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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Idea

Idea Quotes (843 quotes)

... I left Caen, where I was living, to go on a geologic excursion under the auspices of the School of Mines. The incidents of the travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go to some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Eudidean geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had time, as upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with a conversation already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to Caen, for convenience sake, I verified the result at my leisure.
Quoted in Sir Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (1990), 541. Science and Method (1908) 51-52, 392.
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...an idea is no more an even relatively constant thing than is a feeling or emotion or volitional process. There exist only changing and transient ideational processes; there are no permanent ideas that return again and disappear again.
An Introduction to Psychology (1912)
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...there is no prescribed route to follow to arrive at a new idea. You have to make the intuitive leap. But the difference is that once you’ve made the intuitive leap you have to justify it by filling in the intermediate steps. In my case, it often happens that I have an idea, but then I try to fill in the intermediate steps and find that they don’t work, so I have to give it up.
…...
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...travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
…...
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“Le génie n'est qu'une longue patience”, a dit Buffon. Cela est bien incomplet. Le génie, c'est l'impatience dans les idées et la patience dans les faits : une imagination vive et un jugement calme; quelque chose comme un liquide en ébullition dans un vase qui reste toujours froid.
“Genius is just enduring patience,” said Buffon. This is far from complete. Genius is impatience in ideas and patience with the facts: a lively imagination and a calm judgment, rather like a liquid boiling in a cup that remains cold.
In Recueil d'Œuvres de Léo Errera: Botanique Générale (1908), 198. Google translation by Webmaster.
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Air Chief Marshal Harris [objecting to a change in strategy recommended by statisticians]: Are we fighting this war with weapons or the slide rule?
Churchill [after puffing on his cigar]: That's a good idea. Let's try the slide rule.
During World War II, Britain lost the advantage when enemy U-boats began listening in to the aircraft radar, were forewarned, and would dive. U-boat sinkings fell to zero. Physicist Patrick S. Blackett with his Operational Research colleagues came up with a solution. Concentrate sufficient aircraft in certain areas, causing the subs to dive so frequently their air supply and batteries were exhausted, forcing them to remain on the surface and be vulnerable to attack. The strategy required diverting several squadrons from Bomber Command to Coastal Command. “Bomber” Harris voiced his objection to Churchill, who made the right choice, proved by successful results. As described by R.V. Jones, 'Churchill and Science', in Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), Churchill (1996), 437.
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Bernard: Oh, you’re going to zap me with penicillin and pesticides. Spare me that and I’ll spare you the bomb and aerosols. But don’t confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There’s no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God’s crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can’t think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars—big bangs, black holes—who [cares]? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves?
Chloe: Are you against penicillin, Bernard?
Bernard: Don’t feed the animals.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Act 2, Scene 5, 61.
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Ce grand ouvrage, toujours plus merveilleux à mesure qu’il est plus connu, nous donne une si grande idée de son ouvrier, que nous en sentons notre esprit accablé d’admiration et de respect.
[The Universe] This great work, always more amazing in proportion as it is better known, raises in us so grand an idea of its Maker, that we find our mind overwhelmed with feelings of wonder and adoration.
Original French and translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed.) Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 119-120.
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Clarke's First Law - Corollary: When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion—the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.
'Asimov's Corollary', Fantasy & Science Fiction (Feb 1977). In collection Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1978), 231.
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Il ne fallait jamais faire des expériences pour confirmer ses idées, mais simplement pour les contrôler.
We must never make experiments to confirm our ideas, but simply to control them.
From Introduction à l'étude de la médecine expérimentale (1865), 67-68. Translation from Henry Copley Green, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1957), 38. Bernard footnoted that he had expressed this idea earlier in Leçons sur les propriétés et les altérations des liquides de l’organisme (1859), Première leçon.
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Indiana Jones: Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. … So forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.
Spoken by actor Harrison Ford as character Indiana Jones in movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
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Is mihi semper dicendus est inventor, qui primus evuIgaverit, vel saltem cum amicis communicaverit.
I should always call inventor him who first publishes, or at least communicates [the idea] to his friends.
Meditationes Analyticae (1785), ii-iii.
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La théorie n’est que l’idée scientifique contrôlée par l’expérience.
A theory is merely a scientific idea controlled by experiment.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865), 40. English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 26.
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Longtemps les objets dont s'occupent les mathématiciens étaient our la pluspart mal définis; on croyait les connaître, parce qu'on se les représentatit avec le sens ou l'imagination; mais on n'en avait qu'une image grossière et non une idée précise sure laquelle le raisonment pût avoir prise.
For a long time the objects that mathematicians dealt with were mostly ill-defined; one believed one knew them, but one represented them with the senses and imagination; but one had but a rough picture and not a precise idea on which reasoning could take hold.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 97.
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Ron Hutcheson, a Knight-Ridder reporter: [Mr. President, what are your] personal views [about the theory of] intelligent design?
President George W. Bush: [Laughing. You're] doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past [days as governor of Texas]. ... Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught...”
Hutcheson: Both sides ought to be properly taught?
President: Yes ... so people can understand what the debate is about.
Hutcheson: So the answer accepts the validity of “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution?
President: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting—you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.
Hutcheson: So we've got to give these groups—...
President: [interrupting] Very interesting question, Hutch. [Laughter from other reporters]
From conversation with reporters at the White House (1 Aug 2005), as quoted by Matthew Cooper in 'Fanning the Controversy Over “Intelligent Design”', Time (3 Aug 2005). The Time writer stated, “The president has gone farther in questioning the widely-taught theories of evolution and natural selection than any president since Ronald Reagan, who advocated teaching creationism in public schools alongside evolution.” Just a few months later, in the nation's first case on that point, on 20 Dec 2005, “a federal judge [John E. Jones] ruled it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school district to present intelligent design as an alternative in high school biology courses, because it is a religious viewpoint,” as reported by Laurie Goodstein in 'Judge Rejects Teaching Intelligent Design', New York Times (21 Dec 2005). Goodstein also wrote “Judge Jones, a Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that intelligent design was not science,” and that “the evidence in the trial proved that intelligent design was 'creationism relabeled.' The Supreme Court has already ruled that creationism ... cannot be taught as science in a public school.”
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The Annotated Alice, of course, does tie in with math, because Lewis Carroll was, as you know, a professional mathematician. So it wasn’t really too far afield from recreational math, because the two books are filled with all kinds of mathematical jokes. I was lucky there in that I really didn’t have anything new to say in The Annotated Alice because I just looked over the literature and pulled together everything in the form of footnotes. But it was a lucky idea because that’s been the best seller of all my books.
In Anthony Barcellos, 'A Conversation with Martin Gardner', The Two-Year College Mathematics Journal (Sep 1979), 10, No. 4, 241.
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Truth then seems to me, in the proper import of the Word, to signifie nothing but the joining or separating of Signs, as the Things signified by them do agree or disagree one with another; which way of joining or separating of Signs, we call Proposition. So that Truth properly belongs only to Propositions: whereof there are two sorts, viz. Mental and Verbal; as there are two sorts of Signs commonly made use of, viz. Ideas and Words.
In 'Truth in General', Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), book 4, ch. 5, sec. 2, 289.
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Une idée anticipée ou une hypothèse est donc le point de départ nécessaire de tout raisonnement expérimental. Sans cela on ne saurait faire aucune investigation ni s’instruire ; on ne pourrait qu’entasser des observations stériles. Si l’on expérimentait sans idée préconçue, on irait à l’aventure; mais d’un autre côté, ainsi que nous l’avons dit ailleurs, si l’on observait avec des idées préconçues, on ferait de mauvaises observations.
An anticipative idea or an hypothesis is, then, the necessary starting point for all experimental reasoning. Without it, we could not make any investigation at all nor learn anything; we could only pile up sterile observations. If we experimented without a preconceived idea, we should move at random.
[Also seen translated as:] A hypothesis is … the obligatory starting point of all experimental reasoning. Without it no investigation would be possible, and one would learn nothing: one could only pile up barren observations. To experiment without a preconceived idea is to wander aimlessly.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865). English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 32. Alternate translation in Peter Medawar, 'Hypothesis and Imagination', collected in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1974), 30.
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Wenn sich für ein neues Fossil kein, auf eigenthümliche Eigenschaften desselben hinweisender, Name auffinden lassen Will; als in welchem Falle ich mich bei dem gegenwärtigen zu befinden gestehe; so halte ich es für besser, eine solche Benennung auszuwählen, die an sich gar nichts sagt, und folglich auch zu keinen unrichtigen Begriffen Anlass geben kann. Diesem zufolge will ich den Namen für die gegenwärtige metallische Substanz, gleichergestalt wie bei dem Uranium geschehen, aus der Mythologie, und zwar von den Ursöhnen der Erde, den Titanen, entlehnen, und benenne also dieses neue Metallgeschlecht: Titanium.
Wherefore no name can be found for a new fossil [element] which indicates its peculiar and characteristic properties (in which position I find myself at present), I think it is best to choose such a denomination as means nothing of itself and thus can give no rise to any erroneous ideas. In consequence of this, as I did in the case of Uranium, I shall borrow the name for this metallic substance from mythology, and in particular from the Titans, the first sons of the earth. I therefore call this metallic genus TITANIUM.
Martin Heinrich Klaproth. Original German edition, Beiträge Zur Chemischen Kenntniss Der Mineralkörper (1795), Vol. 1 , 244. English edition, translator not named, Analytical Essays Towards Promoting the Chemical Knowledge of Mineral Substances (1801), Vol. 1, 210. Klaproth's use of the term fossil associates his knowledge of the metal as from ore samples dug out of a mine.
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[About Pierre de Fermat] It cannot be denied that he has had many exceptional ideas, and that he is a highly intelligent man. For my part, however, I have always been taught to take a broad overview of things, in order to be able to deduce from them general rules, which might be applicable elsewhere.
Quoted, without source, in The Grolier Library of Science Biographies (1996), Vol. 3, 191.
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[David Harker asked: Dr Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas?]
Well David, I have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones.
David Harker was one of Pauling's students in the 1930s. Quoted in Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 529.
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[Question: What do you think was the most important physics idea to emerge this year?]
We won't know for a few years.
Interview with Deborah Solomon, 'The Science of Second-Guessing', in New York Times Magazine (12 Dec 2004), 37.
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[Recalling Professor Ira Remsen's remarks (1895) to a group of his graduate students about to go out with their degrees into the world beyond the university:]
He talked to us for an hour on what was ahead of us; cautioned us against giving up the desire to push ahead by continued study and work. He warned us against allowing our present accomplishments to be the high spot in our lives. He urged us not to wait for a brilliant idea before beginning independent research, and emphasized the fact the Lavoisier's first contribution to chemistry was the analysis of a sample of gypsum. He told us that the fields in which the great masters had worked were still fruitful; the ground had only been scratched and the gleaner could be sure of ample reward.
Quoted in Frederick Hutton Getman, The Life of Ira Remsen (1980), 73.
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A bacteriologist is a man whose conversation always starts with the germ of an idea.
Anonymous
Quoted in M. Goran, A Treasury of Science Jokes (1986), 37.
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A bad earthquake at once destroys the oldest associations: the world, the very emblem of all that is solid, has moved beneath our feet like a crust over a fluid; one second of time has conveyed to the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would never have created.
Journal of Researches: Into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. BeagIe Round the World (1839), ch. XVI, 369.
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A casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.
As quoted in New Scientist (1973), 60, 424.
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A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 221.
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A final proof of our ideas can only be obtained by detailed studies on the alterations produced in the amino acid sequence of a protein by mutations of the type discussed here.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1962). Collected in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962 (1964).
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A good philosopher is one who does not take ideas seriously.
In 'Philosophy, Religion, and So Forth', A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989), 1.
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A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.
In Disturbing the Universe (1979), 114.
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A hundred years ago … an engineer, Herbert Spencer, was willing to expound every aspect of life, with an effect on his admiring readers which has not worn off today.
Things do not happen quite in this way nowadays. This, we are told, is an age of specialists. The pursuit of knowledge has become a profession. The time when a man could master several sciences is past. He must now, they say, put all his efforts into one subject. And presumably, he must get all his ideas from this one subject. The world, to be sure, needs men who will follow such a rule with enthusiasm. It needs the greatest numbers of the ablest technicians. But apart from them it also needs men who will converse and think and even work in more than one science and know how to combine or connect them. Such men, I believe, are still to be found today. They are still as glad to exchange ideas as they have been in the past. But we cannot say that our way of life is well-fitted to help them. Why is this?
