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Who said: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
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Microscope Quotes (74 quotes)

1839—The fermentation satire
(Preliminary Report by Letter) Schwindler
I am about to develop a new theory of wine fermentation … Depending on the weight, these seeds carry fermentation to completion somewhat less than as in the beginning, which is understandable … I shall develop a new theory of wine fermentation [showing] what simple means Nature employs in creating the most amazing phenomena. I owe it to the use of an excellent microscope designed by Pistorius.
When brewer’s yeast is mixed with water the microscope reveals that the yeast dissolves into endless small balls, which are scarcely 1/800th of a line in diameter … If these small balls are placed in sugar water, it can be seen that they consist of the eggs of animals. As they expand, they burst, and from them develop small creatures that multiply with unbelievable rapidity in a most unheard of way. The form of these animals differs from all of the 600 types described up until now. They possess the shape of a Beinsdorff still (without the cooling apparatus). The head of the tube is a sort of proboscis, the inside of which is filled with fine bristles 1/2000th of a line long. Teeth and eyes are not discernible; however, a stomach, intestinal canal, anus (a rose red dot), and organs for secretion of urine are plainly discernible. From the moment they are released from the egg one can see these animals swallow the sugar from the solution and pass it to the stomach. It is digested immediately, a process recognized easily by the resultant evacuation of excrements. In a word, these infusors eat sugar, evacuate ethyl alcohol from the intestinal canal, and carbon dioxide from the urinary organs. The bladder, in the filled state, has the form of a champagne bottle; when empty, it is a small button … As soon as the animals find no more sugar present, they eat each other up, which occurs through a peculiar manipulation; everything is digested down to the eggs which pass unchanged through the intestinal canal. Finally, one again fermentable yeast, namely the seed of the animals, which remain over.
In 'Das entriithselle Geheimiss der geisligen Giihrung', Annalen der Pharmacie und Chemie (1839), 29, 100-104; adapted from English translalion by Ralph E. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 203-205.
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A magician of old waved a wand that he might banish disease, a physician to-day peers through a microscope to detect the bacillus of that disease and plan its defeat. The belief in miracles was premature, that is all; it was based on dreams now coming true.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 176.
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A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things, but cannot receive great ones.
As given in Catherine Sinclair (ed.), The Kaleidoscope of Anecdotes and Aphorisms (1851), 93. More recently quoted as “A weak mind with no common sense magnifies trifling things and cannot receive great ones,” in Pano George Karkanis, Thoughts for Meaningful Life (2008), 96. Also seen with “telescope” instead of “microscope” in Richard Zera, Business Wit & Wisdom (2005), 131.
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Adam is fading out. It is on account of Darwin and that crowd. I can see that he is not going to last much longer. There's a plenty of signs. He is getting belittled to a germ—a little bit of a speck that you can't see without a microscope powerful enough to raise a gnat to the size of a church. They take that speck and breed from it: first a flea; then a fly, then a bug, then cross these and get a fish, then a raft of fishes, all kinds, then cross the whole lot and get a reptile, then work up the reptiles till you've got a supply of lizards and spiders and toads and alligators and Congressmen and so on, then cross the entire lot again and get a plant of amphibiums, which are half-breeds and do business both wet and dry, such as turtles and frogs and ornithorhyncuses and so on, and cross-up again and get a mongrel bird, sired by a snake and dam'd by a bat, resulting in a pterodactyl, then they develop him, and water his stock till they've got the air filled with a million things that wear feathers, then they cross-up all the accumulated animal life to date and fetch out a mammal, and start-in diluting again till there's cows and tigers and rats and elephants and monkeys and everything you want down to the Missing Link, and out of him and a mermaid they propagate Man, and there you are! Everything ship-shape and finished-up, and nothing to do but lay low and wait and see if it was worth the time and expense.
