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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Metaphysical Quotes (38 quotes)

...the scientific attitude implies what I call the postulate of objectivity—that is to say, the fundamental postulate that there is no plan, that there is no intention in the universe. Now, this is basically incompatible with virtually all the religious or metaphysical systems whatever, all of which try to show that there is some sort of harmony between man and the universe and that man is a product—predictable if not indispensable—of the evolution of the universe.
Quoted in John C. Hess, 'French Nobel Biologist Says World Based On Chance', New York Times (15 Mar 1971), 6. Cited in Herbert Marcuse, Counter-Revolution and Revolt (1972), 66.
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A basis of physical science no more justifies dogmatism than a metaphysical basis does.
Letter to E.C. Chapman (29 Jul 1891), Dan H. Laurence (ed.), Collected Letters (1965), Vol. 1, 303.
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A metaphysical conclusion is either a false conclusion or a concealed experimental conclusion.
'On Thought in Medicine' (1877). Trans. E. Atkinson, Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects (1881), 234.
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All that can be said upon the number and nature of elements is, in my opinion, confined to discussions entirely of a metaphysical nature. The subject only furnishes us with indefinite problems, which may be solved in a thousand different ways, not one of which, in all probability, is consistent with nature. I shall therefore only add upon this subject, that if, by the term elements, we mean to express those simple and indivisible atoms of which matter is composed, it is extremely probable we know nothing at all about them; but, if we apply the term elements, or principles of bodies, to express our idea of the last point which analysis is capable of reaching, we must admit, as elements, all the substances into which we are capable, by any means, to reduce bodies by decomposition.
Elements of Chemistry (1790), trans. R. Kerr, Preface, xxiv.
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As far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace’s chiquenaude or Jeans’ finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the “Hidden God” hidden even in the beginning of the universe … Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
From 'The Primeval Atom Hypothesis and the Problem of Clusters of Galaxies', in R. Stoops (ed.), La Structure et l'Evolution de l'Univers (1958), 1-32. As translated in Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 60.
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Biology occupies a position among the sciences both marginal and central. Marginal because, the living world, constituting only a tiny and very “special” part of the universe, it does not seem likely that the study of living beings will ever uncover general laws applicable outside the biosphere. But if the ultimate aim of the whole of science is indeed, as I believe, to clarify man's relationship to the universe, then biology must be accorded a central position, since of all the disciplines it is the one that endeavours to go most directly to the heart of the problems that must be resolved before that of “human nature” can even be framed in other than metaphysical terms.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), xi.
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Every variety of philosophical and theological opinion was represented there [The Metaphysical Society], and expressed itself with entire openness; most of my colleagues were -ists of one sort or another; and, however kind and friendly they might be, I, the man without a rag of a label to cover himself with, could not fail to have some of the uneasy feelings which must have beset the historical fox when, after leaving the trap in which his tail remained, he presented himself to his normally elongated companions. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of “agnostic” .
'Agnosticism' (1889). In Collected Essays (1894), Vol. 5, 239.
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Experimental psychology itself has, it is true, now and again suffered relapse into a metaphysical treatment of its problems.
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For all their wealth of content, for all the sum of history and social institution invested in them, music, mathematics, and chess are resplendently useless (applied mathematics is a higher plumbing, a kind of music for the police band). They are metaphysically trivial, irresponsible. They refuse to relate outward, to take reality for arbiter. This is the source of their witchery.
In 'A Death of Kings', George Steiner at The New Yorker (2009), 209.
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For the metaphysical term 'will' we may in these instances safely substitute the chemical term 'photochemical action of light.'
The Mechanistic Conception of Life (1912), 30.
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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 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 have not [a] metaphysical Head.
Letter to C. Lyell, 23 February 1860. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1860 (1993), Vol. 8, 103.
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In the realm of science all attempts to find any evidence of supernatural beings, of metaphysical conceptions, as God, immortality, infinity, etc., thus far have failed, and if we are honest we must confess that in science there exists no God, no immortality, no soul or mind as distinct from the body.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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It is in this mutual dependence of the functions and the aid which they reciprocally lend one another that are founded the laws which determine the relations of their organs and which possess a necessity equal to that of metaphysical or mathematical laws, since it is evident that the seemly harmony between organs which interact is a necessary condition of existence of the creature to which they belong and that if one of these functions were modified in a manner incompatible with the modifications of the others the creature could no longer continue to exist.
Leçons d' anatomie comparée, Vol. I, 47. Trans. William Coleman, Georges Cuvier Zoologist: A Study in the History of Evolution Theory (1964), 67-8.
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Man is naturally metaphysical and arrogant, and is thus capable of believing that the ideal creations of his mind, which express his feelings, are identical with reality. From this it follows that the experimental method is not really natural to him.
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Mathematics has not a foot to stand upon which is not purely metaphysical.
'Kant in His Miscellaneous Essays', Blackwood's Magazine, 1830, 28, 244-68.
