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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Ignorant

Ignorant Quotes (90 quotes)

Nautae etiam mare legentes, cum beneficium claritatis solis in tempore nubilo non sentiunt, aut etiam cum caligne nocturnarum tenebrarum mundus obvolvitur, et ignorant in quem mundi cardinem prora tendat, acum super mangentem ponunt, quae circulariter circumvolvitur usque dum, ejus motu cessante.
Mariners at sea, when, through cloudy weather in the day which hides the sun, or through the darkness of night, they lose knowlege of the quarter of the world to which they are sailing, touch a needle with a magnet, which will turn round till, on its motion ceasing, its point will be directed towards the north.
De naturis rerum. Original Latin text quoted in Thomas Wright, A Volume of Vocabularies... (1873), 114. Translation from Lloyd A Brown, The Story of Maps (1980), 127.
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Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen
He who is ignorant of foreign languages knows not his own.
Original German in Über Kunst und Alterthum (1821), 30. Quoted, in translation, in Samuel Arthur Bent, Short Sayings of Great Men: With Historical and Explanatory Notes (1882). Also seen as, “He who knows but one language knows none.”
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A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
In Poor Richard's Almanack (1734).
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A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.
In A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 625.
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A student who wishes now-a-days to study geometry by dividing it sharply from analysis, without taking account of the progress which the latter has made and is making, that student no matter how great his genius, will never be a whole geometer. He will not possess those powerful instruments of research which modern analysis puts into the hands of modern geometry. He will remain ignorant of many geometrical results which are to be found, perhaps implicitly, in the writings of the analyst. And not only will he be unable to use them in his own researches, but he will probably toil to discover them himself, and, as happens very often, he will publish them as new, when really he has only rediscovered them.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometrical Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 43. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 443.
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A young man passes from our public schools to the universities, ignorant almost of the elements of every branch of useful knowledge.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 3.
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About 6 or 8 years ago My Ingenious friend Mr John Robinson having [contrived] conceived that a fire engine might be made without a Lever—by Inverting the Cylinder & placing it above the mouth of the pit proposed to me to make a model of it which was set about by having never Compleated & I [being] having at that time Ignorant little knoledge of the machine however I always thought the Machine Might be applied to [more] other as valuable purposes [than] as drawing Water.
Entry in notebook (1765). The bracketed words in square brackets were crossed out by Watt. in Eric Robinson and Douglas McKie (eds.), Partners in Science: Letters of James Watt and Joseph Black (1970), 434.
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According to the theory of aerodynamics, as may be readily demonstrated through wind tunnel experiments, the bumblebee is unable to fly. This is because the size, weight and shape of his body in relation to the total wingspread make flying impossible. But the bumblebee, being ignorant of these scientific truths, goes ahead and flies anyway—and makes a little honey every day.
Anonymous
Sign in a General Motors Corporation factory. As quoted in Ralph L. Woods, The Businessman's Book of Quotations (1951), 249-50. Cited in Suzy Platt (ed)., Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989), 118.
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All Pretences of foretelling by Astrology, are Deceits; for this manifest Reason, because the Wise and Learned, who can only judge whether there be any Truth in this Science, do all unanimously agree to laugh at and despise it; and none but the poor ignorant Vulgar give it any Credit.
'An Account of the Death of Mr. Patrige' (1708), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 124.
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An ignorant or half-informed teacher may present science as an accumulation of unconnected facts. … To teach in that fashion is like going to the tree of science with its glorious fruit in order to pick up a handful of the dry fallen leaves from the ground.
In Inaugural Presidential Address (9 Sep 1885) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Aberdeen, Scotland, 'Relations of Science to the Public Weal', Report to the Fifty-Fifth Meeting of the British Association (1886), 11.
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As children we all possess a natural, uninhibited curiosity, a hunger for explanation, which seems to die slowly as we age—suppressed, I suppose, by the high value we place on conformity and by the need not to appear ignorant.
It betokens a conviction that somehow science is innately incomprehensible. It precludes reaching deeper, thereby denying the profound truth that understanding enriches experience, that explanation vastly enhances the beauty of the natural world in the eye of the beholder.
In Toward the Habit of Truth (1990).
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As for France and England, with all their pre-eminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, and the other of pirates. If science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine, and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest, and estimable as our neighboring savages are.
Letter (21 Jan 1812) to John Adams. Collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph (ed.), Memoirs, Correspondence and Private Papers (1829), Vol. 4, 173.
