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Explain Quotes (322 quotes)
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Et j’espère que nos neveux me sauront gré, non seulement des choses que j'ai ici expliquées, mais aussi de celles que j'ai omises volontairement, afin de leur laisser le plaisir de les inventer.
I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained, but also as to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.
Concluding remark in Géométrie (1637), as translated by David Eugene Smith and Marcia L. Latham, in The Geometry of René Descartes (1925, 1954), 240.
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Neue Phaenomena zu erklären, dieses macht meine Sorgen aus, und wie froh ist der Forscher, wenn er das so fleissig Gesuche findet, eine Ergötzung wobei das Herz lacht.
To explain new phenomena, that is my task; and how happy is the scientist when he finds what he so diligently sought, a pleasure that gladdens the heart.
Letter to Johan Gahn. Original German quote in Mary Elivira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 153, citing Nordenskiöld, Scheeles nachgelassene Briefe und Aufzeichnungen (1892), 151. Translation in Mary Elvira Weeks and Henry M. Leicester (ed.)The Discovery of the Elements (6th ed. 1956), 223.
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Qu'une goutee de vin tombe dans un verre d'eau; quelle que soit la loi du movement interne du liquide, nous verrons bientôt se colorer d'une teinte rose uniforme et à partir de ce moment on aura beau agiter le vase, le vin et l'eau ne partaîtront plus pouvoir se séparer. Tout cela, Maxwell et Boltzmann l'ont expliqué, mais celui qui l'a vu plus nettement, dans un livre trop peu lu parce qu'il est difficile à lire, c'est Gibbs dans ses principes de la Mécanique Statistique.
Let a drop of wine fall into a glass of water; whatever be the law that governs the internal movement of the liquid, we will soon see it tint itself uniformly pink and from th at moment on, however we may agitate the vessel, it appears that the wine and water can separate no more. All this, Maxwell and Boltzmann have explained, but the one who saw it in the cleanest way, in a book that is too little read because it is difficult to read, is Gibbs, in his Principles of Statistical Mechanics.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 3.
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Question: A hollow indiarubber ball full of air is suspended on one arm of a balance and weighed in air. The whole is then covered by the receiver of an air pump. Explain what will happen as the air in the receiver is exhausted.
Answer: The ball would expand and entirely fill the vessell, driving out all before it. The balance being of greater density than the rest would be the last to go, but in the end its inertia would be overcome and all would be expelled, and there would be a perfect vacuum. The ball would then burst, but you would not be aware of the fact on account of the loudness of a sound varying with the density of the place in which it is generated, and not on that in which it is heard.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 181, Question 21. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: Account for the delicate shades of colour sometimes seen on the inside of an oyster shell. State and explain the appearance presented when a beam of light falls upon a sheet of glass on which very fine equi-distant parallel lines have been scratched very close to one another.
Answer: The delicate shades are due to putrefaction; the colours always show best when the oyster has been a bad one. Hence they are considered a defect and are called chromatic aberration.
The scratches on the glass will arrange themselves in rings round the light, as any one may see at night in a tram car.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 182, Question 27. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: Explain how to determine the time of vibration of a given tuning-fork, and state what apparatus you would require for the purpose.
Answer: For this determination I should require an accurate watch beating seconds, and a sensitive ear. I mount the fork on a suitable stand, and then, as the second hand of my watch passes the figure 60 on the dial, I draw the bow neatly across one of its prongs. I wait. I listen intently. The throbbing air particles are receiving the pulsations; the beating prongs are giving up their original force; and slowly yet surely the sound dies away. Still I can hear it, but faintly and with close attention; and now only by pressing the bones of my head against its prongs. Finally the last trace disappears. I look at the time and leave the room, having determined the time of vibration of the common “pitch” fork. This process deteriorates the fork considerably, hence a different operation must be performed on a fork which is only lent.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 176-7, Question 4. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: Explain why pipes burst in cold weather.
Answer: People who have not studied acoustics think that Thor bursts the pipes, but we know that is nothing of the kind for Professor Tyndall has burst the mythologies and has taught us that it is the natural behaviour of water (and bismuth) without which all fish would die and the earth be held in an iron grip. (1881)
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1881), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 186-7, Question 10. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.) Webmaster notes that “fish would die” may refer to being taught that water's greatest density is at 4°C, and sinks below a frozen surface, so bodies of water can remain liquid underneath, to the benefit of the fish. The student was likely taught that bismuth, like water, expands when it freezes.
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Question: Explain why, in order to cook food by boiling, at the top of a high mountain, you must employ a different method from that used at the sea level.
Answer: It is easy to cook food at the sea level by boiling it, but once you get above the sea level the only plan is to fry it in its own fat. It is, in fact, impossible to boil water above the sea level by any amount of heat. A different method, therefore, would have to be employed to boil food at the top of a high mountain, but what that method is has not yet been discovered. The future may reveal it to a daring experimentalist.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 178-9, Question 11. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: State what are the conditions favourable for the formation of dew. Describe an instrument for determining the dew point, and the method of using it.
Answer: This is easily proved from question 1. A body of gas as it ascends expands, cools, and deposits moisture; so if you walk up a hill the body of gas inside you expands, gives its heat to you, and deposits its moisture in the form of dew or common sweat. Hence these are the favourable conditions; and moreover it explains why you get warm by ascending a hill, in opposition to the well-known law of the Conservation of Energy.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 179, Question 12. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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SCIENCE: a way of finding things out and then making them work. Science explains what is happening around us the whole time. So does RELIGION, but science is better because it comes up with more understandable excuses when it's wrong.
Wings (1990, 2007), 147.
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A chemist says that the first alcohol was distilled in Arabia, which may explain those nights.
Anonymous
Space filler, citing Detroit News, in The School of Education Record of the University of North Dakota (Jun 1926), 11 No. 9, 73.
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Sigmund Freud quote: A layman will no doubt find it hard to understand how pathological disorders of the body and mind can be el
A layman will no doubt find it hard to understand how pathological disorders of the body and mind can be eliminated by 'mere' words. He will feel that he is being asked to believe in magic. And he will not be so very wrong, for the words which we use in our everyday speech are nothing other than watered-down magic. But we shall have to follow a roundabout path in order to explain how science sets about restoring to words a part at least of their former magical power.
Psychical (or Mental) Treatment (1905), In James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol. 7, 283.
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A living organism must be studied from two distinct aspects. One of these is the causal-analytic aspect which is so fruitfully applicable to ontogeny. The other is the historical descriptive aspect which is unravelling lines of phylogeny with ever-increasing precision. Each of these aspects may make suggestions concerning the possible significance of events seen under the other, but does not explain or translate them into simpler terms.
'Embryology and Evolution', in G. R. de Beer (ed.), Evolution: Essays on Aspects of Evolutionary Biology presented to Professor E. S. Goodrich on his Seventieth Birthday (1938), 76-7.
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A mathematical argument is, after all, only organized common sense, and it is well that men of science should not always expound their work to the few behind a veil of technical language, but should from time to time explain to a larger public the reasoning which lies behind their mathematical notation.
In The Tides and Kindred Phenomena in the Solar System: The Substance of Lectures Delivered in 1897 at the Lowell Institute, Boston, Massachusetts (1898), Preface, v. Preface
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A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street.
…...
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A parable: A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones.” He asked a stone carver what he was doing. “I am carving a gargoyle.” And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said. “I am helping build a cathedral.”
...Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture.
[For example, in education, a teacher might say in the next class he was going to “explain Young's modulus and how to measure it,” rather than, “I am going to educate the students and prepare them for their future careers.”]
In The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (1975, 2005), 195.
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A premature attempt to explain something that thrills you will destroy your perceptivity rather than increase it, because your tendency will be to explain away rather than seek out.
Victor K. McElhenty, Insisting on the Impossible, 245.
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A theory that you can’t explain to a bartender is probably no damn good.
…...
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A vital phenomenon can only be regarded as explained if it has been proven that it appears as the result of the material components of living organisms interacting according to the laws which those same components follow in their interactions outside of living systems.
Gesammelte Schriften (1904), Vol. 3, 767. Trans. Paul F. Cranefield, 'The Organic Physics of 1847 and the Biophysics of Today', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 1957, 12, 410.
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Abstract as it is, science is but an outgrowth of life. That is what the teacher must continually keep in mind. … Let him explain … science is not a dead system—the excretion of a monstrous pedantism—but really one of the most vigorous and exuberant phases of human life.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 195-196.
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After I had addressed myself to this very difficult and almost insoluble problem, the suggestion at length came to me how it could be solved with fewer and much simpler constructions than were formerly used, if some assumptions (which are called axioms) were granted me. They follow in this order.
There is no one center of all the celestial circles or spheres.
The center of the earth is not the center of the universe, but only of gravity and of the lunar sphere.
All the spheres revolve about the sun as their mid-point, and therefore the sun is the center of the universe.
The ratio of the earth's distance from the sun to the height of the firmament is so much smaller than the ratio of the earth's radius to its distance from the sun that the distance from the earth to the sun is imperceptible in comparison with the height of the firmament.
Whatever motion appears in the firmament arises not from any motion of the firmament, but from the earth's motion. The earth together with its circumjacent elements performs a complete rotation on its fixed poles in a daily motion, while the firmament and highest heaven abide unchanged.
What appears to us as motions of the sun arise not from its motion but from the motion of the earth and our sphere, with which we revolve about the sun like any other planet. The earth has, then, more than one motion.
The apparent retrograde and direct motion of the planets arises not from their motion but from the earth's. The motion of the earth alone, therefore, suffices to explain so many apparent inequalities in the heavens.
'The Commentariolus', in Three Copernican Treatises (c.1510), trans. E. Rosen (1939), 58-9.
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After seeking in vain for the construction of a perpetual motion machine, the relations were investigated which must subsist between the forces of nature if such a machine is to be impossible; and this inverted question led to the discovery of the law of the conservation of energy, which, again, explained the impossibility of perpetual motion in the sense originally intended.
Opening of Lecture (1900), 'Mathematische Probleme' (Mathematical Problems), to the International Congress of Mathematicians, Paris. From the original German reprinted in David Hilbert: Gesammelte Abhandlungen (Collected Treatises, 1970), Vol. 3. For full citation, see the quote that begins, “This conviction of the solvability…”, on the David Hilbert Quotes page on this website.
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Although to penetrate into the intimate mysteries of nature and thence to learn the true causes of phenomena is not allowed to us, nevertheless it can happen that a certain fictive hypothesis may suffice for explaining many phenomena.
…...
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An intelligent patient, private or otherwise, to whom you have taken the trouble to explain the nature of the investigation, makes the best laboratory animal.
'Some of the ‘Do’s’ and ‘Do-Nots’ in Clinical Investigation,' Journal of Clinical Investigation (1944), 23, 921-26.
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An old French geometer used to say that a mathematical theory was never to be considered complete till you had made it so clear that you could explain it to the first man you met in the street.
In Nature (1873), 8, 458.
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Are not all Hypotheses erroneous, in which Light is supposed to consist in Pression or Motion, propagated through a fluid Medium? For in all these Hypotheses the Phaenomena of Light have been hitherto explain'd by supposing that they arise from new Modifications of the Rays; which is an erroneous Supposition.
Opticks, 2nd edition (1718), Book 3, Query 28, 337.
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As a general scientific principle, it is undesirable to depend crucially on what is unobservable to explain what is observable, as happens frequently in Big Bang cosmology.
In Arp, H.C., G. Burbidge, F. Hoyle, J.V. Narlikar, and N.C. Wickramasinghe, 'The Extragalactic Universe: An Alternative View,' Nature (30 Aug 1990), 346, No. 6287, 812.
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As for everything else, so for a mathematical theory: beauty can be perceived but not explained.
President’s address (1883) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in The Collected Mathematical Papers (1895), Vol. 8, xxii.
