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Human Mind Quotes (82 quotes)

Where faith commences, science ends. Both these arts of the human mind must be strictly kept apart from each other. Faith has its origin in the poetic imagination; knowledge, on the other hand, originates in the reasoning intelligence of man. Science has to pluck the blessed fruits from the tree of knowledge, unconcerned whether these conquests trench upon the poetical imaginings of faith or not.
In Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.), The History of Creation (1880), Vol. 1, 9.
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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A rose is the visible result of an infinitude of complicated goings on in the bosom of the earth and in the air above, and similarly a work of art is the product of strange activities in the human mind.
In Since Cezanne (1922), 40.
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A science calling itself “psychology” and professing to be a science of the human mind (not merely the sick mind), ought to form its estimate of human beings by taking into account healthy minds as well as sick ones.
In Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966), 15.
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And, notwithstanding a few exceptions, we do undoubtedly find that the most truly eminent men have had not only their affections, but also their intellect, greatly influenced by women. I will go even farther; and I will venture to say that those who have not undergone that influence betray a something incomplete and mutilated. We detect, even in their genius, a certain frigidity of tone; and we look in vain for that burning fire, that gushing and spontaneous nature with which our ideas of genius are indissolubly associated. Therefore, it is, that those who are most anxious that the boundaries of knowledge should be enlarged, ought to be most eager that the influence of women should be increased, in order that every resource of the human mind may be at once and quickly brought into play.
Lecture (19 Mar 1858) at the Royal Institution, 'The Influence Of Women On The Progress Of Knowledge', collected in The Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works of Henry Thomas Buckle (1872), Vol. 1, 17. Published in Frazier’s Magazine (Apr 1858).
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As he [Clifford] spoke he appeared not to be working out a question, but simply telling what he saw. Without any diagram or symbolic aid he described the geometrical conditions on which the solution depended, and they seemed to stand out visibly in space. There were no longer consequences to be deduced, but real and evident facts which only required to be seen. … So whole and complete was his vision that for the time the only strange thing was that anybody should fail to see it in the same way. When one endeavored to call it up again, and not till then, it became clear that the magic of genius had been at work, and that the common sight had been raised to that higher perception by the power that makes and transforms ideas, the conquering and masterful quality of the human mind which Goethe called in one word das Dämonische.
In Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays by William Kingdon Clifford(1879), Vol. 1, Introduction, 4-5.
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Babylon in all its desolation is a sight not so awful as that of the human mind in ruins.
In Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: the Scientific Search for the Soul (1995), 161.
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But the idea that any of the lower animals have been concerned in any way with the origin of man—is not this degrading? Degrading is a term, expressive of a notion of the human mind, and the human mind is liable to prejudices which prevent its notions from being invariably correct. Were we acquainted for the first time with the circumstances attending the production of an individual of our race, we might equally think them degrading, and be eager to deny them, and exclude them from the admitted truths of nature.
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Charles Babbage proposed to make an automaton chess-player which should register mechanically the number of games lost and gained in consequence of every sort of move. Thus, the longer the automaton went on playing game, the more experienced it would become by the accumulation of experimental results. Such a machine precisely represents the acquirement of experience by our nervous organization.
In ‘Experimental Legislation’, Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 754-5.
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Chess is a unique cognitive nexus, a place where art and science come together in the human mind and are then refined and improved by experience.
In How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom (2007), 4.
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Every occurrence in Nature is preceded by other occurrences which are its causes, and succeeded by others which are its effects. The human mind is not satisfied with observing and studying any natural occurrence alone, but takes pleasure in connecting every natural fact with what has gone before it, and with what is to come after it.
In Forms of Water in Clouds and Rivers, Ice and Glaciers (1872), 1.
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Facts alone, no matter how numerous or verifiable, do not automatically arrange themselves into an intelligible, or truthful, picture of the world. It is the task of the human mind to invent a theoretical framework to account for them.
In Francis Bello, Lawrence Lessing and George A.W. Boehm, Great American Scientists (1960, 1961), 116.
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From the infinitely great down to the infinitely small, all things are subject to [the laws of nature]. The sun and the planets follow the laws discovered by Newton and Laplace, just as the atoms in their combinations follow the laws of chemistry, as living creatures follow the laws of biology. It is only the imperfections of the human mind which multiply the divisions of the sciences, separating astronomy from physics or chemistry, the natural sciences from the social sciences. In essence, science is one. It is none other than the truth.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-97).