In 'The Unification of Biology', New Scientist (11 Jan 1962), 13, No. 269, 72.
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A lot of people ask, “Do you think humans are parasites?” It’s an interesting idea and one worth thinking about. People casually refer to humanity as a virus spreading across the earth. In fact, we do look like some strange kind of bio-film spreading across the landscape. A good metaphor? If the biosphere is our host, we do use it up for our own benefit. We do manipulate it. We alter the flows and fluxes of elements like carbon and nitrogen to benefit ourselves—often at the expense of the biosphere as a whole. If you look at how coral reefs or tropical forests are faring these days, you’ll notice that our host is not doing that well right now. Parasites are very sophisticated; parasites are highly evolved; parasites are very successful, as reflected in their diversity. Humans are not very good parasites. Successful parasites do a very good job of balancing—using up their hosts and keeping them alive. It’s all a question of tuning the adaptation to your particular host. In our case, we have only one host, so we have to be particularly careful.
Talk at Columbia University, 'The Power of Parasites'.
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A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height, spots a man down below and asks,“Excuse me, can you help me? I promised to return the balloon to its owner, but I don’t know where I am.”
The man below says: “You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 350 feet above mean sea level and 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and 42 degrees north latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees west longitude.”
“You must be an engineer,” says the balloonist.
“I am,” replies the man.“How did you know?”
“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost.”
The man below says, “You must be a manager.”
“I am,” replies the balloonist,“but how did you know?”
“Well,” says the engineer,“you don’t know where you are, or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem.The fact is you are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault.”
Anonymous
In Jon Fripp, Michael Fripp and Deborah Fripp, Speaking of Science (2000), 199.
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A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds.
In 'Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,' Following the Equator (1897), 297.
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A mathematician of the first rank, Laplace quickly revealed himself as only a mediocre administrator; from his first work we saw that we had been deceived. Laplace saw no question from its true point of view; he sought subtleties everywhere; had only doubtful ideas, and finally carried the spirit of the infinitely small into administration.
As quoted in E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (1937, 1965), 182. Without citation, except, “As it is often quoted as … Napoleon’s famous estimate of Laplace, of which he is reported to have delivered himself while he was a prisoner at St. Helena.” Laplace had a six-week tenure in the Ministry of the Interior.
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A mathematician who can only generalise is like a monkey who can only climb UP a tree. ... And a mathematician who can only specialise is like a monkey who can only climb DOWN a tree. In fact neither the up monkey nor the down monkey is a viable creature. A real monkey must find food and escape his enemies and so must be able to incessantly climb up and down. A real mathematician must be able to generalise and specialise. ... There is, I think, a moral for the teacher. A teacher of traditional mathematics is in danger of becoming a down monkey, and a teacher of modern mathematics an up monkey. The down teacher dishing out one routine problem after another may never get off the ground, never attain any general idea. and the up teacher dishing out one definition after the other may never climb down from his verbiage, may never get down to solid ground, to something of tangible interest for his pupils.
From 'A Story With A Moral', Mathematical Gazette (Jun 1973), 57, No. 400, 86-87
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A mathematician … has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 84.
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A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 84.
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A mind exclusively bent upon the idea of utility necessarily narrows the range of the imagination. For it is the imagination which pictures to the inner eye of the investigator the indefinitely extending sphere of the possible,—that region of hypothesis and explanation, of underlying cause and controlling law. The area of suggestion and experiment is thus pushed beyond the actual field of vision.
In 'The Paradox of Research', The North American Review (Sep 1908), 188, No. 634, 425.
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A mind that is stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.
Attributed.
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A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words. A painting may embody an “idea,” but the idea is usually commonplace and unimportant. In poetry, ideas count for a good deal more; but, as Housman insisted, the importance of ideas in poetry is habitually exaggerated. … The poverty of ideas seems hardly to affect the beauty of the verbal pattern. A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 2012), 84-85.
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A professor … may be to produce a perfect mathematical work of art, having every axiom stated, every conclusion drawn with flawless logic, the whole syllabus covered. This sounds excellent, but in practice the result is often that the class does not have the faintest idea of what is going on. … The framework is lacking; students do not know where the subject fits in, and this has a paralyzing effect on the mind.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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A scientific invention consists of six (or some number) ideas, five of which are absurd but which, with the addition of the sixth and enough rearrangement of the combinations, results in something no one has thought of before.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 66.
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A scientific observation is always a committed observation. It confirms or denies one’s preconceptions, one’s first ideas, one’s plan of observation. It shows by demonstration. It structures the phenomenon. It transcends what is close at hand. It reconstructs the real after having reconstructed its representation.
In The New Scientific Spirit (1934).
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A scientist can be productive in various ways. One is having the ability to plan and carry out experiments, but the other is having the ability to formulate new ideas, which can be about what experiments can be carried out … by making [the] proper calculations. Individual scientists who are successful in their work are successful for different reasons.
Interview with George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman, in 'Linus Pauling: Reflections', American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1994), 82, No. 6, 522.
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A single idea, if it is right, saves us the labor of an infinity of experiences.
Reflections on America (1958), 97.
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A society made up of individuals who were capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. The pressure of ideas would simply drive it frantic.
Minority Report (1956, 2006 reprint), 10.
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A superficial knowledge of mathematics may lead to the belief that this subject can be taught incidentally, and that exercises akin to counting the petals of flowers or the legs of a grasshopper are mathematical. Such work ignores the fundamental idea out of which quantitative reasoning grows—the equality of magnitudes. It leaves the pupil unaware of that relativity which is the essence of mathematical science. Numerical statements are frequently required in the study of natural history, but to repeat these as a drill upon numbers will scarcely lend charm to these studies, and certainly will not result in mathematical knowledge.
In Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1897), 26-27.
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A superficial knowledge of mathematics may lead to the belief that this subject can be taught incidentally, and that exercises akin to counting the petals of flowers or the legs of a grasshopper are mathematical. Such work ignores the fundamental idea out of which quantitative reasoning grows—the equality of magnitudes. It leaves the pupil unaware of that relativity which is the essence of mathematical science. Numerical statements are frequently required in the study of natural history, but to repeat these as a drill upon numbers will scarcely lend charm to these studies, and certainly will not result in mathematical knowledge.
In Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1897), 26-27.
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A surplus of ideas is as dangerous as a drought. The tendency to jump from idea to idea spreads your energy horizontally rather than vertically. As a result you'll struggle to make progress.
In 'The Action Method', Making Ideas Happen (2012).
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A very sincere and serious freshman student came to my office with a question that had clearly been troubling him deeply. He said to me, ‘I am a devout Christian and have never had any reason to doubt evolution, an idea that seems both exciting and well documented. But my roommate, a proselytizing evangelical, has been insisting with enormous vigor that I cannot be both a real Christian and an evolutionist. So tell me, can a person believe both in God and in evolution?’ Again, I gulped hard, did my intellectual duty, a nd reassured him that evolution was both true and entirely compatible with Christian belief –a position that I hold sincerely, but still an odd situation for a Jewish agnostic.
…...
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Accordingly, we find Euler and D'Alembert devoting their talent and their patience to the establishment of the laws of rotation of the solid bodies. Lagrange has incorporated his own analysis of the problem with his general treatment of mechanics, and since his time M. Poinsôt has brought the subject under the power of a more searching analysis than that of the calculus, in which ideas take the place of symbols, and intelligent propositions supersede equations.
J. C. Maxwell on Louis Poinsôt (1777-1859) in 'On a Dynamical Top' (1857). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 1, 248.
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Admit for a moment, as a hypothesis, that the Creator had before his mind a projection of the whole life-history of the globe, commencing with any point which the geologist may imagine to have been a fit commencing point, and ending with some unimaginable acme in the indefinitely distant future. He determines to call this idea into actual existence, not at the supposed commencing point, but at some stage or other of its course. It is clear, then, that at the selected stage it appears, exactly as it would have appeared at that moment of its history, if all the preceding eras of its history had been real.
Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857), 351.
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After long reflection in solitude and meditation, I suddenly had the idea, during the year 1923, that the discovery made by Einstein in 1905 should be generalised by extending it to all material particles and notably to electrons.
Preface to his re-edited 1924 Ph.D. Thesis, Recherches sur la théorie des quanta (1963), 4. In Steve Adams, Frontiers (2000), 13.
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Again and again in reading even his [William Thomson] most abstract writings one is struck by the tenacity with which physical ideas control in him the mathematical form in which he expressed them. An instance of this is afforded by … an example of a mathematical result that is, in his own words, “not instantly obvious from the analytical form of my solution, but which we immediately see must be the case by thinking of the physical meaning of the result.”
As given in Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 2, 1136. The ellipsis gives the reference to the quoted footnote, to a passage in his Mathematical and Physical Papers, Vol. 1, 457. [Note: William Thomson, later became Lord Kelvin. —Webmaster]
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All human knowledge begins with intuitions, proceeds from thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.
Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), B 730. As translated by Norman Kemp Smith in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1929), 569. Also translated in an epigraph as “All human knowledge thus begins with intuitions, proceeds thence to concepts, and ends with ideas,” in David Hilbert and E.J. Townsend (trans.), 'Introduction', Foundations of Geometry (1902), 1, citing Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Elementarlehre, Part 2, Sec. 2.
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All possible truth is practical. To ask whether our conception of chair or table corresponds to the real chair or table apart from the uses to which they may be put, is as utterly meaningless and vain as to inquire whether a musical tone is red or yellow. No other conceivable relation than this between ideas and things can exist. The unknowable is what I cannot react upon. The active part of our nature is not only an essential part of cognition itself, but it always has a voice in determining what shall be believed and what rejected.
The Muscular Perception of Space (1878), 446.
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All science as it grows toward perfection becomes mathematical in its ideas.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 14. This is part of a longer quote that begins, “In modern times the belief that the ultimate explanation…”, on the Alfred North Whitehead Quotes page of this website.
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All science requires mathematics.
[Editors' summary of Bacon's idea, not Bacon's wording.]
These are not the exact words of Roger Bacon, but are from an editor's sub-heading, giving a summary for the topic of Chapter 2, for example, in Roger Bacon and Robert Belle Burke (ed.), Opus Maius (reproduction 2002), Vol. 1, Part 4, 117. Part 4 is devoted to a discourse on Mathematics. In its Chapter 1, as translated, Bacon states that 'There are four great sciences, without which the other sciences cannot be known nor a knowledge of things secured. ... Of these sciences the gate and key is mathematics.'
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All that can be said upon the number and nature of elements is, in my opinion, confined to discussions entirely of a metaphysical nature. The subject only furnishes us with indefinite problems, which may be solved in a thousand different ways, not one of which, in all probability, is consistent with nature. I shall therefore only add upon this subject, that if, by the term elements, we mean to express those simple and indivisible atoms of which matter is composed, it is extremely probable we know nothing at all about them; but, if we apply the term elements, or principles of bodies, to express our idea of the last point which analysis is capable of reaching, we must admit, as elements, all the substances into which we are capable, by any means, to reduce bodies by decomposition.
Elements of Chemistry (1790), trans. R. Kerr, Preface, xxiv.
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All the different classes of beings which taken together make up the universe are, in the ideas of God who knows distinctly their essential gradations, only so many ordinates of a single curve so closely united that it would be impossible to place others between any two of them, since that would imply disorder and imperfection. Thus men are linked with the animals, these with the plants and these with the fossils which in turn merge with those bodies which our senses and our imagination represent to us as absolutely inanimate. And, since the law of continuity requires that when the essential attributes of one being approximate those of another all the properties of the one must likewise gradually approximate those of the other, it is necessary that all the orders of natural beings form but a single chain, in which the various classes, like so many rings, are so closely linked one to another that it is impossible for the senses or the imagination to determine precisely the point at which one ends and the next begins?all the species which, so to say, lie near the borderlands being equivocal, at endowed with characters which might equally well be assigned to either of the neighboring species. Thus there is nothing monstrous in the existence zoophytes, or plant-animals, as Budaeus calls them; on the contrary, it is wholly in keeping with the order of nature that they should exist. And so great is the force of the principle of continuity, to my thinking, that not only should I not be surprised to hear that such beings had been discovered?creatures which in some of their properties, such as nutrition or reproduction, might pass equally well for animals or for plants, and which thus overturn the current laws based upon the supposition of a perfect and absolute separation of the different orders of coexistent beings which fill the universe;?not only, I say, should I not be surprised to hear that they had been discovered, but, in fact, I am convinced that there must be such creatures, and that natural history will perhaps some day become acquainted with them, when it has further studied that infinity of living things whose small size conceals them for ordinary observation and which are hidden in the bowels of the earth and the depth of the sea.
