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Who said: “A change in motion is proportional to the motive force impressed and takes place along the straight line in which that force is impressed.”
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Little Quotes (63 quotes)

Ces détails scientifiques qui effarouchent les fabricans d’un certain âge, ne seront qu’un jeu pour leurs enfans, quand ils auront apprit dans leurs collèges un peu plus de mathématiques et un peu moins de Latin; un peu plus de Chimie, et un peu moins de Grec!
The scientific details which now terrify the adult manufacturer will be mere trifles to his children when they shall be taught at school, a little more Mathematics and a little less Latin, a little more Chemistry, and a little less Greek.
As quoted in 'Sketches From Life of Some Eminent Foreign Scientific Lecturers: Dumas', Magazine of Popular Science, and Journal of the Useful Arts (1836). Vol. 1, 177.
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A little learning is a dangerous thing;—not if you know how little it is.
In Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), lxvi.
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A smattering of everything is worth little. It is a fallacy to suppose that an encyclopaedic knowledge is desirable. The mind is made strong, not through much learning, but by the thorough possession of something.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 145.
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An idea must not be condemned for being a little shy and incoherent; all new ideas are shy when introduced first among our old ones. We should have patience and see whether the incoherency is likely to wear off or to wear on, in which latter case the sooner we get rid of them the better.
In Samuel Butler and Henry Festing Jones (ed.), 'Higgledy-Piggledy', The Note-books of Samuel Butler (1912, 1917), 216-217.
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Chemists show us that strange property, catalysis, which enables a substance while unaffected itself to incite to union elements around it. So a host, or hostess, who may know but little of those concerned, may, as a social switchboard, bring together the halves of pairs of scissors, men who become life-long friends, men and women who marry and are happy husbands and wives.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 179.
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Even bees, the little alms-men of spring bowers,
Know there is richest juice in poison-flowers.
From poem, 'Isabella', collected in The Poetical Works of John Keats (1885), 186.
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For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.
Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity (1997), 184.
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Histology is an exotic meal, but can be as repulsive as a dose of medicine for students who are obliged to study it, and little loved by doctors who have finished their study of it all too hastily. Taken compulsorily in large doses it is impossible to digest, but after repeated tastings in small draughts it becomes completely agreeable and even addictive. Whoever possesses a refined sensitivity for artistic manifestations will appreciate that, in the science of histology, there exists an inherent focus of aesthetic emotions.
Opening remarks of paper, 'Art and Artifice in the Science of Histology' (1933), reprinted in Histopathology (1993), 22, 515-525. Quoted in Ross, Pawlina and Barnash, Atlas of Descriptive Histology (2009).
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However much the pits may be apparent, yet none, as far as can be comprehended by the senses, passes through the septum of the heart from the right ventricle into the left. I have not seen even the most obscure passages by which the septum of the ventricles is pervious, although they are mentioned by professors of anatomy since they are convinced that blood is carried from the right ventricle into the left. As a result—as I shall declare more openly elsewhere—I am in no little doubt regarding the function of the heart in this part.
In De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem [Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body] (revised ed. 1555), 734. Quoted and trans. in Charles Donald O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (1964), 281.
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I had this experience at the age of eight. My parents gave me a microscope. I don’t recall why, but no matter. I then found my own little world, completely wild and unconstrained, no plastic, no teacher, no books, no anything predictable. At first I did not know the names of the water-drop denizens or what they were doing. But neither did the pioneer microscopists. Like them, I graduated to looking at butterfly scales and other miscellaneous objects. I never thought of what I was doing in such a way, but it was pure science. As true as could be of any child so engaged, I was kin to Leeuwenhoek, who said that his work “was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more that most other men.”
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 143-144.
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I might paraphrase Churchill and say: never have I received so much for so little.
[Exemplifying humility, upon accepting the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.]
In Banquet Speech, Stokholm (10 Dec 1970). Nobelprize.org website.
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If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives.
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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In nature's infinite book of secrecy
A little I can read.
In Antony and Cleopatra (1606-7), I, ii.
