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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Empty Quotes (80 quotes)

1839—The fermentation satire
THE MYSTERY OF ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION RESOLVED
(Preliminary Report by Letter) Schwindler
I am about to develop a new theory of wine fermentation … Depending on the weight, these seeds carry fermentation to completion somewhat less than as in the beginning, which is understandable … I shall develop a new theory of wine fermentation [showing] what simple means Nature employs in creating the most amazing phenomena. I owe it to the use of an excellent microscope designed by Pistorius.
When brewer’s yeast is mixed with water the microscope reveals that the yeast dissolves into endless small balls, which are scarcely 1/800th of a line in diameter … If these small balls are placed in sugar water, it can be seen that they consist of the eggs of animals. As they expand, they burst, and from them develop small creatures that multiply with unbelievable rapidity in a most unheard of way. The form of these animals differs from all of the 600 types described up until now. They possess the shape of a Beinsdorff still (without the cooling apparatus). The head of the tube is a sort of proboscis, the inside of which is filled with fine bristles 1/2000th of a line long. Teeth and eyes are not discernible; however, a stomach, intestinal canal, anus (a rose red dot), and organs for secretion of urine are plainly discernible. From the moment they are released from the egg one can see these animals swallow the sugar from the solution and pass it to the stomach. It is digested immediately, a process recognized easily by the resultant evacuation of excrements. In a word, these infusors eat sugar, evacuate ethyl alcohol from the intestinal canal, and carbon dioxide from the urinary organs. The bladder, in the filled state, has the form of a champagne bottle; when empty, it is a small button … As soon as the animals find no more sugar present, they eat each other up, which occurs through a peculiar manipulation; everything is digested down to the eggs which pass unchanged through the intestinal canal. Finally, one again fermentable yeast, namely the seed of the animals, which remain over.
In 'Das entriithselle Geheimiss der geisligen Giihrung', Annalen der Pharmacie und Chemie (1839), 29, 100-104; adapted from English translalion by Ralph E. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 203-205.
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Natura nihil agit frustra [Nature does nothing in vain] is the only indisputible axiom in philosophy. There are no grotesques in nature; not any thing framed to fill up empty cantons, and unncecessary spaces.
Religio Medici (1642), Part I, Section 15. In Thomas Browne and Simon Wilkin (Ed.), The Works of Thomas Browne (1852), Vol. 2, 339. Brown begins by quoting the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen for “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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Nisi utile est quod facias, stulta est gloria.
All useless science is an empty boast.
Original Latin from 'Arbores in deorum tutela', Fabulae Aesopiae, Book 3, Poem 17, line 12. Translation by Samuel Johnson, used as an epigraph for an article on the thirst for collecting scientific curiosities, 'Numb. 83, Tuesday, January 1, 1755', The Rambler (1756), Vol. 2, 149. A mechanical translation of the Latin gives “Unless it is useful for what we do, it is the glory of the foolish.” In an 1874 collection by unnamed editor J.B.R., it is given as “nothing is truly valuable that is not useful.” It is given as “Unless what we do is useful, our pride is foolish,” in The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2013), 74. Briefly summarizing, the fable is about the gods who choose trees to protect, but the wise Minerva alone picks a tree, the olive, that bears fruit which can be put to good use; moral, do what is useful. ( Webmaster found sources attributing the line in English to Shakespeare, but it cannot be found.)
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[Describing the effects of over-indulgence in wine:]
But most too passive, when the blood runs low
Too weakly indolent to strive with pain,
And bravely by resisting conquer fate,
Try Circe's arts; and in the tempting bowl
Of poisoned nectar sweet oblivion swill.
Struck by the powerful charm, the gloom dissolves
In empty air; Elysium opens round,
A pleasing frenzy buoys the lightened soul,
And sanguine hopes dispel your fleeting care;
And what was difficult, and what was dire,
Yields to your prowess and superior stars:
The happiest you of all that e'er were mad,
Or are, or shall be, could this folly last.
