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Knife Quotes (23 quotes)

A scientist without imagination is a butcher with dull knives and out-worn scales.
In Kahlil Gibran: The Collected Works (207), 204.
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Here the most sublime scene ever witnessed in the operating room was presented when the patient placed himself voluntarily upon the table, which was to become the altar of future fame. … The heroic bravery of the man who voluntarily placed himself upon the table, a subject for the surgeon’s knife, should be recorded and his name enrolled upon parchment, which should be hung upon the walls of the surgical amphitheatre in which the operation was performed. His name was Gilbert Abbott.
Description of the first public demonstration of ether at the Massachussetts General Hospital (16 Oct 1846).
From the Semi-Centennial of Anesthesia, Massachusetts General Hospital (1897). In Logan Clendening, Source Book of Medical History (1960), 373.
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I came by the horror naturally. Surgery is the one branch of medicine that is the most violent. After all, it’s violent to take up a knife and cut open a person’s body and rummage around with your hands. I think I was attracted to the horrific.
As quoted in Randy Hutter Epstein, 'Richard Selzer, Who Fictionalized Medicine’s Absurdity and Gore, Dies at 87', New York Times (15 Jun 2016). Explaining why his first fiction writing was horror stories.
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I took a good clear piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife sharpen'd as keen as a Razor, I cut a piece of it off, and thereby left the surface of it exceeding smooth, then examining it very diligently with a Microscope, me thought I could perceive it to appear a little porous; but I could not so plainly distinguish them, as to be sure that they were pores, much less what Figure they were of: But judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, that certainly the texture could not be so curious, but that possibly, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope, I with the same sharp Penknife, cut off from the former smooth surface an exceeding thin piece of it with a deep plano-convex Glass, I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular; yet it was not unlike a Honey-comb in these particulars.
First, in that it had a very little solid substance, in comparison of the empty cavity that was contain'd between, ... for the Interstitia or walls (as I may so call them) or partitions of those pores were neer as thin in proportion to their pores as those thin films of Wax in a Honey-comb (which enclose and constitute the sexangular cells) are to theirs.
Next, in that these pores, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes, separated out of one continued long pore, by certain Diaphragms...
I no sooner discerned these (which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this) but me thought I had with the discovery of them, presently hinted to me the true and intelligible reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 112-6.
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If a physician make a large incision with an operating knife and cure it, or if he open a tumor (over the eye) with an operating knife, and saves the eye, he shall receive ten shekels in money. …
If a physician make a large incision with an operating knife, and kill him, or open a tumor with an operating knife, and cut out the eye, his hands shall be cut off. ...
If a physician heal the broken bone or diseased soft part of a man, the patient shall pay the physician five shekels in money.
[The Code of Hammurabi (a king of ancient Babylon), the earliest well-preserved ancient law code, circa 1760 B.C.]
Hammurabi
In L. W. King (trans.), The Code of Hammurabi (1910), 22, No. 215, 218 and 221.
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In 1945, therefore, I proved a sentimental fool; and Mr. Truman could safely have classified me among the whimpering idiots he did not wish admitted to the presidential office. For I felt that no man has the right to decree so much suffering, and that science, in providing and sharpening the knife and in upholding the ram, had incurred a guilt of which it will never get rid. It was at that time that the nexus between science and murder became clear to me. For several years after the somber event, between 1947 and 1952, I tried desperately to find a position in what then appeared to me as a bucolic Switzerland,—but I had no success.
Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life before Nature (1978), 4.
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I’ll change my state with any wretch
Thou canst from gaol of dunghill fetch.
My pain’s past cure, another hell;
I may not in this torment dwell.
Now desperate I hate my life,
Lend me a halter or a knife!
All my griefs to this are jolly,
Naught so damned as melancholy.
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Knowledge is like a knife. In the hands of a well-balanced adult it is an instrument for good of inestimable value; but in the hands of a child, an idiot, a criminal, a drunkard or an insane man, it may cause havoc, misery, suffering and crime. Science and religion have this in common, that their noble aims, their power for good, have often, with wrong men, deteriorated into a boomerang to the human race.
In 'Applied Chemistry', Science (22 Oct 1915), New Series, 42, No. 1086, 548.
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No knife can be honed as sharp as a woman’s tongue.
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 152.
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Now, I must tell you of a strange experience which bore fruit in my later life. ... We had a cold [snap] drier that ever observed before. People walking in the snow left a luminous trail behind them and a snowball thrown against an obstacle gave a flare of light like a loaf of sugar hit with a knife. [As I stroked] MaĨak's back, [it became] a sheet of light and my hand produced a shower of sparks. ... My father ... remarked, this is nothing but electricity, the same thing you see on the trees in a storm. My mother seemed alarmed. Stop playing with the cat, she said, he might start a fire. I was thinking abstractly. Is nature a cat? If so, who strokes its back? It can only be God, I concluded. ...
I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvelous sight on my childish imagination. Day after day I asked myself what is electricity and found no answer. Eighty years have gone by since and I still ask the same question, unable to answer it.
Letter to Miss Pola Fotitch, 'A Story of Youth Told by Age' (1939). In John Ratzlaff, editor, Tesla Said (1984), 283-84. Cited in Marc J. Seifer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla (1998), 5.
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On laying bare the roots of the spinal nerves, I found that I could cut across the posterior fasciculus of nerves, which took its origin from the posterior portion of the spinal marrow without convulsing the muscles of the back; but that on touching the anterior fasciculus with the point of a knife, the muscles of the back were immediately convulsed.
Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain (1811, 22.
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PROBOSCIS, n. The rudimentary organ of an elephant which serves him in place of the knife-and-fork that Evolution has as yet denied him.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  267.
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Science does not have a moral dimension. It is like a knife. If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently.
Quoted in Bob Seidensticker, Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change (2006), 11. Contact Webmaster if you know the primary source.
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Science is a game—but a game with reality, a game with sharpened knives … If a man cuts a picture carefully into 1000 pieces, you solve the puzzle when you reassemble the pieces into a picture; in the success or failure, both your intelligences compete. In the presentation of a scientific problem, the other player is the good Lord. He has not only set the problem but also has devised the rules of the game—but they are not completely known, half of them are left for you to discover or to deduce. The experiment is the tempered blade which you wield with success against the spirits of darkness—or which defeats you shamefully. The uncertainty is how many of the rules God himself has permanently ordained, and how many apparently are caused by your own mental inertia, while the solution generally becomes possible only through freedom from its limitations.
Quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989), 348.
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Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit—Life!
No. 108, 'Surgeons Must Be Very Careful', (1859). In The Poems of Emily Dickinson (1958), 123.
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The external world of physics has … become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions. Later perhaps we may inquire whether in our zeal to cut out all that is unreal we may not have used the knife too ruthlessly. Perhaps, indeed, reality is a child which cannot survive without its nurse illusion. But if so, that is of little concern to the scientist, who has good and sufficient reasons for pursuing his investigations in the world of shadows and is content to leave to the philosopher the determination of its exact status in regard to reality.
In Introduction to The Nature of the Physical World (1928), xiv.
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The first time the appearance of the liquid had really escaped our observation. … [L]ater on we clearly saw the liquid level get hollow by the blowing of the gas from the valve … The surface of the liquid was soon made clearly visible by reflection of light from below and that unmistakably, because it was clearly pierced by the two wires of the thermoelement. … After the surface had once been seen, the sight of it was no more lost. It stood out sharply defined like the edge of a knife against the glass wall.
In 'The Liquefaction of Helium', Communication No. 108 from the Physical Laboratory at Leiden, Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Amsterdam (1909), 11, Part 1, 181.
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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 result of all these experiments has given place to a new division of the parts of the human body, which I shall follow in this short essay, by distinguishing those which are susceptible of Irritability and Sensibility, from those which are not. But the theory, why some parts of the human body are endowed with these properties, while others are not, I shall not at all meddle with. For I am persuaded that the source of both lies concealed beyond the reach of the knife and microscope, beyond which I do not chuse to hazard many conjectures, as I have no desire of teaching what I am ignorant of myself. For the vanity of attempting to guide others in paths where we find ourselves in the dark, shews, in my humble opinion, the last degree of arrogance and ignorance.
'A Treatise on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals' (Read 1752). Trans. 1755 and reprinted in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1936, 4(2), 657-8.
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There cannot always be fresh fields of conquest by the knife; there must be portions of the human frame that will ever remain sacred from its intrusions, at least in the surgeon's hands. That we have already, if not quite, reached these final limits, there can be little question. The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will be forever shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.
Quoted in C. Cerf and V. Navasky (eds.), I Wish I hadn't Said That: The Experts Speak and Get it Wrong! (2000), 31.
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These Disciplines [mathematics] serve to inure and corroborate the Mind to a constant Diligence in Study; to undergo the Trouble of an attentive Meditation, and cheerfully contend with such Difficulties as lie in the Way. They wholly deliver us from a credulous Simplicity, most strongly fortify us against the Vanity of Scepticism, effectually restrain from a rash Presumption, most easily incline us to a due Assent, perfectly subject us to the Government of right Reason, and inspire us with Resolution to wrestle against the unjust Tyranny of false Prejudices. If the Fancy be unstable and fluctuating, it is to be poized by this Ballast, and steadied by this Anchor, if the Wit be blunt it is sharpened upon this Whetstone; if luxuriant it is pared by this Knife; if headstrong it is restrained by this Bridle; and if dull it is rouzed by this Spur. The Steps are guided by no Lamp more clearly through the dark Mazes of Nature, by no Thread more surely through the intricate Labyrinths of Philosophy, nor lastly is the Bottom of Truth sounded more happily by any other Line. I will not mention how plentiful a Stock of Knowledge the Mind is furnished from these, with what wholesome Food it is nourished, and what sincere Pleasure it enjoys. But if I speak farther, I shall neither be the only Person, nor the first, who affirms it; that while the Mind is abstracted and elevated from sensible Matter, distinctly views pure Forms, conceives the Beauty of Ideas, and investigates the Harmony of Proportions; the Manners themselves are sensibly corrected and improved, the Affections composed and rectified, the Fancy calmed and settled, and the Understanding raised and excited to more divine Contemplations. All which I might defend by Authority, and confirm by the Suffrages of the greatest Philosophers.
Prefatory Oration in Mathematical Lectures (1734), xxxi.
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What was at first merely by-the-way may become the very heart of a matter. Flints were long flaked into knives, arrowheads, spears. Incidentally it was found that they struck fire; to-day that is their one use.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 178.
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“She can’t do Subtraction.” said the White Queen. “Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife—what's the answer to that?”
“I suppose-” Alice was beginning, but the Red Queen answered for her.
“Bread-and-butter, of course.”
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871, 1897), 189-190.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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