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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index F > Category: First

First Quotes (109 quotes)

1122 … Thereafter there were many sailors on the sea and on inland water who said that they had seen a great and extensive fire near the ground in the northeast which continuously increased in width as it mounted to the sky. And the heavens opened into four parts and fought against it as if determined to put it out, and the fire stopped rising upwards. They saw that fire at the first streak of dawn, and it lasted until full daylight: this happened on 7 December.
From the 'Peterborough Chronicle (Laud Manuscript)', The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as translated in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Issue 1624 (1975), 250. The Chronicle is the work of many successive hands at several monasteries across England.
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Imprimisque hominis est propria veri inquisitio atque investigatio.
The first duty of man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth.
De Officiis I., 4, 18. In Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (classical) (3rd Ed., 1906), 98.
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A man’s first duty, a young man’s at any rate, is to be ambitious … the noblest ambition is that of leaving behind one something of permanent value.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 77.
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A practical botanist will distinguish, at the first glance, the plant of different quarters of the globe, and yet will be at a loss to tell by what mark he detects them. There is, I know not what look—sinister, dry, obscure, in African plants; superb and elevated in the Asiatic; smooth and cheerful in the American; stunted and indurated in the Alpine.
Quoted in William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 3, 355-356, citing ‘Philosophia Botanica’ (1751), 171.
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A wonderful exhilaration comes from holding in the mind the deepest questions we can ask. Such questions animate all scientists. Many students of science were first attracted to the field as children by popular accounts of important unsolved problems. They have been waiting ever since to begin working on a mystery. [With co-author Arthur Zajonc]
In George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc, The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (2006), xii.
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Alchemy. The link between the immemorial magic arts and modern science. Humankind’s first systematic effort to unlock the secrets of matter by reproducible experiment.
In Good Words to You (1987), 6.
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All of today’s DNA, strung through all the cells of the earth, is simply an extension and elaboration of [the] first molecule.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 27.
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Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.
In Science and the Modern World (1926, 2011), 60.
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An important fact, an ingenious aperçu, occupies a very great number of men, at first only to make acquaintance with it; then to understand it; and afterwards to work it out and carry it further.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 189.
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As a second year high school chemistry student, I still have a vivid memory of my excitement when I first saw a chart of the periodic table of elements. The order in the universe seemed miraculous, and I wanted to study and learn as much as possible about the natural sciences.
In Tore Frängsmyr and Jan E. Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures: Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 555.
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As to how far in advance of the first flight the man should know he’s going. I’m not in agreement with the argument that says word should be delayed until the last possible moment to save the pilot from developing a bad case of the jitters. If we don’t have the confidence to keep from getting clutched at that time, we have no business going at all. If I’m the guy going, I’ll be glad to get the dope as soon as possible. As for keeping this a big secret from us and having us all suited up and then saying to one man “you go” and stuffing him in and putting the lid on that thing and away he goes, well, we’re all big boys now.
As he wrote in an article for Life (14 Sep 1959), 38. In fact, he was the first to fly in Earth orbit on 20 Feb 1962, though Alan Shepard was picked for the earlier first suborbital flight.
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At first the squirrel spins his cage; then the cage spins him. Men of business may take warning.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 171.
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At first, the sea, the earth, and the heaven, which covers all things, were the only face of nature throughout the whole universe, which men have named Chaos; a rude and undigested mass, and nothing more than an inert weight, and the discordant atoms of things not harmonizing, heaped together in the same spot.
Describing the creation of the universe from chaos, at the beginning of Book I of Metamorphoses, lines 5-9. As translated by Henry T. Riley, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Vol I: Books I-VII (1858), 1-2. Riley footnoted: “A rude and undigested mass.—Ver. 7. This is very similar to the words of the Scriptures, ‘And the earth was without form and void,’ Genesis, ch. i. ver. 2.”
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Catastrophe Theory is—quite likely—the first coherent attempt (since Aristotelian logic) to give a theory on analogy. When narrow-minded scientists object to Catastrophe Theory that it gives no more than analogies, or metaphors, they do not realise that they are stating the proper aim of Catastrophe Theory, which is to classify all possible types of analogous situations.
From 'La Théorie des catastrophes État présent et perspective', as quoted in Erick Christopher Zeeman, (ed.), Catastrophe Theory: Selected Papers, 1972-1977 (1977), 637, as cited in Martin Krampe (ed.), Classics of Semiotics (1987), 214.
