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Who said: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it... That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index E > Category: Extraordinary

Extraordinary Quotes (79 quotes)

Error of confounding cause and effect.—There is no more dangerous error than confounding consequence with cause: I call it the intrinsic depravity of reason. … I take an example: everybody knows the book of the celebrated Comaro, in which he recommends his spare diet as a recipe for a long and happy life,—for a virtuous life also. Few books have been read so much… I believe hardly any book … has caused so much harm, has shortened so many lives, as this well-meant curiosity. The source of this mischief is in confounding consequence with cause. The candid Italian saw in his diet the cause of his long life, while the prerequisite to long life, the extraordinary slowness of the metabolic process, small consumption, was the cause of his spare diet. He was not at liberty to eat little or much; his frugality—was not of “free will;” he became sick when he ate more.
From 'The Four Great Errors', The Twilight of the Idols (1888), collected in Thomas Common (trans.), The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1896), Vol. 11, 139.
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The Charms of Statistics.—It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once. An Average is but a solitary fact, whereas if a single other fact be added to it, an entire Normal Scheme, which nearly corresponds to the observed one, starts potentially into existence. Some people hate the very name of statistics, but I find them full of beauty and interest. Whenever they are not brutalised, but delicately handled by the higher methods, and are warily interpreted, their power of dealing with complicated phenomena is extraordinary. They are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the Science of man.
Natural Inheritance (1889), 62-3.
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According to their [Newton and his followers] doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion. Nay, the machine of God's making, so imperfect, according to these gentlemen; that he is obliged to clean it now and then by an extraordinary concourse, and even to mend it, as clockmaker mends his work.
'Mr. Leibniz's First Paper' (1715). In H. G. Alexander (ed.), The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence (1956), 11-2.
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All those who think it paradoxical that so great a weight as the earth should not waver or move anywhere seem to me to go astray by making their judgment with an eye to their own affects and not to the property of the whole. For it would not still appear so extraordinary to them, I believe, if they stopped to think that the earth's magnitude compared to the whole body surrounding it is in the ratio of a point to it. For thus it seems possible for that which is relatively least to be supported and pressed against from all sides equally and at the same angle by that which is absolutely greatest and homogeneous.
Ptolemy
'The Almagest 1', in Ptolemy: the Almagest; Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres; Johannes Kepler: Epitome of Copernican Astronomy: IV - V The Harmonies of the World: V, trans. R. Catesby Taliaferro (1952), 11.
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As a different, but perhaps more common, strategy for the suppression of novelty, we may admit the threatening object to our midst, but provide an enveloping mantle of ordinary garb… . This kind of cover-up, so often amusing in our daily lives, can be quite dangerous in science, for nothing can stifle originality more effectively than an ordinary mantle placed fully and securely over an extraordinary thing.
In 'A Short Way to Big Ends', Natural History (Jan 1986), 95, No. 1, 18.
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Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned to estimate such minute chances, and after we have overcome our fear of numbers which are very much larger or very much smaller than those ordinarily employed, we might proceed to calculate the chance of still more extraordinary occurrences, and even have the boldness to regard the living cell as a result of random arrangement and rearrangement of its atoms. However, we cannot but feel that this would be carrying extrapolation too far. This feeling is due not merely to a recognition of the enormous complexity of living tissue but to the conviction that the whole trend of life, the whole process of building up more and more diverse and complex structures, which we call evolution, is the very opposite of that which we might expect from the laws of chance.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 158-9.
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Buffon, who, with all his theoretical ingenuity and extraordinary eloquence, I suspect had little actual information in the science on which he wrote so admirably For instance, he tells us that the cow sheds her horns every two years; a most palpable error. ... It is wonderful that Buffon who lived so much in the country at his noble seat should have fallen into such a blunder I suppose he has confounded the cow with the deer.
In The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1826), Vol. 3, 70, footnote.