Lettre Prétendue de M. De Leibnitz, à M. Hermann dont M. Koenig a Cité le Fragment (1753), cxi-cxii, trans. in A. O. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936), 144-5.
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Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.
In Science and the Modern World (1926, 2011), 60.
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Almost everything, which the mathematics of our century has brought forth in the way of original scientific ideas, attaches to the name of Gauss.
In Zahlentheorie, Teil 1 (1901), 43.
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Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in infering that he is an inexact man. Every careful measurement in science is always given with the probable error ... every observer admits that he is likely wrong, and knows about how much wrong he is likely to be.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 42.
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Although we know nothing of what an atom is, yet we cannot resist forming some idea of a small particle, which represents it to the mind ... there is an immensity of facts which justify us in believing that the atoms of matter are in some way endowed or associated with electrical powers, to which they owe their most striking qualities, and amongst them their mutual chemical affinity.
[Summarizing his investigations in electrolysis.]
Experimental Researches in Electricity (1839), section 852. Cited in Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais, Brian Pippard, Twentieth Century Physics (1995), Vol. 1, 51.
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An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions. The plain fact is that the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earth's surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago, especially as we have no experimental evidence from that era to check our ideas against.
In Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981), 88.
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An idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it.
Column, 'The Sun Dial', New York Sun (1918?). Cited in Bill Swainson, Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 613.
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An idea must not be condemned for being a little shy and incoherent; all new ideas are shy when introduced first among our old ones. We should have patience and see whether the incoherency is likely to wear off or to wear on, in which latter case the sooner we get rid of them the better.
In Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones (ed.), 'Higgledy-Piggledy', The Note-books of Samuel Butler (1912, 1917), 216-217.
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An idea must not be condemned for being a little shy and incoherent; all new ideas are shy when introduced first among our old ones. We should have patience and see whether the incoherency is likely to wear off or to wear on, in which latter case the sooner we get rid of them the better.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 216-217.
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An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning.
Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor (1950), 97. Quoted in David L. Hull, Science as a Process (1990), 379.
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An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of ideas cannot be resisted.
Histoire d' un Crime (written 1851-52, published 1877), conclusion, chap. 10. Trans. T. H. Joyce and Arthur Locker (1886), 413.
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And ye who wish to represent by words the form of man and all the aspects of his membrification, get away from that idea. For the more minutely you describe, the more you will confuse the mind of the reader and the more you will prevent him from a knowledge of the thing described. And so it is necessary to draw and describe.
From Notebooks (AnA, 14v; Cf. QII, 1), as translated by J. Playfair McMurrich, in Leonardo da Vinci the Anatomist (1930), 76, (Institution Publication 411, Carnegie Institution of Washington).
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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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Any artist or novelist would understand—some of us do not produce their best when directed. We expect the artist, the novelist and the composer to lead solitary lives, often working at home. While a few of these creative individuals exist in institutions or universities, the idea of a majority of established novelists or painters working at the “National Institute for Painting and Fine Art” or a university “Department of Creative Composition” seems mildly amusing. By contrast, alarm greets the idea of a creative scientist working at home. A lone scientist is as unusual as a solitary termite and regarded as irresponsible or worse.
Homage to Gala: The Life of an Independent Scholar (2000), 2.
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Applied research generates improvements, not breakthroughs. Great scientific advances spring from pure research. Even scientists renowned for their “useful” applied discoveries often achieved success only when they abandoned their ostensible applied-science goal and allowed their minds to soar—as when Alexander Fleming, “just playing about,” refrained from throwing away green molds that had ruined his experiment, studied them, and discovered penicillin. Or when C. A. Clarke, a physician affiliated with the University of Liverpool, became intrigued in the 1950s by genetically created color patterns that emerged when he cross-bred butterflies as a hobby. His fascination led him—“by the pleasant route of pursuing idle curiosity”—to the successful idea for preventing the sometimes fatal anemia that threatened babies born of a positive-Rhesus-factor father and a negative-Rhesus-factor mother.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 214-215.
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Godfrey Harold Hardy quote “Languages die and mathematical ideas do not.”
background by Tom_Brown 6117, CC by 2.0 (source)
Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. “Immortality” may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 81.
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As a scientist and geneticist I started to feel that science would probably soon reach the point where its interference into the life processes would be counterproductive if a properly designed governing policy was not implemented. A heavily overcrowded planet, ninety-five percent urbanized with nuclear energy as the main source of energy and with all aspects of life highly computerized, is not too pleasant a place for human life. The life of any individual soon will be predictable from birth to death. Medicine, able to cure almost everything, will make the load of accumulated defects too heavy in the next two or three centuries. The artificial prolongation of life, which looked like a very bright idea when I started research in aging about twenty-five years ago, has now lost its attractiveness for me. This is because I now know that the aging process is so multiform and complex that the real technology and chemistry of its prevention by artificial interference must be too complex and expensive. It would be the privilege of a few, not the method for the majority. I also was deeply concerned about the fact that most research is now either directly or indirectly related to military projects and objectives for power.
Quoted in 'Zhores A(leksandrovich) Medvedev', Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002.
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As advertising always convinces the sponsor even more than the public, the scientists have become sold, and remain sold, on the idea that they have the key to the Absolute, and that nothing will do for Mr. Average Citizen but to stuff himself full of electrons.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 26.
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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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As ideas are preserved and communicated by means of words, it necessarily follows that we cannot improve the language of any science, without at the same time improving the science itself; neither can we, on the other hand, improve a science without improving the language or nomenclature which belongs to it.
Elements of Chemistry (1790), trans. R. Kerr, Preface, xiv-v.
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As science has supplanted its predecessors, so it may hereafter be superseded by some more perfect hypothesis, perhaps by some totally different way of looking at the phenomena—of registering the shadows on the screen—of which we in this generation can form no idea. The advance of knowledge is an infinite progression towards a goal that for ever recedes.
In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890, 1900), Vol. 3, 460.
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As soon as we got rid of the backroom attitude and brought our apparatus fully into the Department with an inexhaustible supply of living patients with fascinating clinical problems, we were able to get ahead really fast. Any new technique becomes more attractive if its clinical usefulness can be demonstrated without harm, indignity or discomfort to the patient... Anyone who is satisfied with his diagnostic ability and with his surgical results is unlikely to contribute much to the launching of a new medical science. He should first be consumed with a divine discontent with things as they are. It greatly helps, of course, to have the right idea at the right time, and quite good ideas may come, Archimedes fashion, in one's bath..
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As the component parts of all new machines may be said to be old[,] it is a nice discriminating judgment, which discovers that a particular arrangement will produce a new and desired effect. ... Therefore, the mechanic should sit down among levers, screws, wedges, wheels, etc. like a poet among the letters of the alphabet, considering them as the exhibition of his thoughts; in which a new arrangement transmits a new idea to the world.
A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation (1796), preface, x.
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As to Science, she has never sought to ally herself to civil power. She has never attempted to throw odium or inflict social ruin on any human being. She has never subjected anyone to mental torment, physical torture, least of all to death, for the purpose of upholding or promoting her ideas. She presents herself unstained by cruelties and crimes. But in the Vatican—we have only to recall the Inquisition—the hands that are now raised in appeals to the Most Merciful are crimsoned. They have been steeped in blood!
History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1875), xi.
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As to the need of improvement there can be no question whilst the reign of Euclid continues. My own idea of a useful course is to begin with arithmetic, and then not Euclid but algebra. Next, not Euclid, but practical geometry, solid as well as plane; not demonstration, but to make acquaintance. Then not Euclid, but elementary vectors, conjoined with algebra, and applied to geometry. Addition first; then the scalar product. Elementary calculus should go on simultaneously, and come into vector algebraic geometry after a bit. Euclid might be an extra course for learned men, like Homer. But Euclid for children is barbarous.
Electro-Magnetic Theory (1893), Vol. 1, 148. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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At the end of the book [Zoonomia] he sums up his [Erasmus Darwin] views in the following sentences: “The world has been evolved, not created: it has arisen little by little from a small beginning, and has increased through the activity of the elemental forces embodied in itself, and so has rather grown than come into being at an almighty word.” “What a sublime idea of the infinite might of the great Architect, the Cause of all causes, the Father of all fathers, the Ens Entium! For if we would compare the Infinite, it would surely require a greater Infinite to cause the causes of effects than to produce the effects themselves.”
[This is a restatement, not a verbatim quote of the original words of Erasmus Darwin, who attributed the idea he summarized to David Hume.]
In August Weismann, John Arthur Thomson (trans.), Margaret R. Thomson (trans.) The Evolution Theory (1904), Vol. 1, 17-18. The verbatim form of the quote from Zoonomia, in context, can be seen on the webpage here for Erasmus Darwin. Later authors have quoted from Weismann's translated book, and given the reworded passage as a direct quote by Erasmus Darwin. Webmaster has found a verbatim form in Zoonomia (1794), but has been unable to find the wording used by Weismann in any primary source by Erasmus Darwin. The rewording is perhaps due to the translation of the quote into German for Weismann's original book, Vorträge über Descendenztheorie (1902) followed by another translation for the English edition.
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At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes—an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), 304.
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Authority in science exists to be questioned, since heresy is the spring from which new ideas flow.
Address, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Awards Banquet, as printed in The Globe and Mail (27 Nov 2004).
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Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.
[Anecdotal response to a reporter’s enquiry.]
As quoted in Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard, Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 150.
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Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his power and strength
But for his intellectual length.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason 'A priori'
As well as 'A posteriori'.
No problem bothered him a bit
He made both head and tail of it.
So wise was he, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong
It passed a few ideas along.
If something slipped his forward mind
'Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.
As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
Thus he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.
Oh, gaze upon this model beast
Defunct ten million years at least.
'The Dinosaur: A Poem' (1912). In E. H. Colbert (ed.), The Dinosaur Book (1951), 78.
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Bombs and pistols do not make a revolution. The sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas.
Quoted in India Today (Apr 2008), 33, No 16, as cited on webpage of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
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Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas; he that reads books of science, thogh without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing…
In Samuel Johnson and W. Jackson Bate (Ed.), ',The Adventurer, No. 137, Tuesday, 26 Febraury 1754.' The Selected Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler (1968), 273.
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Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.
From Essays on Education. In Alfred Whitney Griswold, 1906-1963: In Memoriam (1964), 24.
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But I must confess I am jealous of the term atom; for though it is very easy to talk of atoms, it is very difficult to form a clear idea of their nature, especially when compounded bodies are under consideration.
'On the Absolute Quantity of Electricity Associated with the Particles or Atoms of Matter,' (31 Dec 1833), published in Philosophical Transactions (Jan 1834) as part of Series VII. Collected in Experimental Researches in Electricity: Reprinted from the Philosophical Transactions of 1831-1838 (1839), 256.
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But in practical affairs, particularly in politics, men are needed who combine human experience and interest in human relations with a knowledge of science and technology. Moreover, they must be men of action and not contemplation. I have the impression that no method of education can produce people with all the qualities required. I am haunted by the idea that this break in human civilization, caused by the discovery of the scientific method, may be irreparable.
Max Born
My Life & My Views (1968), 57-8.
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But in science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs. Not the man who finds a grain of new and precious quality but to him who sows it, reaps it, grinds it and feeds the world on it.
First Galton Lecture before the Eugenics Society', Eugenics Review, 1914, 6, 9.
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But in the heavens we discover by their light, and by their light alone, stars so distant from each other that no material thing can ever have passed from one to another; and yet this light, which is to us the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds, tells us also that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds as those which we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule, therefore, throughout the universe, bears impressed on it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the double royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac ... the exact quantity of each molecule to all others of same kind gives it, as Sir John Herschel has well said, the essential character of a manufactured article and precludes the idea of its being external and self-existent.
'Molecules', 1873. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 375-6.