'The Refuge of the Derelicts' collected in Mark Twain and John Sutton Tuckey, The Devil's Race-Track: Mark Twain's Great Dark Writings (1980), 340-41. - 1980
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Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
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And when with excellent Microscopes I discern in otherwise invisible Objects the Inimitable Subtlety of Nature’s Curious Workmanship; And when, in a word, by the help of Anatomicall Knives, and the light of Chymicall Furnaces, I study the Book of Nature, and consult the Glosses of Aristotle, Epicurus, Paracelsus, Harvey, Helmont, and other learn'd Expositors of that instructive Volumne; I find my self oftentimes reduc’d to exclaim with the Psalmist, How manifold are thy works, O Lord? In wisdom hast thou made them all.
Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God (1659), 56-7.
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As soon as we touch the complex processes that go on in a living thing, be it plant or animal, we are at once forced to use the methods of this science [chemistry]. No longer will the microscope, the kymograph, the scalpel avail for the complete solution of the problem. For the further analysis of these phenomena which are in flux and flow, the investigator must associate himself with those who have labored in fields where molecules and atoms, rather than multicellular tissues or even unicellular organisms, are the units of study.
'Experimental and Chemical Studies of the Blood with an Appeal for More Extended Chemical Training for the Biological and Medical Investigator', Science (6 Aug 1915), 42, 176.
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Believing, as I do, in the continuity of nature, I cannot stop abruptly where our microscopes cease to be of use. Here the vision of the mind authoritatively supplements the vision of the eye. By a necessity engendered and justified by science I cross the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern in that Matter which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial Life.
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 191.
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Better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a microscope.
In Oscariana: Epigrams (1895), 27.
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But many of our imaginations and investigations of nature are futile, especially when we see little living animals and see their legs and must judge the same to be ten thousand times thinner than a hair of my beard, and when I see animals living that are more than a hundred times smaller and am unable to observe any legs at all, I still conclude from their structure and the movements of their bodies that they do have legs... and therefore legs in proportion to their bodies, just as is the case with the larger animals upon which I can see legs... Taking this number to be about a hundred times smaller, we therefore find a million legs, all these together being as thick as a hair from my beard, and these legs, besides having the instruments for movement, must be provided with vessels to carry food.
Letter to N. Grew, 27 Sep 1678. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 2, 391.
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Curves that have no tangents are the rule. … Those who hear of curves without tangents, or of functions without derivatives, often think at first that Nature presents no such complications. … The contrary however is true. … Consider, for instance, one of the white flakes that are obtained by salting a solution of soap. At a distance its contour may appear sharply defined, but as we draw nearer its sharpness disappears. The eye can no longer draw a tangent at any point. … The use of a magnifying glass or microscope leaves us just as uncertain, for fresh irregularities appear every time we increase the magnification. … An essential characteristic of our flake … is that we suspect … that any scale involves details that absolutely prohibit the fixing of a tangent.
(1906). As quoted “in free translation” in Benoit B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1977, 1983), 7.
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Don’t forget that the bacteria watch us from the other end of the microscope.
More Unkempt Thoughts (1969), 1.
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Equipped with our five senses, along with telescopes and microscopes and mass spectrometers and seismographs and magnetometers and particle accelerators and detectors across the electromagnetic spectrum, we explore the universe around us and call the adventure science.
In magazine article, 'Coming to our Senses', Natural History Magazine (Mar 2001). Collected in Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 28. This is Tyson’s respectful update of a quote by Edwin P. Hubble in 1954: “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science.” (See Science Quotations by Edwin Hubble.)
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I can conceive few human states more enviable than that of the man to whom, panting in the foul laboratory, or watching for his life under the tropic forest, Isis shall for a moment lift her sacred veil, and show him, once and for ever, the thing he dreamed not of; some law, or even mere hint of a law, explaining one fact; but explaining with it a thousand more, connecting them all with each other and with the mighty whole, till order and meaning shoots through some old Chaos of scattered observations.
Health and Education (1874), 289.
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I cannot see of what use these slides can be to a field man. I don't believe in looking at a mountain through a microscope.
In Archibald Geikie, Memoir of Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsey (1895), 343.
