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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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Free Quotes (59 quotes)

Il ne peut y avoir de langage plus universel et plus simple, plus exempt d’erreurs et d’obscurités, c'est-à-dire plus digne d'exprimer les rapports invariables des êtres naturels.
There cannot be a language more universal and more simple, more free from errors and obscurities, … more worthy to express the invariable relations of all natural things. [About mathematical analysis.]
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), xiv, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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La fermentation est … la vie sans air, c’est la vie sans oxygène libre
Fermentation is … life without air, it is life without free oxygen.
In 'Études sur la Bière', Section 6, 'Théorie Physiologique des Fermentation', Revue Scientifique (26 Aug 1876), 2nd Series, 11, No. 9, 214. This is described as “Pasteur’s famous aphorism, ‘Fermentation is life without oxygen’”, in Burton J. Hendrick, 'Some Modern Ideas on Food', McClure’s Magazine (Apr 1910), 34, No. 6, 667.
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Les hommes se tromperont toujours, quand ils abandonneront l'expérience pour des systèmes enfantés par l’imagination. L’homme est l’ouvrage de la nature, il existe dans la nature, il est soumis à ses lois, il ne peut s’en affranchir, il ne peut même par la pensée en sortir; c’est en vain que son esprit veut s’élancer au delà des bornes du monde visible, il est toujours forcé d’y rentrer.
Men always fool themselves when they give up experience for systems born of the imagination. Man is the work of nature, he exists in nature, he is subject to its laws, he can not break free, he can not leave even in thought; it is in vain that his spirit wants to soar beyond the bounds of the visible world, he is always forced to return.
Opening statement of first chapter of Système de la Nature (1770), Vol. 1, 1. Translation by Webmaster using Google Translate. In the English edition (1820-21), Samuel Wilkinson gives this as “Man has always deceived himself when he abandoned experience to follow imaginary systems.—He is the work of nature.—He exists in Nature.—He is submitted to the laws of Nature.—He cannot deliver himself from them:—cannot step beyond them even in thought. It is in vain his mind would spring forward beyond the visible world: direful and imperious necessity ever compels his return.”
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Mon royaume est de la dimension de l’univers, et mon désir n’a pas de bornes. Je vais toujours, affranchissant l’esprit et pesant les mondes, sans haine, sans peur, sans pitié, sans amour, et sans Dieu. On m’appelle la Science.
My kingdom is of the dimension of the universe and my desire has no bounds. I am going about always to free the spirit and weigh the worlds, without hatred, without fear, without pity and without God. They call me Science.
French passage from La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (1874) in Œvres Complètes de Gustave Flaubert (1885), 222. English translation by Ernest Tristan and G.F. Monkshood, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1910), 254.
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A fool who, after plain warning, persists in dosing himself with dangerous drugs should be free to do so, for his death is a benefit to the race in general.
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A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as some thing separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
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All the events which occur upon the earth result from Law: even those actions which are entirely dependent on the caprices of the memory, or the impulse of the passions, are shown by statistics to be, when taken in the gross, entirely independent of the human will. As a single atom, man is an enigma; as a whole, he is a mathematical problem. As an individual, he is a free agent; as a species, the offspring of necessity.
In The Martyrdom of Man (1876), 185-186.
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An example of such emergent phenomena is the origin of life from non-living chemical compounds in the oldest, lifeless oceans of the earth. Here, aided by the radiation energy received from the sun, countless chemical materials were synthesized and accumulated in such a way that they constituted, as it were, a primeval “soup.” In this primeval soup, by infinite variations of lifeless growth and decay of substances during some billions of years, the way of life was ultimately reached, with its metabolism characterized by selective assimilation and dissimilation as end stations of a sluiced and canalized flow of free chemical energy.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 458.
