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Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
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Important Quotes (202 quotes)

La chaleur pénètre, comme la gravité, toutes les substances de l’univers, ses rayons occupent toutes les parties de l’espace. Le but de notre ouvrage est d’exposer les lois mathématiques que suit cet élément. Cette théorie formera désormais une des branches les plus importantes de la physique générale.
Heat, like gravity, penetrates every substance of the universe, its rays occupy all parts of space. The object of our work is to set forth the mathematical laws which this element obeys. The theory of heat will hereafter form one of the most important branches of general physics.
From 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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A chess problem is genuine mathematics, but it is in some way “trivial” mathematics. However, ingenious and intricate, however original and surprising the moves, there is something essential lacking. Chess problems are unimportant. The best mathematics is serious as well as beautiful—“important” if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and “serious” expresses what I mean much better.
'A Mathematician's Apology', in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2029.
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A great department of thought must have its own inner life, however transcendent may be the importance of its relations to the outside. No department of science, least of all one requiring so high a degree of mental concentration as Mathematics, can be developed entirely, or even mainly, with a view to applications outside its own range. The increased complexity and specialisation of all branches of knowledge makes it true in the present, however it may have been in former times, that important advances in such a department as Mathematics can be expected only from men who are interested in the subject for its own sake, and who, whilst keeping an open mind for suggestions from outside, allow their thought to range freely in those lines of advance which are indicated by the present state of their subject, untrammelled by any preoccupation as to applications to other departments of science. Even with a view to applications, if Mathematics is to be adequately equipped for the purpose of coping with the intricate problems which will be presented to it in the future by Physics, Chemistry and other branches of physical science, many of these problems probably of a character which we cannot at present forecast, it is essential that Mathematics should be allowed to develop freely on its own lines.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1910), Nature, 84, 286.
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A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit about stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption. If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), 272.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
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A wonderful exhilaration comes from holding in the mind the deepest questions we can ask. Such questions animate all scientists. Many students of science were first attracted to the field as children by popular accounts of important unsolved problems. They have been waiting ever since to begin working on a mystery. [With co-author Arthur Zajonc]
In George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc, The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (2006), xii.
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After … the general experimental knowledge has been acquired, accompanied with just a sufficient amount of theory to connect it together…, it becomes possible to consider the theory by itself, as theory. The experimental facts then go out of sight, in a great measure, not because they are unimportant, but because … they are fundamental, and the foundations are always hidden from view in well-constructed buildings.
In Electromagnetic Theory (1892), Vol. 2, 1.
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All important unit operations have much in common, and if the underlying principles upon which the rational design and operation of basic types of engineering equipment depend are understood, their successful adaptation to manufacturing processes becomes a matter of good management rather than of good fortune.
In William H. Walker, Warren K. Lewis and William H. MacAdams, The Principles of Chemical Engineering (1923), Preface to 1st. edition, v.
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Almost all of the space program’s important advances in scientific knowledge have been accomplished by hundreds of robotic spacecraft in orbit about Earth and on missions to the distant planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Robotic exploration of the planets and their satellites as well as of comets and asteroids has truly revolutionized our knowledge of the solar system.
In 'Is Human Spaceflight Obsolete?', Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2004).
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Although a science fair can seem like a big “pain” it can help you understand important scientific principles, such as Newton’s First Law of Inertia, which states: “A body at rest will remain at rest until 8:45 p.m. the night before the science fair project is due, at which point the body will come rushing to the body’s parents, who are already in their pajamas, and shout, “I JUST REMEMBERED THE SCIENCE FAIR IS TOMORROW AND WE GOTTA GO TO THE STORE RIGHT NOW!”
'Science: It’s Just Not Fair', Miami Herald (22 Mar 1998)
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An announcement of [Christopher] Zeeman’s lecture at Northwestern University in the spring of 1977 contains a quote describing catastrophe theory as the most important development in mathematics since the invention of calculus 300 years ago.
In book review of Catastrophe Theory: Collected Papers, 1972-1977, in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Nov 1978), 84, No. 6, 1360. Reprinted in Stephen Smale, Roderick Wong(ed.), The Collected Papers of Stephen Smale (2000), Vol. 2, 814.
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An important fact, an ingenious aperçu, occupies a very great number of men, at first only to make acquaintance with it; then to understand it; and afterwards to work it out and carry it further.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 189.
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Analysis and natural philosophy owe their most important discoveries to this fruitful means, which is called induction. Newton was indebted to it for his theorem of the binomial and the principle of universal gravity.
In Frederick Wilson Truscott (trans.) and Frederick Lincoln Emory (trans.), A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1902), 176.
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And, in this case, science could learn an important lesson from the literati–who love contingency for the same basic reason that scientists tend to regard the theme with suspicion. Because, in contingency lies the power of each person, to make a difference in an unconstrained world bristling with possibilities, and nudgeable by the smallest of unpredictable inputs into markedly different channels spelling either vast improvement or potential disaster.
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Are you aware that humanity is just a blip? Not even a blip. Just a fraction of a fraction of what the universe has been and will become? Talk about perspective. I figure I can’t feel so entirely stupid about saying what I said because, first of all, it’s true. And second of all, there will be no remnant of me or my stupidity. No fossil or geographical shift that can document, really, even the most important historical human beings, let alone my paltry admissions.
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As soon as matter took over, the force of Newtonian gravity, which represents one of the most important characteristics of “ponderable” matter, came into play.
In Conclusion of The Creation of the Universe (1952, 2012), 136.
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At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important.
As quoted on the website mcescher.com, without citation.
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At this very minute, with almost absolute certainty, radio waves sent forth by other intelligent civilizations are falling on the earth. A telescope can be built that, pointed in the right place, and tuned to the right frequency, could discover these waves. Someday, from somewhere out among the stars, will come the answers to many of the oldest, most important, and most exciting questions mankind has asked.
In Intelligent Life in Space (1962), 111.
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Attaching significance to invariants is an effort to recognize what, because of its form or colour or meaning or otherwise, is important or significant in what is only trivial or ephemeral. A simple instance of failing in this is provided by the poll-man at Cambridge, who learned perfectly how to factorize a²-b² but was floored because the examiner unkindly asked for the factors of p²–q².
In 'Recent Developments in Invariant Theory', The Mathematical Gazette (Dec 1926), 13, No. 185, 217. [Note: A poll-man is a student who takes the ordinary university degree, without honours. -Webmaster]
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Biological diversity is unique in its importance to both developed and developing countries.
In 'Edward O. Wilson: The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2, No. 1, 28.
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But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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Carbon has this genius of making a chemically stable two-dimensional, one-atom-thick membrane in a three-dimensional world. And that, I believe, is going to be very important in the future of chemistry and technology in general.
From Nobel Lecture (7 Dec 1996), 'Discovering the Fullerenes', collected in Ingmar Grenthe (ed.), Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1996-2000 (2003).
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Chemical biodynamics, involving as it does, the fusion of many scientific disciplines, … [played a role] in the elucidation of the carbon cycle. It can be expected to take an increasingly important place in the understanding of the dynamics of living organisms on a molecular level.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1961), 'The Path of Carbon in Photosynthesis', Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964).
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Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.
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Do not undertake the program unless the goal is manifestly important and its achievement nearly impossible.
In Alan R. Earls and Nasrin Rohani, Polaroid (2005), 14.
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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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Elaborate apparatus plays an important part in the science of to-day, but I sometimes wonder if we are not inclined to forget that the most important instrument in research must always be the mind of man.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1951), ix.
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Every hour a scientist spends trying to raise funds is an hour lost from important thought and research.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 287.
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Everything about microscopic life is terribly upsetting. How can things so small be so important?
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 156.
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Few people doubt that the Apollo missions to the Moon as well as the precursory Mercury and Gemini missions not only had a valuable role for the United States in its Cold War with the Soviet Union but also lifted the spirits of humankind. In addition, the returned samples of lunar surface material fueled important scientific discoveries.
