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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index L > Category: Luck

Luck Quotes (42 quotes)

...great difficulties are felt at first and these cannot be overcome except by starting from experiments .. and then be conceiving certain hypotheses ... But even so, very much hard work remains to be done and one needs not only great perspicacity but often a degree of good fortune.
Letter to Tschirnhaus (1687). Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 37-38.
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Dilbert: Maybe I’m unlucky in love because I’m so knowledgeable about science that I intimidate people. Their intimidation becomes low self-esteem, then they reject me to protect their egos.
Dogbert: Occam’s Razor.
Dilbert: What is “Occam's Razor”?
Dogbert: A guy named Occam had a rule about the world. Basically he said that when there are multiple explanations for something the simplest explanation is usually correct. The simplest explanation for your poor love life is that you’re immensely unattractive.
Dilbert: Maybe Occam had another rule that specifically exempted this situation, but his house burned down with all his notes. Then he forgot.
Dogbert: Occam’s Razor.
Dilbert: I’m an idiot.
Dogbert: I don’t think we can rule it out at this point.
Dilbert comic strip (11 Jul 1993).
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A good deal of my research in physics has consisted in not setting out to solve some particular problem, but simply examining mathematical quantities of a kind that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way, regardless of any application that the work may have. It is simply a search for pretty mathematics. It may turn out later to have an application. Then one has good luck. At age 78.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21, 603. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 110.
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A lucky physician is better than a learned one.
In Dwight Edwards Marvin, The Antiquity of Proverbs (1922), 238.
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A visitor to Niels Bohr's country cottage, noticing a horseshoe hanging on the wall, teasing the eminent scientist about this ancient superstition. “Can it be true that you, of all people, believe it will bring you luck?'
'Of course not,' replied Bohr, 'but I understand it brings you luck whether you believe it or not.'”
As described in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), André Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 68.
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All successful men have agreed to one thing,—they were causationists. They believed that things went not by luck, but by law; that there was not a weak or a cracked link in the chain that joins the first and last of things.
From 'Power', The Conduct of Life (1860), collected in The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1870), 343.
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All the inventions that the world contains,
Were not by reason first found out, nor brains;
But pass for theirs who had the luck to light
Upon them by mistake or oversight.
Under 'Butler's Poems: Miscellaneous Thoughts', in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper(1810), Vol. 8, 227.
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And Lady Luck remains tantalizingly in the shadows, pulling some of evolution's strings—but nobody knows how many.
'Weird Wonders', Scientific American, June 1992, 14.
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Anyone of common mental and physical health can practice scientific research. … Anyone can try by patient experiment what happens if this or that substance be mixed in this or that proportion with some other under this or that condition. Anyone can vary the experiment in any number of ways. He that hits in this fashion on something novel and of use will have fame. … The fame will be the product of luck and industry. It will not be the product of special talent.
In Essays of a Catholic Layman in England (1931).
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Everything in nature goes by law, and not by luck.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 94:25.
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Foreshadowings of the principles and even of the language of [the infinitesimal] calculus can be found in the writings of Napier, Kepler, Cavalieri, Pascal, Fermat, Wallis, and Barrow. It was Newton's good luck to come at a time when everything was ripe for the discovery, and his ability enabled him to construct almost at once a complete calculus.
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 366.
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Further, the same Arguments which explode the Notion of Luck, may, on the other side, be useful in some Cases to establish a due comparison between Chance and Design: We may imagine Chance and Design to be, as it were, in Competition with each other, for the production of some sorts of Events, and many calculate what Probability there is, that those Events should be rather be owing to the one than to the other.
Doctrine of Chances (1718), Preface, v.
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Good luck is science not yet classified; just as the supernatural is the natural not yet understood.
In Elbert Hubbard (ed. and publ.), The Philistine (Dec 1907), 26, No. 1, 10.
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I am a great believer in Luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.
In Listen to This (1922), VII. The quote is often seen, despite having no known source, attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Historians of Jefferson have stated that neither these words nor variants exist in his written works. The proverbial relation between diligence and good luck dates back to the late 16th century.
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I am only a physicist with nothing material to show for my labours. I have never even seen the ionosphere, although I have worked on the subject for thirty years. That does show how lucky people can be. If there had been no ionosphere I would not have been standing here this morning.