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Bacon himself was very ignorant of all that had been done by mathematics; and, strange to say, he especially objected to astronomy being handed over to the mathematicians. Leverrier and Adams, calculating an unknown planet into a visible existence by enormous heaps of algebra, furnish the last comment of note on this specimen of the goodness of Bacon’s view… . Mathematics was beginning to be the great instrument of exact inquiry: Bacon threw the science aside, from ignorance, just at the time when his enormous sagacity, applied to knowledge, would have made him see the part it was to play. If Newton had taken Bacon for his master, not he, but somebody else, would have been Newton.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 53-54.
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Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals—the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great creative scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned if at all.
Opening paragraph of book review, 'Adventures Of a Mathematician: The Man Who Invented the H-Bomb', New York Times (9 May 1976), 201.
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But when great and ingenious artists behold their so inept performances, not undeservedly do they ridicule the blindness of such men; since sane judgment abhors nothing so much as a picture perpetrated with no technical knowledge, although with plenty of care and diligence. Now the sole reason why painters of this sort are not aware of their own error is that they have not learnt Geometry, without which no one can either be or become an absolute artist; but the blame for this should be laid upon their masters, who are themselves ignorant of this art.
In The Art of Measurement (1525). As quoted in Albrecht Dürer and R.T. Nichol (trans.), 'Preface', Of the Just Shaping of Letters (1965), Book 3, 1-2.
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Each of us has read somewhere that in New Guinea pidgin the word for 'piano' is (I use English spelling) 'this fellow you hit teeth belonging to him he squeal all same pig'. I am inclined to doubt whether this expression is authentic; it looks just like the kind of thing a visitor to the Islands would facetiously invent. But I accept 'cut grass belong head belong me' for 'haircut' as genuine... Such phrases seem very funny to us, and make us feel very superior to the ignorant foreigners who use long winded expressions for simple matters. And then it is our turn to name quite a simple thing, a small uncomplicated molecule consisting of nothing more than a measly 11 carbons, seven hydrogens, one nitrogen and six oxygens. We sharpen our pencils, consult our rule books and at last come up with 3-[(1, 3- dihydro-1, 3-dioxo-2H-isoindol-2-yl) oxy]-3-oxopropanoic acid. A name like that could drive any self-respecting Papuan to piano-playing.
The Chemist's English (1990), 3rd Edition, 57.
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Faraday, who had no narrow views in regard to education, deplored the future of our youth in the competition of the world, because, as he said with sadness, “our school-boys, when they come out of school, are ignorant of their ignorance at the end of all that education.”
In Inaugural Presidential Address (9 Sep 1885) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Aberdeen, Scotland, 'Relations of Science to the Public Weal', Report to the Fifty-Fifth Meeting of the British Association (1886), 11.
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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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For it is owing to their wonder that men now both begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of wisdom, for myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation were present, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for himself and not for another, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for itself.
Aristotle
Metaphysics, 982b, 12-27. In Jonathan Baines (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1554.
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Godless science reads nature only as Milton's daughters did Hebrew, rightly syllabling the sentences, but utterly ignorant of the meaning.
Lecture, 'The Blessed Life', collected in Lectures Delivered Before the Young Men's Christian Association (1861), Vol. 16, 347.
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He is unworthy of the name of man who is ignorant of the fact that the diagonal of a square is incommensurable with its side.
Plato
Quoted by Sophie Germain: Mémorie sur les Surfaces Élastiques. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 211
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He who is ignorant of the art of arithmetic is but half a man.
As quoted in, without source, in John Holmes Agnew, 'Pleasures, Objects, and Advantages of Literature Indicated', The Eclectic Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art (Dec 1843), 499. Reprinted from Frazier’s Magazine. The quote alone is seen earlier, attributed to only “a writer of other times” in Ezra Sampson, The Brief Remarker on the Ways of Man (1818), 411.
