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Mechanical Quotes (140 quotes)

Die Phylogenese ist die mechanische Ursache cler Ontogenese.
Phylogenesis is the mechanical cause of ontogenesis.
Anthropogenie oder Entwickelungsgeschichte des Menschen (1874), 7.
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A casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A machine is not a genie, it does not work by magic, it does not possess a will, and … nothing comes out which has not been put in, barring of course, an infrequent case of malfunctioning. … The “intentions” which the machine seems to manifest are the intentions of the human programmer, as specified in advance, or they are subsidiary intentions derived from these, following rules specified by the programmer. … The machine will not and cannot do any of these things until it has been instructed as to how to proceed. ... To believe otherwise is either to believe in magic or to believe that the existence of man’s will is an illusion and that man’s actions are as mechanical as the machine’s.
In Science, September 16, 1960.
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A nation which depends upon others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade, regardless of its mechanical skill.
Quoted by Edwin T. Layton, Jr., in 'American Ideologies of Science and Engineering', Technology and Culture (1976), 17, 689. As cited in Arie Leegwater, 'Technology and Science', Stephen V. Monsma (ed.), Responsible Technology: A Christian Perspective (1986), 79.
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A perfect thermo-dynamic engine is such that, whatever amount of mechanical effect it can derive from a certain thermal agency; if an equal amount be spent in working it backwards, an equal reverse thermal effect will be produced.
'Thomson on Carnot’s Motive Power of Heat' (appended to 'Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu' (1824) translated by R.H. Thurston) in Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, and on Machines Fitted to Develop that Power (1890), 139.
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And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5. Newton’s reference to “Nature does nothing in vain” recalls the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen as “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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At the present time there exist problems beyond our ability to solve, not because of theoretical difficulties, but because of insufficient means of mechanical computation.
In 'Proposed Automatic Calculating Machine' (1937). As quoted in I. Bernard Cohen, Gregory W. Welch (eds.), Makin' Numbers: Howard Aiken and the Computer (1999), 13.
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Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year’s Southern Conference champion, from the NCAA championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple-two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton players shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from 20 feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots-the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball-and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.
A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton
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Charles Babbage proposed to make an automaton chess-player which should register mechanically the number of games lost and gained in consequence of every sort of move. Thus, the longer the automaton went on playing game, the more experienced it would become by the accumulation of experimental results. Such a machine precisely represents the acquirement of experience by our nervous organization.
In ‘Experimental Legislation’, Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 754-5.
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Considering it as thus established, that heat is not a substance, but a dynamical form of mechanical effect, we perceive that there must be an equivalence between mechanical work and heat, as between cause and effect.
In 'On the Dynamical Theory of Heat, with Numerical Results Deduced from Mr. Joule's Equivalent of a Thermal Unit, and M. Regnault's Observations on Steam' (1851). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882-1911), Vol. 1, 175.
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Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the “Mona Lisa” painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam, whether it takes ultimate shape in a law of physics or a law of the land, a poem or a policy, a sonata or a mechanical computer.
Baccalaureate address (9 Jun 1957), Yale University. In In the University Tradition (1957), 156.
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Doubtless the reasoning faculty, the mind, is the leading and characteristic attribute of the human race. By the exercise of this, man arrives at the properties of the natural bodies. This is science, properly and emphatically so called. It is the science of pure mathematics; and in the high branches of this science lies the truly sublime of human acquisition. If any attainment deserves that epithet, it is the knowledge, which, from the mensuration of the minutest dust of the balance, proceeds on the rising scale of material bodies, everywhere weighing, everywhere measuring, everywhere detecting and explaining the laws of force and motion, penetrating into the secret principles which hold the universe of God together, and balancing worlds against worlds, and system against system. When we seek to accompany those who pursue studies at once so high, so vast, and so exact; when we arrive at the discoveries of Newton, which pour in day on the works of God, as if a second fiat had gone forth from his own mouth; when, further, we attempt to follow those who set out where Newton paused, making his goal their starting-place, and, proceeding with demonstration upon demonstration, and discovery upon discovery, bring new worlds and new systems of worlds within the limits of the known universe, failing to learn all only because all is infinite; however we may say of man, in admiration of his physical structure, that “in form and moving he is express and admirable,” it is here, and here without irreverence, we may exclaim, “In apprehension how like a god!” The study of the pure mathematics will of course not be extensively pursued in an institution, which, like this [Boston Mechanics’ Institute], has a direct practical tendency and aim. But it is still to be remembered, that pure mathematics lie at the foundation of mechanical philosophy, and that it is ignorance only which can speak or think of that sublime science as useless research or barren speculation.
In Works (1872), Vol. 1, 180.
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For truly in nature there are many operations that are far more than mechanical. Nature is not simply an organic body like a clock, which has no vital principle of motion in it; but it is a living body which has life and perception, which are much more exalted than a mere mechanism or a mechanical motion.
The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (1692), trans. and ed. Allison Coudert and Taylor Corse (1996), 64.
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From my father I learned to build things, to take them apart, and to fix mechanical and electrical equipment in general. I spent vast hours in a woodworking shop he maintained in the basement of our house, building gadgets, working both with my father and alone, often late into the night. … This play with building, fixing, and designing was my favorite activity throughout my childhood, and was a wonderful preparation for my later career as an experimentalist working on the frontiers of chemistry and physics.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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Geometry is founded in mechanical practice, and is nothing but that part of universal mechanics which accurately proposes and demonstrates the art of measuring.
In Principia (1687), Preface, translated by Andrew Motte (1729), in Florian Cajori (ed.), Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1934), xvii.
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Geometry, which should only obey Physics, when united with it sometimes commands it. If it happens that the question which we wish to examine is too complicated for all the elements to be able to enter into the analytical comparison which we wish to make, we separate the more inconvenient [elements], we substitute others for them, less troublesome, but also less real, and we are surprised to arrive, notwithstanding a painful labour, only at a result contradicted by nature; as if after having disguised it, cut it short or altered it, a purely mechanical combination could give it back to us.
From Essai d’une nouvelle théorie de la résistance des fluides (1752), translated as an epigram in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840: From the Calculus and Mechanics to Mathematical Analysis and Mathematical Physics (1990), Vol. 1, 33.
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I am more and more convinced that the ant colony is not so much composed of separate individuals as that the colony is a sort of individual, and each ant like a loose cell in it. Our own blood stream, for instance, contains hosts of white corpuscles which differ little from free-swimming amoebae. When bacteria invade the blood stream, the white corpuscles, like the ants defending the nest, are drawn mechanically to the infected spot, and will die defending the human cell colony. I admit that the comparison is imperfect, but the attempt to liken the individual human warrior to the individual ant in battle is even more inaccurate and misleading. The colony of ants with its component numbers stands half way, as a mechanical, intuitive, and psychical phenomenon, between our bodies as a collection of cells with separate functions and our armies made up of obedient privates. Until one learns both to deny real individual initiative to the single ant, and at the same time to divorce one's mind from the persuasion that the colony has a headquarters which directs activity … one can make nothing but pretty fallacies out of the polity of the ant heap.
In An Almanac for Moderns (1935), 121
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I am more of a sponge than an inventor. I absorb ideas from every source. I take half-matured schemes for mechanical development and make them practical. I am a sort of middleman between the long-haired and impractical inventor and the hard-headed businessman who measures all things in terms of dollars and cents. My principal business is giving commercial value to the brilliant but misdirected ideas of others.
…...
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I am never content until I have constructed a mechanical model of the subject I am studying. If I succeed in making one, I understand. Otherwise, I do not. [Attributed; source unverified.]
Note: Webmaster has been unable to verify this quotation allegedly from his Baltimore Lectures. Is is widely quoted, usually without citation. A few instances indicate the quote came from a guest lecture, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1884). The lecture notes were published in Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light (1904). Webmaster has found no citation giving a page number, and has been unable to find the quote in that text. Anyone with more specific information, please contact Webmaster.
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I am sorry the infernal Divinities, who visit mankind with diseases, and are therefore at perpetual war with Doctors, should have prevented my seeing all you great Men at Soho to-day-Lord! what inventions, what wit, what rhetoric, metaphysical, mechanical and pyrotecnical, will be on the wing, bandy'd like a shuttlecock from one to another of your troop of philosophers! while poor I, I by myself I, imprizon'd in a post chaise, am joggled, and jostled, and bump'd, and bruised along the King's high road, to make war upon a pox or a fever!
