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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Forget Quotes (63 quotes)

A science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost.
Address to the British Association, Newcastle. 'The Organisation of Thought,' printed in Nature (28 Sep 1916), 98, 80. Also collected in The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 162.
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Abstruse mathematical researches … are … often abused for having no obvious physical application. The fact is that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness. A new branch of mathematics, which has sprung up in the last twenty years, was denounced by the Astronomer Royal before the University of Cambridge as doomed to be forgotten, on account of its uselessness. Now it turns out that the reason why we cannot go further in our investigations of molecular action is that we do not know enough of this branch of mathematics.
In 'Conditions of Mental Development', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 115.
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Although as a boy I had dreamed about going into space, I had completely forgotten about that until one day I received a call from an astronaut, who suggested that I should join the program.
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Alvarez seemed to care less about the way the picture in the puzzle would look, when everything fit together, than about the fun of looking for pieces that fit. He loved nothing more than doing something that everybody else thought impossible. His designs were clever, and usually exploited some little-known principle that everyone else had forgotten.
As quoted in Walter Sullivan, 'Luis W. Alvarez, Nobel Physicist Who Explored Atom, Dies at 77: Obituary', New York Times (2 Sep 1988).
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And don’t forget one in the command module.... And thanks for putting me on relay, Houston. I was missing all the action.
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Anthropologists are a connecting link between poets and scientists though their fieldwork among primitive peoples has often made them forget the language of science.
From Arthur D. Little Lecture (6 Dec 1963) at the London School of Economics, in Saturday Review (1963), 46, No. 4, 83.
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Art creates an incomparable and unique effect, and, having done so, passes on to other things. Nature, upon the other hand, forgetting that imitation can be made the sincerest form of insult, keeps on repeating the effect until we all become absolutely wearied of it.
In 'Decay of Lying', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 8.
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As a scientist, I am not sure anymore that life can be reduced to a class struggle, to dialectical materialism, or any set of formulas. Life is spontaneous and it is unpredictable, it is magical. I think that we have struggled so hard with the tangible that we have forgotten the intangible.
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As one penetrates from seam to seam, from stratum to stratum and discovers, under the quarries of Montmartre or in the schists of the Urals, those animals whose fossilized remains belong to antediluvian civilizations, the mind is startled to catch a vista of the milliards of years and the millions of peoples which the feeble memory of man and an indestructible divine tradition have forgotten and whose ashes heaped on the surface of our globe, form the two feet of earth which furnish us with bread and flowers.
From 'La Peau de Chagrin' (1831). As translated as The Wild Ass’s Skin (1906) trans. Herbert J. Hunt, The Wild Ass's Skin (1977), 40-1.
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As they discover, from strata to strata and from layer to layer, deep in the quarries of Montmartre or the schists of the Urals, these creatures whose fossilized remains belong to antediluvian civilizations, it will strike terror into your soul to see many millions of years, many thousands of races forgotten by the feeble memory of mankind and by the indestructible divine tradition, and whose piles of ashes on the surface of our globe form the two feet of soil which gives us our bread and our flowers.
From 'La Peau de Chagrin' (1831). As translated as by Helen Constantine The Wild Ass’s Skin (2012), 19.
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But I should be very sorry if an interpretation founded on a most conjectural scientific hypothesis were to get fastened to the text in Genesis... The rate of change of scientific hypothesis is naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretations, so that if an interpretation is founded on such an hypothesis, it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it ought to be buried and forgotten.
Letter to Rev. C. J. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol (22 Nov 1876). Quoted in Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 394.
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But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Bible
2 Peter 3:8
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Concepts that have proven useful in ordering thi ngs easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens.
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Don’t forget that the bacteria watch us from the other end of the microscope.
More Unkempt Thoughts (1969), 1.
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Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.
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Elaborate apparatus plays an important part in the science of to-day, but I sometimes wonder if we are not inclined to forget that the most important instrument in research must always be the mind of man.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1951), ix.
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Flowers are the sweetest things that God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.
In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887),8.
