which we live.
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True conservation provides for wise use by the general public. The American people do not want our resources preserved for the exclusive use of the wealthy. These land and water resources belong to the people, and people of all income levels should have easy access to them.
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We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade... not because they are easy but because they are hard.
…...
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We need to substitute for the book a device that will make it easy to transmit information without transporting material.
In Libraries of the Future (1965), 6.
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When I came back from Munich, it was September, and I was Professor of Mathematics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Later I learned that I had been the Department’s third choice, after two numerical analysts had turned the invitation down; the decision to invite me had not been an easy one, on the one hand because I had not really studied mathematics, and on the other hand because of my sandals, my beard and my ‘arrogance’ (whatever that may be).
…...
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When it’s too easy to get money, then you get a lot of noise mixed in with the real innovation and entrepreneurship. Tough times bring out the best parts of Silicon Valley
As quoted by Jessica Guynn, reporting on a media roundtable at a conference on Google’s campus, in 'Google’s Schmidt, Page and Brin hold court at Zeitgeist', Los Angeles Times (17 Sep 2008). On latimesblogs.latimes.com webpage.
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When the principles of breeding and of inheritance are better understood, we shall not hear ignorant members of our legislature rejecting with scorn a plan for ascertaining by an easy method whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to man.
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While the method of the natural sciences is... analytic, the method of the social sciences is better described as compositive or synthetic. It is the so-called wholes, the groups of elements which are structurally connected, which we learn to single out from the totality of observed phenomena... Insofar as we analyze individual thought in the social sciences the purpose is not to explain that thought, but merely to distinguish the possible types of elements with which we shall have to reckon in the construction of different patterns of social relationships. It is a mistake... to believe that their aim is to explain conscious action ... The problems which they try to answer arise only insofar as the conscious action of many men produce undesigned results... If social phenomena showed no order except insofar as they were consciously designed, there would indeed be no room for theoretical sciences of society and there would be, as is often argued, only problems of psychology. It is only insofar as some sort of order arises as a result of individual action but without being designed by any individual that a problem is raised which demands a theoretical explanation... people dominated by the scientistic prejudice are often inclined to deny the existence of any such order... it can be shown briefly and without any technical apparatus how the independent actions of individuals will produce an order which is no part of their intentions... The way in which footpaths are formed in a wild broken country is such an instance. At first everyone will seek for himself what seems to him the best path. But the fact that such a path has been used once is likely to make it easier to traverse and therefore more likely to be used again; and thus gradually more and more clearly defined tracks arise and come to be used to the exclusion of other possible ways. Human movements through the region come to conform to a definite pattern which, although the result of deliberate decision of many people, has yet not be consciously designed by anyone.
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[Benjamin Peirce's] lectures were not easy to follow. They were never carefully prepared. The work with which he rapidly covered the blackboard was very illegible, marred with frequent erasures, and not infrequent mistakes (he worked too fast for accuracy). He was always ready to digress from the straight path and explore some sidetrack that had suddenly attracted his attention, but which was likely to have led nowhere when the college bell announced the close of the hour and we filed out, leaving him abstractedly staring at his work, still with chalk and eraser in his hands, entirely oblivious of his departing class.
Writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, a former student of Peirce, in 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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“Divide et impera” is as true in algebra as in statecraft; but no less true and even more fertile is the maxim “auge et impera”.The more to do or to prove, the easier the doing or the proof.
In 'Proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Invariants', Philosophic Magazine (1878), 186. In Collected Mathematical Papers, 3, 126. [The Latin phrases, “Divide/auge et impera” translate as “Divide/increase and rule”.
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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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