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He [Lord Bacon] appears to have been utterly ignorant of the discoveries which had just been made by Kepler’s calculations … he does not say a word about Napier’s Logarithms, which had been published only nine years before and reprinted more than once in the interval. He complained that no considerable advance had been made in Geometry beyond Euclid, without taking any notice of what had been done by Archimedes and Apollonius. He saw the importance of determining accurately the specific gravities of different substances, and himself attempted to form a table of them by a rude process of his own, without knowing of the more scientific though still imperfect methods previously employed by Archimedes, Ghetaldus and Porta. He speaks of the εὕρηκα of Archimedes in a manner which implies that he did not clearly appreciate either the problem to be solved or the principles upon which the solution depended. In reviewing the progress of Mechanics, he makes no mention either of Archimedes, or Stevinus, Galileo, Guldinus, or Ghetaldus. He makes no allusion to the theory of Equilibrium. He observes that a ball of one pound weight will fall nearly as fast through the air as a ball of two, without alluding to the theory of acceleration of falling bodies, which had been made known by Galileo more than thirty years before. He proposed an inquiry with regard to the lever,—namely, whether in a balance with arms of different length but equal weight the distance from the fulcrum has any effect upon the inclination—though the theory of the lever was as well understood in his own time as it is now. … He speaks of the poles of the earth as fixed, in a manner which seems to imply that he was not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes; and in another place, of the north pole being above and the south pole below, as a reason why in our hemisphere the north winds predominate over the south.
From Spedding’s 'Preface' to De Interpretations Naturae Proœmium, in The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 3, 511-512. [Note: the Greek word “εὕρηκα” is “Eureka” —Webmaster.]
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His [Sherlock Holmes] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. … he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. … “But the Solar System!" I protested. “What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
In 'The Science Of Deduction', A Study In Scarlet (1887, 1904), 15-16.
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Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.
In 'The Deadly Information', Introduction written by Asimov for James Randi, Flim-Flam (1982), xiii.
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I confess that Magic teacheth many superfluous things, and curious prodigies for ostentation; leave them as empty things, yet be not ignorant of their causes. But those things which are for the profit of men—for the turning away of evil events, for the destroying of sorceries, for the curing of diseases, for the exterminating of phantasms, for the preserving of life, honor, or fortune—may be done without offense to God or injury to religion, because they are, as profitable, so necessary.
In De Occulta Philosophia (1533), Vol. 1. Translation by J.F. (1651) reprinted as The Philosophy of Natural Magic (1913), 28.
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I do not forget that Medicine and Veterinary practice are foreign to me. I desire judgment and criticism upon all my contributions. Little tolerant of frivolous or prejudiced contradiction, contemptuous of that ignorant criticism which doubts on principle, I welcome with open arms the militant attack which has a method of doubting and whose rule of conduct has the motto “More light.”
In Louis Pasteur and Harold Clarence Ernst (trans), The Germ Theory and Its Application to Medicine and Surgery, Chap. 12. Reprinted in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics: Scientific Papers: Physiology, Medicine, Surgery, Geology (1897, 1910), Vol. 38, 401-402. Cited as read before French Academy of Science (20 Apr 1878), published in Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences, 84, 1037-43.
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I have no doubt that certain learned men, now that the novelty of the hypotheses in this work has been widely reported—for it establishes that the Earth moves, and indeed that the Sun is motionless in the middle of the universe—are extremely shocked, and think that the scholarly disciplines, rightly established once and for all, should not be upset. But if they are willing to judge the matter thoroughly, they will find that the author of this work has committed nothing which deserves censure. For it is proper for an astronomer to establish a record of the motions of the heavens with diligent and skilful observations, and then to think out and construct laws for them, or rather hypotheses, whatever their nature may be, since the true laws cannot be reached by the use of reason; and from those assumptions the motions can be correctly calculated, both for the future and for the past. Our author has shown himself outstandingly skilful in both these respects. Nor is it necessary that these hypotheses should be true, nor indeed even probable, but it is sufficient if they merely produce calculations which agree with the observations. … For it is clear enough that this subject is completely and simply ignorant of the laws which produce apparently irregular motions. And if it does work out any laws—as certainly it does work out very many—it does not do so in any way with the aim of persuading anyone that they are valid, but only to provide a correct basis for calculation. Since different hypotheses are sometimes available to explain one and the same motion (for instance eccentricity or an epicycle for the motion of the Sun) an astronomer will prefer to seize on the one which is easiest to grasp; a philosopher will perhaps look more for probability; but neither will grasp or convey anything certain, unless it has been divinely revealed to him. Let us therefore allow these new hypotheses also to become known beside the older, which are no more probable, especially since they are remarkable and easy; and let them bring with them the vast treasury of highly learned observations. And let no one expect from astronomy, as far as hypotheses are concerned, anything certain, since it cannot produce any such thing, in case if he seizes on things constructed for another other purpose as true, he departs from this discipline more foolish than he came to it.
