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

Incomprehensible Quotes (17 quotes)

A man must cling to the belief that the incomprehensible is comprehensible; otherwise he would not try to fathom it.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 194.
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All power, all subordination rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and the very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears
In Joseph de Maistre and Richard A. Lebrun (trans.), The St. Petersburg Dialogues (1993), 20.
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Büchsel in his reminiscences from the life of a country parson relates that he sought his recreation in Lacroix’s Differential Calculus and thus found intellectual refreshment for his calling. Instances like this make manifest the great advantage which occupation with mathematics affords to one who lives remote from the city and is compelled to forego the pleasures of art. The entrancing charm of mathematics, which captivates every one who devotes himself to it, and which is comparable to the fine frenzy under whose ban the poet completes his work, has ever been incomprehensible to the spectator and has often caused the enthusiastic mathematician to be held in derision. A classic illustration is the example of Archimedes….
From Die Entwickelung der Mathematik im Zusammenhange mit der Ausbreitung der Kultur (1893), 22. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 186. From the original German, “Wenn Büchsel in seinen Erinnerungen aus dem Leben eines Landgeistlichen erzählt, dass er in der Differentialrechnung von Lacroix Erholung gesucht und geistige Erfrischung ftir seinen Beruf gefunden habe, so erkennen wir darin den grossen Vorzug, den die Beschaftigung mit der Mathematik für jemanden hat, der fern von einer Stadt lebt und auf ihre Kunstgenüsse verzichten muss. Der berückende Zauber der Mathematik, dem jeder unterliegt, der sich ihr ergiebt, und der dem holden Wahnsinn vergleichbar ist, unter dessen Bann der Dichter sein Work vollendet, ist dem betrachtenden Mitmenschen immer unbegreiflich gewesen und hat den begeisterten Mathematiker oft zum Gespött werden lassen. Als klassisches Beispiel wird jedem Schüler Archimedes…”
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Explanation separates us from astonishment, which is the only gateway to the incomprehensible.
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If it’s green or wriggles, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics or engineering. If it’s green and wiggles and stinks and still doesn’t work, it’s psychology. If it’s incomprehensible, it’s mathematics. If it puts you to sleep, it’s statistics.
Anonymous
In Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (1978), 79, 97, and additional lines from other sources.
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If we make a couple of discoveries here and there we need not believe things will go like this for ever. An acrobat can leap higher than a farm-hand, and one acrobat higher than another, yet the height no man can overleap is still very low. Just as we hit water when we dig in the earth, so we discover the incomprehensible sooner or later.
Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (1990), 92.
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It is the individual only who is timeless. Societies, cultures, and civilizations - past and present - are often incomprehensible to outsiders, but the individual’s hunger, anxieties, dreams, and preoccupations have remained unchanged through the millennia. Thus, we are up against the paradox that the individual who is more complex, unpredictable, and mysterious than any communal entity is the one nearest to our understanding; so near that even the interval of millennia cannot weaken our feeling of kinshiIf in some manner the voice of an individual reaches us from the remotest distance of time, it is a timeless voice speaking about ourselves.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 97.
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It is true that mathematics, owing to the fact that its whole content is built up by means of purely logical deduction from a small number of universally comprehended principles, has not unfittingly been designated as the science of the self-evident [Selbstverständlichen]. Experience however, shows that for the majority of the cultured, even of scientists, mathematics remains the science of the incomprehensible [Unverständlichen].
In Ueber Wert und angeblichen Unwert der Mathematik, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Maihemaliker Vereinigung (1904), 357.
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Mathematics is often considered a difficult and mysterious science, because of the numerous symbols which it employs. Of course, nothing is more incomprehensible than a symbolism which we do not understand. … But this is not because they are difficult in themselves. On the contrary they have invariably been introduced to make things easy. … [T]he symbolism is invariably an immense simplification. It … represents an analysis of the ideas of the subject and an almost pictorial representation of their relations to each other.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59-60.
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May the conscience and the common sense of the peoples be awakened, so that we may reach a new stage in the life of nations, where people will look back on war as an incomprehensible aberration of their forefathers!
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Nature never makes excellent things, for mean or no uses: and it is hardly to be conceived, that our infinitely wise Creator, should make so admirable a Faculty, as the power of Thinking, that Faculty which comes nearest the Excellency of his own incomprehensible Being, to be so idlely and uselesly employ’d, at least 1/4 part of its time here, as to think constantly, without remembering any of those Thoughts, without doing any good to it self or others, or being anyway useful to any other part of Creation.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 15, 113.
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No other part of science has contributed as much to the liberation of the human spirit as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Yet, at the same time, few other parts of science are held to be so recondite. Mention of the Second Law raises visions of lumbering steam engines, intricate mathematics, and infinitely incomprehensible entropy. Not many would pass C.P. Snow’s test of general literacy, in which not knowing the Second Law is equivalent to not having read a work of Shakespeare.
In The Second Law (1984), Preface, vii.
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That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
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The Bohr atom was introduced to us by Bohr himself. I still have the notes I took during his lectures … His discourse was rendered almost incomprehensible by his accent; there were endless references to what I recorded as “soup groups”, only later emended to “sub-groups”.
In Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and Other Recollections (1996), 116-117.
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The way we have to describe Nature is generally incomprehensible to us.
In 'Electrons and Their Interactions', QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985), Chap. 3, 77.
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We have several stones whose generation is incomprehensible unless it is supposed that they come from some kind of seed, if I may be permitted to use this term; that is to say, from a germ in which the organic particles of these stones are enclosed ‘en petit’, just as those of the largest plants are enclosed in the germs of their grains.
In Histoire de l' Académie Royale des Sciences Annee: Avec les Memoires de Mathematique et de Physique (1702), 230.
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What is mathematics? What is it for? What are mathematicians doing nowadays? Wasn't it all finished long ago? How many new numbers can you invent anyway? Is today’s mathematics just a matter of huge calculations, with the mathematician as a kind of zookeeper, making sure the precious computers are fed and watered? If it’s not, what is it other than the incomprehensible outpourings of superpowered brainboxes with their heads in the clouds and their feet dangling from the lofty balconies of their ivory towers?
Mathematics is all of these, and none. Mostly, it’s just different. It’s not what you expect it to be, you turn your back for a moment and it's changed. It's certainly not just a fixed body of knowledge, its growth is not confined to inventing new numbers, and its hidden tendrils pervade every aspect of modern life.
Opening paragraphs of 'Preface', From Here to Infinity (1996), vii.
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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
Gertrude Elion
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Marcel Proust
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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William Shakespeare
- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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