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In this country, science is almost exclusively prosecuted by those engaged in the laborious and exhaustive employment of imparting instruction. Science among us brings comparatively little emolument and is accompanied with but little honor.
In Letter (3 Feb 1873) to the Committee of Arrangements, in Proceedings of the Farewell Banquet to Professor Tyndall (4 Feb 1873), 19. Reprinted as 'On the Importance of the Cultivation of Science', The Popular Science Monthly (1873), Vol. 2, 646.
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It is better to have a few forms well known than to teach a little about many hundred species. Better a dozen specimens thoroughly studied as the result of the first year’s work, than to have two thousand dollars’ worth of shells and corals bought from a curiosity-shop. The dozen animals would be your own.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147.
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It is not surprising that science has made comparatively little advance among us, but that … it should have made so much.
In Letter (3 Feb 1873) to the Committee of Arrangements, in Proceedings of the Farewell Banquet to Professor Tyndall (4 Feb 1873), 19. Reprinted as 'On the Importance of the Cultivation of Science', The Popular Science Monthly (1873), Vol. 2, 646.
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It is rather astonishing how little practical value scientific knowledge has for ordinary men, how dull and commonplace such of it as has value is, and how its value seems almost to vary inversely to its reputed utility.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 117-118.
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It is the function of notions in science to be useful, to be interesting, to be verifiable and to acquire value from anyone of these qualities. Scientific notions have little to gain as science from being forced into relation with that formidable abstraction, “general truth.”
In paper delivered before the Royal College of Surgeons of England (15 Feb 1932), in 'The Commemoration of Great Men', British Medical Journal (1932), 1, 32. Collected in The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 29.
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Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Of course, it will be a little thing, but do not ignore it. Follow it up, explore all around it: one discovery will lead to another, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind. All really big discoveries are the results of thought.
Address (22 May 1914) to the graduating class of the Friends’ School, Washington, D.C. Printed in 'Discovery and Invention', The National Geographic Magazine (1914), 25, 650.
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Let us keep the discoveries and indisputable measurements of physics. But ... A more complete study of the movements of the world will oblige us, little by little, to turn it upside down; in other words, to discover that if things hold and hold together, it is only by reason of complexity, from above.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 43. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Life is not the object of Science: we see a little, very little; And what is beyond we can only conjecture.
In Samuel Johnson and William P. Page (ed.), 'Causes Which Produce Diversity of Opinion', The Life and Writings of Samuel Johnson (1840), Vol. 2, 244.
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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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Money lost—nothing lost, Health lost—little lost, Spirit lost—everything lost.
In The Story of the Winged-S: The Autobiography of Igor I. Sikorsky (2011).
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Most students treat knowledge as a liquid to be swallowed rather than as a solid to be chewed, and then wonder why it provides so little nourishment.
Seen around the web, but without citation. Webmaster has so far been unable to authenticate. Please contact Webmaster if you know the primary source.
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Nature uses as little as possible of anything.
Harmonice mundi (1619). In Bill Swainson and Anne H. Soukhanov, Encarta Book Of Quotations (2000), 514.
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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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Never fear big long words.
Big long words name little things.
All big things have little names.
Such as life and death, peace and war.
Or dawn, day, night, hope, love, home.
Learn to use little words in a big way.
It is hard to do,
But they say what you mean.
When you don't know what you mean, use big words.
That often fools little people.
Quoted in Saturday Review (1962), 45, No. 2. It was written (1936) for his son, as advice for young copy writers. - 1995
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No country in the world is so much indebted for its progress in power and intelligence to science than ours, and yet no country does so little to encourage or advance it.
Address (2 Jun 1874) at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the American Museum of Natural History, in Fifth and Sixth Annual Reports of the American Museum of Natural History (1 Dec 1874), 47.