Response to receiving an honour from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. As quoted in New Scientist (22 Nov 1956), 33.
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I don't know what your Company is feeling as of today about the work of Dr. Alice Hamilton on benzol [benzene] poisoning. I know that back in the old days some of your boys used to think that she was a plain nuisance and just picking on you for luck. But I have a hunch that as you have learned more about the subject, men like your good self have grown to realize the debt that society owes her for her crusade. I am pretty sure that she has saved the lives of a great many girls in can-making plants and I would hate to think that you didn't agree with me.
Letter to S. P. Miller, technical director of a company that sold solvents, 9 Feb 1933. Alice Hamilton papers, no. 40, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. Quoted in Barbara Sicherman, Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (1984).
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I find I’m luckier when I work harder.
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I have been able to solve a few problems of mathematical physics on which the greatest mathematicians since Euler have struggled in vain … But the pride I might have held in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors. I am fain to compare myself with a wanderer on the mountains who, not knowing the path, climbs slowly and painfully upwards and often has to retrace his steps because he can go no further—then, whether by taking thought or from luck, discovers a new track that leads him on a little till at length when he reaches the summit he finds to his shame that there is a royal road by which he might have ascended, had he only the wits to find the right approach to it. In my works, I naturally said nothing about my mistake to the reader, but only described the made track by which he may now reach the same heights without difficulty.
(1891) As quoted in translation in Leo Koenigsberger and Frances A. Welby (trans.), Hermann von Helmholtz (1906), 180-181.
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I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this—never neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening. It may be—usually is, in fact—a false alarm that leads to nothing, but may on the other hand be the clue provided by fate to lead you to some important advance.
Lecture at Harvard University. Quoted in Joseph Sambrook, David W. Russell, Molecular Cloning (2001), Vol. 1, 153.
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I never found it easy. People say I was lucky twice but I resent that. We stuck with [cimetidine] for four years with no progress until we eventually succeeded. It was not luck, it was bloody hard work.
[Rejecting that drug discovery was easier in the past.]
Quoted in Andrew Jack, "An Acute Talent for Innovation", Financial Times (1 Feb 2009).
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I tell [medical students] that they are the luckiest persons on earth to be in medical school, and to forget all this worry about H.M.O.’s and keep your eye on helping the patient. It’s the best time ever to be a doctor because you can heal and treat conditions that were untreatable even a couple of years ago.
From Cornelia Dean, 'A Conversation with Joseph E. Murray', New York Times (25 Sep 2001), F5.
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If my efforts have led to greater success than usual, this is due, I believe, to the fact that during my wanderings in the field of medicine, I have strayed onto paths where the gold was still lying by the wayside. It takes a little luck to be able to distinguish gold from dross, but that is all.
'Robert Koch', Journal of Outdoor Life (1908), 5, 164-9.
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If there is such a thing as luck, then I must be the most unlucky fellow in the world. I’ve never once made a lucky strike in all my life. When I get after something that I need, I start finding everything in the world that I don’t need—one damn thing after another. I find ninety-nine things that I don’t need, and then comes number one hundred, and that—at the very last—turns out to be just what I had been looking for.
In Martin André Rosanoff, 'Edison in His Laboratory', Harper’s Magazine (Sep 1932), 406.
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It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
In Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
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Medicine in its present state is, it seems to me, by now completely discovered, insofar as it teaches in each instance the particular details and the correct measures. For anyone who has an understanding of medicine in this way depends very little upon good luck, but is able to do good with or without luck. For the whole of medicine has been established, and the excellent principles discovered in it clearly have very little need of good luck.
Places in Man, in Hippocrates, trans. P. Potter (1995), Vol. 8, 93.
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Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy.
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or season's quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well …
Opening lines of 'Sonnet 14' (1609) in Complete Dramatic Works and Miscellaneous Poems (1823), 776. (1906), 14.
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One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.
Quoted, without source, in Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1989), 23.
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Organization is simply the means by which the acts of ordinary men can be made to add up to extraordinary results. To this idea of progress that does not wait on some lucky break, some chance discovery, or some rare stroke of genius, but instead is achieved through systematic, cumulative effort, the engineer has contributed brilliantly.