Letter to Matthew Boulton, 5 April 1778. Quoted in Desmond King-Hele (ed.), The Letters of Erasmus Darwin (1981), 84.
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I can never satisfy myself until I can make a mechanical model of a thing. If I can make a mechanical model, I can understand it. As long as I cannot make a mechanical model all the way through I cannot understand.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 270-271. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 55.
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I had made up my mind to find that for which I was searching even if it required the remainder of my life. After innumerable failures I finally uncovered the principle for which I was searching, and I was astounded at its simplicity. I was still more astounded to discover the principle I had revealed not only beneficial in the construction of a mechanical hearing aid but it served as well as means of sending the sound of the voice over a wire. Another discovery which came out of my investigation was the fact that when a man gives his order to produce a definite result and stands by that order it seems to have the effect of giving him what might be termed a second sight which enables him to see right through ordinary problems. What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.
As quoted, without citation, in Mack R. Douglas, Making a Habit of Success: How to Make a Habit of Succeeding, How to Win With High Self-Esteem (1966, 1994), 38. Note: Webmaster is dubious of a quote which seems to appear in only one source, without a citation, decades after Bell’s death. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.
Principia. In Isaac Newton, Andrew Motte and N. W. Chittenden, Newton’s Principia (1847), 506-507.
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I publish this Essay in its present imperfect state, in order to prevent the furacious attempts of the prowling plagiary, and the insidious pretender to chymistry, from arrogating to themselves, and assuming my invention, in plundering silence: for there are those, who, if they can not be chymical, never fail by stratagem, and mechanical means, to deprive industry of the fruits, and fame of her labours.
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), vii-viii.
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I shall explain a System of the World differing in many particulars from any yet known, answering in all things to the common Rules of Mechanical Motions: This depends upon three Suppositions. First, That all Cœlestial Bodies whatsoever, have an attraction or gravitating power towards their own Centers, whereby they attract not only their own parts, and keep them from flying from them, as we may observe the Earth to do, but that they do also attract all the other Cœlestial bodies that are within the sphere of their activity; and consequently that not only the Sun and Moon have an influence upon the body and motion the Earth, and the Earth upon them, but that Mercury also Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter by their attractive powers, have a considerable influence upon its motion in the same manner the corresponding attractive power of the Earth hath a considerable influence upon every one of their motions also. The second supposition is this, That all bodies whatsoever that are put into a direct and simple motion, will continue to move forward in a streight line, till they are by some other effectual powers deflected and bent into a Motion, describing a Circle, Ellipse, or some other more compounded Curve Line. The third supposition is, That these attractive powers are so much the more powerful in operating, by how much the nearer the body wrought upon is to their own Centers. Now what these several degrees are I have not yet experimentally verified; but it is a notion, which if fully prosecuted as it ought to be, will mightily assist the Astronomer to reduce all the Cœlestial Motions to a certain rule, which I doubt will never be done true without it. He that understands the nature of the Circular Pendulum and Circular Motion, will easily understand the whole ground of this Principle, and will know where to find direction in Nature for the true stating thereof. This I only hint at present to such as have ability and opportunity of prosecuting this Inquiry, and are not wanting of Industry for observing and calculating, wishing heartily such may be found, having myself many other things in hand which I would first compleat and therefore cannot so well attend it. But this I durst promise the Undertaker, that he will find all the Great Motions of the World to be influenced by this Principle, and that the true understanding thereof will be the true perfection of Astronomy.
An Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth from Observations (1674), 27-8. Based on a Cutlerian Lecture delivered by Hooke at the Royal Society four years earlier.
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I should be the last to discard the law of organic heredity ... but the single word “heredity” cannot dispense science from the duty of making every possible inquiry into the mechanism of organic growth and of organic formation. To think that heredity will build organic beings without mechanical means is a piece of unscientific mysticism.
In 'On the Principles of Animal Morphology', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1888), 15, 294-295. Original as Letter to Mr John Murray, communicated to the Society by Professor Sir William Turner. Page given as in collected volume published 1889.
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If I say [electrons] behave like particles I give the wrong impression; also if I say they behave like waves. They behave in their own inimitable way, which technically could be called a quantum mechanical way. They behave in a way that is like nothing that you have seen before.
'Probability abd Uncertainty—the Quantum Mechanical View of Nature', the sixth of his Messenger Lectures (1964), Cornell University. Collected in The Character of Physical Law (1967), 128.
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If it be urged that the action of the potato is chemical and mechanical only, and that it is due to the chemical and mechanical effects of light and heat, the answer would seem to lie in an enquiry whether every sensation is not chemical and mechanical in its operation? Whether those things which we deem most purely spiritual are anything but disturbances of equilibrium in an infinite series of levers, beginning with those that are too small for microscopic detection, and going up to the human arm and the appliances which it makes use of? Whether there be not a molecular action of thought, whence a dynamical theory of the passions shall be deducible?
In Erewhon, Or, Over the Range (1872), 192.
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If, unwarned by my example, any man shall undertake and shall succeed in really constructing an engine embodying in itself the whole of the executive department of mathematical analysis upon different principles or by simpler mechanical means, I have no fear of leaving my reputation in his charge, for he alone will be fully able to appreciate the nature of my efforts and the value of their results.
In Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 450.
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In early life I had felt a strong desire to devote myself to the experimental study of nature; and, happening to see a glass containing some camphor, portions of which had been caused to condense in very beautiful crystals on the illuminated side, I was induced to read everything I could obtain respecting the chemical and mechanical influences of light, adhesion, and capillary attraction.
In preface to Scientific Memoirs (1878), xii.
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In general the position as regards all such new calculi is this That one cannot accomplish by them anything that could not be accomplished without them. However, the advantage is, that, provided such a calculus corresponds to the inmost nature of frequent needs, anyone who masters it thoroughly is able—without the unconscious inspiration of genius which no one can command—to solve the respective problems, yea, to solve them mechanically in complicated cases in which, without such aid, even genius becomes powerless. Such is the case with the invention of general algebra, with the differential calculus, and in a more limited region with Lagrange’s calculus of variations, with my calculus of congruences, and with Möbius’s calculus. Such conceptions unite, as it were, into an organic whole countless problems which otherwise would remain isolated and require for their separate solution more or less application of inventive genius.
Letter (15 May 1843) to Schumacher, collected in Carl Friedrich Gauss Werke (1866), Vol. 8, 298, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 197-198. From the original German, “Überhaupt verhält es sich mit allen solchen neuen Calculs so, dass man durch sie nichts leisten kann, was nicht auch ohne sie zu leisten wäre; der Vortheil ist aber der, dass, wenn ein solcher Calcul dem innersten Wesen vielfach vorkommender Bedürfnisse correspondirt, jeder, der sich ihn ganz angeeignet hat, auch ohne die gleichsam unbewussten Inspirationen des Genies, die niemand erzwingen kann, die dahin gehörigen Aufgaben lösen, ja selbst in so verwickelten Fällen gleichsam mechanisch lösen kann, wo ohne eine solche Hülfe auch das Genie ohnmächtig wird. So ist es mit der Erfindung der Buchstabenrechnung überhaupt; so mit der Differentialrechnung gewesen; so ist es auch (wenn auch in partielleren Sphären) mit Lagranges Variationsrechnung, mit meiner Congruenzenrechnung und mit Möbius' Calcul. Es werden durch solche Conceptionen unzählige Aufgaben, die sonst vereinzelt stehen, und jedesmal neue Efforts (kleinere oder grössere) des Erfindungsgeistes erfordern, gleichsam zu einem organischen Reiche.”
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In general, art has preceded science. Men have executed great, and curious, and beautiful works before they had a scientific insight into the principles on which the success of their labours was founded. There were good artificers in brass and iron before the principles of the chemistry of metals were known; there was wine among men before there was a philosophy of vinous fermentation; there were mighty masses raised into the air, cyclopean walls and cromlechs, obelisks and pyramids—probably gigantic Doric pillars and entablatures—before there was a theory of the mechanical powers. … Art was the mother of Science.
Lecture (26 Nov 1851), to the London Society of Arts, 'The General Bearing of the Great Exhibition on the Progress of Art and Science', collected in Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851' (1852), 7-8.