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But nothing of a nature foreign to the duties of my profession [clergyman] engaged my attention while I was at Leeds so much as the, prosecution of my experiments relating to electricity, and especially the doctrine of air. The last I was led into a consequence of inhabiting a house adjoining to a public brewery, where first amused myself with making experiments on fixed air [carbon dioxide] which found ready made in the process of fermentation. When I removed from that house, I was under the necessity making the fixed air for myself; and one experiment leading to another, as I have distinctly and faithfully noted in my various publications on the subject, I by degrees contrived a convenient apparatus for the purpose, but of the cheapest kind. When I began these experiments I knew very little of chemistry, and had in a manner no idea on the subject before I attended a course of chymical lectures delivered in the Academy at Warrington by Dr. Turner of Liverpool. But I have often thought that upon the whole, this circumstance was no disadvantage to me; as in this situation I was led to devise an apparatus and processes of my own, adapted to my peculiar views. Whereas, if I had been previously accustomed to the usual chemical processes, I should not have so easily thought of any other; and without new modes of operation I should hardly have discovered anything materially new.
Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, in the Year 1795 (1806), Vol. 1, 61-2.
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But the idea of science and systematic knowledge is wanting to our whole instruction alike, and not only to that of our business class ... In nothing do England and the Continent at the present moment more strikingly differ than in the prominence which is now given to the idea of science there, and the neglect in which this idea still lies here; a neglect so great that we hardly even know the use of the word science in its strict sense, and only employ it in a secondary and incorrect sense.
Schools and Universities on the Continent (1868),278-9.
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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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By research in pure science I mean research made without any idea of application to industrial matters but solely with the view of extending our knowledge of the Laws of Nature. I will give just one example of the ‘utility’ of this kind of research, one that has been brought into great prominence by the War—I mean the use of X-rays in surgery. Now, not to speak of what is beyond money value, the saving of pain, or, it may be, the life of the wounded, and of bitter grief to those who loved them, the benefit which the state has derived from the restoration of so many to life and limb, able to render services which would otherwise have been lost, is almost incalculable. Now, how was this method discovered? It was not the result of a research in applied science starting to find an improved method of locating bullet wounds. This might have led to improved probes, but we cannot imagine it leading to the discovery of X-rays. No, this method is due to an investigation in pure science, made with the object of discovering what is the nature of Electricity. The experiments which led to this discovery seemed to be as remote from ‘humanistic interest’ —to use a much misappropriated word—as anything that could well be imagined. The apparatus consisted of glass vessels from which the last drops of air had been sucked, and which emitted a weird greenish light when stimulated by formidable looking instruments called induction coils. Near by, perhaps, were great coils of wire and iron built up into electro-magnets. I know well the impression it made on the average spectator, for I have been occupied in experiments of this kind nearly all my life, notwithstanding the advice, given in perfect good faith, by non-scientific visitors to the laboratory, to put that aside and spend my time on something useful.
In Speech made on behalf of a delegation from the Conjoint Board of Scientific Studies in 1916 to Lord Crewe, then Lord President of the Council. In George Paget Thomson, J. J. Thomson and the Cavendish Laboratory in His Day (1965), 167-8.
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By the fruit one judges the tree; the tree of science grows exceedingly slowly; centuries elapse before one can pluck the ripe fruits; even today it is hardly possible for us to shell and appraise the kernel of the teachings that blossomed in the seventeenth century. He who sows cannot therefore judge the worth of the corn. He must have faith in the fruitfulness of the seed in order that he may follow untiringly his chosen furrow when he casts his ideas to the four winds of heaven.
As quoted in Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 62, which cites Évolution de la Mécanique (1903).
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Cat-Ideas and Mouse-Ideas. We can never get rid of mouse-ideas completely, they keep turning up again and again, and nibble, nibble—no matter how often we drive them off. The best way to keep them down is to have a few good strong cat-ideas which will embrace them and ensure their not reappearing till they do so in another shape.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 216.
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Certain students of genetics inferred that the Mendelian units responsible for the selected character were genes producing only a single effect. This was careless logic. It took a good deal of hammering to get rid of this erroneous idea. As facts accumulated it became evident that each gene produces not a single effect, but in some cases a multitude of effects on the characters of the individual. It is true that in most genetic work only one of these character-effects is selected for study—the one that is most sharply defined and separable from its contrasted character—but in most cases minor differences also are recognizable that are just as much the product of the same gene as is the major effect.
'The Relation of Genetics to Physiology and Medicine', Nobel Lecture (4 Jun 1934). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 317.
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Characteristically skeptical of the idea that living things would faithfully follow mathematical formulas, [Robert Harper] seized upon factors in corn which seemed to blend in the hybrid—rather than be represented by plus or minus signs, and put several seasons into throwing doubt upon the concept of immutable hypothetical units of inheritance concocted to account for selected results.
In 'Robert Almer Harper', National Academy Biographical Memoirs (1948), 25, 233-234.
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Chemistry has the same quickening and suggestive influence upon the algebraist as a visit to the Royal Academy, or the old masters may be supposed to have on a Browning or a Tennyson. Indeed it seems to me that an exact homology exists between painting and poetry on the one hand and modern chemistry and modern algebra on the other. In poetry and algebra we have the pure idea elaborated and expressed through the vehicle of language, in painting and chemistry the idea enveloped in matter, depending in part on manual processes and the resources of art for its due manifestation.
Attributed.
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Common sense … may be thought of as a series of concepts and conceptual schemes which have proved highly satisfactory for the practical uses of mankind. Some of those concepts and conceptual schemes were carried over into science with only a little pruning and whittling and for a long time proved useful. As the recent revolutions in physics indicate, however, many errors can be made by failure to examine carefully just how common sense ideas should be defined in terms of what the experimenter plans to do.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 32-33.
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Concerned to reconstruct past ideas, historians must approach the generation that held them as the anthropologist approaches an alien culture. They must, that is, be prepared at the start to find that natives speak a different language and map experience into different categories from those they themselves bring from home. And they must take as their object the discovery of those categories and the assimilation of the corresponding language.
'Revisiting Planck', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1984), 14, 246.
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Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the “Mona Lisa” painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam, whether it takes ultimate shape in a law of physics or a law of the land, a poem or a policy, a sonata or a mechanical computer.
Baccalaureate address (9 Jun 1957), Yale University. In In the University Tradition (1957), 156.
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Creativity is a double-edged sword. The more ideas we have, the less likely we are to stay loyal to one. So the creative mind ends up jumping from idea to idea, and none of them happen.
In 'Author Q&A: Art in Action', Newsweek (7 Jun 2010), 10.
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Data isn't information. ... Information, unlike data, is useful. While there’s a gulf between data and information, there’s a wide ocean between information and knowledge. What turns the gears in our brains isn't information, but ideas, inventions, and inspiration. Knowledge—not information—implies understanding. And beyond knowledge lies what we should be seeking: wisdom.
In High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian (2000), 185-186.
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Do not enter upon research unless you can not help it. Ask yourself the “why” of every statement that is made and think out your own answer. If through your thoughtful work you get a worthwhile idea, it will get you. The force of the conviction will compel you to forsake all and seek the relief of your mind in research work.
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, 473.
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Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.
As quoted, without citation, in Robert Slater, Portraits in Silicon (1987), 88. In reply to a student expressing concern that his own ideas might be stolen before he had published his own thesis. Also seen as “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats,” in Eric A. Weiss, A Computer Science Reader: Selections from ABACUS (1988), 404. (The selections were published in the first three-and-a-half years of ABACUS, a quarterly journal for computing professionals.)
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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we can see the emergence of a tension that has yet to be resolved, concerning the attitude of scientists towards the usefulness of science. During this time, scientists were careful not to stress too much their relationships with industry or the military. They were seeking autonomy for their activities. On the other hand, to get social support there had to be some perception that the fruits of scientific activity could have useful results. One resolution of this dilemma was to assert that science only contributed at the discovery stage; others, industrialists for example, could apply the results. ... Few noted the ... obvious paradox of this position; that, if scientists were to be distanced from the 'evil' effects of the applications of scientific ideas, so too should they receive no credit for the 'good' or socially beneficial, effects of their activities.
Co-author with Philip Gummett (1947- ), -British social scientist
Science, Technology and Society Today (1984), Introduction, 4.
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During the school period the student has been mentally bending over his desk; at the University he should stand up and look around. For this reason it is fatal if the first year at the University be frittered away in going over the old work in the old spirit. At school the boy painfully rises from the particular towards glimpses at general ideas; at the University he should start from general ideas and study their applications to concrete cases.
In 'The Rhythm of Education', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 26.
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D’you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? Have you any idea? One of the reasons l became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing.
Spoken by character Dr. Malone in His Dark Materials Omnibus (2012), 370.
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Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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Education should form right ideas and right habits.
As quoted, without citation, in 'What Is Education?', The Journal of Education (28 Sep 1905), 62, No. 13, 354.
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Educators may bring upon themselves unnecessary travail by taking a tactless and unjustifiable position about the relation between scientific and religious narratives. … The point is that profound but contradictory ideas may exist side by side, if they are constructed from different materials and methods and have different purposes. Each tells us something important about where we stand in the universe, and it is foolish to insist that they must despise each other.
In The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995), 107.
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Edward [Teller] isn’t the cloistered kind of scientist. He gets his ideas in conversation and develops them by trying them out on people. We were coming back from Europe on the Ile de France and I was standing in the ship’s nightclub when he came up and said, 'Freddie, I think I have an idea.’ It was something he’d just thought of about magnetohydrodynamics. I was a bachelor then and I’d located several good-looking girls on the ship, but I knew what I had to do, so I disappeared and started working on the calculations. I’d get something finished and start prowling on the deck again when Edward would turn up out of the night and we’d walk the deck together while he talked and I was the brick wall he was bouncing these things off of. By the end of the trip we had a paper. He’d had the ideas, and I’d done some solving of equations. But he insisted that we sign in alphabetical order, which put my name first.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 61-62.
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Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born.
Y.C. Fung and P. Tong, Classical and Computational Solid Mechanics (2001), 1.
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Environment counts for a great deal. A man’s particular idea may have no chance for growth or encouragement in his community. Real success is denied that man, until he finds a proper environment.
In Orison Swett Marden, 'Bell Telephone Talk: Hints on Success by Alexander G. Bell', How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (1901), 39.
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Euler could repeat the Aeneid from the beginning to the end, and he could even tell the first and last lines in every page of the edition which he used. In one of his works there is a learned memoir on a question in mechanics, of which, as he himself informs us, a verse of Aeneid gave him the first idea. [“The anchor drops, the rushing keel is staid.”]
In Letters of Euler (1872), Vol. 1, 24.
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Even in Europe a change has sensibly taken place in the mind of man. Science has liberated the ideas of those who read and reflect, and the American example has kindled feelings of right in the people. An insurrection has consequently begun of science talents and courage against rank and birth, which have fallen into contempt. It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action. But the world will soon recover from the panic of this first catastrophe.
Letter to John Adams (Monticello, 1813). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 49. From Paul Leicester Ford (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1892-99). Vol 4, 439.
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Even in the dark times between experimental breakthroughs, there always continues a steady evolution of theoretical ideas, leading almost imperceptibly to changes in previous beliefs.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1989), 'Conceptual Foundations of the Unified Theory of Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.'
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Even today I still get letters from young students here and there who say, Why are you people trying to program intelligence? Why don’t you try to find a way to build a nervous system that will just spontaneously create it? Finally I decided that this was either a bad idea or else it would take thousands or millions of neurons to make it work and I couldn’t afford to try to build a machine like that.
As quoted in Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981), 57, 70.
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Eventually, it becomes hard to take the selections seriously, because we have no idea what factors are taken into consideration, except that somehow, it ends with only white and Asian men receiving the [Nobel] prize.
As quoted in Jesse Emspak, 'Are the Nobel Prizes Missing Female Scientists?' (5 Oct 2016), on LiveScience website.
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Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been fascinated by crazy science and such things as perpetual motion machines and logical paradoxes. I’ve always enjoyed keeping up with those ideas. I suppose I didn’t get into it seriously until I wrote my first book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I was influenced by the Dianetics movement, now called Scientology, which was then promoted by John Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction. I was astonished at how rapidly the thing had become a cult.
In Scot Morris, 'Interview: Martin Gardner', Omni, 4, No. 4 (Jan 1982), 68.
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Every improvement that is put upon the real estate is the result of an idea in somebody's head. The skyscraper is another idea; the railroad is another; the telephone and all those things are merely symbols which represent ideas. An andiron, a wash-tub, is the result of an idea that did not exist before.