In 'Is Human Spaceflight Obsolete?', Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2004).
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First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.
Quoted in Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto, Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73, but without any primary source. If you know it, please contact the Webmaster.
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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For me, the first challenge for computing science is to discover how to maintain order in a finite, but very large, discrete universe that is intricately intertwined. And a second, but not less important challenge is how to mould what you have achieved in solving the first problem, into a teachable discipline: it does not suffice to hone your own intellect (that will join you in your grave), you must teach others how to hone theirs. The more you concentrate on these two challenges, the clearer you will see that they are only two sides of the same coin: teaching yourself is discovering what is teachable.
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Had there not been in zoology men who devoted themselves to such seemingly unimportant studies as the differentiation of the species of mosquitoes, we should not have been able to place on a firm foundation the aetiology of malaria and yellow fever.
From address, 'A Medical Retrospect'. Published in Yale Medical Journal (Oct 1910), 17, No. 2, 65.
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How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.
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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 am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state.
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I argued that it was important not to place too much reliance on any single piece of experimental evidence. It might turn out to be misleading, as the 5.1 Å reflection undoubtedly was. Jim was a little more brash, stating that no good model ever accounted for all the facts, since some data was bound to be misleading if not plain wrong. A theory that did fit all the data would have been “carpentered” to do so and would thus be open to suspicion.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 59-60.
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I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.
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I didn’t really decide that I wanted to be an astronaut for sure until the end of college. But even in elementary school and junior high, I was very interested in space and in the space program. I had both male and female heroes. One was a high school science teacher who was very important in encouraging me to pursue science. Because I was a tennis player, Billie Jean King was a hero of mine. And the early astronauts, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, were heroes of mine as well.
Interview conducted on Scholastic website (20 Nov 1998).
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I do not think evolution is supremely important because it is my specialty. On the contrary, it is my specialty because I think it is supremely important.
This View of Life: the World of an Evolutionist (1964), 27-28.
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I feel the development of space should continue. It is of tremendous importance. … Along with this development of space, which is really a flowering of civilization toward the stars, you might say, we must protect the surface of the earth. That’s even more important. Our environment on the surface is where man lives.
In 'Reactions to Man’s Landing on the Moon Show Broad Variations in Opinions', The New York Times (21 Jul 1969), 6.
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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I know of no area of human endeavor in which science has not had at least one important thing to say.
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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I read … that geometry is the art of making no mistakes in long calculations. I think that this is an underestimation of geometry. Our brain has two halves: one is responsible for the multiplication of polynomials and languages, and the other half is responsible for orientation of figures in space and all the things important in real life. Mathematics is geometry when you have to use both halves.
In S.H. Lui, 'An Interview with Vladimir Arnol’d', Notices of the AMS (Apr 1997) 44, No. 4, 438. Reprinted from the Hong Kong Mathematics Society (Feb 1996).
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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 think there is something more important than believing: Action! The world is full of dreamers, there aren’t enough who will move ahead and begin to take concrete steps to actualize their vision.
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I think, and I am not the only one who does, that it is important never to introduce any conception which may not be completely defined by a finite number of words. Whatever may be the remedy adopted, we can promise ourselves the joy of the physician called in to follow a beautiful pathological case [beau cas pathologique].
From address read at the general session of the Fourth International Congress of Mathematicians in Rome (10 Apr 1908). As translated in 'The Future of Mathematics: by Henri Poincaré', General Appendix, Annual Report of the Boars of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution: For the Year Ending June 1909 (1910), 140.
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If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.
In The Conquest of Happiness (1930), 74.
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If the observation of the amount of heat the sun sends the earth is among the most important and difficult in astronomical physics, it may also be termed the fundamental problem of meteorology, nearly all whose phenomena would become predictable, if we knew both the original quantity and kind of this heat.
In Report of the Mount Whitney Expedition, quoted in Charles Greeley Abbot, Adventures in the World of Science (1958), 17. Also quoted and cited in David H. Devorkin, 'Charles Greeley Abbot', Biographical Memoirs (1998), 4.
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If there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods.
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Imagination and even sentiment play an important part in chemistry, and that if too narrowly and rigidly interpreted, facts may become very misleading factors.
In article 'Chemistry', Encyclopedia Britannica (1902), 714.
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In mathematics, which is but a mirror of the society in which it thrives or suffers, the pre-Athenian period is one of colorful men and important discoveries. Sparta, like most militaristic states before and after it, produced nothing. Athens, and the allied Ionians, produced a number of works by philosophers and mathematicians; some good, some controversial, some grossly overrated.
In A History of Pi (1970), 34.
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In our century the conceptions substitution and substitution group, transformation and transformation group, operation and operation group, invariant, differential invariant and differential parameter, appear more and more clearly as the most important conceptions of mathematics.
In Lapziger Berichte, No. 47 (1896), 261.
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In speaking of cause and effect we arbitrarily give relief to those elements to whose connection we have to attend … in the respect in which it is important to us. [But t]here is no cause nor effect in nature; nature has but an individual existence; nature simply is. .
In The Science of Mechanics (1893), 483.
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In the history of science and throughout the whole course of its progress we see certain epochs following one another more or less rapidly. Some important view is expressed, it may be original or only revived; sooner or later it receives recognition; fellow-Workers spring up; the outcome of it finds its way into the schools; it is taught and handed down; and we observe, unhappily, that it does not in the least matter whether the view be true or false. In either case its course is the same; in either case it comes in the end to he a mere phrase, a lifeless word stamped on the memory.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 184.
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In the sciences hypothesis always precedes law, which is to say, there is always a lot of tall guessing before a new fact is established. The guessers are often quite as important as the factfinders; in truth, it would not be difficult to argue that they are more important.
From Baltimore Evening Sun (6 Apr 1931). Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 329.
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In the search for truth there are certain questions that are not important. Of what material is the universe constructed? Is the universe eternal? Are there limits or not to the universe? ... If a man were to postpone his search and practice for Enlightenment until such questions were solved, he would die before he found the path.
Budha
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In the world of human thought generally, and in physical science particularly, the most important and fruitful concepts are those to which it is impossible to attach a well-defined meaning.
In M. Dresen, H. A. Kramers: Between Tradition and Revolution (1987), 539. In Magdolna Hargittai, In Our Own Image (2000), 3.
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In working out an invention, the most important quality is persistence. Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged, that's the place to get interested.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 186.
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In working out physical problems there should be, in the first place, no pretence of rigorous formalism. The physics will guide the physicist along somehow to useful and important results, by the constant union of physical and geometrical or analytical ideas. The practice of eliminating the physics by reducing a problem to a purely mathematical exercise should be avoided as much as possible. The physics should be carried on right through, to give life and reality to the problem, and to obtain the great assistance which the physics gives to the mathematics.
In Electromagnetic Theory (1892), Vol. 2, 5.
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Intelligence is important in psychology for two reasons. First, it is one of the most scientifically developed corners of the subject, giving the student as complete a view as is possible anywhere of the way scientific method can be applied to psychological problems. Secondly, it is of immense practical importance, educationally, socially, and in regard to physiology and genetics.
From Intelligence: Its Structure, Growth and Action: Its Structure, Growth and Action (1987), 1.
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It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression. St. Vincent De Paul cautioned his disciples to deport themselves so that the poor “will forgive them the bread you give them.”
In 'The Awakening of Asia', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 12.
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It is an important thing that people be happy in their work, and if work does not bring happiness there is something wrong
Quoted as the notations of an unnamed student in the auditorium when Councilman made impromptu biographical remarks at his last lecture as a teacher of undergraduates in medicine (19 Dec 1921). As quoted in obituary, 'William Thomas Councilman', by Harvey Cushing, Science (30 Jun 1933), 77, No. 2009, 613-618. Reprinted in National Academy Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 18, 159-160. The transcribed lecture was published privately in a 23-page booklet, A Lecture Delivered to the Second-Year Class of the Harvard Medical School at the Conclusion of the Course in Pathology, Dec. 19, 1921.