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In order to discover Truth in this manner by observation and reason, it is requisite we should fix on some principles whose certainty and effects are demonstrable to our senses, which may serve to explain the phenomena of natural bodies and account for the accidents that arise in them; such only are those which are purely material in the human body with mechanical and physical experiments … a physician may and ought to furnish himself with, and reason from, such things as are demonstrated to be true in anatomy, chemistry, and mechanics, with natural and experimental philosophy, provided he confines his reasoning within the bounds of truth and simple experiment.
As quoted in selection from the writings of Herman Boerhaave, collected in Oliver Joseph Thatcher (ed.), The Ideas that Have Influenced Civilization, in the Original Documents (1800), Vol. 6, 242.
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In the conception of a machine or the product of a machine there is a point where one may leave off for parsimonious reasons, without having reached aesthetic perfection; at this point perhaps every mechanical factor is accounted for, and the sense of incompleteness is due to the failure to recognize the claims of the human agent. Aesthetics carries with it the implications of alternatives between a number of mechanical solutions of equal validity; and unless this awareness is present at every stage of the process … it is not likely to come out with any success in the final stage of design.
From 'The Esthetic Assimilation of the Machine', Technics and Civilization (1934), 349.
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In the course of normal speaking the inhibitory function of the will is continuously directed to bringing the course of ideas and the articulatory movements into harmony with each other. If the expressive movement which which follows the idea is retarded through mechanical causes, as is the case in writing ... such anticipations make their appearance with particular ease.
Folk Psychology (1900)
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In the discussion of the. energies involved in the deformation of nuclei, the concept of surface tension of nuclear matter has been used and its value had been estimated from simple considerations regarding nuclear forces. It must be remembered, however, that the surface tension of a charged droplet is diminished by its charge, and a rough estimate shows that the surface tension of nuclei, decreasing with increasing nuclear charge, may become zero for atomic numbers of the order of 100. It seems therefore possible that the uranium nucleus has only small stability of form, and may, after neutron capture, divide itself into two nuclei of roughly equal size (the precise ratio of sizes depending on liner structural features and perhaps partly on chance). These two nuclei will repel each other and should gain a total kinetic energy of c. 200 Mev., as calculated from nuclear radius and charge. This amount of energy may actually be expected to be available from the difference in packing fraction between uranium and the elements in the middle of the periodic system. The whole 'fission' process can thus be described in an essentially classical way, without having to consider quantum-mechanical 'tunnel effects', which would actually be extremely small, on account of the large masses involved.
[Co-author with Otto Robert Frisch]
Lise Meitner and O. R. Frisch, 'Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: a New Type of Nuclear Reaction', Nature (1939), 143, 239.
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In the progressive growth of astronomy, physics or mechanical science was developed, and when this had been, to a certain degree, successfully cultivated, it gave birth to the science of chemistry.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 2.
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Inspiration plays no less a role in science than it does in the realm of art. It is a childish notion to think that a mathematician attains any scientifically valuable results by sitting at his desk with a ruler, calculating machines or other mechanical means. The mathematical imagination of a Weierstrass is naturally quite differently oriented in meaning and result than is the imagination of an artist, and differs basically in quality. But the psychological processes do not differ. Both are frenzy (in the sense of Plato’s “mania”) and “inspiration.”
Max Weber
From a Speech (1918) presented at Munich University, published in 1919, and collected in 'Wissenschaft als Beruf', Gessammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (1922), 524-525. As given in H.H. Gerth and C. Wright-Mills (translators and eds.), 'Science as a Vocation', Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946), 136.
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Instrumental or mechanical science is the noblest and above all others, the most useful.
(Sul volo degli Uccelli, 3 r.) In Edward McCurdy (ed., trans.), Leonardo da Vinci’s Note-Books: Arranged and Rendered into English (1908), 47.
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It frequently happens that two persons, reasoning right on a mechanical subject, think alike and invent the same thing without any communication with each other.
As quoted by Coleman Sellers, Jr., in his Lecture (20 Nov 1885) delivered at the Franklin Institute. Printed in Coleman Sellers, Jr., 'Oliver Evans and his Inventions', Journal of the Franklin Institute (Jul 1886), 122, No. 1, 15.
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It is my intent to beget a good understanding between the chymists and the mechanical philosophers who have hitherto been too little acquainted with one another's learning.
The Sceptical Chymist (1661).
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It is often assumed that because the young child is not competent to study geometry systematically he need be taught nothing geometrical; that because it would be foolish to present to him physics and mechanics as sciences it is useless to present to him any physical or mechanical principles.
An error of like origin, which has wrought incalculable mischief, denies to the scholar the use of the symbols and methods of algebra in connection with his early essays in numbers because, forsooth, he is not as yet capable of mastering quadratics! … The whole infant generation, wrestling with arithmetic, seek for a sign and groan and travail together in pain for the want of it; but no sign is given them save the sign of the prophet Jonah, the withered gourd, fruitless endeavor, wasted strength.
From presidential address (9 Sep 1884) to the General Meeting of the American Social Science Association, 'Industrial Education', printed in Journal of Social Science (1885), 19, 121. Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 132.
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It is probable that the scheme of physics will be enlarged so as to embrace the behaviour of living organisms under the influence of life and mind. Biology and psychology are not alien sciences; their operations are not solely mechanical, nor can they be formulated by physics as it is today; but they belong to a physical universe, and their mode of action ought to be capable of being formulated in terms of an enlarged physics in the future, in which the ether will take a predominant place. On the other hand it may be thought that those entities cannot be brought to book so easily, and that they will always elude our ken. If so, there will be a dualism in the universe, which posterity will find staggering, but that will not alter the facts.
In Past Years: an Autobiography (1932), 350. Quoted in book review, Waldehar Kaempfert, 'Sir Oliver Lodge Stands by the Old Physics', New York Times (21 Feb 1932), BR5.
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It is the destiny of wine to be drunk, and it is the destiny of glucose to be oxidized. But it was not oxidized immediately: its drinker kept it in his liver for more than a week, well curled up and tranquil, as a reserve aliment for a sudden effort; an effort that he was forced to make the following Sunday, pursuing a bolting horse. Farewell to the hexagonal structure: in the space of a few instants the skein was unwound and became glucose again, and this was dragged by the bloodstream all the way to a minute muscle fiber in the thigh, and here brutally split into two molecules of lactic acid, the grim harbinger of fatigue: only later, some minutes after, the panting of the lungs was able to supply the oxygen necessary to quietly oxidize the latter. So a new molecule of carbon dioxide returned to the atmosphere, and a parcel of the energy that the sun had handed to the vine-shoot passed from the state of chemical energy to that of mechanical energy, and thereafter settled down in the slothful condition of heat, warming up imperceptibly the air moved by the running and the blood of the runner. 'Such is life,' although rarely is it described in this manner: an inserting itself, a drawing off to its advantage, a parasitizing of the downward course of energy, from its noble solar form to the degraded one of low-temperature heat. In this downward course, which leads to equilibrium and thus death, life draws a bend and nests in it.
The Periodic Table (1975), trans. Raymond Rosenthal (1984), 192-3.
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It is well to observe the force and virtue and consequence of discoveries, and these are to be seen nowhere more conspicuously than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, and of which the origins, although recent, are obscure and inglorious; namely, printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 129. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 114.
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It is worthy of note that nearly all that has been done for the improvement of the steam engine has been accomplished, not by men educated in colleges or technical schools, but by laborers, mechanics, and engine-men. There seem to be instances where the mechanical instinct takes precedence over the higher powers of the mind, in efficiency in harnessing the forces of nature and causing them to do our work.
In paper 'Stephenson and Transportation' (1916), collected in Francis Edgar Stanley, Theories Worth Having and Other Papers (1919), 66-67.
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It needs scarcely be pointed out that in placing Mathematics at the head of Positive Philosophy, we are only extending the application of the principle which has governed our whole Classification. We are simply carrying back our principle to its first manifestation. Geometrical and Mechanical phenomena are the most general, the most simple, the most abstract of all,— the most irreducible to others, the most independent of them; serving, in fact, as a basis to all others. It follows that the study of them is an indispensable preliminary to that of all others. Therefore must Mathematics hold the first place in the hierarchy of the sciences, and be the point of departure of all Education whether general or special.