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As for the place of mathematics in relation to other sciences, mathematics can be seen as a big warehouse full of shelves. Mathematicians put things on the shelves and guarantee that they are true. They also explain how to use them and how to reconstruct them. Other sciences come and help themselves from the shelves; mathematicians are not concerned with what they do with what they have taken. This metaphor is rather coarse, but it reflects the situation well enough.
From interview with Marc Kirch, 'My First Fifty years at the Collège de France', collected in Helge Holden and Ragni Piene, The Abel Prize: 2003-2007 The First Five Years (2009), 15-29.
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As I strayed into the study of an eminent physicist, I observed hanging against the wall, framed like a choice engraving, several dingy, ribbon-like strips of, I knew not what... My curiosity was at once aroused. What were they? ... They might be shreds of mummy-wraps or bits of friable bark-cloth from the Pacific, ... [or] remnants from a grandmother’s wedding dress... They were none of these... He explained that they were carefully-prepared photographs of portions of the Solar Spectrum. I stood and mused, absorbed in the varying yet significant intensities of light and shade, bordered by mystic letters and symbolic numbers. As I mused, the pale legend began to glow with life. Every line became luminous with meaning. Every shadow was suffused with light shining from behind, suggesting some mighty achievement of knowledge; of knowledge growing more daring in proportion to the remoteness of the object known; of knowledge becoming more positive in its answers, as the questions which were asked seemed unanswerable. No Runic legend, no Babylonish arrowhead, no Egyptian hieroglyph, no Moabite stone, could present a history like this, or suggest thoughts of such weighty import or so stimulate and exalt the imagination.
The Sciences of Nature Versus the Science of Man: A Plea for the Science of Man (1871), 7-9.
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As one recalls some of the monstrous situations under which human beings have lived and live their lives, one marvels at man’s meekness and complacency. It can only be explained by the quality of flesh to become calloused to situations that if faced suddenly would provoke blisters and revolt.
From Why We Behave Like Human Beings (1925), 469
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At Gabriel College there was a very holy object on the high altar of the Oratory, covered with a black velvet cloth... At the height of the invocation the Intercessor lifted the cloth to reveal in the dimness a glass dome inside which there was something too distant to see, until he pulled a string attached to a shutter above, letting a ray of sunlight through to strike the dome exactly. Then it became clear: a little thing like a weathervane, with four sails black on one side and white on the other, began to whirl around as the light struck it. It illustrated a moral lesson, the Intercessor explained, for the black of ignorance fled from the light, whereas the wisdom of white rushed to embrace it.
[Alluding to Crookes's radiometer.]
Northern Lights (2001), 149.
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At length being at Clapham where there is, on the common, a large pond which, I observed to be one day very rough with the wind, I fetched out a cruet of oil and dropt a little of it on the water. I saw it spread itself with surprising swiftness upon the surface; but the effect of smoothing the waves was not produced; for I had applied it first on the leeward side of the pond, where the waves were largest, and the wind drove my oil back upon the shore. I then went to the windward side, where they began to form; and there the oil, though not more than a tea-spoonful, produced an instant calm over a space several yards square, which spread amazingly, and extended itself gradually till it reached the leeside, making all that quarter of the pond, perhaps half an acre, as smooth as a looking-glass.
[Experiment to test an observation made at sea in 1757, when he had seen the wake of a ship smoothed, explained by the captain as presumably due to cooks emptying greasy water in to the sea through the scuppers.]
Letter, extract in 'Of the still of Waves by Means of Oil The Gentleman's Magazine (1775), Vol. 45, 82.
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But how is it that they [astrologers] have never been able to explain why, in the life of twins, in their actions, in their experiences, their professions, their accomplishments, their positions—in all the other circumstances of human life, and even in death itself, there is often found such a diversity that in those respects many strangers show more resemblance to them than they show to one another, even though the smallest possible interval separated their births and though they were conceived at the same moment, by a single act of intercourse.
De Civitate Dei (The City of God) [413-426], Book V, chapter I, trans. H. Bettenson (1972),180-181.
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But no other theory can explain so much. Continental drift is without a cause or a physical theory. It has never been applied to any but the last part of geological time.
In 'Geophysics and Continental Growth', American Scientist (1959), 47, 23.
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Carbon is, as may easily be shown and as I shall explain in greater detail later, tetrabasic or tetratomic, that is 1 atom of carbon = C = 12 is equivalent to 4 At.H.
'On the so-called Copulated Compounds and the Theory of Polyatomic Radicals', Annalen (1857), 4, 133. Trans. in J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1972), Vol. 4, 536.
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Casting off the dark fog of verbal philosophy and vulgar medicine, which inculcate names alone ... I tried a series of experiments to explain more clearly many phenomena, particularly those of physiology. In order that I might subject as far as possible the reasonings of the Galenists and Peripatetics to sensory criteria, I began, after trying experiments, to write dialogues in which a Galenist adduced the better-known and stronger reasons and arguments; these a mechanist surgeon refuted by citing to the contrary the experiments I had tried, and a third, neutral interlocutor weighed the reasons advanced by both and provided an opportunity for further progress.
'Malpighi at Pisa 1656-1659', in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 1, 155-6.
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Chemistry is an art that has furnished the world with a great number of useful facts, and has thereby contributed to the improvement of many arts; but these facts lie scattered in many different books, involved in obscure terms, mixed with many falsehoods, and joined to a great deal of false philosophy; so that it is not great wonder that chemistry has not been so much studied as might have been expected with regard to so useful a branch of knowledge, and that many professors are themselves but very superficially acquainted with it. But it was particularly to be expected, that, since it has been taught in universities, the difficulties in this study should have been in some measure removed, that the art should have been put into form, and a system of it attempted—the scattered facts collected and arranged in a proper order. But this has not yet been done; chemistry has not yet been taught but upon a very narrow plan. The teachers of it have still confined themselves to the purposes of pharmacy and medicine, and that comprehends a small branch of chemistry; and even that, by being a single branch, could not by itself be tolerably explained.
John Thomson, An Account of the Life, Lectures and Writings of William Cullen, M.D. (1832), Vol. 1, 40.
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Chemists have made of phlogiston a vague principle which is not at all rigorously defined, and which, in consequence, adapts itself to all explanations in which it is wished it shall enter; sometimes it is free fire, sometimes it is fire combined with the earthy element; sometimes it passes through the pores of vessels, sometimes they are impenetrable to it; it explains both the causticity and non-causticity, transparency and opacity, colours and absence of colours. It is a veritable Proteus which changes its form every instant. It is time to conduct chemistry to a more rigorous mode of reasoning ... to distinguish fact and observation from what is systematic and hypothetical.
'Réflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 640, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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CREATION OF LIFE.
The Startling Discovery of Prof. Loeb.
Lower Animals Produced by Chemical Means.
Process May Apply to the Human Species.
Immaculate Conception is Explained.
Wonderful Experiments Conducted at Woods Hole.
Newspaper
The Boston Herald (26 Nov 1899), 17.
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Dalton transformed the atomic concept from a philosophical speculation into a scientific theory—framed to explain quantitative observations, suggesting new tests and experiments, and capable of being given quantitative form through the establishment of relative masses of atomic particles.
Development of Concepts of Physics. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 175.
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Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history. One has to put up with the crude English method of development, of course. Despite all deficiencies not only is the death-blow dealt here for the first time to “teleology” in the natural sciences, but their rational meaning is empirically explained.
Karl Marx
Marx to Lasalle, 16 Jan 1861. In Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence, 1846-95, trans. Donna Torr (1934), 125.
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De Morgan was explaining to an actuary what was the chance that a certain proportion of some group of people would at the end of a given time be alive; and quoted the actuarial formula, involving p [pi], which, in answer to a question, he explained stood for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. His acquaintance, who had so far listened to the explanation with interest, interrupted him and exclaimed, “My dear friend, that must be a delusion, what can a circle have to do with the number of people alive at a given time?”
In Mathematical Recreations and Problems (1896), 180; See also De Morgan’s Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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Doubtless the reasoning faculty, the mind, is the leading and characteristic attribute of the human race. By the exercise of this, man arrives at the properties of the natural bodies. This is science, properly and emphatically so called. It is the science of pure mathematics; and in the high branches of this science lies the truly sublime of human acquisition. If any attainment deserves that epithet, it is the knowledge, which, from the mensuration of the minutest dust of the balance, proceeds on the rising scale of material bodies, everywhere weighing, everywhere measuring, everywhere detecting and explaining the laws of force and motion, penetrating into the secret principles which hold the universe of God together, and balancing worlds against worlds, and system against system. When we seek to accompany those who pursue studies at once so high, so vast, and so exact; when we arrive at the discoveries of Newton, which pour in day on the works of God, as if a second fiat had gone forth from his own mouth; when, further, we attempt to follow those who set out where Newton paused, making his goal their starting-place, and, proceeding with demonstration upon demonstration, and discovery upon discovery, bring new worlds and new systems of worlds within the limits of the known universe, failing to learn all only because all is infinite; however we may say of man, in admiration of his physical structure, that “in form and moving he is express and admirable,” it is here, and here without irreverence, we may exclaim, “In apprehension how like a god!” The study of the pure mathematics will of course not be extensively pursued in an institution, which, like this [Boston Mechanics’ Institute], has a direct practical tendency and aim. But it is still to be remembered, that pure mathematics lie at the foundation of mechanical philosophy, and that it is ignorance only which can speak or think of that sublime science as useless research or barren speculation.
In Works (1872), Vol. 1, 180.
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Dr. M.L. von Franz has explained the circle (or sphere) as a symbol of Self. It expresses the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship between man and the whole of nature. It always points to the single most vital aspect of life, its ultimate wholeness.
In Aniela Jaffé, 'Symbolism in the Visual Arts', collected in Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols (1964, 1968), 266.
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Dr. Paget was conducting a school examination, and in the course of his questions he happened to ask a small child the meaning of “Average.” He was utterly bewildered by the reply, “The thing that hens lay on,” until the child explained that he had read in a book that hens lay on an average so many eggs a year.
Anecdote jotted down by Lewis Carroll to possibly send to the magazine Punch, as given in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 157.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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English science … isolates the reptile or mollusk it assumes to explain; whilst reptile or mollusk only exists in system, in relation.
In essay, 'Literature', English Traits (1856), collected in Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays First and Second Series (1883), 341.
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Enzymes are things invented by biologists that explain things which otherwise require harder thinking.
In Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004), 475, but without citation. If you know a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Even more difficult to explain, than the breaking-up of a single mass into fragments, and the drifting apart of these blocks to form the foundations of the present-day continents, is the explanation of the original production of the single mass, or PANGAEA, by the concentration of the former holosphere of granitic sial into a hemisphere of compressed and crushed gneisses and schists. Creep and the effects of compression, due to shrinking or other causes, have been appealed to but this is hardly a satisfactory explanation. The earth could no more shrug itself out of its outer rock-shell unaided, than an animal could shrug itself out of its hide, or a man wriggle out of his skin, or even out of his closely buttoned coat, without assistance either of his own hands or those of others.
The Rhythm of Ages (1940), 9-10.
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Everybody now wants to discover universal laws which will explain the structure and behavior of the nucleus of the atom. But actually our knowledge of the elementary particles that make up the nucleus is tiny. The situation calls for more modesty. We should first try to discover more about these elementary particles and about their laws. Then it will be the time for the major synthesis of what we really know, and the formulation of the universal law.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 74.
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Everyone admits that the male is the primary efficient cause in generation, as being that in whom the species or form resides, and they further assert that his genitures emitted in coitus causes the egg both to exist and to be fertile. But how the semen of the cock produces the chick from the egg, neither the philosophers nor the physicians of yesterday or today have satisfactorily explained, or solved the problem formulated by Aristotle.
Disputations Touching the Generation of Animals (1651), trans. Gweneth Whitteridge (1981), Chapter 47, 214.
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Extremely hazardous is the desire to explain everything, and to supply whatever appears a gap in history—for in this propensity lies the first cause and germ of all those violent and arbitrary hypotheses which perplex and pervert the science of history far more than the open avowal of our ignorance, or the uncertainty of our knowledge: hypotheses which give an oblique direction, or an exaggerated and false extension, to a view of the subject originally not incorrect.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 12.
