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

Enquiry Quotes (76 quotes)

Haec quippe prima sapientiae clavis definitur, assidua scilicet seu frequens interrogatio … Dubitando enim ad inquisitionem venimus; inquirendo veritatem percipimus.
For this is the first key to wisdom, assiduous and frequent questioning. ... By doubting we come to inquiry; by inquiry we perceive the truth.
Sic et Non (c. 1120). Latin text in Peter Abelard, E.L.T. Henke and G.S. Lindenkohl (eds.), Sic et Non (1851), 16-17. Title translates as Yes or No. As translated in Frederick Denison Maurice, Mediaeval Philosophy; Or, A Treatise of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy (1870), 138.
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A mind which has once imbibed a taste for scientific enquiry, and has learnt the habit of applying its principles readily to the cases which occur, has within itself an inexhaustible source of pure and exciting contemplations.
In Dionysius Lardner (ed.), Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Vol 1, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), 14-15.

A page from a journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetan mandala. Both are records of enquiries into the nature of the universe.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 36.
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A scientist strives to understand the work of Nature. But with our insufficient talents as scientists, we do not hit upon the truth all at once. We must content ourselves with tracking it down, enveloped in considerable darkness, which leads us to make new mistakes and errors. By diligent examination, we may at length little by little peel off the thickest layers, but we seldom get the core quite free, so that finally we have to be satisfied with a little incomplete knowledge.
Lecture to the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, 23 May 1764. Quoted in J. A. Schufle 'Torbern Bergman, Earth Scientist', Chymia, 1967, 12, 78.
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A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.
In Steven D. Price, 1001 Smartest Things Ever Said (2005), 163.
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All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
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Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.
[Anecdotal response to a reporter’s enquiry.]
As quoted in Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard, Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 150.

But the dreams about the modes of creation, enquiries whether our globe has been formed by the agency of fire or water, how many millions of years it has cost Vulcan or Neptune to produce what the fiat of the Creator would effect by a single act of will, is too idle to be worth a single hour of any man’s life.
Letter (2 May 1826) to Doctor John P. Emmet. Collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1854), Vol. 7, 443.
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But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values.
Regarding the atomic bomb project.
From speech at Los Alamos (17 Oct 1945). Quoted in David C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century (2009), 214.
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By far the most important consequence of the conceptual revolution brought about in physics by relativity and quantum theory lies not in such details as that meter sticks shorten when they move or that simultaneous position and momentum have no meaning, but in the insight that we had not been using our minds properly and that it is important to find out how to do so.
'Quo Vadis'. In Gerald Holton (ed.), Science and the Modern Mind (1971), 84.
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Development of Western science is based on two great achievements: the invention of the formal logical system (in Euclidean geometry) by the Greek philosophers, and the discovery of the possibility to find out causal relationships by systematic experiment (during the Renaissance). In my opinion, one has not to be astonished that the Chinese sages have not made these steps. The astonishing thing is that these discoveries were made at all.
Letter to J. S. Switzer, 23 Apr 1953, Einstein Archive 61-381. Quoted in Alice Calaprice, The Quotable Einstein (1996), 180.
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Far from becoming discouraged, the philosopher should applaud nature, even when she appears miserly of herself or overly mysterious, and should feel pleased that as he lifts one part of her veil, she allows him to glimpse an immense number of other objects, all worthy of investigation. For what we already know should allow us to judge of what we will be able to know; the human mind has no frontiers, it extends proportionately as the universe displays itself; man, then, can and must attempt all, and he needs only time in order to know all. By multiplying his observations, he could even see and foresee all phenomena, all of nature's occurrences, with as much truth and certainty as if he were deducing them directly from causes. And what more excusable or even more noble enthusiasm could there be than that of believing man capable of recognizing all the powers, and discovering through his investigations all the secrets, of nature!
'Des Mulets', Oeuvres Philosophiques, ed. Jean Piveteau (1954), 414. Quoted in Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, ed. Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 458.
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For you teach very clearly by your behaviour how slowly and how meagerly our senses proceed in the investigation of ever inexhaustible nature.
Elettricismo artificiale (1772), vii-viii, trans. in Antonio Pace, Franklin and Italy (1958), 58.

