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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Infinite

Infinite Quotes (231 quotes)

...in an infinite universe, anything that could be imagined might somewhere exist.”
…...
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The Redwoods

Here, sown by the Creator's hand,
In serried ranks, the Redwoods stand;
No other clime is honored so,
No other lands their glory know.

The greatest of Earth's living forms,
Tall conquerors that laugh at storms;
Their challenge still unanswered rings,
Through fifty centuries of kings.

The nations that with them were young,
Rich empires, with their forts far-flung,
Lie buried now—their splendor gone;
But these proud monarchs still live on.

So shall they live, when ends our day,
When our crude citadels decay;
For brief the years allotted man,
But infinite perennials' span.

This is their temple, vaulted high,
And here we pause with reverent eye,
With silent tongue and awe-struck soul;
For here we sense life's proper goal;

To be like these, straight, true and fine,
To make our world, like theirs, a shrine;
Sink down, oh traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
In The Record: Volumes 60-61 (1938), 39.
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La théorie des séries infinies en général est justqu’à présent très mal fondée. On applique aux séries infinies toutes les opérations, come si elles aient finies; mais cela est-il bien permis? Je crois que non. Où est-il démonstré qu/on ontient la différentielle dune série infinie en prenant la différentiaella de chaque terme. Rien n’est plus facile que de donner des exemples où cela n’est pas juste.
Until now the theory of infinite series in general has been very badly grounded. One applies all the operations to infinite series as if they were finite; but is that permissible? I think not. Where is it demonstrated that one obtains the differential of an infinite series by taking the differential of each term? Nothing is easier than to give instances where this is not so.
Quoted in Reinhold Remmert and Robert B. Burckel, Theory of Complex Functions: Readings in Mathematics (1991), 125.
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Quelquefois, par exemple, je me figure que je suis suspendu en l’air, et que j’y demeure sans mouvement, pendant que la Terre tourne sous moi en vingt-quatre heures. Je vois passer sous mes yeux tous ces visages différents, les uns blancs, les autres noirs, les autres basanés, les autres olivâtres. D’abord ce sont des chapeaux et puis des turbans, et puis des têtes chevelues, et puis des têtes rasées; tantôt des villes à clochers, tantôt des villes à longues aiguilles qui ont des croissants, tantôt des villes à tours de porcelaine, tantôt de grands pays qui n’ont que des cabanes; ici de vastes mers, là des déserts épouvantables; enfin, toute cette variété infinie qui est sur la surface de la Terre.
Sometimes, for instance, I imagine that I am suspended in the air, and remain there motionless, while the earth turns under me in four-and-twenty hours. I see pass beneath me all these different countenances, some white, others black, others tawny, others olive-colored. At first they wear hats, and then turbans, then heads with long hair, then heads shaven; sometimes towns with steeples, sometimes towns with long spires, which have crescents, sometimes towns with porcelain towers, sometimes extensive countries that have only huts; here wide seas; there frightful deserts; in short, all this infinite variety on the surface of the earth.
In 'Premier Soir', Entretiens Sur La Pluralité Des Mondes (1686, 1863), 43. French and translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 117-118.
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Surtout l’astronomie et l’anatomie sont les deux sciences qui nous offrent le plus sensiblement deux grands caractères du Créateur; l’une, son immensité, par les distances, la grandeur, et le nombre des corps célestes; l’autre, son intelligence infinie, par la méchanique des animaux.
Above all, astronomy and anatomy are the two sciences which present to our minds most significantly the two grand characteristics of the Creator; the one, His immensity, by the distances, size, and number of the heavenly bodies; the other, His infinite intelligence, by the mechanism of animate beings.
Original French and translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed.) Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 119-120.
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Wilst du ins Unendliche schreiten, Geh nur im Endlichen nach allen Seiten.
If you want to reach the infinite, explore every aspect of the finite.
Jeremy Naydler (ed.), Goethe On Science: An Anthology of Goethe’s Scientific Writings (1996), 37.
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A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn’t concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. … Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. … In our business, we don’t expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter’s search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body.
Describing the skill of his co-worker, Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the Turkana Boy, the most complete specimen of Homo erectus, on a slope covered with black lava pebbles.
Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992), 26.
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A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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A perfectionist is a man who takes infinite pains and gives them to others.
In Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans and Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote (2003), 31.
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A world is a circumscribed portion of sky... it is a piece cut off from the infinite.
Epicurus
Letter to Pythocles, in Epicurus: The Extant Remains (1926), trans. C. Bailey, 59.
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All change is relative. The universe is expanding relatively to our common material standards; our material standards are shrinking relatively to the size of the universe. The theory of the “expanding universe” might also be called the theory of the “shrinking atom”. …
:Let us then take the whole universe as our standard of constancy, and adopt the view of a cosmic being whose body is composed of intergalactic spaces and swells as they swell. Or rather we must now say it keeps the same size, for he will not admit that it is he who has changed. Watching us for a few thousand million years, he sees us shrinking; atoms, animals, planets, even the galaxies, all shrink alike; only the intergalactic spaces remain the same. The earth spirals round the sun in an ever-decreasing orbit. It would be absurd to treat its changing revolution as a constant unit of time. The cosmic being will naturally relate his units of length and time so that the velocity of light remains constant. Our years will then decrease in geometrical progression in the cosmic scale of time. On that scale man’s life is becoming briefer; his threescore years and ten are an ever-decreasing allowance. Owing to the property of geometrical progressions an infinite number of our years will add up to a finite cosmic time; so that what we should call the end of eternity is an ordinary finite date in the cosmic calendar. But on that date the universe has expanded to infinity in our reckoning, and we have shrunk to nothing in the reckoning of the cosmic being.
We walk the stage of life, performers of a drama for the benefit of the cosmic spectator. As the scenes proceed he notices that the actors are growing smaller and the action quicker. When the last act opens the curtain rises on midget actors rushing through their parts at frantic speed. Smaller and smaller. Faster and faster. One last microscopic blurr of intense agitation. And then nothing.
In The Expanding Universe (1933) , 90-92.
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All other things have a portion of everything, but Mind is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing but is all alone by itself.
Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, 164, 24 - 5. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 363.
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All the species recognized by Botanists came forth from the Almighty Creator's hand, and the number of these is now and always will be exactly the same, while every day new and different florists' species arise from the true species so-called by Botanists, and when they have arisen they finally revert to the original forms. Accordingly to the former have been assigned by Nature fixed limits, beyond which they cannot go: while the latter display without end the infinite sport of Nature.
Philosophia Botanica (1751), aphorism 310. Trans. Frans A. Stafleu, Linnaeus and the Linnaeans: The Spreading of their Ideas in Systematic Botany, 1735-1789 (1971), 90.
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Almighty God, to whose efficacious Word all things owe their original, abounding in his own glorious Essence with infinite goodness and fecundity, did in the beginning Create Man after his own likeness, Male and Female, created he them; the true distinction of which Sexes, consists merely in the different site of those parts of the body, wherein Generation necessarily requires a Diversity: for both Male and Female he impartially endued with the same, and altogether indifferent form of Soul, the Woman being possess’d of no less excellent Faculties of Mind, Reason, and Speech, than the Man, and equally with him aspiring to those Regions of Bliss and Glory, where there shall be no exception of Sex.
In Female Pre-eminence: Or, The Dignity and Excellency of that Sex above the Male, translation (1670).
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An example of such emergent phenomena is the origin of life from non-living chemical compounds in the oldest, lifeless oceans of the earth. Here, aided by the radiation energy received from the sun, countless chemical materials were synthesized and accumulated in such a way that they constituted, as it were, a primeval “soup.” In this primeval soup, by infinite variations of lifeless growth and decay of substances during some billions of years, the way of life was ultimately reached, with its metabolism characterized by selective assimilation and dissimilation as end stations of a sluiced and canalized flow of free chemical energy.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 458.
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An undefined problem has an infinite number of solutions.
…...
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Anaximenes ... also says that the underlying nature is one and infinite ... but not undefined as Anaximander said but definite, for he identifies it as air; and it differs in its substantial nature by rarity and density. Being made finer it becomes fire; being made thicker it becomes wind, then cloud, then (when thickened still more) water, then earth, then stones; and the rest come into being from these.
Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, 24, 26-31, quoting Theophrastus on Anaximenes. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M.Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 145.
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Anaximenes ... said that infinite air was the principle, from which the things that are becoming, and that are, and that shall be, and gods and things divine, all come into being, and the rest from its products. The form of air is of this kind: whenever it is most equable it is invisible to sight, but is revealed by the cold and the hot and the damp and by movement. It is always in motion; for things that change do not change unless there be movement. Through becoming denser or finer it has different appearances; for when it is dissolved into what is finer it becomes fire, while winds, again, are air that is becoming condensed, and cloud is produced from air by felting. When it is condensed still more, water is produced; with a further degree of condensation earth is produced, and when condensed as far as possible, stones. The result is that the most influential components of the generation are opposites, hot and cold.
Hippolytus, Refutation, 1.7.1. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 145.
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Anaximenes son of Eurystratus, of Miletus, was a pupil of Anaximander; some say he was also a pupil of Parmenides. He said that the material principle was air and the infinite; and that the stars move, not under the earth, but round it. He used simple and economical Ionic speech. He was active, according to what Apollodorus says, around the time of the capture of Sardis, and died in the 63rd Olympiad.
Diogenes Laertius 2.3. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts(1983), p. 143.
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And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5. 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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And from true lordship it follows that the true God is living, intelligent, and powerful; from the other perfections, that he is supreme, or supremely perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, he endures from eternity to eternity; and he is present from infinity to infinity; he rules all things, and he knows all things that happen or can happen.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), General Scholium, 941.
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Anything made out of destructible matter
Infinite time would have devoured before.
But if the atoms that make and replenish the world
Have endured through the immense span of the past
Their natures are immortal—that is clear.
Never can things revert to nothingness!
On the Nature of Things, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (1995), Book I, lines 232-7, 31.
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As geologists, we learn that it is not only the present condition of the globe that has been suited to the accommodation of myriads of living creatures, but that many former states also have been equally adapted to the organization and habits of prior races of beings. The disposition of the seas, continents, and islands, and the climates have varied; so it appears that the species have been changed, and yet they have all been so modelled, on types analogous to those of existing plants and animals, as to indicate throughout a perfect harmony of design and unity of purpose. To assume that the evidence of the beginning or end of so vast a scheme lies within the reach of our philosophical inquiries, or even of our speculations, appears to us inconsistent with a just estimate of the relations which subsist between the finite powers of man and the attributes of an Infinite and Eternal Being.
Concluding remark, Principles of Geology(1833), Vol. 3, 384-5.
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As science has supplanted its predecessors, so it may hereafter be superseded by some more perfect hypothesis, perhaps by some totally different way of looking at the phenomena—of registering the shadows on the screen—of which we in this generation can form no idea. The advance of knowledge is an infinite progression towards a goal that for ever recedes.