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Early in my school days a boy had a copy of the “Wonders of the World,” which I often read, and disputed with other boys about the veracity of some of the statements; and I believe that this book first gave me a wish to travel in remote countries, which was ultimately fulfilled by the voyage of the Beagle.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 31.
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Electricity is but yet a new agent for the arts and manufactures, and, doubtless, generations unborn will regard with interest this century, in which it has been first applied to the wants of mankind.
In Preface to the Third Edition ofElements of Electro-Metallurgy: or The Art of Working in Metals by the Galvanic Fluid (1851), viii.
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Entropy theory is indeed a first attempt to deal with global form; but it has not been dealing with structure. All it says is that a large sum of elements may have properties not found in a smaller sample of them.
In Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (1974), 21.
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Every creature alive on the earth today represents an unbroken line of life that stretches back to the first primitive organism to appear on this planet; and that is about three billion years.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
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Every individual alive today, even the very highest, is to be derived in an unbroken line from the first and lowest forms.
In Heredity (1892), Vol. 1, 161. As cited in James C. Fernald Scientific Side-lights: Illustrating Thousands of Topics by Selections from Standard Works of the Masters of Science Throughout the World (1903), 394.
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Failure is so much more interesting because you learn from it. That's what we should be teaching children at school, that being successful the first time, there's nothing in it. There's no interest, you learn nothing actually.
Interview with Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer (9 May 2014).
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Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
Epigraph (without citation) in Pia Hansen, Mathematics Coaching Handbook: Working with Teachers to Improve Instruction (2009), 1.
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Freedom, the first-born of science.
To Monsieur d'Ivernois. In Thomas Jefferson, Richard Holland Johnston, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 19, iii.
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Genius always gives its best at first, prudence at last.
Louis Klopsch, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896), 105.
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Giordano Bruno was the martyr; though the cause for which he suffered was not that of science, but that of free imaginative speculation. His death in the year 1600 ushered in the first century of modern science in the strict sense of the term.
In 'The Origins of Modern Science', Science and the Modern World (1926, 2011), 1.
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He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin ... will obtain the clearest view of them.
Aristotle
Politics, Benjamin Jowett trans., Franklin Center, PA, Franklin Library (1977), 4. In Leonard C. Bruno and Donna Olendorf, Science & Technology Firsts (1977), xi.
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I ask any one who has adopted the calling of an engineer, how much time he lost when he left school, because he had to devote himself to pursuits which were absolutely novel and strange, and of which he had not obtained the remotest conception from his instructors? He had to familiarize himself with ideas of the course and powers of Nature, to which his attention had never been directed during his school-life, and to learn, for the first time, that a world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words.
From After-Dinner Speech (Apr 1869) delivered before the Liverpool Philomathic Society, 'Scientific Education', collected in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 63. Previously published in Macmillan’s Magazine.
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I can assure you, reader, that in a very few hours, even during the first day, you will learn more natural philosophy about things contained in this book, than you could learn in fifty years by reading the theories and opinions of the ancient philosophers. Enemies of science will scoff at the astrologers: saying, where is the ladder on which they have climbed to heaven, to know the foundation of the stars? But in this respect I am exempt from such scoffing; for in proving my written reason, I satisfy sight, hearing, and touch: for this reason, defamers will have no power over me: as you will see when you come to see me in my little Academy.
The Admirable Discourses (1580), trans. Aurele La Rocque (1957), 27.
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I had no idea of the worldwide influence of it [the world’s first kidney transplant]. It expanded to other organs, multiple organs.
As quoted by Alvin Powell in 'A Transplant Makes History', Harvard Gazette (22 Sep 2011).
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I have never seen a food writer mention this, but all shrimp imported into the United States must first be washed in chlorine bleach to kill bugs. What this does for the taste, I do not know, but I think we should be told.
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat (2008), 301.
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I know with sure and certain knowledge that a man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
In Lyrical and Critical Essays (1967), 14.
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I like to handle babies. You can learn a lot from the way they respond, the way they slide down your hips, the way they trust you. The first thing a child must learn is to trust.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 144.
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I think she [Rosalind Franklin] was a good experimentalist but certainly not of the first rank. She was simply not in the same class as Eigen or Bragg or Pauling, nor was she as good as Dorothy Hodgkin. She did not even select DNA to study. It was given to her. Her theoretical crystallography was very average.