In Auguste Comte and Harriet Martineau (trans.), The Positive Philosophy (1858), Introduction, Chap. 2, 50.
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It seems to me, he says, that the test of “Do we or not understand a particular subject in physics?” is, “Can we make a mechanical model of it?” I have an immense admiration for Maxwell’s model of electromagnetic induction. He makes a model that does all the wonderful things that electricity docs in inducing currents, etc., and there can be no doubt that a mechanical model of that kind is immensely instructive and is a step towards a definite mechanical theory of electromagnetism.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 132. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 54-55.
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Knowledge and wonder are the dyad of our worthy lives as intellectual beings. Voyager did wonders for our knowledge, but performed just as mightily in the service of wonder–and the two elements are complementary, not independent or opposed. The thought fills me with awe–a mechanical contraption that could fit in the back of a pickup truck, traveling through space for twelve years, dodging around four giant bodies and their associated moons, and finally sending exquisite photos across more than four light-hours of space from the farthest planet in our solar system.
…...
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Mathematics gives the young man a clear idea of demonstration and habituates him to form long trains of thought and reasoning methodically connected and sustained by the final certainty of the result; and it has the further advantage, from a purely moral point of view, of inspiring an absolute and fanatical respect for truth. In addition to all this, mathematics, and chiefly algebra and infinitesimal calculus, excite to a high degree the conception of the signs and symbols—necessary instruments to extend the power and reach of the human mind by summarizing an aggregate of relations in a condensed form and in a kind of mechanical way. These auxiliaries are of special value in mathematics because they are there adequate to their definitions, a characteristic which they do not possess to the same degree in the physical and mathematical [natural?] sciences.
There are, in fact, a mass of mental and moral faculties that can be put in full play only by instruction in mathematics; and they would be made still more available if the teaching was directed so as to leave free play to the personal work of the student.
In 'Science as an Instrument of Education', Popular Science Monthly (1897), 253.
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Mechanical action may be derived from heat, and heat may be generated by mechanical action, by means of forces either acting between contiguous parts of bodies, or due to electric excitation; but in no other way known, or even conceivable, in the present state of science. Hence thermo-dynamics falls naturally into two divisions, of which the subjects are respectively, the relation of heat to the forces acting between contiguous parts of bodies, and the relation of heat to electrical agency.
In 'On the Dynamical Theory of Heat, with Numerical Results Deduced from Mr Joule's Equivalent of a Thermal Unit, and M. Regnault's Observations on Steam' (1851). Part VI, 'Thermo Electric Currents' (1854). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882), Vol. 1, 232.
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Mechanical Notation ... I look upon it as one of the most important additions I have made to human knowledge. It has placed the construction of machinery in the rank of a demonstrative science. The day will arrive when no school of mechanical drawing will be thought complete without teaching it.
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 452.
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Modern war, even from the consideration of physical welfare, is not creative. Soldiers and civilians alike are supposed to put on mental khaki. … War means the death of that fertile war which consists of the free, restless conflict of ideas. The war which matters is that of the scientist with nature; of the farmer with the tawny desert; of … philosopher against … mob stupidity. Such war is creative. … Inventions that further life and joy; freedom; new knowledge, whether Luther Burbank’s about the breeding of fruits or Einstein's about relativity; great cathedrals and Beethoven's music: these modern mechanical war can destroy but never produce. At its most inventive height, war creates the Maxim gun, the submarine, disseminable germs of disease, life-blasting gases. Spiritually and intellectually, modern war is not creative.
From ‘The Stagnation of War’, in Allen D. Hole (ed.) The Messenger of Peace (Nov 1924), 49, No. 11, 162-163.
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Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, the arithmetical theory of forms, of which the foundation was laid in the diophantine theorems of Fermat, left without proof by their author, which resisted all efforts of the myriad-minded Euler to reduce to demonstration, and only yielded up their cause of being when turned over in the blow-pipe flame of Gauss’s transcendent genius; or the doctrine of double periodicity, which resulted from the observation of Jacobi of a purely analytical fact of transformation; or Legendre’s law of reciprocity; or Sturm’s theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected (if my memory serves me right) with the motion of compound pendulums; or Huyghen’s method of continued fractions, characterized by Lagrange as one of the principal discoveries of that great mathematician, and to which he appears to have been led by the construction of his Planetary Automaton; or the new algebra, speaking of which one of my predecessors (Mr. Spottiswoode) has said, not without just reason and authority, from this chair, “that it reaches out and indissolubly connects itself each year with fresh branches of mathematics, that the theory of equations has become almost new through it, algebraic geometry transfigured in its light, that the calculus of variations, molecular physics, and mechanics” (he might, if speaking at the present moment, go on to add the theory of elasticity and the development of the integral calculus) “have all felt its influence”.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 238 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 655-56.
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My “"thinking”" time was devoted mainly to activities that were essentially clerical or mechanical: searching, calculating, plotting, transforming, determining the logical or dynamic consequences of a set of assumptions or hypotheses, preparing the way for a decision or an insight. Moreover ... the operations that fill most of the time allegedly devoted to technical thinking are operations that can be performed more effectively by machines than by men.
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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Natural powers, principally those of steam and falling water, are subsidized and taken into human employment Spinning-machines, power-looms, and all the mechanical devices, acting, among other operatives, in the factories and work-shops, are but so many laborers. They are usually denominated labor-saving machines, but it would be more just to call them labor-doing machines. They are made to be active agents; to have motion, and to produce effect; and though without intelligence, they are guided by laws of science, which are exact and perfect, and they produce results, therefore, in general, more accurate than the human hand is capable of producing.
Speech in Senate (12 Mar 1838). In The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster (1903), Vol. 8, 177.
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Nature, everywhere the most amazingly and outstandingly remarkable producer of living bodies, being most carefully arranged according to physical, mechanical, and chemical laws, does not give even the smallest hint of its extraordinary and tireless workings and quite clearly points to its work as being alone worthy of a benign and omnipotent God; and it carries this bright quality in all of its traces, in that, just as all of its general mechanisms rejoice, so also do all of their various smallest component parts rejoice in the depth of wisdom, in the height of perfection, and in the lofty arrangement of forms and qualities, which lie far beyond every investigation of the human mind.
'Inaugural Physico-Medical Dissertation on the Blood and the Circulation of the Microcosm' (1749). Trans. Arthur Donovan and Joseph Prentiss, James Hutton's Medical Dissertation (1980), 29.
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Not only in antiquity but in our own times also laws have been passed...to secure good conditions for workers; so it is right that the art of medicine should contribute its portion for the benefit and relief of those for whom the law has shown such foresight...[We] ought to show peculiar zeal...in taking precautions for their safety. I for one have done all that lay in my power, and have not thought it beneath me to step into workshops of the meaner sort now and again and study the obscure operations of mechanical arts.
De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (1713). Translation by W.C.Wright, in A.L.Birmingham Classics of Medicine Library (1983). Quoted in Edward J. Huth, T. J. Murray (eds.), Medicine in Quotations: Views of Health and Disease Through the Ages
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Now it is a well-known principle of zoological evolution that an isolated region, if large and sufficiently varied in its topography, soil, climate and vegetation, will give rise to a diversified fauna according to the law of adaptive radiation from primitive and central types. Branches will spring off in all directions to take advantage of every possible opportunity of securing food. The modifications which animals undergo in this adaptive radiation are largely of mechanical nature, they are limited in number and kind by hereditary, stirp or germinal influences, and thus result in the independent evolution of similar types in widely-separated regions under the law of parallelism or homoplasy. This law causes the independent origin not only of similar genera but of similar families and even of our similar orders. Nature thus repeats herself upon a vast scale, but the similarity is never complete and exact.
'The Geological and Faunal Relations of Europe and America during the Tertiary Period and the Theory of the Successive Invasions of an African Fauna', Science (1900), 11, 563-64.
