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Invention Quotes (369 quotes)

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... in going over the history of all the inventions for which history could be obtained it became more and more clear that in addition to training and in addition to extensive knowledge, a natural quality of mind was also necessary.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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...those experiments be not only esteemed which have an immediate and present use, but those principally which are of most universal consequence for invention of other experiments, and those which give more light to the invention of causes; for the invention of the mariner's needle, which giveth the direction, is of no less benefit for navigation than the invention of the sails, which give the motion.
The Second Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 200
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...to invent is to discover that we know not, and not to recover or resummon that which we already know.
The Second Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 209
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...while science gives us implements to use, science alone does not determine for what ends they will be employed. Radio is an amazing invention. Yet now that it is here, one suspects that Hitler never could have consolidated his totalitarian control over Germany without its use. One never can tell what hands will reach out to lay hold on scientific gifts, or to what employment they will be put. Ever the old barbarian emerges, destructively using the new civilization.
In 'The Real Point of Conflict between Science and Religion', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 142.
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Dilbert: I’m obsessed with inventing a perpetual motion machine. Most scientists think it's impossible, but I have something they don’t.
Dogbert: A lot of spare time?
Dilbert: Exactly.
Dilbert cartoon strip (8 Aug 1991).
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Pour inventor il faut penser à côté.
To invent you must think aside
In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 31.
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A celebrated medical lecturer began one day “Fumigations, gentlemen, are of essential importance. They make such an abominable smell that they compel you to open the window.” I wish all the disinfecting fluids invented made such an “abominable smell” that they forced you to admit fresh air. That would be a useful invention.
In Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not (1860), 28.
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A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.
…...
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A great discovery solves a great problem, but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest, but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.
From Preface to the first printing, reprinted in How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), v.
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A great invention for dieters would be a refrigerator which weighs you every time you open the door.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 546.
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A great man quotes bravely, and will not draw on his invention when his memory serves him with a word as good.
In Lecture, second in a series given at Freeman Place Chapel, Boston (Mar 1859), 'Quotation and Originality', collected in Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1917), 183.
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A major scientific advancement would be the development of cigarette ashes that would match the color of the rug.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 85.
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A man has a very insecure tenure of a property which another can carry away with his eyes. A few months reduced me to the cruel necessity either of destroying my machine, or of giving it to the public. To destroy it, I could not think of; to give up that for which I had laboured so long, was cruel. I had no patent, nor the means of purchasing one. In preference to destroying, I gave it to the public.
[On his inability to keep for himself a profitable income from his invention of the Spinning Mule.]
As quoted in James Mason, The Great Triumphs of Great Men (1875), 579.
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A minor invention every ten days, and a big one every six months or so.
Expressing his production goals his new laboratory.
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A nation has a fixed quantity of invention, and it will make itself felt.
Endymion (1880), 195.
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A propos of Distempers, I am going to tell you a thing that I am sure will make you wish your selfe here. The Small Pox so fatal and so general amongst us is here entirely harmless by the invention of engrafting (which is the term they give it). There is a set of old Women who make it their business to perform the Operation.
Letter to Sarah Chiswell (1 Apr 1717). In Robert Halsband (ed.), The Complete Letters of the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1965), Vol. 1, 338.
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A scientific invention consists of six (or some number) ideas, five of which are absurd but which, with the addition of the sixth and enough rearrangement of the combinations, results in something no one has thought of before.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 66.
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A short, broad man of tremendous vitality, the physical type of Hereward, the last of the English, and his brother-in-arms, Winter, Sylvester’s capacious head was ever lost in the highest cloud-lands of pure mathematics. Often in the dead of night he would get his favorite pupil, that he might communicate the very last product of his creative thought. Everything he saw suggested to him something new in the higher algebra. This transmutation of everything into new mathematics was a revelation to those who knew him intimately. They began to do it themselves. His ease and fertility of invention proved a constant encouragement, while his contempt for provincial stupidities, such as the American hieroglyphics for π and e, which have even found their way into Webster’s Dictionary, made each young worker apply to himself the strictest tests.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265.
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A stone arrowhead is as convincing as a steam-engine.
As proof that there has been a continuing advance of technology since prehistoric times. In 'A Law of Acceleration' (1904), The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography (1918), 493.
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A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool. He that invents a machine augments the power of a man and the well being of mankind.
In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887), 44. It appears as one of the quotations featured in one of the hallways of the first floor of the U.S. Capitols House wing, which are known as the Cox Corridors, after Allyn Cox, the artist who decorated them.
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About ten months ago [1609] a report reached my ears that a certain Fleming [Hans Lippershey] had constructed a spyglass, by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby... Of this truly remarkable effect several experiences were related, to which some persons gave credence while others denied them. A few days later the report was confirmed to me in a letter from a noble Frenchman at Paris, Jacques Badovere, which caused me to apply myself wholeheartedly to enquire into the means by which I might arrive at the invention of a similar instrument. This I did shortly afterwards, my basis being the theory of refraction. First I prepared a tube of lead, at the ends of which I fitted two glass lenses, both plane on one side while on the other side one was spherically convex and the other concave.
The Starry Messenger (1610), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 28-9.
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All creation is a mine, and every man a miner.
The whole earth, and all within it, upon it, and round about it, including himself … are the infinitely various “leads” from which, man, from the first, was to dig out his destiny.
Opening sentences of lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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All human affairs follow nature's great analogue, the growth of vegetation. There are three periods of growth in every plant. The first, and slowest, is the invisible growth by the root; the second and much accelerated is the visible growth by the stem; but when root and stem have gathered their forces, there comes the third period, in which the plant quickly flashes into blossom and rushes into fruit.
The beginnings of moral enterprises in this world are never to be measured by any apparent growth. ... At length comes the sudden ripeness and the full success, and he who is called in at the final moment deems this success his own. He is but the reaper and not the labourer. Other men sowed and tilled and he but enters into their labours.
Life Thoughts (1858), 20.
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All knowledge is profitable; profitable in its ennobling effect on the character, in the pleasure it imparts in its acquisition, as well as in the power it gives over the operations of mind and of matter. All knowledge is useful; every part of this complex system of nature is connected with every other. Nothing is isolated. The discovery of to-day, which appears unconnected with any useful process, may, in the course of a few years, become the fruitful source of a thousand inventions.
In 'Report of the Secretary', Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1851 (1852), 10.
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All our civilization is based on invention; before invention, men lived on fruits and nuts and pine cones and slept in caves.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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All the inventions and devices ever constructed by the human hand or conceived by the human mind, no matter how delicate, how intricate and complicated, are simple, childish toys compared with that most marvelously wrought mechanism, the human body. Its parts are far more delicate, and their mutual adjustments infinitely more accurate, than are those of the most perfect chronometer ever made.
In Plain Facts For Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life (1879, 1887), Revised Ed., 332.
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All the inventions that the world contains,
Were not by reason first found out, nor brains;
But pass for theirs who had the luck to light
Upon them by mistake or oversight.
Under 'Butler's Poems: Miscellaneous Thoughts', in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper(1810), Vol. 8, 227.
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Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), 89-90.
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Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment, but to change it. And that series of inventions, by which man from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution—not biological, but cultural evolution. I call that brilliant sequence of cultural peaks The Ascent of Man. I use the word ascent with a precise meaning. Man is distinguished from other animals by his imaginative gifts. He makes plans, inventions, new discoveries, by putting different talents together; and his discoveries become more subtle and penetrating, as he learns to combine his talents in more complex and intimate ways. So the great discoveries of different ages and different cultures, in technique, in science, in the arts, express in their progression a richer and more intricate conjunction of human faculties, an ascending trellis of his gifts.
The Ascent of Man (1973), 19-20.
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An announcement of [Christopher] Zeeman’s lecture at Northwestern University in the spring of 1977 contains a quote describing catastrophe theory as the most important development in mathematics since the invention of calculus 300 years ago.
In book review of Catastrophe Theory: Collected Papers, 1972-1977, in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Nov 1978), 84, No. 6, 1360. Reprinted in Stephen Smale, Roderick Wong(ed.), The Collected Papers of Stephen Smale (2000), Vol. 2, 814.
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An invention that is quickly accepted will turn out to be a rather trivial alteration of something that has already existed.
Speaking at a shareholders’ meeting (1975). As quoted by Victor K. McElheny, in Insisting On The Impossible: The Life Of Edwin Land (1999), 403.
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An inventive age
Has wrought, if not with speed of magic, yet
To most strange issues. I have lived to mark
A new and unforeseen creation rise
From out the labours of a peaceful Land:
Wielding her potent enginery to frame
And to produce, with appetite as keen
As that of war, which rests not night or day.
In The Excursion (1814). In The Works of William: Wordsworth (1994), Book 8, 875.
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An iron rod being placed on the outside of a building from the highest part continued down into the moist earth, in any direction strait or crooked, following the form of the roof or other parts of the building, will receive the lightning at its upper end, attracting it so as to prevent it's striking any other part; and, affording it a good conveyance into the earth, will prevent its damaging any part of the building.
Of Lightning, and the Method (now used in America) of securing Buildings and Persons from its mischievous Effects', Paris 1767. In I. Bernard Cohen (ed.), Benjamin Franklin's Experiments (1941), 390.
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And invention must still go on for it is necessary that we should completely control our circumstances. It is not sufficient that there should [only] be organization capable of providing food and shelter for all and organization to effect its proper distribution.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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And yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Æsop makes the fable, that when he died he told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried under the ground in his vineyard: and they digged over the ground, gold they found none, but by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man's life.
The Advancement of Learning (1605, 1712), Vol. 1, 15.
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Andrade [who was looking after wartime inventions] is like an inverted Micawber, waiting for something to turn down.
As quoted by C.P. Snow in his Lectures at Harvard University (1960), in which he spoke extensively about Henry Tizard. Collected in print as Science and Government (1960), 6. Snow gave this quote to exemplify what he called Tizard's “lively satirical tongue,” but Tizard probably did not originate the epigram. The article 'A Spectator's Notebook' The Spectator (21 Dec 1944), 4, states it was coined by Philip Guedalla, “unless, indeed, which is unlikely, it goes back farther still.” As early as during the first World War, Guedalla “applied it to the Inventions Board under Lord Fisher, sitting in an office in Cockspur Street, and ‘waiting like a kind of inverted Mr. Micawber, for something to turn down.’” Webmaster assumes Tizard's quote refers to Edward Neville da Costa Andrade, also a wartime science consultant.
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Another argument of hope may be drawn from this–that some of the inventions already known are such as before they were discovered it could hardly have entered any man's head to think of; they would have been simply set aside as impossible. For in conjecturing what may be men set before them the example of what has been, and divine of the new with an imagination preoccupied and colored by the old; which way of forming opinions is very fallacious, for streams that are drawn from the springheads of nature do not always run in the old channels.
Translation of Novum Organum, XCII. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 128.
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Any one who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the “anticipation of Nature,” that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with; and, not unfrequently, in spite of a long career of usefulness, turned out to be wholly erroneous in the long run.
In 'The Progress of Science 1837-1887' (1887), Collected Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 62.
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Anyone who has had actual contact with the making of the inventions that built the radio art knows that these inventions have been the product of experiment and work based on physical reasoning, rather than on the mathematicians' calculations and formulae. Precisely the opposite impression is obtained from many of our present day text books and publications.
Attributed.
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Anyway, I'm sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war. I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.
Spoken by fictional character Holden Caulfield, in Catcher in the Rye (1951), 183.
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Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of highly scientific knowledge, that though these inventions [used to defend Syracuse against the Romans] had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, or the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Archimedes was not free from the prevailing notion that geometry was degraded by being employed to produce anything useful. It was with difficulty that he was induced to stoop from speculation to practice. He was half ashamed of those inventions which were the wonder of hostile nations, and always spoke of them slightingly as mere amusements, as trifles in which a mathematician might be suffered to relax his mind after intense application to the higher parts of his science.
In Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1887), in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1879), Vol. 1, 395.
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As the birth of living creatures are ill shapen; so are all innovations, which are the births of time.
From essay, 'Of Innovations'. As collected and translated in The Works of Francis Bacon (1765), Vol. 1, 479.
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As the prerogative of Natural Science is to cultivate a taste for observation, so that of Mathematics is, almost from the starting point, to stimulate the faculty of invention.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 261 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 717.
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As was the case for Nobel's own invention of dynamite, the uses that are made of increased knowledge can serve both beneficial and potentially harmful ends. Increased knowledge clearly implies increased responsibility. We reject the notion advocated in some quarters that man should stop eating from the tree of knowledge, as if that were humanly possible.
From Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1981), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel 1981 (1981), 44.
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At first he who invented any art that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to its recreation, the inventors of the latter were always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility.
Aristotle
Metaphysics, 981b, 13-20. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1553.
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At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat that cannot be achieved, if it can be achieved at all, within the next five hundred years.
Profiles of the Future (1973), xvi.
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Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense. The greatest misfortune that ever befell man was the invention of printing.
In Lothair (1879), Chap. 29, 137.
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But how to raise a sum in the different States has been my greatest difficulty.
Letter from Robert Fulton from London (5 Feb 1797) to President George Washington, proposing benefits from building canals. In Henry Winram Dickinson, Robert Fulton, Engineer and Artist (1913), 57.
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By his very success in inventing labor-saving devices, modern man has manufactured an abyss of boredom that only the privileged classes in earlier civilizations have ever fathomed.
The Conduct of Life (1951), 14.
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Call Archimedes from his buried tomb
Upon the plain of vanished Syracuse,
And feelingly the sage shall make report
How insecure, how baseless in itself,
Is the philosophy, whose sway depends
On mere material instruments—how weak
Those arts, and high inventions, if unpropped
By virtue.
In 'The Excursion', as quoted in review, 'The Excursion, Being a Portion of the Recluse, a Poem, The Edinburgh Review (Nov 1814), 24, No. 47, 26.
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Can imagination picture what the future of this invention is to be! … We may talk by light to any visible distance without any conducting wire.
Letter to his father (26 Feb 1880), describing his photophone research. Transcript with Bell Papers, Library of Congress.
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Computers and rocket ships are examples of invention, not of understanding. … All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It’s an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no “why” in those examples. We don’t understand why electricity travels. We don’t know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 22.
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Data isn't information. ... Information, unlike data, is useful. While there’s a gulf between data and information, there’s a wide ocean between information and knowledge. What turns the gears in our brains isn't information, but ideas, inventions, and inspiration. Knowledge—not information—implies understanding. And beyond knowledge lies what we should be seeking: wisdom.
In High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian (2000), 185-186.
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Dear Mr. Bell: … Sir Wm. Thomson … speaks with much enthusiasm of your achievement. What yesterday he would have declared impossible he has today seen realized, and he declares it the most wonderful thing he has seen in America. You speak of it as an embryo invention, but to him it seems already complete, and he declares that, before long, friends will whisper their secrets over the electric wire. Your undulating current he declares a great and happy conception.
Letter to Alexander Graham Bell (25 Jun 1876). Quoted in Alexander Graham Bell, The Bell Telephone: The Deposition of Alexander Graham Bell, in the Suit Brought by the United States to Annul the Bell Patents (1908), 101. Note: William Thomson is better known as Lord Kelvin.
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Death seems to have been a rather late invention in evolution. One can go a long way in evolution before encountering an authentic corpse.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970). Evolution began with one-celled organisms reproducing indefinitely by cell division.
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Descartes constructed as noble a road of science, from the point at which he found geometry to that to which he carried it, as Newton himself did after him. ... He carried this spirit of geometry and invention into optics, which under him became a completely new art.
A Philosophical Dictionary: from the French? (2nd Ed.,1824), Vol. 5, 110.
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Deus ex machina.
[The God from the machine.]
In 'Philopseudes', Sec. 29, as well as in 'Hermotimus', Sec. 86 (c.170 AD). Meaning: In ancient Greek or Roman drama, a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot (and could be lowered by stage crane machinery). In fiction, any artificial or improbable device contriving a solution to difficulties of a plot.
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Development of Western science is based on two great achievements: the invention of the formal logical system (in Euclidean geometry) by the Greek philosophers, and the discovery of the possibility to find out causal relationships by systematic experiment (during the Renaissance). In my opinion, one has not to be astonished that the Chinese sages have not made these steps. The astonishing thing is that these discoveries were made at all.
Letter to J. S. Switzer, 23 Apr 1953, Einstein Archive 61-381. Quoted in Alice Calaprice, The Quotable Einstein (1996), 180.
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Dick Drew took a bunch of misfits—people who wouldn’t fly in formation—and he put together a lab that created technologies that account for 20 percent of 3M's sales in 2000.
Art Fry
As quoted in W. James McNerney Jr., A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (2002), 26.
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Diets were invented of the church, the workhouse and the hospital. They were started for the punishment of the spirit and have ended in the punishment of the body.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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Discoveries are not generally made in the order of their scientific arrangement: their connexions and relations are made out gradually; and it is only when the fermentation of invention has subsided that the whole clears into simplicity and order.
In 'The Equilibrium of Forces on a Point', Elementary Treatise on Mechanics (1819), Vol. 1, Preface, iii.
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Each of us has read somewhere that in New Guinea pidgin the word for 'piano' is (I use English spelling) 'this fellow you hit teeth belonging to him he squeal all same pig'. I am inclined to doubt whether this expression is authentic; it looks just like the kind of thing a visitor to the Islands would facetiously invent. But I accept 'cut grass belong head belong me' for 'haircut' as genuine... Such phrases seem very funny to us, and make us feel very superior to the ignorant foreigners who use long winded expressions for simple matters. And then it is our turn to name quite a simple thing, a small uncomplicated molecule consisting of nothing more than a measly 11 carbons, seven hydrogens, one nitrogen and six oxygens. We sharpen our pencils, consult our rule books and at last come up with 3-[(1, 3- dihydro-1, 3-dioxo-2H-isoindol-2-yl) oxy]-3-oxopropanoic acid. A name like that could drive any self-respecting Papuan to piano-playing.
The Chemist's English (1990), 3rd Edition, 57.
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Earlier this week … scientists announced the completion of a task that once seemed unimaginable; and that is, the deciphering of the entire DNA sequence of the human genetic code. This amazing accomplishment is likely to affect the 21st century as profoundly as the invention of the computer or the splitting of the atom affected the 20th century. I believe that the 21st century will be the century of life sciences, and nothing makes that point more clearly than this momentous discovery. It will revolutionize medicine as we know it today.
Senate Session, Congressional Record (29 Jun 2000) Vol. 146, No 85, S6050.
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Either one or the other [analysis or synthesis] may be direct or indirect. The direct procedure is when the point of departure is known-direct synthesis in the elements of geometry. By combining at random simple truths with each other, more complicated ones are deduced from them. This is the method of discovery, the special method of inventions, contrary to popular opinion.
Ampère gives this example drawn from geometry to illustrate his meaning for “direct synthesis” when deductions following from more simple, already-known theorems leads to a new discovery. In James R. Hofmann, André-Marie Ampère (1996), 159. Cites Académie des Sciences Ampère Archives, box 261.
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Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born.
Y.C. Fung and P. Tong, Classical and Computational Solid Mechanics (2001), 1.
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Enzymes are things invented by biologists that explain things which otherwise require harder thinking.
In Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004), 475, but without citation. If you know a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Every improvement that is put upon the real estate is the result of an idea in somebody's head. The skyscraper is another idea; the railroad is another; the telephone and all those things are merely symbols which represent ideas. An andiron, a wash-tub, is the result of an idea that did not exist before.
Speaking to a committee considering a new Copyright Bill (6 Dec 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 320. An andiron is a metal bar, used in a pair, as a stand for logs in a fireplace. The Copyright Bill proposed to give authors, artists and musicians copyright for the term of his life and for 50 years thereafter. John Philip Sousa spoke for the musicians.
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Every new theory as it arises believes in the flush of youth that it has the long sought goal; it sees no limits to its applicability, and believes that at last it is the fortunate theory to achieve the 'right' answer. This was true of electron theory—perhaps some readers will remember a book called The Electrical Theory of the Universe by de Tunzelman. It is true of general relativity theory with its belief that we can formulate a mathematical scheme that will extrapolate to all past and future time and the unfathomed depths of space. It has been true of wave mechanics, with its first enthusiastic claim a brief ten years ago that no problem had successfully resisted its attack provided the attack was properly made, and now the disillusionment of age when confronted by the problems of the proton and the neutron. When will we learn that logic, mathematics, physical theory, are all only inventions for formulating in compact and manageable form what we already know, like all inventions do not achieve complete success in accomplishing what they were designed to do, much less complete success in fields beyond the scope of the original design, and that our only justification for hoping to penetrate at all into the unknown with these inventions is our past experience that sometimes we have been fortunate enough to be able to push on a short distance by acquired momentum.
The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 136.
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Every year the inventions of science weave more inextricably the web that binds man to man, group to group, nation to nation.
In 'The Free Spirit Confronts the World's Coercion', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 137.
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Everything that we call Invention or Discovery in the higher sense of the word is the serious exercise and activity of an original feeling for truth, which, after a long course of silent cultivation, suddenly flashes out into fruitful knowledge.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 193.
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Facts alone, no matter how numerous or verifiable, do not automatically arrange themselves into an intelligible, or truthful, picture of the world. It is the task of the human mind to invent a theoretical framework to account for them.
In Francis Bello, Lawrence Lessing and George A.W. Boehm, Great American Scientists (1960, 1961), 116.
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For many parts of Nature can neither be invented with sufficient subtlety, nor demonstrated with sufficient perspicuity, nor accommodated to use with sufficient dexterity, without the aid and intervention of Mathematic: of which sort are Perspective, Music, Astronomy, cosmography, Architecture, Machinery, and some others.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 3; The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book 3. As translated in Francis Bacon, ‎James Spedding and ‎Robert Leslie Ellis, 'Of the great Appendix of Natural Philosophy, both Speculative and Operative, namely Mathematic; and that it ought rather to be placed among Appendices than among Substantive Sciences. Division of Mathematic into Pure and Mixed', The Works of Francis Bacon (1858), Vol. 4, Chap. 6, 371.
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For one person who is blessed with the power of invention, many will always be found who have the capacity of applying principles.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 18.
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Gather, ye nations, gather!
From forge, and mine, and mill!
Come, Science and Invention;
Come, Industry and Skill!…

Gather, ye nations, gather!
Let ancient discord cease,
And Earth, with myriad voices,
Awake the song of Peace!
From poem, 'The Festival of Labour' (1851), collected in The Poetical Works of Charles Mackay: Now for the First Time Collected Complete in One Volume (1876), 539. Written for the opening of the Great Exhibition.
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God invented space so that not everything had to happen in Princeton.
In Our Cosmic Habitat (2003), Preface, ix. Written as a frivolous companion to the aphorism, “Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once.”
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God was always invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works … you don't need him anymore. But … you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet.
Interview, collected in Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown (eds.) Superstrings: A Theory of Everything? (1988), 208-209.
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Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself
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Great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind. Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.
In 'The Growth of the Steam-Engine', The Popular Science Monthly (Nov 1877), 17.
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Great minds don't think alike. If they did, the Patent Office would only have about fifty inventions.
From Dilbert comic strip (10 Mar 2005).
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Great triumphs of engineering genius—the locomotive, the truss bridge, the steel rail— ... are rather invention than engineering proper.
From The Economic Theory of the Location of Railways (1887, 1914), 1.
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GUNPOWDER, n. An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes which might become troublesome if left unadjusted. By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not upon very convincing evidence. Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  124-125.