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It is curious to observe how differently these great men [Plato and Bacon] estimated the value of every kind of knowledge. Take Arithmetic for example. Plato, after speaking slightly of the convenience of being able to reckon and compute in the ordinary transactions of life, passes to what he considers as a far more important advantage. The study of the properties of numbers, he tells us, habituates the mind to the contemplation of pure truth, and raises us above the material universe. He would have his disciples apply themselves to this study, not that they may be able to buy or sell, not that they may qualify themselves to be shop-keepers or travelling merchants, but that they may learn to withdraw their minds from the ever-shifting spectacle of this visible and tangible world, and to fix them on the immutable essences of things.
Bacon, on the other hand, valued this branch of knowledge only on account of its uses with reference to that visible and tangible world which Plato so much despised. He speaks with scorn of the mystical arithmetic of the later Platonists, and laments the propensity of mankind to employ, on mere matters of curiosity, powers the whole exertion of which is required for purposes of solid advantage. He advises arithmeticians to leave these trifles, and employ themselves in framing convenient expressions which may be of use in physical researches.
In 'Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1837). Collected in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (1857), Vol. 1, 394.
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It is easy to follow in the sacred writings of the Jewish people the development of the religion of fear into the moral religion, which is carried further in the New Testament. The religions of all civilized peoples, especially those of the Orient, are principally moral religions. An important advance in the life of a people is the transformation of the religion of fear into the moral religion.
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It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation. If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
In 'On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1863), 33, 234.
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It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
Address at Rice University in Houston (12 Sep 1962). On website of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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It is important for him who wants to discover not to confine himself to one chapter of science, but to keep in touch with various others.
In An Essay on the Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field (1954), 54.
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It is important to realize that life on this planet has spent about three-quarters of its existence in single-celled form, and even today the majority of organisms still exist as single cells. The evolutionary pressure to become complex is evidently not very great.
and Robert Shapiro
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It is more important that a proposition be interesting than it be true. … But of course a true proposition is more apt to be interesting than a false one.
In Adventures of Ideas (1933, 1967), 244.
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It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
In The Sense of Wonder (1956, 1965), 45.
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It is true that Fourier had the opinion that the principal end of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher as he is should have known that the unique end of science is the honor of the human mind and that from this point of view a question of [the theory of] number is as important as a question of the system of the world.
From letter to Legendre, translation as given in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359. A different translation begins, “It is true that M. Fourier believed…” on the Karl Jacobi Quotes web page on this site.
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It isn’t important in which sea or lake you observe a slick of pollution, or in the forests of which country afire breaks out, or on which continent a hurricane arises. You are standing guard over the whole of our Earth.
In Jack Hassard and Julie Weisberg , Environmental Science on the Net: The Global Thinking Project (1999), 23.
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It usually develops that after much laborious and frustrating effort the investigator of environmental physiology succeeds in proving that the animal in question can actually exist where it lives. It is always somewhat discouraging for an investigator to realize that his efforts can be made to appear so trite, but this statement does not belittle the ecological physiologist. If his data assist the understanding of the ways in which an animal manages to live where it does, he makes an important contribution to the study of distribution, for the present is necessarily a key to the past.”
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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It’s important natural history isn’t seen as something that is “out there”, which you have to travel to. It’s right there in your garden. Public awareness of the natural history of the world as a whole has never been as great. But it’s important to know about species close to home.
As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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Laws are important and valuable in the exact natural sciences, in the measure that those sciences are universally valid.
In Max Weber with translation by Edward Shils and Henry A. Finch (eds.), The Methodology of the Social Sciences (1949), 80.
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Life is the most important thing about the world, the most important thing about life is evolution. Thus, by consciously seeking what is most meaningful, I moved from poetry to mineralogy to paleontology to evolution.
This View of Life: the World of an Evolutionist (1964), 27-28.
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Looking back over the geological record it would seem that Nature made nearly every possible mistake before she reached her greatest achievement Man—or perhaps some would say her worst mistake of all. ... At last she tried a being of no great size, almost defenseless, defective in at least one of the more important sense organs; one gift she bestowed to save him from threatened extinction—a certain stirring, a restlessness, in the organ called the brain.
…...
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Man has never been a particularly modest or self-deprecatory animal, and physical theory bears witness to this no less than many other important activities. The idea that thought is the measure of all things, that there is such a thing as utter logical rigor, that conclusions can be drawn endowed with an inescapable necessity, that mathematics has an absolute validity and controls experience—these are not the ideas of a modest animal. Not only do our theories betray these somewhat bumptious traits of self-appreciation, but especially obvious through them all is the thread of incorrigible optimism so characteristic of human beings.
In The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 135-136.
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Marxism: The theory that all the important things in history are rooted in an economic motive, that history is a science, a science of the search for food.
From Daily News (31 Jul 1909). In Dale Ahlquist (ed.) The Universe According to G.K. Chesterton: A Dictionary of the Mad, Mundane and Metaphysical (2013), 71.
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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Mathematics, indeed, is the very example of brevity, whether it be in the shorthand rule of the circle, c = πd, or in that fruitful formula of analysis, e = -1, —a formula which fuses together four of the most important concepts of the science,—the logarithmic base, the transcendental ratio π, and the imaginary and negative units.
In 'The Poetry of Mathematics', The Mathematics Teacher (May 1926), 19, No. 5, 293.
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Men of science, fit to teach, hardly exist. There is no demand for such men. The sciences make up life; they are important to life. The highly educated man fails to understand the simplest things of science, and has no peculiar aptitude for grasping them. I find the grown-up mind coming back to me with the same questions over and over again.
Giving Evidence (18 Nov 1862) to the Public Schools Commission. As quoted in John L. Lewis, 125 Years: The Physical Society & The Institute of Physics (1999), 168.
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Modern tree communities in Amazonia are structured to an important extent by a long history of plant domestication by Amazonian peoples.
As quoted in Robinson Meyer, 'The Amazon Rainforest Was Profoundly Changed by Ancient Humans', The Atlantic (2 Mar 2017).
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Most of us who become experimental physicists do so for two reasons; we love the tools of physics because to us they have intrinsic beauty, and we dream of finding new secrets of nature as important and as exciting as those uncovered by our scientific heroes.
In Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1968), 'Recent Developments in Particle Physics', collected in Nobel Lectures: Physics 1963-1970 (1972), 241.
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My entire life consisted of musings, calculations, practical works and trials. Many questions remain unanswered; many works are incomplete or unpublished. The most important things still lie ahead.
As quoted in Air & Space Smithsonian (2002), 17, 69.
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No more impressive warning can be given to those who would confine knowledge and research to what is apparently useful, than the reflection that conic sections were studied for eighteen hundred years merely as an abstract science, without regard to any utility other than to satisfy the craving for knowledge on the part of mathematicians, and that then at the end of this long period of abstract study, they were found to be the necessary key with which to attain the knowledge of the most important laws of nature.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 136-137.
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No part of Mathematics suffers more from the triviality of its initial presentation to beginners than the great subject of series. Two minor examples of series, namely arithmetic and geometric series, are considered; these examples are important because they are the simplest examples of an important general theory. But the general ideas are never disclosed; and thus the examples, which exemplify nothing, are reduced to silly trivialities.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 194.
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No, this trick wont work ... How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?
…...