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No! What we need are not prohibitory marriage laws, but a reformed society, an educated public opinion which will teach individual duty in these matters. And it is to the women of the future that I look for the needed reformation. Educate and train women so that they are rendered independent of marriage as a means of gaining a home and a living, and you will bring about natural selection in marriage, which will operate most beneficially upon humanity. When all women are placed in a position that they are independent of marriage, I am inclined to think that large numbers will elect to remain unmarried—in some cases, for life, in others, until they encounter the man of their ideal. I want to see women the selective agents in marriage; as things are, they have practically little choice. The only basis for marriage should be a disinterested love. I believe that the unfit will be gradually eliminated from the race, and human progress secured, by giving to the pure instincts of women the selective power in marriage. You can never have that so long as women are driven to marry for a livelihood.
In 'Heredity and Pre-Natal Influences. An Interview With Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace', Humanitarian (1894), 4, 87.
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Notwithstanding all that has been discovered since Newton’s time, his saying that we are little children picking up pretty pebbles on the beach while the whole ocean lies before us unexplored remains substantially as true as ever, and will do so though we shovel up the pebbles by steam shovels and carry them off in carloads.
From 'Lessons from the History of Science: The Scientific Attitude' (c.1896), in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 47.
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Philosophers and psychiatrists should explain why it is that we mathematicians are in the habit of systematically erasing our footsteps. Scientists have always looked askance at this strange habit of mathematicians, which has changed little from Pythagoras to our day.
From the second Fubini Lecture, delivered at the Villa Gualino, Torino (2 Jun 1998), 'What is Invariant Theory, Really?' Collected in Henry H. Crapo and D. Senato (eds.), Algebraic Combinatorics and Computer Science: A Tribute to Gian-Carlo Rota (2001), 55.
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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 is Christian, not when it condemns itself to the letter of things, but when, in the infinitely little, it discovers as many mysteries and as much depth and power as in the infinitely great.
In Fourth Lecture, 'The Roman Church and Science: Galileo', (7 May 1844). Collected in Edgar Quinet and C. Cocks (trans.), Ultramontanism: Or, The Roman Church and Modern Society (1845), 73.
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Solving big problems is easier than solving little problems.
Quoted as “Mr Page likes to say” in 'Enlightenment Man', Technology Quarterly (4 Dec 2008).
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Students who have attended my [medical] lectures may remember that I try not only to teach them what we know, but also to realise how little this is: in every direction we seem to travel but a very short way before we are brought to a stop; our eyes are opened to see that our path is beset with doubts, and that even our best-made knowledge comes but too soon to an end.
In Notes on the Composition of Scientific Papers (1904), 3.
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The best class of scientific mind is the same as the best class of business mind. The great desideratum in either case is to know how much evidence is enough to warrant action. It is as unbusiness-like to want too much evidence before buying or selling as to be content with too little. The same kind of qualities are wanted in either case. The difference is that if the business man makes a mistake, he commonly has to suffer for it, whereas it is rarely that scientific blundering, so long as it is confined to theory, entails loss on the blunderer. On the contrary it very often brings him fame, money and a pension. Hence the business man, if he is a good one, will take greater care not to overdo or underdo things than the scientific man can reasonably be expected to take.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 217.
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The calculus is to mathematics no more than what experiment is to physics, and all the truths produced solely by the calculus can be treated as truths of experiment. The sciences must proceed to first causes, above all mathematics where one cannot assume, as in physics, principles that are unknown to us. For there is in mathematics, so to speak, only what we have placed there… If, however, mathematics always has some essential obscurity that one cannot dissipate, it will lie, uniquely, I think, in the direction of the infinite; it is in that direction that mathematics touches on physics, on the innermost nature of bodies about which we know little….
In Elements de la géométrie de l'infini (1727), Preface, ciii. Quoted as a footnote to Michael S. Mahoney, 'Infinitesimals and Transcendent Relations: The Mathematics of Motion in the Late Seventeenth Century', collected in David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman (eds.), Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (1990), 489-490, footnote 46
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The close observation of little things is the secret of success in business, in art, in science, and in every pursuit in life.
In Self-help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (1861), 100.
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The condensed air becomes attached to [the metallic calx], and adheres little by little to the smallest of its particles: thus its weight increases from the beginning to the end: but when all is saturated, it can take up no more.