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But in its [the corpuscular theory of radiation] relation to the wave theory there is one extraordinary and, at present, insoluble problem. It is not known how the energy of the electron in the X-ray bulb is transferred by a wave motion to an electron in the photographic plate or in any other substance on which the X-rays fall. It is as if one dropped a plank into the sea from the height of 100 ft. and found that the spreading ripple was able, after travelling 1000 miles and becoming infinitesimal in comparison with its original amount, to act upon a wooden ship in such a way that a plank of that ship flew out of its place to a height of 100 ft. How does the energy get from one place to the other?
'Aether Waves and Electrons' (Summary of the Robert Boyle Lecture), Nature, 1921, 107, 374.
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But in nothing are swifts more singular than in their early retreat. They retire, as to the main body of them, by the tenth of August, and sometimes a few days sooner: and every straggler invariably withdraws by the twentieth, while their congeners, all of them, stay till the beginning of October; many of them all through that month, and some occasionally to the beginning of November. This early retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since that time is often the sweetest season in the year. But, what is more extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most southerly parts of Andalusia, where they can be no ways influenced by any defect of heat; or, as one might suppose, defect of food. Are they regulated in their motions with us by failure of food, or by a propensity to moulting, or by a disposition to rest after so rapid a life, or by what? This is one of those incidents in natural history that not only baffles our searches, but almost eludes our guesses!
In Letter to Daines Barrington, (28 Sep 1774), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 278.
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Cavendish was a great Man with extraordinary singularities—His voice was squeaking his manner nervous He was afraid of strangers & seemed when embarrassed to articulate with difficulty—He wore the costume of our grandfathers. Was enormously rich but made no use of his wealth... He Cavendish lived latterly the life of a solitary, came to the Club dinner & to the Royal Society: but received nobody at his home. He was acute sagacious & profound & I think the most accomplished British Philosopher of his time.
Quoted in J. Z. Fullmer, 'Davy's Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia, 1967, 12, 133.
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Curiosity that inborn property of man, daughter of ignorance and mother of knowledge when wonder wakens our minds, has the habit, wherever it sees some extraordinary phenomenon of nature, a comet for example, a sun-dog, or a midday star, of asking straightway what it means.
In The New Science (3rd ed., 1744), Book 1, Para. 189, as translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (1948), 64.
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Each nerve cell receives connections from other nerve cells at six sites called synapses. But here is an astonishing fact—there are about one million billion connections in the cortical sheet. If you were to count them, one connection (or synapse) per second, you would finish counting some thirty-two million years after you began. Another way of getting a feeling for the numbers of connections in this extraordinary structure is to consider that a large match-head’s worth of your brain contains about a billion connections. Notice that I only mention counting connections. If we consider how connections might be variously combined, the number would be hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros. (There are about ten followed by eighty zero’s worth of positively charged particles in the whole known universe!)
Bright and Brilliant Fire, On the Matters of the Mind (1992), 17.
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Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
…...
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Geologists have usually had recourse for the explanation of these changes to the supposition of sundry violent and extraordinary catastrophes, cataclysms, or general revolutions having occurred in the physical state of the earth's surface.
As the idea imparted by the term Cataclysm, Catastrophe, or Revolution, is extremely vague, and may comprehend any thing you choose to imagine, it answers for the time very well as an explanation; that is, it stops further inquiry. But it also has had the disadvantage of effectually stopping the advance of science, by involving it in obscurity and confusion.
Considerations on Volcanoes (1825), iv.
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Having always observed that most of them who constantly took in the weekly Bills of Mortality made little other use of them than to look at the foot how the burials increased or decreased, and among the Casualties what had happened, rare and extraordinary, in the week current; so as they might take the same as a Text to talk upon in the next company, and withal in the Plague-time, how the Sickness increased or decreased, that the Rich might judg of the necessity of their removal, and Trades-men might conjecture what doings they were likely to have in their respective dealings.
From Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made upon Bills of Mortality (1662), Preface. Reproduced in Cornelius Walford, The Insurance Cyclopaedia (1871), Vol. 1, 286. Italicizations from another source.