Speaking to a committee considering a new Copyright Bill (6 Dec 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 320. An andiron is a metal bar, used in a pair, as a stand for logs in a fireplace. The Copyright Bill proposed to give authors, artists and musicians copyright for the term of his life and for 50 years thereafter. John Philip Sousa spoke for the musicians.
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Every intellectual revolution which has ever stirred humanity into greatness has been a passionate protest against inert ideas. Then, alas, with pathetic ignorance of human psychology, it has proceeded by some educational scheme to, bind humanity afresh with inert ideas of its own fashioning.
In 'The Aims of Education', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 14.
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Every Man being conscious to himself, That he thinks, and that which his Mind is employ'd about whilst thinking, being the Ideas, that are there, 'tis past doubt, that Men have in their Minds several Ideas, such as are those expressed by the words, Whiteness, Hardness, Sweetness, Thinking, Motion, Man, Elephant, Army, Drunkenness, and others: It is in the first place then to be inquired, How he comes by them? I know it is a received Doctrine, That Men have native Ideas, and original Characters stamped upon their Minds, in their very first Being.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 1, 104.
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Every rule has its limits, and every concept its ambiguities. Most of all is this true in the science of life, where nothing quite corresponds to our ideas; similar ends are reached by varied means, and no causes are simple.
In Internal Factors in Evolution (1965), 13.
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Every theoretical physicist who is any good knows six or seven different theoretical representations for exactly the same physics. He knows that they are all equivalent, and that nobody is ever going to be able to decide which one is right at that level, but he keeps them in his head, hoping that they will give him different ideas for guessing.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 168.
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Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress.
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Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.
Aphorisms (1775-1779) trans. Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield. In Fred R. Shapiro and Joseph Epstein, The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 459:3.
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Everyone makes for himself a clear idea of the motion of a point, that is to say, of the motion of a corpuscle which one supposes to be infinitely small, and which one reduces by thought in some way to a mathematical point.
Théorie Nouvelle de la Rotation des Corps (1834). As translated by Charles Thomas Whitley in Outlines of a New Theory of Rotatory Motion (1834), 1.
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Everywhere science is enriched by unscientific methods and unscientific results, ... the separation of science and non-science is not only artificial but also detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not just a small selection of them.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975), 305-6.
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Evolution… is the most powerful and the most comprehensive idea that has ever arisen on Earth.
'Education and Humanism', in Essays of a Humanist (1964), 125.
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Exercising the right of occasional suppression and slight modification, it is truly absurd to see how plastic a limited number of observations become, in the hands of men with preconceived ideas.
Meteorographica (1863), 5.
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Faced with the admitted difficulty of managing the creative process, we are doubling our efforts to do so. Is this because science has failed to deliver, having given us nothing more than nuclear power, penicillin, space travel, genetic engineering, transistors, and superconductors? Or is it because governments everywhere regard as a reproach activities they cannot advantageously control? They felt that way about the marketplace for goods, but trillions of wasted dollars later, they have come to recognize the efficiency of this self-regulating system. Not so, however, with the marketplace for ideas.
Quoted in Martin Moskovits (ed.), Science and Society, the John C. Polanyi Nobel Lareates Lectures (1995), 8.
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Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (1983, 1994), Chap. 19.
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Facts are the materials of science, but all Facts involve Ideas. … we must, for the purposes of science, take care that the Ideas are clear and rigorously applied.
Aphorism 4, 'Aphorisms Concerning Science', The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 1, xxxvii.
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Falsity cannot keep an idea from being beautiful; there are certain errors of such ingenuity that one could regret their not ranking among the achievements of the human mind.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 89.
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Finally, I aim at giving denominations to things, as agreeable to truth as possible. I am not ignorant that words, like money, possess an ideal value, and that great danger of confusion may be apprehended from a change of names; in the mean time it cannot be denied that chemistry, like the other sciences, was formerly filled with improper names. In different branches of knowledge, we see those matters long since reformed: why then should chemistry, which examines the real nature of things, still adopt vague names, which suggest false ideas, and favour strongly of ignorance and imposition? Besides, there is little doubt but that many corrections may be made without any inconvenience.
Physical and Chemical Essays (1784), Vol. I, xxxvii.
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First, inevitably, the idea, the fantasy, the fairy tale. Then, scientific calculation. Ultimately, fulfillment crowns the dream.
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For any one who is pervaded with the sense of causal law in all that happens, who accepts in real earnest the assumption of causality, the idea of a Being who interferes with the sequence of events in the world is absolutely impossible! Neither the religion of fear nor the social-moral religion can have, any hold on him. A God who rewards and punishes is for him unthinkable, because man acts in accordance with an inner and outer necessity, and would, in the eyes of God, be as little responsible as an inanimate object is for the movements which it makes. Science, in consequence, has been accused of undermining morals—but wrongly. The ethical behavior of man is better based on sympathy, education and social relationships, and requires no support from religion. Man’s plight would, indeed, be sad if he had to be kept in order through fear of punishment and hope of rewards after death.
From 'Religion and Science', The New York Times Magazine, (9 Nov 1930), 1. Article in full, reprinted in Edward H. Cotton (ed.), Has Science Discovered God? A Symposium of Modern Scientific Opinion (1931), 101. The wording differs significantly from the version collected in 'Religion And Science', Ideas And Opinions (1954), 39, giving its source as: “Written expressly for the New York Times Magazine. Appeared there November 9, 1930 (pp. 1-4). The German text was published in the Berliner Tageblatt, November 11, 1930.” This variant form of the quote from the book begins, “The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation….” and is also on the Albert Einstein Quotes page on this website. As for why the difference, Webmaster speculates the book form editor perhaps used a revised translation from Einstein’s German article.
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For it is too bad that there are so few who seek the truth and so few who do not follow a mistaken method in philosophy. This is not, however, the place to lament the misery of our century, but to rejoice with you over such beautiful ideas for proving the truth. So I add only, and I promise, that I shall read your book at leisure; for I am certain that I shall find the noblest things in it. And this I shall do the more gladly, because I accepted the view of Copernicus many years ago, and from this standpoint I have discovered from their origins many natural phenomena, which doubtless cannot be explained on the basis of the more commonly accepted hypothesis.
Letter (4 Aug 1597) to Kepler, expressing thanks and interest in the book Kepler sent him. As quoted in translation in Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Alternate Volume: Since 1300 (2010), Vol. 2, 494.
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For it is too bad that there are so few who seek the truth and so few who do not follow a mistaken method in philosophy. This is not, however, the place to lament the misery of our century, but to rejoice with you over such beautiful ideas for proving the truth. So I add only, and I promise, that I shall read your book at leisure; for I am certain that I shall find the noblest things in it. And this I shall do the more gladly, because I accepted the view of Copernicus many years ago, and from this standpoint I have discovered from their origins many natural phenomena, which doubtless cannot be explained on the basis of the more commonly accepted hypothesis.
In Letter to Johannes Kepler. As quoted in The Portable Renaissance Reader (1968), 597.
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For me, a rocket is only a means--only a method of reaching the depths of space—and not an end in itself… There’s no doubt that it’s very important to have rocket ships since they will help mankind to settle elsewhere in the universe. But what I’m working for is this resettling… The whole idea is to move away from the Earth to settlements in space.
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For me, the idea of a creation is not conceivable without invoking the necessity of design. One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be design and purpose behind it all.
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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Forests were the first temples of the Divinity, and it is in the forests that men have grasped the first idea of architecture.
F.A. de Chateaubriand and Frederic Shoberl (trans.) The Beauties of Christianity (1813), Vol. 1, 251.
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Fortunately I experienced Max Wertheimer's teaching in Berlin and collaborated for over a decade with Wolfgang Köhler. I need not emphasize my debts to these outstanding personalities. The fundamental ideas of Gestalt theory are the foundation of all our investigations in the field of the will, of affection, and of the personality.
From A Dynamic Theory of Personality. Selected papers (1935), 240.
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Fourier’s Theorem … is not only one of the most beautiful results of modern analysis, but it may be said to furnish an indispensable instrument in the treatment of nearly every recondite question in modern physics. To mention only sonorous vibrations, the propagation of electric signals along a telegraph wire, and the conduction of heat by the earth’s crust, as subjects in their generality intractable without it, is to give but a feeble idea of its importance.
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, 28.
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Fractal is a word invented by Mandelbrot to bring together under one heading a large class of objects that have [played] … an historical role … in the development of pure mathematics. A great revolution of ideas separates the classical mathematics of the 19th century from the modern mathematics of the 20th. Classical mathematics had its roots in the regular geometric structures of Euclid and the continuously evolving dynamics of Newton. Modern mathematics began with Cantor’s set theory and Peano’s space-filling curve. Historically, the revolution was forced by the discovery of mathematical structures that did not fit the patterns of Euclid and Newton. These new structures were regarded … as “pathological,” .… as a “gallery of monsters,” akin to the cubist paintings and atonal music that were upsetting established standards of taste in the arts at about the same time. The mathematicians who created the monsters regarded them as important in showing that the world of pure mathematics contains a richness of possibilities going far beyond the simple structures that they saw in Nature. Twentieth-century mathematics flowered in the belief that it had transcended completely the limitations imposed by its natural origins.
Now, as Mandelbrot points out, … Nature has played a joke on the mathematicians. The 19th-century mathematicians may not have been lacking in imagination, but Nature was not. The same pathological structures that the mathematicians invented to break loose from 19th-century naturalism turn out to be inherent in familiar objects all around us.
From 'Characterizing Irregularity', Science (12 May 1978), 200, No. 4342, 677-678. Quoted in Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1977, 1983), 3-4.
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From the age of 13, I was attracted to physics and mathematics. My interest in these subjects derived mostly from popular science books that I read avidly. Early on I was fascinated by theoretical physics and determined to become a theoretical physicist. I had no real idea what that meant, but it seemed incredibly exciting to spend one's life attempting to find the secrets of the universe by using one's mind.
From 'Autobiography', in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.) Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2004, (2005).
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From the intensity of the spots near the centre, we can infer that the protein molecules are relatively dense globular bodies, perhaps joined together by valency bridges, but in any event separated by relatively large spaces which contain water. From the intensity of the more distant spots, it can be inferred that the arrangement of atoms inside the protein molecule is also of a perfectly definite kind, although without the periodicities characterising the fibrous proteins. The observations are compatible with oblate spheroidal molecules of diameters about 25 A. and 35 A., arranged in hexagonal screw-axis. ... At this stage, such ideas are merely speculative, but now that a crystalline protein has been made to give X-ray photographs, it is clear that we have the means of checking them and, by examining the structure of all crystalline proteins, arriving at a far more detailed conclusion about protein structure than previous physical or chemical methods have been able to give.
'X-Ray Photographs of Crystalline Pepsin', Nature (1934), 133, 795.
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From time immemorial, the infinite has stirred men's emotions more than any other question. Hardly any other idea has stimulated the mind so fruitfully. Yet, no other concept needs clarification more than it does.
In address (4 Jun 1925), at a congress of the Westphalian Mathematical Society in Munster, in honor of Karl Weierstrass. First published in Mathematische Annalen (1926), 95, 161-190. Translated by Erna Putnam and Gerald J. Massey as 'On the Infinite', collected in Paul Benacerraf (ed.) Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Readings (1983), 185. Compare another translation elsewhere on this page, beginning, “The Infinite!…”.
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Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of ideas.
In Science and Philosophy (1948), 228.
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Gel’fand amazed me by talking of mathematics as though it were poetry. He once said about a long paper bristling with formulas that it contained the vague beginnings of an idea which could only hint at and which he had never managed to bring out more clearly. I had always thought of mathematics as being much more straightforward: a formula is a formula, and an algebra is an algebra, but Gel’fand found hedgehogs lurking in the rows of his spectral sequences!
In '1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize', Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Mar 1991), 38, No. 3, 186. This is from her acceptance of the 1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize.
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Geologists have usually had recourse for the explanation of these changes to the supposition of sundry violent and extraordinary catastrophes, cataclysms, or general revolutions having occurred in the physical state of the earth's surface.
As the idea imparted by the term Cataclysm, Catastrophe, or Revolution, is extremely vague, and may comprehend any thing you choose to imagine, it answers for the time very well as an explanation; that is, it stops further inquiry. But it also has had the disadvantage of effectually stopping the advance of science, by involving it in obscurity and confusion.
Considerations on Volcanoes (1825), iv.