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As lightning clears the air of impalpable vapours, so an incisive paradox frees the human intelligence from the lethargic influence of latent and unsuspected assumptions. Paradox is the slayer of Prejudice.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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Biology … is the least self-centered, the least narcissistic of the sciences—the one that, by taking us out of ourselves, leads us to re-establish the link with nature and to shake ourselves free from our spiritual isolation.
In 'Victories and Hopes of Biology', Can Man Be Modified? (1959), 31
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Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.
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Collective unity is not the result of the brotherly love of the faithful for each other. The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole—the church, party, nation—and not to his fellow true believer. True loyalty between individuals is possible only in a loose and relatively free society.
In The True Believer (1951), 122
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Darwin grasped the philosophical bleakness with his characteristic courage. He argued that hope and morality cannot, and should not, be passively read in the construction of nature. Aesthetic and moral truths, as human concepts, must be shaped in human terms, not ‘discovered’ in nature. We must formulate these answers for ourselves and then approach nature as a partner who can answer other kinds of questions for us–questions about the factual state of the universe, not about the meaning of human life. If we grant nature the independence of her own domain–her answers unframed in human terms–then we can grasp her exquisite beauty in a free and humble way. For then we become liberated to approach nature without the burden of an inappropriate and impossible quest for moral messages to assuage our hopes and fears. We can pay our proper respect to nature’s independence and read her own ways as beauty or inspiration in our different terms.
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Discoveries that are anticipated are seldom the most valuable. … It’s the scientist free to pilot his vessel across hidden shoals into open seas who gives the best value.
From 'Why Our Scientific Discoveries Need to Surprise Us', in The Globe and Mail (1 Oct 2011).
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Dissection ... teaches us that the body of man is made up of certain kinds of material, so differing from each other in optical and other physical characters and so built up together as to give the body certain structural features. Chemical examination further teaches us that these kinds of material are composed of various chemical substances, a large number of which have this characteristic that they possess a considerable amount of potential energy capable of being set free, rendered actual, by oxidation or some other chemical change. Thus the body as a whole may, from a chemical point of view, be considered as a mass of various chemical substances, representing altogether a considerable capital of potential energy.
From Introduction to A Text Book of Physiology (1876, 1891), Book 1, 1.
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Encryption...is a powerful defensive weapon for free people. It offers a technical guarantee of privacy, regardless of who is running the government... It’s hard to think of a more powerful, less dangerous tool for liberty.
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Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
In The Temper of Our Time (1967), 103.
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Geometrical axioms are neither synthetic a priori conclusions nor experimental facts. They are conventions: our choice, amongst all possible conventions, is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. ... In other words, axioms of geometry are only definitions in disguise.
That being so what ought one to think of this question: Is the Euclidean Geometry true?
The question is nonsense. One might as well ask whether the metric system is true and the old measures false; whether Cartesian co-ordinates are true and polar co-ordinates false.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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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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I do not think we can impose limits on research. Through hundreds of thousands of years, man’s intellectual curiosity has been essential to all the gains we have made. Although in recent times we have progressed from chance and hit-or-miss methods to consciously directed research, we still cannot know in advance what the results may be. It would be regressive and dangerous to trammel the free search for new forms of truth.
In Margaret Mead and Rhoda Bubendey Métraux (ed.), Margaret Mead, Some Personal Views (1979), 89.
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I say it is impossible that so sensible a people [citizens of Paris], under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing.
[Describing the energy-saving benefit of adopting daylight saving time. (1784)]
'An Economical Project', The Life and Miscellaneous Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1839), 58. A translation of this letter appeared in one of the Paris daily papers about 1784. He estimated, during six months, a saving of over 64 million pound weight of candles, worth over 96 million livres tournois.
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I was sitting in a chair in the patent office at Bern when all of a sudden a thought occurred to me: “If a person falls freely he will not feel his own weight.” I was startled. This simple thought made a deep impression on me. It impelled me toward a theory of gravitation.
Lecture in Japan (1922). The quote is footnoted in Michael White, John Gribbin, Einstein: a Life in Science (1995), 128, saying the talk is known as the 'Kyoto address', reported in J. Ishiwara, Einstein Koen-Roku (1977).