But soon your heaven is gone: a heavier gloom
Shuts o'er your head; and, as the thundering stream,
Swollen o'er its banks with sudden mountain rain,
Sinks from its tumult to a silent brook,
So, when the frantic raptures in your breast
Subside, you languish into mortal man;
You sleep, and waking find yourself undone,
For, prodigal of life, in one rash night
You lavished more than might support three days.
A heavy morning comes; your cares return
With tenfold rage. An anxious stomach well
May be endured; so may the throbbing head;
But such a dim delirium, such a dream,
Involves you; such a dastardly despair
Unmans your soul, as maddening Pentheus felt,
When, baited round Citheron's cruel sides,
He saw two suns, and double Thebes ascend.
The Art of Preserving Health: a Poem in Four Books (2nd. ed., 1745), Book IV, 108-110.
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A fact is like a sack which won’t stand up if it’s empty. In order that it may stand up, one has to put into it the reason and sentiment which caused it to exist.
Character, The Father, in play Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), Act 1. Collected in John Gassner and Burns Mantle, A Treasury of the Theatre (1935), Vol. 2, 507.
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A force unconnected with matter, hovering loose over matter, is an utterly empty conception. In nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, in sulphur and phosphorus, their several properties have dwelt from all eternity.
As quoted in Ludwig Büchner, Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 1.
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A physical theory remains an empty shell until we have found a reasonable physical interpretation.
At the 4th Soviet Gravitational Conference, Minsk, USSR (Jul 1976). Quoted in Anton Z. Capri, From Quanta to Quarks: More Anecdotal History of Physics (2007), 120.
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A shallow brain behind a serious mask,
An oracle within an empty cask.
In 'Conversation', Table Talk: And Other Poems (1817), 155.
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An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.
Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 54.
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And do you know what “the world” is to me? Shall I,show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income; enclosed by “nothingness”' as by a boundary; not by something blurry or wasted, not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be “empty” here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing there; a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back, with tremendous years of recurrence, with an ebb and a flood of its forms; out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex, out of the stillest, most rigid, coldest forms toward the hottest, most turbulent, most self-contradictory, and then again returning home to the simple out of this abundance, out of the play of contradictions back to the joy of concord, still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my “beyond good and evil,” without goal, unless the joy of the circle itself is a goal; without will, unless a ring feels good will toward itself-do you want a name for this world? A solution for all its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?—This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing besides!
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 4, no. 1067. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 549-50.
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And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5. Newton’s reference to “Nature does nothing in vain” recalls the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen as “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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Another diversity of Methods is according to the subject or matter which is handled; for there is a great difference in delivery of the Mathematics, which are the most abstracted of knowledges, and Policy, which is the most immersed ... , yet we see how that opinion, besides the weakness of it, hath been of ill desert towards learning, as that which taketh the way to reduce learning to certain empty and barren generalities; being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the torture and press of the method.
Advancement of Learning, Book 2. In James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), Vol. 6, 292-293 . Peter Pešić, explains that 'By Mathematics, he had in mind a sterile and rigid scheme of logical classifications, called dichotomies in his time,' inLabyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 73.
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Because of the way it came into existence, the solar system has only one-way traffic—like Piccadilly Circus. … If we want to make a model to scale, we must take a very tiny object, such as a pea, to represent the sun. On the same scale the nine planets will be small seeds, grains of sand and specks of dust. Even so, Piccadilly Circus is only just big enough to contain the orbit of Pluto. … The whole of Piccadilly Circus was needed to represent the space of the solar system, but a child can carry the whole substance of the model in its hand. All the rest is empty space.
In The Stars in Their Courses (1931, 1954), 49-50 & 89.
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Concepts without percepts are empty. Percepts without concepts are blind.
A commonly seen alternate translation of “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” As quoted in Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929, 2016), 93.
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Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine
Unweave a rainbow.
Lamia 1820, II, lines 229-37. In John Barnard (ed.), John Keats. The Complete Poems (1973), 431.
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Empty wagons make the most noise.
Seen, for example, in 'Home and Foreign Gossip', Harpers Weekly: A Journal of Civilization (1869), 13, 187, identified with other examples as a "Danish proverb".