Jean Rey
The Increase in Weight of Tin and Lead on Calcination (1630), Alembic Club Reprint (1895), 52.
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The errors of great men are venerable because they are more fruitful than the truths of little men.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann (ed. & trans.), The Portable Nietzsche (1954), 30.
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The generality of men are so accustomed to judge of things by their senses that, because the air is indivisible, they ascribe but little to it, and think it but one remove from nothing.
In Mary Elvira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 29, citing Boyle, 'Memoirs for a General History of the Air', in Shaw's Abridgment of Boyle's works (1725), Vol. 3, 61, and Ramsay, The Gases of the Atmosphere (1915), 10.
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The maxim of science is simply that of common sense—simple cases first; begin with seeing how the main force acts when there is as little as possible to impede it, and when you thoroughly comprehend that, add to it in succession the separate effects of each of the incumbering and interfering agencies.
Collected in The Works of Walter Bagehot (1889), Vol. 5, 319-320.
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The one thing that scientists ought to be is humble because they, more than anyone, know how little they can explain.
Quoted by Sean O'Hagan, in 'End of sperm report', The Observer (14 Sep 2002).
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The operating management, providing as it does for the care of near thirty thousand miles of railway, is far more important than that for construction in which there is comparatively little doing.
In Railway Property: A Treatise on the Construction and Management of Railways (1866), iii.
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The rule for life in the sea can be summed up in the well known expression “big fish eat little fish”. … Research shows that great losses occur in the fish cycle because small fish are eaten by larger ones, and in many cases the larger fish are not fit for human consumption.
In 'Man Explores the Sea', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts (Sep 1963), 111, No. 5086, 787-789.
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There are big and little truths, but all belong to the same race.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 89.
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There are moments when very little truth would be enough to shape opinion. One might be hated at extremely low cost.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 151.
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There is a curious illusion today that nature is both wise and good. The awful truth is that nature is a bitch from the human point of view I care about the whooping crane a little. I would even give $10 to save the whooping crane. The whooping crane doesn’t give a damn about me.
From paper presented at Laramie College of Commerce and Industry, University of Wyoming, 'Energy and the Environment' (Jan 1976), 12, as quoted in Kenneth Ewart Boulding and Richard P. Beilock (ed.), Illustrating Economics: Beasts, Ballads and Aphorisms (1980, 2009), 153.
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There is no one central problem in philosophy, but countless little problems. Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.
From conversation with Rush Rhees (1930) as given by Rush Rhees in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections (1981), 96.
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There is very little flexibility in the behavior of the Universe. What it does once, it does again.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 167.
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To connect the dinosaurs, creatures of interest to everyone but the veriest dullard, with a spectacular extra­terrestrial event like the deluge of meteors … seems a little like one of those plots that a clever publisher might concoct to guarantee enormous sales. All the Alvarez-Raup theories lack is some sex and the involvement of the Royal family and the whole world would be paying attention to them.
In The Canberra Times (20 May 1984).
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To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
In 'Proverbs', The Poems: With Specimens of the Prose Writings of William Blake (1885), 281.
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Unfortunately what is little recognized is that the most worthwhile scientific books are those in which the author clearly indicates what he does not know; for an author most hurts his readers by concealing difficulties.
As quoted in Nicholas J. Rose, Mathematical Maxims and Minims (1988). Also used as an epigraph without citation in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought From Ancient to Modern Times (1990), Vol. 2, 752. If you know the primary source, perhaps in French, please contact Webmaster.
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Was it not the great philosopher and mathematician Leibnitz who said that the more knowledge advances the more it becomes possible to condense it into little books?
Opening remark in 'Introductory Note', Outline of Science: A Plain Story Simply Told (1922), Vol. 1, iii. Webmaster has not yet identified the quote in Leibnitz's original words (translated). If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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We do not ask what hope of gain makes a little bird warble, since we know that it takes delight in singing because it is for that very singing that the bird was made, so there is no need to ask why the human mind undertakes such toil in seeking out these secrets of the heavens. ... And just as other animals, and the human body, are sustained by food and drink, so the very spirit of Man, which is something distinct from Man, is nourished, is increased, and in a sense grows up on this diet of knowledge, and is more like the dead than the living if it is touched by no desire for these things.