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Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (1983, 1994), Chap. 19.
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Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do, but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.
Scribbled by Einstein on a letter received during a visit to England (1933) from a man who suggested that gravity meant that as the world rotated people were sometimes upside down, horizontal, or at 'left angles' and that perhaps, this disorientation explained why people do foolish things like falling in love.
In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (editors.), Einstein: The Human Side (1981), 56.
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Fools and savages explain ; wise men investigate.
One of Gull’s favorite sayings, as given by the Editor in Preface to Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), xvi.
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For it is too bad that there are so few who seek the truth and so few who do not follow a mistaken method in philosophy. This is not, however, the place to lament the misery of our century, but to rejoice with you over such beautiful ideas for proving the truth. So I add only, and I promise, that I shall read your book at leisure; for I am certain that I shall find the noblest things in it. And this I shall do the more gladly, because I accepted the view of Copernicus many years ago, and from this standpoint I have discovered from their origins many natural phenomena, which doubtless cannot be explained on the basis of the more commonly accepted hypothesis.
Letter (4 Aug 1597) to Kepler, expressing thanks and interest in the book Kepler sent him. As quoted in translation in Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Alternate Volume: Since 1300 (2010), Vol. 2, 494.
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For it is too bad that there are so few who seek the truth and so few who do not follow a mistaken method in philosophy. This is not, however, the place to lament the misery of our century, but to rejoice with you over such beautiful ideas for proving the truth. So I add only, and I promise, that I shall read your book at leisure; for I am certain that I shall find the noblest things in it. And this I shall do the more gladly, because I accepted the view of Copernicus many years ago, and from this standpoint I have discovered from their origins many natural phenomena, which doubtless cannot be explained on the basis of the more commonly accepted hypothesis.
In Letter to Johannes Kepler. As quoted in The Portable Renaissance Reader (1968), 597.
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Four college students taking a class together, had done so well through the semester, and each had an “A”. They were so confident, the weekend before finals, they went out partying with friends. Consequently, on Monday, they overslept and missed the final. They explained to the professor that they had gone to a remote mountain cabin for the weekend to study, but, unfortunately, they had a flat tire on the way back, didn’t have a spare, and couldn’t get help for a long time. As a result, they missed the final. The professor kindly agreed they could make up the final the following day. When they arrived the next morning, he placed them each in separate rooms, handed each one a test booklet, and told them to begin. The the first problem was simple, worth 5 points. Turning the page they found the next question, written: “(For 95 points): Which tire?”
Anonymous
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Further study of the division phenomena requires a brief discussion of the material which thus far I have called the stainable substance of the nucleus. Since the term nuclear substance could easily result in misinterpretation..., I shall coin the term chromatin for the time being. This does not indicate that this substance must be a chemical compound of a definite composition, remaining the same in all nuclei. Although this may be the case, we simply do not know enough about the nuclear substances to make such an assumption. Therefore, we will designate as chromatin that substance, in the nucleus, which upon treatment with dyes known as nuclear stains does absorb the dye. From my description of the results of staining resting and dividing cells... it follows that the chromatin is distributed throughout the whole resting nucleus, mostly in the nucleoli, the network, and the membrane, but also in the ground-substance. In nuclear division it accumulates exclusively in the thread figures. The term achromatin suggests itself automatically for the unstainable substance of the nucleus. The terms chromatic and achromatic which will be used henceforth are thus explained.
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Genius and science have burst the limits of space, and few observations, explained by just reasoning, have unveiled the mechanism of the universe. Would it not also be glorious for man to burst the limits of time, and, by a few observations, to ascertain the history of this world, and the series of events which preceded the birth of the human race?
'Preliminary discourse', to Recherches sur les Ossemens Fossiles (1812), trans. R. Kerr Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813), 3-4.
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Geology is part of that remarkable dynamic process of the human mind which is generally called science and to which man is driven by an inquisitive urge. By noticing relationships in the results of his observations, he attempts to order and to explain the infinite variety of phenomena that at first sight may appear to be chaotic. In the history of civilization this type of progressive scientist has been characterized by Prometheus stealing the heavenly fire, by Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, by the Faustian ache for wisdom.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454.
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God was always invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works … you don't need him anymore. But … you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet.
Interview, collected in Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown (eds.) Superstrings: A Theory of Everything? (1988), 208-209.
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Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.
Remarking on the complexity of Ptolemaic model of the universe after it was explained to him.
Footnote: Carlyle says, in his History of Frederick the Great, book ii. chap. vii. that this saying of Alphonso about Ptolemy's astronomy, 'that it seemed a crank machine; that it was pity the Creator had not taken advice,' is still remembered by mankind, — this and no other of his many sayings.
In John Bartlett and Nathan Haskell Dole (Ed.), Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources (1914), 954.
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He who wishes to explain Generation must take for his theme the organic body and its constituent parts, and philosophize about them; he must show how these parts originated, and how they came to be in that relation in which they stand to each other. But he who learns to know a thing not only from its phenomena, but also its reasons and causes; and who, therefore, not by the phenomena merely, but by these also, is compelled to say: “The thing must be so, and it cannot be otherwise; it is necessarily of such a character; it must have such qualities; it is impossible for it to possess others”—understands the thing not only historically but truly philosophically, and he has a philosophic knowledge of it. Our own Theory of Generation is to be such a philosphic comprehension of an organic body, a very different one from one merely historical. (1764)
Quoted as an epigraph to Chap. 2, in Ernst Haeckel, The Evolution of Man, (1886), Vol 1, 25.
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Hell, if I could explain it to the average person, it wouldn't have been worth the Nobel prize.
After being awarded a Nobel Prize, he was frequently asked to explain what he had done, and would would give this answer. As stated in Lee Dye, 'Nobel Physicist R.P. Feynman of Caltech Dies', Los Angeles Times (16 Feb 1988). About this answer, the articles also states that, “Feynman once said, claiming he was told that by a New York cab driver.”
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History, human or geological, represents our hypothesis, couched in terms of past events, devised to explain our present-day observations.
'Critique of the Principle of Uniformity', in C. C. Albritton (ed.), Uniformity and Simplicity (1967), 30.
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How twins are born my discourse will explain thus. The cause is chiefly the nature of the womb in woman. For if it has grown equally on either side of its mouth, and if it opens equally, and also dries equally after menstruation, it can give nourishment, if it conceive the secretion of the man so that it immediately divides into both parts of the womb equally. Now if the seed secreted from both parents be abundant and strong, it can grow in both places, as it masters the nourishment that reaches it. In all other cases twins are not formed. Now when the secretion from both parents is male, of necessity boys are begotten in both places; but when from both it is female, girls are begotten. But when one secretion is female and the other male, whichever masters the other gives the embryo its sex. Twins are like one another for the following reasons. First, the places are alike in which they grow; then they were secreted together; then they grow by the same nourishment, and at birth they reach together the light of day.
Regimen, in Hippocrates, trans. W. H. S. Jones (1931), Vol. 4, 273.
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Human personality resembles a coral reef: a large hard/dead structure built and inhabited by tiny soft/live animals. The hard/dead part of our personality consists of habits, memories, and compulsions and will probably be explained someday by some sort of extended computer metaphor. The soft/live part of personality consists of moment-to-moment direct experience of being. This aspect of personality is familiar but somewhat ineffable and has eluded all attempts at physical explanation.
Quoted in article 'Nick Herbert', in Gale Cengage Learning, Contemporary Authors Online (2002).
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I am further inclined to think, that when our views are sufficiently extended, to enable us to reason with precision concerning the proportions of elementary atoms, we shall find the arithmetical relation alone will not be sufficient to explain their mutual action, and that we shall be obliged to acquire a geometric conception of their relative arrangement in all three dimensions of solid extension.
Paper. Read to the Royal Society (28 Jan 1808), in 'On Super-acid and Sub-acid salts', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, (1808), 98, 101.
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I believe—and human psychologists, particularly psychoanalysts should test this—that present-day civilized man suffers from insufficient discharge of his aggressive drive. It is more than probable that the evil effects of the human aggressive drives, explained by Sigmund Freud as the results of a special death wish, simply derive from the fact that in prehistoric times intra-specific selection bred into man a measure of aggression drive for which in the social order today he finds no adequate outlet.
On Aggression, trans. M. Latzke (1966), 209.
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I can no more explain why I like “natural history” than why I like California canned peaches; nor why I do not care for that enormous brand of natural history which deals with invertebrates any more than why I do not care for brandied peaches. All I can say is that almost as soon as I began to read at all I began to like to read about the natural history of beasts and birds and the more formidable or interesting reptiles and fishes.
In 'My Life as a Naturalist', American Museum Journal (May 1918), 18, 321. As cited in Maurice Garland Fulton (ed.) Roosevelt's Writings: Selections from the Writings of Theodore Roosevelt (1920), 247.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I can’t explain it, but spiritually it makes sense— though I don’t understand how it does make sense.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 120
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I can’t think of any definition of the words mathematician or scientist that would apply to me. I think of myself as a journalist who knows just enough about mathematics to be able to take low-level math and make it clear and interesting to nonmathematicians. Let me say that I think not knowing too much about a subject is an asset for a journalist, not a liability. The great secret of my column is that I know so little about mathematics that I have to work hard to understand the subject myself. Maybe I can explain things more clearly than a professional mathematician can.
In Scot Morris, 'Interview: Martin Gardner', Omni, 4, No. 4 (Jan 1982), 68.
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I claim that relativity and the rest of modern physics is not complicated. It can be explained very simply. It is only unusual or, put another way, it is contrary to common sense.
In Edward Teller, Wendy Teller and Wilson Talley, Conversations on the Dark Secrets of Physics (1991, 2013), 2.
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I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an arm-chair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Frequently.”
“How often?”
“'Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many! I don't know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
From 'Adventure I.—A Scandal in Bohemia', Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly (Jul 1891), Vol. 2, 62.
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I did enjoy the [CCNY geology] field trips. We went upstate and clambered over formations of synclines and anticlines. We had to diagram them, and figure out their mirror images. If you had an anticline here, you should be able to predict a complementing syncline bulging out somewhere else. Very satisfying when I got it right. Geology allowed me to display my brilliance to my non-college friends. “You know, the Hudson really isn't a river.” “What are you talking about? … Everybody knows the Hudson River's a river.” I would explain that the Hudson was a “drowned” river, up to about Poughkeepsie. The Ice Age had depressed the riverbed to a depth that allowed the Atlantic Ocean to flood inland. Consequently, the lower Hudson was really a saltwater estuary.[Powell graduated with a B.S. degree in Geology.]
My American Journey (1996), 30-31.
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I do not profess to be able thus to account for all the [planetary] motions at the same time; but I shall show that each by itself is well explained by its proper hypothesis.
Ptolemy
(c. 100 AD). From introduction to 'Hypotheses', translated into French by Abbé N. Halma, Hypothèses et époques des planètes de Cl. Ptolémée et Hypotyposes de Proclus Diadochus (1820), 41-42. As quoted, in English, in John Louis Emil Dreyer History of the Planetary Systems from Thales to Kepler (1906), 201. In French, “Je ne prétends pas pouvoir ainsi rendre raison de tous ces mouvemens à la fois; mais je veux montrer que chacun à part s'explique très-bien par son hypothèse propre.”
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I have always felt that astronomical hypotheses should not be regarded as articles of faith, but should only serve as a framework for astronomical calculations, so that it does not matter whether they were right or wrong, as long as the phenomena can be characterized precisely. For who could possibly be certain as to whether the uneven movement of the sun, if we follow the hypotheses of Ptolemy, can be explained by assuming an epicycle or eccentricity. Both assumptions are plausible. That’s why I would consider it quite desirable for you to tell something about that in the preface. In this way you would appease the Aristotelians and the theologians, whose opposition you dread.