In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890, 1900), Vol. 3, 460.
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Astronomy is the science of the harmony of infinite expanse.
Attributed.
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At the end of the book [Zoonomia] he sums up his [Erasmus Darwin] views in the following sentences: “The world has been evolved, not created: it has arisen little by little from a small beginning, and has increased through the activity of the elemental forces embodied in itself, and so has rather grown than come into being at an almighty word.” “What a sublime idea of the infinite might of the great Architect, the Cause of all causes, the Father of all fathers, the Ens Entium! For if we would compare the Infinite, it would surely require a greater Infinite to cause the causes of effects than to produce the effects themselves.”
[This is a restatement, not a verbatim quote of the original words of Erasmus Darwin, who attributed the idea he summarized to David Hume.]
In August Weismann, John Arthur Thomson (trans.), Margaret R. Thomson (trans.) The Evolution Theory (1904), Vol. 1, 17-18. The verbatim form of the quote from Zoonomia, in context, can be seen on the webpage here for Erasmus Darwin. Later authors have quoted from Weismann's translated book, and given the reworded passage as a direct quote by Erasmus Darwin. Webmaster has found a verbatim form in Zoonomia (1794), but has been unable to find the wording used by Weismann in any primary source by Erasmus Darwin. The rewording is perhaps due to the translation of the quote into German for Weismann's original book, Vorträge über Descendenztheorie (1902) followed by another translation for the English edition.
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Before a complex of sensations becomes a recollection placeable in time, it has ceased to be actual. We must lose our awareness of its infinite complexity, or it is still actual ... It is only after a memory has lost all life that it can be classed in time, just as only dissected flowers find their way into the herbarium of a botanist.
…...
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Between the lowest and the highest degree of spiritual and corporal perfection, there is an almost infinite number of intermediate degrees. The succession of degrees comprises the Universal Chain. It unites all beings, ties together all worlds, embraces all the spheres. One SINGLE BEING is outside this chain, and this is HE who made it.
Contemplation de la nature (1764), Vol. I, 27. Trans. Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), 23.
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But nature flies from the infinite; for the infinite is imperfect, and nature always seeks an end.
Aristotle
Generation of Animals, 715b, 114-6. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 1112.
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But who can say that the vapour engine has not a kind of consciousness? Where does consciousness begin, and where end? Who can draw the line? Who can draw any line? Is not everything interwoven with everything? Is not machinery linked with animal life in an infinite variety of ways?
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Calculus required continuity, and continuity was supposed to require the infinitely little; but nobody could discover what the infinitely little might be.
In 'Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics The International Monthly (Jul 1901), 4, No. 1, 90.
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Chemistry is one of those branches of human knowledge which has built itself upon methods and instruments by which truth can presumably be determined. It has survived and grown because all its precepts and principles can be re-tested at any time and anywhere. So long as it remained the mysterious alchemy by which a few devotees, by devious and dubious means, presumed to change baser metals into gold, it did not flourish, but when it dealt with the fact that 56 g. of fine iron, when heated with 32 g. of flowers of sulfur, generated extra heat and gave exactly 88 g. of an entirely new substance, then additional steps could be taken by anyone. Scientific research in chemistry, since the birth of the balance and the thermometer, has been a steady growth of test and observation. It has disclosed a finite number of elementary reagents composing an infinite universe, and it is devoted to their inter-reaction for the benefit of mankind.
Address upon receiving the Perkin Medal Award, 'The Big Things in Chemistry', The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Feb 1921), 13, No. 2, 163.
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Compare the length of a moment with the period of ten thousand years; the first, however minuscule, does exist as a fraction of a second. But that number of years, or any multiple of it that you may name, cannot even be compared with a limitless extent of time, the reason being that comparisons can be drawn between finite things, but not between finite and infinite.
The Consolation of Philosophy [before 524], Book II, trans. P. G. Walsh (1999), 36.
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Da Vinci was as great a mechanic and inventor as were Newton and his friends. Yet a glance at his notebooks shows us that what fascinated him about nature was its variety, its infinite adaptability, the fitness and the individuality of all its parts. By contrast what made astronomy a pleasure to Newton was its unity, its singleness, its model of a nature in which the diversified parts were mere disguises for the same blank atoms.
From The Common Sense of Science (1951), 25.
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Does it not seem as if Algebra had attained to the dignity of a fine art, in which the workman has a free hand to develop his conceptions, as in a musical theme or a subject for a painting? It has reached a point where every properly developed algebraical composition, like a skillful landscape, is expected to suggest the notion of an infinite distance lying beyond the limits of the canvas.
In 'Lectures on the Theory of Reciprocants', Lecture XXI, American Journal of Mathematics (Jul 1886), 9, No. 3, 136.
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Doubtless the reasoning faculty, the mind, is the leading and characteristic attribute of the human race. By the exercise of this, man arrives at the properties of the natural bodies. This is science, properly and emphatically so called. It is the science of pure mathematics; and in the high branches of this science lies the truly sublime of human acquisition. If any attainment deserves that epithet, it is the knowledge, which, from the mensuration of the minutest dust of the balance, proceeds on the rising scale of material bodies, everywhere weighing, everywhere measuring, everywhere detecting and explaining the laws of force and motion, penetrating into the secret principles which hold the universe of God together, and balancing worlds against worlds, and system against system. When we seek to accompany those who pursue studies at once so high, so vast, and so exact; when we arrive at the discoveries of Newton, which pour in day on the works of God, as if a second fiat had gone forth from his own mouth; when, further, we attempt to follow those who set out where Newton paused, making his goal their starting-place, and, proceeding with demonstration upon demonstration, and discovery upon discovery, bring new worlds and new systems of worlds within the limits of the known universe, failing to learn all only because all is infinite; however we may say of man, in admiration of his physical structure, that “in form and moving he is express and admirable,” it is here, and here without irreverence, we may exclaim, “In apprehension how like a god!” The study of the pure mathematics will of course not be extensively pursued in an institution, which, like this [Boston Mechanics’ Institute], has a direct practical tendency and aim. But it is still to be remembered, that pure mathematics lie at the foundation of mechanical philosophy, and that it is ignorance only which can speak or think of that sublime science as useless research or barren speculation.
In Works (1872), Vol. 1, 180.
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Each thing in the world has names or unnamed relations to everything else. Relations are infinite in number and kind. To be is to be related. It is evident that the understanding of relations is a major concern of all men and women. Are relations a concern of mathematics? They are so much its concern that mathematics is sometimes defined to be the science of relations.
In Mole Philosophy and Other Essays (1927), 94-95.
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Euclid avoids it [the treatment of the infinite]; in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only then is generality obtained.
'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130. This is part of a longer quote, which begins “In Euclid each proposition…”, on the Arthur Cayley Quotes page of this website.
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Every bird which flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw. Germination includes the hatching of a meteor and the tap of a swallow's bill breaking the egg, and it leads forward the birth of an earth-worm and the advent of Socrates.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Every situation, every moment—is of infinite worth; for it is the representative of a whole eternity.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 166
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Experience is a jewel, and it need be so, for it is often purchased at an infinite rate.
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Finally, from what we now know about the cosmos, to think that all this was created for just one species among the tens of millions of species who live on one planet circling one of a couple of hundred billion stars that are located in one galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies, all of which are in one universe among perhaps an infinite number of universes all nestled within a grand cosmic multiverse, is provincially insular and anthropocentrically blinkered. Which is more likely? That the universe was designed just for us, or that we see the universe as having been designed just for us?
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From a mathematical standpoint it is possible to have infinite space. In a mathematical sense space is manifoldness, or combinations of numbers. Physical space is known as the 3-dimension system. There is the 4-dimension system, the 10-dimension system.
As quoted in 'Electricity Will Keep The World From Freezing Up', New York Times (12 Nov 1911), SM4.
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From the infinitely great down to the infinitely small, all things are subject to [the laws of nature]. The sun and the planets follow the laws discovered by Newton and Laplace, just as the atoms in their combinations follow the laws of chemistry, as living creatures follow the laws of biology. It is only the imperfections of the human mind which multiply the divisions of the sciences, separating astronomy from physics or chemistry, the natural sciences from the social sciences. In essence, science is one. It is none other than the truth.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-97).
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From time immemorial, the infinite has stirred men's emotions more than any other question. Hardly any other idea has stimulated the mind so fruitfully. Yet, no other concept needs clarification more than it does.
In address (4 Jun 1925), at a congress of the Westphalian Mathematical Society in Munster, in honor of Karl Weierstrass. First published in Mathematische Annalen (1926), 95, 161-190. Translated by Erna Putnam and Gerald J. Massey as 'On the Infinite', collected in Paul Benacerraf (ed.) Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Readings (1983), 185. Compare another translation elsewhere on this page, beginning, “The Infinite!…”.
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From very ancient times, the question of the constitution of matter with respect to divisibility has been debated, some adopting the opinion that this divisibility is infinite …. We have absolutely no means at our disposal for deciding such a question, which remains at the present day in the same state as when it first engaged the attention of the Greek philosophers, or perhaps that of the sages of Egypt and Hindostan long before them.
In Elementary Chemistry, Theoretical and Practical (1854), 206. Note: this was the limit of knowledge, or even speculation, decades before the discovery of the nucleus, electron, proton and other particles.
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Genuine religion has its root deep down in the heart of humanity and in the reality of things. It is not surprising that by our methods we fail to grasp it: the actions of the Deity make no appeal to any special sense, only a universal appeal; and our methods are, as we know, incompetent to detect complete uniformity. There is a principle of Relativity here, and unless we encounter flaw or jar or change, nothing in us responds; we are deaf and blind therefore to the Immanent Grandeur, unless we have insight enough to recognise in the woven fabric of existence, flowing steadily from the loom in an infinite progress towards perfection, the ever-growing garment of a transcendent God.
Continuity: The Presidential Address to the British Association (1913), 92-93.
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Geology is part of that remarkable dynamic process of the human mind which is generally called science and to which man is driven by an inquisitive urge. By noticing relationships in the results of his observations, he attempts to order and to explain the infinite variety of phenomena that at first sight may appear to be chaotic. In the history of civilization this type of progressive scientist has been characterized by Prometheus stealing the heavenly fire, by Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, by the Faustian ache for wisdom.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454.
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Geometry may sometimes appear to take the lead of analysis, but in fact precedes it only as a servant goes before his master to clear the path and light him on his way. The interval between the two is as wide as between empiricism and science, as between the understanding and the reason, or as between the finite and the infinite.
From 'Astronomical Prolusions', Philosophical Magazine (Jan 1866), 31, No. 206, 54, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of James Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 521.
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God is infinite, so His universe must be too. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of His kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.