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Hitherto the principle of causality was universally accepted as an indispensable postulate of scientific research, but now we are told by some physicists that it must be thrown overboard. The fact that such an extraordinary opinion should be expressed in responsible scientific quarters is widely taken to be significant of the all-round unreliability of human knowledge. This indeed is a very serious situation.
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), 66.
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I am besotted with birds of paradise. Watching them display is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
From interview with Alice Roberts, 'Attenborough: My Life on Earth', The Biologist (Aug 2015), 62, No. 4, 16.
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I had a dislike for [mathematics], and ... was hopelessly short in algebra. ... [One extraordinary teacher of mathematics] got the whole year's course into me in exactly six [after-school] lessons of half an hour each. And how? More accurately, why? Simply because he was an algebra fanatic—because he believed that algebra was not only a science of the utmost importance, but also one of the greatest fascination. ... [H]e convinced me in twenty minutes that ignorance of algebra was as calamitous, socially and intellectually, as ignorance of table manners—That acquiring its elements was as necessary as washing behind the ears. So I fell upon the book and gulped it voraciously. ... To this day I comprehend the binomial theorem.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261-262.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I have been driven to assume for some time, especially in relation to the gases, a sort of conducting power for magnetism. Mere space is Zero. One substance being made to occupy a given portion of space will cause more lines of force to pass through that space than before, and another substance will cause less to pass. The former I now call Paramagnetic & the latter are the diamagnetic. The former need not of necessity assume a polarity of particles such as iron has with magnetic, and the latter do not assume any such polarity either direct or reverse. I do not say more to you just now because my own thoughts are only in the act of formation, but this I may say: that the atmosphere has an extraordinary magnetic constitution, & I hope & expect to find in it the cause of the annual & diurnal variations, but keep this to yourself until I have time to see what harvest will spring from my growing ideas.
Letter to William Whewell, 22 Aug 1850. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 589.
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I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this—never neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening. It may be—usually is, in fact—a false alarm that leads to nothing, but may on the other hand be the clue provided by fate to lead you to some important advance.
Lecture at Harvard University. Quoted in Joseph Sambrook, David W. Russell, Molecular Cloning (2001), Vol. 1, 153.
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I know a good many men of great learning—that is, men born with an extraordinary eagerness and capacity to acquire knowledge. One and all, they tell me that they can't recall learning anything of any value in school. All that schoolmasters managed to accomplish with them was to test and determine the amount of knowledge that they had already acquired independently—and not infrequently the determination was made clumsily and inaccurately.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I think science has enjoyed an extraordinary success because it has such a limited and narrow realm in which to focus its efforts. Namely, the physical universe.
…...
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I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or the Moon or my glass [telescope].
Opere ed Nas. X, 423. As cited in Alan Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 99. Galileo wished others to use his telescope to see for themselves the moons of Jupiter which he had himself first seen in Jan 1610. If you have a primary source for this letter giving the date it was written, please contact Webmaster.
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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 the dog two conditions were found to produce pathological disturbances by functional interference, namely, an unusually acute clashing of the excitatory and inhibitory processes, and the influence of strong and extraordinary stimuli. In man precisely similar conditions constitute the usual causes of nervous and psychic disturbances. Different conditions productive of extreme excitation, such as intense grief or bitter insults, often lead, when the natural reactions are inhibited by the necessary restraint, to profound and prolonged loss of balance in nervous and psychic activity.
Ivan Pavlov and G. V. Anrep (ed., trans.), Conditioned Reflexes—An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex (1927), 397.
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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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It has just occurred to me to ask if you are familiar with Lissajous’ experiments. I know nothing about them except what I found in Flammarion’s great “Astronomie Populaire.” One extraordinary chapter on numbers gives diagrams of the vibrations of harmonics—showing their singular relation to the geometrical designs of crystal-formation;—and the chapter is aptly closed by the Pythagorian quotation: Ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς ὁ μέγας γεωμετρεῖ—“God geometrizes everywhere.” … I should imagine that the geometry of a fine opera would—were the vibrations outlined in similar fashion—offer a network of designs which for intricate beauty would double discount the arabesque of the Alhambra.