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Nothing in the whole system of nature is isolated or unimportant. The fall of a leaf and the motion of a planet are governed by the same laws. … It is in the study of objects considered trivial and unworthy of notice by the casual observer that genius finds the most important and interesting phenomena. It was in the investigation of the varying colors of the soap-bubble that Newton detected the remarkable fact of the fits of easy reflection and easy refraction presented by a ray of light in its passage through space, and upon which he established the fundamental principle of the present generalization of the undulatory theory of light. … The microscopic organization of animals and plants is replete with the highest instruction; and, surely, in the language of one of the fathers of modern physical science, “nothing can be unworthy of being investigated by man which was thought worthy of being created by GOD.”
In 'Report of the Secretary', Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1852 (1853), 15.
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Nothing is more important than to see the sources of invention which are, in my opinion more interesting than the inventions themselves.
Epigraph, without citation, in R.P. Watkins, Computer Problem Solving (1980). Webmaster has not yet been able to find a primary source. Can you help?
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Now I feel as if I should succeed in doing something in mathematics, although I cannot see why it is so very important… The knowledge doesn’t make life any sweeter or happier, does it?
In Letter (29 May 1898), at age almost 18, to Mrs. Lawrence Hutton, excerpted in The Story of My Life: With her Letters (1887-1901) (1903, 1921), 242.
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One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of “life” which begin with a description of man's place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to use as human beings.
In Religion and the Rebel (1957), 309.
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One of the biggest and most important tools of theoretical physics is the wastebasket.
In interview for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 'Richard Feynman Builds a Universe', collected in Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999), Chap. 12, 234.
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One of the most important choices any researcher makes is picking a significant topic to study. If you choose the right problem, you get important results that transform our perception of the underlying structure of the universe. If you don’t choose the right problem, you may work very hard but only get an interesting result.
Unverified - source citation needed. Can you help?
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One should guard against inculcating a young man with the idea that success is the aim of life, for a successful man normally receives from his peers an incomparably greater portion than the services he has been able to render them deserve. The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving. The most important motive for study at school, at the university, and in life is the pleasure of working and thereby obtaining results which will serve the community. The most important task for our educators is to awaken and encourage these psychological forces in a young man {or woman}. Such a basis alone can lead to the joy of possessing one of the most precious assets in the world - knowledge or artistic skill.
…...
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One should guard against preaching to the young man success in the customary sense as the aim in life. ... The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community.
'On Education', address at the State University of New York, Albany (15 Oct 1936) in celebration of the Tercentenary of Higher Education in America, translation prepared by Lina Arronet. In Albert Einstein, The Einstein Reader (2006), 30.
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Our papers have been making a great deal of American “know-how” ever since we had the misfortune to discover the atomic bomb. There is one quality more important than know-how” and we cannot accuse the United States of any undue amount of it. This is “know-what,” by which we determine not only how to accomplish our purposes, but what our purposes are to be.
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 210.
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Probability is the most important concept in modern science, especially as nobody has the slightest notion of what it means.
In Lecture (1929), as quoted in E.T. Bell (ed.), Development of Mathematics (1940), 540.
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Religion considers the Universe deterministic and science considers it probabilistic—an important distinction.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 221.
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Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air. We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging environments. The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement.
Speech, NASA Headquarters (14 Jan 2004). In Office of the Federal Register (U.S.) Staff (eds.), Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George W. Bush (2007), 58.
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Science and mathematics [are] much more compelling and exciting than the doctrines of pseudoscience, whose practitioners were condemned as early as the fifth century B.C. by the Ionian philosopher Heraclitus as “night walkers, magicians, priests of Bacchus, priestesses of the wine-vat, mystery-mongers.” But science is more intricate and subtle, reveals a much richer universe, and powerfully evokes our sense of wonder. And it has the additional and important virtue—to whatever extent the word has any meaning—of being true.
Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, 1986), 76.
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Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself; Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don’t know what they’’re talking about
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Science is the way—a powerful way, indeed—to study the natural world. Science is not particularly effective—in fact, it’s rather ineffective—in making commentary about the supernatural world. Both worlds, for me, are quite real and quite important. They are investigated in different ways. They coexist. They illuminate each other.
From transcript of interview by Bob Abernathy with Francis Collins on PBS TV program 'Religion and Ethics'(16 Jun 2000).
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Science, in the immediate, produces knowledge and, indirectly, means of action. It leads to methodical action if definite goals are set up in advance. For the function of setting up goals and passing statements of value transcends its domain. While it is true that science, to the extent of its grasp of causative connections, may reach important conclusions as to the compatibility and incompatibility of goals and evaluations, the independent and fundamental definitions regarding goals and values remain beyond science’s reach.
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Some of the most important results (e.g. Cauchy’s theorem) are so surprising at first sight that nothing short of a proof can make them credible.
As co-author with Bertha Swirls Jeffreys, in Methods of Mathematical Physics (1946, 1999), v.
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Statistics is a science which ought to be honourable, the basis of many most important sciences; but it is not to be carried on by steam, this science, any more than others are; a wise head is requisite for carrying it on.
Chartism (1839, 1840), 9.
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Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top; it is the willpower that is the most important. This willpower you cannot buy with money or be given by others...it rises from your heart.
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The advantage which science gained by Gauss’ long-lingering method of publication is this: What he put into print is as true and important today as when first published; his publications are statutes, superior to other human statutes in this, that nowhere and never has a single error been detected in them. This justifies and makes intelligible the pride with which Gauss said in the evening of his life of the first larger work of his youth: “The Disquisitiones arithmeticae belong to history.”
In Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (1878, 8, 435. As cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 158.
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The choice of technology, whether for a rich or a poor country, is probably the most important decision to be made.
quoted in Conservation Foundation Letter (Oct 1976).
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The coastal zone may be the single most important portion of our planet. The loss of its biodiversity may have repercussions far be-yond our worst fears.
Biodiversity
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The dance is four-dimensional art in that it moves concretely in both space and time. For the onlooker, it is an art largely of visual space combined with time. But for the dancer, and this is more important, the dance is more a muscular than a visual space rhythm, a muscular time, a muscular movement and balance. Dancing is not animated sculpture, it is kinesthetic.
In Art Is Action: A Discussion of Nine Arts in a Modern World (1939), 56.
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The discovery that these soccer-ball-like molecules can be made in large quantities will have an effect on chemistry like the sowing of a bucket of flower seeds—the results will spring up everywhere from now on. I’d be surprised if we don’t see thousands of new fullerene compounds in the next few years, some of which are almost certain to have important uses.
As quoted in Malcolm W. Browne, 'Bizarre New Class of Molecules Spawns Its Own Branch of Chemistry', New York Times (25 Dec 1990), Late Edition (East Coast), L37.
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The education explosion is producing a vast number of people who want to live significant, important lives but lack the ability to satisfy this craving for importance by individual achievement. The country is being swamped with nobodies who want to be somebodies.
From address to employees of the Phillips Petroleum Co. In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, excerpted in the Franklin, Indiana, The Daily Journal (23 Jan 1978), 2.
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The education of young people in science is at least as important, maybe more so, than the research itself.
As quoted in Peter Davies, Success With Words: A North American Guide to the English Language (1983), 52, citing The New York Times.
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The essential character of a species in biology is, that it is a group of living organisms, separated from all other such groups by a set of distinctive characters, having relations to the environment not identical with those of any other group of organisms, and having the power of continuously reproducing its like. Genera are merely assemblages of a number of these species which have a closer resemblance to each other in certain important and often prominent characters than they have to any other species.
In 'The Method of Organic Evolution', Fortnightly Review (1895), 57, 441.
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The great mathematicians have acted on the principle “Divinez avant de demontrer”, and it is certainly true that almost all important discoveries are made in this fashion.
In 'The Present Problems in Geometry', Bulletin American Mathematical Society, 11, 285. [The French phrase has the sense of “Guess before proving”. —Webmaster]
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The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 9, chap. 14, sect. 3.
