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Who said: “Genius is two percent inspiration, ninety-eight percent perspiration.”
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Flash Quotes (49 quotes)

[After the flash of the atomic bomb test explosion] Fermi got up and dropped small pieces of paper … a simple experiment to measure the energy liberated by the explosion … [W]hen the front of the shock wave arrived (some seconds after the flash) the pieces of paper were displaced a few centimeters in the direction of propagation of the shock wave. From the distance of the source and from the displacement of the air due to the shock wave, he could calculate the energy of the explosion. This Fermi had done in advance having prepared himself a table of numbers, so that he could tell immediately the energy liberated from this crude but simple measurement. … It is also typical that his answer closely approximated that of the elaborate official measurements. The latter, however, were available only after several days’ study of the records, whereas Fermi had his within seconds.
In Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147-148.
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[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. … On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller’s works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
In Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 82-83.
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La pensée n’est qu’un éclair au milieu d’une longue nuit. Mais c’est cet éclair qui est tout.
Thought is only a gleam in the midst of a long night. But it is this gleam which is everything.
Concluding remark to La Valeur de la Science (1904), 276, translated by George Bruce Halsted, in The Value of Science (1907), 142. “Éclair” might also be translated as “flash” or “lightning,” which would better signify only an instantaneous existence in his context of geologic time.
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1106. … In the first week of Lent, on the Friday, 16 February, a strange star appeared in the evening, and for a long time afterwards was seen shining for a while each evening. The star made its appearance in the south-west, and seemed to be small and dark, but the light that shone from it was very bright, and appeared like an enormous beam of light shining north-east; and one evening it seemed as if the beam were flashing in the opposite direction towards the star. Some said that they had seen other unknown stars about this time, but we cannot speak about these without reservation, because we did not ourselves see them.
In George Norman Garmonsway (ed., trans.), 'The Parker Chronicle', The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1953), 240. This translation from the original Saxon, is a modern printing of an ancient anthology known as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Manuscript copies were held at various English monasteries. These copies of the Chronicle include content first recorded in the late 9th century. This quote comes from the copy known as the Peterborough Chronicle (a.k.a. Laud manuscript).
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A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral. The extermination of the passenger pigeon meant that mankind was just so much poorer; exactly as in the case of the destruction of the cathedral at Rheims. And to lose the chance to see frigate-birds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach—why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.
In A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open (1916), 316-317.
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And genius hath electric power,
Which earth can never tame;
Bright suns may scorch, and dark clouds lower,
Its flash is still the same.
Louis Klopsch, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896), 106.
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Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time, and we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath. What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, and then eat, males of a different species?
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 131.
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photo credit: Inspired Images CC0 (source)
Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are … rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.
Essay, first published as 'Life Without Principle', Atlantic Monthly (Oct 1863). Collected in Yankee in Canada, Etc., (1866) 267. Also excerpted in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890, 2005), 102.
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Everything that we call Invention or Discovery in the higher sense of the word is the serious exercise and activity of an original feeling for truth, which, after a long course of silent cultivation, suddenly flashes out into fruitful knowledge.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 193.
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Finally, two days ago, I succeeded - not on account of my hard efforts, but by the grace of the Lord. Like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle was solved. I am unable to say what was the conducting thread that connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.
Quoted in H. Eves, Mathematical Circles Squared, (1972).
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How did I discover saccharin? Well, it was partly by accident and partly by study. I had worked a long time on the compound radicals and substitution products of coal tar... One evening I was so interested in my laboratory that I forgot about my supper till quite late, and then rushed off for a meal without stopping to wash my hands. I sat down, broke a piece of bread, and put it to my lips. It tasted unspeakably sweet. I did not ask why it was so, probably because I thought it was some cake or sweetmeat. I rinsed my mouth with water, and dried my moustache with my napkin, when, to my surprise the napkin tasted sweeter than the bread. Then I was puzzled. I again raised my goblet, and, as fortune would have it, applied my mouth where my fingers had touched it before. The water seemed syrup. It flashed on me that I was the cause of the singular universal sweetness, and I accordingly tasted the end of my thumb, and found it surpassed any confectionery I had ever eaten. I saw the whole thing at once. I had discovered some coal tar substance which out-sugared sugar. I dropped my dinner, and ran back to the laboratory. There, in my excitement, I tasted the contents of every beaker and evaporating dish on the table.
