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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index H > Category: Humble

Humble Quotes (50 quotes)

À mesure que la science rabaisse ainsi notre orgueil, elle augmente notre puissance.
Science increases our power in proportion as it lowers our pride.
Original French quote from Introduction à l’étude de la médecine expérimentale (1865), 141. As translated in Fielding H. Garrison, 'Medical Proverbs, Aphorisms and Epigrams', Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine (Oct 1928), 4, No. 10, 997. The translation above is literal. For a clearer interpretation, see another version on this web page: “But by a marvellous compensation, science, in humbling our pride, proportionately increases our power.”
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As for me ... I would much rather be a perfected ape than a degraded Adam. Yes, if it is shown to me that my humble ancestors were quadrupedal animals, arboreal herbivores, brothers or cousins of those who were also the ancestors of monkeys and apes, far from blushing in shame for my species because of its genealogy and parentage, I will be proud of all that evolution has accomplished, of the continuous improvement which takes us up to the highest order, of the successive triumphs that have made us superior to all of the other species ... the splendid work of progress.
I will conclude in saying: the fixity of species is almost impossible, it contradicts the mode of succession and of the distribution of species in the sequence of extant and extinct creatures. It is therefore extremely likely that species are variable and are subject to evolution. But the causes, the mechanisms of this evolution are still unknown.
'Discussion sur la Machoire Humaine de la Naulette (Belgique)', Bulletin de la Societé d'Anthropologie de Paris, 2nd Series, I (1866), 595. Trans. Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman, The Neanderthals: Changing the Image of Mankind (1993), 103-4.
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But, on the other hand, every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
Letter (24 Jan 1936). Quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1981), 33.
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Consummated science is positively humble.
In Philosophy of Sir William Hamilton (1853), 517.
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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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Every one is fond of comparing himself to something great and grandiose, as Louis XIV likened himself to the sun, and others have had like similes. I am more humble. I am a mere street scavenger (chiffonier) of science. With my hook in my hand and my basket on my back, I go about the streets of science, collecting what I find.
Quoted in Michael Foster, Claude Bernard (1899), 40.
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Experimentation is the least arrogant method of gaining knowledge. The experimenter humbly asks a question of nature.
[Unverified. Please contact Webmaster if you can identify the primary source.]
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For a while he [Charles S. Mellen] trampled with impunity on laws human and divine but, as he was obsessed with the delusion that two and two makes five, he fell, at last a victim to the relentless rules of humble Arithmetic.
Remember, O stranger: “Arithmetic is the first of the sciences and the mother of safety.”
In a private letter (29 Sep 1911) to Norman Hapgood, editor of Harper’s Weekly, referenced in Hapgood’s editorial, 'Arithmetic', which was quoted in Hapgood’s Preface to Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money and How The Bankers Use It (1914), xli. Brandeis was describing Mellen, president of the New Haven Railroad, whom he correctly predicted would resign in the face of reduced dividends caused by his bad financial management. The embedded quote, “Arithmetic…”, is footnoted in Louis D. Brandeis, Letters of Louis D. Brandeis: Volume II, 1907-1912: People's Attorney (1971), 501, citing its source as from a novel by Victor Cherbuliez, Samuel Brohl and Partner (probably 1881 edition), which LDB had transcribed “into his literary notebook at an early age.”
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Good work is no done by “humble” men. It is one of the first duties of a professor, for example, in any subject, to exaggerate a little both the importance of his subject and his own importance in it. A man who is always asking “Is what I do worth while?” and “Am I the right person to do it?” will always be ineffective himself and a discouragement to others. He must shut his eyes a little and think a little more of his subject and himself than they deserve. This is not too difficult: it is harder not to make his subject and himself ridiculous by shutting his eyes too tightly.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 66.
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How greatly would the heroes and statesmen of antiquity have despised the labours of that man who devoted his life to investigate the properties of the magnet! Little could they anticipate that this humble mineral was destined to change the very form and condition of human society in every quarter of the globe.
In 'Observations on the Study of Mineralogy', The Philosophical Magazine and Journal (Jul 1819), 54, 46. Slightly edited and used by Joseph Henry in 'Introductory Lecture on Chemistry' (Jan-Mar 1832), The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 1, 396.
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I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.
In 'A Winter Diary', (Jan 1941), collected in One Man’s Meat (1942, 1982), 170.
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I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence–as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.
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I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves when have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand.
In 'Oyster Bed', Gift From the Sea (1955), 77.
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I value science—none can prize it more,
It gives ten thousand motives to adore;
Be it religious, as it ought to be,
The heart humbles, and it bows the knee.
