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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index E > Category: Elegant

Elegant Quotes (36 quotes)

[About Sir Roderick Impey Murchison:] The enjoyments of elegant life you early chose to abandon, preferring to wander for many successive years over the rudest portions of Europe and Asia—regions new to Science—in the hope, happily realized, of winning new truths.
By a rare union of favourable circumstances, and of personal qualifications equally rare, you have thus been enabled to become the recognized Interpreter and Historian (not without illustrious aid) of the Silurian Period.
Dedication page in Thesaurus Siluricus: The Flora and Fauna of the Silurian Period (1868), iv.
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A casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A work of morality, politics, criticism will be more elegant, other things being equal, if it is shaped by the hand of geometry.
From Préface sur l'Utilité des Mathématiques et de la Physique (1729), as translated in Florian Cajori, Mathematics in Liberal Education (1928), 61.
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As he approached the place where a meeting of doctors was being held, he saw some elegant limousines and remarked, “The surgeons have arrived.” Then he saw some cheaper cars and said, “The physicians are here, too.” ... And when he saw a row of overshoes inside, under the hat rack, he is reported to have remarked, “Ah, I see there are laboratory men here.”
The Way of an Investigator (1945, 1965), 207.
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Beneath all the wealth of detail in a geological map lies an elegant, orderly simplicity.
As quoted G.D. Garland in obituary 'John Tuzo Wilson', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1995), 552.
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Daniel Bernoulli used to tell two little adventures, which he said had given him more pleasure than all the other honours he had received. Travelling with a learned stranger, who, being pleased with his conversation, asked his name; “I am Daniel Bernoulli,” answered he with great modesty; “and I,” said the stranger (who thought he meant to laugh at him) “am Isaac Newton.” Another time, having to dine with the celebrated Koenig, the mathematician, who boasted, with some degree of self-complacency, of a difficult problem he had solved with much trouble, Bernoulli went on doing the honours of his table, and when they went to drink coffee he presented Koenig with a solution of the problem more elegant than his own.
In A Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 1, 226.
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Engineering is not merely knowing and being knowledgeable, like a walking encyclopedia; engineering is not merely analysis; engineering is not merely the possession of the capacity to get elegant solutions to non-existent engineering problems; engineering is practicing the art of the organizing forces of technological change ... Engineers operate at the interface between science and society.
In Bert Scalzo, et al., Database Benchmarking: Practical Methods for Oracle & SQL Server (2007), 37.
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I should like to draw attention to the inexhaustible variety of the problems and exercises which it [mathematics] furnishes; these may be graduated to precisely the amount of attainment which may be possessed, while yet retaining an interest and value. It seems to me that no other branch of study at all compares with mathematics in this. When we propose a deduction to a beginner we give him an exercise in many cases that would have been admired in the vigorous days of Greek geometry. Although grammatical exercises are well suited to insure the great benefits connected with the study of languages, yet these exercises seem to me stiff and artificial in comparison with the problems of mathematics. It is not absurd to maintain that Euclid and Apollonius would have regarded with interest many of the elegant deductions which are invented for the use of our students in geometry; but it seems scarcely conceivable that the great masters in any other line of study could condescend to give a moment’s attention to the elementary books of the beginner.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 10-11.
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Iamblichus in his treatise On the Arithmetic of Nicomachus observes p. 47- “that certain numbers were called amicable by those who assimilated the virtues and elegant habits to numbers.” He adds, “that 284 and 220 are numbers of this kind; for the parts of each are generative of each other according to the nature of friendship, as was shown by Pythagoras. For some one asking him what a friend was, he answered, another I (ετεϑος εγω) which is demonstrated to take place in these numbers.” [“Friendly” thus: Each number is equal to the sum of the factors of the other.]
In Theoretic Arithmetic (1816), 122. (Factors of 284 are 1, 2, 4 ,71 and 142, which give the sum 220. Reciprocally, factors of 220 are 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11 ,22, 44, 55 and 110, which give the sum 284.) Note: the expression “alter ego” is Latin for “the other I.”