Although this preface would have been assumed by contemporary readers to be written by Copernicus, it was unsigned. It is now believed to have been written and added at press time by Andreas Osiander (who was then overseeing the printing of the book). It suggests the earth’s motion as described was merely a mathematical device, and not to be taken as absolute reality. Text as given in 'To the Reader on the Hypotheses in this Work', Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), translated by ‎Alistair Matheson Duncan (1976), 22-3. By adding this preface, Osiander wished to stave off criticism by theologians. See also the Andreas Osiander Quotes page of this website.
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I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
From translations of a letter (24 Feb 1918), cited in Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002), 24. Nahin footnotes that the words are not verbatim, but are the result of two translations. Heaviside's original letter in English was quoted, translated in to French by J. Bethenode, for the obituary he wrote, "Oliver Heaviside", in Annales des Posies Telegraphs (1925), 14, 521-538. The quote was retranslated back to English in Nadin's book. Bethenode footnoted that he made the original translation "as literally as possible in order not to change the meaning." Nadin assures that the retranslation was done likewise. Heaviside studyied Maxwell's two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
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If I am given a sign [formula], and I am ignorant of its meaning, it cannot teach me anything, but if I already know it what does the formula teach me?
In De Magistro (400s), Book 1, chap 10, 23. As quoted in Ettore Carruccio, Mathematics And Logic in History And in Contemporary Thought (1964), 152.
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Ignorant people raise questions which were answered by the wise thousands of years ago.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 187.
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Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.
In The Roving Mind (1983), 26.
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In a world that is rightly so concerned about climate change and the atmosphere, to be so ignorant and neglectful of our oceans is deeply troubling. However, … having woken up to this living disaster and having realized that there are limits to how much abuse we can inflict, it’s not too late to turn things around.
In 'Can We Stop Killing Our Oceans Now, Please?', Huffington Post (14 Aug 2013).
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In an objective system … any mingling of knowledge with values is unlawful, forbidden. But [the] … “first commandment” which ensures the foundation of objective knowledge, is not itself objective. It cannot be objective: it is an ethical guideline, a rule for conduct. True knowledge is ignorant of values, but it cannot be grounded elsewhere than upon a value judgment…
In Chance and Necessity (1970), 176.
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In describing a protein it is now common to distinguish the primary, secondary and tertiary structures. The primary structure is simply the order, or sequence, of the amino-acid residues along the polypeptide chains. This was first determined by Sanger using chemical techniques for the protein insulin, and has since been elucidated for a number of peptides and, in part, for one or two other small proteins. The secondary structure is the type of folding, coiling or puckering adopted by the polypeptide chain: the a-helix structure and the pleated sheet are examples. Secondary structure has been assigned in broad outline to a number of librous proteins such as silk, keratin and collagen; but we are ignorant of the nature of the secondary structure of any globular protein. True, there is suggestive evidence, though as yet no proof, that a-helices occur in globular proteins, to an extent which is difficult to gauge quantitatively in any particular case. The tertiary structure is the way in which the folded or coiled polypeptide chains are disposed to form the protein molecule as a three-dimensional object, in space. The chemical and physical properties of a protein cannot be fully interpreted until all three levels of structure are understood, for these properties depend on the spatial relationships between the amino-acids, and these in turn depend on the tertiary and secondary structures as much as on the primary. Only X-ray diffraction methods seem capable, even in principle, of unravelling the tertiary and secondary structures.
Co-author with G. Bodo, H. M. Dintzis, R. G. Parrish, H. Wyckoff, and D. C. Phillips
'A Three-Dimensional Model of the Myoglobin Molecule Obtained by X-ray Analysis', Nature (1958) 181, 662.
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In those parts of the world where learning and science has prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue.
In Reason, the Only Oracle of Man (1836), 46.
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Innovations, free thinking is blowing like a storm; those that stand in front of it, ignorant scholars like you, false scientists, perverse conservatives, obstinate goats, resisting mules are being crushed under the weight of these innovations. You are nothing but ants standing in front of the giants; nothing but chicks trying to challenge roaring volcanoes!