In letter to H.E. Krehbiel (1887), collected in Elizabeth Bisland The Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (1922), Vol. 14, 8.
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Looking at the thunder machine which had been set up, I saw not the slightest indication of the presence of electricity. However, while they were putting the food on the table, I obtained extraordinary electric sparks from the wire. My wife and others approached from it, for the reason that I wished to have witnesses see the various colors of fire about which the departed Professor Richmann used to argue with me. Suddenly it thundered most violently at the exact time that I was holding my hand to the metal, and sparks crackled. All fled away from me, and my wife implored that I go away. Curiosity kept me there two or three minutes more, until they told me that the soup was getting cold. By that time the force of electricity greatly subsided. I had sat at table only a few minutes when the man servant of the departed Richmann suddenly opened the door, all in tears and out of breath from fear. I thought that some one had beaten him as he was on his way to me, but he said, with difficulty, that the professor had been injured by thunder… . Nonetheless, Mr. Richmann died a splendid death, fulfilling a duty of his profession.
As quoted in Boris Menshutkin, 'Lomonosov: Excerpts', collected in Thomas Riha (ed.), Readings for Introduction to Russian Civilization (1963), Vol. 2, 30.
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Macaulay somewhere says, that it is extraordinary that, whereas the laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies, far removed as they are from us, are perfectly well understood, the laws of the human mind, which are under our observation all day and every day, are no better understood than they were two thousand years ago.
In Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not (1859), 7.
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Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.
Remarks upon presenting the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, in the Flower Garden, at the White House, Washington, D.C. (21 May 1963). From John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online].
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Most of us have had moments in childhood when we touched the divine presence. We did not think it extraordinary because it wasn’t; it was just a beautiful moment filled with love. In those simple moments our hearts were alive, and we saw the poignant beauty of life vividly with wonder and appreciation.
David McArthur and Bruce McArthur
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Nature, everywhere the most amazingly and outstandingly remarkable producer of living bodies, being most carefully arranged according to physical, mechanical, and chemical laws, does not give even the smallest hint of its extraordinary and tireless workings and quite clearly points to its work as being alone worthy of a benign and omnipotent God; and it carries this bright quality in all of its traces, in that, just as all of its general mechanisms rejoice, so also do all of their various smallest component parts rejoice in the depth of wisdom, in the height of perfection, and in the lofty arrangement of forms and qualities, which lie far beyond every investigation of the human mind.
'Inaugural Physico-Medical Dissertation on the Blood and the Circulation of the Microcosm' (1749). Trans. Arthur Donovan and Joseph Prentiss, James Hutton's Medical Dissertation (1980), 29.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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On May 15, 1957 Linus Pauling made an extraordinary speech to the students of Washington University. ... It was at this time that the idea of the scientists' petition against nuclear weapons tests was born. That evening we discussed it at length after dinner at my house and various ones of those present were scribbling and suggesting paragraphs. But it was Linus Pauling himself who contributed the simple prose of the petition that was much superior to any of the suggestions we were making.
Speech, "The 1962 Nobel Peace Prize," at Unitarian Church, Boulder, Colorado (20 Oct 1963). On Oregon State University Library website.
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On the whole, I cannot help saying that it appears to me not a little extraordinary, that a theory so new, and of such importance, overturning every thing that was thought to be the best established in chemistry, should rest on so very narrow and precarious a foundation, the experiments adduced in support of it being not only ambiguous or explicable on either hypothesis, but exceedingly few. I think I have recited them all, and that on which the greatest stress is laid, viz. That of the formation of water from the decomposition of the two kinds of air, has not been sufficiently repeated. Indeed it required so difficult and expensive an apparatus, and so many precautions in the use of it, that the frequent repetition of the experiment cannot be expected; and in these circumstances the practised experimenter cannot help suspecting the accuracy of the result and consequently the certainty of the conclusion.
Considerations on the Doctrine of Phlogiston (1796), 57-8.