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Games are among the most interesting creations of the human mind, and the analysis of their structure is full of adventure and surprises. Unfortunately there is never a lack of mathematicians for the job of transforming delectable ingredients into a dish that tastes like a damp blanket.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), 'Commentary on Games and Puzzles', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2414.
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Geology is part of that remarkable dynamic process of the human mind which is generally called science and to which man is driven by an inquisitive urge. By noticing relationships in the results of his observations, he attempts to order and to explain the infinite variety of phenomena that at first sight may appear to be chaotic. In the history of civilization this type of progressive scientist has been characterized by Prometheus stealing the heavenly fire, by Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, by the Faustian ache for wisdom.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454.
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His [Marvin Minsky’s] basic interest seemed to be in the workings of the human mind and in making machine models of the mind. Indeed, about that time he and a friend made one of the first electronic machines that could actually teach itself to do something interesting. It monitored electronic “rats” that learned to run mazes. It was being financed by the Navy. On one notable occasion, I remember descending to the basement of Memorial Hall, while Minsky worked on it. It had an illuminated display panel that enabled one to follow the progress of the “rats.” Near the machine was a hamster in a cage. When the machine blinked, the hamster would run around its cage happily. Minsky, with his characteristic elfin grin, remarked that on a previous day the Navy contract officer had been down to see the machine. Noting the man’s interest in the hamster, Minsky had told him laconically, “The next one we build will look like a bird.”
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I believe that the human mind, or even the mind of a cat, is more interesting in its complexity than an entire galaxy if it is devoid of life.
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology.
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998, 1999), 286
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If our intention had been merely to bring back a handful of soil and rocks from the lunar gravel pit and then forget the whole thing, we would certainly be history's biggest fools. But that is not our intention now—it never will be. What we are seeking in tomorrow's [Apollo 11] trip is indeed that key to our future on earth. We are expanding the mind of man. We are extending this God-given brain and these God-given hands to their outermost limits and in so doing all mankind will benefit. All mankind will reap the harvest…. What we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down upon the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man.
Banquet speech on the eve of the Apollo 11 launch, Royal Oaks Country Club, Titusville (15 Jul 1969). In "Of a Fire on the Moon", Life (29 Aug 1969), 67, No. 9, 34.
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In every case the awakening touch has been the mathematical spirit, the attempt to count, to measure, or to calculate. What to the poet or the seer may appear to be the very death of all his poetry and all his visions—the cold touch of the calculating mind,—this has proved to be the spell by which knowledge has been born, by which new sciences have been created, and hundreds of definite problems put before the minds and into the hands of diligent students. It is the geometrical figure, the dry algebraical formula, which transforms the vague reasoning of the philosopher into a tangible and manageable conception; which represents, though it does not fully describe, which corresponds to, though it does not explain, the things and processes of nature: this clothes the fruitful, but otherwise indefinite, ideas in such a form that the strict logical methods of thought can be applied, that the human mind can in its inner chamber evolve a train of reasoning the result of which corresponds to the phenomena of the outer world.
In A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1896), Vol. 1, 314.
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In its earliest development knowledge is self-sown. Impressions force themselves upon men’s senses whether they will or not, and often against their will. The amount of interest in which these impressions awaken is determined by the coarser pains and pleasures which they carry in their train or by mere curiosity; and reason deals with the materials supplied to it as far as that interest carries it, and no further. Such common knowledge is rather brought than sought; and such ratiocination is little more than the working of a blind intellectual instinct. It is only when the mind passes beyond this condition that it begins to evolve science. When simple curiosity passes into the love of knowledge as such, and the gratification of the æsthetic sense of the beauty of completeness and accuracy seems more desirable that the easy indolence of ignorance; when the finding out of the causes of things becomes a source of joy, and he is accounted happy who is successful in the search, common knowledge passes into what our forefathers called natural history, whence there is but a step to that which used to be termed natural philosophy, and now passes by the name of physical science.
In this final state of knowledge the phenomena of nature are regarded as one continuous series of causes and effects; and the ultimate object of science is to trace out that series, from the term which is nearest to us, to that which is at the farthest limit accessible to our means of investigation.
The course of nature as it is, as it has been, and as it will be, is the object of scientific inquiry; whatever lies beyond, above, or below this is outside science. But the philosopher need not despair at the limitation on his field of labor; in relation to the human mind Nature is boundless; and, though nowhere inaccessible, she is everywhere unfathomable.