From surviving fragment of a Letter (20 Apr 1541) answering a query from Copernicus as to whether he should publish his book (De Revolutionibus). From the German in Leopold Friedrich Prowe, Nicolaus Coppernicus (1883), Vol. 1, Part 2, 521-522. Translated from Prowe by Webmaster using web resources. Original German: “Hypothesen nicht als Glaubens-Artikel zu betrachten seien, sondern nur als Grundlage für die astronomischen Rechnungen zu dienen hätten, so dass es nicht darauf ankomme, ob sie richtig oder falsch seien, wofern sich nur die Erscheinungen dadurch genau bestimmen liessen. »Denn wer dürfte uns wohl darüber sichere Auskunft geben, ob die ungleiche Bewegung der Sonne, wenn wir den Hypothesen des Ptolemaeus folgen, durch Annahme eines Epicykels oder der Ekcentricität zu erklären sei. Beide Annahmen sind gestattet. Daher würde ich—so schliesst Osiander—es für recht wünschenswerth erachten, wenn Du hierüber in der Vorrede etwas beibrächtest. Auf diese Weise würdest Du die Aristoteliker und die Theologen milder stimmen, von denen Du befürchtest, dass sie heftigen Widerspruch kundthun werden.«” Compare Latin text, from Johannes Kepler, 'Apologia Tychonia', Astronomi Opera Omnia (1858), Vol. 1, 246: “De hypothesibus ego sic sensi semper, non esse articulos fidei, sed fundamenta calculi ita ut, etiamsi falsae sint, modo motuum φαινομενα exacte exhibeant, nihil referat; quis enim nos certiores reddet, an Solis inaequalis motus nomine epicycli an nomine eccentricitatis contingat, si Ptolemaei hypotheses sequamur, cum id possit utrumque. Quare plausibile fore videretur, si hac de re in praefatione nonnihil attingeres. Sic enim placidiores redderes peripatheticos et theologos, quos contradicturos metuis.”
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I have never had any student or pupil under me to aid me with assistance; but have always prepared and made my experiments with my own hands, working & thinking at the same time. I do not think I could work in company, or think aloud, or explain my thoughts at the time. Sometimes I and my assistant have been in the Laboratory for hours & days together, he preparing some lecture apparatus or cleaning up, & scarcely a word has passed between us; — all this being a consequence of the solitary & isolated system of investigation; in contradistinction to that pursued by a Professor with his aids & pupils as in your Universities.
Letter to C. Ransteed, 16 Dec 1857. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 888.
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I have no doubt that certain learned men, now that the novelty of the hypotheses in this work has been widely reported—for it establishes that the Earth moves, and indeed that the Sun is motionless in the middle of the universe—are extremely shocked, and think that the scholarly disciplines, rightly established once and for all, should not be upset. But if they are willing to judge the matter thoroughly, they will find that the author of this work has committed nothing which deserves censure. For it is proper for an astronomer to establish a record of the motions of the heavens with diligent and skilful observations, and then to think out and construct laws for them, or rather hypotheses, whatever their nature may be, since the true laws cannot be reached by the use of reason; and from those assumptions the motions can be correctly calculated, both for the future and for the past. Our author has shown himself outstandingly skilful in both these respects. Nor is it necessary that these hypotheses should be true, nor indeed even probable, but it is sufficient if they merely produce calculations which agree with the observations. … For it is clear enough that this subject is completely and simply ignorant of the laws which produce apparently irregular motions. And if it does work out any laws—as certainly it does work out very many—it does not do so in any way with the aim of persuading anyone that they are valid, but only to provide a correct basis for calculation. Since different hypotheses are sometimes available to explain one and the same motion (for instance eccentricity or an epicycle for the motion of the Sun) an astronomer will prefer to seize on the one which is easiest to grasp; a philosopher will perhaps look more for probability; but neither will grasp or convey anything certain, unless it has been divinely revealed to him. Let us therefore allow these new hypotheses also to become known beside the older, which are no more probable, especially since they are remarkable and easy; and let them bring with them the vast treasury of highly learned observations. And let no one expect from astronomy, as far as hypotheses are concerned, anything certain, since it cannot produce any such thing, in case if he seizes on things constructed for another other purpose as true, he departs from this discipline more foolish than he came to it.
Although this preface would have been assumed by contemporary readers to be written by Copernicus, it was unsigned. It is now believed to have been written and added at press time by Andreas Osiander (who was then overseeing the printing of the book). It suggests the earth’s motion as described was merely a mathematical device, and not to be taken as absolute reality. Text as given in 'To the Reader on the Hypotheses in this Work', Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), translated by ‎Alistair Matheson Duncan (1976), 22-3. By adding this preface, Osiander wished to stave off criticism by theologians. See also the Andreas Osiander Quotes page of this website.
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I have often noticed that when people come to understand a mathematical proposition in some other way than that of the ordinary demonstration, they promptly say, “Oh, I see. That’s how it must be.” This is a sign that they explain it to themselves from within their own system.
Lichtenberg: A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions: Reconstructed From: Reconstructed From His Aphorisms and Reflections (1959), 291.
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I have repeatedly had cause to refer to certain resemblances between the phenomena of irritability in the vegetable kingdom and those of the animal body, thus touching a province of investigation which has hitherto been far too little cultivated. In the last instance, indeed, I might say animal and vegetable life must of necessity agree in all essential points, including the phenomena of irritability also, since it is established that the animal organism is constructed entirely and simply from the properties of these substances that all vital movements both of plants and animals are to be explained.
Lectures on the Physiology of Plants (1887), 600.
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I must … explain how I was led to concern myself with the pathogenic protozoa. … I was sent to Algeria and put in charge of a department of the hospital at Bone. A large number of my patients had malarial fevers and I was naturally led to study these fevers of which I had only seen rare and benign forms in France.
From Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1907), 'Protozoa as Causes of Diseases', collected in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967, 1999), 264.
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I shall explain a System of the World differing in many particulars from any yet known, answering in all things to the common Rules of Mechanical Motions: This depends upon three Suppositions. First, That all Cœlestial Bodies whatsoever, have an attraction or gravitating power towards their own Centers, whereby they attract not only their own parts, and keep them from flying from them, as we may observe the Earth to do, but that they do also attract all the other Cœlestial bodies that are within the sphere of their activity; and consequently that not only the Sun and Moon have an influence upon the body and motion the Earth, and the Earth upon them, but that Mercury also Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter by their attractive powers, have a considerable influence upon its motion in the same manner the corresponding attractive power of the Earth hath a considerable influence upon every one of their motions also. The second supposition is this, That all bodies whatsoever that are put into a direct and simple motion, will continue to move forward in a streight line, till they are by some other effectual powers deflected and bent into a Motion, describing a Circle, Ellipse, or some other more compounded Curve Line. The third supposition is, That these attractive powers are so much the more powerful in operating, by how much the nearer the body wrought upon is to their own Centers. Now what these several degrees are I have not yet experimentally verified; but it is a notion, which if fully prosecuted as it ought to be, will mightily assist the Astronomer to reduce all the Cœlestial Motions to a certain rule, which I doubt will never be done true without it. He that understands the nature of the Circular Pendulum and Circular Motion, will easily understand the whole ground of this Principle, and will know where to find direction in Nature for the true stating thereof. This I only hint at present to such as have ability and opportunity of prosecuting this Inquiry, and are not wanting of Industry for observing and calculating, wishing heartily such may be found, having myself many other things in hand which I would first compleat and therefore cannot so well attend it. But this I durst promise the Undertaker, that he will find all the Great Motions of the World to be influenced by this Principle, and that the true understanding thereof will be the true perfection of Astronomy.
An Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth from Observations (1674), 27-8. Based on a Cutlerian Lecture delivered by Hooke at the Royal Society four years earlier.
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I took him [Lawrence Bragg] to a young zoologist working on pattern formation in insect cuticles. The zoologist explained how disturbances introduced into these regular patterns pointed to their formation being governed by some kind of gradient. Bragg listened attentively and then exclaimed: “Your disturbed gradient behaves like a stream of sand running downhill and encountering an obstacle.” “Good heavens,” replied the zoologist, “I had been working on this problem for years before this simple analogy occurred to me and you think of it after twenty minutes.”
As quoted in David Phillips, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1979), 25, 132, citing: Perutz, M.F. 1971 New Sci. & Sci. J. 8 July 1967.
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I use the word “attraction” here in a general sense for any endeavor whatever of bodies to approach one another, whether that endeavor occurs as a result of the action of the bodies either drawn toward one other or acting on one another by means of spirits emitted or whether it arises from the action of aether or of air or of any medium whatsoever—whether corporeal or incorporeal—in any way impelling toward one another the bodies floating therein. I use the word “impulse” in the same general sense, considering in this treatise not the species of forces and their physical qualities but their quantities and mathematical proportions, as I have explained in the definitions.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Book I, Section II, Scholium, 588.
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I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaître first proposed this [Big Bang] theory. ... There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. .... It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago.
[Expressing his belief that the Big Bang is a myth devised to explain creation. He said he heard Lemaître (who was, at the time both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist) say in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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I would teach the world that science is the best way to understand the world, and that for any set of observations, there is only one correct explanation. Also, science is value-free, as it explains the world as it is. Ethical issues arise only when science is applied to technology – from medicine to industry.
Response to question “What is the one thing everyone should learn about science?” in 'Life Lessons' The Guardian (7 Apr 2005).
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I've found out so much about electricity that I've reached the point where I understand nothing and can explain nothing.
[Describing his experiments with the Leyden jar.]
Letter to Réamur (20 Jan 1746), in AS. Proc. verb., LXV (1746), 6. Cited in J. L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: a Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 314.
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Ideas, like ghosts (according to the common notion of a ghost), must be spoken to a little before they will explain themselves.
From Dealings With the Firm of Dombey and Son (1846), Vol. 1, 184.
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If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
…...
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If everything in chemistry is explained in a satisfactory manner without the help of phlogiston, it is by that reason alone infinitely probable that the principle does not exist; that it is a hypothetical body, a gratuitous supposition; indeed, it is in the principles of good logic, not to multiply bodies without necessity.
'Reflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 623, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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If I were working in astrophysics I would find it quite hard to explain to people what I was doing. Natural history is a pretty easy thing to explain. It does have its complexities, but nowhere do you speak about things that are outside people’s experience. You might speak about a species that is outside their experience, but nothing as remote as astrophysics.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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If molecules can be structurally identical and yet possess dissimilar properties, this can be explained only on the ground that the difference is due to a different arrangement of the atoms in space.
In Annalen der Chemie (1873), 166, 47, translated in A. Ihde, The Development of Modern Chemistry (1964), 326.
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If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 10.
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If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking upon his creation, I should have recommended something simpler.
Remarking on the complexity of Ptolemaic model of the universe after it was explained to him.
(circa 1250 A.D.) As atttributed, in John Esten Keller, Alfonso X, El Sabio (1967), Preface.
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If we ascribe the ejection of the proton to a Compton recoil from a quantum of 52 x 106 electron volts, then the nitrogen recoil atom arising by a similar process should have an energy not greater than about 400,000 volts, should produce not more than about 10,000 ions, and have a range in the air at N.T.P. of about 1-3mm. Actually, some of the recoil atoms in nitrogen produce at least 30,000 ions. In collaboration with Dr. Feather, I have observed the recoil atoms in an expansion chamber, and their range, estimated visually, was sometimes as much as 3mm. at N.T.P.
These results, and others I have obtained in the course of the work, are very difficult to explain on the assumption that the radiation from beryllium is a quantum radiation, if energy and momentum are to be conserved in the collisions. The difficulties disappear, however, if it be assumed that the radiation consists of particles of mass 1 and charge 0, or neutrons. The capture of the a-particle by the Be9 nucleus may be supposed to result in the formation of a C12 nucleus and the emission of the neutron. From the energy relations of this process the velocity of the neutron emitted in the forward direction may well be about 3 x 109 cm. per sec. The collisions of this neutron with the atoms through which it passes give rise to the recoil atoms, and the observed energies of the recoil atoms are in fair agreement with this view. Moreover, I have observed that the protons ejected from hydrogen by the radiation emitted in the opposite direction to that of the exciting a-particle appear to have a much smaller range than those ejected by the forward radiation.
