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Who said: “Genius is two percent inspiration, ninety-eight percent perspiration.”
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Figure Quotes (160 quotes)

Nature is curious, and such worke may make,
That our dull sense can never finde, but scape.
For Creatures, small as Atomes, may be there,
If every Atome a Creatures Figure beare.
If foure Atomes a World can make, then see
What severall Worlds might in an Eare--ring bee:
For Millions of these Atomes may bee in
The Head of one Small, little, Single Pin.
And if thus Small, then Ladies may well weare
A World of Worlds, as Pendents in each Eare.
From 'Of Many Worlds in this World', in Poems and Fancies (1653), 44-5.
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Quelquefois, par exemple, je me figure que je suis suspendu en l’air, et que j’y demeure sans mouvement, pendant que la Terre tourne sous moi en vingt-quatre heures. Je vois passer sous mes yeux tous ces visages différents, les uns blancs, les autres noirs, les autres basanés, les autres olivâtres. D’abord ce sont des chapeaux et puis des turbans, et puis des têtes chevelues, et puis des têtes rasées; tantôt des villes à clochers, tantôt des villes à longues aiguilles qui ont des croissants, tantôt des villes à tours de porcelaine, tantôt de grands pays qui n’ont que des cabanes; ici de vastes mers, là des déserts épouvantables; enfin, toute cette variété infinie qui est sur la surface de la Terre.
Sometimes, for instance, I imagine that I am suspended in the air, and remain there motionless, while the earth turns under me in four-and-twenty hours. I see pass beneath me all these different countenances, some white, others black, others tawny, others olive-colored. At first they wear hats, and then turbans, then heads with long hair, then heads shaven; sometimes towns with steeples, sometimes towns with long spires, which have crescents, sometimes towns with porcelain towers, sometimes extensive countries that have only huts; here wide seas; there frightful deserts; in short, all this infinite variety on the surface of the earth.
In 'Premier Soir', Entretiens Sur La Pluralité Des Mondes (1686, 1863), 43. French and translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 117-118.
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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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A demonstrative and convincing proof that an acid does consist of pointed parts is, that not only all acid salts do Crystallize into edges, but all Dissolutions of different things, caused by acid liquors, do assume this figure in their Crystallization; these Crystalls consist of points differing both in length and bigness from one another, and this diversity must be attributed to the keener or blunter edges of the different sorts of acids
A Course of Chymistry (1675), trans. W. Harris (1686), 24.
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A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.
First sentences in When Prophecy Fails (1956), 3.
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A statistician carefully assembles the facts and figures for others who carefully misinterpret them.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes (1995), 765.
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A Vulgar Mechanick can practice what he has been taught or seen done, but if he is in an error he knows not how to find it out and correct it, and if you put him out of his road, he is at a stand; Whereas he that is able to reason nimbly and judiciously about figure, force and motion, is never at rest till he gets over every rub.
Letter (25 May 1694) to Nathaniel Hawes. In J. Edleston (ed.), Correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Cotes (1850), 284.
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A witty statesman said you might prove anything with figures.
In Chartism (1839, 1840), 9.
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According to astronomers, next week Wednesday will occur twice. They say such a thing happens only once every 60,000 years and although they don’t know why it occurs, they’re glad they have an extra day to figure it out.
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 105.
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Algebra is but written geometry and geometry is but figured algebra.
From Mémoire sur les Surfaces Élastiques. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 276.
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All these delusions of Divination have their root and foundation from Astrology. For whether the lineaments of the body, countenance, or hand be inspected, whether dream or vision be seen, whether marking of entrails or mad inspiration be consulted, there must be a Celestial Figure first erected, by the means of whole indications, together with the conjectures of Signs and Similitudes, they endeavour to find out the truth of what is desired.
In The Vanity of the Arts and Sciences (1530), translation (1676), 108.
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And beyond our galaxy are other galaxies, in the universe all told at least a hundred billion, each containing a hundred billion stars. Do these figures mean anything to you?
In The Centaur (1990).
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Are you aware that humanity is just a blip? Not even a blip. Just a fraction of a fraction of what the universe has been and will become? Talk about perspective. I figure I can’t feel so entirely stupid about saying what I said because, first of all, it’s true. And second of all, there will be no remnant of me or my stupidity. No fossil or geographical shift that can document, really, even the most important historical human beings, let alone my paltry admissions.
…...
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As a child, I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.
…...
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Astronomy is a cold, desert science, with all its pompous figures,—depends a little too much on the glass-grinder, too little on the mind. ’Tis of no use to show us more planets and systems. We know already what matter is, and more or less of it does not signify.
In 'Country Life', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), Vol. 12, 166.
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Astronomy was thus the cradle of the natural sciences and the starting point of geometrical theories. The stars themselves gave rise to the concept of a ‘point’; triangles, quadrangles and other geometrical figures appeared in the constellations; the circle was realized by the disc of the sun and the moon. Thus in an essentially intuitive fashion the elements of geometrical thinking came into existence.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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Being perpetually charmed by his familiar siren, that is, by his geometry, he [Archimedes] neglected to eat and drink and took no care of his person; that he was often carried by force to the baths, and when there he would trace geometrical figures in the ashes of the fire, and with his finger draws lines upon his body when it was anointed with oil, being in a state of great ecstasy and divinely possessed by his science.
Plutarch
As translated in George Finlay Simmons, Calculus Gems: Brief Lives and Memorable Mathematics, (1992), 39.
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But here it may be objected, that the present Earth looks like a heap of Rubbish and Ruines; And that there are no greater examples of confusion in Nature than Mountains singly or jointly considered; and that there appear not the least footsteps of any Art or Counsel either in the Figure and Shape, or Order and Disposition of Mountains and Rocks. Wherefore it is not likely they came so out of God's hands ... To which I answer, That the present face of the Earth with all its Mountains and Hills, its Promontaries and Rocks, as rude and deformed as they appear, seems to me a very beautiful and pleasant object, and with all the variety of Hills, and Valleys, and Inequalities far more grateful to behold, than a perfectly level Countrey without any rising or protuberancy, to terminate the sight: As anyone that hath but seen the Isle of Ely, or any the like Countrey must need acknowledge.
John Ray
Miscellaneous Discourses Concerning the Dissolution and Changes of the World (1692), 165-6.
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But nothing ever put 'Hoppy' in the shade. No one could fail to recognize in the little figure... the authentic gold of intellectual inspiration, the Fundator et Primus Abbas of biochemistry in England.
Co-author with D. M. Needham,
'F. G. Hopkins' Personal Influence'. In J. Needham and E. Baldwin (eds.), Hopkins and Biochemistry, 1861-1947 (1949), 115.
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By destroying the biological character of phenomena, the use of averages in physiology and medicine usually gives only apparent accuracy to the results. From our point of view, we may distinguish between several kinds of averages: physical averages, chemical averages and physiological and pathological averages. If, for instance, we observe the number of pulsations and the degree of blood pressure by means of the oscillations of a manometer throughout one day, and if we take the average of all our figures to get the true or average blood pressure and to learn the true or average number of pulsations, we shall simply have wrong numbers. In fact, the pulse decreases in number and intensity when we are fasting and increases during digestion or under different influences of movement and rest; all the biological characteristics of the phenomenon disappear in the average. Chemical averages are also often used. If we collect a man's urine during twenty-four hours and mix all this urine to analyze the average, we get an analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine, when fasting, is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, and who believed he could thus present an analysis of average European urine! Aside from physical and chemical, there are physiological averages, or what we might call average descriptions of phenomena, which are even more false. Let me assume that a physician collects a great many individual observations of a disease and that he makes an average description of symptoms observed in the individual cases; he will thus have a description that will never be matched in nature. So in physiology, we must never make average descriptions of experiments, because the true relations of phenomena disappear in the average; when dealing with complex and variable experiments, we must study their various circumstances, and then present our most perfect experiment as a type, which, however, still stands for true facts. In the cases just considered, averages must therefore be rejected, because they confuse, while aiming to unify, and distort while aiming to simplify. Averages are applicable only to reducing very slightly varying numerical data about clearly defined and absolutely simple cases.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-135.
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Colour, Figure, Motion, Extension and the like, considered only so many Sensations in the Mind, are perfectly known, there being nothing in them which is not perceived. But if they are looked on as notes or Images, referred to Things or Archetypes existing without the Mind, then are we involved all in Scepticism.
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [first published 1710], (1734), 109.
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Considerable obstacles generally present themselves to the beginner, in studying the elements of Solid Geometry, from the practice which has hitherto uniformly prevailed in this country, of never submitting to the eye of the student, the figures on whose properties he is reasoning, but of drawing perspective representations of them upon a plane. ...I hope that I shall never be obliged to have recourse to a perspective drawing of any figure whose parts are not in the same plane.