Letter to Charlotte Friend (18 Sep 1979). In Francis Harry Compton Crick Papers, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine.
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If a man devotes himself to the promotion of science, he is firstly opposed, and then he is informed that his ground is already occupied. At first men will allow no value to what we tell them, and then they behave as if they knew it all themselves.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 199.
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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
Anonymous
Old saying.
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In an objective system … any mingling of knowledge with values is unlawful, forbidden. But [the] … “first commandment” which ensures the foundation of objective knowledge, is not itself objective. It cannot be objective: it is an ethical guideline, a rule for conduct. True knowledge is ignorant of values, but it cannot be grounded elsewhere than upon a value judgment…
In Chance and Necessity (1970), 176.
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In the discovery of lemmas the best aid is a mental aptitude for it. For we may see many who are quick at solutions and yet do not work by method ; thus Cratistus in our time was able to obtain the required result from first principles, and those the fewest possible, but it was his natural gift which helped him to the discovery.
Proclus
As given in Euclid, The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements, translated from the text of Johan Ludvig Heiberg by Sir Thomas Little Heath, Vol. 1, Introduction and Books 1,2 (1908), 133. The passage also states that Proclus gives the definition of the term lemma as a proposition not proved beforehand. Glenn Raymond Morrow in A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements (1992), 165, states nothing more seems to be known of Cratistus.
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In the tropical and subtropical regions, endemic malaria takes first place almost everywhere among the causes of morbidity and mortality and it constitutes the principal obstacle to the acclimatization of Europeans in these regions.
From Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1907), 'Protozoa as Causes of Diseases', collected in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967, 1999), 264.
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It is a common observation that a science first begins to be exact when it is quantitatively treated. What are called the exact sciences are no others than the mathematical ones.
On The Doctrine of Chances, with Later Reflections (1878), 61.
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It is a remarkable illustration of the ranging power of the human intellect that a principle first detected in connection with the clumsy puffing of the early steam engines should be found to apply to the whole world, and possibly, even to the whole cosmic universe.
In Man and Energy (1955, 1963), 132.
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It’s hard to explain to people what the significance of an invention is, so it’s hard to get funding. The first thing they say is that it can’t be done. Then they say, “You didn't do it right.” Then, when you’ve done it, they finally say, “Well, it was obvious anyway.”
http://www.thetech.org/nmot/detail.cfm?id=95&st=awardDate&qt=1997&kiosk=Off
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James Watt patented his steam engine on the eve of the American Revolution, consummating a relationship between coal and the new Promethean spirit of the age, and humanity made its first tentative steps into an industrial way of life that would, over the next two centuries, forever change the world.
In The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth (2002), 2.
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Kidney transplants seem so routine now. But the first one was like Lindbergh’s flight across the ocean.
In interview with reporter Gina Kolata, '2 American Transplant Pioneers Win Nobel Prize in Medicine', New York Times (9 Oct 1990).
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Kids like their fossils. I’ve taken my godson fossil-hunting and there’s nothing more magical than finding a shiny shell and knowing you’re the first person to have seen it for 150 million years.
As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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Look around when you have got your first mushroom or made your first discovery: they grow in clusters.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 225.
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Many times every day I think of taking off in that missile. I’ve tried a thousand times to visualize that moment, to anticipate how I’ll feel if I’m first, which I very much want to be. But whether I go first or go later. I approach it now with some awe, and I’m sure I’ll approach it with even more awe on my day. In spite of the fact that I will he very busy getting set and keeping tabs on all the instruments, there’s no question that I’ll need—and will have—all my confidence.
As he wrote in an article for Life (14 Sep 1959), 38.
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Mathematical physics is in the first place physics and it could not exist without experimental investigations.
From inaugural lecture at Utrecht on the kinetic theory of matter and its modern development (1913), as quoted in Julio Antonio Gonzalo and Carmen Aragó López (eds.), Great Solid State Physicists of the 20th Century (2003), 157.
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Mathematics is an experimental science, and definitions do not come first, but later on.
In 'On Operators in Physical Mathematics, part II', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (15 Jun 1893), 54, 121.
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Men first appeared as fish. When they were able to help themselves they took to land.