Had you or I been born at the Bay of Soldania, possibly our Thoughts, and Notions, had not exceeded those brutish ones of the Hotentots that inhabit there: And had the Virginia King Apochancana, been educated in England, he had, perhaps been as knowing a Divine, and as good a Mathematician as any in it. The difference between him, and a more improved English-man, lying barely in this, That the exercise of his Facilities was bounded within the Ways, Modes, and Notions of his own Country, and never directed to any other or farther Enquiries.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book I, Chapter 4, Section 12, 92.
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I am the most travelled of all my contemporaries; I have extended my field of enquiry wider than anybody else, I have seen more countries and climes, and have heard more speeches of learned men. No one has surpassed me in the composition of lines, according to demonstration, not even the Egyptian knotters of ropes, or geometers.
In Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1992, 1994), 71.
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I think that considerable progress can be made in the analysis of the operations of nature by the scholar who reduces rather complicated phenomena to their proximate causes and primitive forces, even though the causes of those causes have not yet been detected.
R.W. Home (ed.), Aepinus's Essay on the Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1979), 240.
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If a psychiatric and scientific inquiry were to be made upon our rulers, mankind would be appalled at the disclosures.
Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1958), 78.
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If a specific question has meaning, it must be possible to find operations by which an answer may be given to it ... I believe that many of the questions asked about social and philosophical subjects will be found to be meaningless when examined from the point of view of operations.
The Logic of Modern Physics (1960), 28.

If the Commission is to enquire into the conditions “to be observed,” it is to be presumed that they will give the result of their enquiries; or, in other words, that they will lay down, or at least suggest, “rules” and “conditions to be (hereafter) observed” in the construction of bridges, or, in other words, embarrass and shackle the progress of improvement to-morrow by recording and registering as law the prejudices or errors of to-day.
[Objecting to any interference by the State with the freedom of civil engineers in the conduct of their professional work.]
Letter (13 Mar 1848) to the Royal Commission on the Application of Iron in Railway Structures. Collected in The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Civil Engineer (1870), 487. The above verbatim quote may be the original source of the following statement as seen in books and on the web without citation: “I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for his latter form, and suspects it may be a synopsis, rather than a verbatim quote. If you know of such a primary source, please inform Webmaster.
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If the human race ever stops acting on the basis of what it thinks it knows, paralyzed by fear that its knowledge may be wrong, then Homo sapiens will be making its application for membership in the dinosaur club.
To Plant a Seed (1972). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 2.
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If you walk along the street you will encounter a number of scientific problems. Of these, about 80 per cent are insoluble, while 19½ per cent are trivial. There is then perhaps half a per cent where skill, persistence, courage, creativity and originality can make a difference. It is always the task of the academic to swim in that half a per cent, asking the questions through which some progress can be made.
'The Making of a Scientist', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, June 1983, 406.
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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 1-2.
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In science, as in art, and, as I believe, in every other sphere of human activity, there may be wisdom in a multitude of counsellors, but it is only in one or two of them. And in scientific inquiry, at any rate, it is to that one or two that we must look for light and guidance.
'The Progress of Science'. Collected essays (1898), Vol. 1, 57.
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In science, self-satisfaction is death. Personal self-satisfaction is the death of the scientist. Collective self-satisfaction is the death of the research. It is restlessness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, agony of mind that nourish science.
Quoted in 'Ariadne', New Scientist (17 Jun 1976) 70, 680, which states it comes from Le Nouvel Observateur which revived the quote, “from an earlier interview.” If you know this primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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It is high time that laymen abandoned the misleading belief that scientific enquiry is a cold dispassionate enterprise, bleached of imaginative qualities, and that a scientist is a man who turns the handle of discovery; for at every level of endeavour scientific research is a passionate undertaking and the Promotion of Natural Knowledge depends above all on a sortee into what can be imagined but is not yet known.
The Times Literary Supplement (London), 1963 October 25 (p. 850)
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It is not therefore the business of philosophy, in our present situation in the universe, to attempt to take in at once, in one view, the whole scheme of nature; but to extend, with great care and circumspection, our knowledge, by just steps, from sensible things, as far as our observations or reasonings from them will carry us, in our enquiries concerning either the greater motions and operations of nature, or her more subtile and hidden works. In this way Sir Isaac Newton proceeded in his discoveries.
An Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries, in Four Books (1748), 19.