Quoted in Adrian Rice, 'What Makes a Great Mathematics Teacher?' The American Mathematical Monthly, (June-July 1999), 540.
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Definition of Statistics: The science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures.
Evan Esar
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Figures govern the world.
…...
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From Pythagoras (ca. 550 BC) to Boethius (ca AD 480-524), when pure mathematics consisted of arithmetic and geometry while applied mathematics consisted of music and astronomy, mathematics could be characterized as the deductive study of “such abstractions as quantities and their consequences, namely figures and so forth” (Aquinas ca. 1260). But since the emergence of abstract algebra it has become increasingly difficult to formulate a definition to cover the whole of the rich, complex and expanding domain of mathematics.
In 100 Years of Mathematics: a Personal Viewpoint (1981), 2.
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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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He was an admirable marksman, an expert swimmer, a clever rider, possessed of great activity [and] prodigious strength, and was notable for the elegance of his figure and the beauty of his features, and he aided nature by a careful attendance to his dress. Besides other accomplishments he was musical, a good fencer, danced well, and had some acquaintance with legerdemain tricks, worked in hair, and could plait willow baskets.
In Richard Rhodes, John James Audubon: The Making of an American (2004), 36.
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He was not a mathematician–he never even took a maths class after high school–yet Martin Gardner, who has died aged 95, was arguably the most influential and inspirational figure in mathematics in the second half of the last century.
In 'Martin Gardner Obituary', The Guardian (27 May 2010)
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Here lies Sir Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a vigour of mind almost supernatural, first demonstrated, the motions and Figures of the Planets, the Paths of the comets, and the Tides of the Oceans ... Let Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of Nature.
Epitaph
Inscribed on the tomb of Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.
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I believe in “intelligence,” and I believe also that there are inherited differences in intellectual ability, but I do not believe that intelligence is a simple scalar endowment that can be quantified by attaching a single figure to it—an I.Q. or the like.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 25. Footnoted with reference to his own earlier review article of books about IQ, in which he stated “misgivings about whether it is indeed possible to attach a single-number valuation to an endowment as complex and as various as intelligence.” That review was titled 'Unnatural Science', in New York Review of Books (3 Feb 1977), 24, No. 1, 13,
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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 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 figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play or not.
…...
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I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens out on our West Coast. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that that one little mountain has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.
Address in Steubenville, Ohio (7 Oct 1980). As quoted in Douglas E. Kneeland, 'Teamsters Back Republican', New York Times (10 Oct 1980), D14. The article also stated that according to an E.P.A. spokesman, “all American manmade emissions of sulfur dioxide amounted to 81,000 tons a day, and the emissions from the volcano ranged from 500 to 2,000 tons a day.”
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I have lived myself to see the disciples of Hoffman, Boerhaave, Stalh, Cullen, Brown, succeed one another like the shifting figures of a magic lanthern, and their fancies, like the dresses of the annual doll-babies from Paris, becoming from their novelty, the vogue of the day, and yielding to the next novelty their ephemeral favor. The patient, treated on the fashionable theory, sometimes gets well in spite of the medicine.
In letter to Caspar Wistar (21 Jun 1807), collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph (ed.), Memoir, Correspondence, And Miscellanies, From The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson (1829), Vol. 4, 93.
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I have patiently born with abundance of Clamour and Ralary [raillery], for beginning a new Practice here (for the Good of the Publick) which comes well Recommended, from Gentlemen of Figure & Learning, and which well agrees to Reason, when try’d & duly considered, viz. Artificially giving the Small Pocks, by Inoculation, to One of my Children, and Two of my Slaves, in order to prevent the hazard of Life… . and they never took one grain or drop of Medicine since, & are perfectly well.
By “clamour” he is referring to the public commotion in Boston reacting to his introduction of smallpox inoculation. Public statement in the Gazette (Jul 10-17), No. 85, 1721. As quoted and cited in Reginald H. Fitz, 'Zabdiel Boylston, Inoculator, and the Epidemic of Smallpox in Boston in 1721', Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital (1911), 22, 319.
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I have tried to show why I believe that the biologist is the most romantic figure on earth at the present day. At first sight he seems to be just a poor little scrubby underpaid man, groping blindly amid the mazes of the ultra-microscopic, engaging in bitter and lifelong quarrels over the nephridia of flatworms, waking perhaps one morning to find that someone whose name he has never heard has demolished by a few crucial experiments the work which he had hoped would render him immortal.
Daedalus or Science and the Future (1924), 77.
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I myself, a professional mathematician, on re-reading my own work find it strains my mental powers to recall to mind from the figures the meanings of the demonstrations, meanings which I myself originally put into the figures and the text from my mind. But when I attempt to remedy the obscurity of the material by putting in extra words, I see myself falling into the opposite fault of becoming chatty in something mathematical.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy, (1609), Introduction, second paragraph.
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I never could do anything with figures, never had any talent for mathematics, never accomplished anything in my efforts at that rugged study, and to-day the only mathematics I know is multiplication, and the minute I get away up in that, as soon as I reach nine times seven— [He lapsed into deep thought, trying to figure nine times seven. Mr. McKelway whispered the answer to him.] I’ve got it now. It’s eighty-four. Well, I can get that far all right with a little hesitation. After that I am uncertain, and I can’t manage a statistic.
Speech at the New York Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind (29 Mar 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 323.
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I notice that, in the lecture … which Prof. Lowry gave recently, in Paris … he brought forward certain freak formulae for tartaric acid, in which hydrogen figures as bigamist … I may say, he but follows the loose example set by certain Uesanians, especially one G. N. Lewis, a Californian thermodynamiter, who has chosen to disregard the fundamental canons of chemistry—for no obvious reason other than that of indulging in premature speculation upon electrons as the cause of valency…
'Bigamist Hydrogen. A Protest', Nature (1926), 117, 553.
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I once knew an otherwise excellent teacher who compelled his students to perform all their demonstrations with incorrect figures, on the theory that it was the logical connection of the concepts, not the figure, that was essential.
In Ernst Mach and Thomas Joseph McCormack, Space and Geometry (1906), 93.
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I read … that geometry is the art of making no mistakes in long calculations. I think that this is an underestimation of geometry. Our brain has two halves: one is responsible for the multiplication of polynomials and languages, and the other half is responsible for orientation of figures in space and all the things important in real life. Mathematics is geometry when you have to use both halves.
In S.H. Lui, 'An Interview with Vladimir Arnol’d', Notices of the AMS (Apr 1997) 44, No. 4, 438. Reprinted from the Hong Kong Mathematics Society (Feb 1996).
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I should like to urge some arguments for wilderness preservation that involve recreation,…. Hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain-climbing, camping, photography, and the enjoyment of natural scenery will all, surely, figure in your report. So will the wilderness as a genetic reserve, a scientific yardstick by which we may measure the world in its natural balance against the world in its man-made imbalance.
Letter (3 Dec 1960) written to David E. Pesonen of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. Collected in 'Coda: Wilderness Letter', The Sound of Mountain Water: The Changing American West (1969), 145-146.
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I took a good clear piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife sharpen'd as keen as a Razor, I cut a piece of it off, and thereby left the surface of it exceeding smooth, then examining it very diligently with a Microscope, me thought I could perceive it to appear a little porous; but I could not so plainly distinguish them, as to be sure that they were pores, much less what Figure they were of: But judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, that certainly the texture could not be so curious, but that possibly, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope, I with the same sharp Penknife, cut off from the former smooth surface an exceeding thin piece of it with a deep plano-convex Glass, I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular; yet it was not unlike a Honey-comb in these particulars.
First, in that it had a very little solid substance, in comparison of the empty cavity that was contain'd between, ... for the Interstitia or walls (as I may so call them) or partitions of those pores were neer as thin in proportion to their pores as those thin films of Wax in a Honey-comb (which enclose and constitute the sexangular cells) are to theirs.
Next, in that these pores, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes, separated out of one continued long pore, by certain Diaphragms...
I no sooner discerned these (which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this) but me thought I had with the discovery of them, presently hinted to me the true and intelligible reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 112-6.
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I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula: 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a+b=c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists, until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), 1.
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I will give you a “celestial multiplication table.” We start with a star as the unit most familiar to us, a globe comparable to the sun. Then—
A hundred thousand million Stars make one Galaxy;
A hundred thousand million Galaxies make one Universe.
The figures may not be very trustworthy, but I think they give a correct impression.