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For when I look at the moon I do not see a hostile, empty world. I see the radiant body where man has taken his first steps into a frontier that will never end.
…...
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Hitler is living—or shall I say sitting?—on the empty stomach of Germany. As soon as economic conditions improve, Hitler will sink into oblivion. He dramatizes impossible extremes in an amateurish manner.
In Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931), 105. Also quoted in book review, 'Einstein Obiter Dicta', Time (6 Oct 1930), 16, No. 14, 18.
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I confess that Magic teacheth many superfluous things, and curious prodigies for ostentation; leave them as empty things, yet be not ignorant of their causes. But those things which are for the profit of men—for the turning away of evil events, for the destroying of sorceries, for the curing of diseases, for the exterminating of phantasms, for the preserving of life, honor, or fortune—may be done without offense to God or injury to religion, because they are, as profitable, so necessary.
In De Occulta Philosophia (1533), Vol. 1. Translation by J.F. (1651) reprinted as The Philosophy of Natural Magic (1913), 28.
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I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.
In 'The Science Of Deduction', A Study In Scarlet (1887, 1904), 15-16.
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I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves–this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts–possessions, outward success, luxury–have always seemed to me contemptible.
In 'What I Believe,' Forum and Century (1930).
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I recall my own emotions: I had just been initiated into the mysteries of the complex number. I remember my bewilderment: here were magnitudes patently impossible and yet susceptible of manipulations which lead to concrete results. It was a feeling of dissatisfaction, of restlessness, a desire to fill these illusory creatures, these empty symbols, with substance. Then I was taught to interpret these beings in a concrete geometrical way. There came then an immediate feeling of relief, as though I had solved an enigma, as though a ghost which had been causing me apprehension turned out to be no ghost at all, but a familiar part of my environment.
In Tobias Dantzig and Joseph Mazur (ed.), 'The Two Realities', Number: The Language of Science (1930, ed. by Joseph Mazur 2007), 254.
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I took a good clear piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife sharpen'd as keen as a Razor, I cut a piece of it off, and thereby left the surface of it exceeding smooth, then examining it very diligently with a Microscope, me thought I could perceive it to appear a little porous; but I could not so plainly distinguish them, as to be sure that they were pores, much less what Figure they were of: But judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, that certainly the texture could not be so curious, but that possibly, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope, I with the same sharp Penknife, cut off from the former smooth surface an exceeding thin piece of it with a deep plano-convex Glass, I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular; yet it was not unlike a Honey-comb in these particulars.
First, in that it had a very little solid substance, in comparison of the empty cavity that was contain'd between, ... for the Interstitia or walls (as I may so call them) or partitions of those pores were neer as thin in proportion to their pores as those thin films of Wax in a Honey-comb (which enclose and constitute the sexangular cells) are to theirs.
Next, in that these pores, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes, separated out of one continued long pore, by certain Diaphragms...
I no sooner discerned these (which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this) but me thought I had with the discovery of them, presently hinted to me the true and intelligible reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 112-6.
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I will not now discuss the Controversie betwixt some of the Modern Atomists, and the Cartesians; the former of whom think, that betwixt the Earth and the Stars, and betwixt these themselves there are vast Tracts of Space that are empty, save where the beams of Light do pass through them; and the later of whom tell us, that the Intervals betwixt the Stars and Planets (among which the Earth may perhaps be reckon'd) are perfectly fill'd, but by a Matter far subtiler than our Air, which some call Celestial, and others Æther. I shall not, I say, engage in this controversie, but thus much seems evident, That If there be such a Celestial Matter, it must ' make up far the Greatest part of the Universe known to us. For the Interstellar part of the world (If I may so stile it) bears so very great a proportion to the Globes, and their Atmospheres too, (If other Stars have any as well as the Earth,) that It Is almost incomparably Greater in respect of them, than all our Atmosphere is in respect of the Clouds, not to make the comparison between the Sea and the Fishes that swim in it.
A Continuation of New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring and Weight of the Air, and their Effects (1669), 127.
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If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.
…...