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.
In A Thousand and One Epigrams (1911), 151.
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Organization is simply the means by which the acts of ordinary men can be made to add up to extraordinary results. To this idea of progress that does not wait on some lucky break, some chance discovery, or some rare stroke of genius, but instead is achieved through systematic, cumulative effort, the engineer has contributed brilliantly.
In A Professional Guide for Young Engineers (1949, 1967), 36.
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Plants are extraordinary. For instance ... if you pinch a leaf of a plant you set off electrical impulse. You can't touch a plant without setting off an electrical impulse ... There is no question that plants have all kinds of sensitivities. They do a lot of responding to an environment. They can do almost anything you can think of.
Quoted in George Ritzer and Barry Smart, Handbook of Social Theory, 532.
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Plasticity, then, in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once. Each relatively stable phase of equilibrium in such a structure is marked by what we may call a new set of habits. Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort ; so that we may without hesitation lay down as our first proposition the following, that the phenomena of habit in living beings are due to plasticity of the organic materials of which their bodies are composed.
'The Laws of Habit', The Popular Science Monthly (Feb 1887), 434.
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Since the discovery of secret things and in the investigation of hidden causes, stronger reasons are obtained from sure experiments and demonstrated arguments than from probable conjectures and the opinions of philosophical speculators of the common sort; therefore to the end that the noble substance of that great loadstone, our common mother (the earth), still quite unknown, and also the forces extraordinary and exalted of this globe may the better be understood, we have decided first to begin with the common stony and ferruginous matter, and magnetic bodies, and the parts of the earth that we may handle and may perceive with the senses; then to proceed with plain magnetic experiments, and to penetrate to the inner parts of the earth.
On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies and on the Great Magnet the Earth: A New Physiology, Demonstrated with many Arguments and Experiments (1600), trans. P. Fleury Mottelay (1893), Author’s Preface, xlvii.
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So-called extraordinary events always split into two extremes naturalists who have not witnessed them: those who believe blindly and those who do not believe at all. The latter have always in mind the story of the golden goose; if the facts lie slightly beyond the limits of their knowledge, they relegate them immediately to fables. The former have a secret taste for marvels because they seem to expand Nature; they use their imagination with pleasure to find explanations. To remain doubtful is given to naturalists who keep a middle path between the two extremes. They calmly examine facts; they refer to logic for help; they discuss probabilities; they do not scoff at anything, not even errors, because they serve at least the history of the human mind; finally, they report rather than judge; they rarely decide unless they have good evidence.
Quoted in Albert V. Carozzi, Histoire des sciences de la terre entre 1790 et 1815 vue à travers les documents inédités de la Societé de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi. (1990), 175.
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Subtlety is not a proof of wisdom. Fools and even madmen are at times extraordinarily subtle. One can add that subtlety rarely combines with genius, which is usually ingenuous, or with greatness of character, which is always frank.
(1827). In Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, John Bayley (ed.), Pushkin on Literature (1986), 211.
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The big political doings of our time are so disheartening that in our generation one feels quite alone. It is as if people had lost the passion for justice and dignity and no longer treasure what better generations have won by extraordinary sacrifices.
…...
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The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque. The consciousness of this extraordinary state of affairs would be unbearable but for one great consoling thought: it is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose ambitions lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large section of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealistic outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is usually decried as a particularly materialistic country.
From Mein Weltbild, as translated by Alan Harris (trans.), 'Some Notes on my American Impressions', The World as I See It (1956, 1993), 37-38.
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The description of some of the experiments, which are communicated here, was completely worked out at my writing-table, before I had seen anything of the phenomena in question. After making the experiments on the following day, it was found that nothing in the description required to be altered. I do not mention this from feelings of pride, but in order to make clear the extraordinary ease and security with which the relations in question can be considered on the principles of Arrhenius' theory of free ions. Such facts speak more forcibly then any polemics for the value of this theory .
Philosophical Magazine (1891), 32, 156.
