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

Infinity Quotes (90 quotes)


A closer look at the course followed by developing theory reveals for a start that it is by no means as continuous as one might expect, but full of breaks and at least apparently not along the shortest logical path. Certain methods often afforded the most handsome results only the other day, and many might well have thought that the development of science to infinity would consist in no more than their constant application. Instead, on the contrary, they suddenly reveal themselves as exhausted and the attempt is made to find other quite disparate methods. In that event there may develop a struggle between the followers of the old methods and those of the newer ones. The former's point of view will be termed by their opponents as out-dated and outworn, while its holders in turn belittle the innovators as corrupters of true classical science.
In 'On the Development of the Methods of Theoretical Physics in Recent Times', Populäre Schriften, Essay 14. Address (22 Sep 1899) to the Meeting of Natural Scientists at Munich. Collected in Brian McGuinness (ed.), Ludwig Boltzmann: Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems, Selected Writings (1974), 79.
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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 googleplex is precisely as far from infinity as is the number 1 ... No matter what number you have in mind, infinity is larger.
In Cosmos (1980, 2011), 181.
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A single idea, if it is right, saves us the labor of an infinity of experiences.
Reflections on America (1958), 97.
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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 the different classes of beings which taken together make up the universe are, in the ideas of God who knows distinctly their essential gradations, only so many ordinates of a single curve so closely united that it would be impossible to place others between any two of them, since that would imply disorder and imperfection. Thus men are linked with the animals, these with the plants and these with the fossils which in turn merge with those bodies which our senses and our imagination represent to us as absolutely inanimate. And, since the law of continuity requires that when the essential attributes of one being approximate those of another all the properties of the one must likewise gradually approximate those of the other, it is necessary that all the orders of natural beings form but a single chain, in which the various classes, like so many rings, are so closely linked one to another that it is impossible for the senses or the imagination to determine precisely the point at which one ends and the next begins?all the species which, so to say, lie near the borderlands being equivocal, at endowed with characters which might equally well be assigned to either of the neighboring species. Thus there is nothing monstrous in the existence zoophytes, or plant-animals, as Budaeus calls them; on the contrary, it is wholly in keeping with the order of nature that they should exist. And so great is the force of the principle of continuity, to my thinking, that not only should I not be surprised to hear that such beings had been discovered?creatures which in some of their properties, such as nutrition or reproduction, might pass equally well for animals or for plants, and which thus overturn the current laws based upon the supposition of a perfect and absolute separation of the different orders of coexistent beings which fill the universe;?not only, I say, should I not be surprised to hear that they had been discovered, but, in fact, I am convinced that there must be such creatures, and that natural history will perhaps some day become acquainted with them, when it has further studied that infinity of living things whose small size conceals them for ordinary observation and which are hidden in the bowels of the earth and the depth of the sea.
Lettre Prétendue de M. De Leibnitz, à M. Hermann dont M. Koenig a Cité le Fragment (1753), cxi-cxii, trans. in A. O. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936), 144-5.
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An infinity of these tiny animals defoliate our plants, our trees, our fruits... they attack our houses, our fabrics, our furniture, our clothing, our furs ... He who in studying all the different species of insects that are injurious to us, would seek means of preventing them from harming us, would seek to cause them to perish, proposes for his goal important tasks indeed.
In J. B. Gough, 'Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur', in Charles Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 11, 332.
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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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André Weil suggested that there is a logarithmic law at work: first-rate people attract other first-rate people, but second-rate people tend to hire third-raters, and third-rate people hire fifth-raters. If a dean or a president is genuinely interested in building and maintaining a high-quality university (and some of them are), then he must not grant complete self-determination to a second-rate department; he must, instead, use his administrative powers to intervene and set things right. That’s one of the proper functions of deans and presidents, and pity the poor university in which a large proportion of both the faculty and the administration are second-raters; it is doomed to diverge to minus infinity.
In I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography (1985), 123.
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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 far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace’s chiquenaude or Jeans’ finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the “Hidden God” hidden even in the beginning of the universe … Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
From 'The Primeval Atom Hypothesis and the Problem of Clusters of Galaxies', in R. Stoops (ed.), La Structure et l'Evolution de l'Univers (1958), 1-32. As translated in Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 60.