This again receives a simple explanation on the neutron hypothesis.
'Possible Existence of a Neutron', Letter to the Editor, Nature, 1932, 129, 312.
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If we assume that there is only one enzyme present to act as an oxidizing agent, we must assume for it as many different degrees of activity as are required to explain the occurrence of the various colors known to mendelize (three in mice, yellow, brown, and black). If we assume that a different enzyme or group of enzymes is responsible for the production of each pigment we must suppose that in mice at least three such enzymes or groups of enzymes exist. To determine which of these conditions occurs in mice is not a problem for the biologist, but for the chemist. The biologist must confine his attention to determining the number of distinct agencies at work in pigment formation irrespective of their chemical nature. These agencies, because of their physiological behavior, the biologist chooses to call 'factors,' and attempts to learn what he can about their functions in the evolution of color varieties.
Experimental Studies of the Inheritance of Color in Mice (1913), 17-18.
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If we wish to give an account of the atomic constitution of the aromatic compounds, we are bound to explain the following facts:
1) All aromatic compounds, even the most simple, are relatively richer in carbon than the corresponding compounds in the class of fatty bodies.
2) Among the aromatic compounds, as well as among the fatty bodies, a large number of homologous substances exist.
3) The most simple aromatic compounds contain at least six atoms of carbon.
4) All the derivatives of aromatic substances exhibit a certain family likeness; they all belong to the group of 'Aromatic compounds'. In cases where more vigorous reactions take place, a portion of the carbon is often eliminated, but the chief product contains at least six atoms of carbon These facts justify the supposition that all aromatic compounds contain a common group, or, we may say, a common nucleus consisting of six atoms of carbon. Within this nucleus a more intimate combination of the carbon atoms takes place; they are more compactly placed together, and this is the cause of the aromatic bodies being relatively rich in carbon. Other carbon atoms can be joined to this nucleus in the same way, and according to the same law, as in the case of the group of fatty bodies, and in this way the existence of homologous compounds is explained.
Bulletin de la Societé Chimique de France (1865), 1, 98. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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If you do not agree with the prevalent point of view, be ready to explain why.
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In a nutshell, the universe is 4% visible, 23% undetectable and 73% unimaginable. Welcome to the cosmos, full of mass you can measure but not manhandle, driven by a force you can infer but not explain.
In 'Dark Side of Creation', The Guardian (12 Feb 2004).
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In a sense cosmology contains all subjects because it is the story of everything, including biology, psychology and human history. In that single sense it can be said to contain an explanation also of time's arrow. But this is not what is meant by those who advocate the cosmological explanation of irreversibility. They imply that in some way the time arrow of cosmology imposes its sense on the thermodynamic arrow. I wish to disagree with this view. The explanation assumes that the universe is expanding. While this is current orthodoxy, there is no certainty about it. The red-shifts might be due to quite different causes. For example, when light passes through the expanding clouds of gas it will be red-shifted. A large number of such clouds might one day be invoked to explain these red shifts. It seems an odd procedure to attempt to 'explain' everyday occurrences, such as the diffusion of milk into coffee, by means of theories of the universe which are themselves less firmly established than the phenomena to be explained. Most people believe in explaining one set of things in terms of others about which they are more certain, and the explanation of normal irreversible phenomena in terms of the cosmological expansion is not in this category.
'Thermodynamics, Cosmology) and the Physical Constants', in J. T. Fraser (ed.), The Study of Time III (1973), 117-8.
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In attempting to explain geological phenomena, the bias has always been on the wrong side; there has always been a disposition to reason á priori on the extraordinary violence and suddenness of changes, both in the inorganic crust of the earth, and in organic types, instead of attempting strenuously to frame theories in accordance with the ordinary operations of nature.
Letter to Rev. W. Whewell (7 Mar 1837). Quoted in Mrs Lyell (ed.), Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart (1881), Vol. 2, 3.
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In both social and natural sciences, the body of positive knowledge grows by the failure of a tentative hypothesis to predict phenomena the hypothesis professes to explain; by the patching up of that hypothesis until someone suggests a new hypothesis that more elegantly or simply embodies the troublesome phenomena, and so on ad infinitum. In both, experiment is sometimes possible, sometimes not (witness meteorology). In both, no experiment is ever completely controlled, and experience often offers evidence that is the equivalent of controlled experiment. In both, there is no way to have a self-contained closed system or to avoid interaction between the observer and the observed. The Gödel theorem in mathematics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, the self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecy in the social sciences all exemplify these limitations.
Inflation and Unemployment (1976), 348.
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In chemistry, our theories are crutches; to show that they are valid, they must be used to walk... A theory established with the help of twenty facts must explain thirty, and lead to the discovery of ten more.
Leçons sur la Philosophie Chimique (1837), 60. Trans. S. Kapoor, 'Dumas and Organic Classification', Ambix, 1969, 16, 4.
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In every case the awakening touch has been the mathematical spirit, the attempt to count, to measure, or to calculate. What to the poet or the seer may appear to be the very death of all his poetry and all his visions—the cold touch of the calculating mind,—this has proved to be the spell by which knowledge has been born, by which new sciences have been created, and hundreds of definite problems put before the minds and into the hands of diligent students. It is the geometrical figure, the dry algebraical formula, which transforms the vague reasoning of the philosopher into a tangible and manageable conception; which represents, though it does not fully describe, which corresponds to, though it does not explain, the things and processes of nature: this clothes the fruitful, but otherwise indefinite, ideas in such a form that the strict logical methods of thought can be applied, that the human mind can in its inner chamber evolve a train of reasoning the result of which corresponds to the phenomena of the outer world.
In A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1896), Vol. 1, 314.
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In geology the effects to be explained have almost all occurred already, whereas in these other sciences effects actually taking place have to be explained.
Climate and Time in their Geological Relations: A Theory of Secular Change of the Earth's Climate (1875), 4.
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In its essence, the theory of natural selection is primarily an attempt to give an account of the probable mechanism of the origin of the adaptations of the organisms to their environment, and only secondarily an attempt to explain evolution at large. Some modern biologists seem to believe that the word 'adaptation' has teleological connotations, and should therefore be expunged from the scientific lexicon. With this we must emphatically disagree. That adaptations exist is so evident as to be almost a truism, although this need not mean that ours is the best of all possible worlds. A biologist has no right to close his eyes to the fact that the precarious balance between a living being and its environment must be preserved by some mechanism or mechanisms if life is to endure.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 150.
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In modern Europe, the Middle Ages were called the Dark Ages. Who dares to call them so now? … Their Dante and Alfred and Wickliffe and Abelard and Bacon; their Magna Charta, decimal numbers, mariner’s compass, gunpowder, glass, paper, and clocks; chemistry, algebra, astronomy; their Gothic architecture, their painting,—are the delight and tuition of ours. Six hundred years ago Roger Bacon explained the precession of the equinoxes, and the necessity of reform in the calendar; looking over how many horizons as far as into Liverpool and New York, he announced that machines can be constructed to drive ships more rapidly than a whole galley of rowers could do, nor would they need anything but a pilot to steer; carriages, to move with incredible speed, without aid of animals; and machines to fly into the air like birds.
In 'Progress of Culture', an address read to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, 18 July 1867. Collected in Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1883), 475.
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In order to discover Truth in this manner by observation and reason, it is requisite we should fix on some principles whose certainty and effects are demonstrable to our senses, which may serve to explain the phenomena of natural bodies and account for the accidents that arise in them; such only are those which are purely material in the human body with mechanical and physical experiments … a physician may and ought to furnish himself with, and reason from, such things as are demonstrated to be true in anatomy, chemistry, and mechanics, with natural and experimental philosophy, provided he confines his reasoning within the bounds of truth and simple experiment.
As quoted in selection from the writings of Herman Boerhaave, collected in Oliver Joseph Thatcher (ed.), The Ideas that Have Influenced Civilization, in the Original Documents (1800), Vol. 6, 242.
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In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the world “simplest.” It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticisms of poetry or painting. The layman finds such a law as dx/dt = κ(d²x/dy²) much less simple than “it oozes,” of which it is the mathematical statement. The physicist reverses this judgment, and his statement is certainly the more fruitful of the two, so far as prediction is concerned. It is, however, a statement about something very unfamiliar to the plain man, namely the rate of change of a rate of change.
In 'Science and Theology as Art-Forms', Possible Worlds (1927), 227.
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In the endeavor to clearly comprehend and explain the functions of the combination of forces called “brain,” the physiologist is hindered and troubled by the views of the nature of those cerebral forces which the needs of dogmatic theology have imposed on mankind.
In 'General Conclusions, Anatomy of the Vertebrates (1868, 2011), Vol. 3, Chap 40, 823. Excerpt in Noah Porter (ed.), Half Hours with Modern Scientists (1872), 71.
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In the modern interpretation of Mendelism, facts are being transformed into factors at a rapid rate. If one factor will not explain the facts, then two are involved; if two prove insufficient, three will sometimes work out. The superior jugglery sometimes necessary to account for the results may blind us, if taken too naively, to the common-place that the results are often so excellently 'explained' because the explanation was invented to explain them. We work backwards from the facts to the factors, and then, presto! explain the facts by the very factors that we invented to account for them. I am not unappreciative of the distinct advantages that this method has in handling the facts. I realize how valuable it has been to us to be able to marshal our results under a few simple assumptions, yet I cannot but fear that we are rapidly developing a sort of Mendelian ritual by which to explain the extraordinary facts of alternative inheritance. So long as we do not lose sight of the purely arbitrary and formal nature of our formulae, little harm will be done; and it is only fair to state that those who are doing the actual work of progress along Mendelian lines are aware of the hypothetical nature of the factor-assumption.
'What are 'Factors' in Mendelian Explanations?', American Breeders Association (1909), 5, 365.
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In the past, you wouldn’t have had any problem in getting a countryman to explain the difference between a blackbird and a song thrush, but you might have that difficulty with a kid now. Equally, if you asked a chap about gorillas in the 19th-century, he wouldn’t have heard of the creatures, but today an urban boy knows all about them.
Explaining how the success of nature documentaries may result in children who know more about gorillas than the wildlife in their own gardens. As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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In the whole of geophysics there is probably hardly another law of such clarity and reliability as this—that there are two preferential levels for the world’s surface which occur in alternation side by side and are represented by the continents and the ocean floors, respectively. It is therefore very surprising that scarcely anyone has tried to explain this law.
In The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966), 37.
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In the year 1902 (while I was attempting to explain to an elementary class in chemistry some of the ideas involved in the periodic law) becoming interested in the new theory of the electron, and combining this idea with those which are implied in the periodic classification, I formed an idea of the inner structure of the atom which, although it contained certain crudities, I have ever since regarded as representing essentially the arrangement of electrons in the atom ... In accordance with the idea of Mendeleef, that hydrogen is the first member of a full period, I erroneously assumed helium to have a shell of eight electrons. Regarding the disposition in the positive charge which balanced the electrons in the neutral atom, my ideas were very vague; I believed I inclined at that time toward the idea that the positive charge was also made up of discrete particles, the localization of which determined the localization of the electrons.
Valence and the Structure of Atoms and Molecules (1923), 29-30.
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It appears that the extremely important papers that trigger a revolution may not receive a proportionately large number of citations. The normal procedures of referencing are not used for folklore. A real scientific revolution, like any other revolution, is news. The Origin of Species sold out as fast as it could be printed and was denounced from the pulpit almost immediately. Sea-floor spreading has been explained, perhaps not well, in leading newspapers, magazines, books, and most recently in a color motion picture. When your elementary school children talk about something at dinner, you rarely continue to cite it.
'Citations in a Scientific Revolution', in R. Shagam et al., Studies in Earth and Space Sciences: A Memoir in Honor of Harry Hammond Hess (1972), 4.
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It can hardly be pressed forcibly enough on the attention of the student of nature, that there is scarcely any natural phenomenon which can be fully and completely explained, in all its circumstances, without a union of several, perhaps of all, the sciences.