Mysterium Cosmographicum. Translated by A. M. Duncan in The Secret of the Universe (1981), 55.
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We need to be realistic. There is very little we can do now to stop the ice from disappearing from the North Pole in the Summer. And we probably cannot prevent the melting of the permafrost and the resulting release of methane. In addition, I fear that we may be too late to help the oceans maintain their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. But there is something we can do—and it could make the whole difference and buy us time to develop the necessary low carbon economies. We can halt the destruction of the world’s rainforests—and even restore parts of them—in order to ensure that the forests do what they are so good at—in other words storing carbon naturally. This is a far easier, cheaper and quicker option than imagining we can rely on as yet unproven technology to capture carbon at a cost of some $50 per tonne or, for that matter, imagining we can achieve what is necessary through plantation timber.
Presidential Lecture (3 Nov 2008) at the Presidential Palace, Jakarta, Indonesia. On the Prince of Wales website.
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What scientist would not long to go on living, if only to see how the little truths he has brought to light will grow up?
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 254.
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When I was growing up, I always knew I’d be in the top of my class in math, and that gave me a lot of self-confidence. [But now that students can see beyond their own school, they see that] there are always going to be a million people better than you at times, or someone will always be far better than you. I feel there’s an existential angst among young people. I didn’t have that. They see enormous mountains, where I only saw one little hill to climb.
From address at a conference on Google campus, co-hosted with Common Sense Media and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop 'Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age'. As quoted in Technology blog report by Dan Fost, 'Google co-founder Sergey Brin wants more computers in schools', Los Angeles Times (28 Oct 2009). On latimesblogs.latimes.com website. As quoted, without citation, in Can Akdeniz, Fast MBA (2014), 280.
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Why administrators are respected and school-teachers are not: An administrator is paid a lot for doing very little, while a teacher is paid very little for doing a lot.
In 'Money Et Cetera', A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis in Deserto) (1989), 101.
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Why does a suppurating lung give so little warning and a sore on the finger so much?
Aphorism 3 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 128.
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Why, then, are we surprised that comets, such a rare spectacle in the universe, are not known, when their return is at vast intervals?. … The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject … And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them …. Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate … Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all. Someday there will be a man who will show in what regions comets have their orbit, why they travel so remote from other celestial bodies, how large they are and what sort they are.
Natural Questions, Book 7. As translated by Thomas H. Corcoran in Seneca in Ten Volumes: Naturales Quaestiones II (1972), 279 and 293.
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[It] is not the nature of things for any one man to make a sudden, violent discovery; science goes step by step and every man depends on the work of his predecessors. When you hear of a sudden unexpected discovery—a bolt from the blue—you can always be sure that it has grown up by the influence of one man or another, and it is the mutual influence which makes the enormous possibility of scientific advance. Scientists are not dependent on the ideas of a single man, but on the combined wisdom of thousands of men, all thinking of the same problem and each doing his little bit to add to the great structure of knowledge which is gradually being erected.
Concluding remark in Lecture ii (1936) on 'Forty Years of Physics', revised and prepared for publication by J.A. Ratcliffe, collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.), Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 73-74. Note that the words as prepared for publication may not be verbatim as spoken in the original lecture by the then late Lord Rutherford.
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[Overfishing—] it’s not just that we’re taking too many out, it’s how we’re doing it. We are wiping out their nurseries, … [because some huge boats] … bottom trawl … [with] nets that 50 years ago you’d have to lift when you came to coral reefs or rocks or nooks and crannies. Now they’re so sophisticated and so heavy, the equipment, and the boat’s so powerful they can just drag right over the coral reefs and the rocks and the nooks and crannies, and turn them into a gravel pit. … The trouble is those are the nurseries. That’s where the little fish hide and get bigger and get big enough for us to eat.
From transcript of PBS TV interview by Tavis Smiley (28 Mar 2011).
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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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