In The Expanding Universe (1933), 4.
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I [do not know] when the end of science will come. ... What I do know is that our species is dumber than we normally admit to ourselves. This limit of our mental faculties, and not necessarily of science itself, ensures to me that we have only just begun to figure out the universe.
In Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 17.
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If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.
In Time Enough For Love: the Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 257.
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If it can’t be expressed in figures, it’s not science it’s opinion.
…...
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If the Humours of the Eye by old Age decay, so as by shrinking to make the Cornea and Coat of the Crystalline Humour grow flatter than before, the Light will not be refracted enough, and for want of a sufficient Refraction will not converge to the bottom of the Eye but to some place beyond it, and by consequence paint in the bottom of the Eye a confused Picture, and according to the Indistinctuess of this Picture the Object will appear confused. This is the reason of the decay of sight in old Men, and shews why their Sight is mended by Spectacles. For those Convex glasses supply the defect of plumpness in the Eye, and by increasing the Refraction make the rays converge sooner, so as to convene distinctly at the bottom of the Eye if the Glass have a due degree of convexity. And the contrary happens in short-sighted Men whose Eyes are too plump. For the Refraction being now too great, the Rays converge and convene in the Eyes before they come at the bottom; and therefore the Picture made in the bottom and the Vision caused thereby will not be distinct, unless the Object be brought so near the Eye as that the place where the converging Rays convene may be removed to the bottom, or that the plumpness of the Eye be taken off and the Refractions diminished by a Concave-glass of a due degree of Concavity, or lastly that by Age the Eye grow flatter till it come to a due Figure: For short-sighted Men see remote Objects best in Old Age, and therefore they are accounted to have the most lasting Eyes.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Axiom VII, 10-11.
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If we go back to our chequer game, the fundamental laws are rules by which the chequers move. Mathematics may be applied in the complex situation to figure out what in given circumstances is a good move to make. But very little mathematics is needed for the simple fundamental character of the basic laws. They can be simply stated in English for chequers.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 36.
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If we had a thorough knowledge of all the parts of the seed of any animal (e.g., man), we could from that alone, by reasons entirely mathematical and certain, deduce the whole conformation and figure of each of its members, and, conversely, if we knew several peculiarities of this conformation, we would from those deduce the nature of its seed.
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If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives.
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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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 preparing the present volume, it has been the aim of the author to do full justice to the ample material at his command, and, where possible, to make the illustrations tell the main story to anatomists. The text of such a memoir may soon lose its interest, and belong to the past, but good figures are of permanent value. [Justifying elaborate illustrations in his monographs.]
In Dinocerata: a monograph of an extinct order of gigantic mammals (1884), Preface, xvii.
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In the hierarchy of the major poetic substances, it [plastic] figures as a disgraced material, lost between the effusiveness of rubber and the flat hardness of metal.
'Plastic', in Mythologies (1957), trans. Annette Lavers (1972), 98.
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In the physical world, one cannot increase the size or quantity of anything without changing its quality. Similar figures exist only in pure geometry.
In W.H. Auden and ‎Louis Kronenberger, The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection, (1966), 98.
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Inexact method of observation, as I believe, is one flaw in clinical pathology to-day. Prematurity of conclusion is another, and in part follows from the first; but in chief part an unusual craving and veneration for hypothesis, which besets the minds of most medical men, is responsible. Except in those sciences which deal with the intangible or with events of long past ages, no treatises are to be found in which hypothesis figures as it does in medical writings. The purity of a science is to be judged by the paucity of its recorded hypotheses. Hypothesis has its right place, it forms a working basis; but it is an acknowledged makeshift, and, at the best, of purpose unaccomplished. Hypothesis is the heart which no man with right purpose wears willingly upon his sleeve. He who vaunts his lady love, ere yet she is won, is apt to display himself as frivolous or his lady a wanton.
The Mechanism and Graphic Registration of the Heart Beat (1920), vii.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time … I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—“I like it”,“I don't like it”—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 57.
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It had the old double keyboard, an entirely different set of keys for capitals and figures, so that the paper seemed a long way off, and the machine was as big and solid as a battle cruiser. Typing was then a muscular activity. You could ache after it. If you were not familiar with those vast keyboards, your hand wandered over them like a child lost in a wood. The noise might have been that of a shipyard on the Clyde. You would no more have thought of carrying one of those grim structures as you would have thought of travelling with a piano.
[About his first typewriter.]
English Journey (1934), 122-123.
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It hath been an old remark, that Geometry is an excellent Logic. And it must be owned that when the definitions are clear; when the postulata cannot be refused, nor the axioms denied; when from the distinct contemplation and comparison of figures, their properties are derived, by a perpetual well-connected chain of consequences, the objects being still kept in view, and the attention ever fixed upon them; there is acquired a habit of reasoning, close and exact and methodical; which habit strengthens and sharpens the mind, and being transferred to other subjects is of general use in the inquiry after truth.
In 'The Analyst', in The Works of George Berkeley (1898), Vol. 3, 10.
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It is related of the Socratic philosopher Aristippus that, being shipwrecked and cast ashore on the coast of the Rhodians, he observed geometrical figures drawn thereon, and cried out to his companions:"Let us be of good cheer, for I see the traces of man."
Vitruvius
In Vitruvius Pollio and Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), 'Book VI: Introduction', Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 167. From the original Latin, “Aristippus philosophus Socraticus, naufragio cum ejectus ad Rhodiensium litus animaduertisset Geometrica schemata descripta, exclama uisse ad comites ita dicitur, Bene speremus, hominum enim vestigia video.” In De Architectura libri decem (1552), 218.
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It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works—that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 159.
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It might be thought … that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already very well understood.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 138-139.
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It seems probable to me that God, in the beginning, formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportions to space, as most conduced to the end for which He formed them; and that these primitive particles, being solids, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them, even so very hard as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary power being able to divide what God had made one in the first creation.
From Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 375-376.
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It seems wonderful to everyone that sometimes stones are found that have figures of animals inside and outside. For outside they have an outline, and when they are broken open, the shapes of the internal organs are found inside. And Avicenna says that the cause of this is that animals, just as they are, are sometimes changed into stones, and especially [salty] stones. For he says that just as the Earth and Water are material for stones, so animals, too, are material for stones. And in places where a petrifying force is exhaling, they change into their elements and are attacked by the properties of the qualities [hot, cold, moist, dry] which are present in those places, and in the elements in the bodies of such animals are changed into the dominant element, namely Earth mixed with Water; and then the mineralizing power converts [the mixture] into stone, and the parts of the body retain their shape, inside and outside, just as they were before. There are also stones of this sort that are [salty] and frequently not hard; for it must be a strong power which thus transmutes the bodies of animals, and it slightly burns the Earth in the moisture, so it produces a taste of salt.
De Mineralibus (On Minerals) (c.1261-1263), Book I, tract 2, chapter 8, trans. Dorothy Wyckoff (1967), 52-53.
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It was a dark and stormy night, so R. H. Bing volunteered to drive some stranded mathematicians from the fogged-in Madison airport to Chicago. Freezing rain pelted the windscreen and iced the roadway as Bing drove on—concentrating deeply on the mathematical theorem he was explaining. Soon the windshield was fogged from the energetic explanation. The passengers too had beaded brows, but their sweat arose from fear. As the mathematical description got brighter, the visibility got dimmer. Finally, the conferees felt a trace of hope for their survival when Bing reached forward—apparently to wipe off the moisture from the windshield. Their hope turned to horror when, instead, Bing drew a figure with his finger on the foggy pane and continued his proof—embellishing the illustration with arrows and helpful labels as needed for the demonstration.
In 'R. H. Bing', Biographical Memoirs: National Academy of Sciences (2002), 49. Anecdote based on the recollections of Bing's colleagues, Steve Armentrout and C. E. Burgess. The narrative was given in a memorial tribute at the University of Texas at Austin.
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It was not just the Church that resisted the heliocentrism of Copernicus. Many prominent figures, in the decades following the 1543 publication of De Revolutionibus, regarded the Copernican model of the universe as a mathematical artifice which, though it yielded astronomical predictions of superior accuracy, could not be considered a true representation of physical reality: 'If Nicolaus Copernicus, the distinguished and incomparable master, in this work had not been deprived of exquisite and faultless instruments, he would have left us this science far more well-established. For he, if anybody, was outstanding and had the most perfect understanding of the geometrical and arithmetical requisites for building up this discipline. Nor was he in any respect inferior to Ptolemy; on the contrary, he surpassed him greatly in certain fields, particularly as far as the device of fitness and compendious harmony in hypotheses is concerned. And his apparently absurd opinion that the Earth revolves does not obstruct this estimate, because a circular motion designed to go on uniformly about another point than the very center of the circle, as actually found in the Ptolemaic hypotheses of all the planets except that of the Sun, offends against the very basic principles of our discipline in a far more absurd and intolerable way than does the attributing to the Earth one motion or another which, being a natural motion, turns out to be imperceptible. There does not at all arise from this assumption so many unsuitable consequences as most people think.'
from Letter to Christopher Rothman, 20 Jan 1587
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It will be found that those contained in one article [class of nebulae], are so closely allied to those in the next, that there is perhaps not so much difference between them, if I may use the comparison, as there would be in an annual description of the human figure, were it given from the birth of a child till he comes to be a man in his prime.