Interview with American Analyst. Reprinted in Pacific Record of Medicine and Surgery (1886), 1, No. 3, 78.
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I was sitting writing at my textbook but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold confirmation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the rest of the hypothesis. Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth... But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by waking understanding.
Kekule at Benzolfest in Berichte (1890), 23, 1302.
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I was suffering from a sharp attack of intermittent fever, and every day during the cold and succeeding hot fits had to lie down for several hours, during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me. One day something brought to my recollection Malthus's 'Principles of Population', which I had read about twelve years before. I thought of his clear exposition of 'the positive checks to increase'—disease, accidents, war, and famine—which keep down the population of savage races to so much lower an average than that of more civilized peoples. It then occurred to me that these causes or their equivalents are continually acting in the case of animals also; and as animals usually breed much more rapidly than does mankind, the destruction every year from these causes must be enormous in order to keep down the numbers of each species, since they evidently do not increase regularly from year to year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been densely crowded with those that breed most quickly. Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live? The answer was clearly, that on the whole the best fitted live. From the effects of disease the most healthy escaped; from enemies, the strongest, swiftest, or the most cunning; from famine, the best hunters or those with the best digestion; and so on. Then it suddenly flashed upon me that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain—that is, the fittest would survive.
[The phrase 'survival of the fittest,' suggested by the writings of Thomas Robert Malthus, was expressed in those words by Herbert Spencer in 1865. Wallace saw the term in correspondence from Charles Darwin the following year, 1866. However, Wallace did not publish anything on his use of the expression until very much later, and his recollection is likely flawed.]
My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions (1905), Vol. 1, 361-362, or in reprint (2004), 190.
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If you go far enough out you can see the Universe itself, all the billion light years summed up time only as a flash, just as lonely, as distant as a star on a June night if you go far enough out. And still, my friend, if you go far enough out you are only at the beginning of yourself.
…...
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In theory, whole islands of antimatter could be floating in the universe, cut off from matter by the empty void of space. If a large chunk of antimatter fell to Earth, the planet would be vaporized in a blinding flash of energy.
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It is safe to say that the little pamphlet which was left to find its way through the slow mails to the English scientist outweighed in importance and interest for the human race all the press dispatches which have been flashed under the channel since the delivery of the address—March 24. The rapid growth of the Continental capitals, the movements of princely noodles and fat, vulgar Duchesses, the debates in the Servian Skupschina, and the progress or receding of sundry royal gouts are given to the wings of lightning; a lumbering mail-coach is swift enough for the news of one of the great scientific discoveries of the age. Similarly, the gifted gentlemen who daily sift out for the American public the pith and kernel of the Old World's news; leave Dr. KOCH and his bacilli to chance it in the ocean mails, while they challenge the admiration of every gambler and jockey in this Republic by the fullness and accuracy of their cable reports of horse-races.
New York Times (3 May 1882). Quoted in Thomas D. Brock, Robert Koch (1988), 131.
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It is the flash which appears, the thunderbolt will follow.
Translation of the original French, “C'est l'éclair qui paraît, la foudre va partir.” From the play, Oreste, Act 2, Scene 7. Accompanied with the translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 365.