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In attempting to discover how much blood passes from the veins into the arteries I made dissections of living animals, opened up arteries in them, and carried out various other investigations. I also considered the symmetry and size of the ventricles of the heart and of the vessels which enter and leave them (since Nature, who does nothing purposelessly, would not purposelessly have given these vessels such relatively large size). I also recalled the elegant and carefully contrived valves and fibres and other structural artistry of the heart; and many other points. I considered rather often and with care all this evidence, and took correspondingly long trying to assess how much blood was transmitted and in how short a time. I also noted that the juice of the ingested food could not supply this amount without our having the veins, on the one hand, completely emptied and the arteries, on the other hand, brought to bursting through excessive inthrust of blood, unless the blood somehow flowed back again from the arteries into the veins and returned to the right ventricle of the heart. In consequence, I began privately to consider that it had a movement, as it were, in a circle.
De Motu Cordis (1628), The Circulation of the Blood and Other Writings, trans. Kenneth j. Franklin (1957), Chapter 8, 57-8.
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In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 52.
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Mathematics, among all school subjects, is especially adapted to further clearness, definite brevity and precision in expression, although it offers no exercise in flights of rhetoric. This is due in the first place to the logical rigour with which it develops thought, avoiding every departure from the shortest, most direct way, never allowing empty phrases to enter. Other subjects excel in the development of expression in other respects: translation from foreign languages into the mother tongue gives exercise in finding the proper word for the given foreign word and gives knowledge of laws of syntax, the study of poetry and prose furnish fit patterns for connected presentation and elegant form of expression, composition is to exercise the pupil in a like presentation of his own or borrowed thoughtsand their development, the natural sciences teach description of natural objects, apparatus and processes, as well as the statement of laws on the grounds of immediate sense-perception. But all these aids for exercise in the use of the mother tongue, each in its way valuable and indispensable, do not guarantee, in the same manner as mathematical training, the exclusion of words whose concepts, if not entirely wanting, are not sufficiently clear. They do not furnish in the same measure that which the mathematician demands particularly as regards precision of expression.
In Anleitung zum mathematischen Unterricht in höheren Schulen (1906), 17.
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My colleagues in elementary particle theory in many lands [and I] are driven by the usual insatiable curiosity of the scientist, and our work is a delightful game. I am frequently astonished that it so often results in correct predictions of experimental results. How can it be that writing down a few simple and elegant formulae, like short poems governed by strict rules such as those of the sonnet or the waka, can predict universal regularities of Nature?
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1969), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.),Les Prix Nobel en 1969 (1970).
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Science is in a literal sense constructive of new facts. It has no fixed body of facts passively awaiting explanation, for successful theories allow the construction of new instruments—electron microscopes and deep space probes—and the exploration of phenomena that were beyond description—the behavior of transistors, recombinant DNA, and elementary particles, for example. This is a key point in the progressive nature of science—not only are there more elegant or accurate analyses of phenomena already known, but there is also extension of the range of phenomena that exist to be described and explained.
Co-author with Michael A. Arbib, English-born professor of computer science and biomedical engineering (1940-)
Michael A. Arbib and Mary B. Hesse, The Construction of Reality (1986), 8.
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Superstrings are totally lacking in empirical support, yet they offer an elegant theory with great explanatory power. I wish I could be around fifty years from now to know whether superstrings turn out to be a fruitful theory or whether they are just another blind alley in the search for a “theory of everything.”
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 37.
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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 body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding), lies here, food for worms; but the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author.
Epitaph on his tombstone
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The framing of hypotheses is, for the enquirer after truth, not the end, but the beginning of his work. Each of his systems is invented, not that he may admire it and follow it into all its consistent consequences, but that he may make it the occasion of a course of active experiment and observation. And if the results of this process contradict his fundamental assumptions, however ingenious, however symmetrical, however elegant his system may be, he rejects it without hesitation. He allows no natural yearning for the offspring of his own mind to draw him aside from the higher duty of loyalty to his sovereign, Truth, to her he not only gives his affections and his wishes, but strenuous labour and scrupulous minuteness of attention.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 57.
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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 mathematician is perfect only in so far as he is a perfect being, in so far as he perceives the beauty of truth; only then will his work be thorough, transparent, comprehensive, pure, clear, attractive and even elegant. All this is necessary to resemble Lagrange.
In Wilhelm Meister, Wanderjahre, Zweites Buch, in 'Sprüche in Prosa' Natur, VI, 950.
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The problem of distinguishing prime numbers from composite numbers and of resolving the latter into their prime factors is known to be one of the most important and useful in arithmetic. It has engaged the industry and wisdom of ancient and modern geometers to such an extent that it would be superfluous to discuss the problem at length... Further, the dignity of the science itself seems to require that every possible means be explored for the solution of a problem so elegant and so celebrated.
Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (1801), Article 329
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The weeds of a seemingly learned and brilliant but actually trivial and empty philosophy of Nature which, after having been replaced some 50 years ago by the exact sciences, is now once more dug up by pseudo scientists from the lumber room of human fallacies, and like a trollop, newly attired in elegant dress and make-up, is smuggled into respectable company, to which she does not belong.
'Sign of the Times', Journal für Praktische Chemie (1877), 15, 473, trans. W. H. Brock.
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There is a great deal of emotional satisfaction in the elegant demonstration, in the elegant ordering of facts into theories, and in the still more satisfactory, still more emotionally exciting discovery that the theory is not quite right and has to be worked over again, very much as any other work of art—a painting, a sculpture has to be worked over in the interests of aesthetic perfection. So there is no scientist who is not to some extent worthy of being described as artist or poet.
'Scientist and Citizen', Speech to the Empire Club of Canada (29 Jan 1948), The Empire Club of Canada Speeches (29 Jan 1948), 209-221.
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There is in the chemist a form of thought by which all ideas become visible in the mind as strains of an imagined piece of music. This form of thought is developed in Faraday in the highest degree, whence it arises that to one who is not acquainted with this method of thinking, his scientific works seem barren and dry, and merely a series of researches strung together, while his oral discourse when he teaches or explains is intellectual, elegant, and of wonderful clearness.
Autobiography, 257-358. Quoted in William H. Brock, Justus Von Liebig (2002), 9.
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There was, I think, a feeling that the best science was that done in the simplest way. In experimental work, as in mathematics, there was “style” and a result obtained with simple equipment was more elegant than one obtained with complicated apparatus, just as a mathematical proof derived neatly was better than one involving laborious calculations. Rutherford's first disintegration experiment, and Chadwick's discovery of the neutron had a “style” that is different from that of experiments made with giant accelerators.
From 'Physics in a University Laboratory Before and After World War II', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A, (1975), 342, 463. As cited in Alan McComas, Galvani's Spark: The Story of the Nerve Impulse (2011), 107.
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These machines [used in the defense of the Syracusans against the Romans under Marcellus] he [Archimedes] had designed and contrived, not as matters of any importance, but as mere amusements in geometry; in compliance with king Hiero’s desire and request, some time before, that he should reduce to practice some part of his admirable speculation in science, and by accommodating the theoretic truth to sensation and ordinary use, bring it more within the appreciation of people in general. Eudoxus and Archytas had been the first originators of this far-famed and highly-prized art of mechanics, which they employed as an elegant illustration of geometrical truths, and as means of sustaining experimentally, to the satisfaction of the senses, conclusions too intricate for proof by words and diagrams. As, for example, to solve the problem, so often required in constructing geometrical figures, given the two extremes, to find the two mean lines of a proportion, both these mathematicians had recourse to the aid of instruments, adapting to their purpose certain curves and sections of lines. But what with Plato’s indignation at it, and his invectives against it as the mere corruption and annihilation of the one good of geometry,—which was thus shamefully turning its back upon the unembodied objects of pure intelligence to recur to sensation, and to ask help (not to be obtained without base supervisions and depravation) from matter; so it was that mechanics came to be separated from geometry, and, repudiated and neglected by philosophers, took its place as a military art.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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This law [of gravitation] has been called “the greatest generalization achieved by the human mind”. … I am interested not so much in the human mind as in the marvel of a nature which can obey such an elegant and simple law as this law of gravitation. Therefore our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found it all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 14.
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Vultures are homely, but they clean up all the garbage and that's good. And they're elegant in the sky.
As quoted by Lisa Foderado in 'In The Studio With Roger Tory Peterson; Reluctant Earthling', The New York Times (26 Aug 1993), C1.