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He rules all things, not as the world soul but as the lord of all. And because of his dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator. For 'god' is a relative word and has reference to servants, and godhood is the lordship of God, not over his own body as is supposed by those for whom God is the world soul, but over servants. The supreme God is an eternal, infinite, and absolutely perfect being; but a being, however perfect, without dominion is not the Lord God.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), General Scholium, 940-1.
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He that knows the secrets of nature with Albertus Magnus, or the motions of the heavens with Galileo, or the cosmography of the moon with Hevelius, or the body of man with Galen, or the nature of diseases with Hippocrates, or the harmonies in melody with Orpheus, or of poesy with Homer, or of grammar with Lilly, or of whatever else with the greatest artist; he is nothing if he knows them merely for talk or idle speculation, or transient and external use. But he that knows them for value, and knows them his own, shall profit infinitely.
In Bertram Doben (ed.), Centuries of Meditations (1908), The Third Century, No. 41, 189-190.
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Holding then to science with one hand—the left hand—we give the right hand to religion, and cry: ‘Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things, more wondrous than the shining worlds can tell.’ Obedient to the promise, religion does awaken faculties within us, does teach our eyes to the beholding of more wonderful things. Those great worlds blazing like suns die like feeble stars in the glory of the morning, in the presence of this new light. The soul knows that an infinite sea of love is all about it, throbbing through it, everlasting arms of affection lift it, and it bathes itself in the clear consciousness of a Father’s love.
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Homo sapiens is a compulsive communicator. Look at the number of people you see walking around talking on mobile phones. We seem to have an infinite capacity for communicating and being communicated with. I’m not sure how admirable it is, but it certainly demonstrates that we are social organisms.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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How many times did the sun shine, how many times did the wind howl over the desolate tundras, over the bleak immensity of the Siberian taigas, over the brown deserts where the Earth’s salt shines, over the high peaks capped with silver, over the shivering jungles, over the undulating forests of the tropics! Day after day, through infinite time, the scenery has changed in imperceptible features. Let us smile at the illusion of eternity that appears in these things, and while so many temporary aspects fade away, let us listen to the ancient hymn, the spectacular song of the seas, that has saluted so many chains rising to the light.
Tectonics of Asia (1924), 165, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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I also require much time to ponder over the matters themselves, and particularly the principles of mechanics (as the very words: force, time, space, motion indicate) can occupy one severely enough; likewise, in mathematics, the meaning of imaginary quantities, of the infinitesimally small and infinitely large and similar matters.
In Davis Baird, R.I.G. Hughes and Alfred Nordmann, Heinrich Hertz: Classical Physicist, Modern Philosopher (1998), 159.
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I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.
In 'A Winter Diary', (Jan 1941), collected in One Man’s Meat (1942, 1982), 170.
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I am convinced that it is impossible to expound the methods of induction in a sound manner, without resting them upon the theory of probability. Perfect knowledge alone can give certainty, and in nature perfect knowledge would be infinite knowledge, which is clearly beyond our capacities. We have, therefore, to content ourselves with partial knowledge—knowledge mingled with ignorance, producing doubt.
The Principles of Science: A Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method, 2nd edition (1877), 197.
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I do not think there should be a limit on the rig's liability, because they are sitting on top of unlimited amounts of oil, and thus, there could be an explosion occur that could do untold damage. ... The amount of damage that an offshore oil rig can do is infinite.
Senate Floor Debate, 135 Cong. Rec. S9689-S9716 (3 Aug 1989). Reproduced in Russell V. Randle, Oil Pollution Deskbook (1991), 432.
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I do not value any view of the universe into which man and the institutions of man enter very largely and absorb much of the attention. Man is but the place where I stand, and the prospect hence is infinite.
Journal, April 2, 1852.
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I don’t know whether there is a finite set of basic laws of physics or whether there are infinite sets of structure like an infinite set of Chinese boxes. Will the electron turn out to have an interior structure? I wish I knew!
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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I have always liked horticulturists, people who make their living from orchards and gardens, whose hands are familiar with the feel of the bark, whose eyes are trained to distinguish the different varieties, who have a form memory. Their brains are not forever dealing with vague abstractions; they are satisfied with the romance which the seasons bring with them, and have the patience and fortitude to gamble their lives and fortunes in an industry which requires infinite patience, which raise hopes each spring and too often dashes them to pieces in fall. They are always conscious of sun and wind and rain; must always be alert lest they lose the chance of ploughing at the right moment, pruning at the right time, circumventing the attacks of insects and fungus diseases by quick decision and prompt action. They are manufacturers of a high order, whose business requires not only intelligence of a practical character, but necessitates an instinct for industry which is different from that required by the city dweller always within sight of other people and the sound of their voices. The successful horticulturist spends much time alone among his trees, away from the constant chatter of human beings.
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I have before mentioned mathematics, wherein algebra gives new helps and views to the understanding. If I propose these it is not to make every man a thorough mathematician or deep algebraist; but yet I think the study of them is of infinite use even to grown men; first by experimentally convincing them, that to make anyone reason well, it is not enough to have parts wherewith he is satisfied, and that serve him well enough in his ordinary course. A man in those studies will see, that however good he may think his understanding, yet in many things, and those very visible, it may fail him. This would take off that presumption that most men have of themselves in this part; and they would not be so apt to think their minds wanted no helps to enlarge them, that there could be nothing added to the acuteness and penetration of their understanding.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have declared infinite worlds to exist beside this our earth. It would not be worthy of God to manifest Himself in less than an infinite universe.
…...
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I have no doubt that many small strikes of a hammer will finally have as much effect as one very heavy blow: I say as much in quantity, although they may be different in mode, but in my opinion, everything happens in nature in a mathematical way, and there is no quantity that is not divisible into an infinity of parts; and Force, Movement, Impact etc. are types of quantities.
From the original French, “Ie ne doute point que plusieurs petits coups de Marteau ne fassent enfin autant d’effet qu’vn fort grand coup, ie dis autant en quantité, bien qu’ils puissent estre différents, in modo; mais apud me omnia fiunt Mathematicè in Natura, & il n’y a point de quantité qui ne soit divisible en une infinité de parties; Or la Force, le Mouuement, la Percussion, &c. sont des Especes de quantitez,” in letter (11 Mar 1640) to Père Marin Mersenne (AT III 36), collected in Lettres de Mr Descartes (1659), Vol. 2, 211-212. English version by Webmaster using online resources.
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I have written many direct and indirect arguments for the Copernican view, but until now I have not dared to publish them, alarmed by the fate of Copernicus himself, our master. He has won for himself undying fame in the eyes of a few, but he has been mocked and hooted at by an infinite multitude (for so large is the number of fools). I would dare to come forward publicly with my ideas if there were more people of your [Johannes Kepler’s] way of thinking. As this is not the case, I shall refrain.
Letter to Kepler (4 Aug 1597). In James Bruce Ross (ed.) and Mary Martin (ed., trans.), 'Comrades in the Pursuit of Truth', The Portable Renaissance Reader (1953, 1981), 597-599. As quoted and cited in Merry E. Wiesner, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (2013), 377.
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I imagine that when we reach the boundaries of things set for us, or even before we reach them, we can see into the infinite, just as on the surface of the earth we gaze out into immeasurable space.
Aphorism 52 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 51.
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I recognize nothing that is not material. In physics, chemistry and biology I see only mechanics. The Universe is nothing but an infinite and complex mechanism. Its complexity is so great that it borders on willfulness, suddenness, and randomness; it gives the illusion of free will possessed by conscious beings.
In Monism of the Universe (1931).
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I think the name atomic theory was an unfortunate one. We talk fluently about atoms as the smallest particles that exist, and chemists regard them as indivisible … To my mind the infinitely small is as incomprehensible as the infinitely great. … we cannot comprehend it, we cannot take it in. And so with the atom. Therefore I think that it would have been better to have taken a different word—say minim—which would have been a safer term than atom.
Address, in 'Report to the Chemical Society's Jubilee', Nature (26 Mar 1891), 43, 493.
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I told him that for a modern scientist, practicing experimental research, the least that could be said, is that we do not know. But I felt that such a negative answer was only part of the truth. I told him that in this universe in which we live, unbounded in space, infinite in stored energy and, who knows, unlimited in time, the adequate and positive answer, according to my belief, is that this universe may, also, possess infinite potentialities.
Nobel Lecture, The Coming Age of the Cell, 12 Dec 1974
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I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaître first proposed this [Big Bang] theory. ... There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. .... It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago.
[Expressing his belief that the Big Bang is a myth devised to explain creation. He said he heard Lemaître (who was, at the time both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist) say in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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I wish the lecturers to treat their subject as a strictly natural science, the greatest of all possible sciences, indeed, in one sense, the only science, that of Infinite Being, without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special exception or so-called miraculous revelation. I wish it considered just as astronomy or chemistry is.
Statement in deed of foundation of the Gifford Lectures on natural theology (1885).
Quoted in Michael A. Arbib and Mary B. Hesse, The Construction of Reality (1986), 1.
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If it be urged that the action of the potato is chemical and mechanical only, and that it is due to the chemical and mechanical effects of light and heat, the answer would seem to lie in an enquiry whether every sensation is not chemical and mechanical in its operation? Whether those things which we deem most purely spiritual are anything but disturbances of equilibrium in an infinite series of levers, beginning with those that are too small for microscopic detection, and going up to the human arm and the appliances which it makes use of? Whether there be not a molecular action of thought, whence a dynamical theory of the passions shall be deducible?
In Erewhon, Or, Over the Range (1872), 192.
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If one of these people, in whom the chance-worship of our remoter ancestors thus strangely survives, should be within reach of the sea when a heavy gale is blowing, let him betake himself to the shore and watch the scene. Let him note the infinite variety of form and size of the tossing waves out at sea; or against the curves of their foam-crested breakers, as they dash against the rocks; let him listen to the roar and scream of the shingle as it is cast up and torn down the beach; or look at the flakes of foam as they drive hither and thither before the wind: or note the play of colours, which answers a gleam of sunshine as it falls upon their myriad bubbles. Surely here, if anywhere, he will say that chance is supreme, and bend the knee as one who has entered the very penetralia of his divinity. But the man of science knows that here, as everywhere, perfect order is manifested; that there is not a curve of the waves, not a note in the howling chorus, not a rainbow-glint on a bubble, which is other than a necessary consequence of the ascertained laws of nature; and that with a sufficient knowledge of the conditions, competent physico-mathematical skill could account for, and indeed predict, every one of these 'chance' events.
In 'On the Reception of the Origin of Species'. In Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol. 2, 200-1.
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If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: And A Song of Liberty (1793, 1911), 62.
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If the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force—and every other representation remains indefinite and therefore useless—it follows that, in the great dice game of existence, it must pass through calculable number of combinations. In infinite time, every possible combination would at some time or another be realized; more: it would be realized an infinite number of times. And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place, and each of these combination conditions of the entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum. This conception is not simply a mechanistic conception; for if it were that, it would not condition an infinite recurrence of identical cases, but a final state. Because the world has not reached this, mechanistic theory must be considered an imperfect and merely provisional hypothesis.
