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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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History Of Science Quotes (53 quotes)

Die Geschichte der Wissenschaften ist eine grosse Fuge, in der die Stimmen der Völker nach und nach zum Vorschein kommen
The history of the sciences is a great fugue, in which the voices of the nations come one by one into notice.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 64:23.

Discovery always carries an honorific connotation. It is the stamp of approval on a finding of lasting value. Many laws and theories have come and gone in the history of science, but they are not spoken of as discoveries. Kepler is said to have discovered the laws of planetary motion named after him, but no the many other 'laws' which he formulated. ... Theories are especially precarious, as this century profoundly testifies. World views can and do often change. Despite these difficulties, it is still true that to count as a discovery a finding must be of at least relatively permanent value, as shown by its inclusion in the generally accepted body of scientific knowledge.
Discovery in the Physical Sciences (1969). In Rodney P. Carlisle, Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries (2004), 179.
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La determination de la relation & de la dépendance mutuelle de ces données dans certains cas particuliers, doit être le premier but du Physicien; & pour cet effet, il falloit one mesure exacte qui indiquât d’une manière invariable & égale dans tous les lieux de la terre, le degré de l'électricité au moyen duquel les expéiences ont été faites… Aussi, l'histoire de l'électricité prouve une vérité suffisamment reconnue; c'est que le Physicien sans mesure ne fait que jouer, & qu'il ne diffère en cela des enfans, que par la nature de son jeu & la construction de ses jouets.
The determination of the relationship and mutual dependence of the facts in particular cases must be the first goal of the Physicist; and for this purpose he requires that an exact measurement may be taken in an equally invariable manner anywhere in the world… Also, the history of electricity yields a well-known truth—that the physicist shirking measurement only plays, different from children only in the nature of his game and the construction of his toys.
'Mémoire sur la mesure de force de l'électricité', Journal de Physique (1782), 21, 191. English version by Google Translate tweaked by Webmaster.
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A number of years ago, when I was a freshly-appointed instructor, I met, for the first time, a certain eminent historian of science. At the time I could only regard him with tolerant condescension.
I was sorry of the man who, it seemed to me, was forced to hover about the edges of science. He was compelled to shiver endlessly in the outskirts, getting only feeble warmth from the distant sun of science- in-progress; while I, just beginning my research, was bathed in the heady liquid heat up at the very center of the glow.
In a lifetime of being wrong at many a point, I was never more wrong. It was I, not he, who was wandering in the periphery. It was he, not I, who lived in the blaze.
I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the “growing edge;” the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.
But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.
There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. “If I have seen further than other men,” said Isaac Newton, “it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
Adding A Dimension: Seventeen Essays on the History of Science (1964), Introduction.
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All of us are interested in our roots. Generally this interest is latent in youth, and grows with age. Until I reached fifty I thought that history of science was a refuge for old scientists whose creative juices had dried up. Now of course I know that I was wrong! As we grow older, we become more interested in the past, in family history, local history, etc. Astronomy is, or was when I started in it, almost a family.
In Organizations and Strategies in Astronomy (2002), Vol. 3, 206.
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All revolutionary advances in science may consist less of sudden and dramatic revelations than a series of transformations, of which the revolutionary significance may not be seen (except afterwards, by historians) until the last great step. In many cases the full potentiality and force of a most radical step in such a sequence of transformations may not even be manifest to its author.
The Newtonian Revolution (1980), 162.
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Although few expressions are more commonly used in writing about science than “science revolution,” there is a continuing debate as to the propriety of applying the concept and term “revolution” to scientific change. There is, furthermore, a wide difference of opinion as to what may constitute a revolution. And although almost all historians would agree that a genuine alteration of an exceptionally radical nature (the Scientific Revolution) occurred in the sciences at some time between the late fifteenth (or early sixteenth) century and the end of the seventeenth century, the question of exactly when this revolution occurred arouses as much scholarly disagreement as the cognate question of precisely what it was.
The Newtonian Revolution (1980), 3.
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Any one who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the “anticipation of Nature,” that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with; and, not unfrequently, in spite of a long career of usefulness, turned out to be wholly erroneous in the long run.
In 'The Progress of Science 1837-1887' (1887), Collected Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 62.
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But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position—namely, at the close of the Introduction—the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.
In The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection with additions and corrections from sixth and last English edition (1899), Vol. 2, 293.
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Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.
…...
