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Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index E > Category: Essay

Essay Quotes (13 quotes)

A troubling question for those of us committed to the widest application of intelligence in the study and solution of the problems of men is whether a general understanding of the social sciences will be possible much longer. Many significant areas of these disciplines have already been removed by the advances of the past two decades beyond the reach of anyone who does not know mathematics; and the man of letters is increasingly finding, to his dismay, that the study of mankind proper is passing from his hands to those of technicians and specialists. The aesthetic effect is admittedly bad: we have given up the belletristic “essay on man” for the barbarisms of a technical vocabulary, or at best the forbidding elegance of mathematical syntax.
Opening paragraph of 'The Study of Man: Sociology Learns the Language of Mathematics' in Commentary (1 Sep 1952). Reprinted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1294.
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I am ashamed to say that C. P. Snow's “two cultures” debate smoulders away. It is an embarrassing and sterile debate, but at least it introduced us to Medawar's essays. Afterwards, not even the most bigoted aesthete doubted that a scientist could be every inch as cultivated and intellectually endowed as a student of the humanities.
The Times
From 'Words of Hope', The Times (17 May 1988). Quoted in Neil Calver, 'Sir Peter Medawar: Science, Creativity and the Popularization of Karl Popper', Notes and Records of the Royal Society (May 2013), 67, 303.
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I am not unmindful of the journalist’s quip that yesterday’s paper wraps today’s garbage. I am also not unmindful of the outrages visited upon our forests to publish redundant and incoherent collections of essays; for, like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, I like to think that I speak for the trees. Beyond vanity, my only excuses for a collection of these essays lie in the observation that many people like (and as many people despise) them, and that they seem to cohere about a common theme–Darwin’s evolutionary perspective as an antidote to our cosmic arrogance.
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I have long recognized the theory and aesthetic of such comprehensive display: show everything and incite wonder by sheer variety. But I had never realized how power fully the decor of a cabinet museum can promote this goal until I saw the Dublin [Natural History Museum] fixtures redone right ... The exuberance is all of one piece–organic and architectural. I write this essay to offer my warmest congratulations to the Dublin Museum for choosing preservation–a decision not only scientifically right, but also ethically sound and decidedly courageous. The avant-garde is not an exclusive locus of courage; a principled stand within a reconstituted rear unit may call down just as much ridicule and demand equal fortitude. Crowds do not always rush off in admirable or defendable directions.
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I have often thought that an interesting essay might be written on the influence of race on the selection of mathematical methods. methods. The Semitic races had a special genius for arithmetic and algebra, but as far as I know have never produced a single geometrician of any eminence. The Greeks on the other hand adopted a geometrical procedure wherever it was possible, and they even treated arithmetic as a branch of geometry by means of the device of representing numbers by lines.
In A History of the Study of Mathematics at Cambridge (1889), 123
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It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere has been cited as a statement that precedes the last three sentences here, but this might have originated in a paraphrase, a transcription error, or a misquotation; it does not appear in any editions of the essay which have thus far been checked.
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My visceral perception of brotherhood harmonizes with our best modern biological knowledge ... Many people think (or fear) that equality of human races represents a hope of liberal sentimentality probably squashed by the hard realities of history. They are wrong. This essay can be summarized in a single phrase, a motto if you will: Human equality is a contingent fact of history. Equality is not true by definition; it is neither an ethical principle (though equal treatment may be) nor a statement about norms of social action. It just worked out that way. A hundred different and plausible scenarios for human history would have yielded other results (and moral dilemmas of enormous magnitude). They didn’t happen.
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Natural historians tend to avoid tendentious preaching in this philosophical mode (although I often fall victim to such temptations in these essays). Our favored style of doubting is empirical: if I wish to question your proposed generality, I will search for a counterexample in flesh and blood. Such counterexamples exist in abundance, for the form a staple in a standard genre of writing in natural history–the “wonderment of oddity” or “strange ways of the beaver” tradition.
In 'Reversing Established Orders', Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (2011), 394.
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One of Euler’s main recreations was music, and by cultivating it he brought with it all his geometrical spirit; … he rested his serious researches and composed his Essay of a New Theory of Music, published in 1739; a book full of new ideas presented in a new point of view, but that did not have a great success, apparently for the sole reason that it contains too much of geometry for the musician and too much music for the geometer.
From his Eulogy of Leonhard Euler, read at the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg (23 Oct 1783). Published in 'Éloge de Léonard Euler, Prononcé en Français par Nicolas Fuss'. Collected in Leonard Euler, Oeuvres Complètes en Français de L. Euler (1839), Vol. 1, xii. From the original French, “Un des principaux délassements d'Euler était la musique, et en la cultivant il y apporta tout son esprit géométrique; … il accordait à ses recherches profondes, il composa son Essai d'une nouvelle théorie de la musique, publié en 1739; ouvrage rempli d'idées neuves ou présentées sous un nouveau point de vue, mais qui n’eut pas un grand succès, apparemment par la seule raison qu’il renferme trop de géométrie pour le musicien et trop de musique pour le géomètre.” English version by Webmaster using Google translate.
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Philosophy, and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and th wisdom of the world,
I have essayed; and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself...
From poem 'Manfred'.
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Some years ago John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in an essay on his efforts at writing a history of economics: “As one approaches the present, one is filled with a sense of hopelessness; in a year and possibly even a month, there is now more economic comment in the supposedly serious literature than survives from the whole of the thousand years commonly denominated as the Middle Ages … anyone who claims to be familiar with it all is a confessing liar.” I believe that all physicists would subscribe to the same sentiments regarding their own professional literature. I do at any rate.
In H. Henry Stroke, 'The Physical Review Then and Now', Physical Review: The First Hundred Years: a Selection of Seminal Papers and Commentaries, Vol. 1, 1.
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The problem [evolution] presented itself to me, and something led me to think of the positive checks described by Malthus in his Essay on Population, a work I had read several years before, and which had made a deep and permanent impression on my mind. These checks—war, disease, famine, and the like—must, it occurred to me, act on animals as well as man. Then I thought of the enormously rapid multiplication of animals, causing these checks to be much more effective in them than in the case of man; and while pondering vaguely on this fact, there suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest—that the individuals removed by these checks must be on the whole inferior to those that survived. I sketched the draft of my paper … and sent it by the next post to Mr. Darwin.
In 'Introductory Note to Chapter II in Present Edition', Natural Selection and Tropical Nature Essays on Descriptive and Theoretical Biology (1891, New ed. 1895), 20.
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This Excellent Mathematician having given us, in the Transactions of February last, an account of the cause, which induced him to think upon Reflecting Telescopes, instead of Refracting ones, hath thereupon presented the curious world with an Essay of what may be performed by such Telescopes; by which it is found, that Telescopical Tubes may be considerably shortened without prejudice to their magnifiying effect.
On his invention of the catadioptrical telescope, as he communicated to the Royal Society.
'An Account of a New Catadioptrical Telescope Invented by Mr Newton', Philosophical Transactions (1672), 7, 4004.
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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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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 40 -
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