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

Incapable Quotes (40 quotes)

Die Gewohnheit einer Meinung erzeugt oft völlige Ueberzeugung von ihrer Richtigkeit, sie verbirgt die schwächeren Theile davon, und macht uns unfähig, die Beweise dagegen anzunehmen.
The habit of an opinion often leads to the complete conviction of its truth, it hides the weaker parts of it, and makes us incapable of accepting the proofs against it.
(1827). German text in Ira Freund, The Study of Chemical Composition (1904), 31. Translated form in Carl Schorlemmer, The Rise and Development of Organic Chemistry (1894), 49.
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Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.
Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817). In H. E. Rollins (ed.), Letters of John Keats (1958), Vol. 1, 193-4.
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Wenige sind imstande, von den Vorurteilen der Umgebung abweichende Meinungen gelassen auszusprechen; die Meisten sind sogar unfähig, überhaupt zu solchen Meinungen zu gelangen.
Few people are able to express opinions that dissent from the prejudices of their social group. The majority are even incapable of forming such opinions at all.
Original German in Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (1954), 26. English text by Webmaster assisted by online translation tools.
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A mind not wholly wishful to reach the truth, or to rest it in or obey it when found, is to that extent a mind impervious to truth an incapable of unbiased belief.
Recent Theistic Discussion: the twentieth series of Croall Lectures (1921), 78. In The Homiletic Review, Vol. 83-84 (1922), Vol. 84, 290.
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A physician’s subject of study is necessarily the patient, and his first field for observation is the hospital. But if clinical observation teaches him to know the form and course of diseases, it cannot suffice to make him understand their nature; to this end he must penetrate into the body to find which of the internal parts are injured in their functions. That is why dissection of cadavers and microscopic study of diseases were soon added to clinical observation. But to-day these various methods no longer suffice; we must push investigation further and, in analyzing the elementary phenomena of organic bodies, must compare normal with abnormal states. We showed elsewhere how incapable is anatomy alone to take account of vital phenenoma, and we saw that we must add study of all physico-chemical conditions which contribute necessary elements to normal or pathological manifestations of life. This simple suggestion already makes us feel that the laboratory of a physiologist-physician must be the most complicated of all laboratories, because he has to experiment with phenomena of life which are the most complex of all natural phenomena.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 140-141.
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Above, far above the prejudices and passions of men soar the laws of nature. Eternal and immutable, they are the expression of the creative power they represent what is, what must be, what otherwise could not be. Man can come to understand the: he is incapable of changing them.
In Cours d’economie Politique (1896-97)
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EMBALM, v.t. To cheat vegetation by locking up the gases upon which it feeds. By embalming their dead and thereby deranging the natural balance between animal and vegetable life, the Egyptians made their once fertile and populous country barren and incapable of supporting more than a meagre crew. The modern metallic burial casket is a step in the same direction, and many a dead man who ought now to be ornamenting his neighbor's lawn as a tree, or enriching his table as a bunch of radishes, is doomed to a long inutility. We shall get him after awhile if we are spared, but in the meantime the violet and rose are languishing for a nibble at his glutæus maximus.
The Cynic's Word Book (1906), 90. Also published later as The Devil's Dictionary.
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Exper. I. I made a small hole in a window-shutter, and covered it with a piece of thick paper, which I perforated with a fine needle. For greater convenience of observation I placed a small looking-glass without the window-shutter, in such a position as to reflect the sun's light, in a direction nearly horizontal, upon the opposite wall, and to cause the cone of diverging light to pass over a table on which were several little screens of card-paper. I brought into the sunbeam a slip of card, about one-thirtieth of an inch in breadth, and observed its shadow, either on the wall or on other cards held at different distances. Besides the fringes of colour on each side of the shadow, the shadow itself was divided by similar parallel fringes, of smaller dimensions, differing in number, according to the distance at which the shadow was observed, but leaving the middle of the shadow always white. Now these fringes were the joint effects of the portions of light passing on each side of the slip of card and inflected, or rather diffracted, into the shadow. For, a little screen being placed a few inches from the card, so as to receive either edge of the shadow on its margin, all the fringes which had before been observed in the shadow on the wall, immediately disappeared, although the light inflected on the other side was allowed to retain its course, and although this light must have undergone any modification that the proximity of the other edge of the slip of card might have been capable of occasioning... Nor was it for want of a sufficient intensity of light that one of the two portions was incapable of producing the fringes alone; for when they were both uninterrupted, the lines appeared, even if the intensity was reduced to one-tenth or one-twentieth.