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2-3. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789-790.
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In mathematics, … and in natural philosophy since mathematics was applied to it, we see the noblest instance of the force of the human mind, and of the sublime heights to which it may rise by cultivation. An acquaintance with such sciences naturally leads us to think well of our faculties, and to indulge sanguine expectations concerning the improvement of other parts of knowledge. To this I may add, that, as mathematical and physical truths are perfectly uninteresting in their consequences, the understanding readily yields its assent to the evidence which is presented to it; and in this way may be expected to acquire the habit of trusting to its own conclusions, which will contribute to fortify it against the weaknesses of scepticism, in the more interesting inquiries after moral truth in which it may afterwards engage.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 3, 182.
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In this physical world there is no real chaos; all is in fact orderly; all is ordered by the physical principles. Chaos is but unperceived order- it is a word indicating the limitations of the human mind and the paucity of observational facts. The words “chaos,” “accidental,” “chance,” “unpredictable," are conveniences behind which we hide our ignorance.
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958 Rev. Ed. 1964), Foreword.
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In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.
…...
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It is an infirmity of the human mind that it demands an explanation before it has assorted the facts.
At opening session of the Pathology Section of the British Medical Association Annual Meeting, Oxford (1904). Quoted as recollected by D.J. Hamilton in 'Obituary: The Late Prof. William Bulloch', The British Medical Journal (15 Mar 1941), 1, No. 4184, 422.
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It is another property of the human mind that whenever men can form no idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar and at hand.
In The New Science (3rd ed., 1744), Book 1, Para. 122, as translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (1948, 1984), 60.
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It is not within the power of the properly constructed human mind to he satisfied. Progress would cease if this were the case.
From Cameron Prize Lecture (1928), delivered before the University of Edinburgh. As quoted in J.B. Collip 'Frederick Grant Banting, Discoverer of Insulin', The Scientific Monthly (May 1941), 52, No. 5, 474.
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It is true that M. Fourier believed that the main aim of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher of his ability ought to have known that the sole aim of science is the honour of the human intellect, and that on this ground a problem in numbers is as important as a problem on the system of the world.
In Letter to Legendre, as quoted in an Address by Emile Picard to the Congress of Science and Art, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), translated in 'Development of Mathematical Analysis', The Mathematical Gazette (Jul 1905), 3, No. 52, 200. A different translation begins, “It is true that Fourier had the opinion…” on the Karl Jacobi Quotes web page on this site.
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It seems to me that God is a convenient invention of the human mind.
…...
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Its [mathematical analysis] chief attribute is clearness; it has no means for expressing confused ideas. It compares the most diverse phenomena and discovers the secret analogies which unite them. If matter escapes us, as that of air and light because of its extreme tenuity, if bodies are placed far from us in the immensity of space, if man wishes to know the aspect of the heavens at successive periods separated by many centuries, if gravity and heat act in the interior of the solid earth at depths which will forever be inaccessible, mathematical analysis is still able to trace the laws of these phenomena. It renders them present and measurable, and appears to be the faculty of the human mind destined to supplement the brevity of life and the imperfection of the senses, and what is even more remarkable, it follows the same course in the study of all phenomena; it explains them in the same language, as if in witness to the unity and simplicity of the plan of the universe, and to make more manifest the unchangeable order which presides over all natural causes.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Discours Préliminaire, xiv, (Theory of Heat, Introduction), as translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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Macaulay somewhere says, that it is extraordinary that, whereas the laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies, far removed as they are from us, are perfectly well understood, the laws of the human mind, which are under our observation all day and every day, are no better understood than they were two thousand years ago.
In Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not (1859), 7.
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Mars was surprising in its way but not flabbergasting; it was a disappointment not to find evidences of life, and there was some sadness in the pictures sent back to earth from the Mars Lander, that lonely long-legged apparatus poking about with its jointed arm, picking up sample after sample of the barren Mars soil, looking for any flicker of life and finding none; the only sign of life on Mars was the Lander itself, an extension of the human mind all the way from earth to Mars, totally alone.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1984), 22.
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Mathematicians have tried in vain to this day to discover some order in the sequence of prime numbers, and we have reason to believe that it is a mystery into which the human mind will never penetrate.
As quoted in G. Simmons Calculus Gems (1992).