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It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works—that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 159.
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It is the business of science to offer rational explanations for all the events in the real world, and any scientist who calls on God to explain something is falling down on his job. This applies as much to the start of the expansion as to any other event. If the explanation is not forthcoming at once, the scientist must suspend judgment: but if he is worth his salt he will always maintain that a rational explanation will eventually be found. This is the one piece of dogmatism that a scientist can allow himself—and without it science would be in danger of giving way to superstition every time that a problem defied solution for a few years.
The Mystery of the Expanding Universe (1964), 122.
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It was a great step in science when men became convinced that, in order to understand the nature of things, they must begin by asking, not whether a thing is good or bad, noxious or beneficial, but of what kind it is? And how much is there of it? Quality and Quantity were then first recognised as the primary features to be observed in scientific inquiry.
'Address to the Mathematical and Physical Sections of the British Association, Liverpool, 15 Sep 1870', The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890 edition, reprint 2003), Vol. 2, 217.
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Man is not born to solve the problem of the universe, but to find out where the problem begins and then restrain himself within the limits of the comprehensible.
The Homiletic Review, Vol. 83-84 (1922), Vol. 84, 290.
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Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 23.
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Now, in the development of our knowledge of the workings of Nature out of the tremendously complex assemblage of phenomena presented to the scientific inquirer, mathematics plays in some respects a very limited, in others a very important part. As regards the limitations, it is merely necessary to refer to the sciences connected with living matter, and to the ologies generally, to see that the facts and their connections are too indistinctly known to render mathematical analysis practicable, to say nothing of the complexity.
From article 'Electro-magnetic Theory II', in The Electrician (16 Jan 1891), 26, No. 661, 331.
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One can't be of an enquiring and experimental nature, and still be very sensible.
Wild Talents (1932, 2004), 308.
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One of the earliest questions asked by an intelligent child is: “What is this made of?” “What is that made of?” And the answer is generally more or less satisfactory. For example, if the question relates to butter, the reply may be, “From cream.” It may be explained, besides, that when cream is beaten up, or churned, the butter separates, leaving skim-milk behind. But the question has not been answered. The child may ask, “Was the butter in the milk before it was churned? or has it been made out of the milk by the churning?” Possibly the person to whom the question is addressed may know that the milk contained the butter in the state of fine globules, and that the process of churning breaks up the globules, and causes them to stick together. The original question has not really been answered; and indeed it is not an easy one to reply to. Precisely such questions suggested themselves to the people of old, and they led to many speculations.
Opening paragraph of Modern Chemistry (1900, rev. 1907), 1.
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People have noted with admiration how the progress of scientific enquiry is like the growth of a coral reef; each generation of little toilers building a sure foundation on which their successors may build yet further. The simile is apt in many ways, and in one way in particular that is worth considering. When we see how industrious and how prolific are the coral insects, our chief astonishment should be, not how vast are the structures they have built, but how few and scattered. Why is not every coast lined with coral? Why is the abyss if ocean not bridged with it. The answer is that coral only lives under certain limitations; it can only thrive at certain depths, in water of certain temperatures and salinities; outside these limits it languishes and dies. Science is like coral in this. Scientific investigators can only work in certain spots of the ocean of Being, where they are at home, and all outside is unknown to them...
Scientific Method: An Inquiry into the Character and Validy of Natural Law (1923), 195. Quoted in Wilson Gee, Social science research methods (1950), 182.
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Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics (1938), 33.

Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.
Thomas Jefferson and Albert Ellery Bergh (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1905), Vols 1, 221.
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Religion closes off the central questions of existence by attempting to dissuade us from further enquiry by asserting that we cannot ever hope to comprehend. We are, religion asserts, simply too puny.
Essay collected in John Cornwell (ed.), 'The Limitless Power of Science', Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision (1995), 125.
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Religious creeds are a great obstacle to any full sympathy between the outlook of the scientist and the outlook which religion is so often supposed to require … The spirit of seeking which animates us refuses to regard any kind of creed as its goal. It would be a shock to come across a university where it was the practice of the students to recite adherence to Newton's laws of motion, to Maxwell's equations and to the electromagnetic theory of light. We should not deplore it the less if our own pet theory happened to be included, or if the list were brought up to date every few years. We should say that the students cannot possibly realise the intention of scientific training if they are taught to look on these results as things to be recited and subscribed to. Science may fall short of its ideal, and although the peril scarcely takes this extreme form, it is not always easy, particularly in popular science, to maintain our stand against creed and dogma.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929), Science and the Unseen World (1929), 54-56.