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I would teach the world that science is the best way to understand the world, and that for any set of observations, there is only one correct explanation. Also, science is value-free, as it explains the world as it is. Ethical issues arise only when science is applied to technology – from medicine to industry.
Response to question “What is the one thing everyone should learn about science?” in 'Life Lessons' The Guardian (7 Apr 2005).
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If it were possible for us to have so deep an insight into a man's character as shown both in inner and in outer actions, that every, even the least, incentive to these actions and all external occasions which affect them were so known to us that his future conduct could be predicted with as great a certainty as the occurrence of a solar or lunar eclipse, we could nevertheless still assert that the man is free.
Critique of Practical Reason (1788). In L. W. Beck (ed. & trans.), Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy (1949), 204-5.
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If it were possible to have a life absolutely free from every feeling of sin, what a terrifying vacuum it would be!
In The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950 (1961), 175.
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If you defend a behavior by arguing that people are programmed directly for it, then how do you continue to defend it if your speculation is wrong, for the behavior then becomes unnatural and worthy of condemnation. Better to stick resolutely to a philosophical position on human liberty: what free adults do with each other in their own private lives is their business alone. It need not be vindicated–and must not be condemned–by genetic speculation.
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If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way you live forever.
Basin and Range
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Incandescent carbon particles, by the tens of millions, leap free of the log and wave like banners, as flame. Several hundred significantly different chemical reactions are now going on. For example, a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, coming out of the breaking cellulose, may lock together and form methane, natural gas. The methane, burning (combining with oxygen), turns into carbon dioxide and water, which also go up the flue. If two carbon atoms happen to come out of the wood with six hydrogen atoms, they are, agglomerately, ethane, which bums to become, also, carbon dioxide and water. Three carbons and eight hydrogens form propane, and propane is there, too, in the fire. Four carbons and ten hydrogens—butane. Five carbons … pentane. Six … hexane. Seven … heptane. Eight carbons and eighteen hydrogens—octane. All these compounds come away in the breaking of the cellulose molecule, and burn, and go up the chimney as carbon dioxide and water. Pentane, hexane, heptane, and octane have a collective name. Logs burning in a fireplace are making and burning gasoline.
Pieces of the Frame
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Know thyself! This is the source of all wisdom, said the great thinkers of the past, and the sentence was written in golden letters on the temple of the gods. To know himself, Linnæus declared to be the essential indisputable distinction of man above all other creatures. I know, indeed, in study nothing more worthy of free and thoughtful man than the study of himself. For if we look for the purpose of our existence, we cannot possibly find it outside ourselves. We are here for our own sake.
As translated and quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 9, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 244.
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Knowing how contented, free and joyful is life in the realms of science, one fervently wishes that many would enter their portals.
In The Principles of Chemistry (1891), Vol. 1, preface, footnote, ix, as translated from the Russian 5th edition by George Kamensky, edited by A. J. Greenaway.
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Measured objectively, what a man can wrest from Truth by passionate striving is utterly infinitesimal. But the striving frees us from the bonds of the self and makes us comrades of those who are the best and the greatest.
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Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth more than ruin more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
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My kingdom is as wide as the world, and my desire has no limit. I go forward always, freeing spirits and weighing worlds, without fear, without compassion, without love, and without God. Men call me science.
From La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (The Temptation of Saint Anthony) (1874), as translated, without citation, in Isaac Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s Book Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 247.
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My kingdom is vast as the universe; and my desire knows no limits. I go on forever,—freeing minds, weighing worlds,—without hatred, without fear, without pity, without love, and without God. Men call me Science!
From La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (1874), as translated by Lafcadio Hearn, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1911), 218-219.
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No human being, however great or powerful, was ever so free as a fish.
In Mrs. L. C. Tuthill (ed.), Precious Thoughts: Moral and Religious. Gathered from the Works of John Ruskin (1867), 72.