'Experiments and Calculations Relative to Physical Optics' (read in 1803), Philosophical Transactions (1804), 94, 2-3.
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How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics? ... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority. ... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 117-118.
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If one small and odd lineage of fishes had not evolved fins capable of bearing weight on land (though evolved for different reasons in lakes and seas,) terrestrial vertebrates would never have arisen. If a large extraterrestrial object—the ultimate random bolt from the blue—had not triggered the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, mammals would still be small creatures, confined to the nooks and crannies of a dinosaur's world, and incapable of evolving the larger size that brains big enough for self-consciousness require. If a small and tenuous population of protohumans had not survived a hundred slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and potential extinction) on the savannas of Africa, then Homo sapiens would never have emerged to spread throughout the globe. We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (1996), 216.
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If we evolved a race of Isaac Newtons, that would not be progress. For the price Newton had to pay for being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood, and many other desirable things. As a man he was a failure; as a monster he was superb.
Interview with J.W.N. Sullivan, Contemporary Mind, London, 1934. As cited in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2222.
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If you want to understand human beings, there are plenty of people to go to besides psychologists.... Most of these people are incapable of communicating their knowledge, but those who can communicate it are novelists. They are good novelists precisely because they are good psychologists.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 128.
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In all our academies we attempt far too much. ... In earlier times lectures were delivered upon chemistry and botany as branches of medicine, and the medical student learned enough of them. Now, however, chemistry and botany are become sciences of themselves, incapable of comprehension by a hasty survey, and each demanding the study of a whole life, yet we expect the medical student to understand them. He who is prudent, accordingly declines all distracting claims upon his time, and limits himself to a single branch and becomes expert in one thing.
Quoted in Johann Hermann Baas, Henry Ebenezer Handerson (trans.), Outlines of the History of Medicine and the Medical Profession (1889), 842-843.
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In summary, very large populations may differentiate rapidly, but their sustained evolution will be at moderate or slow rates and will be mainly adaptive. Populations of intermediate size provide the best conditions for sustained progressive and branching evolution, adaptive in its main lines, but accompanied by inadaptive fluctuations, especially in characters of little selective importance. Small populations will be virtually incapable of differentiation or branching and will often be dominated by random inadaptive trends and peculiarly liable to extinction, but will be capable of the most rapid evolution as long as this is not cut short by extinction.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 70-1.
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Induction. The mental operation by which from a number of individual instances, we arrive at a general law. The process, according to Hamilton, is only logically valid when all the instances included in the law are enumerated. This being seldom, if ever, possible, the conclusion of an Induction is usually liable to more or less uncertainty, and Induction is therefore incapable of giving us necessary (general) truths.
Stated as narrative, not a direct quote, by his biographer W.H.S. Monck in 'Glossary of Philosophical Terms', appended in Sir William Hamilton (1881), 181.
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It is not surprising that our language should be incapable of describing the processes occurring within the atoms, for, as has been remarked, it was invented to describe the experiences of daily life, and these consists only of processes involving exceedingly large numbers of atoms. Furthermore, it is very difficult to modify our language so that it will be able to describe these atomic processes, for words can only describe things of which we can form mental pictures, and this ability, too, is a result of daily experience. Fortunately, mathematics is not subject to this limitation, and it has been possible to invent a mathematical scheme—the quantum theory—which seems entirely adequate for the treatment of atomic processes; for visualization, however, we must content ourselves with two incomplete analogies—the wave picture and the corpuscular picture.
The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, trans. Carl Eckart and Frank C. Hoyt (1949), 11.
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Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal. Note his history, as sketched above. It seems plain to me that whatever he is he is not a reasoning animal. His record is the fantastic record of a maniac. I consider that the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that with that record back of him he blandly sets himself up as the head animal of the lot: whereas by his own standards he is the bottom one.
In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which the other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh—not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.
In Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings (),
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Mathematics is not a book confined within a cover and bound between brazen clasps, whose contents it needs only patience to ransack; it is not a mine, whose treasures may take long to reduce into possession, but which fill only a limited number of veins and lodes; it is not a soil, whose fertility can be exhausted by the yield of successive harvests; it is not a continent or an ocean, whose area can be mapped out and its contour defined: it is limitless as that space which it finds too narrow for its aspirations; its possibilities are as infinite as the worlds which are forever crowding in and multiplying upon the astronomer’s gaze; it is as incapable of being restricted within assigned boundaries or being reduced to definitions of permanent validity, as the consciousness of life, which seems to slumber in each monad, in every atom of matter, in each leaf and bud cell, and is forever ready to burst forth into new forms of vegetable and animal existence.
From Commemoration Day Address (22 Feb 1877) at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, collected in The Collected Mathematical Papers: (1870-1883) (1909), 77-78.
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Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught, except a little ancient geography and history. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Especial attention was paid to versemaking, and this I could never do well. I had many friends, and got together a good collection of old verses, which by patching together, sometimes aided by other boys, I could work into any subject.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 8.
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One-story intellects, two-story intellects, three-story intellects with skylights. All fact-collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of the fact-collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illumination comes from above, through the skylight. There are minds with large ground-floors, that can store an infinite amount of knowledge; some librarians, for instance, who know enough of books to help other people, without being able to make much other use of their knowledge, have intellects of this class. Your great working lawyer has two spacious stories; his mind is clear, because his mental floors are large, and he has room to arrange his thoughts so that lie can get at them,—facts below, principles above, and all in ordered series; poets are often narrow below, incapable of clear statement, and with small power of consecutive reasoning, but full of light, if sometimes rather bare of furniture, in the attics.
The Poet at the Breakfast Table (1883), 50.
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Pure mathematics … reveals itself as nothing but symbolic or formal logic. It is concerned with implications, not applications. On the other hand, natural science, which is empirical and ultimately dependent upon observation and experiment, and therefore incapable of absolute exactness, cannot become strictly mathematical. The certainty of geometry is thus merely the certainty with which conclusions follow from non-contradictory premises. As to whether these conclusions are true of the material world or not, pure mathematics is indifferent.
In 'Non-Euclidian Geometry of the Fourth Dimension', collected in Henry Parker Manning (ed.), The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained (1910), 58.
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Science is wonderful at destroying metaphysical answers, but incapable of providing substitute ones. Science takes away foundations without providing a replacement. Whether we want to be there or not, science has put us in the position of having to live without foundations. It was shocking when Nietzsche said this, but today it is commonplace; our historical position—and no end to it is in sight—is that of having to philosophise without 'foundations'.
In Hilary Putnam (ed.), The Many Faces of Realism: The Paul Carns Lectures (1987), 29. Excerpt 'Realism and Reasonableness', in Joseph Margolis and Jacques Catudal, The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux (2001), 122.
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Science through its physical technological consequences is now determining the relations which human beings, severally and in groups, sustain to one another. If it is incapable of developing moral techniques which will also determine those relations, the split in modern culture goes so deep that not only democracy but all civilized values are doomed.
In Freedom and Culture (1939).
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Scientific findings do not threaten anyone (except to the extent that Homo sapiens may prove incapable of controlling what science makes possible). But what is critical to understand is that our species (or, for that matter, God) is not in the least diminished by the idea that we emerged thanks to the processes of evolution.
In The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (2003), 55.
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Sylvester was incapable of reading mathematics in a purely receptive way. Apparently a subject either fired in his brain a train of active and restless thought, or it would not retain his attention at all. To a man of such a temperament, it would have been peculiarly helpful to live in an atmosphere in which his human associations would have supplied the stimulus which he could not find in mere reading. The great modern work in the theory of functions and in allied disciplines, he never became acquainted with …
What would have been the effect if, in the prime of his powers, he had been surrounded by the influences which prevail in Berlin or in Gottingen? It may be confidently taken for granted that he would have done splendid work in those domains of analysis, which have furnished the laurels of the great mathematicians of Germany and France in the second half of the present century.
In Address delivered at a memorial meeting at the Johns Hopkins University (2 May 1897), published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Jun 1897), 303. Also in Johns Hopkins University Circulars, 16 (1897), 54.