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For the most part we humans live with the false impression of security and a feeling of being at home in a seemingly trustworthy physical and human environment. But when the expected course of everyday life is interrupted, we are like shipwrecked people on a miserable plank in the open sea, having forgotten where they came from and not knowing whither they are drifting. But once we fully accept this, life becomes easier and there is no longer any disappointment.
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God and the Doctor we alike adore
But only when in danger, not before;
The danger o’er, both are alike requited,
God is forgotten, and the Doctor slighted.
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God in His wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why.
'The Fly' (1942), Good Intentions (1943), 220.
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Historical theories are, after all, intellectual apple carts. They are quite likely to be upset. Nor should it be forgotten that they tend to attract, when they gain ascendancy, a fair number of apple-polishers
'Books of the Times'. New York Times (9 Dec 1965), 45.
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I believe … that we can still have a genre of scientific books suitable for and accessible alike to professionals and interested laypeople. The concepts of science, in all their richness and ambiguity, can be presented without any compromise, without any simplification counting as distortion, in language accessible to all intelligent people … I hope that this book can be read with profit both in seminars for graduate students and–if the movie stinks and you forgot your sleeping pills–on the businessman’s special to Tokyo.
In Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1990), Preface, 16.
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I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.
In 'The Science Of Deduction', A Study In Scarlet (1887, 1904), 15-16.
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I consider the study of medicine to have been that training which preached more impressively and more convincingly than any other could have done, the everlasting principles of all scientific work; principles which are so simple and yet are ever forgotten again, so clear and yet always hidden by a deceptive veil.
In Lecture (2 Aug 1877) delivered on the anniversary of the foundation of the Institute for the Education of Army Surgeons, 'On Thought in Medicine', collected in 'Popular Scientific Lectures', The Humboldt Library of Popular Science Literature (1 Jul 1881), 1, No. 24, 18, (renumbered as p.748 in reprint volume of Nos. 1-24).
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I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.
Quoted by Cleveland Moffitt, 'A Talk With Tesla', Atlanta Constitution (7 Jun 1896)
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I tell [medical students] that they are the luckiest persons on earth to be in medical school, and to forget all this worry about H.M.O.’s and keep your eye on helping the patient. It’s the best time ever to be a doctor because you can heal and treat conditions that were untreatable even a couple of years ago.
From Cornelia Dean, 'A Conversation with Joseph E. Murray', New York Times (25 Sep 2001), F5.
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I think that the unity we can seek lies really in two things. One is that the knowledge which comes to us at such a terrifyingly, inhumanly rapid rate has some order in it. We are allowed to forget a great deal, as well as to learn. This order is never adequate. The mass of ununderstood things, which cannot be summarized, or wholly ordered, always grows greater; but a great deal does get understood.
The second is simply this: we can have each other to dinner. We ourselves, and with each other by our converse, can create, not an architecture of global scope, but an immense, intricate network of intimacy, illumination, and understanding. Everything cannot be connected with everything in the world we live in. Everything can be connected with anything.
Concluding paragraphs of 'The Growth of Science and the Structure of Culture', Daedalus (Winter 1958), 87, No. 1, 76.
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I wish they don’t forget to keep those treasures pure which they have in excellence over the west: their artistic building of life, the simplicity a nd modesty in personal need, and the pureness and calmness of Japanese soul.
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If you see a formula in the Physical Review that extends over a quarter of a page, forget it. It’s wrong. Nature isn’t that complicated.
As quoted, without citation in Alan Lindsay Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 166. Need a primary source - can you help?
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In our way of life … with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the seventh generation of children to come. … When we walk upon Mother Earth, we always plant our feet carefully, because we know that the faces of future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground. We never forget them.
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In the course of the last century science has become so dizzy with its successes, that it has forgotten to ask the pertinent questions—or refused to ask them under the pretext that they are meaningless, and in any case not the scientists concern.
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), xi.
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It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.
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Knowing Pains
I studied parts
of a flower
to understand
its flowering.
I learned much
about my limits.
I had forgotten
Earth and climate.
Poem, in Starting Points: Poems (1971), 38. As quoted in Arthur Lerner, 'Poetry Therapy', The American Journal of Nursing (Aug 1973), 73, No. 8, 1338.