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Keep in mind that new ideas are commonplace, and almost always wrong. Most flashes of insight lead nowhere; statistically, they have a half-life of hours or maybe days. Most experiments to follow up the surviving insights are tedious and consume large amounts of time, only to yield negative or (worse!) ambiguous results.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998, 1999), 60
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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Men are not going to embrace eugenics. They are going to embrace the first likely, trim-figured girl with limpid eyes and flashing teeth who comes along, in spite of the fact that her germ plasm is probably reeking with hypertension, cancer, haemophilia, colour blindness, hay fever, epilepsy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
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Nymphs! you disjoin, unite, condense, expand,
And give new wonders to the Chemist’s hand;
On tepid clouds of rising steam aspire,
Or fix in sulphur all its solid fire;
With boundless spring elastic airs unfold,
Or fill the fine vacuities of gold
With sudden flash vitrescent sparks reveal,
By fierce collision from the flint and steel. …
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On opening the incubator I experienced one of those rare moments of intense emotion which reward the research worker for all his pains: at first glance I saw that the broth culture, which the night before had been very turbid was perfectly clear: all the bacteria had vanished…as for my agar spread it was devoid of all growth and what caused my emotion was that in a flash I understood: what causes my spots was in fact an invisible microbe, a filterable virus, but a virus parasitic on bacteria. Another thought came to me also, If this is true, the same thing will have probably occurred in the sick man. In his intestine, as in my test-tube, the dysentery bacilli will have dissolved away under the action of their parasite. He should now be cured.
In Allan Chase, Magic Shots: A Human and Scientific Account of the Long and Continuing Struggle to Eradicated Infectious Diseases by Vaccination (1982), 249-250. Also in Allan J. Tobin and Jennie Dusheck, Asking About Life (2005), 206.
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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One more word on “designed laws” and “undesigned results.” - I see a bird which I want for food, take my gun and kill it, I do this designedly.—An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe (& I really should like to hear) that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this; I can’t and don’t.—If you believe so, do you believe that when a swallow snaps up a gnat that God designed that that particular swallow should snap up that particular gnat at that particular instant? I believe that the man and the gnat are in the same predicament. If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed.
Letter to Asa Gray, 3 July 1860. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1860 (1993), Vol. 8, 275.
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Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphorus, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
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Science too proceeds by lantern-flashes; it explores nature’s inexhaustible mosaic piece by piece. Too often the wick lacks oil; the glass panes of the lantern may not be clean. No matter: his work is not in vain who first recognizes and shows to others one speck of the vast unknown.
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Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen or that I think anyone has ever seen. It blasted; it pounced; it bored its way into you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; altogether it lasted about two seconds.
[Witnessing the first atomic bomb test explosion.]
Science: the Center of Culture (1970), 139.
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The bomb took forty-five seconds to drop thirty thousand feet to its detonation point, our three parachute gauges drifting down above. For half that time we were diving away in a two-g turn. Before we leveled off and flew directly away, we saw the calibration pulses that indicated our equipment was working well. Suddenly a bright flash lit the compartment, the light from the explosion reflecting off the clouds in front of us and back through the tunnel. The pressure pulse registered its N-shaped wave on our screen, and then a second wave recorded the reflection of the pulse from the ground. A few moments later two sharp shocks slammed the plane.
Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist (1987), 7.
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The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head-mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one.
Man on His Nature (1940), 225.
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The iron labor of conscious logical reasoning demands great perseverance and great caution; it moves on but slowly, and is rarely illuminated by brilliant flashes of genius. It knows little of that facility with which the most varied instances come thronging into the memory of the philologist or historian. Rather is it an essential condition of the methodical progress of mathematical reasoning that the mind should remain concentrated on a single point, undisturbed alike by collateral ideas on the one hand, and by wishes and hopes on the other, and moving on steadily in the direction it has deliberately chosen.
In Ueber das Verhältniss der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammtheit der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 178.
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The joy of suddenly learning a former secret and the joy of suddenly discovering a hitherto unknown truth are the same to me—both have the flash of enlightenment, the almost incredibly enhanced vision, and the ecstasy and euphoria of released tension.
In I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (1985), 3.
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The mental process by which hypotheses are suggested is obscure. Ordinarily they flash into consciousness without premonition, and it would he easy to ascribe them to a mysterious intuition or creative faculty; but this would contravene one of the broadest generalizations of modern psychology. Just as in the domain of matter nothing is created from nothing, just as in the domain of life there is no spontaneous generation, so in the domain of mind there are no ideas which do not owe their existence to antecedent ideas which stand in the relation of parent to child.
