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

Finite Quotes (59 quotes)

Das ist nicht Mathematik, das ist Theologie!
This is not mathematics; this is theology.
[Remark about David Hilbert's first proof of his finite basis theorem.]
Attributed. It does not seem to appear in Gordan’s written work. According to Colin McClarty, in 'Theology and its Discontents: the Origin of the Myth of Modern Mathematics' (2008), “The quote first appeared a quarter of a century after the event, as an unexplained side comment in a eulogy to Gordan by his long-time colleague Max Noether. Noether was a reliable witness, but he says little about what Gordan meant.” See Noether's obituary of Gordan in Mathematische Annalen (1914), 75, 18. It is still debated if the quote is pejorative, complimentary or merely a joke.
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La théorie des séries infinies en général est justqu’à présent très mal fondée. On applique aux séries infinies toutes les opérations, come si elles aient finies; mais cela est-il bien permis? Je crois que non. Où est-il démonstré qu/on ontient la différentielle dune série infinie en prenant la différentiaella de chaque terme. Rien n’est plus facile que de donner des exemples où cela n’est pas juste.
Until now the theory of infinite series in general has been very badly grounded. One applies all the operations to infinite series as if they were finite; but is that permissible? I think not. Where is it demonstrated that one obtains the differential of an infinite series by taking the differential of each term? Nothing is easier than to give instances where this is not so.
Quoted in Reinhold Remmert and Robert B. Burckel, Theory of Complex Functions: Readings in Mathematics (1991), 125.
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Wilst du ins Unendliche schreiten, Geh nur im Endlichen nach allen Seiten.
If you want to reach the infinite, explore every aspect of the finite.
Jeremy Naydler (ed.), Goethe On Science: An Anthology of Goethe’s Scientific Writings (1996), 37.
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All change is relative. The universe is expanding relatively to our common material standards; our material standards are shrinking relatively to the size of the universe. The theory of the “expanding universe” might also be called the theory of the “shrinking atom”. …
:Let us then take the whole universe as our standard of constancy, and adopt the view of a cosmic being whose body is composed of intergalactic spaces and swells as they swell. Or rather we must now say it keeps the same size, for he will not admit that it is he who has changed. Watching us for a few thousand million years, he sees us shrinking; atoms, animals, planets, even the galaxies, all shrink alike; only the intergalactic spaces remain the same. The earth spirals round the sun in an ever-decreasing orbit. It would be absurd to treat its changing revolution as a constant unit of time. The cosmic being will naturally relate his units of length and time so that the velocity of light remains constant. Our years will then decrease in geometrical progression in the cosmic scale of time. On that scale man’s life is becoming briefer; his threescore years and ten are an ever-decreasing allowance. Owing to the property of geometrical progressions an infinite number of our years will add up to a finite cosmic time; so that what we should call the end of eternity is an ordinary finite date in the cosmic calendar. But on that date the universe has expanded to infinity in our reckoning, and we have shrunk to nothing in the reckoning of the cosmic being.
We walk the stage of life, performers of a drama for the benefit of the cosmic spectator. As the scenes proceed he notices that the actors are growing smaller and the action quicker. When the last act opens the curtain rises on midget actors rushing through their parts at frantic speed. Smaller and smaller. Faster and faster. One last microscopic blurr of intense agitation. And then nothing.
In The Expanding Universe (1933) , 90-92.
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Any conception which is definitely and completely determined by means of a finite number of specifications, say by assigning a finite number of elements, is a mathematical conception. Mathematics has for its function to develop the consequences involved in the definition of a group of mathematical conceptions. Interdependence and mutual logical consistency among the members of the group are postulated, otherwise the group would either have to be treated as several distinct groups, or would lie beyond the sphere of mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th ed.).
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Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad—or an economist.
Expressing concern about ecosystems ruined by the arrival of man. As quoted by Philip Maughan, 'Sixty Years of Attenborough Through the Eyes of the New Statesman', New Statesman (21 Dec 2012), 141, No. 5138, 34. The quote came from Attenborough writing in an April 2013 issue of the same periodical.
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As geologists, we learn that it is not only the present condition of the globe that has been suited to the accommodation of myriads of living creatures, but that many former states also have been equally adapted to the organization and habits of prior races of beings. The disposition of the seas, continents, and islands, and the climates have varied; so it appears that the species have been changed, and yet they have all been so modelled, on types analogous to those of existing plants and animals, as to indicate throughout a perfect harmony of design and unity of purpose. To assume that the evidence of the beginning or end of so vast a scheme lies within the reach of our philosophical inquiries, or even of our speculations, appears to us inconsistent with a just estimate of the relations which subsist between the finite powers of man and the attributes of an Infinite and Eternal Being.