'Astronomical Observations... ' Philosophical Transactions (1811), 101, 271.
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It would indeed be a great delusion, if we stated that those sports of Nature [we find] enclosed in rocks are there by chance or by some vague creative power. Ah, that would be superficial indeed! In reality, those shells, which once were alive in water and are now dead and decomposed, were made thus by time not Nature; and what we now find as very hard, figured stone, was once soft mud and which received the impression of the shape of a shell, as I have frequently demonstrated.
La vana speculazione disingannata del senso (1670), trans. Ezio Vaccari, 83-4.
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It [mathematics] is in the inner world of pure thought, where all entia dwell, where is every type of order and manner of correlation and variety of relationship, it is in this infinite ensemble of eternal verities whence, if there be one cosmos or many of them, each derives its character and mode of being,—it is there that the spirit of mathesis has its home and its life.
Is it a restricted home, a narrow life, static and cold and grey with logic, without artistic interest, devoid of emotion and mood and sentiment? That world, it is true, is not a world of solar light, not clad in the colours that liven and glorify the things of sense, but it is an illuminated world, and over it all and everywhere throughout are hues and tints transcending sense, painted there by radiant pencils of psychic light, the light in which it lies. It is a silent world, and, nevertheless, in respect to the highest principle of art—the interpenetration of content and form, the perfect fusion of mode and meaning—it even surpasses music. In a sense, it is a static world, but so, too, are the worlds of the sculptor and the architect. The figures, however, which reason constructs and the mathematic vision beholds, transcend the temple and the statue, alike in simplicity and in intricacy, in delicacy and in grace, in symmetry and in poise. Not only are this home and this life thus rich in aesthetic interests, really controlled and sustained by motives of a sublimed and supersensuous art, but the religious aspiration, too, finds there, especially in the beautiful doctrine of invariants, the most perfect symbols of what it seeks—the changeless in the midst of change, abiding things hi a world of flux, configurations that remain the same despite the swirl and stress of countless hosts of curious transformations.
In 'The Universe and Beyond', Hibbert Journal (1904-1906), 3, 314.
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I’ve been very involved in science literacy because it’s critically important in our world today. … As a public, we’re asked to vote on issues, we’re asked to accept explanations, we’re asked to figure out what to do with our own health care, and you can’t do that unless you have some level of science literacy. Science literacy isn’t about figuring out how to solve equations like E=MC². Rather, it’s about being able to read an article in the newspaper about the environment, about health care and figuring out how to vote on it. It’s about being able to prepare nutritious meals. It’s about being able to think your way through the day.
As quoted in 'Then & Now: Dr. Mae Jemison' (19 Jun 2005) on CNN web site.
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Just a rock, a dome of snow, the deep blue sky, and a hunk of orange-painted metal from which a shredded American flag cracked in the wind. Nothing more. Except two tiny figures walking together those last few feet to the top of the Earth.
…...
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Learning how to operate a soul figures to take time.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 22
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Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape—he is a shaper of the landscape.
In The Ascent of Man (1973, 2011), 19.
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Mathematics is the science of the functional laws and transformations which enable us to convert figured extension and rated motion into number.
In 'The Departments of Mathematics, and their Mutual Relations', Journal of Speculative Philosophy (Apr 1871), 5, No. 2, 170.
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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My ideal man is Benjamin Franklin—the figure in American history most worthy of emulation ... Franklin is my ideal of a whole man. ... Where are the life-size—or even pint-size—Benjamin Franklins of today?
Describing his personal hero, in a lecture (1964). In Gerald James Holton, Victory and Vexation in Science: Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Others (2005), 92. In John S. Rigden,Science: The Center of Culture (1970), 111-112. In Rabi, Scientist and Citizen (2000), xxv, the author states that a portrait of Benjamin Franklin hung in Rabi's office.
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My position is a naturalistic one; I see philosophy not as an a priori propaedeutic or groundwork for science, but as continuous with science. I see philosophy and science as in the same boat—a boat which, to revert to Neurath’s figure as I so often do, we can rebuild only at sea while staying afloat in it. There is no external vantage point, no first philosophy.
Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, pp. 126-127, Columbia University Press (1969).
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No serious student of human behavior denies the potent influence of evolved biology upon our cultural lives. Our struggle is to figure out how biology affects us, not whether it does.
In An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas (1988, 2010), 152.
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Not since the Lord himself showed his stuff to Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones had anyone shown such grace and skill in the reconstruction of animals from disarticulated skeletons. Charles R. Knight, the most celebrated of artists in the reanimation of fossils, painted all the canonical figures of dinosaurs that fire our fear and imagination to this day.
In Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1990), 23. First sentence of chapter one.
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Now, all causes of natural effects must be expressed by means of lines, angles and figures, for otherwise it is impossible to grasp their explanation. This is evident as follows. A natural agent multiplies its power from itself to the recipient, whether it acts on sense or on matter. This power is sometimes called species, sometimes a likeness, and it is the same thing whatever it may be called; and the agent sends the same power into sense and into matter, or into its own contrary, as heat sends the same thing into the sense of touch and into a cold body. For it does not act, by deliberation and choice, and therefore it acts in a single manner whatever it encounters, whether sense or something insensitive, whether something animate or inanimate. But the effects are diversified by the diversity of the recipient, for when this power is received by the senses, it produces an effect that is somehow spiritual and noble; on the other hand, when it is received by matter, it produces a material effect. Thus the sun produces different effects in different recipients by the same power, for it cakes mud and melts ice.
De Uneis, Angulis et Figuris seu Fractionibus Reflexionibus Radiorum (On Lines, Angles and Figures or On the Refraction and Reflection of Rays) [1230/31], trans. D. C. Lindberg, quoted in E. Grant (ed.), A Source Book in Medieval Science (1974), 385-6.
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Oh, don't tell me of facts, I never believe facts; you know, [George] Canning said nothing was so fallacious as facts, except figures.
Lady Saba Holland, A Memoir of The Reverend Sydney Smith (1854), 253.
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On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
In 'Difference Engine No. 1', Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), Chap. 5, 59.
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One of the grandest figures that ever frequented Eastern Yorkshire was William Smith, the distinguished Father of English Geology. My boyish reminiscence of the old engineer, as he sketched a triangle on the flags of our yard, and taught me how to measure it, is very vivid. The drab knee-breeches and grey worsted stockings, the deep waistcoat, with its pockets well furnished with snuff—of which ample quantities continually disappeared within the finely chiselled nostril—and the dark coat with its rounded outline and somewhat quakerish cut, are all clearly present to my memory.
From Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist (1896), 13.
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Our most distinguished “man of science” was the then veteran John Dalton. He was rarely absent from his seat in a warm corner of the room during the meetings of the Literary and Philosophical Society. Though a sober-minded Quaker, he was not devoid of some sense of fun; and there was a tradition amongst us, not only that he had once been a poet, but that, although a bachelor, two manuscript copies were still extant of his verses on the subject of matrimonial felicity; and it is my belief there was foundation for the tradition. The old man was sensitive on the subject of his age. Dining one day ... he was placed between two ladies ... [who] resolved to extract from him some admission on the tender point, but in vain. Though never other than courteous, Dalton foiled all their feminine arts and retained his secret. ... Dalton's quaint and diminutive figure was a strongly individualized one.
In Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist (1896), 73-74.
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Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.
In 'The Assayer' (1623), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 237-8.
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Physics is NOT a body of indisputable and immutable Truth; it is a body of well-supported probable opinion only .... Physics can never prove things the way things are proved in mathematics, by eliminating ALL of the alternative possibilities. It is not possible to say what the alternative possibilities are.... Write down a number of 20 figures; if you multiply this by a number of, say, 30 figures, you would arrive at some enormous number (of either 49 or 50 figures). If you were to multiply the 30-figure number by the 20-figure number you would arrive at the same enormous 49- or 50-figure number, and you know this to be true without having to do the multiplying. This is the step you can never take in physics.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 68, 88, 179.