In Address (11 Dec 1895) as President of the Geological Society, 'The Origin of Hypotheses, illustrated by the Discussion of a Topographical Problem', printed as Presidential Address of Grove Karl Gilbert (1896), 4. Also collected in Science (1896), 3, 2.
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The message from the Moon which we have flashed to the far corners of this planet is that no problem need any longer be considered insoluble.
…...
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The most striking impression was that of an overwhelming bright light. I had seen under similar conditions the explosion of a large amount—100 tons—of normal explosives in the April test, and I was flabbergasted by the new spectacle. We saw the whole sky flash with unbelievable brightness in spite of the very dark glasses we wore. Our eyes were accommodated to darkness, and thus even if the sudden light had been only normal daylight it would have appeared to us much brighter than usual, but we know from measurements that the flash of the bomb was many times brighter than the sun. In a fraction of a second, at our distance, one received enough light to produce a sunburn. I was near Fermi at the time of the explosion, but I do not remember what we said, if anything. I believe that for a moment I thought the explosion might set fire to the atmosphere and thus finish the earth, even though I knew that this was not possible.
In Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147.
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The motion of the stars over our heads is as much an illusion as that of the cows, trees and churches that flash past the windows of our train.
The Stars in their Courses (1931, 1948), 3.
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The problem [evolution] presented itself to me, and something led me to think of the positive checks described by Malthus in his Essay on Population, a work I had read several years before, and which had made a deep and permanent impression on my mind. These checks—war, disease, famine, and the like—must, it occurred to me, act on animals as well as man. Then I thought of the enormously rapid multiplication of animals, causing these checks to be much more effective in them than in the case of man; and while pondering vaguely on this fact, there suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest—that the individuals removed by these checks must be on the whole inferior to those that survived. I sketched the draft of my paper … and sent it by the next post to Mr. Darwin.
In 'Introductory Note to Chapter II in Present Edition', Natural Selection and Tropical Nature Essays on Descriptive and Theoretical Biology (1891, New ed. 1895), 20.
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The publication of the Darwin and Wallace papers in 1858, and still more that of the 'Origin' in 1859, had the effect upon them of the flash of light, which to a man who has lost himself in a dark night, suddenly reveals a road which, whether it takes him straight home or not, certainly goes his way. That which we were looking for, and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of known organic forms, which assumed the operation of no causes but such as could be proved to be actually at work. We wanted, not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be brought face to face with facts and have their validity tested. The 'Origin' provided us with the working hypothesis we sought.
'On the Reception of the Origin of Species'. In F. Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol 2, 197.
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The young genius early exults in the contemplation of power and beauty. During Scott’s childhood, a frightful thunder-storm raged at Edinburgh, which made his brothers and the domestics huddle together in one room, shivering with fear at every peal. Young Walter was found lying on his back in the garden, the rain pitilessly pelting his face, while he, almost convulsed with delight, shouted, at every flash, “bonnie! bonnie!” Schiller was found by his father, on a similar occasion, perched upon a tree, and, on being harshly questioned as to his object, whimpered out that he wanted to see where the thunder came from.
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 204. A variation of the anecdote about Walter Scott is given in George Gilfillan (ed.), 'Memoir of Sir Walter Scott', The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott: With memoir and critical dissertation (1857), viii. The anecdote about Schiller is of dubious authenticity, according to Charles Follen (ed.), The Life of Friedrich Schiller: Comprehending an Examination of His Works (1837), 7
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There could be whole antiworlds and antipeople made out of antiparticles. However, if you ever meet your antiself, don’t shake hands! You would both vanish in a great flash of light.
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There is, however, no genius so gifted as not to need control and verification. ... [T]he brightest flashes in the world of thought are incomplete until they have been proved to have their counterparts in the world of fact. Thus the vocation of the true experimentalist may be defined as the continued exercise of spiritual insight, and its incessant correction and realisation. His experiments constitute a body, of which his purified intuitions are, as it were, the soul.