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Hail, Gastronome, Apostle of Excess,
Well skilled to overeat without distress!
Thy great invention, the unfatal feast,
Shows Man’s superiority to Beast.
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He who would know what geometry is, must venture boldly into its depths and learn to think and feel as a geometer. I believe that it is impossible to do this, and to study geometry as it admits of being studied and am conscious it can be taught, without finding the reason invigorated, the invention quickened, the sentiment of the orderly and beautiful awakened and enhanced, and reverence for truth, the foundation of all integrity of character, converted into a fixed principle of the mental and moral constitution, according to the old and expressive adage “abeunt studia in mores”.
In 'A probationary Lecture on Geometry, in Collected Mathematical Papers (1908), Vol. 2, 9. [The Latin phrase, “abeunt studia in mores” translates as “studies pass on into character”. —Webmaster]
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His [Edison’s] greatest invention was that of the industrial research laboratory, turning out inventions as a business.
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 127.
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How happy … does the sagacious investigator of nature seem, whose fancy is ever employed in the invention of hypotheses, and his reason in the support of them!
From Letter (29 Sep 1783) to Rev. William Unwin, collected in William Cowper and William Hayley (ed.), The Life, and Posthumous Writings, of William Cowper (1803), Vol. 3, 196.
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How might letters be most efficiently copied so that the blind might read them with their fingers?
Aphorism 28 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 133.
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I am not a scientist.
Denying that his 1984 directive target of 24 shuttle missions per year put pressure on the program that resulted in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, Reagan said he only approved the schedule as it was provided by the scientists at NASA. From 'Interview With Representatives of the Baltimore Sun' (12 Mar 1986). Collected in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1986 (1988), 332. Earlier, Reagan had also said “I’m not a scientist,” in an 'Exchange With Reporters on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger' (28 Jan 1986), ibid. 93.
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I am not insensible to natural beauty, but my emotional joys center on the improbable yet sometimes wondrous works of that tiny and accidental evolutionary twig called Homo sapiens. And I find, among these works, nothing more noble than the history of our struggle to understand nature—a majestic entity of such vast spatial and temporal scope that she cannot care much for a little mammalian afterthought with a curious evolutionary invention, even if that invention has, for the first time in so me four billion years of life on earth, produced recursion as a creature reflects back upon its own production and evolution. Thus, I love nature primarily for the puzzles and intellectual delights that she offers to the first organ capable of such curious contemplation.
…...
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I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this usefull invention [smallpox inoculation] into fashion in England, and I should not fail to write to some of our Doctors very particularly about it, if I knew anyone of 'em that I thought had Virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of Revenue for the good of Mankind, but that Distemper is too beneficial to them not to expose to all their Resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it.
Letter to Sarah Chiswell (1 Apr 1717). In Robert Halsband (ed.), The Complete Letters of the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1965), Vol. 1, 339.
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I am sorry the infernal Divinities, who visit mankind with diseases, and are therefore at perpetual war with Doctors, should have prevented my seeing all you great Men at Soho to-day-Lord! what inventions, what wit, what rhetoric, metaphysical, mechanical and pyrotecnical, will be on the wing, bandy'd like a shuttlecock from one to another of your troop of philosophers! while poor I, I by myself I, imprizon'd in a post chaise, am joggled, and jostled, and bump'd, and bruised along the King's high road, to make war upon a pox or a fever!
Letter to Matthew Boulton, 5 April 1778. Quoted in Desmond King-Hele (ed.), The Letters of Erasmus Darwin (1981), 84.
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I became father of the apparatus [floppy disk] in 1950. There was no mother.
As quoted by Franz Lidz in 'Dr. NakaMats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name', Smithsonian Magazine (Dec 2012).
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I consider [H. G. Wells], as a purely imaginative writer, to be deserving of very high praise, but our methods are entirely different. I have always made a point in my romances of basing my so-called inventions upon a groundwork of actual fact, and of using in their construction methods and materials which are not entirely without the pale of contemporary engineering skill and knowledge. ... The creations of Mr. Wells, on the other hand, belong unreservedly to an age and degree of scientific knowledge far removed from the present, though I will not say entirely beyond the limits of the possible.
Gordon Jones, 'Jules Verne at Home', Temple Bar (Jun 1904), 129, 670.
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I do not see the possibility of comparison between his [H. G. Wells] work and mine. We do not proceed in the same manner. It occurs to me that his stories do not repose on a very scientific basis. ... I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannon-ball, discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars in an airship, which he constructs of a metal which does not obey the law of gravitation. Ça c'est très joli ... but show me this metal. Let him produce it.
Quoted in R. H. Sherard, 'Jules Verne Re-Visited', T.P.'s Weekly (9 Oct 1903).
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I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness—to save oneself trouble.
In An Autobiography (1977, 19990), 121.
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I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent. My main purpose in life is to make money so that I can afford to go on creating more inventions.
…...
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I found the invention was applicable to painting, and would also contribute to facilitate the study of geography: for I have applied it to some maps, the rivers of which I represented in silver, and in the cities in gold. The rivers appearing, as it were, in silver streams, have a most pleasing effect on the sight, and relieve the eye of that painful search for the course, and origin, of rivers, the minutest branches of which can be splendidly represented this way.
Description of an outcome of her experiments originally investigating 'the possibility of making cloths of gold, silver and other metals by chemical processes.'
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), iii-iv. In Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie and Joy Dorothy Harvey, The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science (2000), 478.
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with the problem inasmuch as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right.
In Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S.: An Autobiography (1905), 93.
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I had gone on a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I had entered the Green [of Glasgow] by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street—had passed the old washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection water if I used a jet, as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an outlet could be got at the depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and air. ... I had not walked further than the Golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.
[In Robert Hart's words, a recollection of the description of Watt's moment of inspiration, in May 1765, for improving Thomas Newcomen's steam engine.]
In Robert Hart, 'Reminiscences of James Watt' (read 2 Nov 1857), Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1859), Vol. 1, 1. Note that these are not the verbatim words of James Watt, but are only a recollection of them by Robert Hart, who is quoting as best he can from memory of a conversation he and his brother had with James Watt that took place over 43 years previously. In his Reminiscences, Hart explains, “I have accordingly thrown together the following brief narrative:— As these meetings took place forty-three years since, many observations that were made at the time may have escaped me at present; yet, when the same subjects are touched on, I have as distinct recollection of his treatment of them as if it were yesterday.”
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I hate it. I just do. That [artificial turf], local news, the IRS, and hair dryers are the four worst inventions of the century.
Football analyst, quoted in Sport (1985). In Julia Vitullo-Martin and J. Robert Moskin, The Executive's Book of Quotations (2002), 148.
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I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late James Watt, who said ... that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This has so far been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country, and however much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which far exceeds riches.
From letter to Davies Gilbert, written a few months before Trevithick's last illness. Quoted in Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick: With an Account of his Inventions (1872), Vol. 2, 395-6.
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I never did anything worth doing entirely by accident and none of my inventions came about totally by accident. They came about by hard work.
…...
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I never pick up an item without thinking of how I might improve it. I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others. I want to save and advance human life, not destroy it. I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill. The dove is my emblem.
…...
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I publish this Essay in its present imperfect state, in order to prevent the furacious attempts of the prowling plagiary, and the insidious pretender to chymistry, from arrogating to themselves, and assuming my invention, in plundering silence: for there are those, who, if they can not be chymical, never fail by stratagem, and mechanical means, to deprive industry of the fruits, and fame of her labours.
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), vii-viii.
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I read … that the celebrated Amontons, using a thermometer of his own invention, had discovered that water boils at a fixed degree of heat. I was at once inflamed with a great desire to make for myself a thermometer of the same sort, so that I might with my own eyes perceive this beautiful phenomenon of nature.
From 'Experimenta circa gradum caloris liquorum nonnullorum ebullientium instituta', Philosophical Transactions (1724), 33, 1, as translated in William Francis Magie, A Source Book in Physics (1935), 131.
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I realized both the upper and lower body must be held securely in place with one strap across the chest and one across the hips. The belt also needed an immovable anchorage point for the buckle as far down beside the occupant’s hip, so it could hold the body properly during a collision. It was just a matter of finding a solution that was simple, effective and could be put on conveniently with one hand.
as quoted in New York Times obituary, 26 Sep 2002
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I remember working out a blueprint for my future when I was twelve years old I resolved first to make enough money so I'd never be stopped from finishing anything; second, that to accumulate money in a hurry—and I was in a hurry—I'd have to invent something that people wanted. And third, that if I ever was going to stand on my own feet, I'd have to leave home.
In Sidney Shalett, 'Aviation’s Stormy Genius', Saturday Evening Post (13 Oct 1956), 229, No. 15, 26 & 155
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I tell young people to reach for the stars. And I can't think of a greater high than you could possibly get than by inventing something.
From audio on MIT video '1999 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award Winner', on 'Innovative Lives: Stephanie Kwolek and Kevlar, The Wonder Fiber' on the Smithsonian website.
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I told [Kruesi] I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurd. However, it was finished, the foil was put on; I then shouted “Mary had a little lamb,” etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly.
On first words spoken on a phonograph.
Byron M. Vanderbilt, Thomas Edison, Chemist (1971), 99.
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Thomas Edison quote “Afraid of things that worked”, record track background+colorized photo of Edison & tinfoil phonograph
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I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial; but here was something there was no doubt of.
[Recalling astonishment when his tin-foil cylinder phonograph first played back his voice recording of “Mary had a little lamb.”]
Quoted in Frank Lewis Dyer, Thomas Commerford Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (1910), 208.
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I was working with these very long-chain … extended-chain polymers, where you had a lot of benzene rings in them. … Transforming a polymer solution from a liquid to a fiber requires a process called spinning. … We spun it and it spun beautifully. It [Kevlar] was very strong and very stiff—unlike anything we had made before. I knew that I had made a discovery. I didn’t shout “Eureka!” but I was very excited, as was the whole laboratory excited, and management was excited, because we were looking for something new. Something different. And this was it.
From transcript for video interview (2007, published Aug 2012), 'Stephanie Kwolek: Curiosity and the Discovery of Kevlar', in the series Women in Chemistry, on Chemical Heritage Foundation website.
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I watched his countenance closely, to see if he was not deranged ... and I was assured by other senators after he left the room that they had no confidence in it.
Reminiscence by Oliver Hampton Smith, Senator for Indiana, upon meeting Morse at the demonstration of his telegraph to the U.S. Congress in 1842.
Early Indiana Trials and Sketches (1858), 413
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I will build a motor car for the great multitude … constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise … so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one—and enjoy with his family the blessing of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.
(1909). In My Life and Work (1922), 73.
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If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbour, tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
Attributed to Emerson by Sarah S. B. Yule, in her book Borrowings (compiled 1889, published 1893). Mrs Yule was quoted in The Docket (Feb 1912), that she wrote this in her notebook of memorable statements during an Emerson address. The Docket thus disproved Elbert Hubbard's claim to its authorship.
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If any one should ask me what I consider the most distinctive, progressive feature of California, I should answer promptly, its cable-car system. And it is not alone its system which seems to have reached a point of perfection, but the amazing length of the ride that is given you for the chink of a nickel. I have circled this city of San Francisco, … for this smallest of Southern coins.
In Letters from California (1888), 33.
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If human thought is a growth, like all other growths, its logic is without foundation of its own, and is only the adjusting constructiveness of all other growing things. A tree cannot find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.
Lo! (1931, 1941), 20.
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If necessity is the mother of invention, scientifically developed production is the mother of scientific research.
In 'Scientific Research in the Engineering Schools', Electrical World (1920), 75, 150.
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If the finding of Coines, Medals, Urnes, and other Monuments of famous Persons, or Towns, or Utensils, be admitted for unquestionable Proofs, that such Persons or things have, in former Times, had a being, certainly those Petrifactions may be allowed to be of equal Validity and Evidence, that there have been formerly such Vegetables or Animals. These are truly Authentick Antiquity not to be counterfeited, the Stamps, and Impressions, and Characters of Nature that are beyond the Reach and Power of Humane Wit and Invention, and are true universal Characters legible to all rational Men.