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Mathematics as an expression of the human mind reflects the active will, the contemplative reason, and the desire for aesthetic perfection. Its basic elements are logic and intuition, analysis and construction, generality and individuality. Though different traditions may emphasize different aspects, it is only the interplay of these antithetic forces and the struggle for their synthesis that constitute the life, usefulness, and supreme value of mathematical science.
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), x.
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Mathematics gives the young man a clear idea of demonstration and habituates him to form long trains of thought and reasoning methodically connected and sustained by the final certainty of the result; and it has the further advantage, from a purely moral point of view, of inspiring an absolute and fanatical respect for truth. In addition to all this, mathematics, and chiefly algebra and infinitesimal calculus, excite to a high degree the conception of the signs and symbols—necessary instruments to extend the power and reach of the human mind by summarizing an aggregate of relations in a condensed form and in a kind of mechanical way. These auxiliaries are of special value in mathematics because they are there adequate to their definitions, a characteristic which they do not possess to the same degree in the physical and mathematical [natural?] sciences.
There are, in fact, a mass of mental and moral faculties that can be put in full play only by instruction in mathematics; and they would be made still more available if the teaching was directed so as to leave free play to the personal work of the student.
In 'Science as an Instrument of Education', Popular Science Monthly (1897), 253.
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Mathematics is a type of thought which seems ingrained in the human mind, which manifests itself to some extent with even the primitive races, and which is developed to a high degree with the growth of civilization. … A type of thought, a body of results, so essentially characteristic of the human mind, so little influenced by environment, so uniformly present in every civilization, is one of which no well-informed mind today can be ignorant.
In Teaching of Mathematics in the Elementary and the Secondary School (1906), 14.
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Mathematics is not only one of the most valuable inventions—or discoveries—of the human mind, but can have an aesthetic appeal equal to that of anything in art. Perhaps even more so, according to the poetess who proclaimed, “Euclid alone hath looked at beauty bare.”
From 'The Joy of Maths'. Collected in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 460.
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Metals are the great agents by which we can examine the recesses of nature; and their uses are so multiplied, that they have become of the greatest importance in every occupation of life. They are the instruments of all our improvements, of civilization itself, and are even subservient to the progress of the human mind towards perfection. They differ so much from each other, that nature seems to have had in view all the necessities of man, in order that she might suit every possible purpose his ingenuity can invent or his wants require.
From 'Artist and Mechanic', The artist & Tradesman’s Guide: embracing some leading facts & principles of science, and a variety of matter adapted to the wants of the artist, mechanic, manufacturer, and mercantile community (1827), 16.
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Modern chemistry, with its far-reaching generalizations and hypotheses, is a fine example of how far the human mind can go in exploring the unknown beyond the limits of human senses.
In 'Introduction', General Chemistry: An Elementary Survey Emphasizing Industrial Applications of Fundamental Principles (1923), 4.
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No species … possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by genetic history … The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction, and reason is just one of its various techniques.
'Dilemma'. On Human Nature (1978, 1979), 2.
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Nothing perhaps has so retarded the reception of the higher conclusions of Geology among men in general, as ... [the] instinctive parsimony of the human mind in matters where time is concerned.
Proceedings of the Geological Society of London (1903), 59, lxx.
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Of all the conceptions of the human mind from unicorns to gargoyles to the hydrogen bomb perhaps the most fantastic is the black hole: a hole in space with a definite edge over which anything can fall and nothing can escape; a hole with a gravitational field so strong that even light is caught and held in its grip; a hole that curves space and warps time.
In Cosmology + I: Readings from Scientific American (1977), 63.
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Of possible quadruple algebras the one that had seemed to him by far the most beautiful and remarkable was practically identical with quaternions, and that he thought it most interesting that a calculus which so strongly appealed to the human mind by its intrinsic beauty and symmetry should prove to be especially adapted to the study of natural phenomena. The mind of man and that of Nature’s God must work in the same channels.
As quoted in W. E. Byerly (writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, but a former student at a Peirce lecture on Hamilton’s new calculus of quaternions), 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course—a stoic’s creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here. If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), 5.
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Shakespeare was pursuing two Methods at once; and besides the Psychological Method, he had also to attend to the Poetical. (Note) we beg pardon for the use of this insolent verbum: but it is one of which our Language stands in great need. We have no single term to express the Philosophy of the Human Mind.
