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Limit Quotes (86 quotes)

'Unless,' said I [Socrates], either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings:. and rulers take to the pursuit of' philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun.
Plato
The Republic 5 474ce, trans. P. Shorey (1930), Vol. 1, Book 5, 509.
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'Tis a short sight to limit our faith in laws to those of gravity, of chemistry, of botany, and so forth. Those laws do not stop where our eyes lose them, but push the same geometry and chemistry up into the invisible plane of social and rational life, so that, look where we will, in a boy's game, or in the strifes of races, a perfect reaction, a perpetual judgment keeps watch and ward.
From 'Worship', The Conduct of Life (1860) collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1866), Vol.2, 401.
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Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
In Tractatus logico-philosophicus (1921, 1955), Sec. 5.6, 149.
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Les hommes se tromperont toujours, quand ils abandonneront l'expérience pour des systèmes enfantés par l’imagination. L’homme est l’ouvrage de la nature, il existe dans la nature, il est soumis à ses lois, il ne peut s’en affranchir, il ne peut même par la pensée en sortir; c’est en vain que son esprit veut s’élancer au delà des bornes du monde visible, il est toujours forcé d’y rentrer.
Men always fool themselves when they give up experience for systems born of the imagination. Man is the work of nature, he exists in nature, he is subject to its laws, he can not break free, he can not leave even in thought; it is in vain that his spirit wants to soar beyond the bounds of the visible world, he is always forced to return.
Opening statement of first chapter of Système de la Nature (1770), Vol. 1, 1. Translation by Webmaster using Google Translate. In the English edition (1820-21), Samuel Wilkinson gives this as “Man has always deceived himself when he abandoned experience to follow imaginary systems.—He is the work of nature.—He exists in Nature.—He is submitted to the laws of Nature.—He cannot deliver himself from them:—cannot step beyond them even in thought. It is in vain his mind would spring forward beyond the visible world: direful and imperious necessity ever compels his return.”
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A complete theory of evolution must acknowledge a balance between ‘external’ forces of environment imposing selection for local adaptation and ‘internal’ forces representing constraints of inheritance and development. Vavilov placed too much emphasis on internal constraints and downgraded the power of selection. But Western Darwinians have erred equally in practically ignoring (while acknowledging in theory) the limits placed on selection by structure and development–what Vavilov and the older biologists would have called ‘laws of form.’
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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as some thing separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
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As we advance in life we learn the limits of our abilities.
Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, March 19, 1869 (1869), 3.
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But when science, passing beyond its own limits, assumes to take the place of theology, and sets up its own conception of the order of nature as a sufficient account of its cause, it is invading a province of thought to which it has no claim, and not unreasonably provokes the hostility of its best friends.
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Contingency is rich and fascinating; it embodies an exquisite tension between the power of individuals to modify history and the intelligible limits set by laws of nature. The details of individual and species’s lives are not mere frills, without power to shape the large-scale course of events, but particulars that can alter entire futures, profoundly and forever.
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Despite the continuing expansion or even explosion of information, there will forever be limits beyond which the devices of science cannot lead a man.
In Boundaries of the Soul (1972, 1994), 378.
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Did it ever occur to you that there’s no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another?
In 'Quo Vadimus?, The Adelphi (Jan 1930), collected in Quo Vadimus?: Or, The Case For the Bicycle (1938) 26.
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Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.
Arthur Schopenhauer and T. Bailey Saunders (trans.), The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism (2006), 26.
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For I am yearning to visit the limits of the all-nurturing Earth, and Oceans, from whom the gods are sprung.
Homer
Hera to Aphrodite in the Iliad, 14.201. As given in Norman K. Glendenning, Our Place in the Universe (2007), 126.
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Fortunately science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and of no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance; the more we feel how much remains unknown; and in philosophy, the sentiment of the Macedonian hero can never apply,– there are always new worlds to conquer.
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Geometrical axioms are neither synthetic a priori conclusions nor experimental facts. They are conventions: our choice, amongst all possible conventions, is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. ... In other words, axioms of geometry are only definitions in disguise.
That being so what ought one to think of this question: Is the Euclidean Geometry true?