These are certainly not exact words from Anaximander, though it summarizes Plutarch’s version of what Anaximander believed. Although the subject quote is widely seen, no original of Anaximander’s writings survived on this hypothesis. What we know of Anaximander is what other, later, ancient Greek writers handed down in a kind of ancient Greek telephone game. These include Hippolytus, Aetius and Plutarch. Their expressions of what Anaximander believed relate by a general theme, but notably differ in specifics. For the fragmentary evidence, see Felix M. Cleve, The Giants of Pre-Sophistic Greek Philosophy: An Attempt to Reconstruct Their Thoughts (2012), 145-148. An example of the subject quote is given by David M. Neuberger, without quotation marks: Anaximander said men were produced first in fishes and, that when they were able to help themselves, they were thrown up on the land. Opening sentence 'A Call to the Chemist to Purge Industry of its Contamination of Our Coast and Inland Waters', Chemical Age (Oct 1923), 31, No. 10, 431.
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More of cosmic history occurred in the first millisecond than has occurred in the ensuing 10 billion years.
As given in an epigraph, without citation, in David M. Harland (ed.), The Big Bang: A View from the 21st Century (2003), ix.
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My belief (is) that one should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments. If they are unsuccessful one is not then discouraged since many possible reasons for failure can be thought of, and improvements can be made. Much can often be learned by the repetition under different conditions, even if the desired result is not obtained. If every conceivable precaution is taken at first, one is often too discouraged to proceed at all.
Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), Vol. 3, 364.
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Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.
In 'The Old and the New,' The New Yorker (19 Jun 1937), collected in Writings from The New Yorker, 1925-1976 (1976, 2006), 168.
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New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise:
So pleas'd at first, the towring Alps we try,...
In An Essay on Criticism (1711), 15.
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No idea should be suppressed. … And it applies to ideas that look like nonsense. We must not forget that some of the best ideas seemed like nonsense at first. The truth will prevail in the end. Nonsense will fall of its own weight, by a sort of intellectual law of gravitation. If we bat it about, we shall only keep an error in the air a little longer. And a new truth will go into orbit.
In Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and Other Recollections (1996), 233.
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Nothing can be believed unless it is first understood; and that for any one to preach to others that which either he has not understood nor they have understood is absurd.
From Historia Calamitatum, Chap. 9. As translated in Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, 'The Word Amen' reprinted from The Independent in Friends' Intelligencer (1872), Vol. 28, 575.
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One of the first and foremost duties of the teacher is not to give his students the impression that mathematical problems have little connection with each other, and no connection at all with anything else. We have a natural opportunity to investigate the connections of a problem when looking back at its solution.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 15.
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Our laboratory work involved close contact with many non-clinical scientists. Sir Peter Medawar, 1960 Nobel Laureate, was a frequent visitor to our lab and to the hospital. He once commented, after visiting an early renal transplant patient, that it was the first time he had been in a hospital ward.
In Tore Frängsmyr and Jan E. Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures: Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 556.
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Physio-philosophy has to show how, and in accordance indeed with what laws, the Material took its origin; and, therefore, how something derived its existence from nothing. It has to portray the first periods of the world's development from nothing; how the elements and heavenly bodies originated; in what method by self-evolution into higher and manifold forms, they separated into minerals, became finally organic, and in Man attained self-consciousness.
In Lorenz Oken, trans. by Alfred Tulk, Elements of Physiophilosophy (1847), 1.
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Psychogenesis has led to man. Now it effaces itself, relieved or absorbed by another and a higher function—the engendering and subsequent development of the mind, in one word noogenesis. When for the first time in a living creature instinct perceived itself in its own mirror, the whole world took a pace forward.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 181. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of Progress.
In Dagobert David Runes (ed.), The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison (1948), 110.
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Science knows no country because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.
Toast at banquet of the International Congress of Sericulture, Milan, 1876. Quoted in Maurice B. Strauss, Familiar Medical Quotations (1968), 519.
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Some writers, rejecting the idea which science had reached, that reefs of rocks could be due in any way to “animalcules,” have talked of electrical forces, the first and last appeal of ignorance.
In Corals and Coral Islands (1879), 17.
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The best way to study Mars is with two hands, eyes and ears of a geologist, first at a moon orbiting Mars … and then on the surface.
In his article, '40 Years After Apollo 11 Moon Landing, It's Time for a Mission to Mars', in Washington post (16 Jul 2009).