Lectures and Discourses of Earthquakes (1668). In The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, containing his Cutlerian Lectures and other Discourses read at the Meetings of the Illustrious Royal Society (1705), 449.
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If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run—and often in the short one—the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.
The Exploration of Space (1954), 111.
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In a way, my design works as much because the belt is comfortable for the user as it does because it is safer.
as quoted by Karl Ritter, Associated Press writer in news article Inventor of Three-Point Seat Belt Dies, 26 Sep 2002
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In future times Tait will be best known for his work in the quaternion analysis. Had it not been for his expositions, developments and applications, Hamilton’s invention would be today, in all probability, a mathematical curiosity.
In Bibliotheca Mathematica (1903), 3, 189. As cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 178. [Note: Tait is Peter Guthrie Tait; Hamilton is Sir William Rowan Hamilton. —Webmaster]
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In general the position as regards all such new calculi is this That one cannot accomplish by them anything that could not be accomplished without them. However, the advantage is, that, provided such a calculus corresponds to the inmost nature of frequent needs, anyone who masters it thoroughly is able—without the unconscious inspiration of genius which no one can command—to solve the respective problems, yea, to solve them mechanically in complicated cases in which, without such aid, even genius becomes powerless. Such is the case with the invention of general algebra, with the differential calculus, and in a more limited region with Lagrange’s calculus of variations, with my calculus of congruences, and with Möbius’s calculus. Such conceptions unite, as it were, into an organic whole countless problems which otherwise would remain isolated and require for their separate solution more or less application of inventive genius.
Letter (15 May 1843) to Schumacher, collected in Carl Friedrich Gauss Werke (1866), Vol. 8, 298, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 197-198. From the original German, “Überhaupt verhält es sich mit allen solchen neuen Calculs so, dass man durch sie nichts leisten kann, was nicht auch ohne sie zu leisten wäre; der Vortheil ist aber der, dass, wenn ein solcher Calcul dem innersten Wesen vielfach vorkommender Bedürfnisse correspondirt, jeder, der sich ihn ganz angeeignet hat, auch ohne die gleichsam unbewussten Inspirationen des Genies, die niemand erzwingen kann, die dahin gehörigen Aufgaben lösen, ja selbst in so verwickelten Fällen gleichsam mechanisch lösen kann, wo ohne eine solche Hülfe auch das Genie ohnmächtig wird. So ist es mit der Erfindung der Buchstabenrechnung überhaupt; so mit der Differentialrechnung gewesen; so ist es auch (wenn auch in partielleren Sphären) mit Lagranges Variationsrechnung, mit meiner Congruenzenrechnung und mit Möbius' Calcul. Es werden durch solche Conceptionen unzählige Aufgaben, die sonst vereinzelt stehen, und jedesmal neue Efforts (kleinere oder grössere) des Erfindungsgeistes erfordern, gleichsam zu einem organischen Reiche.”
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In mathematics two ends are constantly kept in view: First, stimulation of the inventive faculty, exercise of judgment, development of logical reasoning, and the habit of concise statement; second, the association of the branches of pure mathematics with each other and with applied science, that the pupil may see clearly the true relations of principles and things.
In 'Aim of the Mathematical Instruction', International Commission on Teaching of Mathematics, American Report: United States Bureau of Education: Bulletin 1912, No. 4, 7.
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In science men have discovered an activity of the very highest value in which they are no longer, as in art, dependent for progress upon the appearance of continually greater genius, for in science the successors stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors; where one man of supreme genius has invented a method, a thousand lesser men can apply it. … In art nothing worth doing can be done without genius; in science even a very moderate capacity can contribute to a supreme achievement.
Essay, 'The Place Of Science In A Liberal Education.' In Mysticism and Logic: and Other Essays (1919), 41.
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In the beginning of the year 1665 I found the Method of approximating series & the Rule for reducing any dignity of any Bionomial into such a series. The same year in May I found the method of Tangents of Gregory & Slusius, & in November had the direct method of fluxions & the next year in January had the Theory of Colours & in May following I had entrance into ye inverse method of fluxions. And the same year I began to think of gravity extending to ye orb of the Moon & (having found out how to estimate the force with wch [a] globe revolving within a sphere presses the surface of the sphere) from Keplers rule of the periodic times of the Planets being in sesquialterate proportion of their distances from the center of their Orbs, I deduced that the forces wch keep the Planets in their Orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about wch they revolve: & thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the earth, & found them answer pretty nearly. All this was in the two plague years of 1665-1666. For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematicks & Philosophy more then than at any time since.
Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 143.
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In the beginning of the year 1800 the illustrious professor conceived the idea of forming a long column by piling up, in succession, a disc of copper, a disc of zinc, and a disc of wet cloth, with scrupulous attention to not changing this order. What could be expected beforehand from such a combination? Well, I do not hesitate to say, this apparently inert mass, this bizarre assembly, this pile of so many couples of unequal metals separated by a little liquid is, in the singularity of effect, the most marvellous instrument which men have yet invented, the telescope and the steam engine not excepted.
In François Arago, 'Bloge for Volta' (1831), Oeuvres Completes de François Arago (1854), Vol. 1, 219-20.
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In the world’s history certain inventions and discoveries occurred of peculiar value, on account of their great efficiency in facilitating all other inventions and discoveries. Of these were the art of writing and of printing, the discovery of America, and the introduction of patent laws. The date of the first … is unknown; but it certainly was as much as fifteen hundred years before the Christian era; the second—printing—came in 1436, or nearly three thousand years after the first. The others followed more rapidly—the discovery of America in 1492, and the first patent laws in 1624.
Lecture 'Discoveries, Inventions and Improvements' (22 Feb 1860) in John George Nicolay and John Hay (eds.), Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894), Vol. 5, 109-10.
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In working out an invention, the most important quality is persistence. Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged, that's the place to get interested.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 186.
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Included in this ‘almost nothing,’ as a kind of geological afterthought of the last few million years, is the first development of self-conscious intelligence on this planet–an odd and unpredictable invention of a little twig on the mammalian evolutionary bush. Any definition of this uniqueness, embedded as it is in our possession of language, must involve our ability to frame the world as stories and to transmit these tales to others. If our propensity to grasps nature as story has distorted our perceptions, I shall accept this limit of mentality upon knowledge, for we receive in trade both the joys of literature and the core of our being.
…...
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Industry is far more efficient than the university in making use of scientific developments for the public good.
Reported in 1981, as a co-founder of Genentech, Inc., a company to offer gene-splicing products.
'Shaping Life in the Lab'. In Time (9 Mar 1981).
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Inventing is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need.
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Invention breeds invention.
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Invention breeds invention. No sooner is the electric telegraph devised than gutta-percha, the very material it requires, is found. The aeronaut is provided with gun-cotton, the very fuel he wants for his balloon.
In Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works (1884), Vol. 7, 161.
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Invention depends altogether upon Execution or Organisation, as that is right or wrong, so is the Invention perfect or imperfect.
Marginal note (c. 1808) written At head of account of Reynolds’ life in his copy of The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1798), beside “Much copying discountenanced”. As given in William Blake, Edwin John Ellis (ed.) and William Butler Yeats (ed.), The Works of William Blake (1893), Vol. 2, 319-320.
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Invention is an Heroic thing, and plac'd above the reach of a low, and vulgar Genius. It requires an active, a bold, a nimble, a restless mind: a thousand difficulties must be contemn'd with which a mean heart would be broken: many attempts must be made to no purpose: much Treasure must sometimes be scatter'd without any return: much violence, and vigour of thoughts must attend it: some irregularities, and excesses must be granted it, that would hardly be pardon'd by the severe Rules of Prudence.
The History of the Royal Society (1667), 392.
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Invention is the mother of necessity.
In The Instinct of Workmanship: And the State of the Industrial Arts (1914), 316.
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Inventions and discoveries are of two kinds. The one which we owe to chance, such as those of the mariner’s compass, gunpowder, and in general almost all the discoveries we have made in the arts. The other which we owe to genius: and here we ought to understand by the word discovery, a new combination, or a new relation perceived between certain objects or ideas. A person obtains the title of a man of genius, if the ideas which result from this combination form one grand whole, are fruitful in truths, and are of importance with respect to mankind.
From the original French, “Les inventions ou les découvertes sont de deux espèces. Il en est que nous devons au hazard; telles sont la boussole, la poudre à canon, & généralement presque toutes les découvertes que nous avons faites dans les arts. Il en est d'autres que nous devons au génie: &, par ce mot de découverte, on doit alors entendre une nouvelle combinaison, un rapport nouveau aperçu entre certains objets ou certaines idées. On obtient le titre d'homme de génie, si les idées qui résultent de ce rapport forment un grand ensemble, sont fécondes en vérités & intéressantes pour l'humanité,” in 'Du Génie', L’Esprit (1758), Discourse 4, 476. English version from Claude Adrien Helvétius and William Mudford (trans.), 'Of Genius', De l’Esprit or, Essays on the Mind and its several Faculties (1759), Essay 4, Chap. 1, 241-242.
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Inventions are best developed on your own. When you work for other people or borrow money from them, maintaining freedom of intellect is difficult.
As quoted by Franz Lidz in 'Dr. NakaMats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name', Smithsonian Magazine (Dec 2012).
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Inventions that are not made, like babies that are not born, are rarely missed. In the absence of new developments, old ones may seem very impressive for quite a long while.
The Affluent Society (1958), 127.
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Inventive genius requires pleasurable mental activity as a condition for its vigorous exercise. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is a silly proverb. “Necessity is the mother of futile dodges” is much closer to the truth. The basis of growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity.
In 'Technical Education and Its Relation to Science and Literature', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1917), 69.
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human invention; it is only the application of them that is human.
In The Age of Reason (1794, 1834), 30.
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It is a very strange thing to reflect that but for the invention of Professor Haber the Germans could not have continued the War after their original stack of nitrates was exhausted. The invention of this single man has enabled them, utilising the interval in which their accumulations were used up, not only to maintain an almost unlimited supply of explosives for all purposes, but to provide amply for the needs of agriculture in chemical manures. It is a remarkable fact, and shows on what obscure and accidental incidents the fortunes of possible the whole world may turn in these days of scientific discovery.
[During World War I, Fritz Haber and Karl Bosch invented a large scale process to cause the direct combination of hydrogen and nitrogen gases to chemically synthesize ammonia, thus providing a replacement for sodium nitrate in the manufacture of explosives and fertilizers.]
Parliamentary debate (25 Apr 1918). In Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth (ed.), Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations (2008), 469. by Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth
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It is arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engine. Electricity opens a field of infinite conveniences to ever greater numbers, but they may well have to pay dearly for them. But anyhow in my thought I stop short of the internal combustion engine which has made the world so much smaller. Still more must we fear the consequences of entrusting a human race so little different from their predecessors of the so-called barbarous ages such awful agencies as the atomic bomb. Give me the horse.
Address to the Royal College of Surgeons (10 Jul 1951). Collected in Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 and 1952 (1953), 91.
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It is both a sad and a happy fact of engineering history that disasters have been powerful instruments of change. Designers learn from failure. Industrial society did not invent grand works of engineering, and it was not the first to know design failure. What it did do was develop powerful techniques for learning from the experience of past disasters. It is extremely rare today for an apartment house in North America, Europe, or Japan to fall down. Ancient Rome had large apartment buildings too, but while its public baths, bridges and aqueducts have lasted for two thousand years, its big residential blocks collapsed with appalling regularity. Not one is left in modern Rome, even as ruin.
In Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1997), 23.
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It is frivolous to fix pedantically the date of particular inventions. They have all been invented over and over fifty times. Man is the arch machine, of which all these shifts drawn from himself are toy models. He helps himself on each emergency by copying or duplicating his own structure, just so far as the need is.