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Extremely hazardous is the desire to explain everything, and to supply whatever appears a gap in history—for in this propensity lies the first cause and germ of all those violent and arbitrary hypotheses which perplex and pervert the science of history far more than the open avowal of our ignorance, or the uncertainty of our knowledge: hypotheses which give an oblique direction, or an exaggerated and false extension, to a view of the subject originally not incorrect.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 12.
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Great is the power of steady misrepresentation - but the history of science shows how, fortunately, this power does not endure long.
Origin of Species (1878), 421.
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History of science is a relay race, my painter friend. Copernicus took over his flag from Aristarchus, from Cicero, from Plutarch; and Galileo took that flag over from Copernicus.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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History without the history of science, to alter slightly an apothegm of Lord Bacon, resembles a statue of Polyphemus without his eye—that very feature being left out which most marks the spirit and life of the person. My own thesis is complementary: science taught ... without a sense of history is robbed of those very qualities that make it worth teaching to the student of the humanities and the social sciences.
'The History of Science and the Teaching of Science', in I. Bernard Cohen and Fletcher G. Watson (eds.), General Education in Science (1952), 71.
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I came to realize that exaggerated concern about what others are doing can be foolish. It can paralyze effort, and stifle a good idea. One finds that in the history of science almost every problem has been worked out by someone else. This should not discourage anyone from pursuing his own path.
From Theodore von Karman and Lee Edson (ed.), The Wind and Beyond: Theodore von Karman, Pioneer in Aviation and Pathfinder in Science (1967).
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I have never done anything “useful.” No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world... Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of complete triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating. And that I have created something is undeniable: the question is about its value. [The things I have added to knowledge do not differ from] the creations of the other artists, great or small, who have left some kind of memorial beind them.
Concluding remarks in A Mathmatician's Apology (1940, 2012), 150-151.
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I wasn’t aware of Chargaff’s rules when he said them, but the effect on me was quite electric because I realized immediately that if you had this sort of scheme that John Griffith was proposing, of adenine being paired with thymine, and guanine being paired with cytosine, then you should get Chargaff’s rules.
I was very excited, but I didn’t actually tell Chargaff because it was something I was doing with John Griffith. There was a sort of musical comedy effect where I forgot what the bases were and I had to go to the library to check, and I went back to John Griffith to find out which places he said. Low and behold, it turned out that John Griffith’s ideas fitted in with Chargaff’s rules!
This was very exciting, and we thought “ah ha!” and we realized—I mean what anyone who is familiar with the history of science ought to realize—that when you have one-to-one ratios, it means things go to together. And how on Earth no one pointed out this simple fact in those years, I don’t know.
From Transcript of documentary by VSM Productions, The DNA Story (1973). As excerpted on web page 'Chargaff’s Rules', Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA on website scarc.library.oregonstate.edu
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If all history is only an amplification of biography, the history of science may be most instructively read in the life and work of the men by whom the realms of Nature have been successively won.
The Founders of Geology (1905), 4.

In no subject is there a rule, compliance with which will lead to new knowledge or better understanding. Skilful observations, ingenious ideas, cunning tricks, daring suggestions, laborious calculations, all these may be required to advance a subject. Occasionally the conventional approach in a subject has to be studiously followed; on other occasions it has to be ruthlessly disregarded. Which of these methods, or in what order they should be employed is generally unpredictable. Analogies drawn from the history of science are frequently claimed to be a guide; but, as with forecasting the next game of roulette, the existence of the best analogy to the present is no guide whatever to the future. The most valuable lesson to be learnt from the history of scientific progress is how misleading and strangling such analogies have been, and how success has come to those who ignored them.
'Cosmology', in Arthur Beer (ed.), Vistas in Astronomy (1956), Vol. 2, 1722.
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In the field of thinking, the whole history of science from geocentrism to the Copernican revolution, from the false absolutes of Aristotle’s physics to the relativity of Galileo’s principle of inertia and to Einstein’s theory of relativity, shows that it has taken centuries to liberate us from the systematic errors, from the illusions caused by the immediate point of view as opposed to “decentered” systematic thinking.
As quoted in D. E. Berlyne, Structure and Direction in Thinking (1965), 232.
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In the history of science and throughout the whole course of its progress we see certain epochs following one another more or less rapidly. Some important view is expressed, it may be original or only revived; sooner or later it receives recognition; fellow-Workers spring up; the outcome of it finds its way into the schools; it is taught and handed down; and we observe, unhappily, that it does not in the least matter whether the view be true or false. In either case its course is the same; in either case it comes in the end to he a mere phrase, a lifeless word stamped on the memory.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 184.