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The history of mathematics is important also as a valuable contribution to the history of civilization. Human progress is closely identified with scientific thought. Mathematical and physical researches are a reliable record of intellectual progress.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 4.
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The important thing in any science is to do the things that can be done. Scientists naturally have a right and a duty to have opinions. But their science gives them no special insight into public affairs. There is a time for scientists and movie stars and people who have flown the Atlantic to restrain their opinions lest they be taken more seriously than they should be.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 69.
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The labor of love aspect is important. The most successful scientists are not the most talented. But they are the ones who are impelled by curiosity. They’ve got to know what the answer is.
As quoted in Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant, Who Killed Creativity?: ...And How Do We Get It Back? (2012).
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The legends of fieldwork locate all important site s deep in inaccessible jungles inhabited by fierce beasts and restless natives, and surrounded by miasmas of putrefaction and swarms of tsetse flies. (Alternative models include the hundredth dune after the death of all camels, or the thousandth crevasse following the demise of all sled dogs.)
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The logic of the subject [algebra], which, both educationally and scientifically speaking, is the most important part of it, is wholly neglected. The whole training consists in example grinding. What should have been merely the help to attain the end has become the end itself. The result is that algebra, as we teach it, is neither an art nor a science, but an ill-digested farrago of rules, whose object is the solution of examination problems. … The result, so far as problems worked in examinations go, is, after all, very miserable, as the reiterated complaints of examiners show; the effect on the examinee is a well-known enervation of mind, an almost incurable superficiality, which might be called Problematic Paralysis—a disease which unfits a man to follow an argument extending beyond the length of a printed octavo page.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1885), Nature, 32, 447-448.
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The long-range trend toward federal regulation, which found its beginnings in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Act of 1890, which was quickened by a large number of measures in the Progressive era, and which has found its consummation in our time, was thus at first the response of a predominantly individualistic public to the uncontrolled and starkly original collectivism of big business. In America the growth of the national state and its regulative power has never been accepted with complacency by any large part of the middle-class public, which has not relaxed its suspicion of authority, and which even now gives repeated evidence of its intense dislike of statism. In our time this growth has been possible only under the stress of great national emergencies, domestic or military, and even then only in the face of continuous resistance from a substantial part of the public. In the Progressive era it was possible only because of widespread and urgent fear of business consolidation and private business authority. Since it has become common in recent years for ideologists of the extreme right to portray the growth of statism as the result of a sinister conspiracy of collectivists inspired by foreign ideologies, it is perhaps worth emphasizing that the first important steps toward the modern organization of society were taken by arch-individualists—the tycoons of the Gilded Age—and that the primitive beginning of modern statism was largely the work of men who were trying to save what they could of the eminently native Yankee values of individualism and enterprise.
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The majority of evolutive movements are degenerative. Progressive cases are exceptional. Characters appear suddenly that have no meaning in the atavistic series. Evolution in no way shows a general tendency toward progress… . The only thing that could be accomplished by slow changes would be the accumulation of neutral characteristics without value for survival. Only important and sudden mutations can furnish the material which can be utilized by selection.
As quoted in Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 91. Please contact Webmaster if you know the primary source.
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The mathematician knows that he owes to the natural sciences his most important stimulations.
Max Dehn
Address (18 Jan 1928) at the University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Trans. by Abe Schenitzer, and published in 'The Mentality of the Mathematician: A Characterization', The Mathematical Intelligencer (1983), 5, No. 2. As quoted in Michael Fitzgerald and Ioan James, The Mind of the Mathematician (2007), 6.
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The Mean Value Theorem is the midwife of calculus—not very important or glamorous by itself, but often helping to deliver other theorems that are of major significance.
With co-author D. Varberg in Calculus with Analytic Geometry (1984), 191.
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The methods of science aren’t foolproof, but they are indefinitely perfectible. Just as important: there is a tradition of criticism that enforces improvement whenever and wherever flaws are discovered. The methods of science, like everything else under the sun, are themselves objects of scientific scrutiny, as method becomes methodology, the analysis of methods. Methodology in turn falls under the gaze of epistemology, the investigation of investigation itself—nothing is off limits to scientific questioning. The irony is that these fruits of scientific reflection, showing us the ineliminable smudges of imperfection, are sometimes used by those who are suspicious of science as their grounds for denying it a privileged status in the truth-seeking department—as if the institutions and practices they see competing with it were no worse off in these regards. But where are the examples of religious orthodoxy being simply abandoned in the face of irresistible evidence? Again and again in science, yesterday’s heresies have become today’s new orthodoxies. No religion exhibits that pattern in its history.
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The more efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. It should, however, be borne in mind, that the enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy, which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts.
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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.
In Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4.
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The most direct, and in a sense the most important, problem which our conscious knowledge of Nature should enable us to solve is the anticipation of future events, so that we may arrange our present affairs in accordance with such anticipation. As a basis for the solution of this problem we always make use of our knowledge of events which have already occurred, obtained by chance observation or by prearranged experiment.
In Heinrich Hertz, D.E. Jones (trans.) and J.T. Walley (trans.), 'Introduction', The Principles of Mechanics (1899), 1.
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The most important and lasting truths are the most obvious ones. Nature cheats us with her mysteries, one after another, like a juggler with his tricks; but shews us her plain honest face, without our paying for it.
Characteristics: In the Manner of Rochefoucault's Maxims (1837), 149.
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The most important effect of the suffrage is psychological. The permanent consciousness of power for effective action, the knowledge that their own thoughts have an equal chance with those of any other person … this is what has always rendered the men of a free state so energetic, so acutely intelligent, so powerful.
In “Common Sense” Applied to Woman Suffrage (1894), 180.
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The most important environmental issue is one that is rarely mentioned, and that is the lack of a conservation ethic in our culture.
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The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.
In a letter to a minister in Brooklyn, N.Y. (20 Nov 1950), first paragraph, as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (eds.), Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979, 1981), 95.
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The most important thing accomplished by the ultimate discovery of the 3 °K radiation background (Penzias and Wilson, 1965) was to force all of us to take seriously the idea that there was an early universe.
In The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977, 1993), 131-132.
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The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel.
As summarized on a CNN web page - without quotation marks - from a statement by Glenn about the fourth National Space Day (4 May 2000). 'All systems go for National Space Day' on CNN website.
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The nineteenth century is a turning point in history, simply on account of the work of two men, Darwin and Renan, the one the critic of the Book of Nature, the other the critic of the books of God. Not to recognise this is to miss the meaning of one of the most important eras in the progress of the world.
In Essay, 'The Critic as Artist With Some Remarks Upon the Importance of Doing Nothing and Discussing Everything', published in essay collection Intentions (1891), 174.
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The nineteenth century will ever be known as the one in which the influences of science were first fully realised in civilised communities; the scientific progress was so gigantic that it seems rash to predict that any of its successors can be more important in the life of any nation.
From Inaugural Address as President of the British Association, published Nature (10 Sep 1903),439. (Lockyer was editor of the journal at the time.)
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The only important thing to realise about history is that it all took place in the last five minutes.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 3.
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The opinion of Bacon on this subject [geometry] was diametrically opposed to that of the ancient philosophers. He valued geometry chiefly, if not solely, on account of those uses, which to Plato appeared so base. And it is remarkable that the longer Bacon lived the stronger this feeling became. When in 1605 he wrote the two books on the Advancement of Learning, he dwelt on the advantages which mankind derived from mixed mathematics; but he at the same time admitted that the beneficial effect produced by mathematical study on the intellect, though a collateral advantage, was “no less worthy than that which was principal and intended.” But it is evident that his views underwent a change. When near twenty years later, he published the De Augmentis, which is the Treatise on the Advancement of Learning, greatly expanded and carefully corrected, he made important alterations in the part which related to mathematics. He condemned with severity the pretensions of the mathematicians, “delidas et faslum mathematicorum.” Assuming the well-being of the human race to be the end of knowledge, he pronounced that mathematical science could claim no higher rank than that of an appendage or an auxiliary to other sciences. Mathematical science, he says, is the handmaid of natural philosophy; she ought to demean herself as such; and he declares that he cannot conceive by what ill chance it has happened that she presumes to claim precedence over her mistress.