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It is impossible not to feel stirred at the thought of the emotions of man at certain historic moments of adventure and discovery—Columbus when he first saw the Western shore, Pizarro when he stared at the Pacific Ocean, Franklin when the electric spark came from the string of his kite, Galileo when he first turned his telescope to the heavens. Such moments are also granted to students in the abstract regions of thought, and high among them must be placed the morning when Descartes lay in bed and invented the method of co-ordinate geometry.
Quoted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), Vol. 1, 239.
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It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity and the great ease which it has lent to computations put our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of the achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.
Quoted in Return to Mathematical Circles H. Eves (Boston 1988).
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It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessings. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours... in order that the creations of our minds shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
Address to students of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (16 Feb 1931). In New York Times (17 Feb 1931), p. 6.
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It is only the unimaginative who ever invents. The true artist is known by the use he makes of what he annexes, and he annexes everything
'Olivia at the Lyceum', Dramatic Review (30 May 1885). In Reviews (1908), 29.
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It is possible that the deepest meaning and aim of Newtonianism, or rather, of the whole scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, of which Newton is the heir and the highest expression, is just to abolish the world of the 'more or less', the world of qualities and sense perception, the world of appreciation of our daily life, and to replace it by the (Archimedean) universe of precision, of exact measures, of strict determination ... This revolution [is] one of the deepest, if not the deepest, mutations and transformations accomplished—or suffered—by the human mind since the invention of the cosmos by the Greeks, two thousand years before.
'The Significance of the Newtonian Synthesis' (1950). In Newtonian Studies (1965), 4-5.
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It is the merest truism, evident at once to unsophisticated observation, that mathematics is a human invention.
In The Logic of Modern Physics (1927, 1972), 60.
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It is very desirable to have a word to express the Availability for work of the heat in a given magazine; a term for that possession, the waste of which is called Dissipation. Unfortunately the excellent word Entropy, which Clausius has introduced in this connexion, is applied by him to the negative of the idea we most naturally wish to express. It would only confuse the student if we were to endeavour to invent another term for our purpose. But the necessity for some such term will be obvious from the beautiful examples which follow. And we take the liberty of using the term Entropy in this altered sense ... The entropy of the universe tends continually to zero.
Sketch of Thermodynamics (1868), 100-2.
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It is well to observe the force and virtue and consequence of discoveries, and these are to be seen nowhere more conspicuously than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, and of which the origins, although recent, are obscure and inglorious; namely, printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 129. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 114.
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It may be unpopular and out-of-date to say—but I do not think that a scientific result which gives us a better understanding of the world and makes it more harmonious in our eyes should be held in lower esteem than, say, an invention which reduces the cost of paving roads, or improves household plumbing.
From final remarks in 'The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics' (1944), collected in Leonard Linsky (ed.), Semantics and the Philosophy of Language: A Collection of Readings (1952), 41.
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It seems to me that God is a convenient invention of the human mind.
…...
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It then came into my mind what that most careful observer of natural phenomena [Amontons] had written about the correction of the barometer; for he had observed that the height of the column of mercury in the barometer was a little (though sensibly enough) altered by the varying temperature of the mercury. From this I gathered that a thermometer might be perhaps constructed with mercury.
From 'Experimenta circa gradum caloris liquorum nonnullorum ebullientium instituta', Philosophical Transactions (1724), 33, 1, as translated in William Francis Magie, A Source Book in Physics (1935), 131.
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It usually takes me from five to seven years to perfect a thing. Some things I have been working on for twenty-five years—and some of them are still unsolved. My average would be about seven years. The incandescent light was the hardest one of all: it took many years not only of concentrated thought but also of world-wide research. The storage battery took eight years. It took even longer to perfect the phonograph.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 86.
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It would seem that more than function itself, simplicity is the deciding factor in the aesthetic equation. One might call the process beauty through function and simplification.
As quoted in Christian Science Monitor (7 May 1952).
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It’s hard to explain to people what the significance of an invention is, so it’s hard to get funding. The first thing they say is that it can’t be done. Then they say, “You didn't do it right.” Then, when you’ve done it, they finally say, “Well, it was obvious anyway.”
http://www.thetech.org/nmot/detail.cfm?id=95&st=awardDate&qt=1997&kiosk=Off
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It’s very dangerous to invent something in our times; ostentatious men of the other world, who are hostile to innovations, roam about angrily. To live in peace, one has to stay away from innovations and new ideas. Innovations, like trees, attract the most destructive lightnings to themselves.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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I’m afraid for all those who’ll have the bread snatched from their mouths by these machines. … What business has science and capitalism got, bringing ail these new inventions into the works, before society has produced a generation educated up to using them!
Dialog for Aune, in the play The Pillars of Society, Act 2. Collected in Henrik Ibsen and James Walter McFarlane (ed.), Ibsen: Pillars of society. A Doll’s House. Ghosts (1960), Vol. 5, 52.
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I’m lazy. But it’s lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn’t like walking or carrying things.
Found in several sources, without citation, for example, in Quotable Quotes (1997), 92. If you know the prikmary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Japan’s only natural resources are water, fish, sunlight and brains. We must create or die.
As quoted by Franz Lidz in 'Dr. NakaMats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name', Smithsonian Magazine (Dec 2012).
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Junior high school seemed like a fine idea when we invented it but it turned out to be an invention of the devil. We’re catching our boys in a net in which they’re socially unprepared. We put them in junior high school with girls who are two years ahead of them. There isn’t a thing they should have to do with girls at this age except growl at them.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 147.
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Kin Hubbard is dead. To us folks that attempt to write a little humor his death is just like Edison's would be to the world of invention. No man in our generation was within a mile of him, and I am so glad that I didn't wait for him to go to send flowers. I have said it from the stage and in print for twenty years. … Just think — only two lines a day, yet he expressed more original philosophy in ’em than all the rest of the paper combined. What a kick Twain and all that gang will get out of Kin.
In 'Will Rogers Pays Tribute To Hubbard and His Humor', The New York Times (27 Dec 1930), 15.
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Long intervals frequently elapse between the discovery of new principles in science and their practical application… Those intellectual qualifications, which give birth to new principles or to new methods, are of quite a different order from those which are necessary for their practical application.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 16.
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Man does not live by bread alone, there are other wants to be supplied, and even in a practical point of view, a single thought may be fraught with a thousand useful inventions.
Presidential Address (Aug 1853) to the American Association for the Advancement of Education, in Proceedings of the Third Session of the American Association for the Advancement of Education (1854), 29.
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Man is made for science; he reasons from effects to causes, and from causes to effects; but he does not always reason without error. In reasoning, therefore, from appearances which are particular, care must be taken how we generalize; we should be cautious not to attribute to nature, laws which may perhaps be only of our own invention.
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, 1, 273.
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Many inventions are not suitable for the people at large because of their carelessness. Before a thing can be marketed to the masses, it must be made practically fool-proof. Its operation must be made extremely simple. That is one reason, I think, why the phonograph has been so universally adopted. Even a child can operate it. … Another reason is that people are far more willing to pay for being amused than for anything else.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 86.
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Mapping the human genome has been compared with putting a man on the moon, but I believe it is more than that. This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime, but in terms of human history. A few months ago I compared the project to the invention of the wheel. On reflection, it is more than that. I can well imagine technology making the wheel obsolete. But this code is the essence of mankind, and as long as humans exists, this code is going to be important and will be used.
Quoted in the press release 'The first draft of the Book of Humankind has been read', 26 Jun 2000. On the Sanger Institute web site at www.sanger.ac.uk/HGP/draft2000/mainrelease.shtml
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Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow!
(1877) The first words he reproduced from his phonograph.
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Mathematics is not only one of the most valuable inventions—or discoveries—of the human mind, but can have an aesthetic appeal equal to that of anything in art. Perhaps even more so, according to the poetess who proclaimed, “Euclid alone hath looked at beauty bare.”
From 'The Joy of Maths'. Collected in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 460.
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Mathematics renders its best service through the immediate furthering of rigorous thought and the spirit of invention.
In 'Mathematischer Lehrplan für Realschulen' Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 170. (Mathematics Curriculum for Secondary Schools). As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 51.
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Men are rather beholden ... generally to chance or anything else, than to logic, for the invention of arts and sciences.
The Advancement of Learning (1605) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 3, 386.
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Modern war, even from the consideration of physical welfare, is not creative. Soldiers and civilians alike are supposed to put on mental khaki. … War means the death of that fertile war which consists of the free, restless conflict of ideas. The war which matters is that of the scientist with nature; of the farmer with the tawny desert; of … philosopher against … mob stupidity. Such war is creative. … Inventions that further life and joy; freedom; new knowledge, whether Luther Burbank’s about the breeding of fruits or Einstein's about relativity; great cathedrals and Beethoven's music: these modern mechanical war can destroy but never produce. At its most inventive height, war creates the Maxim gun, the submarine, disseminable germs of disease, life-blasting gases. Spiritually and intellectually, modern war is not creative.
From ‘The Stagnation of War’, in Allen D. Hole (ed.) The Messenger of Peace (Nov 1924), 49, No. 11, 162-163.
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More than ever before in the history of science and invention, it is safe now to say what is possible and what is impossible. No one would claim for a moment that during the next five hundred years the accumulated stock of knowledge of geography will increase as it has during the last five hundred In the same way it may safely be affirmed that in electricity the past hundred years is not likely to be duplicated in the next, at least as to great, original, and far-reaching discoveries, or novel and almost revolutionary applications.
In A Century of Electricity (1890), 223.
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Moreover, the works already known are due to chance and experiment rather than to sciences; for the sciences we now possess are merely systems for the nice ordering and setting forth of things already invented; not methods of invention or directions for new works.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 8. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 48.
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Most inventors who have an idea never stop to think whether their invention will be saleable when they get it made. Unless a man has plenty of money to throw away, he will find that making inventions is about the costliest amusement he can find.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 186.
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Mr Edison gave America just what was needed at that moment in history. They say that when people think of me, they think of my assembly line. Mr. Edison, you built an assembly line which brought together the genius of invention, science and industry.
Henry Ford in conversation Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone (1931), quoted as a recollection of the author, in James Newton, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987), 31. The quote is not cited from a print source. However, in the introduction the author said he “kept a diary in which I noted times and places, key phrases, and vivid impressions.” He also “relied on publications by and about my friends, which jogged my memory.&rdquo. Webmaster has found no earlier record of this quote, and thus suggests the author may have the gist of what Ford said, but is not quoting the exact words uttered by Ford, although quote marks are used to state Ford's remark.
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Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine enquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was well, and bid us a cordial good night. These remarks were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around.
Scientific American (22 Dec 1877). Quoted in By John Henry Pepper, The Boy's Playbook of Science, Revised (1881), 251.
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Mr. Watson, please come here. I want to see you.
Notable as the first words communicated with his telephone invention. Laboratory notebook, held by the Library of Congress (10 Mar 1876).
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Name the greatest of all inventors: Accident.
From Mark Twain’s Notebook (1935), 374. As cited in Mark Twain and Caroline Thomas Hamsberger (ed.), Everyone’s Mark Twain (1972) 288.
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Nature! … The spectacle of Nature is always new, for she is always renewing the spectators. Life is her most exquisite invention; and death is her expert contrivance to get plenty of life.
As quoted by T.H. Huxley, in Norman Lockyer (ed.), 'Nature: Aphorisms by Goethe', Nature (1870), 1, 9.
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Nearly all the great inventions which distinguish the present century are the results, immediately or remotely, of the application of scientific principles to practical purposes, and in most cases these applications have been suggested by the student of nature, whose primary object was the discovery of abstract truth.
In 'Report of the Secretary', Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1859 (1860), 15.
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Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.