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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It has been said by a distinguished philosopher that England is “usually the last to enter into the general movement of the European mind.” The author of the remark probably meant to assert that a man or a system may have become famous on the continent, while we are almost ignorant of the name of the man and the claims of his system. Perhaps, however, a wider range might be given to the assertion. An exploded theory or a disadvantageous practice, like a rebel or a patriot in distress, seeks refuge on our shores to spend its last days in comfort if not in splendour.
Opening from essay, 'Elementary Geometry', included in The Conflict of Studies and Other Essays (1873), 136.
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It has often been said that, to make discoveries, one must be ignorant. This opinion, mistaken in itself, nevertheless conceals a truth. It means that it is better to know nothing than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we constantly seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 37.
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It is a great deal easier to believe in the existence of parapsychological phenomena, if one is ignorant of, or indifferent to, the nature of scientific evidence.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 207.
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It is not necessary to probe into the nature of things, as was done by those whom the Greeks call physici; nor need we be in alarm lest the Christian should be ignorant of the force and number of the elements—the motion, and order, and eclipses of the heavenly bodies; the form of the heavens; the species and the natures of animals, plants, stones, fountains, rivers, mountains; about chronology and distances; the signs of coming storms; and a thousand other things which those philosophers either have found out, or think they have found out. … It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly … is the goodness of the Creator, the one true God.
In Marcus Dods (ed.), J.F. Shaw (trans.), The Enchiridion of Augustine, Chap. 9, collected in The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo: A new translation (1873), Vol. 9, 180-181. The physici are natural philosophers.
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It is not so bad being ignorant if you are totally ignorant; the hard thing is knowing in some detail the reality of ignorance...
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 74.
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It is supposed that the ancients were ignorant of the law in hydraulics, by which water, in a tube, will rise as high as the fountain-head; and hence they carried their stupendous aqueducts horizontally, from hill-top to hill-top, upon lofty arches, with an incredible expenditure of labor and money. The knowledge of a single law, now familiar to every well-instructed school-boy,— namely, that water seeks a level, and, if not obstructed, will find it,—enables the poorest man of the present day to do what once demanded the wealth of an empire. The beautiful fragments of the ancient Roman aqueducts, which have survived the ravage of centuries, are often cited to attest the grandeur and power of their builders. To me, they are monuments, not of their power, but of their weakness.
In Thoughts Selected From the Writings of Horace Mann (1872), 231.
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It ought ... to be understood that no one can be a good physician who has no idea of surgical operations, and that a surgeon is nothing if ignorant of medicine. In a word, one must be familiar with both departments of medicine.
Chirurgia Magna (1296, printed 1479). In Henry Ebenezer Handerson, Gilbertus Anglicus (1918), 77,
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Let no-one ignorant of geometry enter.
Plato
Said to have been inscribed above the door of Plato's Academy. As stated in A.S. Riginos, Platonica: the Anecdotes concerning the Life and Writings of Plato (1976), 38-40.
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Mankind have been slow to believe that order reigns in the universe—that the world is a cosmos and a chaos.
… The divinities of heathen superstition still linger in one form or another in the faith of the ignorant, and even intelligent men shrink from the contemplation of one supreme will acting regularly, not fortuitously, through laws beautiful and simple rather than through a fitful and capricious system of intervention.
... The scientific spirit has cast out the demons, and presented us with nature clothed in her right mind and living under the reign of law. It has given us, for the sorceries of the alchemist, the beautiful laws of chemistry; for the dreams of the astrologer, the sublime truths of astronomy; for the wild visions of cosmogony, the monumental records of geology; for the anarchy of diabolism, the laws of God.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 216.
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Mathematics is a type of thought which seems ingrained in the human mind, which manifests itself to some extent with even the primitive races, and which is developed to a high degree with the growth of civilization. … A type of thought, a body of results, so essentially characteristic of the human mind, so little influenced by environment, so uniformly present in every civilization, is one of which no well-informed mind today can be ignorant.
In Teaching of Mathematics in the Elementary and the Secondary School (1906), 14.
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Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences. ... Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world. And what is worse, men who are thus ignorant are unable to perceive their own ignorance and so do not seek a remedy.
In Opus Majus, Part 4, Distinctia Prima, cap. 1.
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Modesty. Never think you know all. Though others may flatter you, retain the courage to say, “I am ignorant”.
Translation of a note, 'Bequest of Pavlov to the Academic Youth of his Country', written a few days before his death for a student magazine, The Generation of the Victors. As published in 'Pavlov and the Spirit of Science', Nature (4 Apr 1936), 137, 572.