The Microcosm and Other Poems (1880), 21.
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I will lift mine eyes unto the pills. Almost everyone takes them, from the humble aspirin to the multi-coloured, king-sized three deckers, which put you to sleep, wake you up, stimulate and soothe you all in one. It is an age of pills.
1962
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If I had my life to live over again I would not devote it to develop new industrial processes: I would try to add my humble efforts to use Science to the betterment of the human race.
I despair of the helter-skelter methods of our vaulted homo sapiens, misguided by his ignorance and his politicians. If we continue our ways, there is every possibility that the human race may follow the road of former living races of animals whose fossils proclaim that they were not fit to continue. Religion, laws and morals is not enough. We need more. Science can help us.
Letter to a friend (14 Jan 1934). In Savage Grace (1985, 2007), 62.
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In going on with these Experiments, how many pretty systems do we build, which we soon find ourselves oblig’d to destroy! If there is no other Use discover’d of Electricity, this, however, is something considerable, that it may help to make a vain Man humble.
Letter to Peter Collinson, 14 Aug 1747. In I. Bernard Cohen (ed.), Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments (1941), 63.
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In physics we have dealt hitherto only with periodic crystals. To a humble physicist’s mind, these are very interesting and complicated objects; they constitute one of the most fascinating and complex material structures by which inanimate nature puzzles his wits. Yet, compared with the aperiodic crystal, they are rather plain and dull. The difference in structure is of the same kind as that between an ordinary wallpaper in which the same pattern is repeated again and again in regular periodicity and a masterpiece of embroidery, say a Raphael tapestry, which shows no dull repetition, but an elaborate, coherent, meaningful design traced by the great master.
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In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
(1632). Attributed by F. Arago.
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In the sense that [truth] means the reality about a human being it is probably impossible for a biographer to achieve. In the sense that it means a reasonable presentation of all the available facts it is more nearly possible, but even this limited goal is harder to reach than it appears to be. A biographer needs to be both humble and cautious.
Describing the difficulty of historical sources giving conflicting facts. From 'Getting at the Truth', The Saturday Review (19 Sep 1953), 36, No. 38, 11. Excerpted in Meta Riley Emberger and Marian Ross Hall, Scientific Writing (1955), 399.
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It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
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It is necessary that a surgeon should have a temperate and moderate disposition. That he should have well-formed hands, long slender fingers, a strong body, not inclined to tremble and with all his members trained to the capable fulfilment of the wishes of his mind. He should be of deep intelligence and of a simple, humble, brave, but not audacious disposition. He should be well grounded in natural science, and should know not only medicine but every part of philosophy; should know logic well, so as to be able to understand what is written, to talk properly, and to support what he has to say by good reasons.
Chirurgia Magna (1296, printed 1479), as translated by James Joseph Walsh in Old-Time Makers of Medicine (1911), 261.
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It is superfluous to be humble on one's own behalf; so many people are willing to do it for one.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 4.
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It makes me feel both proud and rather humble that it shall be called Lonsdaleite. Certainly the name seems appropriate since the mineral only occurs in very small quantities (perhaps rare would be too flattering) and it is generally rather mixed up!
From Letter to Clifford Frondel, who had named a meteoritic form of diamond after Lonsdale (a petite person). As quoted in Maureen M. Julian, 'Women in Crystallography', in G. Kass-Simon and P. Farnes (eds.), Women of Science: Righting the Record (1990), 356.
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Its [science’s] effectiveness is almost inevitable because it narrows the possibility of refutation and failure. Science begins by saying it can only answer this type of question and ends by saying these are the only questions that can be asked. Once the implications and shallowness of this trick are fully realised, science will be humbled and we shall be free to celebrate ourselves once again.
From Understanding the Present: An Alternative History of Science (2004), 249.
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It’s humbling to think that all animals, including human beings, are parasites of the plant world.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 39.
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Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofttimes no connection. Knowledge dwells
In heads replete with thoughts of other men,
Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.
Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much,
Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.
The Task, Book 6, 'The Winter Walk at Noon' (published 1785). In William Cowper and Humphrey Sumner Milford (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper (1905), 221.
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Men cannot help feeling a little ashamed of their cousin-german the Ape. His close yet grotesque and clumsy semblance of the human form is accompanied by no gleams of higher instinct. Our humble friend the dog, our patient fellow-labourer the horse, are nearer to us in this respect. The magnanimous and sagacious elephant, doomed though he be to all fours, is godlike compared with this spitefully ferocious creature. Strangely enough, too, the most repulsive and ferocious of all apekind, the recently discovered Gorilla is, the comparative anatomist assures us, nearest to us all: the most closely allied in structure to the human form.