In 'The Old and the New,' The New Yorker (19 Jun 1937), collected in Writings from The New Yorker, 1925-1976 (1976, 2006), 168.
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Necessity is not the mother of invention. Knowledge and experiment are its parents. It sometimes happens that successful search is made for unknown materials to fill well-recognized and predetermined requirements. It more often happens that the acquirement of knowledge of the previously unknown properties of a material suggests its trial for some new use. These facts strongly indicate the value of knowledge of properties of materials and indicate a way for research.
Quoted in Guy Suits, 'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357.
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Necessity is the mother of invention.
Anonymous
Collected in Henery George Bohn, A Handbook of Proverbs: Comprising Ray's Collection of English Proverbs (1855), 457. Sometimes attributed to Plato, as it appears in later translations of his The Republic, but also said to be perhaps a translator’s contemporary phrase rather than a literal version of Plato's words. In another translation, by by Paul Shorey (1969), Book II, Section 369c is given merely as “let us create a city from the beginning, in our theory. Its real creator, as it appears, will be our needs.”
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New discoveries in science and their flow of new inventions will continue to create a thousand new frontiers for those who still would adventure.
From Commencement Address at Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio (11 Jun 1949), 'Give Us Self-Reliance – or Give Us Security', on hoover.archives.gov website.
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Next came the patent laws. These began in England in 1624, and in this country with the adoption of our Constitution. Before then any man [might] instantly use what another man had invented, so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this, secured to the inventor for a limited time exclusive use of his inventions, and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things.
Lecture 'Discoveries, Inventions and Improvements' (22 Feb 1860) in John George Nicolay and John Hay (eds.), Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894), Vol. 5, 113. In Eugene C. Gerhart, Quote it Completely! (1998), 802.
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No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit.
Widely seen, but always without citation, for example, in Obzor (1977), 38, 10. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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No organization engaged in any specific field of work ever invents any important developers in that field, or adopts any important development in that field until forced to do so by outside competition.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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Nothing is more important than to see the sources of invention which are, in my opinion more interesting than the inventions themselves.
Epigraph, without citation, in R.P. Watkins, Computer Problem Solving (1980). Webmaster has not yet been able to find a primary source. Can you help?
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Number, the most excellent of all inventions.
Aeschylus
Spoken by the character Prometheus in play, 'Prometheus Bound', as translated by G.M. Cookson, in Four Plays of Aeschylus (1922), 182.
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O for the Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention…
Henry V, Prologue. In Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain (1986), 262.
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Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best. Life’s most soothing things are sweet music and a child’s goodnight.
…...
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Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power—that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth’s surface— for instance, Illinois; and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space. And yet it has not, so far in the world’s history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few windmills, and pumps, and you have about all. … As yet, the wind is an untamed, and unharnessed force; and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of it.
Lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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On the morning of 1 November 1956 the US physicist John Bardeen dropped the frying-pan of eggs that he was cooking for breakfast, scattering its contents on the kitchen floor. He had just heard that he had won the Nobel Prize for Physics along with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for their invention of the transistor. That evening Bardeen was startled again, this time by a parade of his colleagues from the University of Illinois marching to the door of his home bearing champagne and singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.
In Abstract for 'John Bardeen: An Extraordinary Physicist', Physics World (2008), 21, No. 4, 22.
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Once you ask the question, where is the Carbon-14, and where does it go, it’s like one, two, three, you have [radiocarbon] dating.
As quoted, without citation, in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 120.
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One of my inventions was a large thermometer made of an iron rod, … The expansion and contraction of this rod was multiplied by a series of levers … so that the slightest change in the length of the rod was instantly shown on a dial about three feet wide multiplied about thirty-two thousand times. The zero-point was gained by packing the rod in wet snow. The scale was so large that … the temperature read while we were ploughing in the field below the house.
From The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 258-259. One of the inventions made while growing up on his father’s farm, before he left the year after he was 21.
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Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor.
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Our commercial and mercantile law was no sudden invention. It was not the work of a day, or of one set of minds… In the incipient, the early existence of this system, a single maxim obtained force, others succeeded; one rule of right formed a nucleus around which other kindred rules might cling; the necessities of trade originated customs, customs ripened into law; a few feeble decisions of courts laid the foundation for others; the wisdom and experience of each succeeding generation improved upon the wisdom and experience of generations that were past; and thus the edifice arose, perfect in its parts, beautiful in its proportions.
From biographical preface by T. Bigelow to Austin Abbott (ed.), Official Report of the Trial of Henry Ward Beecher (1875), Vol. 1, xi-xii.
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Our highest claim to respect, as a nation, rests not in the gold, nor in the iron and the coal, nor in inventions and discoveries, nor in agricultural productions, nor in our wealth, grown so great that a war debt of billions fades out under ministrations of the revenue collector without fretting the people; nor, indeed, in all these combined. That claim finds its true elements in our systems of education and of unconstrained religious worship; in our wise and just laws, and the purity of their administration; in the conservative spirit with which the minority submits to defeat in a hotly-contested election; in a free press; in that broad humanity which builds hospitals and asylums for the poor, sick, and insane on the confines of every city; in the robust, manly, buoyant spirit of a people competent to admonish others and to rule themselves; and in the achievements of that people in every department of thought and learning.
From his opening address at an annual exhibition of the Brooklyn Industrial Institute. As quoted in biographical preface by T. Bigelow to Austin Abbott (ed.), Official Report of the Trial of Henry Ward Beecher (1875), Vol. 1, xiv.
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Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
In Walden (1854, 1906), 57.
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Particular and contingent inventions in the solution of problems, which, though many times more concise than a general method would allow, yet, in my judgment, are less proper to instruct a learner, as acrostics, and such kind of artificial poetry, though never so excellent, would be but improper examples to instruct one that aims at Ovidean poetry.
In Letter to Collins (Macclesfield, 1670), Correspondence of Scientific Men (1841), Vol. 2, 307.
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People who have read a great deal seldom make great discoveries. I do not say this to excuse laziness, for invention presupposes an extensive contemplation of things on one's own account; one must see for oneself more than let oneself be told.
Aphorism 85 in Notebook E (1775-1776), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 77.
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Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence—by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the heartless strife of commercial existence. ... So all that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combatted, suppressed—only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.
'The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires As a Means for Furthering Peace', Electrical World and Engineer (7 Jan 1905), 24. Reproduced in John T. Ratzlaff, editor, Tesla Said (1984), 86. Also reprinted in Nikola Tesla, Miscellaneous Writings (2007), 58.
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Perhaps scientists have been the most international of all professions in their outlook... Every time you scientists make a major invention, we politicians have to invent a new institution to cope with it—and almost invariably, these days, it must be an international institution.
From Address to the Centennial Convocation of the National Academy of Sciences (22 Oct 1963), 'A Century of Scientific Conquest'. Online at The American Presidency Project.
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Perhaps the strongest bond of sympathy between mathematics and poetry, however, is the endless invention of each. Dr. Johnson remarked, “The essence of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing something unexpected, surprises and delights”; but he might have said the same of mathematics.
In 'The Poetry of Mathematics', The Mathematics Teacher (May 1926), 19, No. 5, 295.
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Perhaps we see equations as simple because they are easily expressed in terms of mathematical notation already invented at an earlier stage of development of the science, and thus what appears to us as elegance of description really reflects the interconnectedness of Nature's laws at different levels.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1969), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.),Les Prix Nobel en 1969 (1970).
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Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won a Nobel Prize for inventing a technique that permitted scientists to probe the structure of atoms and molecules in the 1930s, attributed his success to the way his mother used to greet him when he came home from school each day. “Did you ask any good questions today, Isaac?” she would say.
Thomas J. Peters, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties (1992).
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POTABLE, n. Suitable for drinking. Water is said to be potable; indeed, some declare it our natural beverage, although even they find it palatable only when suffering from the recurrent disorder known as thirst, for which it is a medicine. Upon nothing has so great and diligent ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages and in all countries, except the most uncivilized, as upon the invention of substitutes for water. To hold that this general aversion to that liquid has no basis in the preservative instinct of the race is to be unscientific—and without science we are as the snakes and toads.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  260-261.
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Precedents are treated by powerful minds as fetters with which to bind down the weak, as reasons with which to mistify the moderately informed, and as reeds which they themselves fearlessly break through whenever new combinations and difficult emergencies demand their highest efforts.
A Word to the Wise (1833), 3-6. Quoted in Anthony Hyman (ed.), Science and Reform: Selected Works of Charles Babbage (1989), 202.
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Professor Ayrton said that we were gradually coming within thinkable distance of the realization of a prophecy he had ventured to make four years before, of a time when, if a person wanted to call to a friend he knew not where, he would call in a very loud electromagnetic voice, heard by him who had the electromagnetic ear, silent to him who had it not. “Where are you?” he would say. A small reply would come, “I am at the bottom of a coalmine, or crossing the Andes, or in the middle of the Atlantic.” Or, perhaps in spite of all the calling, no reply would come, and the person would then know that his friend was dead. Think of what this would mean ... a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.
[His prophecy of cell phones, as a comment on Marconi's paper, 'Syntonic Wireless Telegraphy,' read before the Society of Arts, 15 May 1901, about his early radio signal experiments.]
From Engineering Magazine (Jul 1901) as described in 'Marconi and his Transatlantic Signal', The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (1902), Vol. 63, 782.
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Proposals for forming a Public Institution for diffusing the knowledge of Mechanical Inventions, and for teaching, by Philosophical Lectures and Experiments, the application of Science to the common purposes of life.
Title of the pamphlet (Apr 1799) in which he proposed what is now the Royal Institution. As named in a notice under 'A Correct List of New Publications', The Monthly Magazine: Part 1 for 1799 from January to June, inclusive (Apr 1799), 7, Part 1, 221.
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Reflexion is careful and laborious thought, and watchful attention directed to the agreeable effect of one’s plan. Invention, on the other hand, is the solving of intricate problems and the discovery of new principles by means of brilliancy and versatility.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 2, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 14.
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Science burrows its insulted head in the filth of slaughterous inventions.
Article in the Evening Standard (Sep 1936). Maxims and Reflections (1947), 176.
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Science has always been too dignified to invent a good back-scratcher.
In Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis (1962), 354.
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Scientists come in two varieties, hedgehogs and foxes. I borrow this terminology from Isaiah Berlin (1953), who borrowed it from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. Archilochus told us that foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are broad, hedgehogs are deep. Foxes are interested in everything and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are only interested in a few problems that they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble were hedgehogs. Charley Townes, who invented the laser, and Enrico Fermi, who built the first nuclear reactor in Chicago, were foxes.
In 'The Future of Biotechnology', A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007), 1.
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Scientists have come up with a fantastic invention for looking through solid walls. It’s called a window.
Anonymous
Found feral on the web attributed (spuriously?) to Richard Feynmann, but Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for Feynmann saying or writing this.
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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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Shall an invention be patented or donated to the public freely? I have known some well-meaning scientific men to look askance at the patenting of inventions, as if it were a rather selfish and ungracious act, essentially unworthy. The answer is very simple. Publish an invention freely, and it will almost surely die from lack of interest in its development. It will not be developed and the world will not be benefited. Patent it, and if valuable, it will be taken up and developed into a business.
Address as M.I.T. acting president, to the graduating class (11 Jun 1920). Published in Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technology Review (Jul 1920), 22, 420.
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Significant inventions are not mere accidents. The erroneous view [that they are] is widely held, and it is one that the scientific and technical community, unfortunately, has done little to dispel. Happenstance usually plays a part, to be sure, but there is much more to invention than the popular notion of a bolt out of the blue. Knowledge in depth and in breadth are virtual prerequisites. Unless the mind is thoroughly charged beforehand, the proverbial spark of genius, if it should manifest itself, probably will find nothing to ignite.
Speech, at award of Perkin Medal. As quoted in 'Introduction', Royston M. Roberts, Serendipity (1989), x.