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Science is the attempt to make the chaotic diversity of our sense-experience correspond to a logically uniform system of thought.
Out of my Later Years (1950, 1995), 98.
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Science is wonderful at destroying metaphysical answers, but incapable of providing substitute ones. Science takes away foundations without providing a replacement. Whether we want to be there or not, science has put us in the position of having to live without foundations. It was shocking when Nietzsche said this, but today it is commonplace; our historical position—and no end to it is in sight—is that of having to philosophise without 'foundations'.
In Hilary Putnam (ed.), The Many Faces of Realism: The Paul Carns Lectures (1987), 29. Excerpt 'Realism and Reasonableness', in Joseph Margolis and Jacques Catudal, The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux (2001), 122.
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Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.
Letter to Charles Kingsley (23 Sep 1860). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1903), Vol. 1, 316.
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Science teaches us, in effect, to submit our reason to the truth and to know and judge of things as they are—that is to say, as they themselves choose to be and not as we would have them to be.
In Tragic Sense of Life (1913), translated by John Ernest Crawford Flitch (1954), 193.
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Science, being human enquiry, can hear no answer except an answer couched somehow in human tones. Primitive man stood in the mountains and shouted against a cliff; the echo brought back his own voice, and he believed in a disembodied spirit. The scientist of today stands counting out loud in the face of the unknown. Numbers come back to him—and he believes in the Great Mathematician.
Concluding paragraph of chapter, 'Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics: Or Beyond Common-Sense', contributed to Naomi Mitchison (ed.), An Outline For Boys And Girls And Their Parents (1932), 357.
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Scientists tend to resist interdisciplinary inquiries into their own territory. In many instances, such parochialism is founded on the fear that intrusion from other disciplines would compete unfairly for limited financial resources and thus diminish their own opportunity for research.
[Naming territorial dominance, greed, and fear of the unknown, as some of the influences on the increasing specialization of science]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),192.
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Sometimes I am a collector of data, and only a collector, and am likely to be gross and miserly, piling up notes, pleased with merely numerically adding to my stores.
Wild Talents (1932, 2004), 41.
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Sometimes I am a little unkind to all my many friends in education … by saying that from the time it learns to talk every child makes a dreadful nuisance of itself by asking “Why?.” To stop this nuisance society has invented a marvellous system called education which, for the majority of people, brings to an end their desire to ask that question. The few failures of this system are known as scientists.
'The Making of a Scientist', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, June 1983, 403.
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The assumption of an absolute determinism is the essential foundation of every scientific enquiry.
Physikalische Abhandlungen und Vorträge (1958), Vol 3, 89. Translated in J. L. Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man (1986) 66.
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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 human understanding is unquiet; it cannot stop or rest, and still presses onward, but in vain. Therefore it is that we cannot conceive of any end or limit to the world, but always as of necessity it occurs to us that there is something beyond... But he is no less an unskilled and shallow philosopher who seeks causes of that which is most general, than he who in things subordinate and subaltern omits to do so
From Aphorism 48, Novum Organum, Book I (1620). Collected in James Spedding (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1858), Vol. 4, 57.

The method of inquiry which all our ingenious Theorists of the Earth have pursued is certainly erroneous. They first form an hypothesis to solve the phenomena, but in fact the Phenomena are always used as a prop to the hypothesis.
Instead therefore of attempting to cut the gordian knot by Hypothetical analysis, we shall follow the synthetic method of inquiry and content ourselves with endeavouring to establish facts rather than attempt solutions and try by experiments how far that method may leave us thro' the mazes of this subject
Introduction to his lecture course. In Robert Jameson, edited by H. W. Scott, Lectures on Geology, (1966), 27. In Patrick Wyse Jackson, Four Centuries of Geological Travel (2007), 33.
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The mind of man may be compared to a musical instrument with a certain range of notes, beyond which in both directions we have an infinitude of silence. The phenomena of matter and force lie within our intellectual range, and as far as they reach we will at all hazards push our inquiries. But behind, and above, and around all, the real mystery of this universe [Who made it all?] lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution.