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Live and learn; die and forget it all.
Anonymous
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Never forget that it is not a pneumonia, but a pneumonic man who is your patient.
In Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), xxiii.
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No video, no photographs, no verbal descriptions, no lectures can provide the enchantment that a few minutes out-of-doors can: watch a spider construct a web; observe a caterpillar systematically ravaging the edge of a leaf; close your eyes, cup your hands behind your ears, and listen to aspen leaves rustle or a stream muse about its pools and eddies. Nothing can replace plucking a cluster of pine needles and rolling them in your fingers to feel how they’re put together, or discovering that “sedges have edges and grasses are round,” The firsthand, right-and-left-brain experience of being in the out-of-doors involves all the senses including some we’ve forgotten about, like smelling water a mile away. No teacher, no student, can help but sense and absorb the larger ecological rhythms at work here, and the intertwining of intricate, varied and complex strands that characterize a rich, healthy natural world.
Into the Field: A Guide to Locally Focused Teaching
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Nobody ever forgets where he buried the hatchet.
Unverified. Need primary source. Can you help? Widely seem, but without citation, for example, in Jon, Michael and Deborah Fripp, Speaking of Science (2000), 203.
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On one occasion, when he was giving a dinner to some friends at the university, he left the table to get them a bottle of wine; but, on his way to the cellar, he fell into reflection, forgot his errand and his company, went to his chamber, put on his surplice, and proceeded to the chapel. Sometimes he would go into the street half dressed, and on discovering his condition, run back in great haste, much abashed. Often, while strolling in his garden, he would suddenly stop, and then run rapidly to his room, and begin to write, standing, on the first piece of paper that presented itself. Intending to dine in the public hall, he would go out in a brown study, take the wrong turn, walk a while, and then return to his room, having totally forgotten the dinner. Once having dismounted from his horse to lead him up a hill, the horse slipped his head out of the bridle; but Newton, oblivious, never discovered it till, on reaching a tollgate at the top of the hill, he turned to remount and perceived that the bridle which he held in his hand had no horse attached to it. His secretary records that his forgetfulness of his dinner was an excellent thing for his old housekeeper, who “sometimes found both dinner and supper scarcely tasted of, which the old woman has very pleasantly and mumpingly gone away with”. On getting out of bed in the morning, he has been discovered to sit on his bedside for hours without dressing himself, utterly absorbed in thought.
In 'Sir Isaac Newton', People’s Book of Biography: Or, Short Lives of the Most Interesting Persons of All Ages and Countries (1868), 257.
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On Tuesday evening at Museum, at a ball in the gardens. The night was chill, I dropped too suddenly from Differential Calculus into ladies’ society, and could not give myself freely to the change. After an hour’s attempt so to do, I returned, cursing the mode of life I was pursuing; next morning I had already shaken hands, however, with Diff. Calculus, and forgot the ladies….
From his diary for 10 Aug 1851, as quoted in J. Helen Gardner and Robin J. Wilson, 'Thomas Archer Hirst—Mathematician Xtravagant II: Student Days in Germany', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jun-Jul 1993), 6, No. 100, 534.
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Once I found out the secret of the universe. I have forgotten what it was, but I know that the Creator does not take Creation seriously, for I remember that He sat in Space with all His work in front of Him and laughed.
In The Hashish Man, collected in E.F. Bleiler (ed.), Gods, Men and Ghosts: The Best Supernatural Fiction of Lord Dunsany (1972), 158.
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One would have to have completely forgotten the history of science so as not to remember that the desire to know nature has had the most constant and the happiest influence on the development of mathematics.
In Henri Poincaré and George Bruce Halsted (trans.), The Value of Science: Essential Writings of Henri Poincare (1907), 79.
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Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring constructive mind.
(Sep 1937). In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman (ed.), Albert Einstein, the Human Side by (1979).