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The diversity of life is extraordinary. There is said to be a million or so different kinds of living animals, and hundreds of thousands of kinds of plants. But we don’t need to think of the world at large. It is amazing enough to stop and look at a forest or at a meadow—at the grass and trees and caterpillars and hawks and deer. How did all these different kinds of things come about; what forces governed their evolution; what forces maintain their numbers and determine their survival or extinction; what are their relations to each other and to the physical environment in which they live? These are the problems of natural history.
In The Nature of Natural History (1950), 8.
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The earth, formed out of the same debris of which the sun was born, is extraordinarily rich in iron—iron which once may have existed at the center of a star that exploded many billions of years ago.
(1965). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 220.
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The enchanting charms of this sublime science reveal only to those who have the courage to go deeply into it. But when a woman, who because of her sex and our prejudices encounters infinitely more obstacles that an man in familiarizing herself with complicated problems, succeeds nevertheless in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating the most obscure parts of them, without doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius.
in a letter to Sophie Germain (c.April 1807)
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The entire annals of Observation probably do not elsewhere exhibit so extraordinary a verification of any theoretical conjecture adventured on by the human spirit!
[On the mathematical work by Urbain Le Verrier predicting the planet Neptune.]
In The Planet Neptune: An Exposition and History (1848), 90. The verification of the existence of the planet Neptune was made when Johan Galle found a star in an evening observation at the position predicted in the letter he received from Le Verrier earlier that same day.
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The extraordinary development of mathematics in the last century is quite unparalleled in the long history of this most ancient of sciences. Not only have those branches of mathematics which were taken over from the eighteenth century steadily grown, but entirely new ones have sprung up in almost bewildering profusion, and many of them have promptly assumed proportions of vast extent.
In The History of Mathematics in the Nineteenth Century', Congress of Arts and Sciences (1905), Vol. 1, 474. As cited and wuoted in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 110.
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The extraordinary development of modern science may be her undoing. Specialism, now a necessity, has fragmented the specialities themselves in a way that makes the outlook hazardous. The workers lose all sense of proportion in a maze of minutiae.
'The Old Humanities and the New Science' (1919). In G. L. Keynes (ed.), Selected Writings of Sir William Osler (1951), 27.
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The fact is that in creating towns, men create the materials for an immense hotbed of disease, and this effect can only be neutralised by extraordinary artificial precautions.
Anonymous
The Times (8 Oct 1868)
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The famous balance of nature is the most extraordinary of all cybernetic systems. Left to itself, it is always self-regulated.
Saturday Review (8 Jun 1963).
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The first thing to realize about physics ... is its extraordinary indirectness.... For physics is not about the real world, it is about “abstractions” from the real world, and this is what makes it so scientific.... Theoretical physics runs merrily along with these unreal abstractions, but its conclusions are checked, at every possible point, by experiments.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 60-62.
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The general knowledge of our author [Leonhard Euler] was more extensive than could well be expected, in one who had pursued, with such unremitting ardor, mathematics and astronomy as his favorite studies. He had made a very considerable progress in medical, botanical, and chemical science. What was still more extraordinary, he was an excellent scholar, and possessed in a high degree what is generally called erudition. He had attentively read the most eminent writers of ancient Rome; the civil and literary history of all ages and all nations was familiar to him; and foreigners, who were only acquainted with his works, were astonished to find in the conversation of a man, whose long life seemed solely occupied in mathematical and physical researches and discoveries, such an extensive acquaintance with the most interesting branches of literature. In this respect, no doubt, he was much indebted to an uncommon memory, which seemed to retain every idea that was conveyed to it, either from reading or from meditation.
In Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 493-494.
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The interpretation of messages from the earth’s interior demands all the resources of ordinary physics and of extraordinary mathematics. The geophysicist is of a noble company, all of whom are reading messages from the untouchable reality of things. The inwardness of things—atoms, crystals, mountains, planets, stars, nebulas, universes—is the quarry of these hunters of genius and Promethean boldness.
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The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. … It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.
In 'Decay of Lying', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 5.
