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

Elephant Quotes (31 quotes)

Wapiganapo tembo nyasi huumia.
When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.
(Swahili) Quoted in 'Enclosure No. 11, German East Africa: The Administrator to the Secretary of State' (22 Mar 1918), Correspondence Relating to the Wishes of the Natives of the German Colonies as to their Future Government (Nov 1918), 25. Collected in Great Britain Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons (12 Feb 1918 - 21 Nov 1918). The context for the proverb is hardship on the natives from the local effects of the war fought between the Germans and the British forces.
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A great deal of the universe does not need any explanation. Elephants, for instance. Once molecules have learnt to compete and to create other molecules in their own image, elephants, and things resembling elephants, will in due course be found roaming around the countryside ... Some of the things resembling elephants will be men.
The Creation (1981), 3.
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A mouse can fall down a mine shaft a third of a mile deep without injury. A rat falling the same distance would break his bones; a man would simply splash ... Elephants have their legs thickened to an extent that seems disproportionate to us, but this is necessary if their unwieldly bulk is to be moved at all ... A 60-ft. man would weigh 1000 times as much as a normal man, but his thigh bone would have its area increased by only 100 times ... Consequently such an unfortunate monster would break his legs the moment he tried to move.
Expressing, in picturesque terms, the strength of an organism relative to its bulk.
Address at the annual congress of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Quoted in 'On the Itchen', Time Magazine (Mon. 14 Sep 1925).
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Adam is fading out. It is on account of Darwin and that crowd. I can see that he is not going to last much longer. There's a plenty of signs. He is getting belittled to a germ—a little bit of a speck that you can't see without a microscope powerful enough to raise a gnat to the size of a church. They take that speck and breed from it: first a flea; then a fly, then a bug, then cross these and get a fish, then a raft of fishes, all kinds, then cross the whole lot and get a reptile, then work up the reptiles till you've got a supply of lizards and spiders and toads and alligators and Congressmen and so on, then cross the entire lot again and get a plant of amphibiums, which are half-breeds and do business both wet and dry, such as turtles and frogs and ornithorhyncuses and so on, and cross-up again and get a mongrel bird, sired by a snake and dam'd by a bat, resulting in a pterodactyl, then they develop him, and water his stock till they've got the air filled with a million things that wear feathers, then they cross-up all the accumulated animal life to date and fetch out a mammal, and start-in diluting again till there's cows and tigers and rats and elephants and monkeys and everything you want down to the Missing Link, and out of him and a mermaid they propagate Man, and there you are! Everything ship-shape and finished-up, and nothing to do but lay low and wait and see if it was worth the time and expense.
'The Refuge of the Derelicts' collected in Mark Twain and John Sutton Tuckey, The Devil's Race-Track: Mark Twain's Great Dark Writings (1980), 340-41. - 1980
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Aristotle, in spite of his reputation, is full of absurdities. He says that children should be conceived in the Winter, when the wind is in the North, and that if people marry too young the children will be female. He tells us that the blood of females is blacker then that of males; that the pig is the only animal liable to measles; that an elephant suffering from insomnia should have its shoulders rubbed with salt, olive-oil, and warm water; that women have fewer teeth than men, and so on. Nevertheless, he is considered by the great majority of philosophers a paragon of wisdom.
From An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1937, 1943), 19. Collected in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 63.
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Ecologically speaking, a spilt tanker load is like sticking a safety pin into an elephant’s foot. The planet barely notices. After the Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska the oil company spent billions tidying up the coastline, but it was a waste of money because the waves were cleaning up faster than Exxon could. Environmentalists can never accept the planet’s ability to self-heal.
'Seat Leon Cupra SR1, in The Times (22 Dec 2002)
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Every Man being conscious to himself, That he thinks, and that which his Mind is employ'd about whilst thinking, being the Ideas, that are there, 'tis past doubt, that Men have in their Minds several Ideas, such as are those expressed by the words, Whiteness, Hardness, Sweetness, Thinking, Motion, Man, Elephant, Army, Drunkenness, and others: It is in the first place then to be inquired, How he comes by them? I know it is a received Doctrine, That Men have native Ideas, and original Characters stamped upon their Minds, in their very first Being.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 1, 104.
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His Majesty has, with great skill, constructed a cart, containing a corn mill, which is worked by the motion of the carriage. He has also contrived a carriage of such a magnitude as to contain several apartments, with a hot bath; and it is drawn by a single elephant. This movable bath is extremely useful, and refreshing on a journey. … He has also invented several hydraulic machines, which are worked by oxen. The pulleys and wheels of some of them are so adjusted that a single ox will at once draw water out of two wells, and at the same time turn a millstone.
From Ain-i-Akbery (c.1590). As translated from the original Persian, by Francis Gladwin in 'Akbar’s Conduct and Administrative Rules', 'Of Machines', Ayeen Akbery: Or, The Institutes of the Emperor Akber (1783), Vol. 1, 284. Note: Akbar (Akber) was a great ruler and enlightened statesman.