The question is nonsense. One might as well ask whether the metric system is true and the old measures false; whether Cartesian co-ordinates are true and polar co-ordinates false.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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I am particularly concerned to determine the probability of causes and results, as exhibited in events that occur in large numbers, and to investigate the laws according to which that probability approaches a limit in proportion to the repetition of events. That investigation deserves the attention of mathematicians because of the analysis required. It is primarily there that the approximation of formulas that are functions of large numbers has its most important applications. The investigation will benefit observers in identifying the mean to be chosen among the results of their observations and the probability of the errors still to be apprehended. Lastly, the investigation is one that deserves the attention of philosophers in showing how in the final analysis there is a regularity underlying the very things that seem to us to pertain entirely to chance, and in unveiling the hidden but constant causes on which that regularity depends. It is on the regularity of the main outcomes of events taken in large numbers that various institutions depend, such as annuities, tontines, and insurance policies. Questions about those subjects, as well as about inoculation with vaccine and decisions of electoral assemblies, present no further difficulty in the light of my theory. I limit myself here to resolving the most general of them, but the importance of these concerns in civil life, the moral considerations that complicate them, and the voluminous data that they presuppose require a separate work.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), Introduction.
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I do not think we can impose limits on research. Through hundreds of thousands of years, man’s intellectual curiosity has been essential to all the gains we have made. Although in recent times we have progressed from chance and hit-or-miss methods to consciously directed research, we still cannot know in advance what the results may be. It would be regressive and dangerous to trammel the free search for new forms of truth.
In Margaret Mead and Rhoda Bubendey Métraux (ed.), Margaret Mead, Some Personal Views (1979), 89.
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I must not pass by Dr. Young called Phaenomenon Young at Cambridge. A man of universal erudition, & almost universal accomplishments. Had he limited himself to anyone department of knowledge, he must have been first in that department. But as a mathematician, a scholar, a hieroglyphist, he was eminent; & he knew so much that it is difficult to say what he did not know. He was a most amiable & good-tempered man; too fond, perhaps, of the society of persons of rank for a true philosopher.
J. Z. Fullmer, 'Davy's Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia (1967), 12, 135.
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I think science has enjoyed an extraordinary success because it has such a limited and narrow realm in which to focus its efforts. Namely, the physical universe.
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I think the next [21st] century will be the century of complexity. We have already discovered the basic laws that govern matter and understand all the normal situations. We don’t know how the laws fit together, and what happens under extreme conditions. But I expect we will find a complete unified theory sometime this century. The is no limit to the complexity that we can build using those basic laws.
[Answer to question: Some say that while the twentieth century was the century of physics, we are now entering the century of biology. What do you think of this?]
'"Unified Theory" Is Getting Closer, Hawking Predicts', interview in San Jose Mercury News (23 Jan 2000), 29A. Answer quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Question included in Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Nicholas Stern and Mario Molina , Global Sustainability: a Nobel Cause (2010), 13. Cite from Brent Davis and Dennis J. Sumara, Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research (2006), 171.
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I uphold my own rights, and therefore I also recognize the rights of others. This is the principle I act upon in life, in politics and in science. We owe it to ourselves to defend our rights, for it is the only guarantee for our individual development, and for our influence upon the community at large. Such a defence is no act of vain ambition, and it involves no renunciation of purely scientific aims. For, if we would serve science, we must extend her limits, not only as far as our own knowledge is concerned, but in the estimation of others.
Cellular Pathology, translated by Frank Chance (1860), x.
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I [do not know] when the end of science will come. ... What I do know is that our species is dumber than we normally admit to ourselves. This limit of our mental faculties, and not necessarily of science itself, ensures to me that we have only just begun to figure out the universe.
In Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 17.
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If our intention had been merely to bring back a handful of soil and rocks from the lunar gravel pit and then forget the whole thing, we would certainly be history's biggest fools. But that is not our intention now—it never will be. What we are seeking in tomorrow's [Apollo 11] trip is indeed that key to our future on earth. We are expanding the mind of man. We are extending this God-given brain and these God-given hands to their outermost limits and in so doing all mankind will benefit. All mankind will reap the harvest…. What we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down upon the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man.
Banquet speech on the eve of the Apollo 11 launch, Royal Oaks Country Club, Titusville (15 Jul 1969). In "Of a Fire on the Moon", Life (29 Aug 1969), 67, No. 9, 34.