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No more harmful nonsense exists than the common supposition that deepest insight into great questions about the meaning of life or the structure of reality emerges most readily when a free, undisciplined, and uncluttered (read, rather, ignorant and uneducated) mind soars above mere earthly knowledge and concern.
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Now it came to me: … the independence of the gravitational acceleration from the nature of the falling substance, may be expressed as follows: In a gravitational field (of small spatial extension) things behave as they do in a space free of gravitation. … This happened in 1908. Why were another seven years required for the construction of the general theory of relativity? The main reason lies in the fact that it is not so easy to free oneself from the idea that coordinates must have an immediate metrical meaning.
In Paul Arthur Schilpp, 'Autobiographical Notes', Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949), 65-67.
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Rational thinking which is free from assumptions ends therefore in mysticism.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 41
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Reliable scientific knowledge is value free and has no moral or ethical value. Science tells us how the world is. … Dangers and ethical issue arise only when science is applied as technology.
Nobel Symposium, at Stockholm, Sweden on 'Virtual Museums and Public Understanding of Science and Culture' (26-29 May 2002), Lecture 'Is Science Dangerous'. Published in 'Is Cell Science Dangerous?', Journal of Medical Ethics (Jun 2007), 33, No. 6, 345.
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Rulers and generals muster their troops. Magnates muster the sums of money which give them power. The fascist dictators muster the irrational human reactions which make it possible for them to attain and maintain their power over the masses. The scientists muster knowledge and means of research. But, thus far, no organization fighting for freedom has ever mustered the biological arsenal where the weapons are to be found for the establishment and the maintenance of human freedom. All precision of our social existence notwithstanding, there is as yet no definition of the word freedom which would be in keeping with natural science. No word is more misused and misunderstood. To define freedom is the same as to define sexual health. But nobody will openly admit this. The advocacy of personal and social freedom is connected with anxiety and guilt feelings. As if to be free were a sin or at least not quite as it should be. Sex-economy makes this guilt feeling comprehensible: freedom without sexual self-determination is in itself a contradiction. But to be sexual means—according to the prevailing human structure—to be sinful or guilty. There are very few people who experience sexual love without guilt feeling. “Free love” has acquired a degrading meaning: it lost the meaning given it by the old fighters for freedom. In films and in books, to be genital and to be criminal are presented as the same thing.
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Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin for-ests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste.
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The air, the water and the ground are free gifts to man and no one has the power to portion them out in parcels. Man must drink and breathe and walk and therefore each man has a right to his share of each.
The Prairie (1827).
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The fact is that up to now the free society has not been good for the intellectual. It has neither accorded him a superior status to sustain his confidence nor made it easy for him to acquire an unquestioned sense of social usefulness. For he derives his sense of usefulness mainly from directing, instructing, and planning-from minding other people’s business-and is bound to feel superfluous and neglected where people believe themselves competent to manage individual and communal affairs, and are impatient of supervision and regulation. A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman’s sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
In 'Concerning Individual Freedom', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 141.
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The major gift of science to the world is a mighty increase of power. Did science then create that power? Not a bit of it! Science discovered that power in the universe and set it free. Science found out the conditions, fulfilling which, the endless dynamic forces of the cosmos are liberated. Electricity is none of man’s making, but man has learned how to fulfill the conditions that release it. Atomic energy is a force that man did not create, but that some day man may liberate. Man by himself is still a puny animal; a gorilla is much the stronger. Man's significance lies in another realm—he knows how to fulfill conditions so that universal power not his own is set free. The whole universe as man now sees it is essentially a vast system of power waiting to be released.
In 'When Prayer Means Power', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 78-79.
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The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
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The pure mathematician, like the musician, is a free creator of his world of ordered beauty.
In A History of Western Philosophy (1945), 33.
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The university is the archive of the Western mind, it's the keeper of the Western culture, ... the guardian of our heritage, the teacher of our teachers, ... the dwelling place of the free mind.