In 'Vitality', Scientific Use of the Imagination and Other Essays (1872), 43.
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There was a loudspeaker that reported on the time left before the blast: “T-minus ten minutes”—something like that. The last few seconds were counted off one by one. We had all turned away. At zero there was the flash. I counted and then turned around. The first thing I saw was a yellow-orange fireball that kept getting larger. As it grew, it turned more orange and then red. A mushroom-shaped cloud of glowing magenta began to rise over the desert where the explosion had been. My first thought was, “My God, that is beautiful!”
(1982).
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These changes—the more rapid pulse, the deeper breathing, the increase of sugar in the blood, the secretion from the adrenal glands—were very diverse and seemed unrelated. Then, one wakeful night, after a considerable collection of these changes had been disclosed, the idea flashed through my mind that they could be nicely integrated if conceived as bodily preparations for supreme effort in flight or in fighting. Further investigation added to the collection and confirmed the general scheme suggested by the hunch.
The Way of an Investigator: A Scientist's Experiences in Medical Research (1945), 59-60.
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They were in orbit around the planet now, and its giant curving bulk loomed so huge that he could see nothing else, nothing but the bands and swirls of clouds that raced fiercely across Jupiter’s face. The clouds shifted and flowed before his eyes, spun into eddies the size of Asia, moved and throbbed and pulsed like living creatures. Lightning flashed down there, sudden explosions of light that flickered back and forth across the clouds, like signalling lamps.
Jupiter
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Thought is only a gleam in the midst of a long night. But it is this gleam which is everything.
Concluding sentences from La Valeur de la Science (1904), 276, as translated by George Bruce Halsted (trans.), in The Value of Science (1907), 77. From the French, “La pensée n’est qu’un écliar au milieu d’une longue nuit. Mais c’est cet éclair qui est tout”. Also given as “Thought is only a flash between two long nights. But this flash is everything”, in Edwin Emery Slosson, Major Prophets of To-day (1914), 138, citing the oration given by Paul Painlevé, of the Academy of Sciences, at the Montparnasse cemetery after the funeral for Poincaré.
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True majorities, in a TV-dominated and anti-intellectual age, may need sound bites and flashing lights–and I am not against supplying such lures if they draw children into even a transient concern with science. But every classroom has one [Oliver] Sacks, one [Eric] Korn, or one [Jonathan] Miller, usually a lonely child with a passionate curiosity about nature, and a zeal that overcomes pressures for conformity. Do not the one in fifty deserve their institutions as well–magic places, like cabinet museums, that can spark the rare flames of genius?
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Until that afternoon, my thoughts on planetary atmospheres had been wholly concerned with atmospheric analysis as a method of life detection and nothing more. Now that I knew the composition of the Martian atmosphere was so different from that of our own, my mind filled with wonderings about the nature of the Earth. If the air is burning, what sustains it at a constant composition? I also wondered about the supply of fuel and the removal of the products of combustion. It came to me suddenly, just like a flash of enlightenment, that to persist and keep stable, something must be regulating the atmosphere and so keeping it at its constant composition. Moreover, if most of the gases came from living organisms, then life at the surface must be doing the regulation.
Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scholar (2000), 253.
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What agencies of electricity, gravity, light, affinity combine to make every plant what it is, and in a manner so quiet that the presence of these tremendous powers is not ordinarily suspected. Faraday said, “A grain of water is known to have electric relations equivalent to a very powerful flash of lightning.”
In 'Perpetual Forces', North American Review (1877), No. 125. Collected in Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Elliot Cabot (ed.), Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883), 60.
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What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
…...
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When I was a boy, I read with great interest but skepticism about a magic lamp which was used with success by a certain Aladdin. Today I have no skepticism whatsoever about the magic of the xenon flash lamp which we use so effectively for many purposes.
In Electronic Flash, Strobe (1970), v.
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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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by Ian Ellis