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We come therefore now to that knowledge whereunto the ancient oracle directeth us, which is the knowledge of ourselves; which deserveth the more accurate handling, by how much it toucheth us more nearly. This knowledge, as it is the end and term of natural philosophy in the intention of man, so notwithstanding it is but a portion of natural philosophy in the continent of nature. And generally let this be a rule, that all partitions of knowledges be accepted rather for lines and veins, than for sections and separations; and that the continuance and entireness of knowledge be preserved. For the contrary hereof hath made particular sciences to become barren, shallow, and erroneous; while they have not been nourished and maintained from the common fountain. So we see Cicero the orator complained of Socrates and his school, that he was the first that separated philosophy and rhetoric; whereupon rhetoric became an empty and verbal art. So we may see that the opinion of Copernicus touching the rotation of the earth, which astronomy itself cannot correct because it is not repugnant to any of the phenomena, yet natural philosophy may correct. So we see also that the science of medicine, if it be destituted and forsaken by natural philosophy, it is not much better than an empirical practice. With this reservation therefore we proceed to Human Philosophy or Humanity, which hath two parts: the one considereth man segregate, or distributively; the other congregate, or in society. So as Human Philosophy is either Simple and Particular, or Conjugate and Civil. Humanity Particular consisteth of the same parts whereof man consisteth; that is, of knowledges that respect the Body, and of knowledges that respect the Mind. But before we distribute so far, it is good to constitute. For I do take the consideration in general and at large of Human Nature to be fit to be emancipate and made a knowledge by itself; not so much in regard of those delightful and elegant discourses which have been made of the dignity of man, of his miseries, of his state and life, and the like adjuncts of his common and undivided nature; but chiefly in regard of the knowledge concerning the sympathies and concordances between the mind and body, which, being mixed, cannot be properly assigned to the sciences of either.
The Advancement of Learning (1605) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 3, 366-7.
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When Big Bang proponents make assertions such as … “the evidence taken together … hangs together beautifully,” they overlook observational facts that have been piling up for 25 years and that have now become overwhelming. Of course, if one ignores contradictory observations, one can claim to have an “elegant” or “robust” theory. But it isn’t science.
In 'Letters: Wrangling Over the Bang', Science News (27 Jul 1991), 140, No. 4, 51. Also quoted in Roy C. Martin, Astronomy on Trial: A Devastating and Complete Repudiation of the Big Bang Fiasco (1999), Appendix I, 217.
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When I saw the alpha-helix and saw what a beautiful, elegant structure it was, I was thunderstruck and was furious with myself for not having built this, but on the other hand, I wondered, was it really right?
So I cycled home for lunch and was so preoccupied with the turmoil in my mind that didn’t respond to anything. Then I had an idea, so I cycled back to the lab. I realized that I had a horse hair in a drawer. I set it up on the X-ray camera and gave it a two hour exposure, then took the film to the dark room with my heart in my mouth, wondering what it showed, and when I developed it, there was the 1.5 angstrom reflection which I had predicted and which excluded all structures other than the alpha-helix.
So on Monday morning I stormed into my professor’s office, into Bragg’s office and showed him this, and Bragg said, 'Whatever made you think of that?' And I said, 'Because I was so furious with myself for having missed that beautiful structure.' To which Bragg replied coldly, 'I wish I had made you angry earlier.'
From transcript of audio of Max Perutz in BBC programme, 'Lifestory: Linus Pauling' (1997). On 'Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA' webpage 'I Wish I Had Made You Angry Earlier.'
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While DNA could be claimed to be both simple and elegant, it must be remembered that DNA almost certainly originated fairly close to the origin of life when things were necessarily simple or they would not have got going.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 138.
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[Lecturing:] This has been done elegantly by Minkowski; but chalk is cheaper than grey matter, and we will do it as it comes.
Via George Pólya, present at an early lecture on Special Relativity by Einstein, who at the time preferred to show his own old formulation, not yet embracing Minkowski’s geometrical reformulation. Quote given as Pólya’s recollection in J.E. Littlewood, A Mathematician’s Miscellany, (1953). Also in the expanded edition, Béla Bollobás (ed.), 'Odds and Ends', Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 152.
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[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. ... On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 82-83.
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[O]ur own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but … it is a mystery no longer because it is solved. Darwin and Wallace solved it … I was surprised that so many people seemed not only unaware of the elegant and beautiful solution to this deepest of problems but, incredibly, in many cases actually unaware that there was a problem in the first place!
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), front matter.
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“But in the binary system,” Dale points out, handing back the squeezable glass, “the alternative to one isn’t minus one, it’s zero. That’s the beauty of it, mechanically.” “O.K. Gotcha. You’re asking me, What’s this minus one? I’ll tell you. It’s a plus one moving backward in time. This is all in the space-time foam, inside the Planck duration, don’t forget. The dust of points gives birth to time, and time gives birth to the dust of points. Elegant, huh? It has to be. It’s blind chance, plus pure math. They’re proving it, every day. Astronomy, particle physics, it’s all coming together. Relax into it, young fella. It feels great. Space-time foam.”
In Roger's Version: A Novel (1986), 304.
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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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