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Geometric writings are not rare in which one would seek in vain for an idea at all novel, for a result which sooner or later might be of service, for anything in fact which might be destined to survive in the science; and one finds instead treatises on trivial problems or investigations on special forms which have absolutely no use, no importance, which have their origin not in the science itself but in the caprice of the author; or one finds applications of known methods which have already been made thousands of times; or generalizations from known results which are so easily made that the knowledge of the latter suffices to give at once the former. Now such work is not merely useless; it is actually harmful because it produces a real incumbrance in the science and an embarrassment for the more serious investigators; and because often it crowds out certain lines of thought which might well have deserved to be studied.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 43. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 443.
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Great ideas are not charitable.
Le maître de Santiago
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His [J.J. Sylvester’s] lectures were generally the result of his thought for the preceding day or two, and often were suggested by ideas that came to him while talking. The one great advantage that this method had for his students was that everything was fresh, and we saw, as it were, the very genesis of his ideas. One could not help being inspired by such teaching.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 267-268.
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Hitherto man had to live with the idea of death as an individual; from now onward mankind will have to live with the idea of its death as a species.
As excerpted in Paul S. Burtness, 'Arthur Koestler (1905-)', The Contemporary University Reader (1963), 286.
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How can a modern anthropologist embark upon a generalization with any hope of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion? By thinking of the organizational ideas that are present in any society as a mathematical pattern.
In Rethinking Anthropology (1961), 2.
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How can we have any new ideas or fresh outlooks when 90 per cent of the scientists who have ever lived have still not died?
In Scientific World, 1969.
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However much we may enlarge our ideas of the time which has elapsed since the Niagara first began to drain the waters of the upper lakes, we have seen that this period was one only of a series, all belonging to the present zoological epoch; or that in which the living testaceous fauna, whether freshwater or marine, had already come into being. If such events can take place while the zoology of the earth remains almost stationary and unaltered, what ages may not be comprehended in those successive tertiary periods during which the Flora and Fauna of the globe have been almost entirely changed. Yet how subordinate a place in the long calendar of geological chronology do the successive tertiary periods themselves occupy! How much more enormous a duration must we assign to many antecedent revolutions of the earth and its inhabitants! No analogy can be found in the natural world to the immense scale of these divisions of past time, unless we contemplate the celestial spaces which have been measured by the astronomer.
Travels in North America (1845), Vol. 1, 51-2.
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Human language is in some ways similar to, but in other ways vastly different from, other kinds of animal communication. We simply have no idea about its evolutionary history, though many people have speculated about its possible origins. There is, for instance, the “bow-bow” theory, that language started from attempts to imitate animal sounds. Or the “ding-dong” theory, that it arose from natural sound-producing responses. Or the “pooh-pooh” theory, that it began with violent outcries and exclamations.
We have no way of knowing whether the kinds of men represented by the earliest fossils could talk or not…
Language does not leave fossils, at least not until it has become written.
Man in Nature (1961), 10.
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I am a great believer in the simplicity of things and as you probably know I am inclined to hang on to broad & simple ideas like grim death until evidence is too strong for my tenacity.
Letter to Irving Langmuir (10 Jun 1919). Quoted in Nathan Reingold and Ida H. Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History 1900-1939 (1981), 354.
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I am afraid all we can do is to accept the paradox and try to accommodate ourselves to it, as we have done to so many paradoxes lately in modern physical theories. We shall have to get accustomed to the idea that the change of the quantity R, commonly called the 'radius of the universe', and the evolutionary changes of stars and stellar systems are two different processes, going on side by side without any apparent connection between them. After all the 'universe' is an hypothesis, like the atom, and must be allowed the freedom to have properties and to do things which would be contradictory and impossible for a finite material structure.
Kosmos (1932), 133.
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I am more of a sponge than an inventor. I absorb ideas from every source. I take half-matured schemes for mechanical development and make them practical. I am a sort of middleman between the long-haired and impractical inventor and the hard-headed businessman who measures all things in terms of dollars and cents. My principal business is giving commercial value to the brilliant but misdirected ideas of others.
…...
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I am not pleading with you to make changes, I am telling you you have got to make them—not because I say so, but because old Father Time will take care of you if you don’t change. Consequently, you need a procurement department for new ideas.
As quoted in book review, T.A. Boyd, 'Charles F. Kettering: Prophet of Progress', Science (30 Jan 1959), 256.
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I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of the earth, and that things are the sons of heaven. Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas: I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to decay, and that signs might be permanent, like the things which they denote.
'Preface', A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Vol. 1.
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I ask any one who has adopted the calling of an engineer, how much time he lost when he left school, because he had to devote himself to pursuits which were absolutely novel and strange, and of which he had not obtained the remotest conception from his instructors? He had to familiarize himself with ideas of the course and powers of Nature, to which his attention had never been directed during his school-life, and to learn, for the first time, that a world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words.
From After-Dinner Speech (Apr 1869) delivered before the Liverpool Philomathic Society, 'Scientific Education', collected in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 63. Previously published in Macmillan’s Magazine.
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I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature… the belief has been forced upon me…
Firstly: Owing to some peculiarity in my nervous system, I have perceptions of some things, which no one else has… and intuitive perception of… things hidden from eyes, ears, & ordinary senses…
Secondly: my sense reasoning faculties;
Thirdly: my concentration faculty, by which I mean the power not only of throwing my whole energy & existence into whatever I choose, but also of bringing to bear on anyone subject or idea, a vast apparatus from all sorts of apparently irrelevant & extraneous sources…
Well, here I have written what most people would call a remarkably mad letter; & yet certainly one of the most logical, sober-minded, cool, pieces of composition, (I believe), that I ever framed.
Lovelace Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 42, folio 12 (6 Feb 1841). As quoted and cited in Dorothy Stein (ed.), 'This First Child of Mine', Ada: A Life and a Legacy (1985), 86.
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I believe scientists have a duty to share the excitement and pleasure of their work with the general public, and I enjoy the challenge of presenting difficult ideas in an understandable way.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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I believe that in every person is a kind of circuit which resonates to intellectual discovery—and the idea is to make that resonance work
Quoted by Dennis Meredith, in 'Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection and Extraterrestrial Life-Wish', Science Digest (Jun 1979), 85, 37. Reproduced in Carl Sagan and Tom Head (editor), Conversations With Sagan (2006), 54.
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I came to realize that exaggerated concern about what others are doing can be foolish. It can paralyze effort, and stifle a good idea. One finds that in the history of science almost every problem has been worked out by someone else. This should not discourage anyone from pursuing his own path.
From Theodore von Karman and Lee Edson (ed.), The Wind and Beyond: Theodore von Karman, Pioneer in Aviation and Pathfinder in Science (1967).
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Sigmund Freud quote: I cannot face with comfort the idea of life without work; work and the free play of the imagination are for
I cannot face with comfort the idea of life without work; work and the free play of the imagination are for me the same thing, I take no pleasure in anything else.
Letter to Oskar Pfister, 3 Jun 1910. Quoted in H. Meng and E. Freud (eds.), Psycho-Analysis and Faith: The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister (1963), 146.
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I cannot seriously believe in it [quantum theory] because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance [spukhafte Fernwirkungen].
Letter to Max Born (3 Mar 1947). In Born-Einstein Letters (1971), 158.
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I confess that Fermat’s Theorem as an isolated proposition has very little interest for me, for a multitude of such theorems can easily be set up, which one could neither prove nor disprove. But I have been stimulated by it to bring our again several old ideas for a great extension of the theory of numbers. Of course, this theory belongs to the things where one cannot predict to what extent one will succeed in reaching obscurely hovering distant goals. A happy star must also rule, and my situation and so manifold distracting affairs of course do not permit me to pursue such meditations as in the happy years 1796-1798 when I created the principal topics of my Disquisitiones arithmeticae. But I am convinced that if good fortune should do more than I expect, and make me successful in some advances in that theory, even the Fermat theorem will appear in it only as one of the least interesting corollaries.
In reply to Olbers' attempt in 1816 to entice him to work on Fermat's Theorem. The hope Gauss expressed for his success was never realised.
Letter to Heinrich Olbers (21 Mar 1816). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 413.
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I could not possibly be of such a nature as I am, and yet have in my mind the idea of a God, if God did not in reality exist.
In Meditations (1641), Part 3. English as given in John Veitch (trans.), 'Of God: That He Exists', Meditation III, The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 132. Also seen translated as, “It is not possible that I could have in myself the idea of God, if God did not truly exist.”
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I do not think words alone will solve humanity’s present problems. The sound of bombs drowns out men’s voices. In times of peace I have great faith in the communication of ideas among thinking men, but today, with brute force dominating so many millions of lives, I fear that the appeal to man’s intellect is fast becoming virtually meaningless.
In 'I Am an American' (22 Jun 1940), Einstein Archives 29-092. Excerpted in David E. Rowe and Robert J. Schulmann, Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (2007), 470. It was during a radio broadcast for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, interviewed by a State Department Official. Einstein spoke following an examination on his application for American citizenship in Trenton, New Jersey. The attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war on Japan was still over a year in the future.
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I enjoy, and always have enjoyed, disturbing scientists.
[About pioneering with his new ideas.]
As quoted by Neil Shubin in The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body (2013), 113
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I feel that to be a director of a laboratory should not be, by definition, a permanent mission. People should have the courage to step down and go back to science. I believe you will never have a good director of a scientific laboratory unless that director knows he is prepared to become a scientist again. … I gave my contribution; I spent five years of my life to work hard for other people’s interest. … It’s time to go back to science again. I have some wonderful ideas, I feel I’m re-born.
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 202.
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I find in Geology a never failing interest, as [it] has been remarked, it creates the same gran[d] ideas respecting this world, which Astronomy do[es] for the universe.—We have seen much fine scenery that of the Tropics in its glory & luxuriance, exceeds even the language of Humboldt to describe. A Persian writer could alone do justice to it, & if he succeeded he would in England, be called the 'grandfather of all liars'.— But I have seen nothing, which more completely astonished me, than the first sight of a Savage; It was a naked Fuegian his long hair blowing about, his face besmeared with paint. There is in their countenances, an expression, which I believe to those who have not seen it, must be inconceivably wild. Standing on a rock he uttered tones & made gesticulations than which, the cries of domestic animals are far more intelligible.
Letter to Charles Whitley, 23 July 1834. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1821-1836 (1985), Vol. I, 397.
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I first met J. Robert Oppenheimer on October 8, 1942, at Berkeley, Calif. There we discussed the theoretical research studies he was engaged in with respect to the physics of the bomb. Our discussions confirmed my previous belief that we should bring all of the widely scattered theoretical work together. … He expressed complete agreement, and it was then that the idea of the prompt establishment of a Los Alamos was conceived.”
In 'Some Recollections of July 16, 1945', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Jun 1970), 26, No. 6, 21.
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I found the best ideas usually came, not when one was actively striving for them, but when one was in a more relaxed state… I used to take long solitary walks on Sundays, during which I tended to review the current situation in a leisurely way. Such occasions often proved fruitful, even though (or perhaps, because) the primary purpose of the walk was relaxation and not research.
'Methods in Theoretical Physics', From A Life of Physics: Evening Lectures at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy. A Special Supplement of the IAEA Bulletin (1968), 24.
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I grew up in Japan and Hong Kong and then came to the States. Japan was a huge influence on me because, as a child, I would hear the oxcarts come and collect our sewage at night out of our house from the latrine and then take it off to the farms as fertilizer. And then the food would come back in oxcarts during the day. I always had this sort of “our poop became food” mental model. The idea of “waste equals food” was pretty inculcated, that everything was precious and the systems were coherent and cyclical.
In interview with Kerry A. Dolan, 'William McDonough On Cradle-to-Cradle Design', Forbes (4 Aug 2010)
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I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with the problem inasmuch as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right.
In Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S.: An Autobiography (1905), 93.
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I had gone on a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I had entered the Green [of Glasgow] by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street—had passed the old washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection water if I used a jet, as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an outlet could be got at the depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and air. ... I had not walked further than the Golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.
[In Robert Hart's words, a recollection of the description of Watt's moment of inspiration, in May 1765, for improving Thomas Newcomen's steam engine.]
In Robert Hart, 'Reminiscences of James Watt' (read 2 Nov 1857), Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1859), Vol. 1, 1. Note that these are not the verbatim words of James Watt, but are only a recollection of them by Robert Hart, who is quoting as best he can from memory of a conversation he and his brother had with James Watt that took place over 43 years previously. In his Reminiscences, Hart explains, “I have accordingly thrown together the following brief narrative:— As these meetings took place forty-three years since, many observations that were made at the time may have escaped me at present; yet, when the same subjects are touched on, I have as distinct recollection of his treatment of them as if it were yesterday.”