In speech at the fourth bicentennial Conference of Columbia University, quoted in 'Text of Adlai Stevenson's Address at Columbia...', in New York Times (6 Jun 1954), 52.
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There are those who say that the human kidney was created to keep the blood pure, or more precisely, to keep our internal environment in an ideal balanced state. This I must deny. I grant that the human kidney is a marvelous organ, but I cannot grant that it was purposefully designed to excrete urine or to regulate the composition of the blood or to subserve the physiological welfare of Homo sapiens in any sense. Rather I contend that the human kidney manufactures the kind of urine that it does, and it maintains the blood in the composition which that fluid has, because this kidney has a certain functional architecture; and it owes that architecture not to design or foresight or to any plan, but to the fact that the earth is an unstable sphere with a fragile crust, to the geologic revolutions that for six hundred million years have raised and lowered continents and seas, to the predacious enemies, and heat and cold, and storms and droughts; to the unending succession of vicissitudes that have driven the mutant vertebrates from sea into fresh water, into desiccated swamps, out upon the dry land, from one habitation to another, perpetually in search of the free and independent life, perpetually failing, for one reason or another, to find it.
From Fish to Philosopher (1953), 210-1.
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There is as much difference between a collection of mentally free citizens and a community molded by modern methods of propaganda as there is between a heap of raw materials and a battleship.
From An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1937, 1943), 9. Collected in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 61.
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There still remain three studies suitable for free man. Arithmetic is one of them.
Plato
As quoted in James R. Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 1, 212.
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They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society. The frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints. Actually, their innermost desire is for an end to the “free for all.” They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 32.
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This is the reason why all attempts to obtain a deeper knowledge of the foundations of physics seem doomed to me unless the basic concepts are in accordance with general relativity from the beginning. This situation makes it difficult to use our empirical knowledge, however comprehensive, in looking for the fundamental concepts and relations of physics, and it forces us to apply free speculation to a much greater extent than is presently assumed by most physicists.
…...
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Thus will the fondest dream of Phallic science be realized: a pristine new planet populated entirely by little boy clones of great scientific entrepreneurs free to smash atoms, accelerate particles, or, if they are so moved, build pyramids—without any social relevance or human responsibility at all.
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Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 30.
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We have never had another man like him [Charles Kettering] in America. He is the most willing man to do things I have ever seen. Benjamin Franklin was a little like him. Both had horse sense and love of fun. If a fellow goes to school long enough he gets frozen in his thinking. He is not free any more. But Ket has always been free.
In book review, T.A. Boyd, 'Charles F. Kettering: Prophet of Progress', Science (30 Jan 1959), 256.
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We started out by giving away [our maps and guides], and it was the wrong principle. The day I found a Michelin guide book used to prop up a wobbly table, we put a price on them.
As quoted by H.M. Davidson, in System: The Magazine of Business (Apr 1922), 41, 446.
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When the solution is simple, God is answering. Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free beings admiring, asking and observing, there we enter the realm of Art and Science.
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Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free beings admiring, asking and observing, there we enter the realm of Art and Science. If what is seen is seen and experienced is portrayed in the language of logic, we are engaged in science. If it is communicated through forms whose connections are not accessible to the conscious mind but are recognized intuitively as meaningful, then we are engaged in art.
'What Artistic and Scientific Experience Have in Common', Menschen (27 Jan 1921). In Albert Einstein, Helen Dukas, Banesh Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, The Human Side (1981), 37-38. The article was published in a German magazine on modern art, upon a request from the editor, Walter Hasenclever, for a few paragraphs on the idea that there was a close connection between the artistic developments and the scientific results belonging to a given epoch. (The magazine name, and editor's name are given by Ze'ev Rosenkranz, The Einstein Scrapbook (2002), 27.
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With the introduction of agriculture mankind entered upon a long period of meanness, misery, and madness, from which they are only now being freed by the beneficent operation of the machine.
In The Conquest of Happiness (1930), 152.
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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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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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