In 'Matter and Force', Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 93.
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The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best—and therefore never scrutinize or question.
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (1997), 57.
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The natural sciences are sometimes said to have no concern with values, nor to seek morality and goodness, and therefore belong to an inferior order of things. Counter-claims are made that they are the only living and dynamic studies... Both contentions are wrong. Language, Literature and Philosophy express, reflect and contemplate the world. But it is a world in which men will never be content to stay at rest, and so these disciplines cannot be cut off from the great searching into the nature of things without being deprived of life-blood.
Presidential Address to Classical Association, 1959. In E. J. Bowen's obituary of Hinshelwood, Chemistry in Britain (1967), Vol. 3, 536.
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The scientific method is a potentiation of common sense, exercised with a specially firm determination not to persist in error if any exertion of hand or mind can deliver us from it. Like other exploratory processes, it can be resolved into a dialogue between fact and fancy, the actual and the possible; between what could be true and what is in fact the case. The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of Natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature. It begins as a story about a Possible World—a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 59.
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The starting point of Darwin’s theory of evolution is precisely the existence of those differences between individual members of a race or species which morphologists for the most part rightly neglect. The first condition necessary, in order that any process of Natural Selection may begin among a race, or species, is the existence of differences among its members; and the first step in an enquiry into the possible effect of a selective process upon any character of a race must be an estimate of the frequency with which individuals, exhibiting any given degree of abnormality with respect to that, character, occur. The unit, with which such an enquiry must deal, is not an individual but a race, or a statistically representative sample of a race; and the result must take the form of a numerical statement, showing the relative frequency with which the various kinds of individuals composing the race occur.
Biometrika: A Joumal for the Statistical Study of Biological Problems (1901), 1, 1-2.
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The text-book is rare that stimulates its reader to ask, Why is this so? Or, How does this connect with what has been read elsewhere?
Preface to A. W. Stewart, Recent Advances in Organic Chemistry (1908), xiv.
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The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. The surest way to end them is to establish beyond question what should be the purpose and method of a philosophical enquiry. And this is by no means so difficult a task as the history of philosophy would lead one to suppose. For if there are any questions which science leaves it to philosophy to answer, a straightforward process of elimination must lead to their discovery.
Language, Truth and Logic (1960), 33.
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The University of Cambridge, in accordance with that law of its evolution, by which, while maintaining the strictest continuity between the successive phases of its history, it adapts itself with more or less promptness to the requirements of the times, has lately instituted a course of Experimental Physics.
'Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics', (1871). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 241.Course;Experiment;Cambridge;History;Promptness;Adapt;Requirement
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There are, I believe, very few maxims in philosophy that have laid firmer hold upon the mind, than that air, meaning atmospherical air (free from various foreign matters, which were always supposed to be dissolved, and intermixed with it) is a simple elementary substance, indestructible, and unalterable, at least as much so as water is supposed to be. In the course of my enquiries, I was, however, soon satisfied that atmospherical air is not an unalterable thing; for that the phlogiston with which it becomes loaded from bodies burning in it, and animals breathing it, and various other chemical processes, so far alters and depraves it, as to render it altogether unfit for inflammation, respiration, and other purposes to which it is subservient; and I had discovered that agitation in water, the process of vegetation, and probably other natural processes, by taking out the superfluous phlogiston, restore it to its original purity.
'On Dephlogisticated Air, and the Constitution of the Atmosphere', in The Discovery of Oxygen, Part I, Experiments by Joseph Priestley 1775 (Alembic Club Reprint, 1894), 6.
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There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. ... Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.
Life (10 Oct 1949), 136.
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To him [Faraday], as to all true philosophers, the main value of a fact was its position and suggestiveness in the general sequence of scientific truth.
Faraday as a Discoverer (1868), 84.
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Train yourselves. Don't wait to be fed knowledge out of a book. Get out and seek it. Make explorations. Do your own research work. Train your hands and your mind. Become curious. Invent your own problems and solve them. You can see things going on all about you. Inquire into them. Seek out answers to your own questions. There are many phenomena going on in nature the explanation of which cannot be found in books. Find out why these phenomena take place. Information a boy gets by himself is enormously more valuable than that which is taught to him in school.