Quoted in John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life (Appleton, 1887), 182.
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It has been long considered possible to explain the more ancient revolutions on... [the Earth's] surface by means of these still existing causes; in the same manner as it is found easy to explain past events in political history, by an acquaintance with the passions and intrigues of the present day. But we shall presently see that unfortunately this is not the case in physical history:—the thread of operation is here broken, the march of nature is changed, and none of the agents that she now employs were sufficient for the production of her ancient works.
'Preliminary discourse', to Recherches sur les Ossemens Fossiles (1812), trans. R. Kerr Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813), 24.
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It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find him writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 61 (Hardy's opening lines after Snow's foreward).
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is admitted, on all hands, that the Scriptures are not intended to resolve physical questions, or to explain matters in no way related to the morality of human actions; and if, in consequence of this principle, a considerable latitude of interpretation were not allowed, we should continue at this moment to believe, that the earth is flat; that the sun moves round the earth; and that the circumference of a circle is no more than three times its diameter.
In The Works of John Playfair: Vol. 1: Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1822), 137.
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It is better to have recourse to a Quack, if he can cure our disorder, although he cannot explain it than to a Physician, if he can explain our disease but cannot cure it.
Reflection 323, in Lacon: Or Many Things in Few Words, Addressed to Those who Think (1820), 166.
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It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life. Who can explain gravity? No one now objects to following out the results consequent on this unknown element of attraction...
The Origin of Species (1909), 519-520.
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It is structure that we look for whenever we try to understand anything. All science is built upon this search; we investigate how the cell is built of reticular material, cytoplasm, chromosomes; how crystals aggregate; how atoms are fastened together; how electrons constitute a chemical bond between atoms. We like to understand, and to explain, observed facts in terms of structure. A chemist who understands why a diamond has certain properties, or why nylon or hemoglobin have other properties, because of the different ways their atoms are arranged, may ask questions that a geologist would not think of formulating, unless he had been similarly trained in this way of thinking about the world.
‘The Place of Chemistry In the Integration of the Sciences’, Main Currents in Modern Thought (1950), 7, 110.
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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 is the business of scientists to explain away the magic in the world. The largest coherent body of magic remaining is the behavior of (humans) and animals.
In paper co-authored by William G. Quinn and James L. Gould, 'Nerves and genes', Nature (1 Mar 1979), 278, No. 5699, 23. As partially quoted in Michael F. Roberts and Anne E. Kruchten, Receptor Biology (2016), 238.
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It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It must be gently but firmly pointed out that analogy is the very corner-stone of scientific method. A root-and-branch condemnation would invalidate any attempt to explain the unknown in terms of the known, and thus prune away every hypothesis.
In 'On Analogy', The Cambridge Magazine (2 Mar 1918), 476. As quoted in Robert Scott Root-Bernstein and Michèle Root-Bernstein, Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative (2001), 144.
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It seems to me that every phenomenon, every fact, itself is the really interesting object. Whoever explains it, or connects it with other events, usually only amuses himself or makes sport of us, as, for instance, the naturalist or historian. But a single action or event is interesting, not because it is explainable, but because it is true.
Quoted in translated from Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten in Franz Boas, 'The Study of Geography', Science Supplement (11 Feb 1881), 9, No. 210, 139.
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It seems to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and not absolutely, as I have always understood that Copernicus spoke. To say that on the supposition of the Earth's movement and the Sun's quiescence all the celestial appearances are explained better than by the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is to speak with excellent good sense and to run no risk whatsoever. Such a manner of speaking is enough for a mathematician. But to want to affirm that the Sun, in very truth, is at the center of the universe and only rotates on its axis without going from east to west, is a very dangerous attitude and one calculated not only to arouse all Scholastic philosophers and theologians but also to injure our holy faith by contradicting the Scriptures.
Letter to Paolo Antonio Foscarini, 12 April 1615. Quoted in Giorgio De Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (1955), 99.
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It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.
As quoted in Sharon Begley, 'Science Finds God', Newsweek (1998).
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Its [mathematical analysis] chief attribute is clearness; it has no means for expressing confused ideas. It compares the most diverse phenomena and discovers the secret analogies which unite them. If matter escapes us, as that of air and light because of its extreme tenuity, if bodies are placed far from us in the immensity of space, if man wishes to know the aspect of the heavens at successive periods separated by many centuries, if gravity and heat act in the interior of the solid earth at depths which will forever be inaccessible, mathematical analysis is still able to trace the laws of these phenomena. It renders them present and measurable, and appears to be the faculty of the human mind destined to supplement the brevity of life and the imperfection of the senses, and what is even more remarkable, it follows the same course in the study of all phenomena; it explains them in the same language, as if in witness to the unity and simplicity of the plan of the universe, and to make more manifest the unchangeable order which presides over all natural causes.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Discours Préliminaire, xiv, (Theory of Heat, Introduction), as translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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It’s among the intelligentsia … that we often find the glib compulsion to explain everything and to understand nothing.
The Rape of the Mind World 56
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It’s hard to explain to people what the significance of an invention is, so it’s hard to get funding. The first thing they say is that it can’t be done. Then they say, “You didn't do it right.” Then, when you’ve done it, they finally say, “Well, it was obvious anyway.”
http://www.thetech.org/nmot/detail.cfm?id=95&st=awardDate&qt=1997&kiosk=Off
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Isaac Asimov quote It’s the bees and the flowers.
Macro photo of bee by Forest Wander (cc by-sa 2.0) (source)
I’m tired of that stupid phrase, “the birds and the bees” which is supposed to represent “the facts of life” or the beginnings of the sex instruction of the young. … Well for heaven’s sake, has anyone ever tried to explain sex by talking about the birds and the bees? What have the birds and the bees to do with it? IT’S THE BEES AND THE FLOWERS. Will you get that through your head? IT’S THE BEES AND THE FLOWERS. The bee travels to one flower and picks up pollen from the stamens. The pollen contains the male sex cells of the plant. The bee then travels to another flower (of the same species) and the pollen brushes off onto the pistil, which contains the female sex cells of the plant. … Now in the human being … we don’t rely on bees to do it for us.
From Isaac Asimov’s letter in 'Hue and Cry' letter column in magazine, James L. Quinn (ed.), IF: Worlds of Science Fiction (Dec 1957), 7, No. 6, 119
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Kepler’s principal goal was to explain the relationship between the existence of five planets (and their motions) and the five regular solids. It is customary to sneer at Kepler for this. … It is instructive to compare this with the current attempts to “explain” the zoology of elementary particles in terms of irreducible representations of Lie groups.
In Celestial Mechanics (1969), Vol. 1, 95.
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Look round the world, contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance-of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), 47-48.
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Magic is antiphysics, so it can't really exist. But is shares one thing with science. I can explain the principle behind a good science experiment in 15 seconds; the same way with magic.
As quoted in Eric Roston, The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat (2009), 132. Nakaniski entertained with magic tricks for colleagues and to audiences at conferences.
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Many psychologists ... thought by turning their attention to their own consciousness to be able to explain what happened when we were thnking. Or they sought to attain the same end by asking another person a question, by means of which certain processes of thought would be excited, and then by questioning the person about the introspection he had made. It is obvious ... that nothing can be discovered in such experiments.
An Introduction to Psychology (1912)
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Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world.
From 'On Practice,' (Jul 1937), in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (2017), 106.
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Mathematic is either Pure or Mixed: To Pure Mathematic belong those sciences which handle Quantity entirely severed from matter and from axioms of natural philosophy. These are two, Geometry and Arithmetic; the one handling quantity continued, the other dissevered. … Mixed Mathematic has for its subject some axioms and parts of natural philosophy, and considers quantity in so far as it assists to explain, demonstrate and actuate these.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 3; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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Mathematics is not the discoverer of laws, for it is not induction; neither is it the framer of theories, for it is not hypothesis; but it is the judge over both, and it is the arbiter to which each must refer its claims; and neither law can rule nor theory explain without the sanction of mathematics.
In 'Linear Associative Algebra', American Journal of Mathematics (1881), 4, 97.
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Men are of three different capacities; one understands intuitively, another only understands so far as it is explained; and a third understands neither of himself nor by explanation; the first is excellent, the second commendable, and the third altogether useless.
Collected, without citation, in Day's Collacon: an Encyclopaedia of Prose Quotations (1884), 87.
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Modern discoveries have not been made by large collections of facts, with subsequent discussion, separation, and resulting deduction of a truth thus rendered perceptible. A few facts have suggested an hypothesis, which means a supposition, proper to explain them. The necessary results of this supposition are worked out, and then, and not till then, other facts are examined to see if their ulterior results are found in Nature.
In A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 55.
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Moreover, within the hollows of the earth,
When from one quarter the wind builds up, lunges,
Muscles the deep caves with its headstrong power,
The earth leans hard where the force of wind has pressed it;
Then above ground, the higher the house is built,
The nearer it rises to the sky, the worse
Will it lean that way and jut out perilously,
The beams wrenched loose and hanging ready to fall.
And to think, men can't believe that for this world
Some time of death and ruin lies in wait,
Yet they see so great a mass of earth collapse!
And the winds pause for breath—that's lucky, for else
No force could rein things galloping to destruction.
But since they pause for breath, to rally their force,
Come building up and then fall driven back,
More often the earth will threaten ruin than
Perform it. The earth will lean and then sway back,
Its wavering mass restored to the right poise.
That explains why all houses reel, top floor
Most then the middle, and ground floor hardly at all.
On the Nature of Things, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (1995), Book 6, lines 558-77, 216.
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Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind.
The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1980), 154.
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My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments: In order to which, I shall premise the following Definitions and Axioms.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Introduction, 1.
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Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves; it describes nature as exposed to our method of questioning.
In Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1959, 1962), 81.
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Neither physical science nor psychology can ever ‘explain’ human consciousness. To me then, human consciousness lies outside science, and it is here that I seek the relationship between God and man.
In Can scientists believe? (1991), 8.
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No more causes of natural things should be admitted than are both true, and sufficient to explain their phenomena.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Book 3, Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy, Rule 1, 794. Cause;Explanation;Principle;Phenomenon
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No one really understood music unless he was a scientist, her father had declared, and not just a scientist, either, oh, no, only the real ones, the theoreticians, whose language mathematics. She had not understood mathematics until he had explained to her that it was the symbolic language of relationships. “And relationships,” he had told her, “contained the essential meaning of life.”
In The Goddess Abides, (1972), 20.
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No theory of physics that deals only with physics will ever explain physics. I believe that as we go on trying to understand the universe, we are at the same time trying to understand man.
In The Intellectual Digest (June 1973), as quoted and cited in Mark Chandos, 'Philosophical Essay: Story Theory", Kosmoautikon: Exodus From Sapiens (2015).
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No, this trick wont work ... How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?
…...
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Nominally a great age of scientific inquiry, ours has become an age of superstition about the infallibility of science; of almost mystical faith in its non-mystical methods; above all—which perhaps most explains the expert's sovereignty—of external verities; of traffic-cop morality and rabbit-test truth.
In Company Manners: A Cultural Inquiry into American Life (1954), 94.
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Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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Not that we may not, to explain any Phenomena of Nature, make use of any probable Hypothesis whatsoever: Hypotheses, if they are well made, are at least great helps to the Memory, and often direct us to new discoveries. But my Meaning is, that we should not take up anyone too hastily, (which the Mind, that would always penetrate into the Causes of Things, and have Principles to rest on, is very apt to do,) till we have very well examined Particulars, and made several Experiments, in that thing which we would explain by our Hypothesis, and see whether it will agree to them all; whether our Principles will carry us quite through, and not be as inconsistent with one Phenomenon of Nature, as they seem to accommodate and explain another.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 13, 648.