Concluding remark, Principles of Geology(1833), Vol. 3, 384-5.
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As physicists have arranged an extensive series of effects under the general term of Heat, so they have named another series Light, and a third they have called Electricity. We find ... that all these principles are capable of being produced through the medium of living bodies, for nearly all animals have the power of evolving heat; many insects, moreover, can voluntarily emit light; and the property of producing electricity is well evinced in the terrible shock of the electric eel, as well as in that of some other creatures. We are indeed in the habit of talking of the Electric fluid, or the Galvanic fluid, but this in reality is nothing but a licence of expression suitable to our finite and material notions.
In the Third Edition of Elements of Electro-Metallurgy: or The Art of Working in Metals by the Galvanic Fluid (1851), 1.
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Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. ...The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive.
Dune
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Chemistry is one of those branches of human knowledge which has built itself upon methods and instruments by which truth can presumably be determined. It has survived and grown because all its precepts and principles can be re-tested at any time and anywhere. So long as it remained the mysterious alchemy by which a few devotees, by devious and dubious means, presumed to change baser metals into gold, it did not flourish, but when it dealt with the fact that 56 g. of fine iron, when heated with 32 g. of flowers of sulfur, generated extra heat and gave exactly 88 g. of an entirely new substance, then additional steps could be taken by anyone. Scientific research in chemistry, since the birth of the balance and the thermometer, has been a steady growth of test and observation. It has disclosed a finite number of elementary reagents composing an infinite universe, and it is devoted to their inter-reaction for the benefit of mankind.
Address upon receiving the Perkin Medal Award, 'The Big Things in Chemistry', The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Feb 1921), 13, No. 2, 163.
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Compare the length of a moment with the period of ten thousand years; the first, however minuscule, does exist as a fraction of a second. But that number of years, or any multiple of it that you may name, cannot even be compared with a limitless extent of time, the reason being that comparisons can be drawn between finite things, but not between finite and infinite.
The Consolation of Philosophy [before 524], Book II, trans. P. G. Walsh (1999), 36.
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Every gambler stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty against a finite uncertainty without acting unreasonably. … The uncertainty of gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake, according to the proportion of chances of gain and loss, and if therefore there are as many chances on one side as on the other, the game is even.
In Blaise Pascal and C. Kegan Paul (trans.), 'Of The Need of Seeking Truth', The Thought of Blaise Pascal: Translated from the Text of M. Auguste Molinier (1905), 98.
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Finite systems of deterministic ordinary nonlinear differential equations may be designed to represent forced dissipative hydrodynamic flow. Solutions of these equations can be identified with trajectories in phase space. For those systems with bounded solutions, it is found that nonperiodic solutions are ordinarily unstable with respect to small modifications, so that slightly differing initial states can evolve into considerably different states. Systems with bounded solutions are shown to possess bounded numerical solutions.
A simple system representing cellular convection is solved numerically. All of the solutions are found to be unstable, and almost all of them are nonperiodic.
The feasibility of very-long-range weather prediction is examined in the light of these results
Abstract from his landmark paper introducing Chaos Theory in relation to weather prediction, 'Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow', Journal of the Atmospheric Science (Mar 1963), 20, 130.
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For if there is any truth in the dynamical theory of gases the different molecules in a gas at uniform temperature are moving with very different velocities. Put such a gas into a vessel with two compartments [A and B] and make a small hole in the wall about the right size to let one molecule through. Provide a lid or stopper for this hole and appoint a doorkeeper, very intelligent and exceedingly quick, with microscopic eyes but still an essentially finite being.
Whenever he sees a molecule of great velocity coming against the door from A into B he is to let it through, but if the molecule happens to be going slow he is to keep the door shut. He is also to let slow molecules pass from B to A but not fast ones ... In this way the temperature of B may be raised and that of A lowered without any expenditure of work, but only by the intelligent action of a mere guiding agent (like a pointsman on a railway with perfectly acting switches who should send the express along one line and the goods along another).
I do not see why even intelligence might not be dispensed with and the thing be made self-acting.
Moral The 2nd law of Thermodynamics has the same degree of truth as the statement that if you throw a tumblerful of water into the sea you cannot get the same tumblerful of water out again.
Letter to John William Strutt (6 Dec 1870). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 582-3.