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If it is impossible to judge merit and guilt in the field of natural science, then it is not possible in any field, and historical research becomes an idle, empty activity.
Reden und Abhandlungen (1874). Trans. W. H. Brock.
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If one were to define chance as the outcome of a random movement which interlocks with no causes, I should maintain that it does not exist at all, that it is a wholly empty term denoting nothing substantial.
The Consolation of Philosophy [before 524], Book V, trans. P. G. Walsh (1999), 97.
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In 1946 [we visited] a rock called Le Veyron, around which sea life swarmed … an undersea paradise.… About thirty years later I returned … to the same depth, to the same caves, at the same time of year. The grotto was empty. Not one single fish lived among the rocks. The verdant gardens were gone.…
When I saw Le Veyron, I believed that the sea’s most monstrous force doesn’t live in Loch Ness. It lives in us.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 40-41.
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In theory, whole islands of antimatter could be floating in the universe, cut off from matter by the empty void of space. If a large chunk of antimatter fell to Earth, the planet would be vaporized in a blinding flash of energy.
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It is with theories as with wells: you may see to the bottom of the deepest if there be any water there, while another shall pass for wondrous profound when ‘tis merely shallow, dark, and empty.
As quoted, citing only the author, in 'New Publications: Dr. Wigan', The Edinburgh Review: Or Critical Journal (Oct 1844), 80, 67.
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Light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity, “c,” which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body.
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Lost in the milky way,
Smile at the empty sky
And wait for the moment
When a million chances may all collide.
Song lyrics
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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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Mere instruction to memorise data is empty. The attempt to enforce conventional mediocrity on the young is criminal.
As quoted, without citation, in Ronald William Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell (1976), 423.
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New knowledge is not like a cistern, soon emptied, but is a fountain of almost unlimited power and duration.
In 'Unattained but Attainable Truths of NatureThe Art of Scientific Discovery: Or, The General Conditions and Methods of Research in Physics and Chemistry (1878), 27.
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Newton lectured now and then to the few students who chose to hear him; and it is recorded that very frequently he came to the lecture-room and found it empty. On such occasions he would remain fifteen minutes, and then, if no one came, return to his apartments.
In 'Sir Isaac Newton', People’s Book of Biography: Or, Short Lives of the Most Interesting Persons of All Ages and Countries (1868), 250.
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Notion without intuition is empty, intuition without notion is blind.
In Ralph Keyesr, The Quote Verifier, 52.
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On the 20th of May 1747, I took twelve patients in the scurvy, on board the Salisbury at sea. Their cases were as similar as I could have them. They all in general had putrid gums, the spots and lassitude, with weakness of their knees. They lay together in one place, being a proper apartment for the sick in the fore-hold; and had one diet common to all, viz, water-gruel sweetened with sugar in the morning; fresh mutton-broth often times for dinner; at other times puddings, boiled biscuit with sugar, &c.; and for supper, barley and raisins, rice and currents, sago and wine, or the like.
Two of these were ordered each a quart of cider a-day. Two others took twenty-five gutta of elixir vitriol three times a-day, upon an empty stomach; using a gargle strongly acidulated with it for their mouths. Two others took two spoonfuls of vinegar three times a-day, upon an empty stomach; having their gruels and their other food well acidulated with it, as also the gargle for their mouth. Two of the worst patients, with the tendons in the ham rigid, (a symptom none of the rest had), were put under a course of sea-water. Of this they drank half a pint every day, and sometimes more or less as it operated, by way of gentle physics. The others had each two oranges and one lemon given them every day. These they eat with greediness, at different times, upon an empty stomach. They continued but six days under this course, having consumed the quantity that could be spared. The two remaining patients, took the bigness of a nutmeg three times a-day, of an electuary recommended by an hospital-surgeon, made of garlic, mustard-seed, rad. raphan. balsam of Peru, and gum myrrh; using for common drink, barley-water well acidulated with tamarinds; by a decoction of which, with the addition of cremor tartar, they were gently purged three or four times during the course.
The consequence was, that the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived from the use of the oranges and lemons; one of those who had taken them, being at the end of six days fit for duty. …
Next to the oranges, I thought the cider had the best effects.