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Professor Bethe … is a man who has this characteristic: If there’s a good experimental number you’ve got to figure it out from theory. So, he forced the quantum electrodynamics of the day to give him an answer [for the experimentally measured Lamb-shift of hydrogen], … and thus, made the most important discovery in the history of the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He worked this out on the train from Ithaca, New York to Schenectady.
Bethe calculated, what Lamb had experimentally just measured, for the separation of the 2S½ and 2P½ of hydrogen. Both theory and measurement yielded about one thousand megacycles for the Lamb-shift. Feynman was at the time associated with Bethe at Cornell. In Feynman’s Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 170.
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Put ’em down! Facts and Figures!
By fictional character Toby “Trotty” Veck, in The Chimes: A Goblin Story (1844). Collected in Christmas Stories and Pictures from Italy (1852), 13.
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So highly did the ancients esteem the power of figures and numbers, that Democritus ascribed to the figures of atoms the first principles of the variety of things; and Pythagoras asserted that the nature of things consisted of numbers.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 3; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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Sooner or later in every talk, [David] Brower describes the creation of the world. He invites his listeners to consider the six days of Genesis as a figure of speech for what has in fact been 4 billion years. On this scale, one day equals something like six hundred and sixty-six million years, and thus, all day Monday and until Tuesday noon, creation was busy getting the world going. Life began Tuesday noon, and the beautiful organic wholeness of it developed over the next four days. At 4 p.m. Saturday, the big reptiles came on. At three minutes before midnight on the last day, man appeared. At one-fourth of a second before midnight Christ arrived. At one-fortieth of a second before midnight, the Industrial Revolution began. We are surrounded with people who think that what we have been doing for that one-fortieth of a second can go on indefinitely. They are considered normal, but they are stark. raving mad.
In Encounters with the Archdruid (1971), 79-80.
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Statistician: A man who believes figures don't lie but admits that, under analysis some of them won't stand up either.
Evan Esar
The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (1949). In Robert Harris Shutler, Mathematics 436 - Finely Explained (2004), 3.
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Statistician: A man who believes figures don’t lie, but admits that under analysis some of them won’t stand up either.
Anonymous
From Evan Esar, Esar’s Comic Dictionary (1943), as cited in Raymond Rowe and Joseph Chamberlain, A Spoonful of Sugar: 1,001 Quotations (2007), 56.
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Statistics are far from being the barren array of figures ingeniously and laboriously combined into columns and tables, which many persons are apt to suppose them. They constitute rather the ledger of a nation, in which, like the merchant in his books, the citizen can read, at one view, all of the results of a year or of a period of years, as compared with other periods, and deduce the profit or the loss which has been made, in morals, education, wealth or power.
Statistical View of the United States: A Compendium of the Seventh Census (1854), 9.
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Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.
Evan Esar
The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (1949). In Robert Harris Shutler, Mathematics 436 - Finely Explained (2004), 3.
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Stick Figure 1: Nice store. How do you keep the floors so clean?
Stick Figure 2:Oh, we hired this dude named Kepler… Sweeps out the same area every night.
A pun on Kepler’s Second Law in caption from 'Kepler', cartoon on website xkcd.com.
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Strictly speaking, it is really scandalous that science has not yet clarified the nature of number. It might be excusable that there is still no generally accepted definition of number, if at least there were general agreement on the matter itself. However, science has not even decided on whether number is an assemblage of things, or a figure drawn on the blackboard by the hand of man; whether it is something psychical, about whose generation psychology must give information, or whether it is a logical structure; whether it is created and can vanish, or whether it is eternal. It is not known whether the propositions of arithmetic deal with those structures composed of calcium carbonate [chalk] or with non-physical entities. There is as little agreement in this matter as there is regarding the meaning of the word “equal” and the equality sign. Therefore, science does not know the thought content which is attached to its propositions; it does not know what it deals with; it is completely in the dark regarding their proper nature. Isn’t this scandalous?
From opening paragraph of 'Vorwort', Über die Zahlen des Herrn H. Schubert (1899), iii. ('Foreword', On the Numbers of Mr. H. Schubert). Translated by Theodore J. Benac in Friedrich Waismann, Introduction to Mathematical Thinking: The Formation of Concepts in Modern Mathematics (1959, 2003), 107. Webmaster added “[chalk]”.
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Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, like a violent volcano. The nuclear reactions had led to overheating in the underground burial grounds. The explosion poured radioactive dust and materials high up into the sky. It was just the wrong weather for such a tragedy. Strong winds blew the radioactive clouds hundreds of miles away. It was difficult to gauge the extent of the disaster immediately, and no evacuation plan was put into operation right away. Many villages and towns were only ordered to evacuate when the symptoms of radiation sickness were already quite apparent. Tens of thousands of people were affected, hundreds dying, though the real figures have never been made public. The large area, where the accident happened, is still considered dangerous and is closed to the public.
'Two Decades of Dissidence', New Scientist (4 Nov 1976), 72, No. 72, 265.
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That mathematics “do not cultivate the power of generalization,”; … will be admitted by no person of competent knowledge, except in a very qualified sense. The generalizations of mathematics, are, no doubt, a different thing from the generalizations of physical science; but in the difficulty of seizing them, and the mental tension they require, they are no contemptible preparation for the most arduous efforts of the scientific mind. Even the fundamental notions of the higher mathematics, from those of the differential calculus upwards are products of a very high abstraction. … To perceive the mathematical laws common to the results of many mathematical operations, even in so simple a case as that of the binomial theorem, involves a vigorous exercise of the same faculty which gave us Kepler’s laws, and rose through those laws to the theory of universal gravitation. Every process of what has been called Universal Geometry—the great creation of Descartes and his successors, in which a single train of reasoning solves whole classes of problems at once, and others common to large groups of them—is a practical lesson in the management of wide generalizations, and abstraction of the points of agreement from those of difference among objects of great and confusing diversity, to which the purely inductive sciences cannot furnish many superior. Even so elementary an operation as that of abstracting from the particular configuration of the triangles or other figures, and the relative situation of the particular lines or points, in the diagram which aids the apprehension of a common geometrical demonstration, is a very useful, and far from being always an easy, exercise of the faculty of generalization so strangely imagined to have no place or part in the processes of mathematics.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 612-13.
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The Ideas of primary Qualities of Bodies, are Resemblances of them, and their Patterns do really exist in the Bodies themselves; but the Ideas, produced in us by these Secondary Qualities, have no resemblance of them at all. There is nothing like our Ideas, existing in the Bodies themselves. They are in Bodies, we denominate from them, only a Power to produce those Sensations in us: And what is Sweet, Blue or Warm in Idea, is but the certain Bulk, Figure, and Motion of the insensible parts in the Bodies themselves, which we call so.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 15, 137.
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The Qualities then that are in Bodies rightly considered, are of Three sorts.
First, the Bulk, Figure, Number, Situation, and Motion, or Rest of their solid Parts; those are in them, whether we perceive them or no; and when they are of that size, that we can discover them, we have by these an Idea of the thing, as it is in it self, as is plain in artificial things. These I call primary Qualities.
Secondly, The Power that is in any Body, by Reason of its insensible primary Qualities, to operate after a peculiar manner on any of our Senses, and thereby produce in us the different Ideas of several Colours, Sounds, Smells, Tastes, etc. These are usually called sensible Qualities.
Thirdly, The Power that is in any Body, by Reason of the particular Constitution of its primary Qualities, to make such a change in the Bulk, Figure, Texture, and Motion of another Body, as to make it operate on our Senses, differently from what it did before. Thus the Sun has a Power to make Wax white, and Fire to make Lead fluid. These are usually called Powers.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 23, 140-1.
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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 part of working at a university is the students. They come in fresh, enthusiastic, open to ideas, unscarred by the battles of life. They don't realize it, but they're the recipients of the best our society can offer. If a mind is ever free to be creative, that's the time. They come in believing textbooks are authoritative but eventually they figure out that textbooks and professors don't know everything, and then they start to think on their own. Then, I begin learning from them.
As quoted in autobiography of Stephen Chu in Gösta Ekspong (ed.), Nobel Lectures: Physics 1996-2000 (2002), 120.
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The concept of number is the obvious distinction between the beast and man. Thanks to number, the cry becomes a song, noise acquires rhythm, the spring is transformed into a dance, force becomes dynamic, and outlines figures.
Epigraph, without citation, in Corrective and Social Psychiatry and Journal of Behavior Technology Methods and Therapy (1966), Vol. 12, 409.