In 'Dr. Irving Langmuir', Boys' Life (Jul 1941), 12.
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We call that fire of the black thunder-cloud “electricity,” and lecture learnedly about it, and grind the like of it out of glass and silk: but what is it? What made it? Whence comes it? Whither goes it?
The Carlyle Anthology (1876), 230.
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We know next to nothing about virtually everything. It is not necessary to know the origin of the universe; it is necessary to want to know. Civilization depends not on any particular knowledge, but on the disposition to crave knowledge
In A Toolbox for Humanity: More than 9000 Years of Thought (2006), Vol. 1, 68.
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When experimental results are found to be in conflict with those of an earlier investigator, the matter is often taken too easily and disposed of for an instance by pointing out a possible source of error in the experiments of the predessessor, but without enquiring whether the error, if present, would be quantitatively sufficient to explain the discrepancy. I think that disagreement with former results should never be taken easily, but every effort should be made to find a true explanation. This can be done in many more cases than it actually is; and as a result, it can be done more easily by the man “on the spot” who is already familiar with the essential details. But it may require a great deal of imagination, and very often it will require supplementary experiments.
From 'August Krogh' in Festkrift Københavns Universitet 1950 (1950), 18, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 501. The DSB quote is introduced, “All his life Krogh was more interested in physical than in chemiical problems in biology, and he explained his critical attitude thus.”
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When we think how narrow and devious this path of nature is, how dimly we can trace it, for all our lamps of science, and how from the darkness which girds it round great and terrible possibilities loom ever shadowly upwards, it is a bold and a confident man who will put a limit to the strange by-oaths into which the human spirit may wander.
Lot No. 249 (1892)
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While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious and moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one and if those searching for knowledge had not been inspired by Spinoza's Amor Dei Intellectualis, they would hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.
In response to a greeting sent by the Liberal Ministers’ Club of New York City, published in 'Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?' The Christian Register (Jun 1948). Collected in Ideas and Options (1954), 52.
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While, on the one hand, the end of scientific investigation is the discovery of laws, on the other, science will have reached its highest goal when it shall have reduced ultimate laws to one or two, the necessity of which lies outside the sphere of our cognition. These ultimate laws—in the domain of physical science at least—will be the dynamical laws of the relations of matter to number, space, and time. The ultimate data will be number, matter, space, and time themselves. When these relations shall be known, all physical phenomena will be a branch of pure mathematics.
'Address to the section of Mathematical and Physical Science', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1895), 595.
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William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” … What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
From Conway Memorial Lecture, South Place Institute, London (24 Mar 1922), printed as Free Thought and Official Propaganda (1922), 14. Collected in Sceptical Essays (1928, 2004), 129.
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Yet is it possible in terms of the motion of atoms to explain how men can invent an electric motor, or design and build a great cathedral? If such achievements represent anything more than the requirements of physical law, it means that science must investigate the additional controlling factors, whatever they may be, in order that the world of nature may be adequately understood. For a science which describes only the motions of inanimate things but fails to include the actions of living organisms cannot claim universality.
The Human Meaning of Science (1940), 31.
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You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.
'Is There a Santa Claus,' editorial in the New York City newspaper, The Sun (21 Sep 1897), 6.
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[John] Dalton was a man of regular habits. For fifty-seven years he walked out of Manchester every day; he measured the rainfall, the temperature—a singularly monotonous enterprise in this climate. Of all that mass of data, nothing whatever came. But of the one searching, almost childlike question about the weights that enter the construction of these simple molecules—out of that came modern atomic theory. That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to the pertinent answer.
The Ascent of Man (1973), 153.
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[No one will be able to] deter the scientific mind from probing into the unknown any more than Canute could command the tides.
Comment upon the U.S. Supreme Court's 1980 decision permitting the patenting of life forms.
'Shaping Life in the Lab'. In Time (9 Mar 1981).
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…we are all inclined to ... direct our inquiry not by the matter itself, but by the views of our opponents; and, even when interrogating oneself, one pushes the inquiry only to the point at which one can no longer offer any opposition. Hence a good inquirer will be one who is ready in bringing forward the objections proper to the genus, and that he will be when he has gained an understanding of the differences.
'On the Heavens', The Works of Aristotle editted by William David Ross and John Alexander Smith (1930), Vol. 2, 15.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

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