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

Former Quotes (25 quotes)

Wer kann was Dummes, wer was Kluges denken, Das nicht die Vorwelt schon gedacht?
What is there, wise or foolish, one can think, That former ages have not thought before?
Words of Mephistopheles written in Faust, Pt. 2, Act 2. As quoted and translated by the editor in in William Francis Henry King (ed.), Classical and Foreign Quotations: A Polyglot Manual of Historical (1904), 234.
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A great department of thought must have its own inner life, however transcendent may be the importance of its relations to the outside. No department of science, least of all one requiring so high a degree of mental concentration as Mathematics, can be developed entirely, or even mainly, with a view to applications outside its own range. The increased complexity and specialisation of all branches of knowledge makes it true in the present, however it may have been in former times, that important advances in such a department as Mathematics can be expected only from men who are interested in the subject for its own sake, and who, whilst keeping an open mind for suggestions from outside, allow their thought to range freely in those lines of advance which are indicated by the present state of their subject, untrammelled by any preoccupation as to applications to other departments of science. Even with a view to applications, if Mathematics is to be adequately equipped for the purpose of coping with the intricate problems which will be presented to it in the future by Physics, Chemistry and other branches of physical science, many of these problems probably of a character which we cannot at present forecast, it is essential that Mathematics should be allowed to develop freely on its own lines.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 286.
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Alas, your dear friend and servant is totally blind. Henceforth this heaven, this universe, which by wonderful observations I had enlarged by a hundred and a thousand times beyond the conception of former ages, is shrunk for me into the narrow space which I myself fill in it. So it pleases God; it shall therefore please me also.
In Letter, as quoted in Sir Oliver Lodge, Pioneers of Science (1905), 133.
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And yet I think that the Full House model does teach us to treasure variety for its own sake–for tough reasons of evolutionary theory and nature’s ontology, and not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative– and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, of ten unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellence–where McDonald’s drives out the local diner, and the mega-Stop & Shop eliminates the corner Mom and Pop–an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to stem the tide and preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation itself.
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Because a fact seems strange to you, you conclude that it is not one. ... All science, however, commences by being strange. Science is successive. It goes from one wonder to another. It mounts by a ladder. The science of to-day would seem extravagant to the science of a former time. Ptolemy would believe Newton mad.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 322.
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Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a Gift from God.
In Pensées (1670), Section 10, 11. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 248, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 92. From the original French, “La foi est différente de la preuve: l’une est humaine, l’autre est un don de Dieu,” in Ernest Havet (ed.), Pensées de Pascal (1892), 276.
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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Former arbiters of taste must have felt (as so many apostles of ‘traditional values’ and other highminded tags for restriction and conformity do today) that maintaining the social order required a concept of unalloyed heroism. Human beings so designated as role models had to embody all virtues of the paragon–which meant, of course, that they could not be described in their truly human and ineluctably faulted form.
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If a hundred or a thousand people, all of the same age, of the same constitution and habits, were suddenly seized by the same illness, and one half of them were to place themselves under the care of doctors, such as they are in our time, whilst the other half entrusted themselves to Nature and to their own discretion, I have not the slightest doubt that there would be more cases of death amongst the former, and more cases of recovery among the latter.
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If I were a comet, I should consider the men of our present age a degenerate breed. In former times, the respect for comets was universal and profound.
In 'On Comets', collected in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935), 223.
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Induction, then, is that operation of the mind by which we infer that what we know to be true in a particular case or cases, will be true in all cases which resemble the former in certain assignable respects. In other words, induction is the process by which we conclude that what is true of certain individuals of a class is true of the whole class, or that what is true at certain times will be true in similar circumstances at all times.
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 352.
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Infinities and indivisibles transcend our finite understanding, the former on account of their magnitude, the latter because of their smallness; Imagine what they are when combined.
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It has been said that science is opposed to, and in conflict with revelation. But the history of the former shown that the greater its progress, and the more accurate its investigations and results, the more plainly it is seen not only not to clash with the Latter, but in all things to confirm it. The very sciences from which objections have been brought against religion have, by their own progress, removed those objections, and in the end furnished fall confirmation of the inspired Word of God.
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It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it.
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Let us now declare the means whereby our understanding can rise to knowledge without fear of error. There are two such means: intuition and deduction. By intuition I mean not the varying testimony of the senses, nor the deductive judgment of imagination naturally extravagant, but the conception of an attentive mind so distinct and so clear that no doubt remains to it with regard to that which it comprehends; or, what amounts to the same thing, the self-evidencing conception of a sound and attentive mind, a conception which springs from the light of reason alone, and is more certain, because more simple, than deduction itself. …
It may perhaps be asked why to intuition we add this other mode of knowing, by deduction, that is to say, the process which, from something of which we have certain knowledge, draws consequences which necessarily follow therefrom. But we are obliged to admit this second step; for there are a great many things which, without being evident of themselves, nevertheless bear the marks of certainty if only they are deduced from true and incontestable principles by a continuous and uninterrupted movement of thought, with distinct intuition of each thing; just as we know that the last link of a long chain holds to the first, although we can not take in with one glance of the eye the intermediate links, provided that, after having run over them in succession, we can recall them all, each as being joined to its fellows, from the first up to the last. Thus we distinguish intuition from deduction, inasmuch as in the latter case there is conceived a certain progress or succession, while it is not so in the former; … whence it follows that primary propositions, derived immediately from principles, may be said to be known, according to the way we view them, now by intuition, now by deduction; although the principles themselves can be known only by intuition, the remote consequences only by deduction.
In Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Philosophy of Descartes. [Torrey] (1892), 64-65.
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No science doth make known the first principles whereon it buildeth; but they are always taken as plain and manifest in themselves, or as proved and granted already, some former knowledge having made them evident.
In The of Mr. Richard Hooker in Eight Books Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1723), Book 3, 69.
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Spontaneous generation, to put the matter simply, takes place in smaller plants, especially in those that are annuals and herbaceous. But still it occasionally occurs too in larger plants whenever there is rainy weather or some peculiar condition of air or soil; for thus it is said that the silphium sprang up in Libya when a murky and heavy sort of wet weather condition occurred, and that the timber growth which is now there has come from some similar reason or other; for it was not there in former times.
De Causis Plantarum 1.5.1, in Robert Ewing Dengler (trans.) Theophrastus: De Causis Plantarum Book One: Text, Critical Apparatus, Translation, and Commentary, (1927), 31.
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Taking … the mathematical faculty, probably fewer than one in a hundred really possess it, the great bulk of the population having no natural ability for the study, or feeling the slightest interest in it*. And if we attempt to measure the amount of variation in the faculty itself between a first-class mathematician and the ordinary run of people who find any kind of calculation confusing and altogether devoid of interest, it is probable that the former could not be estimated at less than a hundred times the latter, and perhaps a thousand times would more nearly measure the difference between them.
[* This is the estimate furnished me by two mathematical masters in one of our great public schools of the proportion of boys who have any special taste or capacity for mathematical studies. Many more, of course, can be drilled into a fair knowledge of elementary mathematics, but only this small proportion possess the natural faculty which renders it possible for them ever to rank high as mathematicians, to take any pleasure in it, or to do any original mathematical work.]
In Darwinism, chap. 15.
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The critical mathematician has abandoned the search for truth. He no longer flatters himself that his propositions are or can be known to him or to any other human being to be true; and he contents himself with aiming at the correct, or the consistent. The distinction is not annulled nor even blurred by the reflection that consistency contains immanently a kind of truth. He is not absolutely certain, but he believes profoundly that it is possible to find various sets of a few propositions each such that the propositions of each set are compatible, that the propositions of each such set imply other propositions, and that the latter can be deduced from the former with certainty. That is to say, he believes that there are systems of coherent or consistent propositions, and he regards it his business to discover such systems. Any such system is a branch of mathematics.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 94. Also in Science (1912), New Series, 35, 107.
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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 works of Lavoisier and his associates operated upon many of us at that time like the Sun's rising after a night of moonshine: but Chemistry is now betrothed to the Mathematics, and is in consequence grown somewhat shy of her former admirers.
In Luke Howard, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and D.F.S. Scott (ed.), Luke Howard (1772-1864): His Correspondence with Goethe and his Continental Journey of 1816(1976), 2.
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There are no better terms available to describe the difference between the approach of the natural and the social sciences than to call the former ‘objective’ and the latter ‘subjective.’ ... While for the natural scientist the contrast between objective facts and subjective opinions is a simple one, the distinction cannot as readily be applied to the object of the social sciences. The reason for this is that the object, the ‘facts’ of the social sciences are also opinions—not opinions of the student of the social phenomena, of course, but opinions of those whose actions produce the object of the social scientist.
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Two extreme views have always been held as to the use of mathematics. To some, mathematics is only measuring and calculating instruments, and their interest ceases as soon as discussions arise which cannot benefit those who use the instruments for the purposes of application in mechanics, astronomy, physics, statistics, and other sciences. At the other extreme we have those who are animated exclusively by the love of pure science. To them pure mathematics, with the theory of numbers at the head, is the only real and genuine science, and the applications have only an interest in so far as they contain or suggest problems in pure mathematics.
Of the two greatest mathematicians of modern tunes, Newton and Gauss, the former can be considered as a representative of the first, the latter of the second class; neither of them was exclusively so, and Newton’s inventions in the science of pure mathematics were probably equal to Gauss’s work in applied mathematics. Newton’s reluctance to publish the method of fluxions invented and used by him may perhaps be attributed to the fact that he was not satisfied with the logical foundations of the Calculus; and Gauss is known to have abandoned his electro-dynamic speculations, as he could not find a satisfying physical basis. …
Newton’s greatest work, the Principia, laid the foundation of mathematical physics; Gauss’s greatest work, the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, that of higher arithmetic as distinguished from algebra. Both works, written in the synthetic style of the ancients, are difficult, if not deterrent, in their form, neither of them leading the reader by easy steps to the results. It took twenty or more years before either of these works received due recognition; neither found favour at once before that great tribunal of mathematical thought, the Paris Academy of Sciences. …
The country of Newton is still pre-eminent for its culture of mathematical physics, that of Gauss for the most abstract work in mathematics.
In History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1903), 630.
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What terrible questions we are learning to ask! The former men believed in magic, by which temples, cities, and men were swallowed up, and all trace of them gone. We are coming on the secret of a magic which sweeps out of men's minds all vestige of theism and beliefs which they and their fathers held and were framed upon.
In 'Illusions', The Atlantic Monthly (Nov 1858), 1, 60.
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Words change their meanings, just as organism s evolve. We would impose an enormous burden on our economy if we insisted on payment in cattle every time we identified a bonus as a pecuniary advantage (from the Latin pecus, or cattle, a verbal fossil from a former commercial reality).
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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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- 90 -
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- 40 -
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