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The engineer is the key figure in the material progress of the world. It is his engineering that makes a reality of the potential value of science by translating scientific knowledge into tools, resources, energy and labor to bring them to the service of man ... To make contribution of this kind the engineer requires the imagination to visualize the needs of society and to appreciate what is possible as well as the technological and broad social age understanding to bring his vision to reality.
In Philip Sporn, Foundations of Engineering: Cornell College of Engineering Lectures, Spring 1963 (1964), 22.
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The figure of 2.2 children per adult female was felt to be in some respects absurd, and a Royal Commission suggested that the middle classes be paid money to increase the average to a rounder and more convenient number.
Magazine
Quoted from Punch in epigraph, M.J. Moroney, 'On the Average', Facts From Figures (1951), Chap. 4, 34.
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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 geometrical problems and theorems of the Greeks always refer to definite, oftentimes to rather complicated figures. Now frequently the points and lines of such a figure may assume very many different relative positions; each of these possible cases is then considered separately. On the contrary, present day mathematicians generate their figures one from another, and are accustomed to consider them subject to variation; in this manner they unite the various cases and combine them as much as possible by employing negative and imaginary magnitudes. For example, the problems which Apollonius treats in his two books De sectione rationis, are solved today by means of a single, universally applicable construction; Apollonius, on the contrary, separates it into more than eighty different cases varying only in position. Thus, as Hermann Hankel has fittingly remarked, the ancient geometry sacrifices to a seeming simplicity the true simplicity which consists in the unity of principles; it attained a trivial sensual presentability at the cost of the recognition of the relations of geometric forms in all their changes and in all the variations of their sensually presentable positions.
In 'Die Synthetische Geometrie im Altertum und in der Neuzeit', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung (1902), 2, 346-347. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112. The spelling of the first “Apollonius” has been corrected from “Appolonius” in the original English text. From the original German, “Die geometrischen Probleme und Sätze der Griechen beziehen sich allemal auf bestimmte, oft recht komplizierte Figuren. Nun können aber die Punkte und Linien einer solchen Figur häufig sehr verschiedene Lagen zu einander annehmen; jeder dieser möglichen Fälle wird alsdann für sich besonders erörtert. Dagegen lassen die heutigen Mathematiker ihre Figuren aus einander entstehen und sind gewohnt, sie als veränderlich zu betrachten; sie vereinigen so die speziellen Fälle und fassen sie möglichst zusammen unter Benutzung auch negativer und imaginärer Gröfsen. Das Problem z. B., welches Apollonius in seinen zwei Büchern de sectione rationis behandelt, löst man heutzutage durch eine einzige, allgemein anwendbare Konstruktion; Apollonius selber dagegen zerlegt es in mehr als 80 nur durch die Lage verschiedene Fälle. So opfert, wie Hermann Hankel treffend bemerkt, die antike Geometrie einer scheinbaren Einfachheit die wahre, in der Einheit der Prinzipien bestehende; sie erreicht eine triviale sinnliche Anschaulichkeit auf Kosten der Erkenntnis vom Zusammenhang geometrischer Gestalten in aller Wechsel und in aller Veränderlichkeit ihrer sinnlich vorstellbaren Lage.”
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The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 9, chap. 14, sect. 3.
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The landlady of a boarding-house is a parallelogram—that is, an oblong figure, which cannot be described, but which is equal to anything.
In 'Boarding-House Geometry', Literary Lapses (1928), 26.
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The monogram of our national initials, which is the symbol for our monetary unit, the dollar, is almost as frequently conjoined to the figures of an engineer’s calculations as are the symbols indicating feet, minutes, pounds, or gallons. … This statement, while true in regard to the work of all engineers, applies particularly to that of the mechanical engineer…
'The Engineer as an Economist', Proceedings of the Chicago Meeting (25-28 May 1886)Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1886), 7, 428.
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The most important distinction between the two qualities [talent and genius] is this: one, in conception, follows mechanical processes; the other, vital. Talent feebly conceives objects with the senses and understanding; genius, fusing all its powers together in the alembic of an impassioned imagination, clutches every thing in the concrete, conceives objects as living realities, gives body to spiritual abstractions, and spirit to bodily appearances, and like
“A gate of steel
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
His figure and his heat!”
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203. The quotation at the end is from Wiliam Shakespeare, Tr. & Cress. iii, 3.
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The new naval treaty permits the United States to spend a billion dollars on warships—a sum greater than has been accumulated by all our endowed institutions of learning in their entire history. Unintelligence could go no further! … [In Great Britain, the situation is similar.] … Until the figures are reversed, … nations deceive themselves as to what they care about most.
Universities: American, English, German (1930), 302.
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The old fashioned family physician and general practitioner ... was a splendid figure and useful person in his day; but he was badly trained, he was often ignorant, he made many mistakes, for one cannot by force of character and geniality of person make a diagnosis of appendicitis, or recognize streptococcus infection.
New York Medical Journal (1913), 97, 1.
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The one who stays in my mind as the ideal man of science is, not Huxley or Tyndall, Hooker or Lubbock, still less my friend, philosopher and guide Herbert Spencer, but Francis Galton, whom I used to observe and listen to—I regret to add, without the least reciprocity—with rapt attention. Even to-day. I can conjure up, from memory’s misty deep, that tall figure with its attitude of perfect physical and mental poise; the clean-shaven face, the thin, compressed mouth with its enigmatical smile; the long upper lip and firm chin, and, as if presiding over the whole personality of the man, the prominent dark eyebrows from beneath which gleamed, with penetrating humour, contemplative grey eyes. Fascinating to me was Francis Galton’s all-embracing but apparently impersonal beneficence. But, to a recent and enthusiastic convert to the scientific method, the most relevant of Galton’s many gifts was the unique contribution of three separate and distinct processes of the intellect; a continuous curiosity about, and rapid apprehension of individual facts, whether common or uncommon; the faculty for ingenious trains of reasoning; and, more admirable than either of these, because the talent was wholly beyond my reach, the capacity for correcting and verifying his own hypotheses, by the statistical handling of masses of data, whether collected by himself or supplied by other students of the problem.
In My Apprenticeship (1926), 134-135.
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The reader will find no figures in this work. The methods which I set forth do not require either constructions or geometrical or mechanical reasonings: but only algebraic operations, subject to a regular and uniform rule of procedure.
From the original French, “On ne trouvera point de Figures dans set Ouvrage. Les méthodes que j’y expose ne demandent ni constructions, ni raisonnements géométriqus ou méchaniques, mais seulement des opérations algébriques, assujetties à une march régulière et uniforme.” In 'Avertissement', Mécanique Analytique (1788, 1811), Vol. 1, i. English version as given in Cornelius Lanczos, The Variational Principles of Mechanics (1966), Vol. 1, 347.
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The Science of crystallography has been accused of being overrun with women and has been likened to 'intellectual knitting.' ... The international figure for women in crystallography in 1981 was 14 per cent of the population of 8,174 entries in the World Directory of Crystallographers.
'Women in Crystallography', in Gabriele Kass-Simon, Patricia Farnes and Deborah NashWomen of Science (reprint 1993), 335-336.
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The science of figures is most glorious and beautiful. But how inaptly it has received the name of geometry!
Dialog 1. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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The speculative propositions of mathematics do not relate to facts; … all that we are convinced of by any demonstration in the science, is of a necessary connection subsisting between certain suppositions and certain conclusions. When we find these suppositions actually take place in a particular instance, the demonstration forces us to apply the conclusion. Thus, if I could form a triangle, the three sides of which were accurately mathematical lines, I might affirm of this individual figure, that its three angles are equal to two right angles; but, as the imperfection of my senses puts it out of my power to be, in any case, certain of the exact correspondence of the diagram which I delineate, with the definitions given in the elements of geometry, I never can apply with confidence to a particular figure, a mathematical theorem. On the other hand, it appears from the daily testimony of our senses that the speculative truths of geometry may be applied to material objects with a degree of accuracy sufficient for the purposes of life; and from such applications of them, advantages of the most important kind have been gained to society.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 3, 180.
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The statistical method is required in the interpretation of figures which are at the mercy of numerous influences, and its object is to determine whether individual influences can be isolated and their effects measured. The essence of the method lies in the determination that we are really comparing like with like, and that we have not overlooked a relevant factor which is present in Group A and absent from Group B. The variability of human beings in their illnesses and in their reactions to them is a fundamental reason for the planned clinical trial and not against it.
Principles of Medical Statistics (1971), 13.