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 4, no. 1066. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 549.
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If we consider what science already has enabled men to know—the immensity of space, the fantastic philosophy of the stars, the infinite smallness of the composition of atoms, the macrocosm whereby we succeed only in creating outlines and translating a measure into numbers without our minds being able to form any concrete idea of it—we remain astounded by the enormous machinery of the universe.
Address (10 Sep 1934) to the International Congress of Electro-Radio Biology, Venice. In Associated Press, 'Life a Closed Book, Declares Marconi', New York Times (11 Sep 1934), 15.
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If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact or the description of one actual phenomenon to infer all the particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect, but the harmony which results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws which we have not detected, is still more wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as to the traveler, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form. Even when cleft or bored through, it is not comprehended in its entireness.
…...
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If you disregard the very simplest cases, there is in all of mathematics not a single infinite series whose sum has been rigorously determined. In other words, the most important parts of mathematics stand without a foundation.
In Letter to a friend, as quoted in George Finlay Simmons, Calculus Gems (1992), 188.
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In a randomly infinite Universe, any event occurring here and now with finite probability must be occurring simultaneously at an infinite number of other sites in the Universe. It is hard to evaluate this idea any further, but one thing is certain: if it is true then it is certainly not original!
With co-author Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986).
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In all works on Natural History, we constantly find details of the marvellous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found. But naturalists are now beginning to look beyond this, and to see that there must be some other principle regulating the infinitely varied forms of animal life. It must strike every one, that the numbers of birds and insects of different groups having scarcely any resemblance to each other, which yet feed on the same food and inhabit the same localities, cannot have been so differently constructed and adorned for that purpose alone. Thus the goat-suckers, the swallows, the tyrant fly-catchers, and the jacamars, all use the same kind ‘Of food, and procure it in the same manner: they all capture insects on the wing, yet how entirely different is the structure and the whole appearance of these birds!
In A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853), 83-84.
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In Euclid each proposition stands by itself; its connection with others is never indicated; the leading ideas contained in its proof are not stated; general principles do not exist. In modern methods, on the other hand, the greatest importance is attached to the leading thoughts which pervade the whole; and general principles, which bring whole groups of theorems under one aspect, are given rather than separate propositions. The whole tendency is toward generalization. A straight line is considered as given in its entirety, extending both ways to infinity, while Euclid is very careful never to admit anything but finite quantities. The treatment of the infinite is in fact another fundamental difference between the two methods. Euclid avoids it, in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only thus is generality obtained.
In 'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition).
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In nature's infinite book of secrecy
A little I can read.
In Antony and Cleopatra (1606-7), I, ii.
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In science there is and will remain a Platonic element which could not be taken away without ruining it. Among the infinite diversity of singular phenomena science can only look for invariants.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 101.
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In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle. ‘All space’ in this context may mean either all of an infinite universe, or all of a finite universe which curves back on itself like the surface of a sphere. Neither possibility is easy to comprehend, but this will not get in our way; it matters hardly at all in the early universe whether space is finite or infinite. At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high­energy nuclear physics.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 5.
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In the presence of infinite might and infinite wisdom, the strength of the strongest man is but weakness, and the keenest of mortal eyes see but dimly.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 167
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In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation, it is infinite… Not only communism, but any political movement which implicitly relies on purely utilitarian ethics, must become a victim to the same fatal error. It is a fallacy as naïve as a mathematical teaser, and yet its consequences lead straight to Goya’s Disasters, to the reign of the guillotine, the torture chambers of the Inquisition, or the cellars of the Lubianka.
In 'The Invisible Writing', Arrow in the Blue: An Autobiography (1952), Vol. 2, 357.
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Induction and analogy are the special characteristics of modern mathematics, in which theorems have given place to theories and no truth is regarded otherwise than as a link in an infinite chain. “Omne exit in infinitum” is their favorite motto and accepted axiom.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, Vol. 1, 861. [The Latin phrase “Omne exit in infinitum” means “Everything goes to infinity”.
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Infidels are intellectual discoverers. They sail the unknown seas and find new isles and continents in the infinite realms of thought. An Infidel is one who has found a new fact, who has an idea of his own, and who in the mental sky has seen another star. He is an intellectual capitalist, and for that reason excites the envy and hatred of the theological pauper.
In 'The Great Infidels', The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (1902), Vol. 3, 309.
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Infinite space cannot be conceived by anybody; finite but unbounded space is difficult to conceive but not impossible. … [We] are using a conception of space which must have originated a million years ago and has become rather firmly imbedded in human thought. But the space of Physics ought not to be dominated by this creation of the dawning mind of an enterprising ape."
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 80-81.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time … I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—“I like it”,“I don't like it”—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 57.
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It goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging, this majestic roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving, how express and admirable, in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god—the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
Hamlet (1601), II, ii.
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It is arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engine. Electricity opens a field of infinite conveniences to ever greater numbers, but they may well have to pay dearly for them. But anyhow in my thought I stop short of the internal combustion engine which has made the world so much smaller. Still more must we fear the consequences of entrusting a human race so little different from their predecessors of the so-called barbarous ages such awful agencies as the atomic bomb. Give me the horse.
Address to the Royal College of Surgeons (10 Jul 1951). Collected in Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 and 1952 (1953), 91.
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It is astonishing how much the word infinitely is misused: everything is infinitely more beautiful, infinitely better, etc. The concept must have something pleasing about it, or its misuse could not have become so general.
Aphorism 133 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 155.
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It is going to be necessary that everything that happens in a finite volume of space and time would have to be analyzable with a finite number of logical operations. The present theory of physics is not that way, apparently. It allows space to go down into infinitesimal distances, wavelengths to get infinitely great, terms to be summed in infinite order, and so forth; and therefore, if this proposition [that physics is computer-simulatable] is right, physical law is wrong.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21 Nos. 6-7, 468. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.
In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980, 2005), 142-143. Slightly revised from 'Fit the Fifth', The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts (1985), 102. The show was recorded for the BBC on 21 Feb 1978.
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It is no small comfort when I reflect that we should not so much marvel at the vast and almost infinite breadth of the most distant heavens but much more at the smallness of us manikins and the smallness of this our tiny ball of earth and also of all the planets.
From Letter to Johann Herwart (1598), as quoted in Murray Roston, Milton and the Baroque (1980), 17.
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It is no way derogatory to Newton, or Kepler, or Galileo, that Science in these days should have advanced far beyond them. Rather is this itself their crown of glory. Their works are still bearing fruit, and will continue to do so. The truths which they discovered are still living in our knowledge, pregnant with infinite consequences.
Co-author with his brother Augustus William Hare Guesses At Truth, By Two Brothers: Second Edition: With Large Additions (1848), Second Series, 251. (The volume is introduced as “more than three fourths new.” This quote is identified as by Julius; Augustus had died in 1833.)
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It is unnatural in a large field to have only one shaft of wheat, and in the infinite Universe only one living world.
Attributed. Variations of the idea are also seen. Webmaster has been unable to find and check a primary source. See 'Hunting the Wild Quote' at www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/?p=3894.
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It turned out that the buckyball, the soccer ball, was something of a Rosetta stone of an infinite new class of molecules.
From interview with National Public Radio (2000), quoted and cited in Nell GreenfieldBoyce, '‘Buckyball’ Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley Dies', All Things Considered (31 Oct 2005). Transcript on NPR website.
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It was his [Leibnitz’s] love of method and order, and the conviction that such order and harmony existed in the real world, and that our success in understanding it depended upon the degree and order which we could attain in our own thoughts, that originally was probably nothing more than a habit which by degrees grew into a formal rule. This habit was acquired by early occupation with legal and mathematical questions. We have seen how the theory of combinations and arrangements of elements had a special interest for him. We also saw how mathematical calculations served him as a type and model of clear and orderly reasoning, and how he tried to introduce method and system into logical discussions, by reducing to a small number of terms the multitude of compound notions he had to deal with. This tendency increased in strength, and even in those early years he elaborated the idea of a general arithmetic, with a universal language of symbols, or a characteristic which would be applicable to all reasoning processes, and reduce philosophical investigations to that simplicity and certainty which the use of algebraic symbols had introduced into mathematics.
A mental attitude such as this is always highly favorable for mathematical as well as for philosophical investigations. Wherever progress depends upon precision and clearness of thought, and wherever such can be gained by reducing a variety of investigations to a general method, by bringing a multitude of notions under a common term or symbol, it proves inestimable. It necessarily imports the special qualities of number—viz., their continuity, infinity and infinite divisibility—like mathematical quantities—and destroys the notion that irreconcilable contrasts exist in nature, or gaps which cannot be bridged over. Thus, in his letter to Arnaud, Leibnitz expresses it as his opinion that geometry, or the philosophy of space, forms a step to the philosophy of motion—i.e., of corporeal things—and the philosophy of motion a step to the philosophy of mind.
In Leibnitz (1884), 44-45. [The first sentence is reworded to better introduce the quotation. —Webmaster]
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It [mathematics] is in the inner world of pure thought, where all entia dwell, where is every type of order and manner of correlation and variety of relationship, it is in this infinite ensemble of eternal verities whence, if there be one cosmos or many of them, each derives its character and mode of being,—it is there that the spirit of mathesis has its home and its life.
Is it a restricted home, a narrow life, static and cold and grey with logic, without artistic interest, devoid of emotion and mood and sentiment? That world, it is true, is not a world of solar light, not clad in the colours that liven and glorify the things of sense, but it is an illuminated world, and over it all and everywhere throughout are hues and tints transcending sense, painted there by radiant pencils of psychic light, the light in which it lies. It is a silent world, and, nevertheless, in respect to the highest principle of art—the interpenetration of content and form, the perfect fusion of mode and meaning—it even surpasses music. In a sense, it is a static world, but so, too, are the worlds of the sculptor and the architect. The figures, however, which reason constructs and the mathematic vision beholds, transcend the temple and the statue, alike in simplicity and in intricacy, in delicacy and in grace, in symmetry and in poise. Not only are this home and this life thus rich in aesthetic interests, really controlled and sustained by motives of a sublimed and supersensuous art, but the religious aspiration, too, finds there, especially in the beautiful doctrine of invariants, the most perfect symbols of what it seeks—the changeless in the midst of change, abiding things hi a world of flux, configurations that remain the same despite the swirl and stress of countless hosts of curious transformations.
In 'The Universe and Beyond', Hibbert Journal (1904-1906), 3, 314.
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Leo Szilard’s Ten Commandments:
1. Recognize the connections of things and the laws of conduct of men, so that you may know what you are doing.
2. Let your acts be directed towards a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end.
3. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world; lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of the creation.
4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.
5. Touch no dish, except that you are hungry.
6. Do not covet what you cannot have.
7. Do not lie without need.
8. Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love.
9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become.
10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever you are called.