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Ohm found that the results could be summed up in such a simple law that he who runs may read it, and a schoolboy now can predict what a Faraday then could only guess at roughly. By Ohm's discovery a large part of the domain of electricity became annexed by Coulomb's discovery of the law of inverse squares, and completely annexed by Green's investigations. Poisson attacked the difficult problem of induced magnetisation, and his results, though differently expressed, are still the theory, as a most important first approximation. Ampere brought a multitude of phenomena into theory by his investigations of the mechanical forces between conductors supporting currents and magnets. Then there were the remarkable researches of Faraday, the prince of experimentalists, on electrostatics and electrodynamics and the induction of currents. These were rather long in being brought from the crude experimental state to a compact system, expressing the real essence. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Faraday was not a mathematician. It can scarely be doubted that had he been one, he would have anticipated much later work. He would, for instance, knowing Ampere's theory, by his own results have readily been led to Neumann’s theory, and the connected work of Helmholtz and Thomson. But it is perhaps too much to expect a man to be both the prince of experimentalists and a competent mathematician.
From article 'Electro-magnetic Theory II', in The Electrician (16 Jan 1891), 26, No. 661, 331.
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On coming down the stairs at dinner Tris [Trismegistus = Frankland] who walked before me seemed impressed by a mechanical impulse which impelled him along the corridor with a fervid velocity. On reaching the stair bottom I discovered the cause of the attraction. Miss Edmondson, like a pure planet, had checked his gravitating tendencies and lo! He stood radiant with smiles dropping joysparkes from his eyes as he clasped her hand. His countenance became a transparency through which the full proportions of his soul shone manifest; his blood tingled from his eyebrows to his finger ends, and wealthy with rich emotions his face became the avenue of what he felt.
Journals of John Tyndall, 18 Jan 1848. Royal Institution Archives.
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Once upon a time we were just plain people. But that was before we began having relationships with mechanical systems. Get involved with a machine and sooner or later you are reduced to a factor.
In 'The Human Factor,' The Washington Post (Jan 1987).
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One should not wrongly reify “cause” and “effect,” as the natural scientists do (and whoever, like them, now “naturalizes” in his thinking), according to the prevailing mechanical doltishness which makes the cause press and push until it “effects” its end; one should use “cause” and “effect” only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and communication—not for explanation.
In Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Trans. W. Kaufmann (ed.), Basic Writings of Nietzsche (1968), 219.
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Perhaps the problem is the seeming need that people have of making black-and-white cutoffs when it comes to certain mysterious phenomena, such as life and consciousness. People seem to want there to be an absolute threshold between the living and the nonliving, and between the thinking and the “merely mechanical,” ... But the onward march of science seems to force us ever more clearly into accepting intermediate levels of such properties.
‘Shades of Gray Along the Consciousness Continuum’, Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought (1995), 310.
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Proposals for forming a Public Institution for diffusing the knowledge of Mechanical Inventions, and for teaching, by Philosophical Lectures and Experiments, the application of Science to the common purposes of life.
Title of the pamphlet (Apr 1799) in which he proposed what is now the Royal Institution. As named in a notice under 'A Correct List of New Publications', The Monthly Magazine: Part 1 for 1799 from January to June, inclusive (Apr 1799), 7, Part 1, 221.
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Pure mathematics is not concerned with magnitude. It is merely the doctrine of notation of relatively ordered thought operations which have become mechanical.
In Schriften (1901), Zweiter Teil, 282.
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RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  273.
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Science can give us only the tools in the box, these mechanical miracles that it has already given us. But of what use to us are miraculous tools until we have mastered the humane, cultural use of them? We do not want to live in a world where the machine has mastered the man; we want to live in a world where man has mastered the machine.
Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture: Selected Writings 1894-1940 (1941), 258.
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Science quickens and cultivates directly the faculty of observation, which in very many persons lies almost dormant through life, the power of accurate and rapid generalizations, and the mental habit of method and arrangement; it accustoms young persons to trace the sequence of cause and effect; it familiarizes then with a kind of reasoning which interests them, and which they can promptly comprehend; and it is perhaps the best corrective for that indolence which is the vice of half-awakened minds, and which shrinks from any exertion that is not, like an effort of memory, merely mechanical.
Anonymous
Report of the Royal Commission on Education (1861), Parliamentary Papers (1864), Vol 20, 32-33, as cited in Paul White, Thomas Huxley: Making the "Man of Science" (2003), 77, footnote. Also quoted in John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life (1887, 2007), 63.
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Science sees everything mechanically, through part of the moving-instinctive centre. It has no answer to human needs in a crisis.
In On Love & Psychological Exercises: With Some Aphorisms & Other Essays (1998), 57.
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Science sees the process of evolution from the outside, as one might a train of cars going by, and resolves it into the physical and mechanical elements, without getting any nearer the reason of its going by, or the point of its departure or destination.
From Under the Apple-Trees (1916), 212.
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Scientists wrote beautifully through the 19th century and on into the early 20th. But somewhere after that, coincident with the explosive growth of research, the art of writing science suffered a grave setback, and the stultifying convention descended that the best scientific prose should sound like a non-human author addressing a mechanical reader.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), Preface, xii.
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Stone, wood and iron are wrought and put together by mechanical methods, but the greatest work is to keep right the animal part of the machinery.
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That a country, [England], eminently distinguished for its mechanical and manufacturing ingenuity, should be indifferent to the progress of inquiries which form the highest departments of that knowledge on whose more elementary truths its wealth and rank depend, is a fact which is well deserving the attention of those who shall inquire into the causes that influence the progress of nations.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 1.
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That scientific work should be more useful the more it has been used, while mechanical work is expended in use, may seem strange to us.
From 'The Economy of Science' in The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Exposition of its Principles (1893), 488.
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The Atoms or Particles, which now constitute Heaven and Earth, being once separate and diffused in the Mundane Space, like the supposed Chaos, could never without a God by their Mechanical affections have convened into this present Frame of Things or any other like it.
A Confutation of Atheism from the Origin and Frame of the World. (1693), Part II, 7.
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The beginning of civilisation is the discovery of some useful arts, by which men acquire property, comforts, or luxuries. The necessity or desire of preserving them leads to laws and social institutions. The discovery of peculiar arts gives superiority to particular nations ... to subjugate other nations, who learn their arts, and ultimately adopt their manners;— so that in reality the origin as well as the progress and improvement of civil society is founded in mechanical and chemical inventions.
Consolations In Travel; or, the Last Days of a Philosopher (1830), 228.
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The book of knowledge of ingenious mechanical devices.
The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (c. 1204 or 1206).
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The development of mathematics toward greater precision has led, as is well known, to the formalization of large tracts of it, so that one can prove any theorem using nothing but a few mechanical rules... One might therefore conjecture that these axioms and rules of inference are sufficient to decide any mathematical question that can at all be formally expressed in these systems. It will be shown below that this is not the case, that on the contrary there are in the two systems mentioned relatively simple problems in the theory of integers that cannot be decided on the basis of the axioms.
'On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems I' (193 1), in S. Feferman (ed.), Kurt Gödel Collected Works: Publications 1929-1936 (1986), Vol. I, 145.
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The digestive canal is in its task a complete chemical factory. The raw material passes through a long series of institutions in which it is subjected to certain mechanical and, mainly, chemical processing, and then, through innumerable side-streets, it is brought into the depot of the body. Aside from this basic series of institutions, along which the raw material moves, there is a series of lateral chemical manufactories, which prepare certain reagents for the appropriate processing of the raw material.
Speech to the Society of Russian Physicians (Dec 1874). as translated in Daniel P. Todes, Pavlov’s Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise (2002), 155.
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The dogma of the Ghost in the Machine ... maintains that there exist both bodies and minds; that there occur physical processes and mental processes; that there are mechanical causes of corporeal movements and mental causes of corporeal movements.
The Concept of Mind (1949), 22.
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The domain, over which the language of analysis extends its sway, is, indeed, relatively limited, but within this domain it so infinitely excels ordinary language that its attempt to follow the former must be given up after a few steps. The mathematician, who knows how to think in this marvelously condensed language, is as different from the mechanical computer as heaven from earth.
In Jahresberichte der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, 13, 367. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 197.
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The enthusiasm of Sylvester for his own work, which manifests itself here as always, indicates one of his characteristic qualities: a high degree of subjectivity in his productions and publications. Sylvester was so fully possessed by the matter which for the time being engaged his attention, that it appeared to him and was designated by him as the summit of all that is important, remarkable and full of future promise. It would excite his phantasy and power of imagination in even a greater measure than his power of reflection, so much so that he could never marshal the ability to master his subject-matter, much less to present it in an orderly manner.