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The swelling and towering omnibuses, the huge trucks and wagons and carriages, the impetuous hansoms and the more sobered four-wheelers, the pony-carts, donkey-carts, hand-carts, and bicycles which fearlessly find their way amidst the turmoil, with foot-passengers winding in and out, and covering the sidewalks with their multitude, give the effect of a single monstrous organism, which writhes swiftly along the channel where it had run in the figure of a flood till you were tired of that metaphor. You are now a molecule of that vast organism.
Describing streets in London, from 'London Films', Harper’s Magazine (), 110, No. 655, 72.
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The term element is applied in chemistry to those forms of matter which have hitherto resisted all attempts to decompose them. Nothing is ever meant to be affirmed concerning their real nature; they are simply elements to us at the present time; hereafter, by new methods of research, or by new combinations of those already possessed by science, many of the substances which now figure as elements may possibly be shown to be compounds; this has already happened, and may again take place.
In Elementary Chemistry, Theoretical and Practical (1854), 103. There follows on this page, 62 listed elements, some indicated as “of recent discovery and yet imperfectly known”. Two of the later names were Norium and Pelopium.
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The Titanic didn’t sink because it hit an iceberg; it sank because the steel was brittle and it cracked. If you know the structure of a material, you can figure out how to improve it.
Speaking as group leader of the Electron Microscopy Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory which uses scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) to image atomic structure. As quoted by Alex Stone in 'The Secret Life of Atoms', in magazine, Discover (Jun 2007), 28, 5253.
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The tool which serves as intermediary between theory and practice, between thought and observation, is mathematics; it is mathematics which builds the linking bridges and gives the ever more reliable forms. From this it has come about that our entire contemporary culture, inasmuch as it is based on the intellectual penetration and the exploitation of nature, has its foundations in mathematics. Already Galileo said: one can understand nature only when one has learned the language and the signs in which it speaks to us; but this language is mathematics and these signs are mathematical figures.
Radio broadcast (8 Sep 1930). As quoted in Michael Fitzgerald and Ioan James, The Mind of the Mathematician (2007), 6-7.
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The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Reevaluation of some statements entails reevaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections—the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field.
'Two Dogmas of Experience,' in Philosophical Review (1951). Reprinted in From a Logical Point of View (1953), 42.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The ultimate particles of all homogeneous bodies are perfectly alike in weight, figure &c.
A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808), Vol. 1, 143.
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The Universe forces those who live in it to understand it. Those creatures who find everyday experience a muddled jumble of events with no predictability, no regularity, are in grave peril. The Universe belongs to those who, at least to some degree, have figured it out.
In Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, 1980), 19.
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The visible figures by which principles are illustrated should, so far as possible, have no accessories. They should be magnitudes pure and simple, so that the thought of the pupil may not be distracted, and that he may know what features of the thing represented he is to pay attention to.
In National Education Association of the United States, Report of the Committee of Ten on Secondary School Subjects, (1894), 109.
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The way you learn anything is that something fails, and you figure out how not to have it fail again.
From Interview (1 Sep 2009), for the NASA Glenn History Collection, Oral History Collection, Cleveland, Ohio. As quoted an cited in Robert S. Arrighi, Pursuit of Power: NASA’s Propulsion and Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 (2012), 82. This quote is widely seen on the web, often incorrectly attributed to Arrighi, who was only the author of the book in which the quote by Kobak was given.
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The words figure and fictitious both derive from the same Latin root, fingere. Beware!
In Facts from Figures (1951), 56.
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The world’s the book where the eternal sense
Wrote his own thoughts; the living temple where,
Painting his very self, with figures fair
He filled the whole immense circumference.
In 'Some Sonnets of Campanella', The Cornhill Magazine (Nov 1877), 36, 549.
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There is no art so difficult as the art of observation: it requires a skillful, sober spirit and a well-trained experience, which can only be acquired by practice; for he is not an observer who only sees the thing before him with his eyes, but he who sees of what parts the thing consists, and in what connexion the parts stand to the whole. One person overlooks half from inattention; another relates more than he sees while he confounds it with that which he figures to himself; another sees the parts of the whole, but he throws things together that ought to be separated. ... When the observer has ascertained the foundation of a phenomenon, and he is able to associate its conditions, he then proves while he endeavours to produce the phenomena at his will, the correctness of his observations by experiment. To make a series of experiments is often to decompose an opinion into its individual parts, and to prove it by a sensible phenomenon. The naturalist makes experiments in order to exhibit a phenomenon in all its different parts. When he is able to show of a series of phenomena, that they are all operations of the same cause, he arrives at a simple expression of their significance, which, in this case, is called a Law of Nature. We speak of a simple property as a Law of Nature when it serves for the explanation of one or more natural phenomena.
'The Study of the Natural Sciences: An Introductory Lecture to the Course of Experimental Chemistry in the University of Munich, for the Winter Session of 1852-53,' as translated and republished in The Medical Times and Gazette (22 Jan 1853), N.S. Vol. 6, 82.
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There isn’t one, not one, instance where it’s known what pattern of neural connectivity realizes a certain cognitive content, inate or learned, in either the infant’s nervous system or the adult’s. To be sure, our brains must somehow register the contents of our mental states. The trouble is: Nobody knows how—by what neurological means—they do so. Nobody can look at the patterns of connectivity (or of anything else) in a brain and figure out whether it belongs to somebody who knows algebra, or who speaks English, or who believes that Washington was the Father of his country.
In Critical Condition: Polemic Essays on Cognitive science and the Philosophy of the Mind (1988), 269-71. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 180.
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There may be some interest in one of my own discoveries in physics, entitled, “A Method of Approximating the Importance of a Given Physicist.” Briefly stated, after elimination of all differentials, the importance of a physicist can be measured by observation in the lobby of a building where the American Physical Society is in session. The importance of a given physicist varies inversely with his mean free path as he moves from the door of the meeting-room toward the street. His progress, of course, is marked by a series of scattering collisions with other physicists, during which he remains successively in the orbit of other individuals for a finite length of time. A good physicist has a mean free path of 3.6 ± 0.3 meters. The shortest m.f.p. measured in a series of observations between 1445 and 1947 was that of Oppenheimer (New York, 1946), the figure being 2.7 centimeters. I know. I was waiting for him on the street.
In 'A Newsman Looks at Physicists', Physics Today (May 1948), 1, No. 1, 33.
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These facts shaw that mitosis is due to the co-ordinate play of an extremely complex system of forces which are as yet scarcely comprehended. Its purpose is, however, as obvious as its physiological explanation is difficult. It is the end of mitosis to divide every part of the chromatin of the mother-cell equally between the daughter-nuclei. All the other operations are tributary to this. We may therefore regard the mitotic figure as essentially an apparatus for the distribution of the hereditary substance, and in this sense as the especial instrument of inheritance.
The Cell in Development and Inheritance (1896), 86.
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These machines [used in the defense of the Syracusans against the Romans under Marcellus] he [Archimedes] had designed and contrived, not as matters of any importance, but as mere amusements in geometry; in compliance with king Hiero’s desire and request, some time before, that he should reduce to practice some part of his admirable speculation in science, and by accommodating the theoretic truth to sensation and ordinary use, bring it more within the appreciation of people in general. Eudoxus and Archytas had been the first originators of this far-famed and highly-prized art of mechanics, which they employed as an elegant illustration of geometrical truths, and as means of sustaining experimentally, to the satisfaction of the senses, conclusions too intricate for proof by words and diagrams. As, for example, to solve the problem, so often required in constructing geometrical figures, given the two extremes, to find the two mean lines of a proportion, both these mathematicians had recourse to the aid of instruments, adapting to their purpose certain curves and sections of lines. But what with Plato’s indignation at it, and his invectives against it as the mere corruption and annihilation of the one good of geometry,—which was thus shamefully turning its back upon the unembodied objects of pure intelligence to recur to sensation, and to ask help (not to be obtained without base supervisions and depravation) from matter; so it was that mechanics came to be separated from geometry, and, repudiated and neglected by philosophers, took its place as a military art.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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This is one of the greatest advantages of modern geometry over the ancient, to be able, through the consideration of positive and negative quantities, to include in a single enunciation the several cases which the same theorem may present by a change in the relative position of the different parts of a figure. Thus in our day the nine principal problems and the numerous particular cases, which form the object of eighty-three theorems in the two books De sectione determinata of Appolonius constitute only one problem which is resolved by a single equation.
In Histoire de la Géométrie, chap. 1, sect. 35.
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Through seven figures come sensations for a man; there is hearing for sounds, sight for the visible, nostril for smell, tongue for pleasant or unpleasant tastes, mouth for speech, body for touch, passages outwards and inwards for hot or cold breath. Through these come knowledge or lack of it.
Regimen, in Hippocrates, trans. W. H. S. Jones (1931), Vol. 4, 261.