Circulated by Mrs. Szilard in July 1964, in a letter to their friends (translated by Dr. Jacob Bronowski). As printed in Robert J. Levine, Ethics and Regulation of Clinical Research (1988), 431.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal’s Pensées (1950), 19.
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Look round the world, contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance-of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), 47-48.
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Man is still by instinct a predatory animal given to devilish aggression.
The discoveries of science have immensely increased productivity of material things. They have increased the standards of living and comfort. They have eliminated infinite drudgery. They have increased leisure. But that gives more time for devilment.
The work of science has eliminated much disease and suffering. It has increased the length of life. That, together with increase in productivity, has resulted in vastly increased populations. Also it increased the number of people engaged in devilment.
Address delivered to Annual Meeting of the York Bible Class, Toronto, Canada (22 Nov 1938), 'The Imperative Need for Moral Re-armament', collected in America's Way Forward (1939), 50.
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Mathematicians deal with possible worlds, with an infinite number of logically consistent systems. Observers explore the one particular world we inhabit. Between the two stands the theorist. He studies possible worlds but only those which are compatible with the information furnished by observers. In other words, theory attempts to segregate the minimum number of possible worlds which must include the actual world we inhabit. Then the observer, with new factual information, attempts to reduce the list further. And so it goes, observation and theory advancing together toward the common goal of science, knowledge of the structure and observation of the universe.
Lecture to Sigma Xi, 'The Problem of the Expanding Universe' (1941), printed in Sigma Xi Quarterly (1942), 30, 104-105. Reprinted in Smithsonian Institution Report of the Board of Regents (1943), 97, 123. As cited by Norriss S. Hetherington in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 63.
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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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Matter, though divisible in an extreme degree, is nevertheless not infinitely divisible. That is, there must be some point beyond which we cannot go in the division of matter. ... I have chosen the word “atom” to signify these ultimate particles.
Dalton's Manuscript Notes, Royal Institution Lecture 18 (30 Jan 1810). In Ida Freund, The Study of Chemical Composition: An Account of its Method and Historical Development (1910), 288.
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Men cannot be treated as units in operations of political arithmetic because they behave like the symbols for zero and the infinite, which dislocate all mathematical operations.
In The God That Failed: Six Studies in Communism (1965), 60.
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Modern mathematics, that most astounding of intellectual creations, has projected the mind’s eye through infinite time and the mind's hand into boundless space.
In 'What Knowledge is of Most Worth?', Presidential address to the National Education Association, Denver, Colorado (9 Jul 1895). In Educational Review (Sep 1895), 10, 108.
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Most manufacturers take resources out of the ground and convert them to products that are designed to be thrown away or incinerated within months. We call these “cradle to grave” product flows. Our answer to that is “cradle to cradle” design. Everything is reused—either returned to the soil as nontoxic “biological nutrients” that will biodegrade safely, or returned to industry as “technical nutrients” that can be infinitely recycled.
In interview article, 'Designing For The Future', Newsweek (15 May 2005).
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My father, the practicing physician, … was a passionate collector of natural objects (amber, shells, minerals, beetles, etc.) and a great friend of the natural sciences. … To my energetic and intellectually vigorous mother I owe an infinite debt.
As quoted in Paul Forman and Armin Hermann, 'Sommerfeld, Arnold (Johannes Wilhelm)', Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 12, 525. Cited from 'Autobiographische Skizze', Gesammelte Schriften, Vol 4, 673–682.
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My soul is an entangled knot,
Upon a liquid vortex wrought
By Intellect in the Unseen residing,
And thine doth like a convict sit,
With marline-spike untwisting it,
Only to find its knottiness abiding;
Since all the tools for its untying
In four-dimensional space are lying,
Wherein they fancy intersperses
Long avenues of universes,
While Klein and Clifford fill the void
With one finite, unbounded homoloid,
And think the Infinite is now at last destroyed. (1878)
A parody of Shelley as 'A Paradoxical Ode', quoted in Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 649-650.
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Nature is not a partisan, but out of her ample treasue house she produces children in infinite variety, of which she is equally the mother, and disowns none of them…
Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London, 1834-1881 (1884), 172.
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Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them.
Attributed. (?) Webmaster has not, so far, been able to verify any primary source (can you help?). The quote appears in various books, attributed to Ruskin without any source citation, at least as early as Phyllis Hobe, Tapestries of Life (1974), 102. Whereas other Ruskin quotes appear in 19th century quote collections, but this one does not seem to be, leaves uncertainty. Or, perhaps it is a restatement of some longer text. Or in a periodical article.
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Nature … is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.
In Pensées (1670), Section 16, No. 26. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 26. From the French, “La nature … est une sphère infinie dont le centre est partout, la circonférence nulle part,” in Pensées de Blaise Pascal (1847), 227-228.
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Now this supreme wisdom, united to goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best. For as a lesser evil is a kind of good, even so a lesser good is a kind of evil if it stands in the way of a greater good; and the would be something to correct in the actions of God if it were possible to the better. As in mathematics, when there is no maximum nor minimum, in short nothing distinguished, everything is done equally, or when that is not nothing at all is done: so it may be said likewise in respect of perfect wisdom, which is no less orderly than mathematics, that if there were not the best (optimum) among all possible worlds, God would not have produced any.
Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God and Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil (1710), 128.
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O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Hamlet (1601), II, ii.
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One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature—inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe.
John Muir
In My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), 325. Based on Muir's original journals and sketches of his 1869 stay in the Sierra.
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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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Our ignorance is God; what we know is science. When we abandon the doctrine that some infinite being created matter and force, and enacted a code of laws for their government ... the real priest will then be, not the mouth-piece of some pretended deity, but the interpreter of nature.
In The Gods, and Other Lectures, (1874), 56.
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Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.
Essy, 'On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance', in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1962), 28.
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Our knowledge must always be limited, but the knowable is limitless. The greater the sphere of our knowledge the greater the surface of contact with our infinite ignorance.
Conclusion of the James Forrest Lecture (3 May 1894) at an Extra Meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 'The Relation of Mathematics to Engineering', collected in Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1894), 347.
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Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of the infinitude.
Dialogue 21 (28 Jun 1941). Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954, 2001) 160.
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Past time is finite, future time is infinite.
The Observational Approach to Cosmology (1937), 62.
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Perhaps there are somewhere in the infinite universe beings whose minds outrank our minds to the same extent as our minds surpass those of the insects. Perhaps there will once somewhere live beings who will look upon us with the same condescension as we look upon amoebae.
…...
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Personally I think there is no doubt that sub-atomic energy is available all around us, and that one day man will release and control its almost infinite power. We cannot prevent him from doing so and can only hope that he will not use it exclusively in blowing up his next door neighbour. (1936)
Concluding remark in Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 114.
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Sand is a substance that is beautiful, mysterious, and infinitely variable; each grain on a beach is the result of processes that go back into the shadowy beginnings of life, or of the earth itself.
In The Edge of the Sea (1955), 125.
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Science is Christian, not when it condemns itself to the letter of things, but when, in the infinitely little, it discovers as many mysteries and as much depth and power as in the infinitely great.
In Fourth Lecture, 'The Roman Church and Science: Galileo', (7 May 1844). Collected in Edgar Quinet and C. Cocks (trans.), Ultramontanism: Or, The Roman Church and Modern Society (1845), 73.
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Science is not the enemy of humanity but one of the deepest expressions of the human desire to realize that vision of infinite knowledge. Science shows us that the visible world is neither matter nor spirit; the visible world is the invisible organization of energy.
The Cosmic Code (1982), 348.
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Science is the topography of ignorance. From a few elevated points we triangulate vast spaces, inclosing infinite unknown details. We cast the lead, and draw up a little sand from abysses we may never reach with our dredges.
'Border Lines of Knowledge in Some Provinces of Medical Science', an introductory lecture to the Medical Class of Harvard University (6 Nov 1861). In Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1892), 211.
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Science, then, is the attentive consideration of common experience; it is common knowledge extended and refined. Its validity is of the same order as that of ordinary perception; memory, and understanding. Its test is found, like theirs, in actual intuition, which sometimes consists in perception and sometimes in intent. The flight of science is merely longer from perception to perception, and its deduction more accurate of meaning from meaning and purpose from purpose. It generates in the mind, for each vulgar observation, a whole brood of suggestions, hypotheses, and inferences. The sciences bestow, as is right and fitting, infinite pains upon that experience which in their absence would drift by unchallenged or misunderstood. They take note, infer, and prophesy. They compare prophesy with event, and altogether they supply—so intent are they on reality—every imaginable background and extension for the present dream.
The Life of Reason, or the Phases of Human Progress (1954), 393.
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Science, which deals with the infinite, is itself without bounds.
In The Principles of Chemistry (1891), Vol. 1, preface, footnote, x, as translated from the Russian 5th edition by George Kamensky, edited by A. J. Greenaway.
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Scientists and Drapers. Why should the botanist, geologist or other-ist give himself such airs over the draper’s assistant? Is it because he names his plants or specimens with Latin names and divides them into genera and species, whereas the draper does not formulate his classifications, or at any rate only uses his mother tongue when he does? Yet how like the sub-divisions of textile life are to those of the animal and vegetable kingdoms! A few great families—cotton, linen, hempen, woollen, silk, mohair, alpaca—into what an infinite variety of genera and species do not these great families subdivide themselves? And does it take less labour, with less intelligence, to master all these and to acquire familiarity with their various habits, habitats and prices than it does to master the details of any other great branch of science? I do not know. But when I think of Shoolbred’s on the one hand and, say, the ornithological collections of the British Museum upon the other, I feel as though it would take me less trouble to master the second than the first.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 218.
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See, thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of being, which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
From thee to Nothing—On superior pow'rs
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroy'd:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
'An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle I. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 513.
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Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
…...
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Since as the Creation is, so is the Creator also magnified, we may conclude in consequence of an infinity, and an infinite all-active power, that as the visible creation is supposed to be full of siderial systems and planetary worlds, so on, in like similar manner, the endless Immensity is an unlimited plenum of creations not unlike the known Universe.… That this in all probability may be the real case, is in some degree made evident by the many cloudy spots, just perceivable by us, as far without our starry Regions, in which tho’ visibly luminous spaces, no one Star or particular constituent body can possibly be distinguished; those in all likelyhood may be external creation, bordering upon the known one, too remote for even our Telescopes to reach.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 143-144.
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So far as modern science is concerned, we have to abandon completely the idea that by going into the realm of the small we shall reach the ultimate foundations of the universe. I believe we can abandon this idea without any regret. The universe is infinite in all directions, not only above us in the large but also below us in the small. If we start from our human scale of existence and explore the content of the universe further and further, we finally arrive, both in the large and in the small, at misty distances where first our senses and then even our concepts fail us.
To the German Society of Scientists and Physicists, Braunschweig, Germany (Sep 1896). As quoted in Anton Z. Capri, Quips, Quotes, and Quanta: An Anecdotal History of Physics (2011), 20. Wiechert was reporting his measurement of the mass of the moving particles in a cathode ray beam (electrons).