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Metaphysical ghosts cannot be killed, because they cannot be touched; but they may be dispelled by dispelling the twilight in which shadows and solidities are easily confounded. The Vital Principle is an entity of this ghostly kind; and although the daylight has dissipated it, and positive Biology is no longer vexed with its visitations, it nevertheless reappears in another shape in the shadowy region of mystery which surrounds biological and all other questions.
The History of Philosophy from Thales to Comte (1867), lxxxiv.
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Nor do I know any study which can compete with mathematics in general in furnishing matter for severe and continued thought. Metaphysical problems may be even more difficult; but then they are far less definite, and, as they rarely lead to any precise conclusion, we miss the power of checking our own operations, and of discovering whether we are thinking and reasoning or merely fancying and dreaming.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 13.
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One may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions.
In Arthur Koestler and Daphne Hardy (trans.), Darkness at Noon (1941), 152.
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Probably there was a beginning—it is a metaphysical question, worthy a theologian—species have begun and ended—but the analogy is faint and distant.
Letter to [George] Poulett Scrape (14 Jun 1830). Quoted in Mrs Lyell (ed.), Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart (1881), Vol. 1, 269.
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Religion has been compelled by science to give up one after another of its dogmas—of those assumed cognitions which it could not substantiate. In the mean time, Science substituted for the personalities to which Religion ascribed phenomena certain metaphysical entities; and in doing this it trespassed on the province of religion; since it classed among the things which it comprehended certain forms of the incomprehensible.
In First Principles (1864), 109.
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Science is not a system of certain, or -established, statements; nor is it a system which steadily advances towards a state of finality... And our guesses are guided by the unscientific, the metaphysical (though biologically explicable) faith in laws, in regularities which we can uncover—discover. Like Bacon, we might describe our own contemporary science—'the method of reasoning which men now ordinarily apply to nature'—as consisting of 'anticipations, rash and premature' and as 'prejudices'.
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), 278.
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Science is wonderful at destroying metaphysical answers, but incapable of providing substitute ones. Science takes away foundations without providing a replacement. Whether we want to be there or not, science has put us in the position of having to live without foundations. It was shocking when Nietzsche said this, but today it is commonplace; our historical position—and no end to it is in sight—is that of having to philosophise without 'foundations'.
In Hilary Putnam (ed.), The Many Faces of Realism: The Paul Carns Lectures (1987), 29. Excerpt 'Realism and Reasonableness', in Joseph Margolis and Jacques Catudal, The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux (2001), 122.
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Scientists and particularly the professional students of evolution are often accused of a bias toward mechanism or materialism, even though believers in vitalism and in finalism are not lacking among them. Such bias as may exist is inherent in the method of science. The most successful scientific investigation has generally involved treating phenomena as if they were purely materialistic, rejecting any metaphysical hypothesis as long as a physical hypothesis seems possible. The method works. The restriction is necessary because science is confined to physical means of investigation and so it would stultify its own efforts to postulate that its subject is not physical and so not susceptible to its methods.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 127.
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Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. … These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with. They are perfectly harmless and perfectly useless. ... I always rested on the following argument. … We look up to the sky and see the sun. Our eyes are dazzled and our senses record the fact. So here is this great sun standing apparently on no better foundation than our physical senses. But happily there is a method, apart altogether from our physical senses, of testing the reality of the sun. It is by mathematics. By means of prolonged processes of mathematics, entirely separate from the senses, astronomers are able to calculate when an eclipse will occur. They predict by pure reason that a black spot will pass across the sun on a certain day. You go and look, and your sense of sight immediately tells you that their calculations are vindicated. So here you have the evidence of the senses reinforced by the entirely separate evidence of a vast independent process of mathematical reasoning. We have taken what is called in military map-making “a cross bearing.” When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations, were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say, “no.” They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating-machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage. When it is persisted that we should have to be told about the calculations and use our ears for that purpose, I reply that the mathematical process has a reality and virtue in itself, and that onie discovered it constitutes a new and independent factor. I am also at this point accustomed to reaffirm with emphasis my conviction that the sun is real, and also that it is hot— in fact hot as Hell, and that if the metaphysicians doubt it they should go there and see.
In My Early Life (1930).
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The application of algebra to geometry…, far more than any of his metaphysical speculations, immortalized the name of Descartes, and constitutes the greatest single step ever made in the progress of the exact sciences.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865), 531.
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The difficulties connected with my criterion of demarcation (D) are important, but must not be exaggerated. It is vague, since it is a methodological rule, and since the demarcation between science and nonscience is vague. But it is more than sharp enough to make a distinction between many physical theories on the one hand, and metaphysical theories, such as psychoanalysis, or Marxism (in its present form), on the other. This is, of course, one of my main theses; and nobody who has not understood it can be said to have understood my theory.
The situation with Marxism is, incidentally, very different from that with psychoanalysis. Marxism was once a scientific theory: it predicted that capitalism would lead to increasing misery and, through a more or less mild revolution, to socialism; it predicted that this would happen first in the technically highest developed countries; and it predicted that the technical evolution of the 'means of production' would lead to social, political, and ideological developments, rather than the other way round.