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Since the invention of the microprocessor, the cost of moving a byte of information around has fallen on the order of 10-million-fold. Never before in the human history has any product or service gotten 10 million times cheaper-much less in the course of a couple decades. That’s as if a 747 plane, once at $150 million a piece, could now be bought for about the price of a large pizza.
…...
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TELEPHONE, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  341.
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Tell Selden to take his patent and go to hell with it.
(1903). Ford fought the monopoly caused by George Baldwin Selden’s internal combustion engine patent (which was based on George Brayton’s engine). Ford won in 1911, after eight years in court. In American Science and Invention: A Pictorial History (1954), 325.
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Ten builders rear an arch, each in turn lifting it higher; but it is the tenth man, who drops in the keystone, who hears our huzzas.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 167.
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The advancement of agriculture, commerce and manufactures, by all proper means, will not, I trust, need recommendation. But I cannot forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad, as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home.
Early suggestion for awarding patent protection. In First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union (8 Jan 1790).
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The aether: Invented by Isaac Newton, reinvented by James Clerk Maxwell. This is the stuff that fills up the empty space of the universe. Discredited and discarded by Einstein, the aether is now making a Nixonian comeback. It’s really the vacuum, but burdened by theoretical, ghostly particles.
In Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question (1993, 2006), xiii.
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The American Businessman has a problem: if he comes up with something new, the Russians invent it six months later and the Japanese make it cheaper.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 58.
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The art of invention grows young with the things invented.
Quoted by Bacon as a Maxim. As given in Gurney Benham, A Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words (1907), 494.
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The beginning of civilisation is the discovery of some useful arts, by which men acquire property, comforts, or luxuries. The necessity or desire of preserving them leads to laws and social institutions. The discovery of peculiar arts gives superiority to particular nations ... to subjugate other nations, who learn their arts, and ultimately adopt their manners;— so that in reality the origin as well as the progress and improvement of civil society is founded in mechanical and chemical inventions.
Consolations In Travel; or, the Last Days of a Philosopher (1830), 228.
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The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Quoted in Financial Times (1 Nov1982).
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The capital ... shall form a fund, the interest of which shall be distributed annually as prizes to those persons who shall have rendered humanity the best services during the past year. ... One-fifth to the person having made the most important discovery or invention in the science of physics, one-fifth to the person who has made the most eminent discovery or improvement in chemistry, one-fifth to the one having made the most important discovery with regard to physiology or medicine, one-fifth to the person who has produced the most distinguished idealistic work of literature, and one-fifth to the person who has worked the most or best for advancing the fraternization of all nations and for abolishing or diminishing the standing armies as well as for the forming or propagation of committees of peace.
From will (27 Nov 1895), in which he established the Nobel Prizes, as translated in U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Consular Reports, Issues 156-159 (1897), 331.
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The cell was the first invention of the animal kingdom, and all higher animals are and must be cellular in structure. Our tissues were formed ages on ages ago; they have all persisted. Most of our organs are as old as worms. All these are very old, older than the mountains.
In The Whence and Whither of Man; a Brief History of his Origin and Development through Conformity to Environment; being the Morse Lectures of 1895. (1896), 173. The Morse lectureship was founded by Prof. Samuel F.B. Morse in 1865 at Union Theological Seminary, the lectures to deal with “the relation of the Bible to any of the sciences.”
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The century after the Civil War was to be an Age of Revolution—of countless, little-noticed revolutions, which occurred not in the halls of legislatures or on battlefields or on the barricades but in homes and farms and factories and schools and stores, across the landscape and in the air—so little noticed because they came so swiftly, because they touched Americans everywhere and every day. Not merely the continent but human experience itself, the very meaning of community, of time and space, of present and future, was being revised again and again, a new democratic world was being invented and was being discovered by Americans wherever they lived.
In The Americans: The Democratic Experience (1973, 1974), ix.
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The chemical or physical inventor is always a Prometheus. There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. But if every physical and chemical invention is a blasphemy, every biological invention is a perversion. There is hardly one which, on first being brought to the notice of an observer from any nation which had not previously heard of their existence, would not appear to him as indecent and unnatural.
Lecture (4 Feb 1923) to the Heretics Society, Cambridge University, published in Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924), 44.
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The Commissioner of Patents may be likened to a wine merchant. He has in his office the wine of human progress of every kind and quality—wine, one may say, produced from the fermentation of the facts of the world through the yeast of human effort. Sometimes the yeast is “wild” and sometimes the “must” is poor, and while it all lies there shining with its due measure of the sparkle of divine effort, it is but occasionally that one finds a wine whose bouquet is the result of a pure culture on the true fruit of knowledge. But it is this true, pure wine of discovery that is alone of lasting significance.
In Some Chemical Problems of Today (1911), 108.
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The computer is a great invention. There are as many mistakes as ever, but now they're nobody's fault.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 338.
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The Congress shall have power to ... promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.
Founding U.S. Patents.
Constitution of the United States, Art. 1, Sec.8, Par. 8. In George Sewall Boutwell, The Constitution of the United States at the End of the First Century (1895), 219.
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The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention, but nobody will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.
Quoted from his manuscript autobiography (cited as in the Franklin Library, Philadelphia), in James T. Lloyd, Lloyd's Steamboat Directory: And Disasters of the Western Waters (1856), 24.
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The divergent series are the invention of the devil, and it is a shame to base on them any demonstration whatsoever. By using them, one may draw any conclusion he pleases and that is why these series have produced so many fallacies and so many paradoxes.
From letter (Jan 1828) to his former teacher Berndt Holmböe. In Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (1982), 170.
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The enthusiasm of Sylvester for his own work, which manifests itself here as always, indicates one of his characteristic qualities: a high degree of subjectivity in his productions and publications. Sylvester was so fully possessed by the matter which for the time being engaged his attention, that it appeared to him and was designated by him as the summit of all that is important, remarkable and full of future promise. It would excite his phantasy and power of imagination in even a greater measure than his power of reflection, so much so that he could never marshal the ability to master his subject-matter, much less to present it in an orderly manner.
Considering that he was also somewhat of a poet, it will be easier to overlook the poetic flights which pervade his writing, often bombastic, sometimes furnishing apt illustrations; more damaging is the complete lack of form and orderliness of his publications and their sketchlike character, … which must be accredited at least as much to lack of objectivity as to a superfluity of ideas. Again, the text is permeated with associated emotional expressions, bizarre utterances and paradoxes and is everywhere accompanied by notes, which constitute an essential part of Sylvester’s method of presentation, embodying relations, whether proximate or remote, which momentarily suggested themselves. These notes, full of inspiration and occasional flashes of genius, are the more stimulating owing to their incompleteness. But none of his works manifest a desire to penetrate the subject from all sides and to allow it to mature; each mere surmise, conceptions which arose during publication, immature thoughts and even errors were ushered into publicity at the moment of their inception, with utmost carelessness, and always with complete unfamiliarity of the literature of the subject. Nowhere is there the least trace of self-criticism. No one can be expected to read the treatises entire, for in the form in which they are available they fail to give a clear view of the matter under contemplation.
Sylvester’s was not a harmoniously gifted or well-balanced mind, but rather an instinctively active and creative mind, free from egotism. His reasoning moved in generalizations, was frequently influenced by analysis and at times was guided even by mystical numerical relations. His reasoning consists less frequently of pure intelligible conclusions than of inductions, or rather conjectures incited by individual observations and verifications. In this he was guided by an algebraic sense, developed through long occupation with processes of forms, and this led him luckily to general fundamental truths which in some instances remain veiled. His lack of system is here offset by the advantage of freedom from purely mechanical logical activity.
The exponents of his essential characteristics are an intuitive talent and a faculty of invention to which we owe a series of ideas of lasting value and bearing the germs of fruitful methods. To no one more fittingly than to Sylvester can be applied one of the mottos of the Philosophic Magazine:
“Admiratio generat quaestionem, quaestio investigationem investigatio inventionem.”
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), 50, 155-160. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 176-178.
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The essence of engineering consists not so much in the mere construction of the spectacular layouts or developments, but in the invention required—the analysis of the problem, the design, the solution by the mind which directs it all.
As quoted, “he said to the writer in effect,” Robert Fletcher, 'William Hood '67, Chief Engineer of the Southern Pacific Railroad Lines, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine (1919), Vol. 11, 223.
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The form of society has a very great effect on the rate of inventions and a form of society which in its young days encourages technical progress can, as a result of the very inventions it engenders, eventually come to retard further progress until a new social structure replaces it. The converse is also true. Technical progress affects the structure of society.
In Men, Machines and History (1948).
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The framing of hypotheses is, for the enquirer after truth, not the end, but the beginning of his work. Each of his systems is invented, not that he may admire it and follow it into all its consistent consequences, but that he may make it the occasion of a course of active experiment and observation. And if the results of this process contradict his fundamental assumptions, however ingenious, however symmetrical, however elegant his system may be, he rejects it without hesitation. He allows no natural yearning for the offspring of his own mind to draw him aside from the higher duty of loyalty to his sovereign, Truth, to her he not only gives his affections and his wishes, but strenuous labour and scrupulous minuteness of attention.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 57.
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The genesis of mathematical invention is a problem that must inspire the psychologist with the keenest interest. For this is the process in which the human mind seems to borrow least from the exterior world, in which it acts, or appears to act, only by itself and on itself, so that by studying the process of geometric thought, we may hope to arrive at what is most essential in the human mind
As translated in Arthur I. Miller, Imagery in Scientific Thought Creating 20th-Century Physics (1984, 2013), 307. Opening of Paper delivered at Conference at the Institut Général Psychologique, Paris, 'L’Invention Mathématique', published in Enseignment Mathématique (1908), 10, 357. From the original French, “La genèse do l’Invention mathématique est un problème qui doit inspirer le plus vif intérêt au psychologue. C’est l’acte dans lequel l’esprit humain semble le moins emprunter au monde extérieur, où il n’agit ou ne paraît agir que par lui-même et sur lui-même, de sorte, qu’en étudiant le processus de la pensée géométrique, c’est ce qu’il y a de plus essentiel dans l’esprit humain que nous pouvons espérer atteindre.”
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The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention.
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 1997), 96.
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The greatest inventions are those inquiries which tend to increase the power of man over matter.
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The greatest Inventions were produced in Times of Ignorance; as the Use of the Compass, Gunpowder, and Printing; and by the dullest Nation, as the Germans.
In 'Thoughts On Various Subjects' (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 309.
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The greatest single achievement of nature to date was surely the invention of the molecule DNA.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 27.
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The hype, skepticism and bewilderment associated with the Internet—concerns about new forms of crime, adjustments in social mores, and redefinition of business practices— mirror the hopes, fears, and misunderstandings inspired by the telegraph. Indeed, they are only to be expected. They are the direct consequences of human nature, rather than technology.
Given a new invention, there will always be some people who see only its potential to do good, while others see new opportunities to commit crime or make money. We can expect the same reactions to whatever new inventions appear in the twenty-first century.
Such reactions are amplified by what might be termed chronocentricity—the egotism that one’s own generation is poised on the very cusp of history. Today, we are repeatedly told that we are in the midst of a communications revolution. But the electric telegraph was, in many ways, far more disconcerting for the inhabitants of the time than today’s advances are for us. If any generation has the right to claim that it bore the full bewildering, world-shrinking brunt of such a revolution, it is not us—it is our nineteenth- century forebears.
In The Victorian Internet (1998).
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The incessant call in this country for practical results and the confounding of mechanical inventions with scientific discoveries has a very prejudicial influence on science. … A single scientific principle may include a thousand applications and is therefore though if not of immediate use of vastly more importance even in a practical view.
Presidential address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (22 Aug 1850),The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 8, 101-102.
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The industry of artificers maketh some small improvement of things invented; and chance sometimes in experimenting maketh us to stumble upon somewhat which is new; but all the disputation of the learned never brought to light one effect of nature before unknown.