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Human beings can easily destroy every elephant on earth, but we are helpless against the mosquito.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 80.
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I asked Fermi whether he was not impressed by the agreement between our calculated numbers and his measured numbers. He replied, “How many arbitrary parameters did you use for your calculations?" I thought for a moment about our cut-off procedures and said, “Four." He said, “I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, with four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” With that, the conversation was over.
As given in 'A Meeting with Enrico Fermi', Nature (22 Jan 2004), 427, 297. As quoted in Steven A. Frank, Dynamics of Cancer: Incidence, Inheritance, and Evolution (2007), 87. Von Neumann meant nobody need be impressed when a complex model fits a data set well, because if manipulated with enough flexible parameters, any data set can be fitted to an incorrect model, even one that plots a curve on a graph shaped like an elephant!
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I have a friendly feeling towards pigs generally, and consider them the most intelligent of beasts, not excepting the elephant and the anthropoid ape—the dog is not to be mentioned in this connection. I also like his disposition and attitude towards all other creatures, especially man. He is not suspicious, or shrinkingly submissive, like horses, cattle, and sheep; nor an impudent devil-may-care like the goat; nor hostile like the goose; nor condescending like the cat; nor a flattering parasite like the dog. He views us from a totally different, a sort of democratic, standpoint as fellow-citizens and brothers, and takes it for granted, or grunted, that we understand his language, and without servility or insolence he has a natural, pleasant, camerados-all or hail-fellow-well-met air with us.
In The Book of a Naturalist (1919), 295-296.
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I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which people want religious faith. I thought that certainty is more likely to be found in mathematics than elsewhere. But I discovered that many mathematical demonstrations, which my teachers expected me to accept, were full of fallacies, and that, if certainty were indeed discoverable in mathematics, it would be in a new field of mathematics, with more solid foundations than those that had hitherto been thought secure. But as the work proceeded, I was continually reminded of the fable about the elephant and the tortoise. Having constructed an elephant upon which the mathematical world could rest, I found the elephant tottering, and proceeded to construct a tortoise to keep the elephant from falling. But the tortoise was no more secure than the elephant, and after some twenty years of very arduous toil, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing more that I could do in the way of making mathematical knowledge indubitable.
In 'Reflections on my Eightieth Birthday', Portraits from Memory (1956), 54.
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In a manner which matches the fortuity, if not the consequence, of Archimedes’ bath and Newton’s apple, the [3.6 million year old] fossil footprints were eventually noticed one evening in September 1976 by the paleontologist Andrew Hill, who fell while avoiding a ball of elephant dung hurled at him by the ecologist David Western.
Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man
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Men cannot help feeling a little ashamed of their cousin-german the Ape. His close yet grotesque and clumsy semblance of the human form is accompanied by no gleams of higher instinct. Our humble friend the dog, our patient fellow-labourer the horse, are nearer to us in this respect. The magnanimous and sagacious elephant, doomed though he be to all fours, is godlike compared with this spitefully ferocious creature. Strangely enough, too, the most repulsive and ferocious of all apekind, the recently discovered Gorilla is, the comparative anatomist assures us, nearest to us all: the most closely allied in structure to the human form.
In 'Our Nearest Relation', All Year Round (28 May 1859), 1, No. 5, 112. Charles Dickens was both the editor and publisher of this magazine. The author of the article remains unknown. The articles were by custom printed without crediting the author. Biographers have been able to use extant office records to identify various authors of other articles, but not this specific one. Dickens and Richard Owen were friends; they read each other’s work. Owen is known to have found at least a little time to write a few articles for Dickens’ magazines. Owen had given a talk at the Royal Institution (4 Feb 1859) titled 'On the Gorilla.' This would suggest why Dickens may have had a definite interest in publishing on this subject, regardless of who in fact wrote the article.
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Never mind what two tons refers to. What is it? How has it entered in so definite a way into our exprerience? Two tons is the reading of the pointer when the elephant was placed on a weighing machine. Let us pass on. … And so we see that the poetry fades out of the problem, and by the time the serious application of exact science begins we are left only with pointer readings.
From Gifford Lecture, Edinburgh, (1927), 'Pointer Readings', collected in The Nature of the Physical World (1928), 252.
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PROBOSCIS, n. The rudimentary organ of an elephant which serves him in place of the knife-and-fork that Evolution has as yet denied him.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  267.
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The biggest animal that has ever lived on our planet: a blue whale. … It’s far bigger than even the biggest dinosaur. Its tongue weighs as much as an elephant. Its heart is the size of a car. And some of its blood vessels are so wide that you could swim down them.
Narration from 'Introduction' of the BBC TV series The Blue Planet (2001), Ep. 1. Text accompanies 'Blue whale breach', video clip on BBC website.
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The Internet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea—massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it.