In 'Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1837). Collected in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (1857), Vol. 1, 395.
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The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
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The peculiar character of mathematical truth is, that it is necessarily and inevitably true; and one of the most important lessons which we learn from our mathematical studies is a knowledge that there are such truths, and a familiarity with their form and character.
This lesson is not only lost, but read backward, if the student is taught that there is no such difference, and that mathematical truths themselves are learned by experience.
In Thoughts on the Study of Mathematics. Principles of English University Education (1838).
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The prevention of disease today is one of the most important factors in line of human endeavor.
Collected Papers of the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation (1913).
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The progress of Science is generally regarded as a kind of clean, rational advance along a straight ascending line; in fact it has followed a zig-zag course, at times almost more bewildering than the evolution of political thought. The history of cosmic theories, in particular, may without exaggeration be called a history of collective obsessions and controlled schizophrenias; and the manner in which some of the most important individual discoveries were arrived at reminds one more of a sleepwalker’s performance than an electronic brain’s.
From 'Preface', in The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 15.
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The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs.
Opening lines of 'My Inventions', Electrical Experimenter (1919). Reprinted in My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (2011), 4.
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The rainbow, “the bridge of the gods,” proved to be the bridge to our understanding of light—much more important.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 189.
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The result of teaching small parts of a large number of subjects is the passive reception of disconnected ideas, not illuminated with any spark of vitality. Let the main ideas which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible.
In The Organisation of Thought: Educational and Scientific (1917), 5.
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The spirit of man is more important than mere physical strength, and the spiritual fiber of a nation than its wealth.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 17
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The student should read his author with the most sustained attention, in order to discover the meaning of every sentence. If the book is well written, it will endure and repay his close attention: the text ought to be fairly intelligible, even without illustrative examples. Often, far too often, a reader hurries over the text without any sincere and vigorous effort to understand it; and rushes to some example to clear up what ought not to have been obscure, if it had been adequately considered. The habit of scrupulously investigating the text seems to me important on several grounds. The close scrutiny of language is a very valuable exercise both for studious and practical life. In the higher departments of mathematics the habit is indispensable: in the long investigations which occur there it would be impossible to interpose illustrative examples at every stage, the student must therefore encounter and master, sentence by sentence, an extensive and complicated argument.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 67.
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The successes of the differential equation paradigm were impressive and extensive. Many problems, including basic and important ones, led to equations that could be solved. A process of self-selection set in, whereby equations that could not be solved were automatically of less interest than those that could.
In Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos (1989, 1997), 33.
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The theory of probabilities is at bottom only common sense reduced to calculation; it makes us appreciate with exactitude what reasonable minds feel by a sort of instinct, often without being able to account for it. … It is remarkable that [this] science, which originated in the consideration of games of chance, should have become the most important object of human knowledge.
From A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities. As given in epigraph, E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (2014), 71.
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The value of mathematical instruction as a preparation for those more difficult investigations, consists in the applicability not of its doctrines but of its methods. Mathematics will ever remain the past perfect type of the deductive method in general; and the applications of mathematics to the simpler branches of physics furnish the only school in which philosophers can effectually learn the most difficult and important of their art, the employment of the laws of simpler phenomena for explaining and predicting those of the more complex. These grounds are quite sufficient for deeming mathematical training an indispensable basis of real scientific education, and regarding with Plato, one who is … as wanting in one of the most essential qualifications for the successful cultivation of the higher branches of philosophy
In System of Logic, Bk. 3, chap. 24, sect. 9.
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The whole premise of democracy is that it is safe to leave important questions to the court of public opinion—but is it safe to leave them to the court of public ignorance?
In 'Combatting U.S. Scientific Illiteracy', Los Angeles Times (31 Mar 1989).
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The woof and warp of all thought and all research is symbols, and the life of thought and science is the life inherent in symbols; so that it is wrong to say that a good language is important to good thought, merely; for it is the essence of it.
From 'The Ethics of Terminology', in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 129.
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The ‘mad idea’ which will lie at the basis of a future fundamental physical theory will come from a realization that physical meaning has some mathematical form not previously associated with reality. From this point of view the problem of the ‘mad idea’ is the problem of choosing, not of generating, the right idea. One should not understand that too literally. In the 1960s it was said (in a certain connection) that the most important discovery of recent years in physics was the complex numbers. The author [Yuri Manin] has something like that in mind.
Mathematics and Physics (1981), Foreward. Reprinted in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 90.
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There are no royal roads to knowledge, and we can only advance to new and important truths along the rugged path of experience, guided by cautious induction.
In 'Report of the Secretary', Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1856 (1857), 36.
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There is something particularly human about using tools; the first and most important tool being language.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 125.
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This interpretation of the atomic number [as the number of orbital electrons] may be said to signify an important step toward the solution of the boldest dreams of natural science, namely to build up an understanding of the regularities of nature upon the consideration of pure number.
Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (1934), 103-104Cited in Gerald James Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein (1985), 74.
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This is an age of science. ... All important fields of activity from the breeding of bees to the administration of an empire, call for an understanding of the spirit and the technique of modern science. The nations that do not cultivate the sciences cannot hold their own.
From Rose's private notebook (1924?), as quoted by Stanley Coben in 'The Scientific Establishment and the Transmission of Quantum Mechanics to the United States, 1919-32', The American Historical Review (Apr 1971), 76, No. 2, 449.
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This skipping is another important point. It should be done whenever a proof seems too hard or whenever a theorem or a whole paragraph does not appeal to the reader. In most cases he will be able to go on and later he may return to the parts which he skipped.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 19.
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This speaker reminds me of my childhood in Budapest. There were gypsy magicians who came to town to entertain us children. But as I recollect, there was one important difference: the gypsy only seemed to violate the laws of nature, he never really violated them!
As quoted by William R. Sears in 'Some Recollections of Theodore von Kármán', Address to the Symposium in Memory of Theodore von Kármán, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, National Meeting (13-14 May 1964), Washington, D.C. Printed in Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (Mar 1965), 13>, No. 1, 178. These are likely not verbatim words of Karman, but as recollected by Sears giving an example of von Kármán’s biting anecdotes at public meetings when criticizing a paper he thought really misleading “pseudoscience.”
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This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
The World as I See It (1999)
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This whole period was a golden age of immunology, an age abounding in important synthetic discoveries all over the world, a time we all thought it was good to be alive. We, who were working on these problems, all knew each other and met as often as we could to exchange ideas and hot news from the laboratory.
In Memoir of a Thinking Radish: An Autobiography (1986), 135.
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Those who are unacquainted with the details of scientific investigation have no idea of the amount of labour expended in the determination of those numbers on which important calculations or inferences depend. They have no idea of the patience shown by a Berzelius in determining atomic weights; by a Regnault in determining coefficients of expansion; or by a Joule in determining the mechanical equivalent of heat.
In Sound: A Course of Eight Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1867), 26.
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Those who assert that the mathematical sciences make no affirmation about what is fair or good make a false assertion; for they do speak of these and frame demonstrations of them in the most eminent sense of the word. For if they do not actually employ these names, they do not exhibit even the results and the reasons of these, and therefore can be hardly said to make any assertion about them. Of what is fair, however, the most important species are order and symmetry, and that which is definite, which the mathematical sciences make manifest in a most eminent degree. And since, at least, these appear to be the causes of many things—now, I mean, for example, order, and that which is a definite thing, it is evident that they would assert, also, the existence of a cause of this description, and its subsistence after the same manner as that which is fair subsists in.