Considering that he was also somewhat of a poet, it will be easier to overlook the poetic flights which pervade his writing, often bombastic, sometimes furnishing apt illustrations; more damaging is the complete lack of form and orderliness of his publications and their sketchlike character, … which must be accredited at least as much to lack of objectivity as to a superfluity of ideas. Again, the text is permeated with associated emotional expressions, bizarre utterances and paradoxes and is everywhere accompanied by notes, which constitute an essential part of Sylvester’s method of presentation, embodying relations, whether proximate or remote, which momentarily suggested themselves. These notes, full of inspiration and occasional flashes of genius, are the more stimulating owing to their incompleteness. But none of his works manifest a desire to penetrate the subject from all sides and to allow it to mature; each mere surmise, conceptions which arose during publication, immature thoughts and even errors were ushered into publicity at the moment of their inception, with utmost carelessness, and always with complete unfamiliarity of the literature of the subject. Nowhere is there the least trace of self-criticism. No one can be expected to read the treatises entire, for in the form in which they are available they fail to give a clear view of the matter under contemplation.
Sylvester’s was not a harmoniously gifted or well-balanced mind, but rather an instinctively active and creative mind, free from egotism. His reasoning moved in generalizations, was frequently influenced by analysis and at times was guided even by mystical numerical relations. His reasoning consists less frequently of pure intelligible conclusions than of inductions, or rather conjectures incited by individual observations and verifications. In this he was guided by an algebraic sense, developed through long occupation with processes of forms, and this led him luckily to general fundamental truths which in some instances remain veiled. His lack of system is here offset by the advantage of freedom from purely mechanical logical activity.
The exponents of his essential characteristics are an intuitive talent and a faculty of invention to which we owe a series of ideas of lasting value and bearing the germs of fruitful methods. To no one more fittingly than to Sylvester can be applied one of the mottos of the Philosophic Magazine:
“Admiratio generat quaestionem, quaestio investigationem investigatio inventionem.”
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), 50, 155-160. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 176-178.
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The existence of life must be considered as an elementary fact that can not be explained, but must be taken as a starting point in biology, in a similar way as the quantum of action, which appears as an irrational element from the point of view of classical mechanical physics, taken together with the existence of elementary particles, forms the foundation of atomic physics. The asserted impossibility of a physical or chemical explanation of the function peculiar to life would in this sense be analogous to the insufficiency of the mechanical analysis for the understanding of the stability of atoms.
'Light and Life', Nature, 1933, 131, 458.
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The experimental investigation by which Ampere established the law of the mechanical action between electric currents is one of the most brilliant achievements in science. The whole theory and experiment, seems as if it had leaped, full grown and full armed, from the brain of the 'Newton of Electricity'. It is perfect in form, and unassailable in accuracy, and it is summed up in a formula from which all the phenomena may be deduced, and which must always remain the cardinal formula of electro-dynamics.
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 162.
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The experimental investigation by which Ampère established the law of the mechanical action between electric currents is one of the most brilliant achievements in science. The whole, theory and experiment, seems as if it had leaped, full grown and full armed, from the brain of the “Newton of Electricity”. It is perfect in form, and unassailable in accuracy, and it is summed up in a formula from which all the phenomena may be deduced, and which must always remain the cardinal formula of electro-dynamics.
In James Clerk Maxwell, Electricity and Magnetism (1881), Vol. 2, 163
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The following general conclusions are drawn from the propositions stated above, and known facts with reference to the mechanics of animal and vegetable bodies:—
There is at present in the material world a universal tendency to the dissipation of mechanical energy.
Any restoration of mechanical energy, without more than an equivalent of dissipation, is impossible in inanimate material processes, and is probably never effected by means of organized matter, either endowed with vegetable life, or subjected to the will of an animated creature.
Within a finite period of time past the earth must have been, and within a finite period of time to come the earth must again be, unfit for the habitation of man as at present constituted, unless operations have been, or are to be performed, which are impossible under the laws to which the known operations going on at present in the material world are subject.
In 'On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1852, 3, 141-142. In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882-1911), Vol. 1, 513-514.
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The fundamental laws of the universe which correspond to the two fundamental theorems of the mechanical theory of heat.
1. The energy of the universe is constant.
2. The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.
The Mechanical Theory of Heat (1867), 365.
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The future offers very little hope for those who expect that our new mechanical slaves will offer us a world in which we may rest from thinking. Help us they may, but at the cost of supreme demands upon our honesty and our intelligence. The world of the future will be an ever more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.
In God & Golem, Inc (1964), 73-74.
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The highest mathematical principles may be involved in the production of the simplest mechanical result.
In 'Academical Education', Orations and Speeches on Various Occasions (1870), Vol. 3, 513. This is seen misattributed to Eric Temple Bell, but he only quoted it, attributing it to Everett, in for example, Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Sciences (1938), 20.
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The incessant call in this country for practical results and the confounding of mechanical inventions with scientific discoveries has a very prejudicial influence on science. … A single scientific principle may include a thousand applications and is therefore though if not of immediate use of vastly more importance even in a practical view.
Presidential address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (22 Aug 1850),The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 8, 101-102.
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The main Business of Natural Philosophy is to argue from Phænomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these, and to such like Questions.
From 'Query 31', Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 344.
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The mechanical speculations of the ancients, particularly of the Greeks, related wholly to statics. Dynamics was founded by Galileo.
In The Science of Mechanics (1893), 128.
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The mechanical world view is a testimonial to three men: Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton. After 300 years we are still living off their ideas.
In Jeremy Rifkin and Ted Howard, Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World (1980), 19.
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The mere man of pleasure is miserable in old age, and the mere drudge in business is but little better, whereas, natural philosophy, mathematical and mechanical science, are a continual source of tranquil pleasure, and in spite of the gloomy dogmas of priests and of superstition, the study of these things is the true theology; it teaches man to know and admire the Creator, for the principles of science are in the creation, and are unchangeable and of divine origin.
Age of Reason (1794, 1818), 35.
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The monogram of our national initials, which is the symbol for our monetary unit, the dollar, is almost as frequently conjoined to the figures of an engineer’s calculations as are the symbols indicating feet, minutes, pounds, or gallons. … This statement, while true in regard to the work of all engineers, applies particularly to that of the mechanical engineer…
'The Engineer as an Economist', Proceedings of the Chicago Meeting (25-28 May 1886)Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1886), 7, 428.
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The most important distinction between the two qualities [talent and genius] is this: one, in conception, follows mechanical processes; the other, vital. Talent feebly conceives objects with the senses and understanding; genius, fusing all its powers together in the alembic of an impassioned imagination, clutches every thing in the concrete, conceives objects as living realities, gives body to spiritual abstractions, and spirit to bodily appearances, and like
“A gate of steel
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
His figure and his heat!”
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203. The quotation at the end is from Wiliam Shakespeare, Tr. & Cress. iii, 3.
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The neuro-physiological organization which we call instinct functions in a blindly mechanical way, particularly apparent when its function goes wrong.
On Aggression, trans. M. Latzke (1966), 73.
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The philosopher may very justly be delighted with the extent of his views, the artificer with the readiness of his hands, but let the one remember that without mechanical performance, refined speculation is an empty dream, and the other that without theoretical reasoning, dexterity is little more than brute instinct.
In 'The Rambler' (17 Apr 1750), No. 9. Collected in The Rambler (1763), Vol. 1, 48.
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The question whether atoms exist or not... belongs rather to metaphysics. In chemistry we have only to decide whether the assumption of atoms is an hypothesis adapted to the explanation of chemical phenomena... whether a further development of the atomic hypothesis promises to advance our knowledge of the mechanism of chemical phenomena... I rather expect that we shall some day find, for what we now call atoms, a mathematico-mechanical explanation, which will render an account of atomic weight, of atomicity, and of numerous other properties of the so-called atoms.
Laboratory (1867), 1, 303.
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The reader will find no figures in this work. The methods which I set forth do not require either constructions or geometrical or mechanical reasonings: but only algebraic operations, subject to a regular and uniform rule of procedure.
From the original French, “On ne trouvera point de Figures dans set Ouvrage. Les méthodes que j’y expose ne demandent ni constructions, ni raisonnements géométriqus ou méchaniques, mais seulement des opérations algébriques, assujetties à une march régulière et uniforme.” In 'Avertissement', Mécanique Analytique (1788, 1811), Vol. 1, i. English version as given in Cornelius Lanczos, The Variational Principles of Mechanics (1966), Vol. 1, 347.
