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

Infinite Quotes (88 quotes)

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.

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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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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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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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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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.
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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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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 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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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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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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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 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 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 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 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 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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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 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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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 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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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 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 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 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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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, 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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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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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 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 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 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.
…...
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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; 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 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 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 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 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 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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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 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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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 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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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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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 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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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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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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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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…what is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160. There are versions by other translators. For example, an alternate translation for the last sentence is: [Man is] “equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
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“Science studies everything,” say the scientists. But, really, everything is too much. Everything is an infinite quantity of objects; it is impossible at one and the same time to study all. As a lantern cannot light up everything, but only lights up the place on which it is turned or the direction in which the man carrying it is walking, so also science cannot study everything, but inevitably only studies that to which its attention is directed. And as a lantern lights up most strongly the place nearest to it, and less and less strongly objects that are more and more remote from it, and does not at all light up those things its light does not reach, so also human science, of whatever kind, has always studied and still studies most carefully what seems most important to the investigators, less carefully what seems to them less important, and quite neglects the whole remaining infinite quantity of objects. ... But men of science to-day ... have formed for themselves a theory of “science for science's sake,” according to which science is to study not what mankind needs, but everything.
In 'Modern Science', Essays and Letters (1903), 223.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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Euclid
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Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Pierre Laplace
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Thomas Edison
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Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
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Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
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William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
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John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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Richard Feynman
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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