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I had no idea of the worldwide influence of it [the world’s first kidney transplant]. It expanded to other organs, multiple organs.
As quoted by Alvin Powell in 'A Transplant Makes History', Harvard Gazette (22 Sep 2011).
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I have a good idea every two years. Give me a topic, I will give you the idea!
[Reputed to have been a remark made to the head of his department at Caltech.]
As quoted in Norman K. Glendenning, Our Place in the Universe (2007), 48.
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I have always considered my work a joint effort. I was fortunate to have worked on great ideas and with very intelligent people. I may have developed a few equations no one had thought of before but that was nothing unusual—everybody did that.
In interview with Laurel M. Sheppard, 'An Interview with Mary Ross: First Native American Woman Engineer Aerospace Pioneer Returns to her Native American Roots', on website of Lash Publications.
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I have been driven to assume for some time, especially in relation to the gases, a sort of conducting power for magnetism. Mere space is Zero. One substance being made to occupy a given portion of space will cause more lines of force to pass through that space than before, and another substance will cause less to pass. The former I now call Paramagnetic & the latter are the diamagnetic. The former need not of necessity assume a polarity of particles such as iron has with magnetic, and the latter do not assume any such polarity either direct or reverse. I do not say more to you just now because my own thoughts are only in the act of formation, but this I may say: that the atmosphere has an extraordinary magnetic constitution, & I hope & expect to find in it the cause of the annual & diurnal variations, but keep this to yourself until I have time to see what harvest will spring from my growing ideas.
Letter to William Whewell, 22 Aug 1850. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 589.
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I have been especially fortunate for about 50 years in having two memory banks available—whenever I can't remember something I ask my wife, and thus I am able to draw on this auxiliary memory bank. Moreover, there is a second way In which I get ideas ... I listen carefully to what my wife says, and in this way I often get a good idea. I recommend to ... young people ... that you make a permanent acquisition of an auxiliary memory bank that you can become familiar with and draw upon throughout your lives.
T. Goertzel and B. Goertzel, Linus Pauling (1995), 240.
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I have long since come to see that no one deserves either praise or blame for the ideas that come to him, but only for the actions resulting therefrom. Ideas and beliefs are certainly not voluntary acts. They come to us—we hardly know how or whence, and once they have got possession of us we can not reject or change them at will. It is for the common good that the promulgation of ideas should be free—uninfluenced by either praise or blame, reward or punishment. But the actions which result from our ideas may properly be so treated, because it is only by patient thought and work, that new ideas, if good and true, become adopted and utilized; while, if untrue or if not adequately presented to the world, they are rejected or forgotten.
In 'The Origin of the Theory of Natural Selection', Popular Science Monthly (1909), 74, 400.
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I have mentioned mathematics as a way to settle in the mind a habit of reasoning closely and in train; not that I think it necessary that all men should be deep mathematicians, but that, having got the way of reasoning which that study necessarily brings the mind to, they might be able to transfer it to other parts of knowledge, as they shall have occasion. For in all sorts of reasoning, every single argument should be managed as a mathematical demonstration; the connection and dependence of ideas should be followed till the mind is brought to the source on which it bottoms, and observes the coherence all along; …
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have never had reason, up to now, to give up the concept which I have always stressed, that nerve cells, instead of working individually, act together, so that we must think that several groups of elements exercise a cumulative effect on the peripheral organs through whole bundles of fibres. It is understood that this concept implies another regarding the opposite action of sensory functions. However opposed it may seem to the popular tendency to individualize the elements, I cannot abandon the idea of a unitary action of the nervous system, without bothering if, by that, I approach old conceptions.
'The Neuron Doctrine-Theory and Facts', Nobel Lecture 11 Dec 1906. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 216.
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I have no trouble publishing in Soviet astrophysical journals, but my work is unacceptable to the American astrophysical journals.
[Referring to the trouble he had with the peer reviewers of Anglo-American astrophysical journals because his ideas often conflicted with the generally accepted or “standard"” theories.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),197.
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I have said that mathematics is the oldest of the sciences; a glance at its more recent history will show that it has the energy of perpetual youth. The output of contributions to the advance of the science during the last century and more has been so enormous that it is difficult to say whether pride in the greatness of achievement in this subject, or despair at his inability to cope with the multiplicity of its detailed developments, should be the dominant feeling of the mathematician. Few people outside of the small circle of mathematical specialists have any idea of the vast growth of mathematical literature. The Royal Society Catalogue contains a list of nearly thirty- nine thousand papers on subjects of Pure Mathematics alone, which have appeared in seven hundred serials during the nineteenth century. This represents only a portion of the total output, the very large number of treatises, dissertations, and monographs published during the century being omitted.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 285.
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I have the vagary of taking a lively interest in mathematical subjects only where I may anticipate ingenious association of ideas and results recommending themselves by elegance or generality.
Letter to Heinrich Schumacher (17 Sep 1808). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 416.
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I have tried to avoid long numerical computations, thereby following Riemann’s postulate that proofs should be given through ideas and not voluminous computations.
In Report on Number Theory (1897). As given in epigraph, without citation, in Eberhard Zeidler and Juergen Quandt (trans.), Nonlinear Functional Analysis and its Applications: IV: Applications to Mathematical Physics (2013), 448.
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I have tried to read philosophers of all ages and have found many illuminating ideas but no steady progress toward deeper knowledge and understanding. Science, however, gives me the feeling of steady progress: I am convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy. It has revolutionized fundamental concepts, e.g., about space and time (relativity), about causality (quantum theory), and about substance and matter (atomistics), and it has taught us new methods of thinking (complementarity) which are applicable far beyond physics.
Max Born
My Life & My Views (1968), 48.
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I have written many direct and indirect arguments for the Copernican view, but until now I have not dared to publish them, alarmed by the fate of Copernicus himself, our master. He has won for himself undying fame in the eyes of a few, but he has been mocked and hooted at by an infinite multitude (for so large is the number of fools). I would dare to come forward publicly with my ideas if there were more people of your [Johannes Kepler’s] way of thinking. As this is not the case, I shall refrain.
Letter to Kepler (4 Aug 1597). In James Bruce Ross (ed.) and Mary Martin (ed., trans.), 'Comrades in the Pursuit of Truth', The Portable Renaissance Reader (1953, 1981), 597-599. As quoted and cited in Merry E. Wiesner, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (2013), 377.
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I heard … xenon was a good anesthesia. … I thought, “How can xenon, which doesn’t form any chemical compounds, serve as a general anesthetic? … I lay awake at night for a few minutes before going to sleep, and during the next couple of weeks each night I would think, “…how do anesthetic agents work?" Then I forgot to do it after a while, but I’d trained my unconscious mind to keep this question alive and to call [it] to my consciousness whenever a new idea turned up…. So seven years went by. [One day I] put my feet up on the desk and started reading my mail, and here was a letter from George Jeffrey … an x-ray crystallographer, on his determination of the structure of a hydrate crystal. Immediately I sat up, took my feet off the desk, and said, “I understand anesthesia!” … I spent a year [and] determined the structure of chloroform hydrate, and then I wrote my paper published in June of 1961.
Interview with George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman, in 'Linus Pauling: Reflections', American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1994), 82, No. 6, 522-523.
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I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.
Referring to their independently conceived ideas on the origin of species.
Letter to A. R. Wallace, March 1869. In J. Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (1916), Vol. 1, 240.
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I know that certain minds would regard as audacious the idea of relating the laws which preside over the play of our organs to those laws which govern inanimate bodies; but, although novel, this truth is none the less incontestable. To hold that the phenomena of life are entirely distinct from the general phenomena of nature is to commit a grave error, it is to oppose the continued progress of science.
Leçons sur les Phenomenes Physiques de la Vie (1836-38), Vol. 1, 6. Trans. J. M. D. Olmsted, François Magendie (1944), 203.
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I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open.
In Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906), Vol. 1, 101.
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I never really paused for a moment to question the idea that the progressive Spiritualization of Matter—so clearly demonstrated to me by Paleontology—could be anything other, or anything less, than an irreversible process. By its gravitational nature, the Universe, I saw, was falling—falling forwards—in the direction of spirit as upon its stable form. In other words, Matter was not ultra-materialized as I would at first have believed, but was instead metamorphosed in Psyche.
In The Heart of Matter (1978), 27-28.
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I ought to say that one of our first joint researches, so far as publication was concerned, had the peculiar effect of freeing me forever from the wiles of college football, and if that is a defect, make the most of it! Dr. Noyes and I conceived an idea on sodium aluminate solutions on the morning of the day of a Princeton-Harvard game (as I recall it) that we had planned to attend. It looked as though a few days' work on freezing-point determinations and electrical conductivities would answer the question. We could not wait, so we gave up the game and stayed in the laboratory. Our experiments were successful. I think that this was the last game I have ever cared about seeing. I mention this as a warning, because this immunity might attack anyone. I find that I still complainingly wonder at the present position of football in American education.
Address upon receiving the Perkin Medal Award, 'The Big Things in Chemistry', The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Feb 1921), 13, No. 2, 162-163.
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I presume that few who have paid any attention to the history of the Mathematical Analysis, will doubt that it has been developed in a certain order, or that that order has been, to a great extent, necessary—being determined, either by steps of logical deduction, or by the successive introduction of new ideas and conceptions, when the time for their evolution had arrived. And these are the causes that operate in perfect harmony. Each new scientific conception gives occasion to new applications of deductive reasoning; but those applications may be only possible through the methods and the processes which belong to an earlier stage.
Explaining his choice for the exposition in historical order of the topics in A Treatise on Differential Equations (1859), Preface, v-vi.
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I respect Kirkpatrick both for his sponges and for his numinous nummulosphere. It is easy to dismiss a crazy theory with laughter that debars any attempt to understand a man’s motivation–and the nummulosphere is a crazy theory. I find that few men of imagination are not worth my attention. Their ideas may be wrong, even foolish, but their methods often repay a close study ... The different drummer often beats a fruitful tempo.
…...
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I see nothing wrong ethically with the idea of correcting single gene defects [through genetic engineering]. But I am concerned about any other kind of intervention, for anything else would be an experiment, [which would] impose our will on future generations [and take unreasonable chances] with their welfare ... [Thus] such intervention is beyond the scope of consideration.
in The Second Creation: Dolly and the Age of Biological Control
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I shall always feel respect for every one who has written a book, let it be what it may, for I had no idea of the trouble which trying to write common English could cost one—And alas there yet remains the worst part of all correcting the press.
Letter to W. D. Fox, 7 July 1837, referring to his Journal of Researches. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1837-1843 (1986), Vol. 2, 29.
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I should rejoice to see … Euclid honourably shelved or buried “deeper than did ever plummet sound” out of the schoolboys’ reach; morphology introduced into the elements of algebra; projection, correlation, and motion accepted as aids to geometry; the mind of the student quickened and elevated and his faith awakened by early initiation into the ruling ideas of polarity, continuity, infinity, and familiarization with the doctrines of the imaginary and inconceivable.
From Presidential Address (1869) to the British Association, Exeter, Section A, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of Lames Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 657. Also in George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 93. [Note: “plummet sound” refers to ocean depth measurement (sound) from a ship using a line dropped with a weight (plummet). —Webmaster]
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I strongly oppose cloning, as do most Americans. We recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience. And while we must devote enormous energy to conquering disease, it is equally important that we pay attention to the moral concerns raised by the new frontier of human embryo stem cell research. Even the most noble ends do not justify any means.
'Address to the Nation on Stem Cell Research', (9 Aug 2001) in Public Papers Of The Presidents Of The United States, George W. Bush, 2001 (2004), Book 2, 955.
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I then began to study arithmetical questions without any great apparent result, and without suspecting that they could have the least connexion with my previous researches. Disgusted at my want of success, I went away to spend a few days at the seaside, and thought of entirely different things. One day, as I was walking on the cliff, the idea came to me, again with the same characteristics of conciseness, suddenness, and immediate certainty, that arithmetical transformations of indefinite ternary quadratic forms are identical with those of non-Euclidian geometry.
Science and Method (1908), trans. Francis Maitland (1914), 53-4.
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I think a future flight should include a poet, a priest and a philosopher… we might get a much better idea of what we saw.
…...
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I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction. I don’t like that they’re not calculating anything. I don’t like that they don’t check their ideas. I don’t like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation… It doesn’t look right.
