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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Lose Quotes (53 quotes)

'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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Steckt keine Poesie in der Lokomotive, die brausend durch die Nacht zieht und über die zitternde Erde hintobt, als wollte sie Raum und Zeit zermalmen, in dem hastigen, aber wohl geregelten Zucken und Zerren ihrer gewaltigen Glieder, in dem stieren, nur auf ein Ziel losstürmenden Blick ihrer roten Augen, in dem emsigen, willenlosen Gefolge der Wagen, die kreischend und klappernd, aber mit unfehlbarer Sicherheit dem verkörperten Willen aus Eisen und Stahl folge leisten?
Is there no poetry in the locomotive roaring through the night and charging over the quivering earth as if it wanted to crush time and space? Is there no poetry in the hasty but regular jerking and tugging of its powerful limbs, in the stare of its red eyes that never lose sight of their goal? Is there no poetry in the bustling, will-less retinue of cars that follow, screeching and clattering with unmistakable surety, the steel and iron embodiment of will?
Max Eyth
From 'Poesie und Technik' (1904) (Poetry and Technology), in Schweizerische Techniker-Zeitung (1907), Vol 4, 306, as translated in Paul A. Youngman, Black Devil and Iron Angel: The Railway in Nineteenth-Century German Realism (2005), 128.
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A man loses his fortune; he gains earnestness. His eyesight goes; it leads him to a spirituality... We think we are pushing our own way bravely, but there is a great Hand in ours all the time.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 20
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Antiessentialist thinking forces us to view the world differently. We must accept shadings and continua as fundamental. We lose criteria for judgment by comparison to some ideal: short people, retarded people, people of other beliefs, colors, and religions are people of full status.
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Arithmetic is where you have to multiply—and you carry the multiplication table in your head and hope you won’t lose it.
From 'Arithmetic', Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960), 116.
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Arithmetic tells you how many you lose or win if you know how many you had before you lost or won.
From 'Arithmetic', Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960), 115.
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Before a complex of sensations becomes a recollection placeable in time, it has ceased to be actual. We must lose our awareness of its infinite complexity, or it is still actual ... It is only after a memory has lost all life that it can be classed in time, just as only dissected flowers find their way into the herbarium of a botanist.
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Chief Seattle, of the Indians that inhabited the Seattle area, wrote a wonderful paper that has to do with putting oneself in tune with the universe. He said, “Why should I lament the disappearance of my people! All things end, and the white man will find this out also.” And this goes for the universe. One can be at peace with that. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t participate in efforts to correct the situation. But underlying the effort to change must be an “at peace.” To win a dog sled race is great. To lose is okay too.
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Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.
The Open Mind (1955), 88.
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Every hour a scientist spends trying to raise funds is an hour lost from important thought and research.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 287.
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Every lecture should state one main point and repeat it over and over, like a theme with variations. An audience is like a herd of cows, moving slowly in the direction they are being driven towards. If we make one point, we have a good chance that the audience will take the right direction; if we make several points, then the cows will scatter all over the field. The audience will lose interest and everyone will go back to the thoughts they interrupted in order to come to our lecture.
In 'Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 196.
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For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Bible
Mark 8:36. Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 17
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Great thinkers build their edifices with subtle consistency. We do our intellectual forebears an enormous disservice when we dismember their visions and scan their systems in order to extract a few disembodied ‘gems’–thoughts or claims still accepted as true. These disarticulated pieces then become the entire legacy of our ancestors, and we lose the beauty and coherence of older systems that might enlighten us by their unfamiliarity–and their consequent challenge in our fallible (and complacent) modern world.
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Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.
In 'The Deadly Information', Introduction written by Asimov for James Randi, Flim-Flam (1982), xiii.
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I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude.
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I ask any one who has adopted the calling of an engineer, how much time he lost when he left school, because he had to devote himself to pursuits which were absolutely novel and strange, and of which he had not obtained the remotest conception from his instructors? He had to familiarize himself with ideas of the course and powers of Nature, to which his attention had never been directed during his school-life, and to learn, for the first time, that a world of facts lies outside and beyond the world of words.
From After-Dinner Speech (Apr 1869) delivered before the Liverpool Philomathic Society, 'Scientific Education', collected in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 63. Previously published in Macmillan’s Magazine.
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I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.
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I do not think that, practically or morally, we can defend a policy of saving every distinctive local population of organisms. I can cite a good rationale for the preservation of species, for each species is a unique and separate natural object that, once lost, can never be reconstituted. But subspecies are distinctive local populations of species with broader geographic range. Subspecies are dynamic, interbreedable, and constantly changing: what then are we saving by declaring them all inviolate?
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I gang my own gait and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude–a feeling which increases with the years.