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Observation is simple, indefatigable, industrious, upright, without any preconceived opinion. Experiment is artificial, impatient, busy, digressive; passionate, unreliable. We see every day one experiment after another, the second outweighing the impression gained from the first, both, often enough, carried out by men who are neither much distinguished for their spirit, nor for carrying with them the truth of personality and self denial. Nothing is easier than to make a series of so-called interesting experiments. Nature can only in some way be forced, and in her distress, she will give her suffering answer. Nothing is more difficult than to explain it, nothing is more difficult than a valid physiological experiment. We consider as the first task of current physiology to point at it and comprehend it.
Inaugural lecture as docent of physiology at the University of Bonn (19 Oct) 1824. Published in Johannes Muller, Zur vergleichenden Physiologie des Gesichtssinnes des Menschen und der Thiere (1826), 20.
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Obviously, what our age has in common with the age of the Reformation is the fallout of disintegrating values. What needs explaining is the presence of a receptive audience. More significant than the fact that poets write abstrusely, painters paint abstractly, and composers compose unintelligible music is that people should admire what they cannot understand; indeed, admire that which has no meaning or principle.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 62.
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Of all obstacles to a thoroughly penetrating account of existence, none looms up more dismayingly than “time.” Explain time? Not without explaining existence. Explain existence? Not without explaining time. To uncover the deep and hidden connection between time and existence, to close on itself our quartet of questions, is a task for the future.
In article, 'Hermann Weyl and the Unity of Knowledge', American Scientist (Jul-Aug 1986), 74, 372. In the online pdf on the website weylmann.com, p. 26.
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On the contrary, God was always invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time—life and death—stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore, I don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out.
Quoted in P. C. W. Davies and Julian Brown (eds.), Superstrings: A Theory of Everything? (1988), 208-9.
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One cannot explain words without making incursions into the sciences themselves, as is evident from dictionaries; and, conversely, one cannot present a science without at the same time defining its terms.
'Of the Division of the Sciences' (1765), Book 4, Chap. 21, in New Essays on Human Understanding, trans. and ed. Peter Remnal (1981), 522.
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One evening at a Joint Summer Research Congerence in the early 1990’s Nicholai Reshetikhin and I [David Yetter] button-holed Flato, and explained at length Shum’s coherence theorem and the role of categories in “quantum knot invariants”. Flato was persistently dismissive of categories as a “mere language”. I retired for the evening, leaving Reshetikhin and Flato to the discussion. At the next morning’s session, Flato tapped me on the shoulder, and, giving a thumbs-up sign, whispered, “Hey! Viva les categories! These new ones, the braided monoidal ones.”
In David N. Yetter, Functorial Knot Theory: Categories of Tangles, Coherence, Categorical Deformations, and Topological Invariants (2001), 8. Yetter writes this personal anecdote is given as a narrative in his own words. Presumable the phrases in quotation marks are based on recollection when written years later.
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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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One wonders whether the rare ability to be completely attentive to, and to profit by, Nature’s slightest deviation from the conduct expected of her is not the secret of the best research minds and one that explains why some men turn to most remarkably good advantage seemingly trivial accidents. Behind such attention lies an unremitting sensitivity.
In The Furtherance of Medical Research (1941), 98.
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Paleontology is a very visual inquiry. All paleontologists scribble on napkins at coffee breaks, making sketches to explain their thinking
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People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No, I’m not; I’m just looking to find out more about the world and if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it; that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers, and we’re just sick and tired of looking at the layers, then that’s the way it is …
From Interview in BBC TV program Horizon (1981). As quoted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman 1983, (1999), 23.
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Philosophers and psychiatrists should explain why it is that we mathematicians are in the habit of systematically erasing our footsteps. Scientists have always looked askance at this strange habit of mathematicians, which has changed little from Pythagoras to our day.
From the second Fubini Lecture, delivered at the Villa Gualino, Torino (2 Jun 1998), 'What is Invariant Theory, Really?' Collected in Henry H. Crapo and D. Senato (eds.), Algebraic Combinatorics and Computer Science: A Tribute to Gian-Carlo Rota (2001), 55.
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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.
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Physics does not endeavour to explain nature. In fact, the great success of physics is due to a restriction of its objectives: it only endeavours to explain the regularities in the behavior of objects.
In 'Events, Laws of Nature, and Invariance Principles', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1963). in Nobel Lectures: Physics 1963-1970 (1972), 6.
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Picture yourself during the early 1920's inside the dome of the [Mount Wilson Observatory]. … [Milton] Humason is showing [Harlow] Shapley stars he had found in the Andromeda Nebula that appeared and disappeared on photographs of that object. The famous astronomer very patiently explains that these objects could not be stars because the Nebula was a nearby gaseous cloud within our own Milky Way system. Shapley takes his handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the identifying marks off the back of the photographic plate.
Of course, Hubble came along in 1924 and showed that it was just these Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda Nebula which proved it was a separate galaxy system.
In Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies (1998), 168. Arp writes that this was “a piece of real history which I happen to know because it was told to me by one of the participants. It dramatically illustrate the critical role of discordant evidence.”
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Plainly, then, these are the causes, and this is how many they are. They are four, and the student of nature should know them all, and it will be his method, when stating on account of what, to get back to them all: the matter, the form, the thing which effects the change, and what the thing is for.
Aristotle
From Physics, Book II, Part 7, 198a21-26. As quoted in Stephen Everson, 'Aristotle on the Foundations of the State', Political Studies (1988), 36, 89-101. Reprinted in Lloyd P. Gerson (ed.), Aristotle: Politics, Rhetoric and Aesthetics (1999), 74.
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Randomness scares people. Religion is a way to explain randomness.
Quoted in David Lane, Isn’t Religion Weird? Quotations for Atheists (2008), 83.
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Reason may be employed in two ways to establish a point: first for the purpose of furnishing sufficient proof of some principle, as in natural science, where sufficient proof can be brought to show that the movement of the heavens is always of uniform velocity. Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this reason were sufficient, since some other theory might explain them.
Summa Theologica [1266-1273], Part I, question 32, article 2 (reply to objection 2), trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (i.e. L. Shapeote), revised D. J. Sullivan (1952), Vol. I, 177.
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Religious leaders and men of science have the same ideals; they want to understand and explain the universe of which they are part; they both earnestly desire to solve, if a solution be ever possible, that great riddle: Why are we here?
Concerning Man's Origin (1927), viii.
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Rutherford was as straightforward and unpretentious as a physicist as he was elsewhere in life, and that no doubt was one of the secrets of his success. “I was always a believer in simplicity, being a simple man myself,” he said. If a principle of physics could not be explained to a barmaid, he insisted, the problem was with the principle, not the barmaid.
In Great Physicists (2001), 328.
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Science can explain why and how books are written; but it cannot account for the process being accompanied by consciousness.
Letter to E.C. Chapman (29 Jul 1891), Dan H. Laurence (ed.), Collected Letters (1965), Vol. 1, 303.
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Science deals with judgments on which it is possible to obtain universal agreement. These judgments do not concern individual facts and events, but the invariable association of facts and events known as the laws of science. Agreement is secured by observation and experiment—impartial courts of appeal to which all men must submit if they wish to survive. The laws are grouped and explained by theories of ever increasing generality. The theories at first are ex post facto—merely plausible interpretations of existing bodies of data. However, they frequently lead to predictions that can be tested by experiments and observations in new fields, and, if the interpretations are verified, the theories are accepted as working hypotheses until they prove untenable. The essential requirements are agreement on the subject matter and the verification of predictions. These features insure a body of positive knowledge that can be transmitted from person to person, and that accumulates from generation to generation.
From manuscript on English Science in the Renaissance (1937), Edwin Hubble collection, Box 2, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. As cited by Norriss S. Hetherington in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 41. (Hetherington comments parenthetically that the references to court, judgment and appeal may be attributable to his prior experiences as a Rhodes Scholar reading Roman law at Oxford, and to a year's practice as an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky.)
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Science has zipped the atom open in a dozen places, it can read the scrawlings on the Rosetta stone as glibly as a literary critic explains Hart Crane, but it doesn’t know anything about playwrights.
In article 'Roaming in the Gloaming' collected in Collecting Himself: James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humour and Himself (1989). As cited in Eugene Ehrlich and Marshall De Bruhl (eds.)International Thesaurus of Quotations (1996), 601.
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Science has “explained” nothing; the more we know the more fantastic the world becomes and the profounder the surrounding darkness.
Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (1928), 108.
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Science is in a literal sense constructive of new facts. It has no fixed body of facts passively awaiting explanation, for successful theories allow the construction of new instruments—electron microscopes and deep space probes—and the exploration of phenomena that were beyond description—the behavior of transistors, recombinant DNA, and elementary particles, for example. This is a key point in the progressive nature of science—not only are there more elegant or accurate analyses of phenomena already known, but there is also extension of the range of phenomena that exist to be described and explained.
Co-author with Michael A. Arbib, English-born professor of computer science and biomedical engineering (1940-)
Michael A. Arbib and Mary B. Hesse, The Construction of Reality (1986), 8.
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Science is the language of the temporal world; love is that of the spiritual world. Man, indeed, describes more than he explains; while the angelic spirit sees and understands. Science saddens man; love enraptures the angel; science is still seeking; love has found.
The Works of Honoré de Balzac (1896), Vol. 19, 80.
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Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do.
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Science repudiates philosophy. In other words, it has never cared to justify its truth or explain its meaning.
Lowell Lecture (Feb 1925), 'The Origins of Modern Science', collected in Science and the Modern World (1925), 17.
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Science was false by being unpoetical. It assumed to explain a reptile or a mollusk, and isolated it—which is hunting for life in graveyards. Reptile or mollusk or man or angel only exists in system, in relation.
In 'Letters and Social Aims: Poetry and Imagination', Prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1880), Vol. 3, 199.
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Scientists can only carry on with their work, addressing legitimate questions as they arise and challenging misinformation. … Scientists work to fill the gaps in human knowledge and to build a theory that can explain observations of the world. Climate sceptics revel in such gaps, sometimes long after they have been filled.
Editorial, Nature (28 Jul 2011), 475, 423-424.
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Since biological change occurs slowly and cultural changes occur in every generation, it is futile to try to explain the fleeting phenomena of culture by a racial constant. We can often explain them—in terms of contact with other peoples, of individual genius, of geography—but not by racial differences.
An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (1934), 9.
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Since the examination of consistency is a task that cannot be avoided, it appears necessary to axiomatize logic itself and to prove that number theory and set theory are only parts of logic. This method was prepared long ago (not least by Frege’s profound investigations); it has been most successfully explained by the acute mathematician and logician Russell. One could regard the completion of this magnificent Russellian enterprise of the axiomatization of logic as the crowning achievement of the work of axiomatization as a whole.
Address (11 Sep 1917), 'Axiomatisches Denken' delivered before the Swiss Mathematical Society in Zürich. Translated by Ewald as 'Axiomatic Thought', (1918), in William Bragg Ewald, From Kant to Hilbert (1996), Vol. 2, 1113.
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Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists–whether through design or stupidity, I do not know–as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.
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So many of the properties of matter, especially when in the gaseous form, can be deduced from the hypothesis that their minute parts are in rapid motion, the velocity increasing with the temperature, that the precise nature of this motion becomes a subject of rational curiosity. Daniel Bernoulli, Herapath, Joule, Kronig, Clausius, &c., have shewn that the relations between pressure, temperature and density in a perfect gas can be explained by supposing the particles move with uniform velocity in straight lines, striking against the sides of the containing vessel and thus producing pressure. (1860)
In W.D. Niven (ed.) 'Illustrations of the Dynamical Theory of Gases,' The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, Vol 1, 377. Quoted in John David Anderson, Jr., Hypersonic and High Temperature Gas Dynamics (2000), 468.
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Sociobiology is not just any statement that biology, genetics, and evolutionary theory have something to do with human behavior. Sociobiology is a specific theory about the nature of genetic and evolutionary input into human behavior. It rests upon the view that natural selection is a virtually omnipotent architect, constructing organisms part by part as best solutions to problems of life in local environments. It fragments organisms into “traits,” explains their existence as a set of best solutions, and argues that each trait is a product of natural selection operating “for” the form or behavior in question. Applied to humans, it must view specific behaviors (not just general potentials) as adaptations built by natural selection and rooted in genetic determinants, for natural selection is a theory of genetic change. Thus, we are presented with unproved and unprovable speculations about the adaptive and genetic basis of specific human behaviors: why some (or all) people are aggressive, xenophobic, religious, acquisitive, or homosexual.