A Treatise of the Scurvy (1753), 191-193. Quoted in Carleton Ellis and Annie Louise Macleod, Vital Factors of Foods: Vitamins and Nutrition (1922), 229-230.
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People who wouldn’t think of talking with their mouths full often speak with their heads empty.
In Wolfgang Mieder, Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury (eds.), A Dictionary of American Proverbs (1992), 472.
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Philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science is blind.
In 'History of Science and Its Rational Reconstructions', PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association (1970), Vol. 1970, 91. (Compare Immanuel Kant, “Concepts without percepts are empty, percepts without concepts are blind,” on Immanuel Kant Quotes web page of this site.
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Science is complex and chilling. The mathematical language of science is understood by very few. The vistas it presents are scary—an enormous universe ruled by chance and impersonal rules, empty and uncaring, ungraspable and vertiginous. How comfortable to turn instead to a small world, only a few thousand years old, and under God's personal; and immediate care; a world in which you are His peculiar concern.
The 'Threat' of Creationism. In Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), 192.
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Some miners’ wives take in washing and make more money than their husbands do. In every gold rush from this one to the Klondike, the suppliers and service industries will gather up the dust while ninety-nine per cent of the miners go home with empty pokes.
Assembling California
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Some of what these pamphlets [of astrological forecasts] say will turn out to be true, but most of it time and experience will expose as empty and worthless. The latter part will be forgotten [literally: written on the winds] while the former will be carefully entered in people’s memories, as is usual with the crowd.
On giving astrology sounder foundations, De fundamentis astrologiae certioribus, (1602), Thesis 2, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 4, 12, trans. J. V. Field, in Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 1984, 31, 229-72.
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The aether: Invented by Isaac Newton, reinvented by James Clerk Maxwell. This is the stuff that fills up the empty space of the universe. Discredited and discarded by Einstein, the aether is now making a Nixonian comeback. It’s really the vacuum, but burdened by theoretical, ghostly particles.
In Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question (1993, 2006), xiii.
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The Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations have perished; Hammurabi, Sargon and Nebuchadnezzar are empty names; yet Babylonian mathematics is still interesting, and the Babylonian scale of 60 is still used in Astronomy.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 80.
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The end of the ridge and the end of the world... then nothing but that clear, empty air. There was nowhere else to climb. I was standing on the top of the world.
…...
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The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space. Everything else is merely thought to exist. The worlds are unlimited. They come into being and perish. Nothing can come into being from that which is not nor pass away into that which is not. Further, the atoms are unlimited in size and number, and they are borne along in the whole universe in a vortex, and thereby generate all composite things—-fire, water, air, earth. For even these are conglomerations of given atoms. And it is because of their solidarity that these atoms are impassive and unalterable. The sun and the moon have been composed of such smooth and spherical masses [i.e. atoms], and so also the soul, which is identical with reason.
Diogenes Laertius IX, 44. Trans. R. D. Hicks (1925), Vol. 2, 453-5. An alternate translation of the opening is "Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion."
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The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.
Mathematician refers to astrologer. From De Genesi ad Litteram (400s), Book 2, xviii, 37. As quoted in Morris Kline, Mathematics in Western Culture (1953, 1964), 3.
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The history of mathematics, lacking the guidance of philosophy, [is] blind, while the philosophy of mathematics, turning its back on the most intriguing phenomena in the history of mathematics, is empty.
In Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery (1976), 2
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The other experiment (which I shall hardly, I confess, make again, because it was cruel) was with a dog, which, by means of a pair of bellows, wherewith I filled his lungs, and suffered them to empty again, I was able to preserve alive as long as I could desire, after I had wholly opened the thorax, and cut off all the ribs, and opened the belly. Nay, I kept him alive above an hour after I had cut off the pericardium and the mediastinum, and had handled and turned his lungs and heart and all the other parts of its body, as I pleased. My design was to make some enquiries into the nature of respiration. But though I made some considerable discovery of the necessity of fresh air, and the motion of the lungs for the continuance of the animal life, yet I could not make the least discovery in this of what I longed for, which was, to see, if I could by any means discover a passage of the air of the lungs into either the vessels or the heart; and I shall hardly be induced to make any further trials of this kind, because of the torture of this creature: but certainly the enquiry would be very noble, if we could any way find a way so to stupify the creature, as that it might not be sensible.