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Some people say they cannot understand a million million. Those people cannot understand that twice two makes four. That is the way I put it to people who talk to me about the incomprehensibility of such large numbers. I say finitude is incomprehensible, the infinite in the universe is comprehensible. Now apply a little logic to this. Is the negation of infinitude incomprehensible? What would you think of a universe in which you could travel one, ten, or a thousand miles, or even to California, and then find it comes to an end? Can you suppose an end of matter or an end of space? The idea is incomprehensible. Even if you were to go millions and millions of miles the idea of coming to an end is incomprehensible. You can understand one thousand per second as easily as you can understand one per second. You can go from one to ten, and then times ten and then to a thousand without taxing your understanding, and then you can go on to a thousand million and a million million. You can all understand it.
In 'The Wave Theory of Light' (1884), Popular Lectures and Addresses (1891), Vol. 1, 322.
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Somebody is always reflectively monkeying with some of the parts of an infinite universe – monkeying as distinct from aping.
[About natural curiosity.]
In 'What Curiosity Can Do For You', Boys Life (Jun 1942), 29
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Such instances of the almost infinite unpredictability of man are known to social scientists, but they are no more affected by them than the asylum inmate is by being told that he is not Napoleon.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 156.
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Such is the character of mathematics in its profounder depths and in its higher and remoter zones that it is well nigh impossible to convey to one who has not devoted years to its exploration a just impression of the scope and magnitude of the existing body of the science. An imagination formed by other disciplines and accustomed to the interests of another field may scarcely receive suddenly an apocalyptic vision of that infinite interior world. But how amazing and how edifying were such a revelation, if it only could be made.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 6.
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Thales thought that water was the primordial substance of all things. Heraclitus of Ephesus… thought that it was fire. Democritus and his follower Epicurus thought that it was the atoms, termed by our writers “bodies that cannot be cut up” or, by some “indivisibles.” The school of the Pythagoreans added air and the earthy to the water and fire. Hence, although Democritus did not in a strict sense name them, but spoke only of indivisible bodies, yet he seems to have meant these same elements, because when taken by themselves they cannot be harmed, nor are they susceptible of dissolution, nor can they be cut up into parts, but throughout time eternal they forever retain an infinite solidity.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 2, Chap 2, Sec. 1. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 42.
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The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.
Play, The Life of Galileo (1939, 1994), scene 9, 74.
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The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
In 'The Humanization of Teaching of Mathematics', Science, New Series, 35, 645-46.
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The calculus is to mathematics no more than what experiment is to physics, and all the truths produced solely by the calculus can be treated as truths of experiment. The sciences must proceed to first causes, above all mathematics where one cannot assume, as in physics, principles that are unknown to us. For there is in mathematics, so to speak, only what we have placed there… If, however, mathematics always has some essential obscurity that one cannot dissipate, it will lie, uniquely, I think, in the direction of the infinite; it is in that direction that mathematics touches on physics, on the innermost nature of bodies about which we know little….
In Elements de la géométrie de l'infini (1727), Preface, ciii. Quoted as a footnote to Michael S. Mahoney, 'Infinitesimals and Transcendent Relations: The Mathematics of Motion in the Late Seventeenth Century', collected in David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman (eds.), Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (1990), 489-490, footnote 46
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The Designe of the Royall Society being the Improvement of Naturall knowledge all ways and meanes that tend thereunto ought to be made use of in the prosecution thereof. Naturall knowledge then being the thing sought for, we are to consider by what meanes it may soonest easiest and most certainly attaind. These meanes we shall the sooner find if we consider where tis to be had to wit in three places. first in bookes, 2dly in men. 3ly in the things themselves. and these three point us out the search of books. the converse & correspondence with men the Experimenting and Examining the things themselves under each of these there is a multitude of businesse to be done but the first hath the Least [and is] the most easily attained, the 2d hath a great Deal and requires much en[deavour] and Industry; and the 3d is infinite and the difficultest of all.
'Proposals for advancement of the R[oyal] S[ociety]' (c.1700), quoted in Michael Hunter, Establishing the New Science: The Experience of the Early Royal Society (1989), 232.
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The desire to fly after the fashion of the birds is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.
In The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: Including the Chanute-Wright Letters (1953), 934.
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The domain, over which the language of analysis extends its sway, is, indeed, relatively limited, but within this domain it so infinitely excels ordinary language that its attempt to follow the former must be given up after a few steps. The mathematician, who knows how to think in this marvelously condensed language, is as different from the mechanical computer as heaven from earth.
In Jahresberichte der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, 13, 367. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 197.
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The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread.
Blaise Pascal and A. J. Krailsheimer (trans.), Pensées (1966, Rev. ed. 1995), 66.
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The existence of a first cause of the universe is a necessity of thought ... Amid the mysteries which become more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that we are over in the presence of an Infinite, Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.
As quoted in John Murdoch, India's Needs: Material, Political, Social, Moral, and Religious (1886), 126.
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The eye, the window of the soul, is the chief means whereby the understanding can most fully and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of Nature; and the ear is second.
As quoted in Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983), 350.
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The fascination of any search after truth lies not in the attainment, which at best is found to be very relative, but in the pursuit, where all the powers of the mind and character are brought into play and are absorbed by the task. One feels oneself in contact with something that is infinite and one finds joy that is beyond expression in sounding the abyss of science and the secrets of the infinite mind.
In Isabel Fothergill Smith, The Stone Lady: a Memoir of Florence Bascom (1981). Cited in Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society (992), Vols. 11-12, 39.
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The first law of Engineering Mathematics: All infinite series converge, and moreover converge to the first term.
Anonymous
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The future of humanity is uncertain, even in the most prosperous countries, and the quality of life deteriorates; and yet I believe that what is being discovered about the infinitely large and the infinitely small is sufficient to absolve this end of the century and millennium. What a very few are acquiring in knowledge of the physical world will perhaps cause this period not to be judged as a pure return to barbarism.
In 'News from the Sky', Other People’s Trades (1989), 23-24.
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The great object of all knowledge is to enlarge and purify the soul, to fill the mind with noble contemplations, to furnish a refined pleasure, and to lead our feeble reason from the works of nature up to its great Author and Sustainer. Considering this as the ultimate end of science, no branch of it can surely claim precedence of Astronomy. No other science furnishes such a palpable embodiment of the abstractions which lie at the foundation of our intellectual system; the great ideas of time, and space, and extension, and magnitude, and number, and motion, and power. How grand the conception of the ages on ages required for several of the secular equations of the solar system; of distances from which the light of a fixed star would not reach us in twenty millions of years, of magnitudes compared with which the earth is but a foot-ball; of starry hosts—suns like our own—numberless as the sands on the shore; of worlds and systems shooting through the infinite spaces.
Oration at Inauguration of the Dudley Astronomical Observatory, Albany (28 Jul 1856). Text published as The Uses of Astronomy (1856), 36.
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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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The history of a species, or any natural phenomenon that requires unbroken continuity in a world of trouble, works like a batting streak. All are games of a gambler playing with a limited stake against a house with infinite resources. The gambler must eventually go bust. His aim can only be to stick around as long as possible, to have some fun while he’s at it, and, if he happens to be a moral agent as well, to worry about staying the course with honor.
In Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1991), 471-472.
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The idea of an atom has been so constantly associated with incredible assumptions of infinite strength, absolute rigidity, mystical actions at a distance, and individuality, that chemists and many other reasonable naturalists of modern times, losing all patience with it, have dismissed it to the realms of metaphysics, and made it smaller than ‘anything we can conceive.’ But if atoms are inconceivably small, why are not all chemical actions infinitely swift? Chemistry is powerless to deal with this question, and many others of paramount importance, if barred by the hardness of its fundamental assumptions, from contemplating the atom as a real portion of matter occupying a finite space, and forming not an immeasurably small constituent of any palpable body.
Sir William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, A Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1883), Vol. I, Part 2, 495.
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The infinite variations in the ways creatures fulfill the same requirement—to fuel energy needs—constantly astound me. Booby birds and pelicans … actually performed underwater dives, descending some twenty feet below the surface and then flapping their wings to fly through water. Totally encrusted with tiny diamond bubbles—like the jeweled nightingales of Asian emperors—they soared around below for nearly half a minute.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 282.
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The infinite! No other question has ever moved so profoundly the spirit of man; no other idea has so fruitfully stimulated his intellect; yet no other concept stands in greater need of clarification than that of the infinite.
Address in memory of Karl Weierstrass. As quoted in Journal of the University of Bombay (1933), 2, 201. Also in Tobias Dantzig, Number: The Language of Science (1937), 237. Also partially quoted as epigraph in in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1593. which dates the address as 1921. Another translation for perhaps the same address ('On the Infinite'), in honor of Weierstrass, dates it as 4 Jun 1925, in Paul Benacerraf (ed.) Philosophy of Mathematics (1983), 183. See this alternate version elsewhere on this page, beginning, “From time immemorial…”.
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The investigation of nature is an infinite pasture-ground where all may graze, and where the more bite, the longer the grass grows, the sweeter is its flavor, and the more it nourishes.
From Address to the Members of the Midland Institute, 'Administrative Nihilism', printed in The Fortnightly (1871), New Series 10, 540.
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The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, to add something to the extent and the solidity of our possessions. And even a cursory glance at the history of the biological sciences during the last quarter of a century is sufficient to justify the assertion, that the most potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural knowledge which has come into men's hands, since the publication of Newton's ‘Principia’, is Darwin's ‘Origin of Species.’
From concluding remarks to a chapter by Thomas Huxley, 'On the Reception of the ‘Origin of Species’', the last chapter in Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 1, 557.
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The known is finite, the unknown infinite; spiritually we find ourselves on a tiny island in the middle of a boundless ocean of the inexplicable. It is our task, from generation to generation, to drain a small amount of additional land.
As given in Herbert and W. Roesky and Klaud Möckel, translated from the original German by T.N. Mitchell and W.E. Russey, Chemical Curiosities: Spectacular Experiments and Inspired Quotes (1996), 212. It is a restatement of an original quote from concluding remarks to a chapter by Thomas Huxley, 'On the Reception of the ‘Origin of Species’', the last chapter in Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 1, 557. Webmaster suggests, the original Huxley quote was translated for the original German text, and when that was translated for the English edition, the quote morphed into into the form above.
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The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there an infinity of things which are beyond it.
Pensées (1670), Section 5, 1. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 267, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 97. Also seen translated as, “Reason’s last step is the recognition that…”. From the original French, “La dernière démarche de la raison est de reconnaître qu’il y a une infinité de choses qui la surpassent; elle n’est que faible, si elle ne va jusqu’à connaître cela,” in Pensées de Blaise Pascal (1847), 110.