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Take away these instinctive dispositions with their powerful impulses, and the organism would become incapable of activity of any kind; it would lie inert and motionless like a wonderful clockwork whose mainspring had been removed or a steam-engine whose fires had been withdrawn.
An Introduction to Social Psychology (1928), 38.
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The efforts of the great philosopher [Newton] were always superhuman; the questions which he did not solve were incapable of solution in his time
In 'Eulogy on Laplace', Smithsonian Report (1874), 133.
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The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
…...
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The mind of man may be compared to a musical instrument with a certain range of notes, beyond which in both directions we have an infinitude of silence. The phenomena of matter and force lie within our intellectual range, and as far as they reach we will at all hazards push our inquiries. But behind, and above, and around all, the real mystery of this universe [Who made it all?] lies unsolved, and, as far as we are concerned, is incapable of solution.
In 'Matter and Force', Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 93.
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The one quality that seems to be so universal among eccentrics is … so subjective as to be incapable of being proved or disproved, yet … eccentrics appear to be happier than the rest of us.
From a summary his study of 1,000 people, done at Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland. In David Weeks, David Joseph Weeks and Jamie James, Eccentrics (1995), 38.
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The pursuit of pretty formulas and neat theorems can no doubt quickly degenerate into a silly vice, but so can the quest for austere generalities which are so very general indeed that they are incapable of application to any particular.
In Men of Mathematics (1937), Vol. 2, 488.
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The rallying motto of a sectarian name is incapable of exciting to sober, calm, scientific investigation; it only rouses the explosive spirit of accusations of heresy to a fierce volcanic flame. Truth and the weal of humanity should be the only motto of the genuine elucidators of the art, and the watchword of their brotherly, peaceful bond of union, without slavish adherence to any sectarian leader, if we would not see the little good that we know completely sacrificed to party spirit and discord.
In 'View of Professional Liberality at the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century' from the Allgemeiner Anzeiger d. D. No. 32 (1801), collected in R.E. Dudgeon (ed., trans.) The Lesser Writings of Samuel Hahnemann (1851), 363.
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There is a strange disparity between the sciences of inert matter and those of life. Astronomy, mechanics, and physics are based on concepts which can be expressed, tersely and elegantly, in mathematical language. They have built up a universe as harmonious as the monuments of ancient Greece. They weave about it a magnificent texture of calculations and hypotheses. They search for reality beyond the realm of common thought up to unutterable abstractions consisting only of equations of symbols. Such is not the position of biological sciences. Those who investigate the phenomena of life are as if lost in an inextricable jungle, in the midst of a magic forest, whose countless trees unceasingly change their place and their shape. They are crushed under a mass of facts, which they can describe but are incapable of defining in algebraic equations.
Man the Unknown (1935), 1.
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.
From 'The Power of Words', collected in Siân Miles (ed.), Simone Weil: An Anthology (2000), 222-223.
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We are too ready to accept others and ourselves as we are and to assume that we are incapable of change. We forget the idea of growth, or we do not take it seriously. There is no good reason why we should not develop and change until the last day we live. Psychoanalysis is one of the most powerful means of helping us to realize this aim.
In 'Dedication', American Journal of Psychoanalysis (1942), 35, 99-100. As quoted and cited in Milton M. Berger, Women Beyond Freud: New Concepts Of Feminine Psychology (2013).
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We must never assume that which is incapable of proof.
The Physiology of Common Life (1860), Vol. 2, 290.
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You will be able to appreciate the influence of such an Engine on the future progress of science. I live in a country which is incapable of estimating it.
To an unidentified American, Burndy Library, as quoted inAnthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (1985), 135.
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You will be able to appreciate the influence of such an Engine on the future progress of science. I live in a country which is incapable of estimating it.
To an unidentified American, Burndy Library, as quoted inAnthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (1985), 135.
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[The blame for the future 'plight of civilization] must rest on scientific men, equally with others, for being incapable of accepting the responsibility for the profound social upheavals which their own work primarily has brought about in human relationships.
Quoted in Thaddeus Trenn, 'The Central Role of Energy in Soddy's Holistic and Critical Approach to Nuclear Science, Economics, and Social Responsibility', British Journal for the History of Science (1979), 42, 261.
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…what is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160. There are versions by other translators. For example, an alternate translation for the last sentence is: [Man is] “equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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