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Simple as the law of gravity now appears, and beautifully in accordance with all the observations of past and of present times, consider what it has cost of intellectual study. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, all the great names which have exalted the character of man, by carrying out trains of reasoning unparalleled in every other science; these, and a host of others, each of whom might have been the Newton of another field, have all labored to work out, the consequences which resulted from that single law which he discovered. All that the human mind has produced—the brightest in genius, the most persevering in application, has been lavished on the details of the law of gravity.
in The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment (1838), 57.
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Since [World War I] we have seen the atomic age, the computer age, the space age, and the bio-engineering age, each as epochal as the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. And all these have occurred in one generation. Man has stood on the moon and looked back on the earth, that small planet now reduced to a neighbourhood. But our material achievements have exceeded the managerial capacities of our human minds and institutions.
As quoted in Colin Bingham (ed.), Wit and Wisdom: A Public Affairs Miscellany (1982), 227.
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Stem cells are probably going to be extremely useful. But it isn’t a given, and even if it were, I don’t think the end justifies the means. I am not against stem cells, I think it’s great. Blanket objection is not very reasonable to me—any effort to control scientific advances is doomed to fail. You cannot stop the human mind from working.
From Cornelia Dean, 'A Conversation with Joseph E. Murray', New York Times (25 Sep 2001), F5.
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Such is the tendency of the human mind to speculation, that on the least idea of an analogy between a few phenomena, it leaps forward, as it were, to a cause or law, to the temporary neglect of all the rest; so that, in fact, almost all our principal inductions must be regarded as a series of ascents and descents, and of conclusions from a few cases, verified by trial on many.
In A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), 164-165.
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The genesis of mathematical invention is a problem that must inspire the psychologist with the keenest interest. For this is the process in which the human mind seems to borrow least from the exterior world, in which it acts, or appears to act, only by itself and on itself, so that by studying the process of geometric thought, we may hope to arrive at what is most essential in the human mind
As translated in Arthur I. Miller, Imagery in Scientific Thought Creating 20th-Century Physics (1984, 2013), 307. Opening of Paper delivered at Conference at the Institut Général Psychologique, Paris, 'L’Invention Mathématique', published in Enseignment Mathématique (1908), 10, 357. From the original French, “La genèse do l’Invention mathématique est un problème qui doit inspirer le plus vif intérêt au psychologue. C’est l’acte dans lequel l’esprit humain semble le moins emprunter au monde extérieur, où il n’agit ou ne paraît agir que par lui-même et sur lui-même, de sorte, qu’en étudiant le processus de la pensée géométrique, c’est ce qu’il y a de plus essentiel dans l’esprit humain que nous pouvons espérer atteindre.”
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The history of mathematics is exhilarating, because it unfolds before us the vision of an endless series of victories of the human mind, victories without counterbalancing failures, that is, without dishonorable and humiliating ones, and without atrocities.
In The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 13.
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The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals.
As translated in Kate Louise Roberts (ed.), Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922), 635. Also gives, without citation, the original French, “L’esprit humain fait progrès toujours, mais c’est progrès en spirale.”
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The human mind delights in finding pattern–so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.
…...
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The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.
Essays in Science (1934), 27.
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The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.
…...
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The human mind needs nature in order to think most deeply. Pretending to be other creatures, children practise metaphor and empathy alike.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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The losses of the natural world are our loss, their silence silences something within the human mind. Human language is lit with animal life: we play cats-cradle or have hare-brained ideas; we speak of badgering, or outfoxing someone; to squirrel something away and to ferret it out. … When our experience of the wild world shrinks, we no longer fathom the depths of our own words; language loses its lustre and vividness.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind. It is simply the mode at which all phenomena are reasoned about, rendered precise and exact.
In 'Method of Discovery', On Our Knowledge of the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature (1863), 56. Also in excerpt collected in in Isabel S. Gordon and Sophie Sorkin (eds.), The Armchair Science Reader (1959), 263.
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The mind of man may be compared to a musical instrument with a certain range of notes, beyond which in both directions we have an infinitude of silence. The phenomena of matter and force lie within our intellectual range, and as far as they reach we will at all hazards push our inquiries. But behind, and above, and around all, the real mystery of this universe [Who made it all?] lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution.
In 'Matter and Force', Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 93.