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For me, the first challenge for computing science is to discover how to maintain order in a finite, but very large, discrete universe that is intricately intertwined. And a second, but not less important challenge is how to mould what you have achieved in solving the first problem, into a teachable discipline: it does not suffice to hone your own intellect (that will join you in your grave), you must teach others how to hone theirs. The more you concentrate on these two challenges, the clearer you will see that they are only two sides of the same coin: teaching yourself is discovering what is teachable.
…...
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Geometry may sometimes appear to take the lead of analysis, but in fact precedes it only as a servant goes before his master to clear the path and light him on his way. The interval between the two is as wide as between empiricism and science, as between the understanding and the reason, or as between the finite and the infinite.
From 'Astronomical Prolusions', Philosophical Magazine (Jan 1866), 31, No. 206, 54, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of James Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 521.
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Gödel proved that the world of pure mathematics is inexhaustible; no finite set of axioms and rules of inference can ever encompass the whole of mathematics; given any finite set of axioms, we can find meaningful mathematical questions which the axioms leave unanswered. I hope that an analogous Situation exists in the physical world. If my view of the future is correct, it means that the world of physics and astronomy is also inexhaustible; no matter how far we go into the future, there will always be new things happening, new information coming in, new worlds to explore, a constantly expanding domain of life, consciousness, and memory.
From Lecture 1, 'Philosophy', in a series of four James Arthur Lectures, 'Lectures on Time and its Mysteries' at New York University (Autumn 1978). Printed in 'Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe', Reviews of Modern Physics (Jul 1979), 51, 449.
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I am afraid all we can do is to accept the paradox and try to accommodate ourselves to it, as we have done to so many paradoxes lately in modern physical theories. We shall have to get accustomed to the idea that the change of the quantity R, commonly called the 'radius of the universe', and the evolutionary changes of stars and stellar systems are two different processes, going on side by side without any apparent connection between them. After all the 'universe' is an hypothesis, like the atom, and must be allowed the freedom to have properties and to do things which would be contradictory and impossible for a finite material structure.
Kosmos (1932), 133.
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I don’t know whether there is a finite set of basic laws of physics or whether there are infinite sets of structure like an infinite set of Chinese boxes. Will the electron turn out to have an interior structure? I wish I knew!
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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I think, and I am not the only one who does, that it is important never to introduce any conception which may not be completely defined by a finite number of words. Whatever may be the remedy adopted, we can promise ourselves the joy of the physician called in to follow a beautiful pathological case [beau cas pathologique].
From address read at the general session of the Fourth International Congress of Mathematicians in Rome (10 Apr 1908). As translated in 'The Future of Mathematics: by Henri Poincaré', General Appendix, Annual Report of the Boars of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution: For the Year Ending June 1909 (1910), 140.
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In a randomly infinite Universe, any event occurring here and now with finite probability must be occurring simultaneously at an infinite number of other sites in the Universe. It is hard to evaluate this idea any further, but one thing is certain: if it is true then it is certainly not original!
With co-author Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986).
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In Euclid each proposition stands by itself; its connection with others is never indicated; the leading ideas contained in its proof are not stated; general principles do not exist. In modern methods, on the other hand, the greatest importance is attached to the leading thoughts which pervade the whole; and general principles, which bring whole groups of theorems under one aspect, are given rather than separate propositions. The whole tendency is toward generalization. A straight line is considered as given in its entirety, extending both ways to infinity, while Euclid is very careful never to admit anything but finite quantities. The treatment of the infinite is in fact another fundamental difference between the two methods. Euclid avoids it, in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only thus is generality obtained.
In 'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition).
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In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle. ‘All space’ in this context may mean either all of an infinite universe, or all of a finite universe which curves back on itself like the surface of a sphere. Neither possibility is easy to comprehend, but this will not get in our way; it matters hardly at all in the early universe whether space is finite or infinite. At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high­energy nuclear physics.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 5.
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Infinite space cannot be conceived by anybody; finite but unbounded space is difficult to conceive but not impossible. … [We] are using a conception of space which must have originated a million years ago and has become rather firmly imbedded in human thought. But the space of Physics ought not to be dominated by this creation of the dawning mind of an enterprising ape."
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 80-81.
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Infinities and indivisibles transcend our finite understanding, the former on account of their magnitude, the latter because of their smallness; Imagine what they are when combined.
…...
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Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought—particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things.
Side Effects (1981), 36.