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In a world that is rightly so concerned about climate change and the atmosphere, to be so ignorant and neglectful of our oceans is deeply troubling. However, … having woken up to this living disaster and having realized that there are limits to how much abuse we can inflict, it’s not too late to turn things around.
In 'Can We Stop Killing Our Oceans Now, Please?', Huffington Post (14 Aug 2013).
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In all speculations on the origin, or agents that have produced the changes on this globe, it is probable that we ought to keep within the boundaries of the probable effects resulting from the regular operations of the great laws of nature which our experience and observation have brought within the sphere of our knowledge. When we overleap those limits, and suppose a total change in nature's laws, we embark on the sea of uncertainty, where one conjecture is perhaps as probable as another; for none of them can have any support, or derive any authority from the practical facts wherewith our experience has brought us acquainted.
Observations on the Geology of the United States of America (1817), iv-v.
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In defining an element let us not take an external boundary, Let us say, e.g., the smallest ponderable quantity of yttrium is an assemblage of ultimate atoms almost infinitely more like each other than they are to the atoms of any other approximating element. It does not necessarily follow that the atoms shall all be absolutely alike among themselves. The atomic weight which we ascribe to yttrium, therefore, merely represents a mean value around which the actual weights of the individual atoms of the “element” range within certain limits. But if my conjecture is tenable, could we separate atom from atom, we should find them varying within narrow limits on each side of the mean.
Address to Annual General Meeting of the Chemical Society (28 Mar 1888), printed in Journal of the Chemical Society (1888), 491.
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In the search for truth there are certain questions that are not important. Of what material is the universe constructed? Is the universe eternal? Are there limits or not to the universe? ... If a man were to postpone his search and practice for Enlightenment until such questions were solved, he would die before he found the path.
Budha
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In this physical world there is no real chaos; all is in fact orderly; all is ordered by the physical principles. Chaos is but unperceived order- it is a word indicating the limitations of the human mind and the paucity of observational facts. The words “chaos,” “accidental,” “chance,” “unpredictable," are conveniences behind which we hide our ignorance.
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958 Rev. Ed. 1964), Foreword.
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In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.
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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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Induction is the process of generalizing from our known and limited experience, and framing wider rules for the future than we have been able to test fully. At its simplest, then, an induction is a habit or an adaptation—the habit of expecting tomorrow’s weather to be like today’s, the adaptation to the unwritten conventions of community life.
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It has been said that America is like a gigantic boiler in that once the fire is lighted, there are no limits to the power it can generate. Environmentally, the fire has been lit.
Opening remark in Foreward, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Legal Compilation (Jan 1973), iii. EPA website.
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It is of priceless value to the human race to know that the sun will supply the needs of the earth, as to light and heat, for millions of years; that the stars are not lanterns hung out at night, but are suns like our own; and that numbers of them probably have planets revolving around them, perhaps in many cases with inhabitants adapted to the conditions existing there. In a sentence, the main purpose of the science is to learn the truth about the stellar universe; to increase human knowledge concerning our surroundings, and to widen the limits of intellectual life.
In 'The Nature of the Astronomer’s Work', North American Review (Jun 1908), 187, No. 631, 915.
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It is told of Faraday that he refused to be called a physicist; he very much disliked the new name as being too special and particular and insisted on the old one, philosopher, in all its spacious generality: we may suppose that this was his way of saying that he had not over-ridden the limiting conditions of class only to submit to the limitation of a profession.
Commentary (Jun 1962), 33, 461-77. Cited by Sydney Ross in Nineteenth-Century Attitudes: Men of Science (1991), 11.
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Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
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Malthus argued a century and a half ago that man, by using up all his available resources, would forever press on the limits of subsistence, thus condemning humanity to an indefinite future of misery and poverty. We can now begin to hope and, I believe, know that Malthus was expressing not a law of nature, but merely the limitation then of scientific and social wisdom. The truth or falsity of his prediction will depend now, with the tools we have, on our own actions, now and in the years to come.
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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Man does not limit himself to seeing; he thinks and insists on learning the meaning of phenomena whose existence has been revealed to him by observation. So he reasons, compares facts, puts questions to them, and by the answers which he extracts, tests one by another. This sort of control, by means of reasoning and facts, is what constitutes experiment, properly speaking; and it is the only process that we have for teaching ourselves about the nature of things outside us.