In 'Our Nearest Relation', All Year Round (28 May 1859), 1, No. 5, 112. Charles Dickens was both the editor and publisher of this magazine. The author of the article remains unknown. The articles were by custom printed without crediting the author. Biographers have been able to use extant office records to identify various authors of other articles, but not this specific one. Dickens and Richard Owen were friends; they read each other’s work. Owen is known to have found at least a little time to write a few articles for Dickens’ magazines. Owen had given a talk at the Royal Institution (4 Feb 1859) titled 'On the Gorilla.' This would suggest why Dickens may have had a definite interest in publishing on this subject, regardless of who in fact wrote the article.
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Mr. Dalton's aspect and manner were repulsive. There was no gracefulness belonging to him. His voice was harsh and brawling; his gait stiff and awkward; his style of writing and conversation dry and almost crabbed. In person he was tall, bony, and slender. He never could learn to swim: on investigating this circumstance he found that his spec. grav. as a mass was greater than that of water; and he mentioned this in his lectures on natural philosophy in illustration of the capability of different persons for attaining the art of swimming. Independence and simplicity of manner and originality were his best qualities. Though in comparatively humble circumstances he maintained the dignity of the philosophical character. As the first distinct promulgator of the doctrine that the elements of bodies unite in definite proportions to form chemical compounds, he has acquired an undying fame.
Dr John Davy's (brother of Humphry Davy) impressions of Dalton written in c.1830-31 in Malta.
John Davy
Quoted in W. C. Henry, Memoirs of the Life and Scientific Researches of John Dalton (1854), 217-8.
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My imagination would never have served me as it has, but for the habit of commonplace, humble, patient, daily, toiling, drudging attention
The Homiletic Review, Vol. 83-84 (1922), Vol. 84, 290.
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My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
As quoted in obituary, 'Einstein Noted as an Iconoclast In Research, Politics and Religion', The New York Times (19 Apr 1955), 25.
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Nothing is more humbling than to look with a strong magnifying glass at an insect so tiny that the naked eye sees only the barest speck and to discover that nevertheless it is sculpted and articulated and striped with the same care and imagination as a zebra. Apparently it does not occur to nature whether or not a creature is within our range of vision, and the suspicion arises that even the zebra was not designed for our benefit.
…...
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Our intelligence has brought us far, but it has also brought us to the brink of total destruction. It cuts both ways, its application sometimes terrifies us, but it also reveals a humbling, sobering perspective of our cosmological home.
…...
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The fading of ideals is sad evidence of the defeat of human endeavour. In the schools of antiquity philosophers aspired to impart wisdom, in modern colleges our humbler aim is to teach subjects
Opening lines of 'The Rhythmic Claims of Freedom and Discipline', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 45.
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The humble knowledge of thyself is a surer way to God than the deepest search after science.
…...
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The humblest star twinkles most in the darkest night.
In Aphorisms on Man: Translated from the Original Manuscript (1794), 29.
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The man who proportions the several parts of a mill, uses the same scientific principles [mechanics], as if he had the power of constructing an universe; but as he cannot give to matter that invisible agency, by which all the component parts of the immense machine of the universe have influence upon each other, and set in motional unison together without any apparent contact, and to which man has given the name of attraction, gravitation, and repulsion, he supplies the place of that agency by the humble imitation of teeth and cogs. All the parts of man’s microcosm must visibly touch.
In The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (27 Jan O.S. 1794), 42-43.
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The most humble research scientist in the Department of Agriculture is at this time contributing more to this country than the most useful member of Congress.
Speaking (29 Dec 1932) as a member of the 72nd Congress, early in the Great Depression, in opposition to curtailing the agricultural appropriation. As quoted in 'Mayor-Elect La Guardia on Research', Science (1933), New Series, 78, No. 2031, 511. Also in A. Hunter Dupree, under subtitle 'Impact of the Great Depression' in Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940, 344.
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The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, ... says “Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.” Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 72.
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The one thing that scientists ought to be is humble because they, more than anyone, know how little they can explain.
Quoted by Sean O'Hagan, in 'End of sperm report', The Observer (14 Sep 2002).
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The priest persuades a humble people to endure their hard lot, a politician urges them to rebel against it, and a scientist thinks of a method that does away with the hard lot altogether.