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The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Written in 1926, and first published in magazine, Weird Tales (Feb 1928), 11, No. 2, first paragraph. In The Call of Cthulhu (2014), 2.
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The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
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The reasoning of mathematicians is founded on certain and infallible principles. Every word they use conveys a determinate idea, and by accurate definitions they excite the same ideas in the mind of the reader that were in the mind of the writer. When they have defined the terms they intend to make use of, they premise a few axioms, or self-evident principles, that every one must assent to as soon as proposed. They then take for granted certain postulates, that no one can deny them, such as, that a right line may be drawn from any given point to another, and from these plain, simple principles they have raised most astonishing speculations, and proved the extent of the human mind to be more spacious and capacious than any other science.
In Diary, Works (1850), Vol. 2, 21.
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The remarkable thing about the human mind is its range of limitations.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 2.
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The sole end of science is the honor of the human mind.
From Letter to Legendre, as quoted in an Address by Emile Picard to the Congress of Science and Art, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), translated in 'Development of Mathematical Analysis', The Mathematical Gazette (Jul 1905), 3, No. 52, 200. The word “sole” is also seen translated as “unique” or “real”. This is part of a longer quote which begins, “It is true that M. Fourier believed that…” on the Karl Jacobi Quotes web page on this site.
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The truth of the matter is that, though mathematics truth may be beauty, it can be only glimpsed after much hard thinking. Mathematics is difficult for many human minds to grasp because of its hierarchical structure: one thing builds on another and depends on it.
As co-author with D.T.E. Marjoram, Mathematics in a Changing World (1973).
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The world is very complicated and it is clearly impossible for the human mind to understand it completely. Man has therefore devised an artifice which permits the complicated nature of the world to be blamed on something which is called accidental and thus permits him to abstract a domain in which simple laws can be found.
In Floyd Merrell, Unthinking Thinking: Jorge Luis Borges, Mathematics, and the New Physics (1991), 156.
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There can be no scientific foundation of religion, and belief must always remain the foundation of religion, while that of science is logical reasoning from facts, that is, sense perceptions; and all that we can say is, that the two, science and religion, are not necessarily incompatible, but are different and unrelated activities of the human mind.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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There could not be a language more universal and more simple, more exempt from errors and obscurities, that is to say, more worthy of expressing the invariable relations of natural objects. Considered from this point of view, it is coextensive with nature itself; it defines all the sensible relations, measures the times, the spaces, the forces, the temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it retains all the principles it has once acquired. It grows and becomes more certain without limit in the midst of so many errors of the human mind.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur, Discours Préliminaire (Theory of Heat, Introduction), quoted as translated in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359.
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There is something breathtaking about the basic laws of crystals. They are in no sense a discovery of the human mind; they just “are” — they exist quite independently of us.
(Jan 1967). As quoted in Michele Emmer and ‎Doris Schattschneider, M.C. Escher’s Legacy: A Centennial Celebration (2007), 102.
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This law [of gravitation] has been called “the greatest generalization achieved by the human mind”. … I am interested not so much in the human mind as in the marvel of a nature which can obey such an elegant and simple law as this law of gravitation. Therefore our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found it all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 14.
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This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 658.
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To sum up all, let it be known that science and religion are two identical words. The learned do not suspect this, no more do the religious. These two words express the two sides of the same fact, which is the infinite. Religion—Science, this is the future of the human mind.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 325.
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We are told that “Mathematics is that study which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation.” I think no statement could have been made more opposite to the facts of the case; that mathematical analysis is constantly invoking the aid of new principles, new ideas, and new methods, not capable of being defined by any form of words, but springing direct from the inherent powers and activities of the human mind, and from continually renewed introspection of that inner world of thought of which the phenomena are as varied and require as close attention to discern as those of the outer physical world (to which the inner one in each individual man may, I think, be conceived to stand somewhat in the same relation of correspondence as a shadow to the object from which it is projected, or as the hollow palm of one hand to the closed fist which it grasps of the other), that it is unceasingly calling forth the faculties of observation and comparison, that one of its principal weapons is induction, that it has frequent recourse to experimental trial and verification, and that it affords a boundless scope for the exercise of the highest efforts of the imagination and invention.
In Presidential Address to British Association, Exeter British Association Report (1869), pp. 1-9, in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 654.
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We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens ... The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.