In The Works of Francis Bacon (1740), Vol. 1, 69.
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The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same powerful genius [Davy] which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the copper-sheathing of vessels. … this was regarded as by Laplace as the greatest of Sir Humphry's discoveries.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 16.
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The invention all admired, and each how he
To be the inventor missed; so easy it seemed,
Once found, which yet unfounded most would have thought,
Impossible!
Paradise Lost, Part VI, ll. 478-501 (1667)
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The invention of IQ did a great disservice to creativity in education. ... Individuality, personality, originality, are too precious to be meddled with by amateur psychiatrists whose patterns for a “wholesome personality” are inevitably their own.
In speech, 'Education for Creativity in the Sciences', Conference at New York University, Washington Square. As quoted by Gene Currivan in 'I.Q. Tests Called Harmful to Pupil', New York Times (16 Jun 1963), 66.
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The invention of the differential calculus marks a crisis in the history of mathematics. The progress of science is divided between periods characterized by a slow accumulation of ideas and periods, when, owing to the new material for thought thus patiently collected, some genius by the invention of a new method or a new point of view, suddenly transforms the whole subject on to a higher level.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 217. Whitehead continued by quoting the poet, Percy Shelley, who compared the slow accumulation of thoughts leading to an avalanche following the laying down of a great truth. See the poetic quote beginning, “The sun-awakened avalanche…” on the Percy Shelley Quotations page.
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The invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that.
From impromptu speech at a Cambridge conference (1998). Quoted in Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (2004), 168. In Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), 141.
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The invention of what we may call primary or fundamental notation has been but little indebted to analogy, evidently owing to the small extent of ideas in which comparison can be made useful. But at the same time analogy should be attended to, even if for no other reason than that, by making the invention of notation an art, the exertion of individual caprice ceases to be allowable. Nothing is more easy than the invention of notation, and nothing of worse example and consequence than the confusion of mathematical expressions by unknown symbols. If new notation be advisable, permanently or temporarily, it should carry with it some mark of distinction from that which is already in use, unless it be a demonstrable extension of the latter.
In 'Calculus of Functions', Encyclopaedia of Pure Mathematics (1847), Addition to Article 26, 388.
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The inventor is a man who looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea. The spirit of invention possesses him, seeking materialization.
From Speech to the Patent Congress (1891) in Washington, D.C., as quoted in Jean Lesage, 'Alexander Graham Bell Museum: Tribute to Genius', The National Geographic Magazine (Aug 1956), 110, No. 2, 232. The article notes that this statement is “prominently displayed near the foyer” of the Canadian museum opened that month to memorialize Bell, in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.
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The knife is the most permanent, the most immortal, the most ingenious of man's creations. The knife was a guillotine; the knife is a universal means of resolving all knots...
We (1924), translated by Clarence Brown (1993), 113.
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The main sources of mathematical invention seem to be within man rather than outside of him: his own inveterate and insatiable curiosity, his constant itching for intellectual adventure; and likewise the main obstacles to mathematical progress seem to be also within himself; his scandalous inertia and laziness, his fear of adventure, his need of conformity to old standards, and his obsession by mathematical ghosts.
In The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 16.
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The mathematician of to-day admits that he can neither square the circle, duplicate the cube or trisect the angle. May not our mechanicians, in like manner, be ultimately forced to admit that aerial flight is one of that great class of problems with which men can never cope… I do not claim that this is a necessary conclusion from any past experience. But I do think that success must await progress of a different kind from that of invention.
[Written following Samuel Pierpoint Langley's failed attempt to launch his flying machine from a catapult device mounted on a barge in Oct 1903. The Wright Brother's success came on 17 Dec 1903.]
'The Outlook for the Flying Machine'. The Independent: A Weekly Magazine (22 Oct 1903), 2509.
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The mind is a vagrant thing ... Thinking is not analogous to a person working in a laboratory who invents something on company time.
Answering criticism that the book for which he won a Pulitzer Prize was written in the years he had been employed at the Smithsonian. He specified that did not write on the premises there, but only at home outside of working hours.
Quoted by Barbara Gamarekian in 'Working Profile: Daniel J. Boorstin. Helping the Library of Congress Fulfill Its Mission', New York Times (8 Jul 1983), B6.
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The most noble and profitable invention of all other, was that of SPEECH, consisting of Names or Appellations, and their Connexion; whereby men register their Thoughts; recall them when they are past; and also declare them one to another for mutuall utility and conversation; without which, there had been amongst men, neither Commonwealth, nor Society, nor Contract, nor Peace, no more than amongst Lyons, Bears, and Wolves.
Leviathan (1651), ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968), Part 1, Chapter 4, 100.
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The most remarkable discovery made by scientists is science itself. The discovery must be compared in importance with the invention of cave-painting and of writing. Like these earlier human creations, science is an attempt to control our surroundings by entering into them and understanding them from inside. And like them, science has surely made a critical step in human development which cannot be reversed. We cannot conceive a future society without science.
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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The most revolutionary invention of the XIX century was the artificial sterilization of marriage.
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Marriage, Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903), 231.
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The moving power of mathematical invention is not reasoning but imagination.
Quoted in Robert Perceval Graves, Life of Sir W. R. Hamilton, Vol. 3 (1889), 219.
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The need for a quick, satisfactory copying machine that could be used right in the office seemed very apparent to me—there seemed such a crying need for it—such a desirable thing if it could be obtained. So I set out to think of how one could be made.
In interview with Dumond (1947) quoted in David owen, Copies in Seconds: How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communications Breakthrough Since Gutenberg (2008), 70.
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The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplisht with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of Optical Glasses. By the means of Telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible World discovered to the understanding. By this means the Heavens are open'd, and a vast number of new Stars, and new Motions, and new Productions appear in them, to which all the ancient Astronomers were utterly Strangers. By this the Earth it self, which lyes so neer us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter, we now behold almost as great a variety of creatures as we were able before to reckon up on the whole Universe it self.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), preface, sig. A2V.
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The nineteenth century which prides itself upon the invention of steam and evolution, might have derived a more legitimate title to fame from the discovery of pure mathematics.
In International Monthly (1901), 4, 83.
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The Patent Office is the mother-in-law of invention.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 583.
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The patent system was established, I believe, to protect the lone inventor. In this it has not succeeded. … The patent system protects the institutions which favor invention
'Inventors I Have Known', in Philip Alger, The Human Side of Engineering (1972), 137). Cited in David F. Noble, America By Design (1979), 84.
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The Patent-Office Commissioner knows that all machines in use have been invented and re-invented over and over; that the mariner’s compass, the boat, the pendulum, glass, movable types, the kaleidoscope, the railway, the power-loom, etc., have been many times found and lost, from Egypt, China and Pompeii down; and if we have arts which Rome wanted, so also Rome had arts which we have lost; that the invention of yesterday of making wood indestructible by means of vapor of coal-oil or paraffine was suggested by the Egyptian method which has preserved its mummy-cases four thousand years.
In Lecture, second in a series given at Freeman Place Chapel, Boston (Mar 1859), 'Quotation and Originality', Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1917), 178-179.
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The point in which I am different from most inventors is that I have, besides the usual inventor’s make-up, the bump of practicality as a sort of appendix, the sense of the business, money value of an invention. Oh, no, I didn’t have it naturally. It was pounded into me by some pretty hard knocks.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 186.
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The point [is] largely scientific in character …[concerning] the methods which can be invented or adopted or discovered to enable the Earth to control the Air, to enable defence from the ground to exercise control—indeed dominance—upon aeroplanes high above its surface. … science is always able to provide something. We were told that it was impossible to grapple with submarines, but methods were found … Many things were adopted in war which we were told were technically impossible, but patience, perseverance, and above all the spur of necessity under war conditions, made men’s brains act with greater vigour, and science responded to the demands.
[Remarks made in the House of Commons on 7 June 1935. His speculation was later proved correct with the subsequent development of radar during World War II, which was vital in the air defence of Britain.]
Quoting himself in The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (1948, 1986), Vol. 1, 134.
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The pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo's demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci’s simple remark that the earth is a moon of the sun, Newton’s theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy's invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post.
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), viii.
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The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and discovers. The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered.
From remarks at a conference on cognitive development, Cornell University (1964). In Philip Hampson Taylor, New Directions in Curriculum Studies (1979), 90.
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The privilege is not allowed even to genius in this world to inspect its own elements, and read its own destiny, and it is perhaps well for mankid that it is so. Could we lift the curtain which hides our future lives, and glance hastily at the misfortunes, the vexations, and the disappointments which await us, we should be discouraged from attempting the performance of even of such deeds as are destined eventually to crown us with honor.
In a book of his reminiscenses, Oliver Hampton Smith, years after his first meeting with Morse, described the inventor - who had by then overcome the initial scepticism over his invention, but instead needed to vigorously defend his exclusive right of property in the magnetic telegraph.
Early Indiana Trials and Sketches (1858), 414.
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The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. It is the most important product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs.
Opening lines of 'My Inventions', Electrical Experimenter (1919). Reprinted in My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (2011), 4.
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The public image of the scientist tends to be that of a magician, occasionally benevolent, though more often giving rise to disastrous inventions, or perhaps that of a man shutting himself into a laboratory and, in his lonely way, playing with retorts and test tubes, or perhaps leaning back in a comfortable armchair in a darkened room and thinking.
In 'Why Scientists Talk', collected in John Wolfenden, Hermann Bondi, et al., The Languages of Science: A Survey of Techniques of Communication (1963), 35.
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The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.
Quoted in Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety 2 (2001), 240.
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The so-called ‘crank’ may be quite original in his ideas. … Invention, however, in the engineering sense involves originality; but not that alone, if the results are to be of value. There is imagination more or less fertile, but with it a knowledge of what has been done before, carried perhaps by the memory, together with a sense of the present or prospective needs in art or industry. Necessity is not always the mother of invention. It may be prevision.
Address as M.I.T. acting president, to the graduating class (11 Jun 1920). Published in Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technology Review (Jul 1920), 22, 419-420.
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The steam-engine I call fire-demon and great; but it is nothing to the invention of fire.
From Chartism, collected in James Wood (ed.) The Carlyle Reader (1894), 74.
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The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York. ... Great inventions like hay and printing, whatever their immediate social costs may be, result in a permanent expansion of our horizons, a lasting acquisition of new territory for human bodies and minds to cultivate.
Infinite In All Directions (1988, 2004), 135. The book is a revised version of a series of the Gifford Lectures under the title 'In Praise of Diversity', given at Aberdeen, Scotland.
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The test of an invention is the power of an inventor to push it through in the face of staunch—not opposition, but indifference—in society.
Speaking at a shareholders' meeting (1975) as quoted by Victor K. McElheny, in Insisting On The Impossible: The Life Of Edwin Land (1999), 404.
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The truth is that other systems of geometry are possible, yet after all, these other systems are not spaces but other methods of space measurements. There is one space only, though we may conceive of many different manifolds, which are contrivances or ideal constructions invented for the purpose of determining space.
In Science (1903), 18, 106. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 352.
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The Unexpected stalks a farm in big boots like a vagrant bent on havoc. Not every farmer is an inventor, but the good ones have the seeds of invention within them. Economy and efficiency move their relentless tinkering and yet the real motive often seems to be aesthetic. The mind that first designed a cutter bar is not far different from a mind that can take the intractable steel of an outsized sickle blade and make it hum in the end. The question is how to reduce the simplicity that constitutes a problem (“It's simple; it's broke.”) to the greater simplicity that constitutes a solution.
In Making Hay (2003), 33-34.
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The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
A Shadow Passes (1919), 173.
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The world is desperately imperfect. Even if a quarter of the working people were engrossed in new thoughts and inventions and lived off the others, humanity would still gain tremendously thanks to the constant stream of inventions and intellectual work emerging from this horde of people striving upward.
Manuscript (1918), 'The Genius of the People'.
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