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The late Mr. David Hume, in his posthumous works, places the powers of generation much above those of our boasted reason; and adds, that reason can only make a machine, as a clock or a ship, but the power of generation makes the maker of the machine; … he concludes, that the world itself might have been generated, rather than created; that is, it might have been gradually produced from very small beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles, rather than by a sudden evolution of the whole by the Almighty fiat.—What a magnificent idea of the infinite power of THE GREAT ARCHITECT! THE CAUSE OF CAUSES! PARENT OF PARENTS! ENS ENTIUM!
For if we may compare infinities, it would seem to require a greater infinity of power to cause the causes of effects, than to cause the effects themselves.
'Generation', Zoonomia (1794), Vol. 1, 509. Note that this passage was restated in a 1904 translation of a book by August Weismann. That rewording was given in quotation marks and attributed to Erasumus Darwin without reference to David Hume. In the reworded form, it is seen in a number of later works as a direct quote made by Erasmus Darwin. For that restated form see the webpage for August Weismann. Webmaster has checked the quotation on this webpage in the original Zoonomia, and is the only verbatim form found so far.
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The mind of man has perplexed itself with many hard questions. Is space infinite, and in what sense? Is the material world infinite in extent, and are all places within that extent equally full of matter? Do atoms exist or is matter infinitely divisible?
The Theory of Molecules', lecture to the British Association at Bradford. In The Popular Science Monthly (1874) vol. 4, 277.
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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 more man inquires into the laws which regulate the material universe, the more he is convinced that all its varied forms arise from the action of a few simple principles. These principles themselves converge, with accelerating force, towards some still more comprehensive law to which all matter seems to be submitted. Simple as that law may possibly be, it must be remembered that it is only one amongst an infinite number of simple laws: that each of these laws has consequences at least as extensive as the existing one, and therefore that the Creator who selected the present law must have foreseen the consequences of all other laws.
In Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 402.
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The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. … It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.
In 'Decay of Lying', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 5.
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The most ordinary things are to philosophy a source of insoluble puzzles. In order to explain our perceptions it constructs the concept of matter and then finds matter quite useless either for itself having or for causing perceptions in a mind. With infinite ingenuity it constructs a concept of space or time and then finds it absolutely impossible that there be objects in this space or that processes occur during this time ... The source of this kind of logic lies in excessive confidence in the so-called laws of thought.
'On Statistical Mechanics' (1904), in Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems (1974), 164-5.
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The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into Values (1974), 107.
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The object of geometry in all its measuring and computing, is to ascertain with exactness the plan of the great Geometer, to penetrate the veil of material forms, and disclose the thoughts which lie beneath them? When our researches are successful, and when a generous and heaven-eyed inspiration has elevated us above humanity, and raised us triumphantly into the very presence, as it were, of the divine intellect, how instantly and entirely are human pride and vanity repressed, and, by a single glance at the glories of the infinite mind, are we humbled to the dust.
From 'Mathematical Investigation of the Fractions Which Occur in Phyllotaxis', Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1850), 2, 447, as quoted by R. C. Archibald in 'Benjamin Peirce: V. Biographical Sketch', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 12.
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The problems of the infinite have challenged man’s mind and have fired his imagination as no other single problem in the history of thought. The infinite appears both strange and familiar, at times beyond our grasp, at times easy and natural to understand. In conquering it, man broke the fetters that bound him to earth. All his faculties were required for this conquest—his reasoning powers, his poetic fancy, his desire to know.
With co-author James R Newman, in 'Beyond the Google', Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 35.
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The progress of mathematics can be viewed as progress from the infinite to the finite.
In 'A Mathematician's Gossip', Indiscrete Thoughts, (2008), 214.
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The regularity with which we conclude that further advances in a particular field are impossible seems equaled only by the regularity with which events prove that we are of too limited vision. And it always seems to be those who have the fullest opportunity to know who are the most limited in view. What, then, is the trouble? I think that one answer should be: we do not realize sufficiently that the unknown is absolutely infinite, and that new knowledge is always being produced.
Quoted in Guy Suits, 'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357.
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The responsibility for maintaining the composition of the blood in respect to other constituents devolves largely upon the kidneys. It is no exaggeration to say that the composition of the blood is determined not by what the mouth ingests but by what the kidneys keep; they are the master chemists of our internal environment, which, so to speak, they synthesize in reverse. When, among other duties, they excrete the ashes of our body fires, or remove from the blood the infinite variety of foreign substances which are constantly being absorbed from our indiscriminate gastrointestinal tracts, these excretory operations are incidental to the major task of keeping our internal environment in an ideal, balanced state. Our glands, our muscles, our bones, our tendons, even our brains, are called upon to do only one kind of physiological work, while our kidneys are called upon to perform an innumerable variety of operations. Bones can break, muscles can atrophy, glands can loaf, even the brain can go to sleep, without immediately endangering our survival, but when the kidneys fail to manufacture the proper kind of blood neither bone, muscle, gland nor brain can carry on.
'The Evolution of the Kidney', Lectures on the Kidney (1943), 3.
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The solution of the difficulties which formerly surrounded the mathematical infinite is probably the greatest achievement of which our age has to boast.
In 'The Study of Mathematics', Philosophical Essays (1910), 77.
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The sun and the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago—as even their infinitely more numerous analogues on the earth beneath are likely to disappear—had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.
In The Dance of Life (1923), 352.
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The universe is then one, infinite, immobile. ... It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infinite and indeterminable, and consequently immobile.
In Giordano Bruno and Jack Lindsay, 'Fifth Dialogue', Cause, Principle, and Unity: Five Dialogues (1976), 135.
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The useless search of philosophers for a cause of the universe is a regressus in infinitum (a stepping backwards into the infinite) and resembles climbing up an endless ladder, the recurring question as to the cause of the cause rendering the attainment of a final goal impossible.
From Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (15th ed. 1884), 10.
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The value the world sets upon motives is often grossly unjust and inaccurate. Consider, for example, two of them: mere insatiable curiosity and the desire to do good. The latter is put high above the former, and yet it is the former that moves some of the greatest men the human race has yet produced: the scientific investigators. What animates a great pathologist? Is it the desire to cure disease, to save life? Surely not, save perhaps as an afterthought. He is too intelligent, deep down in his soul, to see anything praiseworthy in such a desire. He knows by life-long observation that his discoveries will do quite as much harm as good, that a thousand scoundrels will profit to every honest man, that the folks who most deserve to be saved will probably be the last to be saved. No man of self-respect could devote himself to pathology on such terms. What actually moves him is his unquenchable curiosity–his boundless, almost pathological thirst to penetrate the unknown, to uncover the secret, to find out what has not been found out before. His prototype is not the liberator releasing slaves, the good Samaritan lifting up the fallen, but the dog sniffing tremendously at an infinite series of rat-holes.
In 'Types of Men: The Scientist', Prejudices (1923), 269-70.
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The world of ideas which it [mathematics] discloses or illuminates, the contemplation of divine beauty and order which it induces, the harmonious connexion of its parts, the infinite hierarchy and absolute evidence of the truths with which it is concerned, these, and such like, are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet, and the mind of man qualified to take in the whole scheme of creation at a glance.
In Presidential Address to British Association (19 Aug 1869), 'A Plea for the Mathematician', published in Nature (6 Jan 1870), 1, 262. Collected in Collected Mathematical Papers (1908), Vol. 2, 659.
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The world of learning is so broad, and the human soul is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us.
In Life, Letters, and Journals (1896).
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Their vain presumption of knowing all can take beginning solely from their never having known anything; for if one has but once experienced the perfect knowledge of one thing, and truly tasted what it is to know, he shall perceive that of infinite other conclusions he understands not so much as one.
Dialogue on the Great World Systems (1632). Revised and Annotated by Giorgio De Santillana (1953), 112.
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There are as many species as the infinite being created diverse forms in the beginning, which, following the laws of generation, produced many others, but always similar to them: therefore there are as many species as we have different structures before us today.
Philosophia Botanica (1751), aphorism 157. Trans. Frans A. Stafleu, Linnaeus and the Linneans: The Spreading of their Ideas in Systematic Botany, 1735-1789 (1971), 63.
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Bertrand Russell quote: There are infinite possibilities of error, and more cranks take up fashionable untruths than unfashionab
There are infinite possibilities of error, and more cranks take up fashionable untruths than unfashionable truths.
Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916). Also in An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), reprinted in Unpopular Essays (1950) and collected in 'An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish', The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 61.
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There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours. For the atoms being infinite in number... are borne on far out into space.
Epicurus
Letter to Herodotus, in Epicurus: The Extant Remains (1926), trans. C. Bailey, 25.
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There is a single general space, a single vast immensity which we may freely call void: in it are unnumerable globes like this on which we live and grow, this space we declare to be infinite, since neither reason, convenience, sense-perception nor nature assign to it a limit.
Quoted in Joseph Silk, The Big Bang (1997), 89.
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There is another ground of hope that must not be omitted. Let men but think over their infinite expenditure of understanding, time, and means on matters and pursuits of far less use and value; whereof, if but a small part were directed to sound and solid studies, there is no difficulty that might not be overcome.
Translation of Novum Organum, CXI. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 144.
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There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.
In The Sense of Wonder (1956, 1965), 88-89.
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These creators, makers of the new, can never become obsolete, for in the arts there is no correct answer. The story of discoverers could be told in simple chronological order, since the latest science replaces what went before. But the arts are another story—a story of infinite addition. We must find order in the random flexings of the imagination.
In The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination (1992), xv.
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This relation logical implication is probably the most rigorous and powerful of all the intellectual enterprises of man. From a properly selected set of the vast number of prepositional functions a set can be selected from which an infinitude of prepositional functions can be implied. In this sense all postulational thinking is mathematics. It can be shown that doctrines in the sciences, natural and social, in history, in jurisprudence and in ethics are constructed on the postulational thinking scheme and to that extent are mathematical. Together the proper enterprise of Science and the enterprise of Mathematics embrace the whole knowledge-seeking activity of mankind, whereby “knowledge” is meant the kind of knowledge that admits of being made articulate in the form of propositions.
In Mathematics as a Culture Clue: And Other Essays (1947), 127.
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Through the Middle Ages and down to the late eighteenth century, many philosophers, most men of science, and, indeed, most educated men, were to accept without question—the conception of the universe as a Great Chain of Being, composed of an immense, or—by the strict but seldom rigorously applied logic of the principle of continuity—of an infinite number of links ranging in hierarchical order from the meagerest kind of existents, which barely escape non-existence, through 'every possible' grade up to the ens perfectissimum—or, in a somewhat more orthodox version, to the highest possible kind of creature, between which and the Absolute Being the disparity was assumed to be infinite—every one of them differing from that immediately above and that immediately below it by the 'least possible' degree of difference.
The Great Chain of Being (1936), 59.
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Time, which measures everything in our idea, and is often deficient to our schemes, is to nature endless and as nothing; it cannot limit that by which alone it had existence; and as the natural course of time, which to us seems infinite, cannot be bounded by any operation that may have an end, the progress of things upon this globe, that is, the course of nature, cannot be limited by time, which must proceed in a continual succession.
