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

Essay Quotes (27 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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An inventor is an opportunist, one who takes occasion by the hand; who, having seen where some want exists, successfully applies the right means to attain the desired end. The means may be largely, or even wholly, something already known, or there may be a certain originality or discovery in the means employed. But in every case the inventor uses the work of others. If I may use a metaphor, I should liken him to the man who essays the conquest of some virgin alp. At the outset he uses the beaten track, and, as he progresses in the ascent, he uses the steps made by those who have preceded him, whenever they lead in the right direction; and it is only after the last footprints have died out that he takes ice-axe in hand and cuts the remaining steps, few or many, that lift him to the crowning height which is his goal.
In Kenneth Raydon Swan, Sir Joseph Swan (1946), 44.
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Happy the men who made the first essay,
And to celestial regions found the way!
No earthly vices clogg’d their purer souls,
That they could soar so high as touch the poles:
Sublime their thoughts and from pollution clear,
Bacchus and Venus held no revels there;
From vain ambition free; no love of war
Possess’d their minds, nor wranglings at the bar;
No glaring grandeur captivates their eyes,
For such see greater glory in the skies:
Thus these to heaven attain.
In Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed., trans.), Beautiful Thoughts From Latin Authors, with English Translations (1864),
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Here I shall present, without using Analysis [mathematics], the principles and general results of the Théorie, applying them to the most important questions of life, which are indeed, for the most part, only problems in probability. One may even say, strictly speaking, that almost all our knowledge is only probable; and in the small number of things that we are able to know with certainty, in the mathematical sciences themselves, the principal means of arriving at the truth—induction and analogy—are based on probabilities, so that the whole system of human knowledge is tied up with the theory set out in this essay.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 1.
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How lavish nature has adorn’d the year
How the pale primrose and blue violet spring,
And birds essay their throats disus’d to sing.
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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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I publish this Essay in its present imperfect state, in order to prevent the furacious attempts of the prowling plagiary, and the insidious pretender to chymistry, from arrogating to themselves, and assuming my invention, in plundering silence: for there are those, who, if they can not be chymical, never fail by stratagem, and mechanical means, to deprive industry of the fruits, and fame of her labours.
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), vii-viii.
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I shall consider this paper an essay in geopoetry. In order not to travel any further into the realm of fantasy than is absolutely necessary I shall hold as closely as possibly to a uniformitarian approach; even so, at least one great catastrophe will be required early in the Earth's history.
'History of Ocean Basins', in A. E. J. Engel, H. L. James and B. F. Leonard (eds.), Petrologic Studies: A Volume to Honour F. Buddington (1962), 599-600.
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I understood that you would take the human race in the concrete, have exploded the absurd notion of Pope’s Essay on Man, [Erasmus] Darwin, and all the countless believers even (strange to say) among Christians of man’s having progressed from an ouran-outang state—so contrary to all History, to all religion, nay, to all possibility—to have affirmed a Fall in some sense as a fact….
Letter to William Wordsworth (30 May 1815). In William Knight, The Life of William Wordsworth (1889), Vol. 2, 259. [Note: “ouran” is as written. Erasmus identified in footnote.]
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It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
In Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
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It is often assumed that because the young child is not competent to study geometry systematically he need be taught nothing geometrical; that because it would be foolish to present to him physics and mechanics as sciences it is useless to present to him any physical or mechanical principles.
An error of like origin, which has wrought incalculable mischief, denies to the scholar the use of the symbols and methods of algebra in connection with his early essays in numbers because, forsooth, he is not as yet capable of mastering quadratics! … The whole infant generation, wrestling with arithmetic, seek for a sign and groan and travail together in pain for the want of it; but no sign is given them save the sign of the prophet Jonah, the withered gourd, fruitless endeavor, wasted strength.
From presidential address (9 Sep 1884) to the General Meeting of the American Social Science Association, 'Industrial Education', printed in Journal of Social Science (1885), 19, 121. Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 132.
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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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The result of all these experiments has given place to a new division of the parts of the human body, which I shall follow in this short essay, by distinguishing those which are susceptible of Irritability and Sensibility, from those which are not. But the theory, why some parts of the human body are endowed with these properties, while others are not, I shall not at all meddle with. For I am persuaded that the source of both lies concealed beyond the reach of the knife and microscope, beyond which I do not chuse to hazard many conjectures, as I have no desire of teaching what I am ignorant of myself. For the vanity of attempting to guide others in paths where we find ourselves in the dark, shews, in my humble opinion, the last degree of arrogance and ignorance.
'A Treatise on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals' (Read 1752). Trans. 1755 and reprinted in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1936, 4(2), 657-8.
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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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This work [an essay by Thomson, ‘On the method of analysing sulphate of zinc’] belongs to those few productions from which science will derive no advantage whatever. Much of the experimental part, even of the fundamental experiments, appears to have been made at the writing-desk; and the greatest civility which his contemporaries can show its author, is to forget it was ever published. … love of science makes it imperative to detect quackery, and expose it to the judgement of every one as it merits
In Jahresbericht (1827), 6, 77 and 181. Woehler's translation quoted in 'Attack of Berzelius on Dr. Thomson's Attempt to Establish the First Principles of Chemistry by Experiment', Philosophical Magazine (Dec 1828), 4, No. 24, 451. The latter article comments, “It well becomes Berzelius to expose fallacy in argument, or detect error in analysis; but let him not pass beyond the limits of fair criticism: let him not arraign the character of the individual., who may be actuated by motives and principles as pure as his own. Intemperate attacks, such as this, reflect back upon their author, and indicate a mind inflamed by pique, jealousy, or some unworthy passion.”
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To Monsieur Lavoisier by appointment. Madame Lavoisier, a lively, sensible, scientific lady, had prepared a dejuné Anglois of tea and coffee, but her conversation on Mr. Kirwan’s Essay on Phlogiston, which she is translating from the English, and on other subjects, which a woman of understanding, that works with her husband in his laboratory, knows how to adorn, was the best repast.
Entry for 16 Oct 1787. In Arthur Young, Travels in France During the Years, 1787, 1788 and 1789 (1792), 64.
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We may... have to relinquish the notion, explicit or implicit, that changes of paradigm carry scientists and those who learn from them closer and closer to the truth... The developmental process described in this essay has been a process of evolution from primitive beginnings—a process whose successive stages are characterized by an increasingly detailed and refined understanding of nature. But nothing that has been or will be said makes it a process of evolution toward anything.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), 169-70.
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We should scarcely be excused in concluding this essay without calling the reader's attention to the beneficent and wise laws established by the author of nature to provide for the various exigencies of the sublunary creation, and to make the several parts dependent upon each other, so as to form one well-regulated system or whole.
'Experiments and Observations to Determine whether the Quantity of Rain and Dew is Equal to the Quantity of Water carried off by the Rivers and Raised by Evaporation', Memoirs Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 1803, 5, part 2, 372.
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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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Euclid
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- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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