In Claude Bernard and Henry Copley Greene (trans.), An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 5.
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Man is not born to solve the problem of the universe, but to find out where the problem begins and then restrain himself within the limits of the comprehensible.
The Homiletic Review, Vol. 83-84 (1922), Vol. 84, 290.
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Modern chemistry, with its far-reaching generalizations and hypotheses, is a fine example of how far the human mind can go in exploring the unknown beyond the limits of human senses.
In 'Introduction', General Chemistry: An Elementary Survey Emphasizing Industrial Applications of Fundamental Principles (1923), 4.
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My kingdom is as wide as the universe, and my desire has no limits. I am always going about enfranchising the mind and weighing the worlds, without hate, without fear, without love, and without God. I am called Science.
From La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (1874), as The Temptation of Saint Anthony, collected in The Complete Works of Gustave Flaubert (1904), 141.
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My kingdom is as wide as the world, and my desire has no limit. I go forward always, freeing spirits and weighing worlds, without fear, without compassion, without love, and without God. Men call me science.
From La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (The Temptation of Saint Anthony) (1874), as translated, without citation, in Isaac Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s Book Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 247.
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My kingdom is vast as the universe; and my desire knows no limits. I go on forever,—freeing minds, weighing worlds,—without hatred, without fear, without pity, without love, and without God. Men call me Science!
From La Tentation de Saint-Antoine (1874), as translated by Lafcadio Hearn, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1911), 218-219.
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One of the principal results of civilization is to reduce more and more the limits within which the different elements of society fluctuate. The more intelligence increases the more these limits are reduced, and the nearer we approach the beautiful and the good. The perfectibility of the human species results as a necessary consequence of all our researches. Physical defects and monstrosities are gradually disappearing; the frequency and severity of diseases are resisted more successfully by the progress of modern science; the moral qualities of man are proving themselves not less capable of improvement; and the more we advance, the less we shall have need to fear those great political convulsions and wars and their attendant results, which are the scourges of mankind.
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Organisms ... are directed and limited by their past. They must remain imperfect in their form and function, and to that extent unpredictable since they are not optimal machines. We cannot know their future with certainty, if only because a myriad of quirky functional shifts lie within the capacity of any feature, however well adapted to a present role.
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Our mind, by virtue of a certain finite, limited capability, is by no means capable of putting a question to Nature that permits a continuous series of answers. The observations, the individual results of measurements, are the answers of Nature to our discontinuous questioning.
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Phenomena unfold on their own appropriate scales of space and time and may be invisible in our myopic world of dimensions assessed by comparison with human height and times metered by human lifespans. So much of accumulating importance at earthly scales ... is invisible by the measuring rod of a human life. So much that matters to particles in the microscopic world of molecules ... either averages out to stability at our scale or simply stands below our limits of perception.
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Religion and science ... constitute deep-rooted and ancient efforts to find richer experience and deeper meaning than are found in the ordinary biological and social satisfactions. As pointed out by Whitehead, religion and science have similar origins and are evolving toward similar goals. Both started from crude observations and fanciful concepts, meaningful only within a narrow range of conditions for the people who formulated them of their limited tribal experience. But progressively, continuously, and almost simultaneously, religious and scientific concepts are ridding themselves of their coarse and local components, reaching higher and higher levels of abstraction and purity. Both the myths of religion and the laws of science, it is now becoming apparent, are not so much descriptions of facts as symbolic expressions of cosmic truths.
'On Being Human,' A God Within, Scribner (1972).
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Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can’t talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.
'How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later,' introduction, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (1986).
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Science goes from question to question; big questions, and little, tentative answers. The questions as they age grow ever broader, the answers are seen to be more limited.
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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Science has a simple faith, which transcends utility. Nearly all men of science, all men of learning for that matter, and men of simple ways too, have it in some form and in some degree. It is the faith that it is the privilege of man to learn to understand, and that this is his mission. If we abandon that mission under stress we shall abandon it forever, for stress will not cease. Knowledge for the sake of understanding, not merely to prevail, that is the essence of our being. None can define its limits, or set its ultimate boundaries.
Science is Not Enough (1967), 191.