Posted to a mailing list (1992), and circulated from there by some newsgroups. As authenticated in 'Quotable Spaf' on his faculty webpage at purdue.com
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The largest land animal is the elephant, and it is the nearest to man in intelligence: it understands the language of its country and obeys orders, remembers duties that it has been taught, is pleased by affection and by marks of honour, nay more it possesses virtues rare even in man, honesty, wisdom, justice, also respect for the stars and reverence for the sun and moon.
Natural History, 8, I. Trans. H. Rackham, Pliny: Natural History (1947), Vol. 3, 3.
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The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit, watch the roots; the lion, the tiger, the horse, the elephant the fruits.
In 'Proverbs', The Poems: With Specimens of the Prose Writings of William Blake (1885), 279.
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Throughout all of human history, we have taken, taken, taken, from the natural world. All creatures, however large or small, do this as a way of making a living. Humans, though, have gone way beyond what elephants have done to the planet or what birds or what any fish in the sea is capable of doing.
In interview with Pierce Nahigyan, 'Dr. Sylvia Earle: “We’re Literally Destroying The Systems That Keep Us Alive”', Huffington Post (6 Jan 2016).
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Timorous readers, however, need entertain no feverish fear, on, visiting the Isle of Sheppey, of encountering either wild elephants, crocodiles, sharks, serpents, or man-eating birds of huge dimensions, bearing strange names, and armed with sets of teeth for masticating and digestive purposes, as the author can assure them that they all died out a million or so of years ago, before he undertook to look up their records and write the history of this wonderful little island. Visitors may, however, honestly deplore the absence of the feathery palm trees bearing the luscious date and the lacteous cocoa-nut; but by prosecuting a diligent search they may, at least, be consoled by procuring some of these, rare fossil remains, reminiscent of an incalculable period of time when our particular portion of this hemisphere performed its diurnal revolutions in the immediate zone of the tropics.
Quoted in Augustus A. Daly, History of the Isle of Sheppey (1975), 250.
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To be born, to live and to die is merely to change forms... And what does one form matter any more than another?... Each form has its own sort of happiness and unhappiness. From the elephant down to the flea... from the flea down to the sensitive and living molecule which is the origin of all, there is not a speck in the whole of nature that does not feel pain or pleasure.
D'Alembert's Dream (1769), in Rameau's Nephew and D' Alembert's Dream, trans. Leonard Tancock (Penguin edition 1966), 182.
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We all remember the fairy tales of science in our infancy, which played with the supposition that large animals could jump in the proportion of small ones. If an elephant were as strong as a grasshopper, he could (I suppose) spring clean out of the Zoological Gardens and alight trumpeting upon Primrose Hill. If a whale could leap from the water like a trout, perhaps men might look up and see one soaring above Yarmouth like the winged island of Laputa.
In Manalive (1912), 26.
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We fondly imagine that evolution drives toward higher intelligence. But eagles would think evolution favored flight, elephants would naturally prefer the importance of great strength. Sharks would feel that swimming was the ultimate desirable trait, and eminent Victorians would be quite convinced that evolution preferred Victorians.
Eater (2000). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 116.
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Whereas all humans have approximately the same life expectancy the life expectancy of stars varies as much as from that of a butterfly to that of an elephant.
In A Star Called the Sun (1964), 145.
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With the tools and the knowledge, I could turn a developing snail's egg into an elephant. It is not so much a matter of chemicals because snails and elephants do not differ that much; it is a matter of timing the action of genes.
Quoted in Bruce Wallace, The Search for the Gene (1992), 176.
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You geneticists may know something about the hereditary mechanisms that distinguish a red-eyed from a white-eyed fruit fly but you haven’t the slightest inkling about the hereditary mechanism that distinguishes fruit flies from elephants.
1925, in Corn, Its Origin, Evolution and Improvement by P. C. Mangelsdorf (1974).
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[Am I vegetarian?] No. If you understand about the natural world, we’re a part of the system and you can’t feed lions grass. But because we have the intelligence to choose… But we haven’t got the gut to allow us to be totally vegetarian for a start. You can tell by the shape of our guts and the shape of our teeth that we evolved to be omnivores. We aren’t carnivores like lions but neither are we elephants.
Interview by Simon Gage in 'David Attenborough: I’m not an animal lover', Metro (29 Jan 2013, London).
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~~[Orphan]~~ The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?
Appears in various online sources attributed to David Attenborough, but always with no citation. No primary source, so far, found by Webmaster.Perhaps it comes from one of the so many interviews and documentaries he has done for TV and radio. For now, Webmaster regards it as an orphan quote that needs a primary source. Or it might not be a quote of his, and best attributed to Anonymous. Can you help identify the primary source?
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…indeed what reason may not go to Schoole to the wisdome of Bees, Aunts, and Spiders? what wise hand teacheth them to doe what reason cannot teach us? Ruder heads stand amazed at those prodigious pieces of nature, Whales, Elephants, Dromidaries and Camels; these I confesse, are the Colossus and Majestick pieces of her hand; but in these narrow Engines there is more curious Mathematicks, and the civilitie of these little Citizens more neatly sets forth the wisedome of their Maker.
In Religio Medici and Other Writings (1909), 17.
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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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