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

Fathom Quotes (15 quotes)

A man must cling to the belief that the incomprehensible is comprehensible; otherwise he would not try to fathom it.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 194.
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By his very success in inventing labor-saving devices, modern man has manufactured an abyss of boredom that only the privileged classes in earlier civilizations have ever fathomed.
The Conduct of Life (1951), 14.
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Here arises a puzzle that has disturbed scientists of all periods. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things?
From 'Geometry and Experience', an expanded form of an Address by Albert Einstein to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (27 Jan 1921). In Albert Einstein, translated by G. B. Jeffery and W. Perrett, Sidelights on Relativity (1923).
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It is strange that we know so little about the properties of numbers. They are our handiwork, yet they baffle us; we can fathom only a few of their intricacies. Having defined their attributes and prescribed their behavior, we are hard pressed to perceive the implications of our formulas.
In James R. Newman (ed.), 'Commentary on The Mysteries of Arithmetic', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 1, 497.
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Let us seek to fathom those things that are fathomable and reserve those things which are unfathomable for reverence in quietude.

…...
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Mathematics … above all other subjects, makes the student lust after knowledge, fills him, as it were, with a longing to fathom the cause of things and to employ his own powers independently; it collects his mental forces and concentrates them on a single point and thus awakens the spirit of individual inquiry, self-confidence and the joy of doing; it fascinates because of the view-points which it offers and creates certainty and assurance, owing to the universal validity of its methods. Thus, both what he receives and what he himself contributes toward the proper conception and solution of a problem, combine to mature the student and to make him skillful, to lead him away from the surface of things and to exercise him in the perception of their essence. A student thus prepared thirsts after knowledge and is ready for the university and its sciences. Thus it appears, that higher mathematics is the best guide to philosophy and to the philosophic conception of the world (considered as a self-contained whole) and of one’s own being.
In Die Mathematik die Fackeltrδgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 40. As translated in Robert Ιdouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 49.
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Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep.
In 'Resources', Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1894), 113.
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Returning now to the Malay Archipelago, we find that all the wide expanse of sea which divides Java, Sumatra, and Borneo from each other, and from Malacca and Siam, is so shallow that ships can anchor in any part of it, since it rarely exceeds forty fathoms in depth; and if we go as far as the line of a hundred fathoms, we shall include the Philippine Islands and Bali, east of Java. If, therefore, these islands have been separated from each other and the continent by subsidence of the intervening tracts of land, we should conclude that the separation has been comparatively recent, since the depth to which the land has subsided is so small. It is also to be remarked that the great chain of active volcanoes in Sumatra and Java furnishes us with a sufficient cause for such subsidence, since the enormous masses of matter they have thrown out would take away the foundations of the surrounding district; and this may be the true explanation of the often-noticed fact that volcanoes and volcanic chains are always near the sea. The subsidence they produce around them will, in time, make a sea, if one does not already exist.
Malay Archipelago
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The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
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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 greatest marvel is not in the individual. It is in the succession, in the renewal and in the duration of the species that Nature would seem quite inconceivable. This power of producing its likeness that resides in animals and plants, this form of unity, always subsisting and appearing eternal, this procreative virtue which is perpetually expressed without ever being destroyed, is for us a mystery which, it seems, we will never be able to fathom.
'Histoire des Animaux', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 2, 3. Trans. Phillip R. Sloan.
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The losses of the natural world are our loss, their silence silences something within the human mind. Human language is lit with animal life: we play cats-cradle or have hare-brained ideas; we speak of badgering, or outfoxing someone; to squirrel something away and to ferret it out. … When our experience of the wild world shrinks, we no longer fathom the depths of our own words; language loses its lustre and vividness.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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Time, inexhaustible and ever accumulating his efficacy, can undoubtedly do much for the theorist in geology; but Force, whose limits we cannot measure, and whose nature we cannot fathom, is also a power never to be slighted: and to call in the one to protect us from the other, is equally presumptuous, to whichever of the two our superstition leans. To invoke Time, with ten thousand earthquakes, to overturn and set on edge a mountain-chain, should the phenomena indicate the change to have been sudden and not successive, would be ill excused by pleading the obligation of first appealing to known causes.
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1857), Vol. 3, 513-514.
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We are as remote from adequate explanation of the nature and causes of mechanical evolution of the hard parts of animals as we were when Aristotle first speculated on this subject … I think it is possible that we may never fathom all the causes of mechanical evolution or of the origin of new mechanical characters, but shall have to remain content with observing the modes of mechanical evolution, just as embryologists and geneticists are observing the modes of development, from the fertilized ovum to the mature individual, without in the least understanding either the cause or the nature of the process of development which goes on under their eyes every day
From 'Orthogenesis as observed from paleontological evidence beginning in the year 1889', American Naturalist (1922) 56, 141-142. As quoted and cited in 'G.G. Simpson, Paleontology, and the Modern Synthesis', collected in Ernst Mayr, William B. Provine (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology (1998), 171.
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We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens ... The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.
From Mysterium Cosmographicum. Quote as translated in Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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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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