Letter from Robert Hooke to Robert Boyle (10 Nov 1664). In M. Hunter, A. Clericuzio and L. M. Principe (eds.), The Correspondence of Robert Boyle (2001), Vol. 2, 399.
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The philosopher may very justly be delighted with the extent of his views, the artificer with the readiness of his hands, but let the one remember that without mechanical performance, refined speculation is an empty dream, and the other that without theoretical reasoning, dexterity is little more than brute instinct.
In 'The Rambler' (17 Apr 1750), No. 9. Collected in The Rambler (1763), Vol. 1, 48.
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The power of the eye could not be extended further in the opened living animal, hence I had believed that this body of the blood breaks into the empty space, and is collected again by a gaping vessel and by the structure of the walls. The tortuous and diffused motion of the blood in divers directions, and its union at a determinate place offered a handle to this. But the dried lung of the frog made my belief dubious. This lung had, by chance, preserved the redness of the blood in (what afterwards proved to be) the smallest vessels, where by means of a more perfect lens, no more there met the eye the points forming the skin called Sagrino, but vessels mingled annularly. And, so great is the divarication of these vessels as they go out, here from a vein, there from an artery, that order is no longer preserved, but a network appears made up of the prolongations of both vessels. This network occupies not only the whole floor, but extends also to the walls, and is attached to the outgoing vessel, as I could see with greater difficulty but more abundantly in the oblong lung of a tortoise, which is similarly membranous and transparent. Here it was clear to sense that the blood flows away through the tortuous vessels, that it is not poured into spaces but always works through tubules, and is dispersed by the multiplex winding of the vessels.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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The progress of science depends less than is usually believed on the efforts and performance of the individual genius ... many important discoveries have been made by men of ordinary talents, simply because chance had made them, at the proper time and in the proper place and circumstances, recipients of a body of doctrines, facts and techniques that rendered almost inevitable the recognition of an important phenomenon. It is surprising that some historian has not taken malicious pleasure in writing an anthology of 'one discovery' scientists. Many exciting facts have been discovered as a result of loose thinking and unimaginative experimentation, and described in wrappings of empty words. One great discovery does not betoken a great scientist; science now and then selects insignificant standard bearers to display its banners.
Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1986), 368
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The rapid growth of industry, the ever increasing population and the imperative need for more varied, wholesome and nourishing foodstuff makes it all the more necessary to exhaust every means at our command to fill the empty dinner pail, enrich our soils, bring greater wealth and influence to our beautiful South land, which is synonymous to a healthy, happy and contented people.
Letter to Marlin E. Penn (18 Jun 1927), Box 17, George Washington Carver Papers. Cited in Linda O. McMurry, George Washington Carver, Scientist and Symbol (1982), 264-5. Smith's book is about his recollections of G.W. Carver's Sunday School classes at Tuskegee, some 40 years earlier. Webmaster, who has not yet been able to see the original book, cautions this quote may be the gist of Carver's words, rather than an exact quote.
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The reciprocal relationship of epistemology and science is of noteworthy kind. They are dependent on each other. Epistemology without contact with science becomes an empty scheme. Science without epistemology is–insofar as it is thinkable at all–primitive and muddled.
In Ralph Keyesr, The Quote Verifier, 51-52.
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The senses at first let in particular Ideas, and furnish the yet empty Cabinet: And the Mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the Memory, and Names got to them.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book I, Chapter 2, Section 15, 55.
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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 are four classes of Idols which beset men’s minds. To these for distinction’s sake I have assigned names,—calling the first class Idols of the Tribe; the second, Idols of the Cave; the third, Idols of the Market Place; the fourth, Idols of the Theatre
The Idols of the Tribe have their foundation in human nature itself, and in the tribe or race of men. For it is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things. On the contrary, all perceptions as well of the sense as of the mind are according to the measure of the individual and not according to the measure of the universe. And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolours the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.