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I think every child born on this planet up to the age of about four or five is fascinated by the natural world. If they aren’t it’s because we deprive them of the opportunity. Over half the world’s population is urbanised and the thought that some children may grow up not looking at a pond or knowing how plants grow is a terrible thing. If you lose that delight and joy and intoxication, you’ve lost something hugely precious.
From interview with Alice Roberts, 'Attenborough: My Life on Earth', The Biologist (Aug 2015), 62, No. 4, 14.
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In a hundred and fifty years the United States has lost one third of its topsoil. And I think about two hundred fifty million acres are turning into desert because of overgrazing and other mismanagement.
From interview collected in Pamela Weintraub (ed.), The Omni Interviews (1984), 82.
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It's a case of many oceans around the world being degraded by negligence. The ocean is the lifeblood of our world. If we were to lose our fish that we appreciate so much by overfishing; or if we were to lose some of our favorite beaches to overbuilding and pollution, then how would we feel? It's become a case of not knowing what you've got until it's gone. But by no means is it too late.
From transcript of interview, 'Olympic swimmer: Oceans need our help', NBC News Today web site (14 Nov 2008).
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I’ve lost my faith in science.
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Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
Confucius
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 14.
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Life’s greatest tragedy is to lose God and not to miss him.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 153
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Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity.
Epitaph
Tombstone inscription, St. James' Church, Bramley, Hampshire. In Ruth Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (1996), 380.
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Looking down on this great metropolis, the ingenuity with which we continue to reshape our planet is very striking. It’s also sobering. It reminds me of just how easy it is for us to lose our connection with the natural world. Yet it is on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world will depend.
From BBC TV series Planet Earth II, while at London from the top of a skyscraper. As quoted in interview with Joe Shute, 'David Attenborough at 90: ‘I think about my mortality every day’', The Telegraph (29 Oct 2016).
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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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Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection.
In Emerson’s Complete Works: Volume 1, Nature, Addresses and Lectures (1855, 1889), 13-14.
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Never lose a holy curiosity.
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Now I will have less distraction. Quoted as saying upon losing the use of his right eye.
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Old mathematicians never die; they just lose some of their functions.
Anonymous
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On graduating from school, a studious young man who would withstand the tedium and monotony of his duties has no choice but to lose himself in some branch of science or literature completely irrelevant to his assignment.
From memorandum 'Mémoire sur le service des officiers du Corps du Génie' (1776) to the minister of war, the comte de Saint-Germain. Reproduced as Appendix C in C. Stewart Gillmor, Coulomb and the Evolution of Physics and Engineering in Eighteenth Century France (1971), 255-261. Coulomb proposed (unsuccessfully) that the corps of military engineers in peacetime engage their skills in construction of public works. As cited in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Science and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime (1980, 2004), 530.
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Pauli … asked me to tell him what was happening in America. I told him that Mrs. Wu is trying to measure whether parity is conserved. He answered me: “Mrs. Wu is wasting her time. I would bet you a large sum that parity is conserved.” When this letter came I already knew that parity is violated. I could have sent a telegram to Pauli that the bet was accepted. But I wrote him a letter. He said: “I could never let it out that this is possible. I am glad that we did not actually do the bet because I can risk to lose my reputation, but I cannot risk losing my capital.”
In Discussion after paper presented by Chien-Shiung Wu to the International Conference on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries, Erice, Sicily (27 Jul-4 Aug 1994), 'Parity Violation' collected in Harvey B. Newman, Thomas Ypsilantis (eds.), History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1996), 381.
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Rulers and generals muster their troops. Magnates muster the sums of money which give them power. The fascist dictators muster the irrational human reactions which make it possible for them to attain and maintain their power over the masses. The scientists muster knowledge and means of research. But, thus far, no organization fighting for freedom has ever mustered the biological arsenal where the weapons are to be found for the establishment and the maintenance of human freedom. All precision of our social existence notwithstanding, there is as yet no definition of the word freedom which would be in keeping with natural science. No word is more misused and misunderstood. To define freedom is the same as to define sexual health. But nobody will openly admit this. The advocacy of personal and social freedom is connected with anxiety and guilt feelings. As if to be free were a sin or at least not quite as it should be. Sex-economy makes this guilt feeling comprehensible: freedom without sexual self-determination is in itself a contradiction. But to be sexual means—according to the prevailing human structure—to be sinful or guilty. There are very few people who experience sexual love without guilt feeling. “Free love” has acquired a degrading meaning: it lost the meaning given it by the old fighters for freedom. In films and in books, to be genital and to be criminal are presented as the same thing.