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In the history of scientific development the personal aspects of the process are usually omitted or played down to emphasize that the thing discovered is independent of the discoverer and that the result can be checked. But, as Einstein has pointed out, scientific concepts are 'created in the minds of men,' and in some way the nonprofessional aspects of life and mind are inevitably related to the professional.
American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics Newsletter (Fall 2004).
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Indeed, nothing more beautifully simplifying has ever happened in the history of science than the whole series of discoveries culminating about 1914 which finally brought practically universal acceptance to the theory that the material world contains but two fundamental entities, namely, positive and negative electrons, exactly alike in charge, but differing widely in mass, the positive electron—now usually called a proton—being 1850 times heavier than the negative, now usually called simply the electron.
Time, Matter and Values (1932), 46. Cited in Karl Raimund Popper and William Warren Bartley (ed.), Quantum Theory and theSchism in Physics (1992), 37.
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It is a remarkable fact that the second law of thermodynamics has played in the history of science a fundamental role far beyond its original scope. Suffice it to mention Boltzmann’s work on kinetic theory, Planck’s discovery of quantum theory or Einstein’s theory of spontaneous emission, which were all based on the second law of thermodynamics.
From Nobel lecture, 'Time, Structure and Fluctuations', in Tore Frängsmyr and Sture Forsén (eds.), Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1971-1980, (1993), 263.
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More than ever before in the history of science and invention, it is safe now to say what is possible and what is impossible. No one would claim for a moment that during the next five hundred years the accumulated stock of knowledge of geography will increase as it has during the last five hundred In the same way it may safely be affirmed that in electricity the past hundred years is not likely to be duplicated in the next, at least as to great, original, and far-reaching discoveries, or novel and almost revolutionary applications.
In A Century of Electricity (1890), 223.
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One hardly knows where, in the history of science, to look for an important movement that had its effective start in so pure and simple an accident as that which led to the building of the great Washington telescope, and went on to the discovery of the satellites of Mars.
In The Reminiscences of an Astronomer (1903), Vol. 3, 128.
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One of the things that makes the history of science so endlessly fascinating is to follow the slow education of our species in the sort of beauty to expect in nature.
In Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature (1992), 158.
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Philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science is blind.
repr. Scientific Revolutions, pp. 107-127, ed. I. Hacking. 'History of Science and its Rational Reconstructions,' (1970).Evocative, of course, of Kant: 'Concepts without percepts are empty, percepts without concepts are blind.' (Critique of Pure Reason, A
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Scientific truth, like puristic truth, must come about by controversy. Personally this view is abhorrent to me. It seems to mean that scientific truth must transcend the individual, that the best hope of science lies in its greatest minds being often brilliantly and determinedly wrong, but in opposition, with some third, eclectically minded, middle-of-the-road nonentity seizing the prize while the great fight for it, running off with it, and sticking it into a textbook for sophomores written from no point of view and in defense of nothing whatsoever. I hate this view, for it is not dramatic and it is not fair; and yet I believe that it is the verdict of the history of science.
From Address of the President before the American Psychological Association at New York (28 Dec 1928) 'The Psychology of Controversy', Psychological Review (1929), 36, 97. Collected in Robert I. Watson and Donald T. Campbell (eds.), History, Psychology and Science: Selected Papers by Edwin Boring (1963), 68.
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Srinivasa Ramanujan was the strangest man in all of mathematics, probably in the entire history of science. He has been compared to a bursting supernova, illuminating the darkest, most profound corners of mathematics, before being tragically struck down by tuberculosis at the age of 33... Working in total isolation from the main currents of his field, he was able to rederive 100 years’ worth of Western mathematics on his own. The tragedy of his life is that much of his work was wasted rediscovering known mathematics.
In Hyperspace:A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1994), 172.
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The chief requisite for the making of a good chicken pie is chicken; nay, no amount of culinary legerdemain can make up for the lack of chicken. In the same way, the chief requisite for the history of science is intimate scientific knowledge; no amount of philosophic legerdemain can make up for its absence.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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The first fundamental rule of historical science and research, when by these is sought a knowledge of the general destinies of mankind, is to keep these and every object connected with them steadily in view, without losing ourselves in the details of special inquiries and particular facts, for the multitude and variety of these subjects is absolutely boundless; and on the ocean of historical science the main subject easily vanishes from the eye.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 8.
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The historian of science may be tempted to claim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them. Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places. even more important, during revolutions, scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before. It is rather as if the professional community had been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and are joined by unfamiliar ones as well.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 2nd ed. 1970). Excerpt 'Revolutions as Changes of World View', in Joseph Margolis and Jacques Catudal, The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux (2001), 35-36.