The Idols of the Cave are the idols of the individual man. For every one (besides the errors common to human nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolours the light of nature; owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading of books, and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent and settled; or the like.
There are also Idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call Idols of the Market-place, on account of the commerce and consort of men there. For it is by discourse that men associate; and words are imposed according to the apprehension of the vulgar, and therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding. Nor do the definitions or explanations where with in some things learned men are wont to guard and defend themselves, by any means set the matter right. But words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies.
Lastly, there are Idols which have immigrated into men’s minds from the various dogmas of philosophies, and also from wrong laws of demonstration. These I call Idols of the Theatre; because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage-plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorisms 39, 41-44. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 53-55.
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There is nothing in the world except empty curved space. Matter, charge, electromagnetism, and other fields are only manifestations of the curvature of space.
(1957) Quoted in New Scientist, 26 Sep 1974.
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There is nothing more mysterious than a TV set left on in an empty room. It is even stranger than a man talking to himself or a woman standing dreaming at her stove. It is as if another planet is communicating with you.
In Jean Baudrillard and Chris Turner (trans.), America (1989), 50.
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They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
Poem, ‘Desert Places’, in Collected Poems of Robert Frost 1939 (1945), 386.
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Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind... The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise.
Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929), 93.
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To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
Anonymous
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Upon the rivers which are tributary to the Mississippi and also upon those which empty themselves into Lake Michigan, there are interminable forests of pine, sufficient to supply all the wants of the citizens ... for all time to come.
Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives (22 Jul 1852), Congressional Globe (1851-52). In Susan Flader, The Great Lakes Forest: an Environmental and Social History (1983), 124.
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Walking home at night, I shine my flashlight up at the sky. I send billions of ... photons toward space. What is their destination? A tiny fraction will be absorbed by the air. An even smaller fraction will be intercepted by the surface of planets and stars. The vast majority ... will plod on forever. After some thousands of years they will leave our galaxy; after some millions of years they will leave our supercluster. They will wander through an even emptier, even colder realm. The universe is transparent in the direction of the future.
Atoms of Silence
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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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We have made many glass vessels... with tubes two cubits long. These were filled with mercury, the open end was closed with the finger, and the tubes were then inverted in a vessel where there was mercury. We saw that an empty space was formed and that nothing happened in the vessel where this space was formed ... I claim that the force which keeps the mercury from falling is external and that the force comes from outside the tube. On the surface of the mercury which is in the bowl rests the weight of a column of fifty miles of air. Is it a surprise that into the vessel, in which the mercury has no inclination and no repugnance, not even the slightest, to being there, it should enter and should rise in a column high enough to make equilibrium with the weight of the external air which forces it up?
Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 27-28.
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We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit.
Quoted, without citation, in Robert Grover, Collaboration (1996).
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What is there in a name? It is merely an empty basket, until you put something into it.
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 1.
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What opposite discoveries we have seen!
(Signs of true genius, and of empty pockets.)
One makes new noses, one a guillotine,
One breaks your bones, one sets them in their sockets;
But vaccination certainly has been
A kind antithesis to Congreve's rockets, ...
Don Juan (1819, 1858), Canto I, CCXXIX, 35. Referring to Edward Jenner's work on vaccination (started 14 May 1796), later applied by Napoleon who caused his soldiers to be vaccinated. Sir William Congreve's shells, invented in 1804, proved very effective at the battle of Leipzig (1813).
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When first I applied my mind to Mathematics I read straight away most of what is usually given by the mathematical writers, and I paid special attention to Arithmetic and Geometry because they were said to be the simplest and so to speak the way to all the rest. But in neither case did I then meet with authors who fully satisfied me. I did indeed learn in their works many propositions about numbers which I found on calculation to be true. As to figures, they in a sense exhibited to my eyes a great number of truths and drew conclusions from certain consequences. But they did not seem to make it sufficiently plain to the mind itself why these things are so, and how they discovered them. Consequently I was not surprised that many people, even of talent and scholarship, should, after glancing at these sciences, have either given them up as being empty and childish or, taking them to be very difficult and intricate, been deterred at the very outset from learning them. … But when I afterwards bethought myself how it could be that the earliest pioneers of Philosophy in bygone ages refused to admit to the study of wisdom any one who was not versed in Mathematics … I was confirmed in my suspicion that they had knowledge of a species of Mathematics very different from that which passes current in our time.