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It is going to be necessary that everything that happens in a finite volume of space and time would have to be analyzable with a finite number of logical operations. The present theory of physics is not that way, apparently. It allows space to go down into infinitesimal distances, wavelengths to get infinitely great, terms to be summed in infinite order, and so forth; and therefore, if this proposition [that physics is computer-simulatable] is right, physical law is wrong.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21 Nos. 6-7, 468. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.
In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980, 2005), 142-143. Slightly revised from 'Fit the Fifth', The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts (1985), 102. The show was recorded for the BBC on 21 Feb 1978.
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Mutations and chromosomal changes arise in every sufficiently studied organism with a certain finite frequency, and thus constantly and unremittingly supply the raw materials for evolution. But evolution involves something more than origin of mutations. Mutations and chromosomal changes are only the first stage, or level, of the evolutionary process, governed entirely by the laws of the physiology of individuals. Once produced, mutations are injected in the genetic composition of the population, where their further fate is determined by the dynamic regularities of the physiology of populations. A mutation may be lost or increased in frequency in generations immediately following its origin, and this (in the case of recessive mutations) without regard to the beneficial or deleterious effects of the mutation. The influences of selection, migration, and geographical isolation then mold the genetic structure of populations into new shapes, in conformity with the secular environment and the ecology, especially the breeding habits, of the species. This is the second level of the evolutionary process, on which the impact of the environment produces historical changes in the living population.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 13.
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My soul is an entangled knot,
Upon a liquid vortex wrought
By Intellect in the Unseen residing,
And thine doth like a convict sit,
With marline-spike untwisting it,
Only to find its knottiness abiding;
Since all the tools for its untying
In four-dimensional space are lying,
Wherein they fancy intersperses
Long avenues of universes,
While Klein and Clifford fill the void
With one finite, unbounded homoloid,
And think the Infinite is now at last destroyed. (1878)
A parody of Shelley as 'A Paradoxical Ode', quoted in Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 649-650.
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Nature does not consist entirely, or even largely, of problems designed by a Grand Examiner to come out neatly in finite terms, and whatever subject we tackle the first need is to overcome timidity about approximating.
As co-author with Bertha Swirles Jeffreys, in Methods of Mathematical Physics (1946, 1999), 8.
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Of … habitable worlds, such as the Earth, all which we may suppose to be of a terrestrial or terraqueous nature, and filled with beings of the human species, subject to mortality, it may not be amiss in this place to compute how many may he conceived within our finite view every clear Star-light night. … In all together then we may safely reckon 170,000,000, and yet be much within compass, exclusive Of the Comets which I judge to be by far the most numerous part of the creation.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 131-132.
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One [idea] was that the Universe started its life a finite time ago in a single huge explosion, and that the present expansion is a relic of the violence of this explosion. This big bang idea seemed to me to be unsatisfactory even before detailed examination showed that it leads to serious difficulties.
In radio talk on the BBC Third Programme, as subsequently printed in the BBC’s The Listener magazine (9 Mar 1950), Vol.43, 420. This was his further use of the term “big bang” that he first expressed in a radio talk on 28 Mar 1949.
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Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.
Essy, 'On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance', in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1962), 28.
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Our mind, by virtue of a certain finite, limited capability, is by no means capable of putting a question to Nature that permits a continuous series of answers. The observations, the individual results of measurements, are the answers of Nature to our discontinuous questioning.
…...
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Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of the infinitude.
Dialogue 21 (28 Jun 1941). Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954, 2001) 160.
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Past time is finite, future time is infinite.
The Observational Approach to Cosmology (1937), 62.
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Take the so called standard of living. What do most people mean by “living”? They don’t mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science, in its finite but unbounded wisdom, has succeeded in selling their wives.
Introduction, Poems (1954).
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Technology can relieve the symptoms of a problem without affecting the underlying causes. Faith in technology as the ultimate solution to all problems can thus divert our attention from the most fundamental problem—the problem of growth in a finite system
et al., The Limits to Growth (1972).
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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 following general conclusions are drawn from the propositions stated above, and known facts with reference to the mechanics of animal and vegetable bodies:—
There is at present in the material world a universal tendency to the dissipation of mechanical energy.
Any restoration of mechanical energy, without more than an equivalent of dissipation, is impossible in inanimate material processes, and is probably never effected by means of organized matter, either endowed with vegetable life, or subjected to the will of an animated creature.
Within a finite period of time past the earth must have been, and within a finite period of time to come the earth must again be, unfit for the habitation of man as at present constituted, unless operations have been, or are to be performed, which are impossible under the laws to which the known operations going on at present in the material world are subject.
