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

Humility Quotes (28 quotes)

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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Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, skeptically of skepticism.
From Pensées (1670), Sect. 6, Aphorism 20, as translated in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 38. From the original French, “Peu parlent de l’humilité humblement; peu, de la chasteté chastement; peu, du pyrrhonisme en doutant,” in 'Pensées', Oeuvres Complètes (1864), Vol. 1, 276.
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Fullness of knowledge always means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance; and that is always conducive to humility and reverence.
In 'What I Believe: Living Philosophies II', The Forum (Oct 1929), 82, No. 4, 199.
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Humility is not a state of mind conducive to the advancement of learning.
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I might paraphrase Churchill and say: never have I received so much for so little.
[Exemplifying humility, upon accepting the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.]
In Banquet Speech, Stokholm (10 Dec 1970). Nobelprize.org website.
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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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It gave me great pleasure to tell you about the mysteries with which physics confronts us. As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists. If such humility could be conveyed to everybody, the world of human activities would be more appealing.
Letter (19 Sep 1932) replying to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, in which she had complimented his lucid explanation of the casual and probabilistic theories in physics during a wander with her, in a park. As quoted in Albert Einstein, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives (1979, 2013), 48.
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It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.
In 'The Exceeding Beauty of the Earth', This Week Magazine (1952). As cited in Karen F. Stein, Rachel Carson: Challenging Authors (2013), 55.
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It is one of the triumphs of human wit ... to conquer by humility and submissiveness ... to make oneself small in order to appear great ... such ... are often the expedients of the neurotic.
In The Neurotic Constitution (1917), 81-82.
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It’s humbling to realise that the developmental gulf between a miniscule ant colony and our modern human civilisation is only a tiny fraction of the distance between a Type 0 and a Type III civilisation – a factor of 100 billion billion, in fact. Yet we have such a highly regarded view of ourselves, we believe a Type III civilisation would find us irresistible and would rush to make contact with us. The truth is, however, they may be as interested in communicating with humans as we are keen to communicate with ants.
'Star Makers', Cosmos (Feb 2006).
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Learning begets humility because the more a man knows, the more he discovers his ignorance.
Anonymous
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 27
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Let him [the author] be permitted also in all humility to add … that in consequence of the large arrears of algebraical and arithmetical speculations waiting in his mind their turn to be called into outward existence, he is driven to the alternative of leaving the fruits of his meditations to perish (as has been the fate of too many foregone theories, the still-born progeny of his brain, now forever resolved back again into the primordial matter of thought), or venturing to produce from time to time such imperfect sketches as the present, calculated to evoke the mental co-operation of his readers, in whom the algebraical instinct has been to some extent developed, rather than to satisfy the strict demands of rigorously systematic exposition.
In Philosophic Magazine (1863), 460.
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Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 23.
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Science ... must be absorbed in order to inculcate that wonderful humility before the facts of nature that comes from close attention to a textbook, and that unwillingness to learn from Authority that comes from making almost verbatim lecture notes and handing them back to the professor.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 141.
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Science even more than the Gospel teaches us humility. She cannot look down on anything, she does not know what superiority means, she despises nothing, never lies for the sake of a pose, and conceals nothing out of coquetry. She stops before the facts as an investigator, sometimes as a physician, never as an executioner, and still less with hostility and irony.
My Past and Thoughts: the Memoirs of Alexander Herzen (revised translation 1968, 1982), 639.
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Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual ... The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.
In Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), 29.
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Scientists are convinced that they, as scientists, possess a number of very admirable human qualities, such as accuracy, observation, reasoning power, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, and even humility.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 15-16.
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Teach your tongue to say “I do not know” and you will progress.
As quoted in Robert Taylor, White Coat Tales: Medicine's Heroes, Heritage, and Misadventures (2010), 124.
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The competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids clever tricks like the plague.
…...
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The fact that stares one in the face is that people of the greatest sincerity and of all levels of intelligence differ and have always differed in their religious beliefs. Since at most one faith can be true, it follows that human beings are extremely liable to believe firmly and honestly in something untrue in the field of revealed religion. One would have expected this obvious fact to lead to some humility, to some thought that however deep one's faith, one may conceivably be mistaken. Nothing is further from the believer, any believer, than this elementary humility. All in his power … must have his faith rammed down their throats. In many cases children are indeed indoctrinated with the disgraceful thought that they belong to the one group with superior knowledge who alone have a private wire to the office of the Almighty, all others being less fortunate than they themselves.