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Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone
Starving backstage, morning-stars are jaded
The moonshine murmur still shivers alone
Curved slice of sliver, shear breath shadows stone
Suspending twilight shiny and shaded
Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone
Carving solace into silver in June
On horizons’ glow from forgotten gold
The moonshine’s’ shilling delivers alone
Gleaming duels of knights, pierce deathly silence
Steel tines of starlight, clashing swords they hold
Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone
Dimples aware, sparkle sand on the dune
Winking at comets, after tails are told
The moon-sand whispers, sift rivers alone
Sharpness they hone, filing skills onto stone
Starlight dazzles, its own space created
Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone
From owls’ talon, moonlight shimmers alone
Earth Man
…...
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Some men who call themselves pessimists because they cannot read good into the operations of nature forget that they cannot read evil. In morals the law of competition no more justifies personal, official, or national selfishness or brutality than the law of gravity justifies the shooting of a bird.
…...
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Television will enormously enlarge the eye's range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote.
In 'Removal' (Jul 1938), collected in One Man's Meat (1942), 3.
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The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me purely factitious, fabricated on the one hand by short-sighted religious people, who confound theology with religion; and on the other by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.
…...
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The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of meeting the schedule is forgotten.
Anonymous
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The original Marxist notion of ideology was conveniently forgotten because it inconveniently did not exempt common sense and empiricism from the charge of ideology.
In Social Amnesia (1975), 6-7.
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The state exists for man, not man for the state. The same may be said of science. These are old phrases, coined by people who saw in human individuality the highest human value. I would hesitate to repeat them, were it not for the ever recurring danger that they may be forgotten, especially in these days of organization and stereotypes.
…...
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The vast spread
Of darkness
That speaks of mystery
The darkness that reveals
The beauty that lies beneath
In the form of glittering
Stars, a countless beauty
That seemed to conceal
A million stories
That can make the mankind
Take a new look at life
And the majestic moon
That silently looks at mankind
Wondering how its serenity
Was disturbed by the little steps
Of a man from the beautiful earth
Yet softly smiling back
And let the world sleep
In its magical glow
A glow that soothes
The world’s senses
And forget the pain of reality
…...
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The whole thing is so much bigger than I am, and I can't understand it, so I just trust myself to it; and forget about it.
Reply to a “deeply depressed” friend’s question about his belief in a Creator of the universe. As quoted in Gale E. Christianson, Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae (1996), 183.
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The worst primary school scolding I ever received was for ridiculing a classmate who asked, ‘What’s an atom?’ To my third grader’s mind, the question betrayed a level of ignorance more befitting a preschooler, but the teacher disagreed and banned me from recess for a week. I had forgotten the incident until a few years ago, while sitting in on a quantum mechanics class taught by a Nobel Prizewinning physicist. Midway through a brutally abstract lecture on the hydrogen atom, a plucky sophomore raised his hand and asked the very same question. To the astonishment of all, our speaker fell silent. He stared out the window for what seemed like an eternity before answering, ‘I don’t know.’
'The Secret Life of Atoms'. Discover (Jun 2007), 28:6, 52.
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There are many things which we can afford to forget which it is yet well to learn.
Valedictory Address to the Graduating Class of the Bellevue Hospital College (2 Mar 1871), New York Medical Journal (1871), 422.
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There are three side effects of acid. Enhanced long term memory, decreased short term memory, and I forgot the third.
…...
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This is true of all science. Successes were largely due to forgetting completely about what one ultimately wanted, or whether one wanted anything ultimately; in refusing to investigate things which profit, and in relying solely on guidance by criteria of intellectual elegance. … And I think it extremely instructive to watch the role of science in everyday life, and to note how in this area the principle of laissez faire has led to strange and wonderful results.
Address (Jun 1954) to Princeton Graduate Alumni, 'The Role of Mathematics in the Science and in Society', in Collected Works: Vol. 6: Theory of Games, Astrophysics, Hydrodynamics and Meteorology (1961), Vol. 6, 489. As quoted in Armand Borel, 'On the Place of Mathematics in Culture', in Armand Borel: Œvres: Collected Papers (1983), Vol. 4, 422.