Aristotle
In Metaphysics [MacMahon] Bk. 12, chap. 3.
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Through radio I look forward to a United States of the World. Radio is standardizing the peoples of the Earth, English will become the universal language because it is predominantly the language of the ether. The most important aspect of radio is its sociological influence. (1926)
As quoted (without citation) in Orrin Elmer Dunlap, Radio's 100 Men of Science: Biographical Narratives of Pathfinders (1944), 131.
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To emphasize this opinion that mathematicians would be unwise to accept practical issues as the sole guide or the chief guide in the current of their investigations, ... let me take one more instance, by choosing a subject in which the purely mathematical interest is deemed supreme, the theory of functions of a complex variable. That at least is a theory in pure mathematics, initiated in that region, and developed in that region; it is built up in scores of papers, and its plan certainly has not been, and is not now, dominated or guided by considerations of applicability to natural phenomena. Yet what has turned out to be its relation to practical issues? The investigations of Lagrange and others upon the construction of maps appear as a portion of the general property of conformal representation; which is merely the general geometrical method of regarding functional relations in that theory. Again, the interesting and important investigations upon discontinuous two-dimensional fluid motion in hydrodynamics, made in the last twenty years, can all be, and now are all, I believe, deduced from similar considerations by interpreting functional relations between complex variables. In the dynamics of a rotating heavy body, the only substantial extension of our knowledge since the time of Lagrange has accrued from associating the general properties of functions with the discussion of the equations of motion. Further, under the title of conjugate functions, the theory has been applied to various questions in electrostatics, particularly in connection with condensers and electrometers. And, lastly, in the domain of physical astronomy, some of the most conspicuous advances made in the last few years have been achieved by introducing into the discussion the ideas, the principles, the methods, and the results of the theory of functions. … the refined and extremely difficult work of Poincare and others in physical astronomy has been possible only by the use of the most elaborate developments of some purely mathematical subjects, developments which were made without a thought of such applications.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1897), Nature, 56, 377.
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To say that mind is a product or function of protoplasm, or of its molecular changes, is to use words to which we can attach no clear conception. You cannot have, in the whole, what does not exist in any of the parts; and those who argue thus should put forth a definite conception of matter, with clearly enunciated properties, and show, that the necessary result of a certain complex arrangement of the elements or atoms of that matter, will be the production of self-consciousness. There is no escape from this dilemma—either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter, and in the latter case, its presence in material forms is a proof of the existence of conscious beings, outside of, and independent of, what we term matter. The foregoing considerations lead us to the very important conclusion, that matter is essentially force, and nothing but force; that matter, as popularly understood, does not exist, and is, in fact, philosophically inconceivable. When we touch matter, we only really experience sensations of resistance, implying repulsive force; and no other sense can give us such apparently solid proofs of the reality of matter, as touch does. This conclusion, if kept constantly present in the mind, will be found to have a most important bearing on almost every high scientific and philosophical problem, and especially on such as relate to our own conscious existence.
In 'The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man', last chapter of Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870), 365-366.
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To the east was our giant neighbor Makalu, unexplored and unclimbed, and even on top of Everest the mountaineering instinct was sufficient strong to cause me to spend some moments conjecturing as to whether a route up that mountain might not exist. Far away across the clouds the great bulk of Kangchenjunga loomed on the horizon. To the west, Cho Oyu, our old adversary from 1952, dominated the scene and we could see the great unexplored ranges of Nepal stretching off into the distance. The most important photograph, I felt, was a shot down the north ridge, showing the North Col and the old route that had been made famous by the struggles of those great climbers of the 1920s and 1930s. I had little hope of the results being particularly successful, as I had a lot of difficulty in holding the camera steady in my clumsy gloves, but I felt that they would at least serve as a record. After some ten minutes of this, I realized that I was becoming rather clumsy-fingered and slow-moving, so I quickly replaced my oxygen set and experience once more the stimulating effect of even a few liters of oxygen. Meanwhile, Tenzing had made a little hole in the snow and in it he placed small articles of food – a bar of chocolate, a packet of biscuits and a handful of lollies. Small offerings, indeed, but at least a token gifts to the gods that all devoted Buddhists believe have their home on this lofty summit. While we were together on the South Col two days before, Hunt had given me a small crucifix that he had asked me to take to the top. I, too, made a hole in the snow and placed the crucifix beside Tenzing’s gifts.
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To the manufacturer, chemistry has lately become fruitful of instruction and assistance. In the arts of brewing, tanning, dying, and bleaching, its doctrines are important guides. In making soap, glass, pottery, and all metallic wares, its principles are daily applied, and are capable of a still more useful application, as they become better understood.
From 'Artist and Mechanic', The artist & Tradesman’s Guide: embracing some leading facts & principles of science, and a variety of matter adapted to the wants of the artist, mechanic, manufacturer, and mercantile community (1827), 9.
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Traditions may be very important, but they can be extremely hampering as well, and whether or not tradition is of really much value I have never been certain. Of course when they are very fine, they do good, but it is very difficult of course ever to repeat the conditions under which good traditions are formed, so they may be and are often injurious and I think the greatest progress is made outside of traditions.
Quoted as the notations of an unnamed student in the auditorium when Councilman made impromptu biographical remarks at his last lecture as a teacher of undergraduates in medicine (19 Dec 1921). As quoted in obituary, 'William Thomas Councilman', by Harvey Cushing, Science (30 Jun 1933), 77, No. 2009, 613-618. Reprinted in National Academy Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 18, 159-160. The transcribed lecture was published privately in a 23-page booklet, A Lecture Delivered to the Second-Year Class of the Harvard Medical School at the Conclusion of the Course in Pathology, Dec. 19, 1921.
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True science investigates and brings to human perception such truths and such knowledge as the people of a given time and society consider most important. Art transmits these truths from the region of perception to the region of emotion.
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Vagueness is very much more important in the theory of knowledge than you would judge it to be from the writings of most people. Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise, and everything precise is so remote from everything that we normally think, that you cannot for a moment suppose that is what we really mean when we say what we think.
In The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918, 1919), 2.
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We all know, from what we experience with and within ourselves, that our conscious acts spring from our desires and our fears. Intuition tells us that that is true also of our fellows and of the higher animals. We all try to escape pain and death, while we seek what is pleasant. We are all ruled in what we do by impulses; and these impulses are so organized that our actions in general serve for our self preservation and that of the race. Hunger, love, pain, fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual’s instinct for self preservation. At the same time, as social beings, we are moved in the relations with our fellow beings by such feelings as sympathy, pride, hate, need for power, pity, and so on. All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man’s actions. All such action would cease if those powerful elemental forces were to cease stirring within us. Though our conduct seems so very different from that of the higher animals, the primary instincts are much alike in them and in us. The most evident difference springs from the important part which is played in man by a relatively strong power of imagination and by the capacity to think, aided as it is by language and other symbolical devices. Thought is the organizing factor in man, intersected between the causal primary instincts and the resulting actions. In that way imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts. But their intervention makes our acts to serve ever less merely the immediate claims of our instincts.
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We don’t teach our students enough of the intellectual content of experiments—their novelty and their capacity for opening new fields… . My own view is that you take these things personally. You do an experiment because your own philosophy makes you want to know the result. It’s too hard, and life is too short, to spend your time doing something because someone else has said it’s important. You must feel the thing yourself—feel that it will change your outlook and your way of life.
In Bernstein, 'Profiles: Physicists: I', The New Yorker (13 Oct 1975), 108.
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We knew that DNA was important. We knew it was an important molecule. And we knew that its shape was likely to be important. But we didn’t realise I think just how important it would be. Put in other words, we didn’t realise that the shape would give us a clue to the replication mechanism. And this turned out to be really an unexpected dividend from finding out what the shape was.
From Transcript of BBC TV program, The Prizewinners (1962).