From 'Religion is a Good Thing', collected in R. Duncan and M. Wesson-Smith (eds.) Lying Truths: A Critical Scruting of Current Beliefs and Conventions (1979), 205. As quoted in Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (1984), 6-7.
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The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence) might well have thought that, at [Dayton C.] Miller's announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a “positive effect” [indicating that the speed of light is not independent from the motion of the observer, as Einstein's theory of relativity demands] in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller's results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong.
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958, 1998), 13. Miller had earlier presented his evidence against the validity of the relativity theory at the annual meeting, 28 Apr 1925, of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller believed he had, by a much-refined and improved repetition of the so-called Michelson-Morley experiment, shown that there is a definite and measurable motion of the earth through the ether. In 1955, a paper by R.S. Shankland, et al., in Rev. Modern Phys. (1955), 27, 167, concluded that statistical fluctuations and temperature effects in the data had simulated what Miller had taken to be he apparent ether drift.
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The main duty of the historian of mathematics, as well as his fondest privilege, is to explain the humanity of mathematics, to illustrate its greatness, beauty and dignity, and to describe how the incessant efforts and accumulated genius of many generations have built up that magnificent monument, the object of our most legitimate pride as men, and of our wonder, humility and thankfulness, as individuals.
In The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 28.
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We all felt the majesty of the body. In a very short period of time we had seen something that was bigger than each of us. A lot of people, even those who were not religious, were reverent and attributed the success to God. As we saw the artificial heart beat in Dr. Clark, the feeling was not aren't we great, but aren't we small.
[Comment after surgery for the world's first human implant of a total artificial heart in the chest of dentist Dr. Barney Clark ]
Quoted by Lawrence K. Altman in “Clark's Surgeon Was ‘Worried To Death’&rdquo, New York Times (12 Apr 1983), C2.
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We may be sure, that if Lyell were now living he would frankly recognize new facts, as soon as they were established, and would not shrink from any modification of his theory which these might demand. Great as were his services to geology, this, perhaps, is even greater—for the lesson applies to all sciences and to all seekers alter knowledge—that his career, from first to lost, was the manifestation of a judicial mind, of a noble spirit, raised far above all party passions and petty considerations, of an intellect great in itself, but greater still in its grand humility; that he was a man to whom truth was as the “pearl of price,” worthy of the devotion and, if need be, the sacrifice of a life.
Conclusion in Charles Lyell and Modern Geology (1895), 213.
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We must admit with humility that, while number is purely a product of our minds, space has a reality outside our minds, so that we cannot completely prescribe its properties a priori.
Letter to Friedrich Bessel (1830).
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We must draw our standards from the natural world. … We must honor with the humility of the wise the bounds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence.
In speech 'Politics and Conscience' written upon receiving an honorary degree from the University of Toulouse, delivered by Tom Stoppard because Havel was forbidden to travel abroad. First published in Czech, collected in The Natural World as Political Problem: Essays on Modern Man (1984). As translated by Erazim Kohák and Roger Scruton in Salisbury Review (Jan 1985), No. 2.
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[Certain students] suppose that because science has penetrated the structure of the atom it can solve all the problems of the universe. ... They are known in every ... college as the most insufferable, cocksure know-it-alls. If you want to talk to them about poetry, they are likely to reply that the "emotive response" to poetry is only a conditioned reflex .... If they go on to be professional scientists, their sharp corners are rubbed down, but they undergo no fundamental change. They most decidedly are not set apart from the others by their intellectual integrity and faith, and their patient humility in front of the facts of nature.... They are uneducated, in the fullest sense of the word, and they certainly are no advertisement for the claims of science teachers.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 18-19.
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… the fact has always been for the physicist the one ultimate thing from which there is no appeal, and in the face of which the only possible attitude is a humility almost religious.
In The Logic of Modern Physics (1927).
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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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- 10 -
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