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The relationships of free and latent heat set forth in the language of the materialistic theory remain the same if in place of the quantity of matter we put the constant quantity of motion in accordance with the laws of mechanics. The only difference enters where it concerns the generations of heat through other motive forces and where it concerns the equivalent of heat that can be produced by a particular quantity of a mechanical or electrical force.
'Wärme, physiologisch', Handwörterbuch der medicinischen Wissenschaften (1845). In Timothy Lenoir, The Strategy of Life (1982), 203.
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The scientific world-picture vouchsafes a very complete understanding of all that happens–it makes it just a little too understandable. It allows you to imagine the total display as that of a mechanical clockwork which, for all that science knows, could go on just the same as it does, without there being consciousness, will, endeavor, pain and delight and responsibility connected with it–though they actually are. And the reason for this disconcerting situation is just this: that for the purpose of constructing the picture of the external world, we have used the greatly simplifying device of cutting our own personality out, removing it; hence it is gone, it has evaporated, it is ostensibly not needed.
…...
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The stream of human knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of this realm.
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 137.
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The sublime discoveries of Newton, and, together with these, his not less fruitful than wonderful application, of the higher mathesis to the movement of the celestial bodies, and to the laws of light, gave almost religious sanction to the corpuscular system and mechanical theory. It became synonymous with philosophy itself. It was the sole portal at which truth was permitted to enter. The human body was treated an hydraulic machine... In short, from the time of Kepler to that of Newton, and from Newton to Hartley, not only all things in external nature, but the subtlest mysteries of life, organization, and even of the intellect and moral being, were conjured within the magic circle of mathematical formulae.
Hints Towards the Formation of a more Comprehensive Theory of Life (1848). In The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Shorter Works and Fragments (1995), H. J. Jackson and J. R. de J. Jackson (eds.), Vol. 11, 1, 498.
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The subsequent course of nature, teaches, that God, indeed, gave motion to matter; but that, in the beginning, he so guided the various motion of the parts of it, as to contrive them into the world he design'd they should compose; and establish'd those rules of motion, and that order amongst things corporeal, which we call the laws of nature. Thus, the universe being once fram'd by God, and the laws of motion settled, and all upheld by his perpetual concourse, and general providence; the same philosophy teaches, that the phenomena of the world, are physically produced by the mechanical properties of the parts of matter; and, that they operate upon one another according to mechanical laws. 'Tis of this kind of corpuscular philosophy, that I speak.
'The Excellence and Grounds of the Mechanical Philosophy', In P. Shaw (ed.), The Philosophical Works of Robert Boyle (1725), Vol. 1, 187.
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The thermal agency by which mechanical effect may be obtained is the transference of heat from one body to another at a lower temperature.
'Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu' (1824) translated by R.H. Thurston in Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, and on Machines Fitted to Develop that Power (1890), 139.
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The whole theory of the motive power of heat is founded on the two following propositions, due respectively to Joule, and to Carnot and Clausius.
PROP. I. Joule).—When equal quantities of mechanical effect are produced by any means whatever from purely thermal sources, or lost in purely thermal effects, equal quantities of heat are put out of existence or are generated.
PROP. II. (Carnot and Clausius).—If an engine be such that, when it is worked backwards, the physical and mechanical agencies in every part of its motions are all reversed, it produces as much mechanical effect as can be produced by any thermo-dynamic engine, with the same temperatures of source and refrigerator, from a given quantity of heat.
In 'On the Dynamical Theory of Heat, with Numerical Results Deduced from Mr Joule's Equivalent of a Thermal Unit, and M. Regnault's Observations on Steam' (1851). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882), Vol. 1, 178.
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The [mechanical] bird I have described ought to be able by the help of the wind to rise to a great height, and this will prove to be its safety; since even if… revolutions [of the winds] were to befall it, it would still have time to regain a condition of equilibrium; provided that its various parts have a great power of resistance, so that they can safely withstand the fury and violence of the descent, by the aid of the defenses which I have mentioned; and its joints should be made of strong tanned hide, and sewn with cords of strong raw silk. And let no one encumber himself with iron bands, for these are very soon broken at the joints or else they become worn out, and consequently it is well not to encumber oneself with them.
'Of the Bird’s Movement' from Sul Voio degli Uccelli, 8 [7] r. in Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks, trans. E. MacCurdy (1906), 153-4.
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There is deposited in them [plants] an enormous quantity of potential energy [Spannkräfte], whose equivalent is provided to us as heat in the burning of plant substances. So far as we know at present, the only living energy [lebendige Kraft] absorbed during plant growth are the chemical rays of sunlight… Animals take up oxygen and complex oxidizable compounds made by plants, release largely as combustion products carbonic acid and water, partly as simpler reduced compounds, thus using a certain amount of chemical potential energy to produce heat and mechanical forces. Since the latter represent a relatively small amount of work in relation to the quantity of heat, the question of the conservation of energy reduces itself roughly to whether the combustion and transformation of the nutritional components yields the same amount of heat released by animals.
Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen (1847), 66. Trans. Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 247.
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These expert men, technologists, engineers, or whatever name may best suit them, make up the indispensable General staff of the industrial system; and without their immediate and unremitting guidance and correction the industrial system will not work. It is a mechanically organized structure of technical processes designed, installed, and conducted by these production engineers. Without them and their constant attention the industrial equipment, the mechanical appliances of industry, will foot up to just so much junk.
Collected in 'The Captains of Finance and the Engineers', The Engineers and the Price System (1921), 69. Previously published in The Dial (1919).
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Think of the image of the world in a convex mirror. ... A well-made convex mirror of moderate aperture represents the objects in front of it as apparently solid and in fixed positions behind its surface. But the images of the distant horizon and of the sun in the sky lie behind the mirror at a limited distance, equal to its focal length. Between these and the surface of the mirror are found the images of all the other objects before it, but the images are diminished and flattened in proportion to the distance of their objects from the mirror. ... Yet every straight line or plane in the outer world is represented by a straight line or plane in the image. The image of a man measuring with a rule a straight line from the mirror, would contract more and more the farther he went, but with his shrunken rule the man in the image would count out exactly the same results as in the outer world, all lines of sight in the mirror would be represented by straight lines of sight in the mirror. In short, I do not see how men in the mirror are to discover that their bodies are not rigid solids and their experiences good examples of the correctness of Euclidean axioms. But if they could look out upon our world as we look into theirs without overstepping the boundary, they must declare it to be a picture in a spherical mirror, and would speak of us just as we speak of them; and if two inhabitants of the different worlds could communicate with one another, neither, as far as I can see, would be able to convince the other that he had the true, the other the distorted, relation. Indeed I cannot see that such a question would have any meaning at all, so long as mechanical considerations are not mixed up with it.
In 'On the Origin and Significance of Geometrical Axioms,' Popular Scientific Lectures< Second Series (1881), 57-59. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 357-358.
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This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after their respective kinds, as we now behold them,--and that in a manner which, passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural? Why this continual striving after “the unattained and dim,”—these anxious endeavors, especially of late years, by naturalists and philosophers of various schools and different tendencies, to penetrate what one of them calls “the mystery of mysteries,” the origin of species? To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human intellect, “the delirious yet divine desire to know,” stimulated as it has been by its own success in unveiling the laws and processes of inorganic Nature,—in the fact that the principal triumphs of our age in physical science have consisted in tracing connections where none were known before, in reducing heterogeneous phenomena to a common cause or origin, in a manner quite analogous to that of the reduction of supposed independently originated species to a common ultimate origin,—thus, and in various other ways, largely and legitimately extending the domain of secondary causes. Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,— which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,—which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,—and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,—the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.
Asa Gray
'Darwin on the Origin of Species', The Atlantic Monthly (Jul 1860), 112-3. Also in 'Natural Selection Not Inconsistent With Natural Theology', Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism (1876), 94-95.
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This survival of the fittest which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called “natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”
Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), Vol. 1, 444-445.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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Those who are fruitful in useful inventions and discoveries, in the practical mechanical arts, are men, not only of the greatest utility, but possess an understanding, which should be most highly estimated.