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), 1, 215.
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To a body of infinite size there can be ascribed neither center nor boundary ... Just as we regard ourselves as at the center of that universally equidistant circle, which is the great horizon and the limit of our own encircling ethereal region, so doubtless the inhabitants of the moon believe themselves to be at the center (of a great horizon) that embraces this earth, the sun, and the stars, and is the boundary of the radii of their own horizon. Thus the earth no more than any other world is at the center; moreover no points constitute determined celestial poles for our earth, just as she herself is not a definite and determined pole to any other point of the ether, or of the world-space; and the same is true for all other bodies. From various points of view these may all be regarded either as centers, or as points on the circumference, as poles, or zeniths and so forth. Thus the earth is not in the center of the universe; it is central only to our own surrounding space.
Irving Louis Horowitz, The Renaissance Philosophy of Giordano Bruno (1952), 60.
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To sum up all, let it be known that science and religion are two identical words. The learned do not suspect this, no more do the religious. These two words express the two sides of the same fact, which is the infinite. Religion—Science, this is the future of the human mind.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 325.
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To use: Apply shampoo to wet hair. Massage to lather, then rinse. Repeat.
A typical hair-washing algorithm that fails to halt—in the way that computer programmers must avoid an infinite loop.
Anonymous
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation (2000), 23.
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Tolstoi explains somewhere in his writings why, in his opinion, “Science for Science's sake” is an absurd conception. We cannot know all the facts since they are infinite in number. We must make a selection ... guided by utility ... Have we not some better occupation than counting the number of lady-birds in existence on this planet?
In Science and Method (1914, 2003), 15
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Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.
…...
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Ultra-modern physicists [are tempted to believe] that Nature in all her infinite variety needs nothing but mathematical clothing [and are] strangely reluctant to contemplate Nature unclad. Clothing she must have. At the least she must wear a matrix, with here and there a tensor to hold the queer garment together.
As quoted by Stephen T. Keith and Pierre Quédec, in 'Magnetism and Magnetic Materials', an article collected in Out of the Crystal Maze: Chapters from The History of Solid State Physics (1992), 361.
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Understanding a theory has, indeed, much in common with understanding a human personality. We may know or understand a man's system of dispositions pretty well; that is to say, we may be able to predict how he would act in a number of different situations. But since there are infinitely many possible situations, of infinite variety, a full understanding of a man's dispositions does not seem to be possible.
Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach (1972), 299.
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We boast that we are mastering the secrets of Nature, but Nature has no secrets. We only tear off one by one the infinite peels of our ignorance.
Maxim 1895 in Maxims for a Modern Man (1965), 218.
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We come no nearer the infinitude of the creative power of God, if we enclose the space of its revelation within a sphere described with the radius of the Milky Way, than if we were to limit it to a ball an inch in diameter. All that is finite, whatever has limits and a definite relation to unity, is equally far removed from the infinite... Eternity is not sufficient to embrace the manifestations of the Supreme Being, if it is not combined with the infinitude of space.
'Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens' (1755), part 2, ch.7. In W. Hastie (ed. and trans.), Kant's Cosmogony: As in his Essay on the Retardation of the Rotation of the Earth and his Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1900), 139-40.
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We had the full backing of our government, combined with the nearly infinite potential of American science, engineering and industry, and an almost unlimited supply of people endowed with ingenuity and determination.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 415.
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We know that there is an infinite, and we know not its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is a numerical infinity. But we know not of what kind; it is untrue that it is even, untrue that it is odd; for the addition of a unit does not change its nature; yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this certainly holds of every finite number). Thus we may quite well know that there is a God without knowing what He is.
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117.
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We live on an obscure hunk of rock and metal circling a humdrum sun, which is on the outskirts of a perfectly ordinary galaxy comprised of 400 billion other suns, which, in turn, is one of some hundred billion galaxies that make up the universe, which, current thinking suggests, is one of a huge number—perhaps an infinite number—of other closed-off universes. From that perspective, the idea that we’re at the center, that we have some cosmic importance, is ludicrous.
From interview with Linda Obst in her article 'Valentine to Science', in Interview (Feb 1996). Quoted and cited in Tom Head (ed.), Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), ix, and cited on p.xix.
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We may also draw a very important additional conclusion from the gradual dissolution of the milky way; for the state into which the incessant action of the clustering power [presumably, gravity] has brought it at present, is a kind of chronometer that may be used to measure the time of its past and future existence; and although we do not know the rate of going of this mysterious chronometer, it is nevertheless certain, that since the breaking up of the parts of the milky way affords a proof that it cannot last for ever, it equally bears witness that its past duration cannot be admitted to the infinite.
'Astronomical Observations... ' Philosophical Transactions (1814), 104, 284.
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We see that each surface is really a pair of surfaces, so that, where they appear to merge, there are really four surfaces. Continuing this process for another circuit, we see that there are really eight surfaces etc and we finally conclude that there is an infinite complex of surfaces, each extremely close to one or the other of two merging surfaces.
An intermediate thought about some surface in state space, while evolving his Prototype Model of Chaos. In 'Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow', Journal of Atmospheric Science (1963), 20, 130–141. As quoted and cited in: T.N. Palmer, 'Edward Norton Lorenz: 23 May 1917—16 April 2008', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (2009) 55, 144.
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We shall find everywhere, that the several Species are linked together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees. And when we consider the infinite Power and Wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to think, that it is suitable to the magnificent Harmony of the Universe, and the great Design and infinite Goodness of the Architect, that the Species of Creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upward from us toward his infinite Perfection, as we see they gradually descend from us downwards.
In An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1689, 1706, 5th ed.), 381.
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What animates a great pathologist? Is it the desire to cure disease, to save life? Surely not, save perhaps as an afterthought. He is too intelligent, deep in his soul, to see anything praiseworthy in such a desire. He knows from life-long observation that his discoveries will do quite as much harm as good, that a thousand scoundrels will profit to every honest man, that the folks who most deserve to be saved will probably be the last to be saved. ... What actually moves him is his unquenchable curiosity—his boundless, almost pathological thirst to penetrate the unknown, to uncover the secret, to find out what has not been found out before. ... [like] the dog sniffing tremendously at an infinite series of rat-holes. ... And yet he stands in the very front rank of the race
In 'The Scientist', Prejudices: third series (1922), 269-70.
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What is art
But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
When, graduating up in a spiral line
Of still expanding and ascending gyres,
It pushed toward the intense significance
Of all things, hungry for the Infinite?
From poem, 'Aurora Leigh' (1856), Book 4. In Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Harriet Waters Preston (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works of Mrs. Browning (1900), 323.
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What is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.
In Pensées (1670), Section 1, No. 1. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 72, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 27. From the original French, “Qu’est-ce que l’homme dans la nature? Un néant à l’égard de l’infini, un tout à l’égard du néant, un milieu entre rien et tout,” in Ernest Havet (ed.), Pensées de Pascal (1892), 102-103.
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What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?
'The Dreamers', Seven Gothic Tales (1943), 332.
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What is the shape of space? Is it flat, or is it bent? Is it nicely laid out, or is it warped and shrunken? Is it finite, or is it infinite? Which of the following does space resemble more: (a) a sheet of paper, (b) an endless desert, (c) a soap bubble, (d) a doughnut, (e) an Escher drawing, (f) an ice cream cone, (g) the branches of a tree, or (h) a human body?
The Fourth Dimension: And How to Get There (1985), 91.
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What, in fact, is mathematical discovery? It does not consist in making new combinations with mathematical entities that are already known. That can be done by anyone, and the combinations that could be so formed would be infinite in number, and the greater part of them would be absolutely devoid of interest. Discovery consists precisely in not constructing useless combinations, but in constructing those that are useful, which are an infinitely small minority. Discovery is discernment, selection.
In Science et Méthode (1920), 48, as translated by Francis Maitland, in Science and Method (1908, 1952), 50-51. Also seen elsewhere translated with “invention” in place of “discovery”.
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Whatever answers faith gives.. .such answers always give an infinite meaning to the finite existence of man; a meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation or death. This means only in faith can we find the meaning and possibility of life.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 19
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When they [radio astronomers] grew weary at their electronic listening posts. When their eyes grew dim with looking at unrevealing dials and studying uneventful graphs, they could step outside their concrete cells and renew their dull spirits in communion with the giant mechanism they commanded, the silent, sensing instrument in which the smallest packets of energy, the smallest waves of matter, were detected in their headlong, eternal flight across the universe. It was the stethoscope with which they took the pulse of the all and noted the birth and death of stars, the probe which, here on an insignificant planet of an undistinguishable star on the edge of its galaxy, they explored the infinite.
The Listeners (1968, 1972), 12.
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When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.
John Muir
Travels in Alaska
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With the exception of the geometrical series, there does not exist in all of mathematics a single infinite series the sum of which has been rigorously determined. In other words, the things which are the most important in mathematics are also those which have the least foundation.
From letter (Jan 1828) to his former teacher Berndt Holmböe. In Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (1982), 170.
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Women have absolutely no sense of art, though they may have of poetry. They have no natural disposition for the sciences, though they may have for philosophy. They are by no means wanting in power of speculation and intuitive perception of the infinite; they lack only power of abstraction, which is far more easy to be learned.
From Selected Aphorisms from the Lyceum (1797-1800). As translated by Luis H. Gray in Kuno Francke and Isidore Singer (eds.), The German Classics: Masterpieces of German Literature Translated Into English (1913), Vol. 4, 177.
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Xenophanes of Kolophon ... says that ... [t]he sun is formed each day from small fiery particles which are gathered together: the earth is infinite, and is not surrounded by air or by sky; an infinite number of suns and moons exist, and all things come from earth. The sea, he said, is salt because so many things flow together and become mixed in it...
Doxographists, Epiph. adv. Haer. iii. 9; Dox. 590. Quoted in Arthur Fairbanks (ed. And trans.), The First Philosophers of Greece (1898), 83.
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You know the formula m over naught equals infinity, m being any positive number? [m/0 = ∞]. Well, why not reduce the equation to a simpler form by multiplying both sides by naught? In which case you have m equals infinity times naught [m = ∞ × 0]. That is to say, a positive number is the product of zero and infinity. Doesn't that demonstrate the creation of the Universe by an infinite power out of nothing? Doesn't it?
In Point Counter Point (1928), 162.
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… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 26
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… our “Physick” and “Anatomy” have embraced such infinite varieties of being, have laid open such new worlds in time and space, have grappled, not unsuccessfully, with such complex problems, that the eyes of Vesalius and of Harvey might be dazzled by the sight of the tree that has grown out of their grain of mustard seed.
A Lay Sermon, delivered at St. Martin's Hall (7 Jan 1866), 'On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge', published in The Fortnightly Review (1866), Vol. 3, 629.
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