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So why fret and care that the actual version of the destined deed was done by an upper class English gentleman who had circumnavigated the globe as a vigorous youth, lost his dearest daughter and his waning faith at the same time, wrote the greatest treatise ever composed on the taxonomy of barnacles, and eventually grew a white beard, lived as a country squire just south of London, and never again traveled far enough even to cross the English Channel? We care for the same reason that we love okapis, delight in the fossil evidence of trilobites, and mourn the passage of the dodo. We care because the broad events that had to happen, happened to happen in a certain particular way. And something unspeakably holy –I don’t know how else to say this–underlies our discovery and confirmation of the actual details that made our world and also, in realms of contingency, assured the minutiae of its construction in the manner we know, and not in any one of a trillion other ways, nearly all of which would not have included the evolution of a scribe to record the beauty, the cruelty, the fascination, and the mystery.
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The big political doings of our time are so disheartening that in our generation one feels quite alone. It is as if people had lost the passion for justice and dignity and no longer treasure what better generations have won by extraordinary sacrifices.
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The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there was never any doubt as to the striving for culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.
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The fundamental essence of science, which I think we've lost in our education system, is poking something with a stick and seeing what happens. Embrace that process of inquiry.
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The losses of the natural world are our loss, their silence silences something within the human mind. Human language is lit with animal life: we play cats-cradle or have hare-brained ideas; we speak of badgering, or outfoxing someone; to squirrel something away and to ferret it out. … When our experience of the wild world shrinks, we no longer fathom the depths of our own words; language loses its lustre and vividness.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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The problem of modern democracy is not that the people have lost their power, but that they have lost their appreciation for the extraordinary power they wield. Consider one astonishing truth: Famine has never struck a democracy.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 102.
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The robot is going to lose. Not by much. But when the final score is tallied, flesh and blood is going to beat the damn monster.
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The sciences are like a beautiful river, of which the course is easy to follow, when it has acquired a certain regularity; but if one wants to go back to the source, one will find it nowhere, because it is everywhere; it is spread so much [as to be] over all the surface of the earth; it is the same if one wants to go back to the origin of the sciences, one will find only obscurity, vague ideas, vicious circles; and one loses oneself in the primitive ideas.
In Essai sur les machines en général (1783), conclusion, as translated in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840 (1990), Vol. 1, 32.
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The Scientific Revolution turns us away from the older sayings to discover the lost authorization in Nature. What we have been through in these last four millennia is the slow inexorable profaning of our species. And in the last part of the second millennium A.D., that process is apparently becoming complete. It is the Great Human Irony of our noblest and greatest endeavor on this planet that in the quest for authorization, in our reading of the language of God in Nature, we should read there so clearly that we have been so mistaken.
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The story of a theory’s failure often strikes readers as sad and unsatisfying. Since science thrives on self-correction, we who practice this most challenging of human arts do not share such a feeling. We may be unhappy if a favored hypothesis loses or chagrined if theories that we proposed prove inadequate. But refutation almost always contains positive lessons that overwhelm disappointment, even when no new and comprehensive theory has yet filled the void.
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There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.
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There are few enough people with sufficient independence to see the weaknesses and follies of their contemporaries and remain themselves untouched by them. And these isolated few usually soon lose their zeal for putting things to rights when they have come face to face with human obduracy. Only to a tiny minority is it given to fascinate their generation by subtle humour and grace and to hold the mirror up to it by the impersonal agency of art. To-day I salute with sincere emotion the supreme master of this method, who has delighted–and educated–us all.
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There is a huge disconnect. Those living in the most urbanised areas don’t see a wild thing from one day to the next—unless it’s a pigeon or a rat. If you lose the connection with nature, you lose a source of great pleasure.
Lamenting Britain’s urbanized population is increasingly separated from the natural world. As reported by Adam Lusher in 'Sir David Attenborough', Daily Mail (28 Feb 2014).
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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 us, men of the West, a very strange thing happened at the turn of the century; without noticing it, we lost science, or at least the thing that had been called by that name for the last four centuries. What we now have in place of it is something different, radically different, and we don’t know what it is. Nobody knows what it is.
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We consider species to be like a brick in the foundation of a building. You can probably lose one or two or a dozen bricks and still have a standing house. But by the time you’ve lost twenty percent of species, you’re going to destabilize the entire structure. That’s the way ecosystems work.
The Christian Science Monitor (26 May 1989)
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What binds us to space-time is our rest mass, which prevents us from flying at the speed of light, when time stops and space loses meaning. In a world of light there are neither points nor moments of time; beings woven from light would live “nowhere” and “nowhen”; only poetry and mathematics are capable of speaking meaningfully about such things.
In 'Mathematics and Physics', collected in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 130.
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What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.
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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
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
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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