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Those who nod sagely and quote the tragedy of the commons in relation to environmental problems from pollution of the atmosphere to poaching of national parks tend to forget that Garrett Hardin revised his conclusions many times…. He recognized, most importantly, that anarchy did not prevail on the common pastures of medieval England in the way he had described…. “A managed commons, though it may have other defects, is not automatically subject to the tragic fate of the unmanaged commons,” wrote Hardin…. At sea, where a common exists in most waters… None of Hardin’s requirements for a successfully managed common is fulfilled by high-seas fishery regimes.
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and what We Eat (2004), 153-155.
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To suppose that so perfect a system as that of Euclid’s Elements was produced by one man, without any preceding model or materials, would be to suppose that Euclid was more than man. We ascribe to him as much as the weakness of human understanding will permit, if we suppose that the inventions in geometry, which had been made in a tract of preceding ages, were by him not only carried much further, but digested into so admirable a system, that his work obscured all that went before it, and made them be forgot and lost.
In Essay on the Powers of the Human Mind (1812), Vol. 2, 368.
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True Agnosticism will not forget that existence, motion, and law-abiding operation in nature are more stupendous miracles than any recounted by the mythologies, and that there may be things, not only in the heavens and earth, but beyond the intelligible universe, which “are not dreamt of in our philosophy.” The theological “gnosis” would have us believe that the world is a conjurer’s house; the anti-theological “gnosis” talks as if it were a “dirt-pie,” made by the two blind children, Law and Force. Agnosticism simply says that we know nothing of what may be behind phenomena.
In Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1913), Vol. 3, 98, footnote 3.
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We have seen that a proton of energy corresponding to 30,000 volts can effect the transformation of lithium into two fast α-particles, which together have an energy equivalent of more than 16 million volts. Considering the individual process, the output of energy in the transmutation is more than 500 times greater than the energy carried by the proton. There is thus a great gain of energy in the single transmutation, but we must not forget that on an average more than 1000 million protons of equal energy must be fired into the lithium before one happens to hit and enter the lithium nucleus. It is clear in this case that on the whole the energy derived from transmutation of the atom is small compared with the energy of the bombarding particles. There thus seems to be little prospect that we can hope to obtain a new source of power by these processes. It has sometimes been suggested, from analogy with ordinary explosives, that the transmutation of one atom might cause the transmutation of a neighbouring nucleus, so that the explosion would spread throughout all the material. If this were true, we should long ago have had a gigantic explosion in our laboratories with no one remaining to tell the tale. The absence of these accidents indicates, as we should expect, that the explosion is confined to the individual nucleus and does not spread to the neighbouring nuclei, which may be regarded as relatively far removed from the centre of the explosion.
The Transmutation of the Atom (1933), 23-4
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We often think that when we have completed our study of one we know all about two, because “two” is “one and one.” We forget that we still have to make a study of “and.”
…...
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When the fossil bones of animals belonging to civilisations before the Flood are turned up in bed after bed and layer upon layer of the quarries of Montmartre or among the schists of the Ural range, the soul receives with dismay a glimpse of millions of peoples forgotten by feeble human memory and unrecognised by permanent divine tradition, peoples whose ashes cover our globe with two feet of earth that yields bread to us and flowers.
From 'La Peau de Chagrin' (1831). As translated by Ellen Marriage in The Wild Ass’s Skin (1906), 21.
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[J.J.] Sylvester’s methods! He had none. “Three lectures will be delivered on a New Universal Algebra,” he would say; then, “The course must be extended to twelve.” It did last all the rest of that year. The following year the course was to be Substitutions-Théorie, by Netto. We all got the text. He lectured about three times, following the text closely and stopping sharp at the end of the hour. Then he began to think about matrices again. “I must give one lecture a week on those,” he said. He could not confine himself to the hour, nor to the one lecture a week. Two weeks were passed, and Netto was forgotten entirely and never mentioned again. Statements like the following were not unfrequent in his lectures: “I haven’t proved this, but I am as sure as I can be of anything that it must be so. From this it will follow, etc.” At the next lecture it turned out that what he was so sure of was false. Never mind, he kept on forever guessing and trying, and presently a wonderful discovery followed, then another and another. Afterward he would go back and work it all over again, and surprise us with all sorts of side lights. He then made another leap in the dark, more treasures were discovered, and so on forever.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265-266.
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~~[unverified]~~ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
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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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