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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: In Vain

In Vain Quotes (9 quotes)

After seeking in vain for the construction of a perpetual motion machine, the relations were investigated which must subsist between the forces of nature if such a machine is to be impossible; and this inverted question led to the discovery of the law of the conservation of energy, which, again, explained the impossibility of perpetual motion in the sense originally intended.
Opening of Lecture (1900), 'Mathematische Probleme' (Mathematical Problems), to the International Congress of Mathematicians, Paris. From the original German reprinted in David Hilbert: Gesammelte Abhandlungen (Collected Treatises, 1970), Vol. 3. For full citation, see the quote that begins, “This conviction of the solvability…”, on the David Hilbert Quotes page on this website.
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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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Geometric writings are not rare in which one would seek in vain for an idea at all novel, for a result which sooner or later might be of service, for anything in fact which might be destined to survive in the science; and one finds instead treatises on trivial problems or investigations on special forms which have absolutely no use, no importance, which have their origin not in the science itself but in the caprice of the author; or one finds applications of known methods which have already been made thousands of times; or generalizations from known results which are so easily made that the knowledge of the latter suffices to give at once the former. Now such work is not merely useless; it is actually harmful because it produces a real incumbrance in the science and an embarrassment for the more serious investigators; and because often it crowds out certain lines of thought which might well have deserved to be studied.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 43. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 443.
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Mathematicians have tried in vain to this day to discover some order in the sequence of prime numbers, and we have reason to believe that it is a mystery into which the human mind will never penetrate.
As quoted in G. Simmons Calculus Gems (1992).
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Science progresses by a series of combinations in which chance plays not the least role. Its life is rough and resembles that of minerals which grow by juxtaposition [accretion]. This applies not only to science such as it emerges [results] from the work of a series of scientists, but also to the particular research of each one of them. In vain would analysts dissimulate: (however abstract it may be, analysis is no more our power than that of others); they do not deduce, they combine, they compare: (it must be sought out, sounded out, solicited.) When they arrive at the truth it is by cannoning from one side to another that they come across it.
English translation from manuscript, in Évariste Galois and Peter M. Neumann, 'Dossier 12: On the progress of pure analysis', The Mathematical Writings of Évariste Galois (2011), 263. A transcription of the original French is on page 262. In the following quote from that page, indicated deletions are omitted, and Webmaster uses parentheses to enclose indications of insertions above the original written line. “La science progresse par une série de combinaisons où le hazard ne joue pas le moindre rôle; sa vie est brute et ressemble à celle des minéraux qui croissent par juxtà position. Cela s’applique non seulement à la science telle qu’elle résulte des travaux d’une série de savants, mais aussi aux recherches particulières à chacun d’eux. En vain les analystes voudraient-ils se le dissimuler: (toute immatérielle qu’elle wst analyse n’est pas pas plus en notre pouvoir que des autres); ils ne déduisent pas, ils combinent, ils comparent: (il faut l’epier, la sonder, la solliciter) quand ils arrivent à la vérité, c’est en heurtant de côté et d’autre qu’il y sont tombés.” Webmaster corrected from typo “put” to “but” in the English text.
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The great truths with which it [mathematics] deals, are clothed with austere grandeur, far above all purposes of immediate convenience or profit. It is in them that our limited understandings approach nearest to the conception of that absolute and infinite, towards which in most other things they aspire in vain. In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there, when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven. They existed not merely in metaphysical possibility, but in the actual contemplation of the supreme reason. The pen of inspiration, ranging all nature and life for imagery to set forth the Creator’s power and wisdom, finds them best symbolized in the skill of the surveyor. "He meted out heaven as with a span;" and an ancient sage, neither falsely nor irreverently, ventured to say, that “God is a geometer”.
In Orations and Speeches (1870), Vol. 3, 614.
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Voluntary attention is … a habit, an imitation of natural attention, which … serves, at the same time, as its point of departure and point of support. … Attention … creates nothing; and if the brain be sterile, if the associations are poor, it will act its part in vain.
As translated in The Psychology of Attention (1890), 45 & 65. Also translated as, “Voluntary attention is a habit, an imitation of natural attention, which is its starting-point and its basis. … Attention creates nothing; and if the brain is barren, if the associations are meagre, it functions in vain”, in William W. Speer, Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1902), 2-3. By
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What parts of the interior or the atmosphere give rise to the various phenomena, or indeed, if these regions have any parts at all, are questions which we ask of the stars in vain.
In Modern Astrophysics (1924), 182.
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Whence is it that nature does nothing in vain; and whence arises all that order and beauty which we see in the world?
Part of a longer quote by Newton that begins: “And for rejecting such a medium we have the authority…. See the full quote, and citation, elsewhere in the collection of Newton quotes on this web site. Newton’s reference to “Nature does nothing in vain” recalls the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen as “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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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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Sophie Germain
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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