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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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Beyond lonely Pluto, dark and shadowless, lies the glittering realm of interstellar space, the silent ocean that rolls on and on, past stars and galaxies alike, to the ends of the Universe. What do men know of this vast infinity, this shoreless ocean? Is it hostile or friendly–or merely indifferent?
…...
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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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Euclid always contemplates a straight line as drawn between two definite points, and is very careful to mention when it is to be produced beyond this segment. He never thinks of the line as an entity given once for all as a whole. This careful definition and limitation, so as to exclude an infinity not immediately apparent to the senses, was very characteristic of the Greeks in all their many activities. It is enshrined in the difference between Greek architecture and Gothic architecture, and between Greek religion and modern religion. The spire of a Gothic cathedral and the importance of the unbounded straight line in modern Geometry are both emblematic of the transformation of the modern world.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 119.
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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 phenomenon, however trifling it be, has a cause, and a mind infinitely powerful, and infinitely well-informed concerning the laws of nature could have foreseen it from the beginning of the ages. If a being with such a mind existed, we could play no game of chance with him; we should always lose.
Science and Method (1908), trans. Francis Maitland (1914), 65.
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For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), 171.
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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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High in the North in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain. It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak. When the mountain has thus been worn away a single day of eternity will have passed
In The Story of America (1921). As cited in David Blatner, Spectrums: Our Mind-boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity (2012), 24.
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I had a feeling once about Mathematics—that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me—the Byss and Abyss. I saw—as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show—a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.
In Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait (1954), 38.
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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 hope that in due time the chemists will justify their proceedings by some large generalisations deduced from the infinity of results which they have collected. For me I am left hopelessly behind and I will acknowledge to you that through my bad memory organic chemistry is to me a sealed book. Some of those here, [August] Hoffman for instance, consider all this however as scaffolding, which will disappear when the structure is built. I hope the structure will be worthy of the labour. I should expect a better and a quicker result from the study of the powers of matter, but then I have a predilection that way and am probably prejudiced in judgment.
Letter to Christian Schönbein (9 Dec 1852), The Letters of Faraday and Schoenbein, 1836-1862 (1899), 209-210.
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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 should rejoice to see … Euclid honourably shelved or buried “deeper than did ever plummet sound” out of the schoolboys’ reach; morphology introduced into the elements of algebra; projection, correlation, and motion accepted as aids to geometry; the mind of the student quickened and elevated and his faith awakened by early initiation into the ruling ideas of polarity, continuity, infinity, and familiarization with the doctrines of the imaginary and inconceivable.
From Presidential Address (1869) to the British Association, Exeter, Section A, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of Lames Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 657. Also in George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 93. [Note: “plummet sound” refers to ocean depth measurement (sound) from a ship using a line dropped with a weight (plummet). —Webmaster]
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If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all.
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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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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 place of infinity we usually put some really big number, like 15.
Perhaps referring to the programmer’s hexadecimal counting scheme which has 16 digits (0-9 followed by digits A-F), useful in binary context as a power of 2.
Anonymous
Attributed to a Computer Science Professor on various web pages. Webmaster has found no print source for this wording and comments, but its originality makes it worthy of inclusion here. Webmaster comments: perhaps one of those infinite number of monkeys typed it! Please make contact if you know a primary print source.
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In the mind's eye, a fractal is a way of seeing infinity.
From Chaos (1987), 98.
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In the realm of science all attempts to find any evidence of supernatural beings, of metaphysical conceptions, as God, immortality, infinity, etc., thus far have failed, and if we are honest we must confess that in science there exists no God, no immortality, no soul or mind as distinct from the body.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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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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Infinities and indivisibles transcend our finite understanding, the former on account of their magnitude, the latter because of their smallness; Imagine what they are when combined.
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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 appears that all that can be, is. The Creator's hand does not appear to have been opened in order to give existence to a certain determinate number of species, but it seems that it has thrown out all at once a world of relative and non-relative creatures, an infinity of harmonic and contrary combinations and a perpetuity of destructions and replacements. What idea of power is not given us by this spectacle! What feeling of respect for its Author is not inspired in us by this view of the universe!
'Premier Discours: De la Manière d'Étudier et de Traiter l'Histoire naturelle', Histoire Naturelle, Generale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. I, 11. Trans. Phillip R. Sloan.