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The most remarkable thing was his [Clifford’s] great strength as compared with his weight, as shown in some exercises. At one time he could pull up on the bar with either hand, which is well known to be one of the greatest feats of strength. His nerve at dangerous heights was extraordinary. I am appalled now to think that he climbed up and sat on the cross bars of the weathercock on a church tower, and when by way of doing something worse I went up and hung by my toes to the bars he did the same.
Anonymous
Quoted from a letter by one of Clifford’s friends to F. Pollock, in Clifford’s Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, Introduction, 8.
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The notion that the “balance of nature” is delicately poised and easily upset is nonsense. Nature is extraordinarily tough and resilient, interlaced with checks and balances, with an astonishing capacity for recovering from disturbances in equilibrium. The formula for survival is not power; it is symbiosis.
In Encounter (Mar 1976), 16. As quoted and cited in Alan Lindsay Mackay , A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2nd Ed., 1991), 13.
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The oppressive weight of disaster and tragedy in our lives does not arise from a high percentage of evil among the summed total of all acts, but from the extraordinary power of exceedingly rare incidents of depravity to inflict catastrophic damage, especially in our technological age when airplanes can become powerful bombs. (An even more evil man, armed only with a longbow, could not have wreaked such havoc at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.)
…...
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The prize is such an extraordinary honor. It might seem unfair, however, to reward a person for having so much pleasure over the years, asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses.
Quoted in the New York Times, 11 Oct 1983.
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The problem of modern democracy is not that the people have lost their power, but that they have lost their appreciation for the extraordinary power they wield. Consider one astonishing truth: Famine has never struck a democracy.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 102.
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The ridge of the Lammer-muir hills... consists of primary micaceous schistus, and extends from St Abb's head westward... The sea-coast affords a transverse section of this alpine tract at its eastern extremity, and exhibits the change from the primary to the secondary strata... Dr HUTTON wished particularly to examine the latter of these, and on this occasion Sir JAMES HALL and I had the pleasure to accompany him. We sailed in a boat from Dunglass ... We made for a high rocky point or head-land, the SICCAR ... On landing at this point, we found that we actually trode [sic] on the primeval rock... It is here a micaceous schistus, in beds nearly vertical, highly indurated, and stretching from S.E. to N. W. The surface of this rock... has thin covering of red horizontal sandstone laid over it, ... Here, therefore, the immediate contact of the two rocks is not only visible, but is curiously dissected and laid open by the action of the waves... On us who saw these phenomena for the first time, the impression will not easily be forgotten. The palpable evidence presented to us, of one of the most extraordinary and important facts in the natural history of the earth, gave a reality and substance to those theoretical speculations, which, however probable had never till now been directly authenticated by the testimony of the senses... What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep? ... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much farther reason may sometimes go than imagination can venture to follow.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 71-3.
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The scientist has to take 95 per cent of his subject on trust. He has to because he can't possibly do all the experiments, therefore he has to take on trust the experiments all his colleagues and predecessors have done. Whereas a mathematician doesn't have to take anything on trust. Any theorem that's proved, he doesn't believe it, really, until he goes through the proof himself, and therefore he knows his whole subject from scratch. He's absolutely 100 per cent certain of it. And that gives him an extraordinary conviction of certainty, and an arrogance that scientists don't have.
Essay, 'Private Games', in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, (eds.), A Passion for Science (1988), 61.
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The techniques and criteria of religion and science are so extraordinarily different. Science seeks simplicity publicly and encourages the overthrow of authority; religion accepts complexity privately and encourages deference to authority.
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
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The velocity of light occupies an extraordinary place in modern physics. It is lèse-majesté to make any criticism of the velocity of light. It is a sacred cow within a sacred cow, and it is just about the Absolutest Absolute in the history of human thought.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 73.
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There is in Nature a general prototype in each species on which each individual is modeled, but which seems, in realizing itself, to alter itself or perfect itself according to circumstances. So that, relative to certain qualities, this is an extraordinary appearing variation in the succession of these individuals, and at the same time a constancy which appears wonderful in the entire species. The first animal, the first horse, for example, has been the external model and the interieur mold on which all horses which have been born, all those which now exist, and all those which will be born have been formed.