From 'Artist and Mechanic', The artist & Tradesman’s Guide: embracing some leading facts & principles of science, and a variety of matter adapted to the wants of the artist, mechanic, manufacturer, and mercantile community (1827), 143.
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Those who are unacquainted with the details of scientific investigation have no idea of the amount of labour expended in the determination of those numbers on which important calculations or inferences depend. They have no idea of the patience shown by a Berzelius in determining atomic weights; by a Regnault in determining coefficients of expansion; or by a Joule in determining the mechanical equivalent of heat.
In Sound: A Course of Eight Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1867), 26.
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Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it; but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested. Therefore from a closer and purer league between these two faculties, the experimental and the rational (such as has never yet been made), much may be hoped.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 95. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 92-3.
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Three engineering students were discussing who designed the human body. One said, “It was a mechanical engineer. Just look at all the joints and levers.” The second said, “No, it was an electrical engineer. The nervous system has thousands of electrical connections.” The last said, “Obviously, it was a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a major recreation area?”
Anonymous
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Thus far I have explained the phenomena of the heavens and of our sea by the force of gravity, but I have not yet assigned a cause to gravity. Indeed, this force arises from some cause that penetrates as far as the centers of the sun and planets without any diminution of its power to act, and that acts not in proportion to the quantity of the surfaces of the particles on which it acts (as mechanical causes are wont to do) but in proportion to the quantity of solid matter, and whose action is extended everywhere to immense distances, always decreasing as the squares of the distances.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), General Scholium, 943.
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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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Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as a creator and governor of the realm of matter. …
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 181.
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Today, nothing is unusual about a scientific discovery's being followed soon after by a technical application: The discovery of electrons led to electronics; fission led to nuclear energy. But before the 1880's, science played almost no role in the advances of technology. For example, James Watt developed the first efficient steam engine long before science established the equivalence between mechanical heat and energy.
Edward Teller with Judith L. Shoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001), 42.
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Unless we can “remember” ourselves, we are completely mechanical. Self-observation is possible only through self-remembering. These are the first steps in self-consciousness.
In On Love & Psychological Exercises: With Some Aphorisms & Other Essays (1998), 54.
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We are as remote from adequate explanation of the nature and causes of mechanical evolution of the hard parts of animals as we were when Aristotle first speculated on this subject … I think it is possible that we may never fathom all the causes of mechanical evolution or of the origin of new mechanical characters, but shall have to remain content with observing the modes of mechanical evolution, just as embryologists and geneticists are observing the modes of development, from the fertilized ovum to the mature individual, without in the least understanding either the cause or the nature of the process of development which goes on under their eyes every day
From 'Orthogenesis as observed from paleontological evidence beginning in the year 1889', American Naturalist (1922) 56, 141-142. As quoted and cited in 'G.G. Simpson, Paleontology, and the Modern Synthesis', collected in Ernst Mayr, William B. Provine (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology (1998), 171.
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We know the laws of trial and error, of large numbers and probabilities. We know that these laws are part of the mathematical and mechanical fabric of the universe, and that they are also at play in biological processes. But, in the name of the experimental method and out of our poor knowledge, are we really entitled to claim that everything happens by chance, to the exclusion of all other possibilities?
From Nobel Prize Lecture (Dec 1974), 'The Coming Age of the Cell'. Collected in Jan Lindsten (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1971-1980 (1992).
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We may assume the existence of an aether; only we must give up ascribing a definite state of motion to it, I.e. we must by abstraction take from it the last mechanical characteristic which Lorentz had still left it.
…...
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We may consequently regard it as certain that, neither by natural agencies of inanimate matter, nor by the operations arbitrarily effected by animated Creatures, can there be any change produced in the amount of mechanical energy in the Universe.
In Draft of 'On a Universal Tendency … ', PA 137, Kelvin Collection, Cambridge Univ Library. As cited in Crosbie Smith, The Science of Energy: A Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain (1998), 139.
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What it is important to realize is that automation ... is an attempt to exercise control, not only of the mechanical process itself, but of the human being who once directed it: turning him from an active to a passive agent, and finally eliminating him all together.
In 'The Myth of the Machine,' The Pentagon of Power (1970).
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When an element A has an affinity for another substance B, I see no mechanical reason why it should not take as many atoms of B as are presented to it, and can possibly come into contact with it (which may probably be 12 in general), except so far as the repulsion of the atoms of B among themselves are more than a match for the attraction of an atom of A. Now this repulsion begins with 2 atoms of B to 1 atom of A, in which case the 2 atoms of B are diametrically opposed; it increases with 3 atoms of B to 1 of A, in which case the atoms are only 120° asunder; with 4 atoms of B it is still greater as the distance is then only 90; and so on in proportion to the number of atoms. It is evident from these positions, that, as far as powers of attraction and repulsion are concerned (and we know of no other in chemistry), binary compounds must first be formed in the ordinary course of things, then ternary and so on, till the repulsion of the atoms of B (or A, whichever happens to be on the surface of the other), refuse to admit any more.
Observations on Dr. Bostock's Review of the Atomic Principles of Chemistry', Nicholson's Journal, 1811, 29, 147.
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When not protected by law, by popular favor or superstition, or by other special circumstances, [birds] yield very readily to the influences of civilization, and, though the first operations of the settler are favorable to the increase of many species, the great extension of rural and of mechanical industry is, in a variety of ways, destructive even to tribes not directly warred upon by man.
In Man and Nature, (1864), 93-93.
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When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a long history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention is the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, does the study of natural history become!
From the Conclusion of Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (3rd. ed., 1861), 521.
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When ‘thermal agency’ is thus spent in conducting heat through a solid, what becomes of the mechanical effect which it might produce? Nothing can be lost in the operations of nature—no energy can be destroyed.
In 'An Account of Carnot's Theory of the Motive Power of Heat; with Numerical Results Deduced from Regnault's Experiments on Steam' (1849). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882-1911), Vol. 1, 118.
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Wherever man has left the stamp of mind on brute-matter; whether we designate his work as structure, texture, or mixture, mechanical or chymical; whether the result be a house, a ship, a garment, a piece of glass, or a metallic implement, these memorials of economy and invention will always be worthy of the attention of the Archaeologist.
In Lecture to the Oxford meeting of the Archaeological Institute (18 Jun 1850), printed in 'On the Study of Achaeology', Archaeological Journal (1851), 8, No. 29, 25.
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While Newton seemed to draw off the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he showed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored her ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.
The History Of Great Britain, Containing the Commonwealth and the Reigns of Charles II. and James II. (2nd ed. 1759), Vol. 2, 450.
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[About the mechanical properties of the molecules of a chemical substance being studied:] They could be measured, but that would have taken several months. So someone said, ‘Let’s get Teller in and make him guess the data.’ We got him into a room and locked the door, so no one else could get at him, and he asked questions and did some figuring at the blackboard. He got the answers in about two hours, not entirely accurately, of course, but—as we found out when we got around to verifying them—close enough for the purpose.
Recalls the first time she was ever really awed by mental abilities of Edward Teller. She had joined the Manhattan Project, and needed data on the physical properties of molecules of a certain substance to get started on her assigned task of calculating its chemical properties. As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 61.
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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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[T]he human desire to escape the flesh, which took one form in asceticism, might take another form in the creation of machines. Thus, the wish to rise above the bestial body manifested itself not only in angels but in mechanical creatures. Certainly, once machines existed, humans clearly attached to them feelings of escape from the flesh.
The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines (1993), 218.
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… (T)he same cause, such as electricity, can simultaneously affect all sensory organs, since they are all sensitive to it; and yet, every sensory nerve reacts to it differently; one nerve perceives it as light, another hears its sound, another one smells it; another tastes the electricity, and another one feels it as pain and shock. One nerve perceives a luminous picture through mechanical irritation, another one hears it as buzzing, another one senses it as pain… He who feels compelled to consider the consequences of these facts cannot but realize that the specific sensibility of nerves for certain impressions is not enough, since all nerves are sensitive to the same cause but react to the same cause in different ways… (S)ensation is not the conduction of a quality or state of external bodies to consciousness, but the conduction of a quality or state of our nerves to consciousness, excited by an external cause.
Law of Specific Nerve Energies.
Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen für Vorlesungen, 2nd Ed. translation by Edwin Clarke and Charles Donald O'Malley
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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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