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It is above all the duty of the methodical text-book to adapt itself to the pupil’s power of comprehension, only challenging his higher efforts with the increasing development of his imagination, his logical power and the ability of abstraction. This indeed constitutes a test of the art of teaching, it is here where pedagogic tact becomes manifest. In reference to the axioms, caution is necessary. It should be pointed out comparatively early, in how far the mathematical body differs from the material body. Furthermore, since mathematical bodies are really portions of space, this space is to be conceived as mathematical space and to be clearly distinguished from real or physical space. Gradually the student will become conscious that the portion of the real space which lies beyond the visible stellar universe is not cognizable through the senses, that we know nothing of its properties and consequently have no basis for judgments concerning it. Mathematical space, on the other hand, may be subjected to conditions, for instance, we may condition its properties at infinity, and these conditions constitute the axioms, say the Euclidean axioms. But every student will require years before the conviction of the truth of this last statement will force itself upon him.
In Methodisches Lehrbuch der Elementar-Mathemalik (1904), Teil I, Vorwort, 4-5.
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It is clear that in maize, seemingly blending is really segregating inheritance, but with entire absence of dominance, and it seems probably that the same will be found to be true among rabbits and other mammals; failure to observe it hitherto is probably due to the fact that the factors concerned are numerous. For the greater the number of factors concerned, the more nearly will the result obtained approximate a complete and permanent blend. As the number of factors approaches infinity, the result will become identical with a permanent blend.
Heredity: In Relation to Evolution and Animal Breeding (1911), 138-9.
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It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
In Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
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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 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 seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky... a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.
…...
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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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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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Let me describe briefly how a black hole might be created. Imagine a star with a mass 10 times that of the sun. During most of its lifetime of about a billion years the star will generate heat at its center by converting hydrogen into helium. The energy released will create sufficient pressure to support the star against its own gravity, giving rise to an object with a radius about five times the radius of the sun. The escape velocity from the surface of such a star would be about 1,000 kilometers per second. That is to say, an object fired vertically upward from the surface of the star with a velocity of less than 1,000 kilometers per second would be dragged back by the gravitational field of the star and would return to the surface, whereas an object with a velocity greater than that would escape to infinity.
When the star had exhausted its nuclear fuel, there would be nothing to maintain the outward pressure, and the star would begin to collapse because of its own gravity. As the star shrank, the gravitational field at the surface would become stronger and the escape velocity would increase. By the time the radius had got down to 10 kilometers the escape velocity would have increased to 100,000 kilometers per second, the velocity of light. After that time any light emitted from the star would not be able to escape to infinity but would be dragged back by the gravitational field. According to the special theory of relativity nothing can travel faster than light, so that if light cannot escape, nothing else can either. The result would be a black hole: a region of space-time from which it is not possible to escape to infinity.
'The Quantum Mechanics of Black Holes', Scientific American, 1977, 236, 34-40.
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Mathematics is an infinity of flexibles forcing pure thought into a cosmos. It is an arc of austerity cutting realms of reason with geodesic grandeur.
In The American Mathematical Monthly (1949), 56, 19. Excerpted in John Ewing (ed,), A Century of Mathematics: Through the Eyes of the Monthly (1996), 186.
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Mere infants of the universe, with no feel for infinity, no sense of place in time and space, we human beings have yet to comprehend the enormity of what we are doing: In a geological second, we are unraveling complexities it took eternity to create.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 107.
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Nature ... tends to repeat the same organs in the same number and in the same relations, and varies to infinity only their form. In accordance with this principle I shall have to draw my conclusions, in the determining the bones of the fish's skull, not from a consideration of their form, but from a consideration of their connections.
'Considérations sur les pieces de la tête osseuse des animaux vertebras, et particulièrement sur celle du crane des oiseaux', Annales du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, 1807, 10, 344. Trans. E. S. Russell, Form and Function (1916), 71.
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No other theory known to science [other than superstring theory] uses such powerful mathematics at such a fundamental level. …because any unified field theory first must absorb the Riemannian geometry of Einstein’s theory and the Lie groups coming from quantum field theory… The new mathematics, which is responsible for the merger of these two theories, is topology, and it is responsible for accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of abolishing the infinities of a quantum theory of gravity.
In 'Conclusion', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 326.
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Nonmathematical people sometimes ask me, “You know math, huh? Tell me something I’ve always wondered, What is infinity divided by infinity?” I can only reply, “The words you just uttered do not make sense. That was not a mathematical sentence. You spoke of ‘infinity’ as if it were a number. It’s not. You may as well ask, 'What is truth divided by beauty?’ I have no clue. I only know how to divide numbers. ‘Infinity,’ ‘truth,’ ‘beauty’—those are not numbers.”
From Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics (2003), 16.
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Nothing is sudden in nature: whereas the slightest storms are forecasted several days in advance, the destruction of the world must have been announced several years beforehand by heat waves, by winds, by meteorites, in short, by an infinity of phenomena.
L' Antiquité devoilée par ses usages ou Examen critique des principales Opinions, Cérémonies & Institutions religieuses & politiques des differens Peuples de la Terre (1766), 373-4.
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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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Past time is finite, future time is infinite.
The Observational Approach to Cosmology (1937), 62.
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Scientists often invent words to fill the holes in their understanding.These words are meant as conveniences until real understanding can be found. … Words such as dimension and field and infinity … are not descriptions of reality, yet we accept them as such because everyone is sure someone else knows what the words mean.
In God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 20-21.
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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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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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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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Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game of chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight?
Yet, it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well the highest stakes are paid with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated—without haste, but without remorse.
Address to the South London Working Men’s College. 'A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It', in David Masson, (ed.), Macmillan’s Magazine (Mar 1868), 17, 369. Also in 'A Liberal Education and Where to Find it' (1868). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 82.
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The clouds roll on.
Silent as sleepwalkers the clouds
keep coming from infinity
bank behind bank
and line after line,
and change colors on the earth.
As translated in Rolf Jacobsen and ‎Roger Greenwald (ed., trans.), 'The Clouds', North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition (1985, 2002), 9, from 'Earth and Iron' (1933). Collected in the original Norwegian edition (1999).
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The difficulties connected with my criterion of demarcation (D) are important, but must not be exaggerated. It is vague, since it is a methodological rule, and since the demarcation between science and nonscience is vague. But it is more than sharp enough to make a distinction between many physical theories on the one hand, and metaphysical theories, such as psychoanalysis, or Marxism (in its present form), on the other. This is, of course, one of my main theses; and nobody who has not understood it can be said to have understood my theory.
The situation with Marxism is, incidentally, very different from that with psychoanalysis. Marxism was once a scientific theory: it predicted that capitalism would lead to increasing misery and, through a more or less mild revolution, to socialism; it predicted that this would happen first in the technically highest developed countries; and it predicted that the technical evolution of the 'means of production' would lead to social, political, and ideological developments, rather than the other way round.
But the (so-called) socialist revolution came first in one of the technically backward countries. And instead of the means of production producing a new ideology, it was Lenin's and Stalin's ideology that Russia must push forward with its industrialization ('Socialism is dictatorship of the proletariat plus electrification') which promoted the new development of the means of production.
Thus one might say that Marxism was once a science, but one which was refuted by some of the facts which happened to clash with its predictions (I have here mentioned just a few of these facts).
However, Marxism is no longer a science; for it broke the methodological rule that we must accept falsification, and it immunized itself against the most blatant refutations of its predictions. Ever since then, it can be described only as nonscience—as a metaphysical dream, if you like, married to a cruel reality.
Psychoanalysis is a very different case. It is an interesting psychological metaphysics (and no doubt there is some truth in it, as there is so often in metaphysical ideas), but it never was a science. There may be lots of people who are Freudian or Adlerian cases: Freud himself was clearly a Freudian case, and Adler an Adlerian case. But what prevents their theories from being scientific in the sense here described is, very simply, that they do not exclude any physically possible human behaviour. Whatever anybody may do is, in principle, explicable in Freudian or Adlerian terms. (Adler's break with Freud was more Adlerian than Freudian, but Freud never looked on it as a refutation of his theory.)
The point is very clear. Neither Freud nor Adler excludes any particular person's acting in any particular way, whatever the outward circumstances. Whether a man sacrificed his life to rescue a drowning, child (a case of sublimation) or whether he murdered the child by drowning him (a case of repression) could not possibly be predicted or excluded by Freud's theory; the theory was compatible with everything that could happen—even without any special immunization treatment.
Thus while Marxism became non-scientific by its adoption of an immunizing strategy, psychoanalysis was immune to start with, and remained so. In contrast, most physical theories are pretty free of immunizing tactics and highly falsifiable to start with. As a rule, they exclude an infinity of conceivable possibilities.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 127-128.