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The history of mathematics, as of any science, is to some extent the story of the continual replacement of one set of misconceptions by another. This is of course no cause for despair, for the newly instated assumptions very often possess the merit of being closer approximations to truth than those that they replace.
In 'Consistency and Completeness—A Résumé', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1956), 63, No.5, 295.
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The history of science alone can keep the physicist from the mad ambitions of dogmatism as well as the despair of pyrrhonian scepticism.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 270.

The history of science is a record of the transformations of contempts amd amusements.
Wild Talents (1932, 2004), 98.
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The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.
In History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1875), vi.
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The history of science is the history of mankind’s unity, of its sublime purpose, of its gradual redemption.
In Introduction to the History of Science (1927), Vol. 1, 32.
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The history of science is the saga of nature defying common sense.
Quotations: Superultramodern Science and Philosophy (2005).
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The history of science shows so many examples of the 'irrational' notions and theories of to-day becoming the 'rational' notions and theories of to-morrow, that it seems largely a matter of being accustomed to them whether they are considered rational or not, natural or not.
Natural Law and Divine Miracle: The Principle of Uniformity in Geology, Biology and Theology (1963),167.
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The history of science teaches only too plainly the lesson that no single method is absolutely to be relied upon, that sources of error lurk where they are least expected, and that they may escape the notice of the most experienced and conscientious worker.
Transactions of the Sections', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1883), 438.
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The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities—perhaps the only one—in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there. In most other fields of human endeavour there is change, but rarely progress ... And in most fields we do not even know how to evaluate change.
From Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963), 216. Reproduced in Karl Popper, Truth, Rationality and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1979), 9.
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The purpose of the history of science is to establish the genesis and the development of scientific facts and ideas, taking into account all intellectual exchanges and all influences brought into play by the very progress of civilization. It is indeed a history of civilization considered from its highest point of view. The center of interest is the evolution of science, but general history remains always in the background.
In The Monist (1916), 26, 333; as cited in 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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There is no reason why the history and philosophy of science should not be taught in such a way as to bring home to all pupils the grandeur of science and the scope of its discoveries.
New Perspectives in Physics (1962), 195.
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To come very near to a true theory, and to grasp its precise application, are two different things, as the history of science teaches us. Everything of importance has been said before by someone who did not discover it.
In The Organisation of Thought (1917), 127. Collected in The Interpretation of Science: Selected Essays (1961), 33.
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To know the history of science is to recognize the mortality of any claim to universal truth.
Reflections on Gender and Science, 1995
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To seek in the great accumulation of the already-said the text that resembles "in advance" a later text, to ransack history in order to rediscover the play of anticipations or echoes, to go right back to the first seeds or to go forward to the last traces, to reveal in a work its fidelity to tradition or its irreducible uniqueness, to raise or lower its stock of originality, to say that the Port -Royal grammarians invented nothing, or to discover that Cuvier had more predecessors than one thought, these are harmless enough amusements for historians who refuse to grow up.
The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), trans. M. Sheridan Smith (1972), 144.
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To write about history or language is supposed to be within the reach of every man. To write about natural science is allowed to be within the reach only of those who have mastered the subjects on which they write.
The Methods of Historical Study (1886), 91.

With whom [do] the adherents of historicism actually empathize[?] The answer is inevitable: with the victor. And all rulers are the heirs of those who conquered before them. Hence, empathy with the victor invariably benefits the rulers. Historical materialists know what that means. Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
'Theses on the Philosophy of History' (completed 1940, first published 1950). In Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (1970), 258.
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You ask whether I am going over to the history of science... no, I am not as old as that.
Said on his retirement c.1969.
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You cannot do without one specialty. You must have some base-line to measure the work and attainments of others. For a general view of the subject, study the history of the sciences. Broad knowledge of all Nature has been the possession of no naturalist except Humboldt, and general relations constituted his specialty.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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[The] second fundamental rule of historical science may be thus simply expressed:—we should not wish to explain every thing. Historical tradition must never be abandoned in the philosophy of history—otherwise we lose all firm ground and footing. But historical tradition, ever so accurately conceived and carefully sifted, doth not always, especially in the early and primitive ages, bring with it a full and demonstrative certainty.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 12.
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[T]he history of science has proved that fundamental research is the lifeblood of individual progress and that the ideas that lead to spectacular advances spring from it.
In J. Edwin Holmström, Records and Research in Engineering and Industrial Science (1956), 7.
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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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