Interview published in Paul C.W. Davies and Julian R. Brown (eds.),Superstrings: A Theory of Everything? (1988, 1992), 194.
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I think it is not irreligion but a tidiness of mind, which rebels against the idea of permeating scientific research with a religious implication.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 24-25.
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I think it is the general rule that the originator of a new idea is not the most suitable person to develop it, because his fears of something going wrong are really too strong…
At age 69.
The Development of Quantum Theory (1971). In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 111.
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I think that it is a relatively good approximation to truth—which is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations—that mathematical ideas originate in empirics.
From 'The Mathematician', collected in James Roy Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2063.
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I think that we shall have to get accustomed to the idea that we must not look upon science as a 'body of knowledge,' but rather as a system of hypotheses; that is to say, as a system of guesses or anticipations which in principle cannot be justified, but with which we work as long as they stand up to tests, and of which we are never justified in saying that we know they are 'true' or 'more or less certain' or even 'probable.'
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), 317.
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I wasn’t aware of Chargaff’s rules when he said them, but the effect on me was quite electric because I realized immediately that if you had this sort of scheme that John Griffith was proposing, of adenine being paired with thymine, and guanine being paired with cytosine, then you should get Chargaff’s rules.
I was very excited, but I didn’t actually tell Chargaff because it was something I was doing with John Griffith. There was a sort of musical comedy effect where I forgot what the bases were and I had to go to the library to check, and I went back to John Griffith to find out which places he said. Low and behold, it turned out that John Griffith’s ideas fitted in with Chargaff’s rules!
This was very exciting, and we thought “ah ha!” and we realized—I mean what anyone who is familiar with the history of science ought to realize—that when you have one-to-one ratios, it means things go to together. And how on Earth no one pointed out this simple fact in those years, I don’t know.
From Transcript of documentary by VSM Productions, The DNA Story (1973). As excerpted on web page 'Chargaff’s Rules', Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA on website scarc.library.oregonstate.edu
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I will ask you to mark again that rather typical feature of the development of our subject; how so much progress depends on the interplay of techniques, discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order of decreasing importance.
This is the original quote, which gave rise to the commonly seen misstated shortened quote as: “Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order”—with the qualifying words “interplay” and “decreasing importance” omitted. From Brenner’s own handwritten notes of a Speech (20 Mar 1980), 'Biology in the 1980s', at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland. Reproduced in his article 'Life sentences: Detective Rummage investigates', The Scientist (19 Aug 2002), 16, No. 16, 15. He reflects on the original wording of the quote, from his notes that he “came across”, while rummaging through “the piles of papers that I have accumulated,” (hence “Detective Rummage” in the title). See more on the commonly seen misstated shortened quote also on the Sydney Brenner Quotes web page of this site, beginning, “Progress in science…”.
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I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would be claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming-and a little mad. Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings.
In Science and the Modern World (1926), 31.
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I would trade all my experimental works for the single idea of the benzene theory.
Quoted by B. L. Lepsius in 'Hofmann und die Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft', Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft (1918), 51, 51.
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I'd climb in the car as it went down the assembly line and introduce myself. Then I'd ask for ideas.
[How, as Ford manager of development for the Taurus car, he sought input from Ford production employees.]
Quoted in Business Week, Issues 3015-3023 (1987). In Robert H. Waterman, The Renewal Factor (1988), 147.
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Iconography becomes even more revealing when processes or concepts, rather than objects, must be depicted–for the constraint of a definite ‘thing’ cedes directly to the imagination. How can we draw ‘evolution’ or ‘social organization,’ not to mention the more mundane ‘digestion’ or ‘self-interest,’ without portraying more of a mental structure than a physical reality? If we wish to trace the history of ideas, iconography becomes a candid camera trained upon the scholar’s mind.
…...
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Ideas are elusive, slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away.
As quoted, without citation, in Cleophus Jackson, Reprogram Your Mind for Success and Happiness (2001), 150.
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Ideas are like stars: You will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny.
…...
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Ideas are the factors that lift civilization. They create revolutions. There is more dynamite in an idea than in many bombs.
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 19
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Ideas can be willed, and the imagination is their engine.
In The Marketing Imagination (1983, 1986), 127.
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Ideas go booming through the world like cannon. Thoughts are mightier than armies.
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 19
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Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun.
Attributed. Widely seen, but without citation. An early example of the aphorism, stated without naming Marquis, is in Southwestern Medicine (Oct 1920). 4, No. 10, 4. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Ideas, like ghosts (according to the common notion of a ghost), must be spoken to a little before they will explain themselves.
From Dealings With the Firm of Dombey and Son (1846), Vol. 1, 184.
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If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory.
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If at first, the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.
In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 535.
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If I give you a pfennig, you will be one pfennig richer and I’ll be one pfennig poorer. But if I give you an idea, you will have a new idea, but I shall still have it, too.
…...
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If I have a thousand ideas a year, and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied.
As quoted by Linus Pauling in Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (10 Dec 1963). As reported in Göran Liljestrand (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1963, (1964).
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If I wished to express the basic principle of my ideas in a somewhat strongly worded sentence, I would say that man, in his bodily development, is a primate fetus that has become sexually mature [einen zur Geschlechsreife gelangten Primatenfetus].
Das Problem der Menschwerdung (1926), 8. Trans. in Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), 361.
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If in a given community unchecked popular rule means unlimited waste and destruction of the natural resources—soil, fertility, waterpower, forests, game, wild-life generally—which by right belong as much to subsequent generations as to the present generation, then it is sure proof that the present generation is not yet really fit for self-control, that it is not yet really fit to exercise the high and responsible privilege of a rule which shall be both by the people and for the people. The term “for the people” must always include the people unborn as well as the people now alive, or the democratic ideal is not realized.
In A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open (1916), 319.
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If mankind is to profit freely from the small and sporadic crop of the heroically gifted it produces, it will have to cultivate the delicate art of handling ideas. Psychology is now able to tell us with reasonable assurance that the most influential obstacle to freedom of thought and to new ideas is fear; and fear which can with inimitable art disguise itself as caution, or sanity, or reasoned skepticism, or on occasion even as courage.
'The Commemoration of Great Men', Hunterian Oration, Royal College of Surgeons (15 Feb 1952) British Medical Journal (20 Feb 1932), 1, 317-20. The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 30.
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If physical science is dangerous, as I have said, it is dangerous because it necessarily ignores the idea of moral evil; but literature is open to the more grievous imputation of recognizing and understanding it too well.
In 'Duties of the Church Towards Knowledge', The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated (1852, 1873), Discourse 9, 229.
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If the national park idea is, as Lord Bryce suggested, the best idea America ever had, wilderness preservation is the highest refinement of that idea.
In magazine article, 'It All Began with Conservation', Smithsonian (Apr 1990), 21, No. 1, 34-43. Collected in Wallace Stegner and Page Stegner (ed.), Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West (1998, 1999), 131.
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If the Weismann idea triumphs, it will be in a sense a triumph of fatalism; for, according to it, while we may indefinitely improve the forces of our education and surroundings, and this civilizing nurture will improve the individuals of each generation, its actual effects will not be cumulative as regards the race itself, but only as regards the environment of the race; each new generation must start de novo, receiving no increment of the moral and intellectual advance made during the lifetime of its predecessors. It would follow that one deep, almost instinctive motive for a higher life would be removed if the race were only superficially benefited by its nurture, and the only possible channel of actual improvement were in the selection of the fittest chains of race plasma.
'The Present Problem of Heredity', The Atlantic Monthly (1891), 57, 363.
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If the world has begun with a single quantum, the notions of space and would altogether fail to have any meaning at the beginning; they would only begin to have a sensible meaning when the original quantum had been divided into a sufficient number of quanta. If this suggestion is correct, the beginning of the world happened a little before the beginning of space and time. I think that such a beginning of the world is far enough from the present order of Nature to be not at all repugnant. It may be difficult to follow up the idea in detail as we are not yet able to count the quantum packets in every case. For example, it may be that an atomic nucleus must be counted as a unique quantum, the atomic number acting as a kind of quantum number. If the future development of quantum theory happens to turn in that direction, we could conceive the beginning of the universe in the form of a unique atom, the atomic weight of which is the total mass of the universe. This highly unstable atom would divide in smaller and smaller atoms by a kind of super-radioactive process.
In 'The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory', Nature (1931), 127, 706.
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If we consider what science already has enabled men to know—the immensity of space, the fantastic philosophy of the stars, the infinite smallness of the composition of atoms, the macrocosm whereby we succeed only in creating outlines and translating a measure into numbers without our minds being able to form any concrete idea of it—we remain astounded by the enormous machinery of the universe.
Address (10 Sep 1934) to the International Congress of Electro-Radio Biology, Venice. In Associated Press, 'Life a Closed Book, Declares Marconi', New York Times (11 Sep 1934), 15.
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If we define 'thought collective' as a community of persons mutually exchanging ideas or maintaining intellectual interaction, we will find by implication that it also provides the special 'carrier' for the historical development of any field of thought, as well as for the given stock of knowledge and level of culture. This we have designated thought style.
Genesis and the Development of a Scientific Fact (1935), 39.
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If we would indicate an idea … striving to remove the barriers which prejudice and limited views of every kind have erected among men, and to treat all mankind, without reference to religion, nation, or color, as one fraternity, one great community, fitted for the attainment of one object, the unrestrained development of the physical powers. This is the ultimate and highest aim of society.
In Ueber die Kawi-Sprache, Vol. 3, 426. As quoted in Alexander von Humboldt, Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1850), Vol. 1, 358, as translated by Elise C. Otté.
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If you have an idea that you wish your audience to carry away, turn it upside down and inside out, rephrasing it from different angles. Remember that the form in which the thing may appear best to you may not impress half your audience.
Advice to the writer of his first paper for presentation at a scientific meeting. As expressed in quotation marks by Charles Thom in 'Robert Almer Harper', National Academy Biographical Memoirs (1948), 25, 233-234. Also, in Thom's words, “[Harper] added that a miscellaneous audience can not he expected to carry away a lot of separate facts but one good idea, well pictured out, will be remembered by some of them.”
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If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.
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If, for example, I had some idea, which, as it turned out would, say, be quite wrong, was going off of the tangent, Watson would tell me in no uncertain terms this was nonsense, and vice-versa. If he had some idea I didn’t like and I would say so and this would shake his thinking about it and draw him back again. And in fact, it’s one of the requirements for collaboration of this sort that you must be perfectly candid, one might almost say rude, to the person you are working with. It’s useless, working with somebody who’s either much too junior than yourself, or much too senior, because then politeness creeps in. And this is the end of all real collaboration in science.
As quoted in Robert Olby, The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of the Double Helix, (1974, 1994), 316, citing Transcript of BBC TV program, The Prizewinners (1962).
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In 1925 [state legislators] prohibited by law the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. … Anti-evolutionists feared that a scientific idea would undermine religious belief. In the present…, pro-evolutionists fear that a religious idea will undermine scientific belief. The former had insufficient confidence in religion; the latter, insufficient confidence in science.
In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999), 167.
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In a randomly infinite Universe, any event occurring here and now with finite probability must be occurring simultaneously at an infinite number of other sites in the Universe. It is hard to evaluate this idea any further, but one thing is certain: if it is true then it is certainly not original!
With co-author Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986).
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In all things, therefore, where we have clear evidence from our ideas, and those principles of knowledge I have above mentioned, reason is the proper judge; and revelation, though it may, in consenting with it, confirm its dictates, yet cannot in such cases invalidate its decrees: nor can we be obliged, where we have the clear and evident sentience of reason, to quit it for the contrary opinion, under a pretence that it is matter of faith: which can have no authority against the plain and clear dictates of reason.
in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), book 4, ch. 18, sec. 20.
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In an enterprise such as the building of the atomic bomb the difference between ideas, hopes, suggestions and theoretical calculations, and solid numbers based on measurement, is paramount. All the committees, the politicking and the plans would have come to naught if a few unpredictable nuclear cross sections had been different from what they are by a factor of two.
Epigraph in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), 8.
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In arranging the bodies in order of their electrical nature, there is formed an electro-chemical system which, in my opinion, is more fit than any other to give an idea of chemistry.
Essai sur le théorie des proportions chimiques (1819). Translated in Henry M. Leicester and Herbert S. Klickstein, A Source Book in Chemistry 1400-1900 (1952), 260.
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