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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 greater is the circle of light, the greater is the boundary of the darkness by which it is confined. But, notwithstanding this, the more light get, the more thankful we ought to be, for by this means we have the greater range for satisfactory contemplation. time the bounds of light will be still farther extended; and from the infinity of the divine nature, and the divine works, we may promise ourselves an endless progress in our investigation them: a prospect truly sublime and glorious.
Experiments and Observations with a Continuation of the Observations on Air (1781), Vol. 2, ix.
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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 meaning of life is contained in every single expression of life. It is present in the infinity of forms and phenomena that exist in all of creation.
…...
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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 most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Written in 1926, and first published in magazine, Weird Tales (Feb 1928), 11, No. 2, first paragraph. In The Call of Cthulhu (2014), 2.
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The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.
In Monstrous Regiment (2004), 211.
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The pursuit of science has often been compared to the scaling of mountains, high and not so high. But who amongst us can hope, even in imagination, to scale the Everest and reach its summit when the sky is blue and the air is still, and in the stillness of the air survey the entire Himalayan range in the dazzling white of the snow stretching to infinity? None of us can hope for a comparable vision of nature and of the universe around us. But there is nothing mean or lowly in standing in the valley below and awaiting the sun to rise over Kinchinjunga.
Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science (1987), 26.
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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 truth of Nature is a part of the truth of God; to him who does not search it out, darkness; to him who does, infinity.
From chapter 'That the Truth of Nature is not to be Discerned by the Uneducated Senses', Modern Painters (1st American Ed. from the 3rd London ed., 1855), Vol. 1, Part 2, Sec 1, Chap 2, 50. Originally published anonymously, identified on the title page only as “A Graduate of Oxford.”
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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 no quantity that is not divisible into an infinity of parts.
From the original French, “Il n’y a point de quantité qui ne soit divisible en une infinité de parties,” 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. See context in longer quote that begins, “I have no doubt….” on the René Descartes Quotes page of this website.
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There was a young fellow from Trinity,
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits,
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.
Epigraph on title page of One, Two, Three… Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science (1947, 1988), i. The original text shows symbols instead of the words which appear above as “square root of infinity.”
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This upper limit, of earth at our feet is visible and touches the air, but below it reaches to infinity
Quoted in Arthur Fairbanks (ed. And trans.), The First Philosophers of Greece (1898), 69, fragment 12.
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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 see a World in a grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake and Alexander Gilchrist (ed.), Life of William Blake: with selections from his poems and other writings (1880), Vol. 2, 107.
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To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
'The Pickering Manuscript' - Auguries of Innocence (c.1805). In W. H. Stevenson (ed.), The Poems of William Blake (1971), 585.
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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 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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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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When I first ventured into the Gulf of Mexico in the 1950s, the sea appeared to be a blue infinity too large, too wild to be harmed by anything that people could do. I explored powder white beaches, dense marshes, mangrove forests, and miles of sea grass meadows alive with pink sea urchins, tiny shrimps, and seahorses half the size of my little finger. … Then, in mere decades, not millennia, the blue wilderness of my childhood disappeared: biologic change in the space of a lifetime.
From 'My Blue Wilderness', National Geographic Magazine (Oct 2010), 76.
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When I touch that flower, I am not merely touching that flower. I am touching infinity. That little flower existed long before there were human beings on this earth. It will continue to exist for thousands, yes millions of years to come.
As quoted from a first-person conversation with the author, in Glenn Clark, The Man Who Talked With the Flowers: The Intimate Life Story of Dr. George Washington Carver (1939), 39.
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When scientists discovered that liquid water, which brought forth life on Earth, exists nowhere else in great quantities in the solar system, the most significant lesson they taught was not that water, or the life that depends on it, is necessarily the result of some chemical accident in space; their most important revelation was that water is rare in infinity, that we should prize it, preserve it, conserve it.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 201-202.
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Who then understands the reciprocal flux and reflux of the infinitely great and the infinitely small, the echoing of causes in the abysses of being, and the avalanches of creation?
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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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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[The infinitely small] neither have nor can have theory; it is a dangerous instrument in the hands of beginners [ ... ] anticipating, for my part, the judgement of posterity, I would dare predict that this method will be accused one day, and rightly, of having retarded the progress of the mathematical sciences.
Annales des Mathematiques Pures et Appliquées (1814-5), 5, 148.
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…what is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160. There are versions by other translators. For example, an alternate translation for the last sentence is: [Man is] “equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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