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The book of Nature is the book of Fate. She turns the gigantic pages,—leaf after leaf,—never re-turning one. One leaf she lays down, a floor of granite; then a thousand ages, and a bed of slate; a thousand ages, and a measure of coal; a thousand ages, and a layer of marl and mud: vegetable forms appear; her first misshapen animals, zoophyte, trilobium, fish; then, saurians,—rude forms, in which she has only blocked her future statue, concealing under these unwieldy monsters the fine type of her coming king. The face of the planet cools and dries, the races meliorate, and man is born. But when a race has lived its term, it comes no more again.
From 'Fate', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 6: The Conduct of Life (1860), 15. This paragraph is the prose version of his poem, 'Song of Nature'.
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The cell was the first invention of the animal kingdom, and all higher animals are and must be cellular in structure. Our tissues were formed ages on ages ago; they have all persisted. Most of our organs are as old as worms. All these are very old, older than the mountains.
In The Whence and Whither of Man; a Brief History of his Origin and Development through Conformity to Environment; being the Morse Lectures of 1895. (1896), 173. The Morse lectureship was founded by Prof. Samuel F.B. Morse in 1865 at Union Theological Seminary, the lectures to deal with “the relation of the Bible to any of the sciences.”
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The existence of a first cause of the universe is a necessity of thought ... Amid the mysteries which become more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that we are over in the presence of an Infinite, Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.
As quoted in John Murdoch, India's Needs: Material, Political, Social, Moral, and Religious (1886), 126.
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The first and last thing demanded of Genius is love of truth.
In George Henry Lewes, Life of J.W. von Goethe (1902), 75.
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The first experiment a child makes is a physical experiment: the suction-pump is but an imitation of the first act of every new-born infant.
Lecture 'On the Study of Physics', Royal Institution of Great Britain (Spring 1854). Collected in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 283.
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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
From Commencement Address, Caltech (1974). On Caltech library website.
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The first quality we know in matter is centrality,—we call it gravity,—which holds the universe together, which remains pure and indestructible in each mote, as in masses and planets, and from each atom rays out illimitable influence. To this material essence answers Truth, in the intellectual world,—Truth, whose centre is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere, whose existence we cannot disimagine,—the soundness and health of things, against which no blow can be struck but it recoils on the striker,—Truth, on whose side we always heartily are. And the first measure of a mind is its centrality, its capacity of truth, and its adhesion to it.
In 'Progress of Culture', an address read to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, 18 July 1867. Collected in Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1883), 477.
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The first step in finding the solution to a problem often involves discovering a problem with the existing solution.
Anonymous
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The first time I ever saw a jet, I shot it down.
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The Gombe Stream chimpanzees … in their ability to modify a twig or stick to make it suitable for a definite purpose, provide the first examples of free-ranging nonhuman primates actually making very crude tools.
In 'Chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream Reserve', collected in Primate Behavior: Field Studies of Monkeys and Apes (1965), 473.
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The history of acceptance of new theories frequently shows the following steps: At first the new idea is treated as pure nonsense, not worth looking at. Then comes a time when a multitude of contradictory objections are raised, such as: the new theory is too fancy, or merely a new terminology; it is not fruitful, or simply wrong. Finally a state is reached when everyone seems to claim that he had always followed this theory. This usually marks the last state before general acceptance.
In 'Field Theory and the Phase Space', collected in Melvin Herman Marx, Psychological Theory: Contemporary Readings (1951), 299.
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The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.
Essays in Science (1934), 27.
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The laws expressing the relations between energy and matter are, however, not solely of importance in pure science. They necessarily come first in order ... in the whole record of human experience, and they control, in the last resort, the rise or fall of political systems, the freedom or bondage of nations, the movements of commerce and industry, the origin of wealth and poverty, and the general physical welfare of the race.
In Matter and Energy (1912), 10-11.
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The main Business of Natural Philosophy is to argue from Phænomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these, and to such like Questions.
From 'Query 31', Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 344.
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The mathematician's patterns … must be beautiful … Beauty is the first test; there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 85.
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The maxim of science is simply that of common sense—simple cases first; begin with seeing how the main force acts when there is as little as possible to impede it, and when you thoroughly comprehend that, add to it in succession the separate effects of each of the incumbering and interfering agencies.
Collected in The Works of Walter Bagehot (1889), Vol. 5, 319-320.
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The Mind of Man is, at first, … like a Tabula rasa; or like Wax, which while it is soft, is capable of any Impression, until Time hath hardened it.
In 'A Tritical Essay Upon the Faculties of the Mind' (6 Aug 1707). A tabula rasa means a “scraped tablet” or “blank slate” and refers to a kind of wax-surfaced tablet used to inscribe notes, that can be erased by heating the wax.