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We need go back only a few centuries to find the great mass of people depending on religion for the satisfaction of practically all their wishes. From rain out of the sky to good health on earth, they sought their desires at the altars of their gods. Whether they wanted large families, good crops, freedom from pestilence, or peace of mind, they conceived themselves as dependent on the favor of heaven. Then science came with its alternative, competitive method of getting what we want. That is science’s most important attribute. As an intellectual influence it is powerful enough, but as a practical way of achieving man’s desires it is overwhelming.
In 'The Real Point of Conflict between Science and Religion', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 140-141.
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We often frame our understanding of what the [Hubble] space telescope will do in terms of what we expect to find, and actually it would be terribly anticlimactic if in fact we find what we expect to find. … The most important discoveries will provide answers to questions that we do not yet know how to ask and will concern objects we have not yet imagined.
As quoted in Timothy Ferris, 'The Space Telescope: A Sign of Intelligent Life', New York Times (29 Apr 1990), A1.
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We say in general that the material of all stone is either some form of Earth or some form of Water. For one or the other of these elements predominates in stones; and even in stones in which some form of Water seems to predominate, something of Earth is also important. Evidence of this is that nearly all kinds of stones sink in water.
From De Mineralibus (c.1261-1263), as translated by Dorothy Wyckoff, Book of Minerals (1967), 12.
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What can be more important than the science of life to any intelligent being who has the good fortune to be alive?
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 36.
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What you do in response to the ocean of suffering may seem be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
As quoted, without citation in Frederick Franck, Janis Roze, Richard Connolly (eds.), What Does It Mean to Be Human? (2000), 66. Often seen in abbreviated ed form as “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
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What you get by reaching your destination is not as important as what you become by reaching your destination.
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When a conjecture inspires new hopes or creates new fears, action is indicated. There is an important asymmetry between hope, which leads to actions that will test its basis, and fear, which leads to restriction of options frequently restricting testing of the basis for the fear. As we know only too well, many of our hopes do not survive their tests. However, fears accumulate untested. Our inventory of untested fears has always made humanity disastrously vulnerable to thought control. While science was independent of politics, its greatest triumph was the reduction of that vulnerability.
Dartmouth College (1994)
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When scientists discovered that liquid water, which brought forth life on Earth, exists nowhere else in great quantities in the solar system, the most significant lesson they taught was not that water, or the life that depends on it, is necessarily the result of some chemical accident in space; their most important revelation was that water is rare in infinity, that we should prize it, preserve it, conserve it.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 201-202.
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When the mathematician says that such and such a proposition is true of one thing, it may be interesting, and it is surely safe. But when he tries to extend his proposition to everything, though it is much more interesting, it is also much more dangerous. In the transition from one to all, from the specific to the general, mathematics has made its greatest progress, and suffered its most serious setbacks, of which the logical paradoxes constitute the most important part. For, if mathematics is to advance securely and confidently, it must first set its affairs in order at home.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 219.
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When you believe you have found an important scientific fact, and are feverishly curious to publish it, constrain yourself for days, weeks, years sometimes, fight yourself, try and ruin your own experiments, and only proclaim your discovery after having exhausted all contrary hypotheses. But when, after so many efforts you have at last arrived at a certainty, your joy is one of the greatest which can be felt by a human soul.
From Speech (14 Nov 1888) at the Inauguration of the Pasteur Institute, as translated in René Vallery-Radot and Mrs R.L. Devonshire (trans.), The Life of Pasteur (1915), 443.
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Whenever … a controversy arises in mathematics, the issue is not whether a thing is true or not, but whether the proof might not be conducted more simply in some other way, or whether the proposition demonstrated is sufficiently important for the advancement of the science as to deserve especial enunciation and emphasis, or finally, whether the proposition is not a special case of some other and more general truth which is as easily discovered.
In Mathematical Essays and Recreations (1898), 88.
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Why is it so very important to know that the lines drawn from the extremities of the base of an isosceles triangle to the middle points of the opposite sides are equal!
In Letter (29 May 1898), at age almost 18, to Mrs. Lawrence Hutton, excerpted in The Story of My Life: With her Letters (1887-1901) (1903, 1921), 242.
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Working on the final formulation of technological patents was a veritable blessing for me. It enforced many-sided thinking and also provided important stimuli to physical thought. Academia places a young person under a kind of compulsion to produce impressive quantities of scientific publications–a temptation to superficiality.
…...
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Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever.
…...
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You cannot become a nuclear physicist capable of real work in the field merely by studying alone in a library, any more than you can become a Jesuit without a certain number of years spent in company with Jesuit scholars. This, and the fact that scientists are among the most international-minded of men, may well be the most important factor in our survival.
As quoted in Michael Amrine, 'I’m A Frightened Man', Collier’s (1946), 117, 51.
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[A man] must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community. These precious things … primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the “humanities” as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.
From interview with Benjamin Fine, 'Einstein Stresses Critical Thinking', New York Times (5 Oct 1952), 37.
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[American] Fathers are spending too much time taking care of babies. No other civilization ever let responsible and important men spend their time in this way. They should not be involved in household details. They should take the children on trips, explore with them and talk things over. Men today have lost something by turning towards the home instead of going out of it.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 147.
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[Gut instinct is more important than expertise.] Muscle memory isn't very helpful when you're charting new territory.
In Issie Lapowsky, 'Scott Belsky', Inc. (Nov 2013), 140. Biography in Context,
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[Herbert Spencer] has discovered a great law of evolution in nature, which underlies all phenomena, & which is as important & more comprehensive than Newton’s law of gravitation.
In letter to his mother, after reading (Jul 1861) Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Psychology (1855). Fiske called the book, “the profoundest work I ever read”. It ignited his enthusiasm for Spencer’s philosophy of evolution. As quoted in Milton Berman, John Fiske: The Evolution of a Popularizer (1961), 36-37.
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[On gold, silver, mercury, platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium:] As in their physical properties so in their chemical properties. Their affinities being weaker, (the noble metals) do not present that variety of combinations, belonging to the more common metals, which renders them so extensively useful in the arts; nor are they, in consequence, so necessary and important in the operations of nature. They do not assist in her hands in breaking down rocks and strata into soil, nor do they help man to make that soil productive or to collect for him its products.
From 13th Lecture in 1818, in Bence Jones, The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870), Vol. 1, 254.
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[The famous attack of Sir William Hamilton on the tendency of mathematical studies] affords the most express evidence of those fatal lacunae in the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to the human intellect, it is a thorough acquaintance with the modes by which human intellect has proceeded, in the case where, by universal acknowledgment, grounded on subsequent direct verification, it has succeeded in ascertaining the greatest number of important and recondite truths. This requisite Sir W. Hamilton had not, in any tolerable degree, fulfilled. Even of pure mathematics he apparently knew little but the rudiments. Of mathematics as applied to investigating the laws of physical nature; of the mode in which the properties of number, extension, and figure, are made instrumental to the ascertainment of truths other than arithmetical or geometrical—it is too much to say that he had even a superficial knowledge: there is not a line in his works which shows him to have had any knowledge at all.
In Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1878), 607.
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[There is] some mathematical quality in Nature, a quality which the casual observer of Nature would not suspect, but which nevertheless plays an important role in Nature’s scheme.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 122.
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“Any specialty, if important, is too important to be left to the specialists.” After all, the specialist cannot function unless he concentrates more or less entirely on his specialty and, in doing so, he will ignore the vast universe lying outside and miss important elements that ought to help guide his judgment. He therefore needs the help of the nonspecialist, who, while relying on the specialist for key information, can yet supply the necessary judgment based on everything else… Science, therefore, has become too important to be left to the scientists.
In 'The Fascination of Science', The Roving Mind (1983), 123. Asimov begins by extending a quote by George Clemenceau: “War is too important to be left to the generals.”
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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