In Elizabeth S. Haldane (trans.) and G.R.T. Ross (trans.), 'Rules for the Direction of the Mind', The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911, 1973), Vol. 1, Rule 4, 11.
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When you can dump a load of bricks on a corner lot, and let me watch them arrange themselves into a house — when you can empty a handful of springs and wheels and screws on my desk, and let me see them gather themselves together into a watch — it will be easier for me to believe that all these thousands of worlds could have been created, balanced, and set to moving in their separate orbits, all without any directing intelligence at all.
In 'If A Man Die, Shall He Live again?', More Power To You: Fifty Editorials From Every Week (1917), 218-219.
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When [alchemist] Augurello applied to him [Pope Leo X] for a reward, the pope, with great ceremony and much apparent kindness and cordiality, drew an empty purse from his pocket, and presented it to the alchymist, saying, that since he was able to make gold, the most appropriate present that could be made him, was a purse to put it in.
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Where speculation ends—in real life—there real, positive science begins: the representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men. Empty talk about consciousness ceases, and real knowledge has to take its place.
Karl Marx
In David McLellan (ed.), 'The Premisses of the Material Method', Karl Marx: Selected Writings (2000), 181.
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Would it (the world) otherwise (without consciousness) have remained a play before empty benches, not existing for anybody, thus quite properly not existing?
…...
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You see, if the height of the mercury [barometer] column is less on the top of a mountain than at the foot of it (as I have many reasons for believing, although everyone who has so far written about it is of the contrary opinion), it follows that the weight of the air must be the sole cause of the phenomenon, and not that abhorrence of a vacuum, since it is obvious that at the foot of the mountain there is more air to have weight than at the summit, and we cannot possibly say that the air at the foot of the mountain has a greater aversion to empty space than at the top.
In letter to brother-in-law Perier (Nov 1647) as given in Daniel Webster Hering, Physics: the Science of the Forces of Nature (1922), 114. As also stated by Hering, Perier conducted an experiment on 19 Sep 1648 comparing readings on two barometers, one at the foot, and another at the top of 4,000-ft Puy-de-Dôme neighboring mountain.
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[1665-08-16] ...Hence to the Exchange, which I have not been a great while. But Lord, how sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people, and very few upon the Change - jealous of every door that one sees shut up, lest it should be the plague - and about us, two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up. ... It was dark before I could get home; and so land at church-yard stairs, where to my great trouble I met a dead Corps, of the plague, in the narrow ally, just bringing down a little pair of stairs - but I thank God I was not much disturbed at it. However, I shall beware of being late abroad again.
Diary of Samuel Pepys (16 Aug 1665)
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[1665-10-16] But Lord, how empty the streets are, and melancholy, so many poor sick people in the streets, full of sores, and so many sad stories overheard as I walk, everybody talking of this dead, and that man sick, and so many in this place, and so many in that. And they tell me that in Westminster there is never a physitian, and but one apothecary left, all being dead - but that there are great hopes of a great decrease this week. God send it.
Diary of Samuel Pepys (16 Oct 1665)
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[Alchemists] enrich the ears of men with vain words, but empty their Pockets of their Money. Whence it appears to be no Art, but a Composition of Trifles, and inventions of mad brains.
In The Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (1530), translation (1676), 313.
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[My grandmother] lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house. It leaked, she contended, out of empty sockets if the wall switch had been left on. She would go around screwing in bulbs, and if they lighted up, she would fearfully turn off the wall switch and go back to her Pearson's or Everybody's, happy in the satisfaction that she had stopped not only a costly but dangerous leakage. nothing could ever clear this up for her.
In My Life and Hard Times (1937, 1999), 16.
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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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