In 'On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1852, 3, 141-142. In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882-1911), Vol. 1, 513-514.
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The idea of an atom has been so constantly associated with incredible assumptions of infinite strength, absolute rigidity, mystical actions at a distance, and individuality, that chemists and many other reasonable naturalists of modern times, losing all patience with it, have dismissed it to the realms of metaphysics, and made it smaller than ‘anything we can conceive.’ But if atoms are inconceivably small, why are not all chemical actions infinitely swift? Chemistry is powerless to deal with this question, and many others of paramount importance, if barred by the hardness of its fundamental assumptions, from contemplating the atom as a real portion of matter occupying a finite space, and forming not an immeasurably small constituent of any palpable body.
Sir William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, A Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1883), Vol. I, Part 2, 495.
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The integrals which we have obtained are not only general expressions which satisfy the differential equation, they represent in the most distinct manner the natural effect which is the object of the phenomenon… when this condition is fulfilled, the integral is, properly speaking, the equation of the phenomenon; it expresses clearly the character and progress of it, in the same manner as the finite equation of a line or curved surface makes known all the properties of those forms.
Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Art. 428, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and the solidity of our possessions. And even a cursory glance at the history of the biological sciences during the last quarter of a century is sufficient to justify the assertion, that the most potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural knowledge which has come into men's hands, since the publication of Newton's ‘Principia’, is Darwin's ‘Origin of Species.’
From concluding remarks to a chapter by Thomas Huxley, 'On the Reception of the ‘Origin of Species’', the last chapter in Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 1, 557.
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The known is finite, the unknown infinite; spiritually we find ourselves on a tiny island in the middle of a boundless ocean of the inexplicable. It is our task, from generation to generation, to drain a small amount of additional land.
As given in Herbert and W. Roesky and Klaud Möckel, translated from the original German by T.N. Mitchell and W.E. Russey, Chemical Curiosities: Spectacular Experiments and Inspired Quotes (1996), 212. It is a restatement of an original quote from concluding remarks to a chapter by Thomas Huxley, 'On the Reception of the ‘Origin of Species’', the last chapter in Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 1, 557. Webmaster suggests, the original Huxley quote was translated for the original German text, and when that was translated for the English edition, the quote morphed into into the form above.
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The progress of mathematics can be viewed as progress from the infinite to the finite.
In 'A Mathematician's Gossip', Indiscrete Thoughts, (2008), 214.
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The result would inevitably be a state of universal rest and death, if the universe were finite and left to obey existing laws. But it is impossible to conceive a limit to the extent of matter in the universe; and therefore science points rather to an endless progress, through an endless space, of action involving the transformation of potential energy into palpable motion and thence into heat, than to a single finite mechanism, running down like a clock, and stopping for ever.
In 'On the Age of the Sun's Heat' (1862), Popular Lectures and Addresses (1891), Vol. 1, 349-50.
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The transfinite numbers are in a sense the new irrationalities [ ... they] stand or fall with the finite irrational numbers.
Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1932),395, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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There are three reasons why, quite apart from scientific considerations, mankind needs to travel in space. The first reason is garbage disposal; we need to transfer industrial processes into space so that the earth may remain a green and pleasant place for our grandchildren to live in. The second reason is to escape material impoverishment; the resources of this planet are finite, and we shall not forgo forever the abundance of solar energy and minerals and living space that are spread out all around us. The third reason is our spiritual need for an open frontier. The ultimate purpose of space travel is to bring to humanity, not only scientific discoveries and an occasional spectacular show on television, but a real expansion of our spirit.
In Disturbing the Universe (1979).
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There is a finite number of species of plants and animals—even of insects—upon the earth. … Moreover, the universality of the genetic code, the common character of proteins in different species, the generality of cellular structure and cellular reproduction, the basic similarity of energy metabolism in all species and of photosynthesis in green plants and bacteria, and the universal evolution of living forms through mutation and natural selection all lead inescapably to a conclusion that, although diversity may be great, the laws of life, based on similarities, are finite in number and comprehensible to us in the main even now.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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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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To pick a hole–say in the 2nd law of Ωcs, that if two things are in contact the hotter cannot take heat from the colder without external agency.
Now let A & B be two vessels divided by a diaphragm and let them contain elastic molecules in a state of agitation which strike each other and the sides. Let the number of particles be equal in A & B but let those in A have equal velocities, if oblique collisions occur between them their velocities will become unequal & I have shown that there will be velocities of all magnitudes in A and the same in B only the sum of the squares of the velocities is greater in A than in B.