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Neither you nor I nor anybody else knows what makes a mathematician tick. It is not a question of cleverness. I know many mathematicians who are far abler than I am, but they have not been so lucky. An illustration may be given by considering two miners. One may be an expert geologist, but he does not find the golden nuggets that the ignorant miner does.
In 'Reminiscences of an Octogenarian Mathematician', The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 1971), 78, No. 9, 960-961.
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No known theory can be distorted so as to provide even an approximate explanation [of wave-particle duality]. There must be some fact of which we are entirely ignorant and whose discovery may revolutionize our views of the relations between waves and ether and matter. For the present we have to work on both theories. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we use the wave theory; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays we think in streams of flying energy quanta or corpuscles.
'Electrons and Ether Waves', The Robert Boyle Lecture 1921, Scientific Monthly, 1922, 14, 158.
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No more harmful nonsense exists than the common supposition that deepest insight into great questions about the meaning of life or the structure of reality emerges most readily when a free, undisciplined, and uncluttered (read, rather, ignorant and uneducated) mind soars above mere earthly knowledge and concern.
…...
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No one can know and understand everything. Even individual scientists are ignorant about most of the body of scientific knowledge, and it is not simply that biologists do not understand quantum mechanics.
From review, 'Billions and Billions of Demons', of the book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan, in New York Review of Books (9 Jan 1997).
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People are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.
In Dr. N Sreedharan, Quotations of Wit and Wisdom (2007), 20.
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Rampant scientific illiteracy in the general public is, in my opinion, one major cause of the current lack of opportunities for scientists. … A public that is ignorant of science, and of how science is done, is not going to support scientific research enthusiastically.
Alan Hale
In 'Shattered Hopes and Dreams: The Dim Prospect for Careers in Science', Chronicle of Higher Education (5 Dec 1997). As cited in chapter 13 epigraph, Daniel S. Greenberg, Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (2003), 205.
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Scholars are frequently to be met with who are ignorant of nothing saving their own ignorance.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 382:11.
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Students using astrophysical textbooks remain essentially ignorant of even the existence of plasma concepts, despite the fact that some of them have been known for half a century. The conclusion is that astrophysics is too important to be left in the hands of astrophysicists who have gotten their main knowledge from these textbooks. Earthbound and space telescope data must be treated by scientists who are familiar with laboratory and magnetospheric physics and circuit theory, and of course with modern plasma theory.
[Lamenting the traditional neglect of plasma physics]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),197.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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The Archetypal idea was manifested in the flesh, under divers such modifications, upon this planet, long prior to the existence of those animal species that actually exemplify it. To what natural laws or secondary causes the orderly succession and progression of such organic phaenomena may have been committed we as yet are ignorant. But if, without derogation of the Divine power, we may conceive the existence of such ministers, and personify them by the term 'Nature,' we learn from the past history of our globe that she has advanced with slow and stately steps, guided by the archetypal light, amidst the wreck of worlds, from the first embodiment of the Vertebrate idea under its old Ichthyic vestment, until it became arrayed in the glorious garb of the Human form.
On the Nature of Limbs (1849), 86.
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The Chinese, who aspire to be thought an enlightened nation, to this day are ignorant of the circulation of the blood; and even in England the man who made that noble discovery lost all his practice in the consequence of his ingenuity; and Hume informs us that no physician in the United Kingdom who had attained the age of forty ever submitted to become a convert to Harvey’s theory, but went on preferring numpsimus to sumpsimus to the day of his death.
Reflection 352, in Lacon: or Many things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think (1820), 164-165.
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The fact is, a biologist to-day [1928] is pretty much where an engineer would be if he knew even in detail the cycle of chemical changes which took place within an internal combustion engine but was wholly ignorant of the disposition of tho moving parts.
As guest of honour, closing day address (Jun 1928), Sixth Colloid Symposium, Toronto, Canada, 'Living Matter', printed in Harry Boyer Weiser (ed.), Colloid Symposium Monograph (1928), Vol. 6, 7.
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The first step in knowledge is to learn that we are ignorant.
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 15.
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The invertebrated classes include the most numerous and diversified forms of the Animal Kingdom. At the very beginning of our inquiries into their vital powers and acts we are impressed with their important relations to the maintenance of life and organization on this planet, and their influence in purifying the sea and augmenting and enriching the land—relations of which the physiologist conversant only with the vertebrated animals must have remained ignorant.