But the (so-called) socialist revolution came first in one of the technically backward countries. And instead of the means of production producing a new ideology, it was Lenin's and Stalin's ideology that Russia must push forward with its industrialization ('Socialism is dictatorship of the proletariat plus electrification') which promoted the new development of the means of production.
Thus one might say that Marxism was once a science, but one which was refuted by some of the facts which happened to clash with its predictions (I have here mentioned just a few of these facts).
However, Marxism is no longer a science; for it broke the methodological rule that we must accept falsification, and it immunized itself against the most blatant refutations of its predictions. Ever since then, it can be described only as nonscience—as a metaphysical dream, if you like, married to a cruel reality.
Psychoanalysis is a very different case. It is an interesting psychological metaphysics (and no doubt there is some truth in it, as there is so often in metaphysical ideas), but it never was a science. There may be lots of people who are Freudian or Adlerian cases: Freud himself was clearly a Freudian case, and Adler an Adlerian case. But what prevents their theories from being scientific in the sense here described is, very simply, that they do not exclude any physically possible human behaviour. Whatever anybody may do is, in principle, explicable in Freudian or Adlerian terms. (Adler's break with Freud was more Adlerian than Freudian, but Freud never looked on it as a refutation of his theory.)
The point is very clear. Neither Freud nor Adler excludes any particular person's acting in any particular way, whatever the outward circumstances. Whether a man sacrificed his life to rescue a drowning, child (a case of sublimation) or whether he murdered the child by drowning him (a case of repression) could not possibly be predicted or excluded by Freud's theory; the theory was compatible with everything that could happen—even without any special immunization treatment.
Thus while Marxism became non-scientific by its adoption of an immunizing strategy, psychoanalysis was immune to start with, and remained so. In contrast, most physical theories are pretty free of immunizing tactics and highly falsifiable to start with. As a rule, they exclude an infinity of conceivable possibilities.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 127-128.
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The great truths with which it [mathematics] deals, are clothed with austere grandeur, far above all purposes of immediate convenience or profit. It is in them that our limited understandings approach nearest to the conception of that absolute and infinite, towards which in most other things they aspire in vain. In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there, when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven. They existed not merely in metaphysical possibility, but in the actual contemplation of the supreme reason. The pen of inspiration, ranging all nature and life for imagery to set forth the Creator’s power and wisdom, finds them best symbolized in the skill of the surveyor. "He meted out heaven as with a span;" and an ancient sage, neither falsely nor irreverently, ventured to say, that “God is a geometer”.
In Orations and Speeches (1870), Vol. 3, 614.
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The greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of tedious metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. … it is the style that creates the illusion of content, and which is a cause as well as merely a symptom of Teilhard's alarming apocalyptic seizures.
Medawar’s acerbic book review of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin first appeared as 'Critical Notice' in the journal Mind (1961), 70, No. 277, 99. The book review was reprinted in The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 71. Medawar thus strongly contradicted other reviewers of the book, which he said was “widely held to be of the utmost profundity and significance; it created something like a sensation upon its publication in France, and some reviewers hereabouts called it the Book of the Year—one, the Book of the Century.”
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The law is this: that each of our leading conceptions—each branch of our knowledge—passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the Theological, or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific, or positive.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol. 1, 1-2.
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The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand – i.e., the metaphysics of quantum theory – is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 132.
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The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand, i.e. the metaphysics of quantum physics, is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model.
In The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics (1975), 132.
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The metaphysical doctrine of determinism simply asserts that all events in this world are fixed, or unalterable, or predetermined. It does not assert that they are known to anybody, or predictable by scientific means. But it asserts that the future is as little changeable as is the past. Everybody knows what we mean when we say that the past cannot be changed. It is in precisely the same sense that the future cannot be changed, according to metaphysical determinism.
Karl Raimund Popper and William Warren Bartley (ed.), The Open Universe: an Argument for Indeterminism (1991), 8.
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The metaphysical philosopher from his point of view recognizes mathematics as an instrument of education, which strengthens the power of attention, develops the sense of order and the faculty of construction, and enables the mind to grasp under the simple formulae the quantitative differences of physical phenomena.
In Dialogues of Plato (1897), Vol. 2, 78.
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The old metaphysical prejudice that man 'always thinks' has not yet entirely disappeared. I am myself inclined to hold that man really thinks very little and very seldom.
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There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly. ’Tis the crown and glory of organic science that it does through final cause, link material and moral; and yet does not allow us to mingle them in our first conception of laws, and our classification of such laws, whether we consider one side of nature or the other. You have ignored this link; and, if I do not mistake your meaning, you have done your best in one or two pregnant cases to break it. Were it possible (which, thank God, it is not) to break it, humanity, in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it, and sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history.
Letter to Charles Darwin (Nov 1859). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 217.
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Whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut one bit.
A Wild Sheep Chase. Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 45
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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