From Mysterium Cosmographicum. Quote as translated in Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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We do not ask what hope of gain makes a little bird warble, since we know that it takes delight in singing because it is for that very singing that the bird was made, so there is no need to ask why the human mind undertakes such toil in seeking out these secrets of the heavens. ... And just as other animals, and the human body, are sustained by food and drink, so the very spirit of Man, which is something distinct from Man, is nourished, is increased, and in a sense grows up on this diet of knowledge, and is more like the dead than the living if it is touched by no desire for these things.
Mysterium Cosmographicum. Translated by A. M. Duncan in The Secret of the Universe (1981), 55.
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What else can the human mind hold besides numbers and magnitudes? These alone we apprehend correctly, and if piety permits to say so, our comprehension is in this case of the same kind as God’s, at least insofar as we are able to understand it in this mortal life.
As quoted in Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 524.
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When intersected by a plane, the sphere displays in this section the circle, the genuine image of the created mind, placed in command of the body which it is appointed to rule; and this circle is to the sphere as the human mind is to the Mind Divine.
As quoted in Wolfgang Pauli, 'The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler', as translated and collected in Writings on Physics and Philosophy (1994), 225. With Latin from Harmonia Mundi, Liber IV, Caput 1, collected in Christian Frisch (ed.), Opera Omnia (1864), Vol. 5, 223: “ plano vero sectum sphaericum circulum sectione repraesentat, mentis creatae, quae corpori regendo sit praefecta, genuinam imaginem, quae in ea proportione sit ad sphaericum, ut est mens humana ad divinam,”
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Wherever there is the slightest possibility for the human mind to know, there is a legitimate problem of science.
In The Grammar of Science (1892), 25.
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Whoever it was who searched the heavens with a telescope and found no God would not have found the human mind if he had searched the brain with a microscope.
…...
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Why then does science work? The answer is that nobody knows. It is a complete mystery—perhaps the complete mystery&mdashwhy the human mind should be able to understand anything at all about the wider universe. ... Perhaps it is because our brains evolved through the working of natural law that they somehow resonate with natural law. ... But the mystery, really, is not that we are at one with the universe, but that we are so to some degree at odds with it, different from it, and yet can understand something about it. Why is this so?
Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988), 385. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 185.
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[In mathematics] we behold the conscious logical activity of the human mind in its purest and most perfect form. Here we learn to realize the laborious nature of the process, the great care with which it must proceed, the accuracy which is necessary to determine the exact extent of the general propositions arrived at, the difficulty of forming and comprehending abstract concepts; but here we learn also to place confidence in the certainty, scope and fruitfulness of such intellectual activity.
In Ueber das Verhältnis der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammtheit der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 176. Also seen translated as “In mathematics we see the conscious logical activity of our mind in its purest and most perfect form; here is made manifest to us all the labor and the great care with which it progresses, the precision which is necessary to determine exactly the source of the established general theorems, and the difficulty with which we form and comprehend abstract conceptions; but we also learn here to have confidence in the certainty, breadth, and fruitfulness of such intellectual labor”, in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 20. From the original German, “Hier sehen wir die bewusste logische Thätigkeit unseres Geistes in ihrer reinsten und vollendetsten Form; wir können hier die ganze Mühe derselben kennen lernen, die grosse Vorsicht, mit der sie vorschreiten muss, die Genauigkeit, welche nöthig ist, um den Umfang der gewonnenen allgemeinen Sätze genau zu bestimmen, die Schwierigkeit, abstracte Begriffe zu bilden und zu verstehen; aber ebenso auch Vertrauen fassen lernen in die Sicherheit, Tragweite und Fruchtbarkeit solcher Gedankenarbeit.”
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[The famous attack of Sir William Hamilton on the tendency of mathematical studies] affords the most express evidence of those fatal lacunae in the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to the human intellect, it is a thorough acquaintance with the modes by which human intellect has proceeded, in the case where, by universal acknowledgment, grounded on subsequent direct verification, it has succeeded in ascertaining the greatest number of important and recondite truths. This requisite Sir W. Hamilton had not, in any tolerable degree, fulfilled. Even of pure mathematics he apparently knew little but the rudiments. Of mathematics as applied to investigating the laws of physical nature; of the mode in which the properties of number, extension, and figure, are made instrumental to the ascertainment of truths other than arithmetical or geometrical—it is too much to say that he had even a superficial knowledge: there is not a line in his works which shows him to have had any knowledge at all.
In Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1878), 607.
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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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