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Science is often regarded as the most objective and truth-directed of human enterprises, and since direct observation is supposed to be the favored route to factuality, many people equate respectable science with visual scrutiny–just the facts ma’am, and palpably before my eyes. But science is a battery of observational and inferential methods, all directed to the testing of propositions that can, in principle, be definitely proven false ... At all scales, from smallest to largest, quickest to slowest, many well-documented conclusions of science lie beyond the strictly limited domain of direct observation. No one has ever seen an electron or a black hole, the events of a picosecond or a geological eon.
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Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.
In History of Western Philosophy (2004), 26.
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So numerous are the objects which meet our view in the heavens, that we cannot imagine a point of space where some light would not strike the eye;—innumerable stars, thousands of double and multiple systems, clusters in one blaze with their tens of thousands of stars, and the nebulae amazing us by the strangeness of their forms and the incomprehensibility of their nature, till at last, from the limit of our senses, even these thin and airy phantoms vanish in the distance.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 420.
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So-called extraordinary events always split into two extremes naturalists who have not witnessed them: those who believe blindly and those who do not believe at all. The latter have always in mind the story of the golden goose; if the facts lie slightly beyond the limits of their knowledge, they relegate them immediately to fables. The former have a secret taste for marvels because they seem to expand Nature; they use their imagination with pleasure to find explanations. To remain doubtful is given to naturalists who keep a middle path between the two extremes. They calmly examine facts; they refer to logic for help; they discuss probabilities; they do not scoff at anything, not even errors, because they serve at least the history of the human mind; finally, they report rather than judge; they rarely decide unless they have good evidence.
Quoted in Albert V. Carozzi, Histoire des sciences de la terre entre 1790 et 1815 vue à travers les documents inédités de la Societé de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi. (1990), 175.
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The aim of poetry is to give a high and voluptuous plausibility to what is palpably not true. I offer the Twenty-third Psalm as an example: ‘The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.’ It is immensely esteemed by the inmates of almshouses, and by gentlemen waiting to be hanged. I have to limit my own reading of it, avoiding soft and yielding moods, for I too, in my way, am a gentleman waiting to be hanged, as you are.
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The child asks, “What is the moon, and why does it shine?” “What is this water and where does it run?” “What is this wind?” “What makes the waves of the sea?” “Where does this animal live, and what is the use of this plant?” And if not snubbed and stunted by being told not to ask foolish questions, there is no limit to the intellectual craving of a young child; nor any bounds to the slow, but solid, accretion of knowledge and development of the thinking faculty in this way. To all such questions, answers which are necessarily incomplete, though true as far as they go, may be given by any teacher whose ideas represent real knowledge and not mere book learning; and a panoramic view of Nature, accompanied by a strong infusion of the scientific habit of mind, may thus be placed within the reach of every child of nine or ten.
In 'Scientific Education', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 71. https://books.google.com/books?id=13cJAAAAIAAJ Thomas Henry Huxley - 1870
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The competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids clever tricks like the plague.
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The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence, who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes; the God who, according to the limits of the believer’s outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race, or even or life itself; the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing; he who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.
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The explorations of space end on a note of uncertainty. And necessarily so. … We know our immediate neighborhood rather intimately. With increasing distance our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial.
In Realm of the Nebulae: The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series (1936), 201-202. The lecture series was delivered at Yale University in Fall 1935.
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The explorations of space end on a note of uncertainty. And necessarily so. … We know our immediate neighborhood rather intimately. With increasing distance, our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted, need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.
From conclusion of The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series delivered at Yale University (Fall 1935). Collected in The Realm of the Nebulae (1936), 201-202.
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The history of a species, or any natural phenomenon that requires unbroken continuity in a world of trouble, works like a batting streak. All are games of a gambler playing with a limited stake against a house with infinite resources. The gambler must eventually go bust. His aim can only be to stick around as long as possible, to have some fun while he’s at it, and, if he happens to be a moral agent as well, to worry about staying the course with honor.
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The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’
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The inherent unpredictability of future scientific developments—the fact that no secure inference can be drawn from one state of science to another—has important implications for the issue of the limits of science. It means that present-day science cannot speak for future science: it is in principle impossible to make any secure inferences from the substance of science at one time about its substance at a significantly different time. The prospect of future scientific revolutions can never be precluded. We cannot say with unblinking confidence what sorts of resources and conceptions the science of the future will or will not use. Given that it is effectively impossible to predict the details of what future science will accomplish, it is no less impossible to predict in detail what future science will not accomplish. We can never confidently put this or that range of issues outside “the limits of science”, because we cannot discern the shape and substance of future science with sufficient clarity to be able to say with any assurance what it can and cannot do. Any attempt to set “limits” to science—any advance specification of what science can and cannot do by way of handling problems and solving questions—is destined to come to grief.