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To characterize the import of pure geometry, we might use the standard form of a movie-disclaimer: No portrayal of the characteristics of geometrical figures or of the spatial properties of relationships of actual bodies is intended, and any similarities between the primitive concepts and their customary geometrical connotations are purely coincidental.
From 'Geometry and Empirical Science', collected in Carl Hempel and James H. Fetzer (ed.), The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel: Studies in Science, Explanation, and Rationality (2001), Chap. 2, 24. Also Carl Hempel, 'Geometry and Empirical Science', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1641.
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To illustrate the apparent contrast between statistics and truth … may I quote a remark I once overheard: “There are three kinds of lies: white lies, which are justifiable; common lies—these have no justification; and statistics.” Our meaning is similar when we say: “Anything can be proved by figures”; or, modifying a well-known quotation from Goethe, with numbers “all men may contend their charming systems to defend.”
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939), 1.
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To know him [Sylvester] was to know one of the historic figures of all time, one of the immortals; and when he was really moved to speak, his eloquence equalled his genius.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265. [Halsted was J.J. Sylvester’s first student at Johns Hopkins University.]
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To remember simplified pictures is better than to forget accurate figures.
In Otto Neurath, Empiricism and Sociology (1973), 220.
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We cannot doubt the existence of an ultimate reality. It is the universe forever masked. We are a part of it, and the masks figured by us are the universe observing and understanding itself from a human point of view.
…...
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When first I applied my mind to Mathematics I read straight away most of what is usually given by the mathematical writers, and I paid special attention to Arithmetic and Geometry because they were said to be the simplest and so to speak the way to all the rest. But in neither case did I then meet with authors who fully satisfied me. I did indeed learn in their works many propositions about numbers which I found on calculation to be true. As to figures, they in a sense exhibited to my eyes a great number of truths and drew conclusions from certain consequences. But they did not seem to make it sufficiently plain to the mind itself why these things are so, and how they discovered them. Consequently I was not surprised that many people, even of talent and scholarship, should, after glancing at these sciences, have either given them up as being empty and childish or, taking them to be very difficult and intricate, been deterred at the very outset from learning them. … But when I afterwards bethought myself how it could be that the earliest pioneers of Philosophy in bygone ages refused to admit to the study of wisdom any one who was not versed in Mathematics … I was confirmed in my suspicion that they had knowledge of a species of Mathematics very different from that which passes current in our time.
In Elizabeth S. Haldane (trans.) and G.R.T. Ross (trans.), 'Rules for the Direction of the Mind', The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911, 1973), Vol. 1, Rule 4, 11.
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When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
In Leaves of Grass (1881, 1882), 214.
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When the ability to have movement across social class becomes virtually impossible, I think it is the beginning of the end of a country. And because education is so critical to success in this country, if we don't figure out a way to create greater mobility across social class, I do think it will be the beginning of the end.
In a segment from PBS TV program, Newshour (9 Sep 2013).
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When you get up here in space and you go into the weightlessness environment, your body is not sure what really just happened to it. So your stomach, intestines, and that stuff kind of shuts down for a few hours to figure out what is going on and during that timeframe your body is not doing much with your food. After your body figures out that it can handle the new environment, everything cranks back up and your food, stomach and intestines and all start working like normal.
Replying to a Mifflin Middle School students’ question during a school forum held using a downlink with the Discovery Space Shuttle mission (31 Oct 1998). On NASA web page 'STS-95 Educational Downlink'. Mike Tomolillo, Philip Slater asked, “Commander Brown, how does space affect the digestive system?”
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Where there is fear you do not get honest figures.
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While speaking, M. Bertrand is always in motion; now he seems in combat with some outside enemy, now he outlines with a gesture of the hand the figures he studies. Plainly he sees and he is eager to paint, this is why he calls gesture to his aid. With M. Hermite, it is just the opposite; his eyes seem to shun contact with the world; it is not without, it is within he seeks the vision of truth.
From La Valeur de la Science (1904), 14, as translated by George Bruce Halsted (trans.), in The Value of Science (1907), 16. From the French, “Tout en parlant, M. Bertrand est toujours en action; tantôt il semble aux prises avec quelque ennemi extérieur, tantôt il dessine d'un geste de la main les figures qu’il étudie. Évidemment, il voit et il cherche à peindre, c’est pour cela qu’il appelle le geste à son secours. Pour M. Hermite, c’est tout le contraire; ses yeux semblent fuir le contact du monde; ce n’est pas au dehors, c’est au dedans qu’il cherche la vision de la vérité.”
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Who, by vigor of mind almost divine, the motions and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, and the tides of the seas, his mathematics first demonstrated.
English translation of the epitaph inscribed in Latin on the monument beside his grave in Westminster Abbey. Seen, for example as epigraph, without citation, in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972), 342. The original Latin is, “Qui, animi vi prope divinâ, Planetarum Motus, Figuras, Cometarum semitas, Oceanique Aestus, Suâ Mathesi facem praeferente Primus demonstravit:” as given in Le journal des sçavans, pour l'année MDCCXXXI (Jul 1731), 438. The words “his mathematics” are missing from most quotes of this epitaph, but have been added by Webmaster for the Latin words “Suâ Mathesi” which are present in the verbatim epitaph.
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You can hardly imagine how I am struggling to exert my poetical ideas just now for the discovery of analogies & remote figures respecting the earth, Sun & all sorts of things—for I think it is the true way (corrected by judgement) to work out a discovery.
Letter to C. Schrenbein, 13th Nov, 1845. In Frank A. J. L. James (ed.), The Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1996), Vol. 3, 428.
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[After science lost] its mystical inspiration … man’s destiny was no longer determined from “above” by a super-human wisdom and will, but from “below” by the sub-human agencies of glands, genes, atoms, or waves of probability. … A puppet of the Gods is a tragic figure, a puppet suspended on his chromosomes is merely grotesque.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 539.
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[Joseph Rotblat] was a towering figure in the search for peace in the world, who dedicated his life to trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and ultimately to rid the world of war itself.
Speaking as president of the Pugwash Conferences. As quoted in Associated Press syndicated to newspapers, for example in, 'Joseph Rotblat, Scientist Against Nuclear Arms, Dies', Sun Journal (2 Sep 2005), A5.
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[P]olitical and social and scientific values … should be correlated in some relation of movement that could be expressed in mathematics, nor did one care in the least that all the world said it could not be done, or that one knew not enough mathematics even to figure a formula beyond the schoolboy s=(1/2)gt2. If Kepler and Newton could take liberties with the sun and moon, an obscure person ... could take liberties with Congress, and venture to multiply its attraction into the square of its time. He had only to find a value, even infinitesimal, for its attraction.
The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography? (1918), 376.
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[The famous attack of Sir William Hamilton on the tendency of mathematical studies] affords the most express evidence of those fatal lacunae in the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to the human intellect, it is a thorough acquaintance with the modes by which human intellect has proceeded, in the case where, by universal acknowledgment, grounded on subsequent direct verification, it has succeeded in ascertaining the greatest number of important and recondite truths. This requisite Sir W. Hamilton had not, in any tolerable degree, fulfilled. Even of pure mathematics he apparently knew little but the rudiments. Of mathematics as applied to investigating the laws of physical nature; of the mode in which the properties of number, extension, and figure, are made instrumental to the ascertainment of truths other than arithmetical or geometrical—it is too much to say that he had even a superficial knowledge: there is not a line in his works which shows him to have had any knowledge at all.
In Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1878), 607.
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[We] can easily distinguish what relates to Mathematics in any question from that which belongs to the other sciences. But as I considered the matter carefully it gradually came to light that all those matters only were referred to Mathematics in which order and measurements are investigated, and that it makes no difference whether it be in numbers, figures, stars, sounds or any other object that the question of measurement arises. I saw consequently that there must be some general science to explain that element as a whole which gives rise to problems about order and measurement, restricted as these are to no special subject matter. This, I perceived was called “Universal Mathematics,” not a far-fetched asignation, but one of long standing which has passed into current use, because in this science is contained everything on account of which the others are called parts of Mathematics.
Rules for the Direction of the Mind (written 1628). As translated by Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane and George Robert Thomson Ross in The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911, 1931), 13.
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“Every moment dies a man,/ Every moment one is born”:
I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world's population in a state of perpetual equipoise whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:
'Every moment dies a man / And one and a sixteenth is born.” I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre.
Unpublished letter to Tennyson in response to his Vision of Sin (1842). Quoted in Philip and Emily Morrison, Charles Babbage and his Calculating Engines: Selected Writings by Charles Babbage and Others (1961), xxiii.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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