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The Moon and its phases gave man his first calendar. Trying to match that calendar with the seasons helped give him mathematics. The usefulness of the calendar helped give rise to the thought of beneficent gods. And with all that the Moon is beautiful, too.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 164.
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The nose is the first and foremost instrument of respiration.
As quoted in Robert Taylor, White Coat Tales: Medicine's Heroes, Heritage, and Misadventures (2010), 125.
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The planned and orderly development and conservation of our natural resources is the first duty of the United States. It is the only form of insurance that will certainly protect us against disasters that lack of foresight has repeatedly brought down on nations since passed away.
In 'The Conservation of Natural Resources', The Outlook (12 Oxt 1907), 87, 294.
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The printed page is to thought what a nursery is to the first kiss.
From Aphorism 62 in Selected Aphorisms from the Lyceum (1797-1800). As translated by Luis H. Gray in Kuno Francke and Isidore Singer (eds.), The German Classics: Masterpieces of German Literature Translated Into English (1913), Vol. 4, 176.
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The puritanical potentialities of science have never been forecast. If it evolves a body of organized rites, and is established as a religion, hierarchically organized, things more than anything else will be done in the name of 'decency.' The coarse fumes of tobacco and liquors, the consequent tainting of the breath and staining of white fingers and teeth, which is so offensive to many women, will be the first things attended to.
Wyndham Lewis: an Anthology of his Prose (1969), 170.
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The Romans would never have found time to conquer the world if they had been obliged first to learn Latin.
In Heinrich Heinne and Charles Godfrey Leland (trans.), Pictures of Travel (1871), 183.
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The shortest and surest way of arriving at real knowledge is to unlearn the lessons we have been taught, to remount to first principles, and take no body’s word about them.
In Letters, on the Spirit of Patriotism: On the Idea of a Patriot King (1749), 78.
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The starting point of Darwin’s theory of evolution is precisely the existence of those differences between individual members of a race or species which morphologists for the most part rightly neglect. The first condition necessary, in order that any process of Natural Selection may begin among a race, or species, is the existence of differences among its members; and the first step in an enquiry into the possible effect of a selective process upon any character of a race must be an estimate of the frequency with which individuals, exhibiting any given degree of abnormality with respect to that, character, occur. The unit, with which such an enquiry must deal, is not an individual but a race, or a statistically representative sample of a race; and the result must take the form of a numerical statement, showing the relative frequency with which the various kinds of individuals composing the race occur.
Biometrika: A Joumal for the Statistical Study of Biological Problems (1901), 1, 1-2.
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There are two processes which we adopt consciously or unconsciously when we try to prophesy. We can seek a period in the past whose conditions resemble as closely as possible those of our day, and presume that the sequel to that period will, save for some minor alterations, be similar. Secondly, we can survey the general course of development in our immediate past, and endeavor to prolong it into the near future. The first is the method the historian; the second that of the scientist. Only the second is open to us now, and this only in a partial sphere.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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There is a popular cliché ... which says that you cannot get out of computers any more than you have put in..., that computers can only do exactly what you tell them to, and that therefore computers are never creative. This cliché is true only in a crashingly trivial sense, the same sense in which Shakespeare never wrote anything except what his first schoolteacher taught him to write—words.
In The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (1966, 1986), 64. Excerpted in Richard Dawkins, ‘Creation and Natural Selection’. New Scientist (25 Sep 1986), 111, 38.
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There is only one law of Nature—the second law of thermodynamics—which recognises a distinction between past and future more profound than the difference of plus and minus. It stands aloof from all the rest. … It opens up a new province of knowledge, namely, the study of organisation; and it is in connection with organisation that a direction of time-flow and a distinction between doing and undoing appears for the first time.
In The Nature of the Physical World (1928, 2005), 67-68.
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There is something particularly human about using tools; the first and most important tool being language.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 125.
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They say that habit is second nature. Who knows but nature is only first habit?
As quoted in epigraph in Edward Kasner and James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination (1940, 1949), 112.
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This also explains how it is that truths which have been recognised are at first tacitly admitted, and then gradually spread, so that the very thing which was obstinately denied appears at last as something quite natural.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 187.
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Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it.
Address at Rice University in Houston (12 Sep 1962). On website of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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To many of us, the first law of dietetics seems to be: if it tastes good, it’s bad for you.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 57.