In Lecture, delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons, collected in Lecture 24, 'Cephalopoda', Lectures on the Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the Invertebrate Animals (1843), Vol. 1, 362.
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The more ignorant we become the less value we set on science, and the less inclination we shall have to seek it.
Letter from Jefferson at Monticello to John Adams (27 May 1795).
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The old fashioned family physician and general practitioner ... was a splendid figure and useful person in his day; but he was badly trained, he was often ignorant, he made many mistakes, for one cannot by force of character and geniality of person make a diagnosis of appendicitis, or recognize streptococcus infection.
New York Medical Journal (1913), 97, 1.
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The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. ... It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect.
In Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 58.
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The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. Indeed, I regard this as the major discovery of the past hundred years of biology. It is, in its way, an illuminating piece of news. … It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect.
Essay, 'The Hazards of Science', collected in The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979), 73.
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The person who thinks there can be any real conflict between science and religion must be either very young in science or very ignorant in religion.
In Tryon Edwards. A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 506.
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The prominent reason why a mathematician can be judged by none but mathematicians, is that he uses a peculiar language. The language of mathesis is special and untranslatable. In its simplest forms it can be translated, as, for instance, we say a right angle to mean a square corner. But you go a little higher in the science of mathematics, and it is impossible to dispense with a peculiar language. It would defy all the power of Mercury himself to explain to a person ignorant of the science what is meant by the single phrase “functional exponent.” How much more impossible, if we may say so, would it be to explain a whole treatise like Hamilton’s Quaternions, in such a wise as to make it possible to judge of its value! But to one who has learned this language, it is the most precise and clear of all modes of expression. It discloses the thought exactly as conceived by the writer, with more or less beauty of form, but never with obscurity. It may be prolix, as it often is among French writers; may delight in mere verbal metamorphoses, as in the Cambridge University of England; or adopt the briefest and clearest forms, as under the pens of the geometers of our Cambridge; but it always reveals to us precisely the writer’s thought.
In North American Review (Jul 1857), 85, 224-225.
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The result of all these experiments has given place to a new division of the parts of the human body, which I shall follow in this short essay, by distinguishing those which are susceptible of Irritability and Sensibility, from those which are not. But the theory, why some parts of the human body are endowed with these properties, while others are not, I shall not at all meddle with. For I am persuaded that the source of both lies concealed beyond the reach of the knife and microscope, beyond which I do not chuse to hazard many conjectures, as I have no desire of teaching what I am ignorant of myself. For the vanity of attempting to guide others in paths where we find ourselves in the dark, shews, in my humble opinion, the last degree of arrogance and ignorance.
'A Treatise on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals' (Read 1752). Trans. 1755 and reprinted in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1936, 4(2), 657-8.
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There 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 … He who is ignorant of this [mathematics] cannot know the other sciences nor the affairs of this world.
Opus Majus [1266-1268], Part IV, distinction I, chapter I, trans. R. B. Burke, The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon (1928), Vol. I, 116.
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There are many arts and sciences of which a miner should not be ignorant. First there is Philosophy, that he may discern the origin, cause, and nature of subterranean things; for then he will be able to dig out the veins easily and advantageously, and to obtain more abundant results from his mining. Secondly there is Medicine, that he may be able to look after his diggers and other workman ... Thirdly follows astronomy, that he may know the divisions of the heavens and from them judge the directions of the veins. Fourthly, there is the science of Surveying that he may be able to estimate how deep a shaft should be sunk … Fifthly, his knowledge of Arithmetical Science should be such that he may calculate the cost to be incurred in the machinery and the working of the mine. Sixthly, his learning must comprise Architecture, that he himself may construct the various machines and timber work required underground … Next, he must have knowledge of Drawing, that he can draw plans of his machinery. Lastly, there is the Law, especially that dealing with metals, that he may claim his own rights, that he may undertake the duty of giving others his opinion on legal matters, that he may not take another man’s property and so make trouble for himself, and that he may fulfil his obligations to others according to the law.
In De Re Metallica (1556), trans. H.C. and L.H. Hoover (1950), 3-4.
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There is much about which even experts are ignorant; this will probably always be the case.
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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Those who have dissected or inspected many [bodies] have at least learnt to doubt; while others who are ignorant of anatomy and do not take the trouble to attend it are in no doubt at all.