The Limits of Science (1984), 102-3.
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The mathematician is entirely free, within the limits of his imagination, to construct what worlds he pleases. What he is to imagine is a matter for his own caprice; he is not thereby discovering the fundamental principles of the universe nor becoming acquainted with the ideas of God. If he can find, in experience, sets of entities which obey the same logical scheme as his mathematical entities, then he has applied his mathematics to the external world; he has created a branch of science.
Aspects of Science: Second Series (1926), 92.
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The meaning of human life and the destiny of man cannot be separable from the meaning and destiny of life in general. 'What is man?' is a special case of 'What is life?' Probably the human species is not intelligent enough to answer either question fully, but even such glimmerings as are within our powers must be precious to us. The extent to which we can hope to understand ourselves and to plan our future depends in some measure on our ability to read the riddles of the past. The present, for all its awesome importance to us who chance to dwell in it, is only a random point in the long flow of time. Terrestrial life is one and continuous in space and time. Any true comprehension of it requires the attempt to view it whole and not in the artificial limits of any one place or epoch. The processes of life can be adequately displayed only in the course of life throughout the long ages of its existence.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 9.
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The methods of science aren’t foolproof, but they are indefinitely perfectible. Just as important: there is a tradition of criticism that enforces improvement whenever and wherever flaws are discovered. The methods of science, like everything else under the sun, are themselves objects of scientific scrutiny, as method becomes methodology, the analysis of methods. Methodology in turn falls under the gaze of epistemology, the investigation of investigation itself—nothing is off limits to scientific questioning. The irony is that these fruits of scientific reflection, showing us the ineliminable smudges of imperfection, are sometimes used by those who are suspicious of science as their grounds for denying it a privileged status in the truth-seeking department—as if the institutions and practices they see competing with it were no worse off in these regards. But where are the examples of religious orthodoxy being simply abandoned in the face of irresistible evidence? Again and again in science, yesterday’s heresies have become today’s new orthodoxies. No religion exhibits that pattern in its history.
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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions. As instances of such discoveries, which are in most cases due to the increasing order of accuracy made possible by improvements in measuring instruments, may be mentioned: first, the departure of actual gases from the simple laws of the so-called perfect gas, one of the practical results being the liquefaction of air and all known gases; second, the discovery of the velocity of light by astronomical means, depending on the accuracy of telescopes and of astronomical clocks; third, the determination of distances of stars and the orbits of double stars, which depend on measurements of the order of accuracy of one-tenth of a second-an angle which may be represented as that which a pin's head subtends at a distance of a mile. But perhaps the most striking of such instances are the discovery of a new planet or observations of the small irregularities noticed by Leverrier in the motions of the planet Uranus, and the more recent brilliant discovery by Lord Rayleigh of a new element in the atmosphere through the minute but unexplained anomalies found in weighing a given volume of nitrogen. Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that “our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
In Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4. Michelson had some years earlier referenced “an eminent physicist” that he did not name who had “remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals,” near the end of his Convocation Address at the Dedication of the Ryerson Physical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, 'Some of the Objects and Methods of Physical Science' (4 Jul 1894), published in University of Chicago Quarterly Calendar (Aug 1894), 3, No.2, 15. Also
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The regularity with which we conclude that further advances in a particular field are impossible seems equaled only by the regularity with which events prove that we are of too limited vision. And it always seems to be those who have the fullest opportunity to know who are the most limited in view. What, then, is the trouble? I think that one answer should be: we do not realize sufficiently that the unknown is absolutely infinite, and that new knowledge is always being produced.
Quoted in Guy Suits, 'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357.
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The sky is no longer the limit.
From Medal of Freedom presentation speech given to the three astronauts of the first manned moon landing mission. In Leon Wagener, One Giant Leap: Neil Armstrong's Stellar American Journey (2004), 226.
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The task of science is to stake out the limits of the knowable, and to center consciousness within them.