Max Percy
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The result of all these experiments has given place to a new division of the parts of the human body, which I shall follow in this short essay, by distinguishing those which are susceptible of Irritability and Sensibility, from those which are not. But the theory, why some parts of the human body are endowed with these properties, while others are not, I shall not at all meddle with. For I am persuaded that the source of both lies concealed beyond the reach of the knife and microscope, beyond which I do not chuse to hazard many conjectures, as I have no desire of teaching what I am ignorant of myself. For the vanity of attempting to guide others in paths where we find ourselves in the dark, shews, in my humble opinion, the last degree of arrogance and ignorance.
'A Treatise on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals' (Read 1752). Trans. 1755 and reprinted in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1936, 4(2), 657-8.
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There is a noble vision of the great Castle of Mathematics, towering somewhere in the Platonic World of Ideas, which we humbly and devotedly discover (rather than invent). The greatest mathematicians manage to grasp outlines of the Grand Design, but even those to whom only a pattern on a small kitchen tile is revealed, can be blissfully happy. … Mathematics is a proto-text whose existence is only postulated but which nevertheless underlies all corrupted and fragmentary copies we are bound to deal with. The identity of the writer of this proto-text (or of the builder of the Castle) is anybody’s guess. …
In 'Mathematical Knowledge: Internal, Social, and Cultural Aspects', Mathematics As Metaphor: Selected Essays (2007), 4.
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Through the naturalist’s eyes, a sparrow can be as interesting as a bird of paradise, the behaviour of a mouse as interesting as that of a tiger, and a humble lizard as fascinating as a crocodile. … Our planet is beautifully intricate, brimming over with enigmas to be solved and riddles to be unravelled.
In The Amateur Naturalist (1989), 7.
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Truth is beautiful and divine, no matter how humble its origin; it is the same in the musty boiler-room as it is in the glorious stars of heaven.
In 'From Chaos to Cosmos', Scribner's Magazine (July 1924), 76, No. 1, 9. Reprinted in The New Reformation: From Physical to Spiritual Realities (1927), 205.
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Visible from Earth orbit … tropical rain forests of equatorial regions are huge expanses of monotonous, mottled dark green. During the day they are frequently covered with enormous thunderstorms that extend for hundreds of miles. The view has an air of fantasy about it, and you grope for words to describe what you see. My personal reaction was one of feeling humble, awed, and privileged to be witness to such a scene.
In How Do You Go To The Bathroom In Space?: All the Answers to All the Questions You Have About Living in Space (1999), 107.
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We claim to be more moral than other nations, and to conquer and govern and tax and plunder weaker peoples for their good! While robbing them we actually claim to be benefactors! And then we wonder, or profess to wonder, why other Governments hate us! Are they not fully justified in hating us? Is it surprising that they seek every means to annoy us, that they struggle to get navies to compete with us, and look forward to a time when some two or three of them may combine together and thoroughly humble and cripple us? And who can deny that any just Being, looking at all the nations of the earth with impartiality and thorough knowledge, would decide that we deserve to be humbled, and that it might do us good?
In 'Practical Politics', The Clarion (30 Sep 1904), 1.
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While we keep an open mind on this question of vitalism, or while we lean, as so many of us now do, or even cling with a great yearning, to the belief that something other than the physical forces animates the dust of which we are made, it is rather the business of the philosopher than of the biologist, or of the biologist only when he has served his humble and severe apprenticeship to philosophy, to deal with the ultimate problem. It is the plain bounden duty of the biologist to pursue his course unprejudiced by vitalistic hypotheses, along the road of observation and experiment, according to the accepted discipline of the natural and physical sciences. … It is an elementary scientific duty, it is a rule that Kant himself laid down, that we should explain, just as far as we possibly can, all that is capable of such explanation, in the light of the properties of matter and of the forms of energy with which we are already acquainted.
From Presidential Address to Zoological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. As quoted in H.V. Neal, 'The Basis of Individuality in Organisms: A Defense of Vitalism', Science (21 Jul 1916), 44 N.S., No. 1125, 82.
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[Herschel and Humboldt] stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two. I copied out from Humboldt long passages about Teneriffe and read them aloud on one of [my walking excursions].
Autobiographies, (eds.) Michael Neve and Sharon Messenger (2002), Penguin edn., 36.
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[I attach] little importance to physical size. I don’t feel the least humble before the vastness of the heavens. The stars may be large, but they cannot think or love; and these are qualities which impress me far more than size does.
From a paper read to the Apostles, a Cambridge discussion society (1925). In 'The Foundations of Mathematics' (1925), collected in Frank Plumpton Ramsey and D. H. Mellor (ed.), Philosophical Papers (1990), Epilogue, 249. Citation to the paper, in Nils-Eric Sahlin, The Philosophy of F.P. Ramsey (1990), 225.
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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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