'Le Cheval', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1753), Vol. 4, 215-6. Trans. Phillip R. Sloan.
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There is not perhaps another object in the heavens that presents us with such a variety of extraordinary phenomena as the planet Saturn: a magnificent globe, encompassed by a stupendous double ring: attended by seven satellites: ornamented with equatorial belts: compressed at the poles: turning upon its axis: mutually eclipsing its ring and satellites, and eclipsed by them: the most distant of the rings also turning upon its axis, and the same taking place with the farthest of the satellites: all the parts of the system of Saturn occasionally reflecting light to each other: the rings and moons illuminating the nights of the Saturnian: the globe and satellites enlightening the dark parts of the rings: and the planet and rings throwing back the sun's beams upon the moons, when they are deprived of them at the time of their conjunctions. (1805)
Quoted in John Vose, A System of Astronomy: On the Principles of Copernicus (1827), 66-67.
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This extraordinary metal [iron], the soul of every manufacture, and the mainspring perhaps of civilised society.
Men of Invention and Industry (1884), 108.
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This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
[Welcoming Nobel Prize winners as his guests at a White House dinner.]
Remarks at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere (29 Apr 1962).
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This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 658.
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Very few, even among those who have taken the keenest interest in the progress of the revolution in natural knowledge set afoot by the publication of the “Origin of Species”; and who have watched, not without astonishment, the rapid and complete change which has been effected both inside and outside the boundaries of the scientific world in the attitude of men’s minds towards the doctrines which are expounded in that great work, can have been prepared for the extraordinary manifestation of affectionate regard for the man, and of profound reverence for the philosopher, which followed the announcement, on Thursday last, of the death of Mr Darwin.
'Obituary [of Charles Darwin]' (1882). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 2, 244.
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We have an extraordinary opportunity that has arisen only twice before in the history of Western civilization—the opportunity to see everything afresh through a new cosmological lens. We are the first humans privileged to see a face of the universe no earlier culture ever imagined.
As co-author with Nancy Ellen Abrams, in The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos (2006), 297.
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We have here spoken of the prediction of facts of the same kind as those from which our rule was collected. But the evidence in favour of our induction is of a much higher and more forcible character when it enables us to explain and determine cases of a kind different from those which were contemplated in the formation of our hypothesis. The instances in which this has occurred, indeed, impress us with a conviction that the truth of our hypothesis is certain. No accident could give rise to such an extraordinary coincidence. No false supposition could, after being adjusted to one class of phenomena, so exactly represent a different class, when the agreement was unforeseen and contemplated. That rules springing from remote and unconnected quarters should thus leap to the same point, can only arise from that being where truth resides.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 2, 230.
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[Bolyai’s Science Absolute of Space is] the most extraordinary two dozen pages in the history of thought!
In János Bolyai, Science Absolute of Space, translated from the Latin by George Bruce Halsted (1896), Translator's Introduction, xviii.
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[Freud's] great strength, though sometimes also his weakness, was the quite extraordinary respect he had for the singular fact... When he got hold of a simple but significant fact he would feel, and know, that it was an example of something general or universal, and the idea of collecting statistics on the matter was quite alien to him.
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol 1, 96-7.
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[My dream dinner guest is] Charles Darwin. It’s an obvious answer, but it’s the truth. Think of any problem and before you start theorising, just check up whether Charles Darwin mentioned it in one of those green books sitting on your shelf. Whether it’s earthworms, human gestures or the origin of species, the observations that man made are unbelievable. He touched on so many subjects. Then, Alexander von Humboldt, the last polymath. There was no aspect of the natural world that he wasn’t curious about or didn’t write about in Kosmos, an extraordinary book.
From interview with Alice Roberts, 'Attenborough: My Life on Earth', The Biologist (Aug 2015), 62, No. 4, 16.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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