In Bernard E. Farber, A Teacher’s Treasury of Quotations (1985), 264.
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The thesis which I venture to sustain, within limits, is simply this, that the savage state in some measure represents an early condition of mankind, out of which the higher culture has gradually been developed or evolved, by processes still in regular operation as of old, the result showing that, on the whole, progress has far prevailed over relapse.
In Primitive Culture (1871), Vol. 1, 28.
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The wintry clouds drop spangles on the mountains. If the thing occurred once in a century historians would chronicle and poets would sing of the event; but Nature, prodigal of beauty, rains down her hexagonal ice-stars year by year, forming layers yards in thickness. The summer sun thaws and partially consolidates the mass. Each winter's fall is covered by that of the ensuing one, and thus the snow layer of each year has to sustain an annually augmented weight. It is more and more compacted by the pressure, and ends by being converted into the ice of a true glacier, which stretches its frozen tongue far down beyond the limits of perpetual snow. The glaciers move, and through valleys they move like rivers.
The Glaciers of the Alps & Mountaineering in 1861 (1911), 247.
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There could not be a language more universal and more simple, more exempt from errors and obscurities, that is to say, more worthy of expressing the invariable relations of natural objects. Considered from this point of view, it is coextensive with nature itself; it defines all the sensible relations, measures the times, the spaces, the forces, the temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it retains all the principles it has once acquired. It grows and becomes more certain without limit in the midst of so many errors of the human mind.
From introduction to Theory of Heat as quoted in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359.
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that... or: There is capitalism in so far as... The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills. [p.222]
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To be anthropocentric is to remain unaware of the limits of human nature, the significance of biological processes underlying human behavior, and the deeper meaning of long-term genetic evolution.
Tanner Lecture on Human Values, University of Michigan, 'Comparative Social Theory' (30 Mar 1979).
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To make still bigger telescopes will be useless, for the light absorption and temperature variations of the earth’s atmosphere are what now limits the ability to see fine detail. If bigger telescopes are to be built, it will have to be for use in an airless observatory, perhaps an observatory on the moon.
(1965). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 284.
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To produce any given motion, to spin a certain weight of cotton, or weave any quantity of linen, there is required steam; to produce the steam, fuel; and thus the price of fuel regulates effectively the cost of mechanical power. Abundance and cheapness of fuel are hence main ingredients in industrial success. It is for this reason that in England the active manufacturing districts mark, almost with geological accuracy, the limits of the coal fields.
In The Industrial Resources of Ireland (1844), 2.
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Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.
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We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.
As quoted and cited from Radio Times in Louise Gray, 'David Attenborough - Humans are Plague on Earth', The Telegraph (22 Jan 2013).
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We may discover resources on the moon or Mars that will boggle the imagination, that will test our limits to dream. And the fascination generated by further exploration will inspire our young people to study math, and science, and engineering and create a new generation of innovators and pioneers.
Speech, NASA Headquarters (14 Jan 2004). In Office of the Federal Register (U.S.) Staff (eds.), Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George W. Bush (2007), 58-59.
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We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism, but admire even more his contributions to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and the body as one, not two separate things.
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What remains to be learned may indeed dwarf imagination. Nevertheless, the universe itself is closed and finite. … The uniformity of nature and the general applicability of natural laws set limits to knowledge. If there are just 100, or 105, or 110 ways in which atoms may form, then when one has identified the full range of properties of these, singly and in combination, chemical knowledge will be complete.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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What we are finding out now is that there are not only limits to growth but also to technology and that we cannot allow technology to go on without public consent.
Skeptic (Jul-Aug 1976).
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While natural selection drives Darwinian evolution, the growth of human culture is largely Lamarckian: new generations of humans inherit the acquired discoveries of generations past, enabling cosmic insight to grow slowly, but without limit.
In magazine article, 'The Beginning of Science', Natural History (Mar 2001). Collected in Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 20.
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[To] mechanical progress there is apparently no end: for as in the past so in the future, each step in any direction will remove limits and bring in past barriers which have till then blocked the way in other directions; and so what for the time may appear to be a visible or practical limit will turn out to be but a bend in the road.
Opening address to the Mechanical Science Section, Meeting of the British Association, Manchester. In Nature (15 Sep 1887), 36, 475.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
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Francis Crick
Hippocrates
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Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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