When a molecule is reflected from the fixed diaphragm CD no work is lost or gained.
If the molecule instead of being reflected were allowed to go through a hole in CD no work would be lost or gained, only its energy would be transferred from the one vessel to the other.
Now conceive a finite being who knows the paths and velocities of all the molecules by simple inspection but who can do no work, except to open and close a hole in the diaphragm, by means of a slide without mass.
Let him first observe the molecules in A and when lie sees one coming the square of whose velocity is less than the mean sq. vel. of the molecules in B let him open a hole & let it go into B. Next let him watch for a molecule in B the square of whose velocity is greater than the mean sq. vel. in A and when it comes to the hole let him draw and slide & let it go into A, keeping the slide shut for all other molecules.
Then the number of molecules in A & B are the same as at first but the energy in A is increased and that in B diminished that is the hot system has got hotter and the cold colder & yet no work has been done, only the intelligence of a very observant and neat fingered being has been employed. Or in short if heat is the motion of finite portions of matter and if we can apply tools to such portions of matter so as to deal with them separately then we can take advantage of the different motion of different portions to restore a uniformly hot system to unequal temperatures or to motions of large masses. Only we can't, not being clever enough.
Letter to Peter Guthrie Tait (11 Dec 1867). In P. M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 331-2.
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To take one of the simplest cases of the dissipation of energy, the conduction of heat through a solid—consider a bar of metal warmer at one end than the other and left to itself. To avoid all needless complication, of taking loss or gain of heat into account, imagine the bar to be varnished with a substance impermeable to heat. For the sake of definiteness, imagine the bar to be first given with one half of it at one uniform temperature, and the other half of it at another uniform temperature. Instantly a diffusing of heat commences, and the distribution of temperature becomes continuously less and less unequal, tending to perfect uniformity, but never in any finite time attaining perfectly to this ultimate condition. This process of diffusion could be perfectly prevented by an army of Maxwell’s ‘intelligent demons’* stationed at the surface, or interface as we may call it with Prof. James Thomson, separating the hot from the cold part of the bar.
* The definition of a ‘demon’, according to the use of this word by Maxwell, is an intelligent being endowed with free will, and fine enough tactile and perceptive organisation to give him the faculty of observing and influencing individual molecules of matter.
In 'The Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy', Nature (1874), 9, 442.
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We come no nearer the infinitude of the creative power of God, if we enclose the space of its revelation within a sphere described with the radius of the Milky Way, than if we were to limit it to a ball an inch in diameter. All that is finite, whatever has limits and a definite relation to unity, is equally far removed from the infinite... Eternity is not sufficient to embrace the manifestations of the Supreme Being, if it is not combined with the infinitude of space.
'Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens' (1755), part 2, ch.7. In W. Hastie (ed. and trans.), Kant's Cosmogony: As in his Essay on the Retardation of the Rotation of the Earth and his Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1900), 139-40.
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We know that there is an infinite, and we know not its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is a numerical infinity. But we know not of what kind; it is untrue that it is even, untrue that it is odd; for the addition of a unit does not change its nature; yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this certainly holds of every finite number). Thus we may quite well know that there is a God without knowing what He is.
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117.
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We should like Nature to go no further; we should like it to be finite, like our mind; but this is to ignore the greatness and majesty of the Author of things.
Letter to S. Clarke, 1715. Trans. M. Morris and G. H. R. Parkinson, Leibniz: PhilosophicalWritings (1973), 220.
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What is the shape of space? Is it flat, or is it bent? Is it nicely laid out, or is it warped and shrunken? Is it finite, or is it infinite? Which of the following does space resemble more: (a) a sheet of paper, (b) an endless desert, (c) a soap bubble, (d) a doughnut, (e) an Escher drawing, (f) an ice cream cone, (g) the branches of a tree, or (h) a human body?
The Fourth Dimension: And How to Get There (1985), 91.
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What remains to be learned may indeed dwarf imagination. Nevertheless, the universe itself is closed and finite. … The uniformity of nature and the general applicability of natural laws set limits to knowledge. If there are just 100, or 105, or 110 ways in which atoms may form, then when one has identified the full range of properties of these, singly and in combination, chemical knowledge will be complete.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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Whatever answers faith gives.. .such answers always give an infinite meaning to the finite existence of man; a meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation or death. This means only in faith can we find the meaning and possibility of life.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 19
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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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