Letter xvi, Art. 25, as translated by Benjamin Alexander. Cited in Edward W. Adams, 'Founders of Modern Medicine II: Giovanni Battista Morgagni', Medical Library and Historical Journal (1903), Vol. 1, 276.
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Though Hippocrates understood not the Circulation of the Blood, yet by accurately observing the Effects of the Disease, which he looked upon as an unknown Entity, and by remarking the Endeavours of Nature, by which the Disease tended to either Health or Recovery, did from thence deduce a proper Method of Cure, namely by assisting the salutary Endeavours of Nature, and by resisting those of the Disease; and thus Hippocrates, ignorant of the Causes, cured Disease as well as ourselves, stocked with so many Discoveries.
In Dr. Boerhaave's Academical Lectures on the Theory of Physic (1746), Vol. 6, 352.
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To introduce something altogether new would mean to begin all over, to become ignorant again, and to run the old, old risk of failing to learn.
Isaac Asimov, Patricia S. Warrick, Martin Harry Greenberg, Machines That Think: The Best Science Fiction Stories About Robots and Computers? (1984), 2.
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True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant.
Tragic Sense of Life (1913), translated by John Ernest Crawford Flitch (1954), 93.
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Until I became a published writer, I remained completely ignorant of books on how to write and courses on the subject ... they would have spoiled my natural style; made me observe caution; would have hedged me with rules.
In Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov (ed.), It's Been a Good Life (2002), 38.
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We are ignorant of the Beyond because this ignorance is the condition sine qua non of our own life. Just as ice cannot know fire except by melting, by vanishing.
Journal, September 1890.
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We are quite ignorant of the condition of energy in bodies generally. We know how much gas goes in, and how much comes out, and know whether at entrance and exit it is in the form of heat or of work. That is all.
Sketch of Thermodynamics (1877), 137.
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We cannot conceive how the Foetus is form'd in the Womb, nor as much as how a Plant springs from the Earth we tread on ... And if we are ignorant of the most obvious things about us, and the most considerable within our selves, 'tis then no wonder that we know not the constitution and powers of the creatures, to whom we are such strangers.
Saducismus Triumphatus or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1689),72-3.
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What attracted me to immunology was that the whole thing seemed to revolve around a very simple experiment: take two different antibody molecules and compare their primary sequences. The secret of antibody diversity would emerge from that. Fortunately at the time I was sufficiently ignorant of the subject not to realise how naive I was being.
From Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1984), collected in Tore Frängsmyr and Jan Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures in Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 248.
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What we know here is very little, but what we are ignorant of is immense
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 15.
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When I examine the conclusion [on experiments with the electric light bulb experiments published in the Herald] which everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize as a conspicuous failure, trumpeted as a wonderful success, I [conclude]... that the writer ... must either be very ignorant, and the victim of deceit, or a conscious accomplice in what is nothing less than a fraud upon the public.
Letter to the Sanitary Engineer (22 Dec 1880). Quoted in Charles Bazermanl, The Languages of Edison's Light (2002), 186.
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When men are ignorant of the natural causes producing things, and cannot even explain them by analogy with similar things, they attribute their own nature to them. The vulgar, for example, say the magnet loves the iron.
In The New Science (3rd ed., 1744), Book 1, Para. 185, as translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (1948), 63.
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When the principles of breeding and of inheritance are better understood, we shall not hear ignorant members of our legislature rejecting with scorn a plan for ascertaining by an easy method whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to man.
…...
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When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it;—this is knowledge.
Confucius
In James Legge (trans.), 'The Confucian Analects', The Chinese Classics: Life and Teachings of Confucius (1861), Vol. 1, Book 2, Chap. 17, 15
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Without this language [mathematics] most of the intimate analogies of things would have remained forever unknown to us; and we should forever have been ignorant of the internal harmony of the world, which is the only true objective reality. …
This harmony … is the sole objective reality, the only truth we can attain; and when I add that the universal harmony of the world is the source of all beauty, it will be understood what price we should attach to the slow and difficult progress which little by little enables us to know it better.
From La Valeur de la Science, as translated by George Bruce Halsted, in 'The Value of Science', Popular Science Monthly (Sep 1906), 69 195-196.
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[About early aircraft:] We were ignorant, and we were ignorant of the fact that we were ignorant! This was ignorance squared, and it often led to disaster.
In The Story of the Winged-S: The Autobiography of Igor I. Sikorsky (2011).
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[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. ... On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 82-83.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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