In Hen's Teeth and Horses Toes (1983, 2010), 242-243.
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Some of Feynman’s ideas about cosmology have a modern ring. A good example is his attitude toward the origin of matter. The idea of continuous matter creation in the steady state cosmology does not seriously offend him (and he notes … that the big bang cosmology has a problem just as bad, to explain where all the matter came from in the beginning). … He emphasizes that the total energy of the universe could really be zero, and that matter creation is possible because the rest energy of the matter is actually canceled by its gravitational potential energy. “It is exciting to think that it costs nothing to create a new particle, …”
In John Preskill and Kip S. Thorne, 'Foreword to Feynman Lectures on Gravitation' (15 May 1995). Feynman delivered his lectures in 1962–63.
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Something is as little explained by means of a distinctive vital force as the attraction between iron and magnet is explained by means of the name magnetism. We must therefore firmly insist that in the organic natural sciences, and thus also in botany, absolutely nothing has yet been explained and the entire field is still open to investigation as long as we have not succeeded in reducing the phenomena to physical and chemical laws.
Grundzüge der Wissenschaftlichen Botanik nebst einer Methodologischen Einleitung als Anleitung zum Studium der Planze [Principles of Scientific Botany] (1842-3), Vol. 1, 49. Trans. Kenneth L. Caneva, Robert Mayer and the Conservation of Energy (1993), 108.
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Spong and I had also several fine discourses upon the globes this afternoon, particularly why the fixed stars do not rise and set at the same hour all the year long, which he could not demonstrate nor I neither.
Entry for 19 Aug 1666. In Samuel Pepys and Henry B. Wheatley (ed.), The Diary of Samuel Pepys (1895, 1900), Vol. 5, 382. He spent the day with Mr Reeves and Mr Spong.
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Stop the mindless wishing that things would be different. Rather than wasting time and emotional and spiritual energy in explaining why we don’t have what we want, we can start to pursue other ways to get it.
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String theorists can explain plausible models of a unified universe, but unfortunately they cannot explain why we inhabit a particular one
In Book Review 'Pulling the Strings,' of Lawrence Krauss's Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Lure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond in Nature (22 Dec 2005), 438, 1082.
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Such biological ideas as the “survival of the fittest,” whatever their doubtful value in natural science, are utterly useless in attempting to understand society … The life of a man in society, while it is incidentally a biological fact, has characteristics that are not reducible to biology and must be explained in the distinctive terms of a cultural analysis … the physical well-being of men is a result of their social organization and not vice versa … Social improvement is a product of advances in technology and social organization, not of breeding or selective elimination … Judgments as to the value of competition between men or enterprises or nations must be based upon social and not allegedly biological consequences; and … there is nothing in nature or a naturalistic philosophy of life to make impossible the acceptance of moral sanctions that can be employed for the common good.
Social Darwinism in American Thought 1860-1915 (1945), 176.
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Suppose physics soon succeeds, as Stephen Hawking and a few other physicists hope and believe, in reducing physics to a single equation or a small set of equations that will “explain” all of nature’s fundamental laws. We can then ask the unanswerable question, "Why this set of equations?”
In Introduction, The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995 (1996), xvii.
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That ability to impart knowledge … what does it consist of? … a deep belief in the interest and importance of the thing taught, a concern about it amounting to a sort of passion. A man who knows a subject thoroughly, a man so soaked in it that he eats it, sleeps it and dreams it—this man can always teach it with success, no matter how little he knows of technical pedagogy. That is because there is enthusiasm in him, and because enthusiasm is almost as contagious as fear or the barber’s itch. An enthusiast is willing to go to any trouble to impart the glad news bubbling within him. He thinks that it is important and valuable for to know; given the slightest glow of interest in a pupil to start with, he will fan that glow to a flame. No hollow formalism cripples him and slows him down. He drags his best pupils along as fast as they can go, and he is so full of the thing that he never tires of expounding its elements to the dullest.
This passion, so unordered and yet so potent, explains the capacity for teaching that one frequently observes in scientific men of high attainments in their specialties—for example, Huxley, Ostwald, Karl Ludwig, Virchow, Billroth, Jowett, William G. Sumner, Halsted and Osler—men who knew nothing whatever about the so-called science of pedagogy, and would have derided its alleged principles if they had heard them stated.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 241-2.
For a longer excerpt, see H.L. Mencken on Teaching, Enthusiasm and Pedagogy.
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The alternative to the Big Bang is not, in my opinion, the steady state; it is instead the more general theory of continuous creation. Continuous creation can occur in bursts and episodes. These mini-bangs can produce all the wonderful element-building that Fred Hoyle discovered and contributed to cosmology. This kind of element and galaxy formation can take place within an unbounded, non-expanding universe. It will also satisfy precisely the Friedmann solutions of general relativity. It can account very well for all the facts the Big Bang explains—and also for those devastating, contradictory observations which the Big Bang must, at all costs, pretend are not there
In 'Letters: Wrangling Over the Bang', Science News (27 Jul 1991), 140, No. 4, 51. Also quoted in Roy C. Martin, Astronomy on Trial: A Devastating and Complete Repudiation of the Big Bang Fiasco (1999), Appendix I, 217.
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The anxious precision of modern mathematics is necessary for accuracy, … it is necessary for research. It makes for clearness of thought and for fertility in trying new combinations of ideas. When the initial statements are vague and slipshod, at every subsequent stage of thought, common sense has to step in to limit applications and to explain meanings. Now in creative thought common sense is a bad master. Its sole criterion for judgment is that the new ideas shall look like the old ones, in other words it can only act by suppressing originality.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 157.
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The assumption we have made … is that marriages and the union of gametes occur at random. The validity of this assumption may now be examined. “Random mating” obviously does not mean promiscuity; it simply means, as already explained above, that in the choice of mates for marriage there is neither preference for nor aversion to the union of persons similar or dissimilar with respect to a given trait or gene. Not all gentlemen prefer blondes or brunettes. Since so few people know what their blood type is, it is even safer to say that the chances of mates being similar or dissimilar in blood type are determined simply by the incidence of these blood types in a given Mendelian population.
[Co-author with Theodosius Dobzhansky]
In Radiation, Genes and Man (1960), 107.
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The beauty of physics lies in the extent which seemingly complex and unrelated phenomena can be explained and correlated through a high level of abstraction by a set of laws which are amazing in their simplicity.
In Principles of Electrodynamics (1972, 1987), 105.
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The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
In 'The Humanization of Teaching of Mathematics', Science, New Series, 35, 645-46.
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The best and safest way of philosophising seems to be, first to enquire diligently into the properties of things, and to establish those properties by experiences [experiments] and then to proceed slowly to hypotheses for the explanation of them. For hypotheses should be employed only in explaining the properties of things, but not assumed in determining them; unless so far as they may furnish experiments.
Letter to the French Jesuit, Gaston Pardies. Translation from the original Latin, as in Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest: a Biography of Isaac Newton (1983), 242.
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The Big Idea that had been developed in the seventeenth century ... is now known as the scientific method. It says that the way to proceed when investigating how the world works is to first carry out experiments and/or make observations of the natural world. Then, develop hypotheses to explain these observations, and (crucially) use the hypothesis to make predictions about the future outcome of future experiments and/or observations. After comparing the results of those new observations with the predictions of the hypotheses, discard those hypotheses which make false predictions, and retain (at least, for the time being) any hypothesis that makes accurate predictions, elevating it to the status of a theory. Note that a theory can never be proved right. The best that can be said is that it has passed all the tests applied so far.
In The Fellowship: the Story of a Revolution (2005), 275.
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The catastrophist constructs theories, the uniformitarian demolishes them. The former adduces evidence of an Origin, the latter explains the evidence away.
Aphorism 110, 'Aphorisms Concerning Ideas', The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 1, xxxvi.
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The construction of the universe is certainly very much easier to explain than is that of the plant.
Aphorism 4 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990), 119. Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 128.
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The disaster was caused neither by carelessness nor human failure. Unknown natural factors that we are still unable to explain today have made a mockery of all our efforts. The very substance intended to provide food and life to millions of our countrymen and which we have produced and supplied for years has suddenly become a cruel enemy for reasons we are as yet unable to fathom. It has reduced our site to rubble.
From the memorial service for the hundreds of people killed by the explosion of the ammonia fertilizer factory at Oppau, Germany. At the time, the explosive nature of ammonium nitrate was not understood.
BASF corporate history webpage.
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The effect of a concept-driven revolution is to explain old things in new ways. The effect of a tool-driven revolution is to discover new things that have to be explained.
In Imagined Worlds (1997), 50-51.
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The embryological record is almost always abbreviated in accordance with the tendency of nature (to be explained on the principle of survival of the fittest) to attain her needs by the easiest means.
A Treatise on Comparative Embryology (1880), Vol. I, 3-4.
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The equation eπi = -1 has been called the eutectic point of mathematics, for no matter how you boil down and explain this equation, which relates four of the most remarkable numbers of mathematics, it still has a certain mystery about it that cannot be explained away.
Anonymous
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The existence of life must be considered as an elementary fact that can not be explained, but must be taken as a starting point in biology, in a similar way as the quantum of action, which appears as an irrational element from the point of view of classical mechanical physics, taken together with the existence of elementary particles, forms the foundation of atomic physics. The asserted impossibility of a physical or chemical explanation of the function peculiar to life would in this sense be analogous to the insufficiency of the mechanical analysis for the understanding of the stability of atoms.
'Light and Life', Nature, 1933, 131, 458.
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The first effect of the mind growing cultivated is that processes once multiple get to be performed in a single act. Lazarus has called this the progressive “condensation” of thought. ... Steps really sink from sight. An advanced thinker sees the relations of his topics is such masses and so instantaneously that when he comes to explain to younger minds it is often hard ... Bowditch, who translated and annotated Laplace's Méchanique Céleste, said that whenever his author prefaced a proposition by the words “it is evident,” he knew that many hours of hard study lay before him.
In The Principles of Psychology (1918), Vol. 2, 369-370.
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The following story (here a little softened from the vernacular) was narrated by Lord Kelvin himself when dining at Trinity Hall:
A certain rough Highland lad at the university had done exceedingly well, and at the close of the session gained prizes both in mathematics and in metaphysics. His old father came up from the farm to see his son receive the prizes, and visited the College. Thomson was deputed to show him round the place. “Weel, Mr. Thomson,” asked the old man, “and what may these mathematics be, for which my son has getten a prize?” “I told him,” replied Thomson, “that mathematics meant reckoning with figures, and calculating.” “Oo ay,” said the old man, “he’ll ha’ getten that fra’ me: I were ever a braw hand at the countin’.” After a pause he resumed: “And what, Mr. Thomson, might these metapheesics be?” “I endeavoured,” replied Thomson, “to explain how metaphysics was the attempt to express in language the indefinite.” The old Highlander stood still and scratched his head. “Oo ay: may be he’ll ha’ getten that fra’ his mither. She were aye a bletherin’ body."
As given in Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 2, 1124, footnote. [Note: William Thomson, later became Lord Kelvin. —Webmaster]
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The great masters of modern analysis are Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss, who were contemporaries. It is interesting to note the marked contrast in their styles. Lagrange is perfect both in form and matter, he is careful to explain his procedure, and though his arguments are general they are easy to follow. Laplace on the other hand explains nothing, is indifferent to style, and, if satisfied that his results are correct, is content to leave them either with no proof or with a faulty one. Gauss is as exact and elegant as Lagrange, but even more difficult to follow than Laplace, for he removes every trace of the analysis by which he reached his results, and studies to give a proof which while rigorous shall be as concise and synthetical as possible.
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 468.
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