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To preserve my brains I want food and this is now my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from you will be helpful to me here to get a scholarship…
Letter to G.H. Hardy (27 Feb 1913). Excerpt in obituary notice by G.H. Hardy in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (2) (1921), 19, xl—lviii. Reprinted in G.H. Hardy, P.V. Seshu Aiyar and B.M. Wilson (eds.) Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxvii.
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We are not to think that Jupiter has four satellites given him by nature, in order, by revolving round him, to immortalize the name of the Medici, who first had notice of the observation. These are the dreams of idle men, who love ludicrous ideas better than our laborious and industrious correction of the heavens.—Nature abhors so horrible a chaos, and to the truly wise, such vanity is detestable.
From Nodus Gordius, Appendix, as cited in John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, Life of Galileo Galilei: With Illustrations of the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy (1832), 93.
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We may regard [Scheele] not only as having given the first indication of the rich harvest to be reaped by the investigation of the compounds of organic chemistry, but as having been the first to discover and make use of characteristic reactions by which closely allied substances can be detected and separated, so that he must be considered one of the chief founders of analytical chemistry.
In Treatise on Chemistry (1877, 1890), Vol. 1, 23.
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We reverence ancient Greece as the cradle of western science. Here for the first time the world witnessed the miracle of a logical system which proceeded from step to step with such precision that every single one of its propositions was absolutely indubitable—I refer to Euclid’s geometry. This admirable triumph of reasoning gave the human intellect the necessary confidence in itself for its subsequent achievements. If Euclid failed to kindle your youthful enthusiasm, then you were not born to be a scientific thinker.
From 'On the Method of Theoretical Physics', in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 13.
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What was at first merely by-the-way may become the very heart of a matter. Flints were long flaked into knives, arrowheads, spears. Incidentally it was found that they struck fire; to-day that is their one use.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 178.
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Wheeler’s First Moral Principle: Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!
In E.F. Taylor and J.A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (1992), 20.
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When not protected by law, by popular favor or superstition, or by other special circumstances, [birds] yield very readily to the influences of civilization, and, though the first operations of the settler are favorable to the increase of many species, the great extension of rural and of mechanical industry is, in a variety of ways, destructive even to tribes not directly warred upon by man.
In Man and Nature, (1864), 93-93.
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When the practice of farming spread over the earth, mankind experienced its first population explosion.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 8.
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When ultra-violet light acts on a mixture of water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia, a vast variety of organic substances are made, including sugars and apparently some of the materials from which proteins are built up…. But before the origin of life they must have accumulated till the primitive oceans reached the consistency of hot dilute soup…. The first living or half-living things were probably large molecules synthesized under the influence of the sun’s radiation, and only capable of reproduction in the particularly favorable medium in which they originated….
In 'The Origin of Life', The Inequality of Man: And Other Essays (1932, 1937), 152.
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Without the slightest doubt there is something through which material and spiritual energy hold togehter and are complementary. In the last analysis, somehow or other, there must be a single energy operating in the world. And the first idea that occurs to us is that the 'soul' must be as it were the focal point of transformation at which, from all the points of nature, the forces of bodies converge, to become interiorised and sublimated in beauty and truth.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 63. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Workers must root out the idea that by keeping the results of their labors to themselves a fortune will be assured to them. Patent fees are so much wasted money. The flying machine of the future will not be born fully fledged and capable of a flight for 1,000 miles or so. Like everything else it must be evolved gradually. The first difficulty is to get a thing that will fly at all. When this is made, a full description should be published as an aid to others. Excellence of design and workmanship will always defy competition.
As quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 218.
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[In treating the sick], the first thing to consider is the provision of fresh air, clean water, and a healthy diet.
As quoted in Robert Taylor, White Coat Tales: Medicine's Heroes, Heritage, and Misadventures (2010), 124.
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[Jethro Tull] was the first Englishman—perhaps the first writer, ancient and modern—who has attempted, with any tolerable degree of success, to reduce the art of agriculture to certain and uniform principles; and it must be acknowledged that he has done more towards establishing a rational and practical method of husbandry than all the writers who have gone before him.
Anonymous
In Letter (18 Oct 1764), signed only “D.Y.” from Hungerford, in Sylvanus Urban (ed.), 'Observations on the late Improvements in Agriculture', The Gentleman’s Magazine (Nov 1764), 525.
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[On solving problems:] The first thing you do is scream.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 147.
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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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