In A Professional Guide for Young Engineers (1949, 1967), 36.
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Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.
[Answer to question: You've said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?]
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it's a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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Scientific research was much like prospecting: you went out and you hunted, armed with your maps and instruments, but in the ened your preparations did not matter, or even your intuition. You needed your luck, and whatever benefits accrued to the diligent, through sheer, grinding hard work.
The Andromeda Strain (1969)
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Statistically the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you would think the mere fact of existence would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.
In 'On Probability and Possibility', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 165.
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Success in research needs four Gs: Glück, Geduld, Geschick und Geld. Luck, patience, skill and money.
Quoted in M. Perutz, 'Rita and the Four Gs', Nature, 1988, 332, 791.
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The dice of God are always loaded.
[A fragment from a lost play of Sophocles, “Ever the dice of Zeus fall well.”]
A colloquial translation, presumably ironic, from the original Greek phrase (preceding it), as given in 'Compensation', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 102. The more literal translation of the original Greek is discussed in the added Notes section by Joseph Slater in The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: First Series, Essays (1979), 234. Fragment translation from Paul Shorey, 'The Influence of Classics on American Literature', The Chautauquan (1906), 43, 129.
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The first rule of discovery is to have brains and good luck. The second rule of discovery is to sit tight and wait till you get a bright idea.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 172.
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The unlucky doctor treats the head of a disease; the lucky doctor its tail.
Chinese proverb.
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To be a scholar of mathematics you must be born with talent, insight, concentration, taste, luck, drive and the ability to visualize and guess.
In I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (1985), 400.
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True, no one can absolutely control the direction of his life; but each person can certainly influence it. The armchair explorers who complain that they never got their “one lucky shot” were never really infected by the incurable drive to explore. Those who have the bug—go.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 32.
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We should admit in theory what is already very largely a case in practice, that the main currency of scientific information is the secondary sources in the forms of abstracts, reports, tables, &c., and that the primary sources are only for detailed reference by very few people. It is possible that the fate of most scientific papers will be not to be read by anyone who uses them, but with luck they will furnish an item, a number, some facts or data to such reports which may, but usually will not, lead to the original paper being consulted. This is very sad but it is the inevitable consequence of the growth of science. The number of papers that can be consulted is absolutely limited, no more time can be spent in looking up papers, by and large, than in the past. As the number of papers increase the chance of any one paper being looked at is correspondingly diminished. This of course is only an average, some papers may be looked at by thousands of people and may become a regular and fixed part of science but most will perish unseen.
'The Supply of Information to the Scientist: Some Problems of the Present Day', The Journal of Documentation, 1957, 13, 195.
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What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient but restless mind, of sacrificing one’s ease or vanity, or uniting a love of detail to foresight, and of passing through hard times bravely [and cheerfully].
In The Wish of His Life (1878), Vol. 1, 25. The ending "and cheerfully" is not part of the original text, though it is seen added in Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors, Both Ancient and Modern (1891), 320. The original text ends “whistling the air of ‘Marlbrough’.”
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[About any invention] (1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; (2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; (3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
In News Review section, Sunday Times (29 Aug 1999).
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[To one of his students he saw in a school dramatic production:] I’ve always been proud that Course X leaves little time for outside activities. You have proved me wrong so far and I’m glad you have. But don’t push your luck too far!
As quoted in A Dollar to a Doughnut: The Doc Lewis Story (1953), 49, which was a privately printed collection of anecdotes published by former students upon his retirement. Note that “X” was the actual designation of his chemical engineering course at MIT. The boy was a Course X student who had played the leading “lady” in the previous MIT Tech Show. The anecdote continues: “A word to the wise was sufficient—the leading lady that year was not from Course X.”
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~~[Misattributed - NOT by Jefferson]~~ I am a great believer in Luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.
This wording of the quote was written down by Coleman Cox in Listen to This (1922), VII. The quote is often seen, despite having no known source, attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Historians of Jefferson have stated that neither these words nor variants exist in his written works. Included here to provide it together the notice of misattribution. Also see the Coleman Cox Quotes page on this website.
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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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- 90 -
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