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I fear that the character of my knowledge is from year to year becoming more distinct and scientific; that, in exchange for vistas wide as heaven’s scope, I am being narrowed down to the field of the microscope. I see details, not wholes nor the shadow of the whole. I count some parts, and say, “I know.”
(19 Aug 1851). In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: II: 1850-September 15, 1851 (1906), 406.
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I had this experience at the age of eight. My parents gave me a microscope. I don’t recall why, but no matter. I then found my own little world, completely wild and unconstrained, no plastic, no teacher, no books, no anything predictable. At first I did not know the names of the water-drop denizens or what they were doing. But neither did the pioneer microscopists. Like them, I graduated to looking at butterfly scales and other miscellaneous objects. I never thought of what I was doing in such a way, but it was pure science. As true as could be of any child so engaged, I was kin to Leeuwenhoek, who said that his work “was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more that most other men.”
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 143-144.
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I have divers times endeavoured to see and to know, what parts the Blood consists of; and at length I have observ'd, taking some Blood out of my own hand, that it consists of small round globuls driven through a Crystalline humidity or water.
Letter to Henry Oldenburg (Royal Society, 7 Apr 1674). Translated from the original Dutch, and published in 'More Microscopical Observations made by the same M. Leewenhoeck', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1 Jan 1674), 9, No. 102, 23.
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I have divers times examined the same matter (human semen) from a healthy man... not from a sick man... nor spoiled by keeping... for a long time and not liquefied after the lapse of some time... but immediately after ejaculation before six beats of the pulse had intervened; and I have seen so great a number of living animalcules... in it, that sometimes more than a thousand were moving about in an amount of material the size of a grain of sand... I saw this vast number of animalcules not all through the semen, but only in the liquid matter adhering to the thicker part.
Letter to W. Brouncker, President of the Royal Society, undated, Nov 1677. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 2, 283-4.
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I have tried to show why I believe that the biologist is the most romantic figure on earth at the present day. At first sight he seems to be just a poor little scrubby underpaid man, groping blindly amid the mazes of the ultra-microscopic, engaging in bitter and lifelong quarrels over the nephridia of flatworms, waking perhaps one morning to find that someone whose name he has never heard has demolished by a few crucial experiments the work which he had hoped would render him immortal.
Daedalus or Science and the Future (1924), 77.
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I now saw very distinctly that these were little eels or worms... Lying huddled together and wriggling, just as if you saw with your naked eye a whole tubful of very little eels and water, the eels moving about in swarms; and the whole water seemed to be alive with the multitudinous animalcules. For me this was among all the marvels that I have discovered in nature the most marvellous of all, and I must say that, for my part, no more pleasant sight has yet met my eye than this of so many thousands of living creatures in one small drop of water, all huddling and moving, but each creature having its own motion.
Letter to H. Oldenburg, 9 Oct 1676. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (l957), Vol. 2, 115.
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I remember vividly my student days, spending hours at the light microscope, turning endlessly the micrometric screw, and gazing at the blurred boundary which concealed the mysterious ground substance where the secret mechanisms of cell life might be found.
Nobel Lecture, The Coming Age of the Cell, 12 Dec 1974
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I took a good clear piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife sharpen'd as keen as a Razor, I cut a piece of it off, and thereby left the surface of it exceeding smooth, then examining it very diligently with a Microscope, me thought I could perceive it to appear a little porous; but I could not so plainly distinguish them, as to be sure that they were pores, much less what Figure they were of: But judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, that certainly the texture could not be so curious, but that possibly, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope, I with the same sharp Penknife, cut off from the former smooth surface an exceeding thin piece of it with a deep plano-convex Glass, I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular; yet it was not unlike a Honey-comb in these particulars.
First, in that it had a very little solid substance, in comparison of the empty cavity that was contain'd between, ... for the Interstitia or walls (as I may so call them) or partitions of those pores were neer as thin in proportion to their pores as those thin films of Wax in a Honey-comb (which enclose and constitute the sexangular cells) are to theirs.
Next, in that these pores, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes, separated out of one continued long pore, by certain Diaphragms...
I no sooner discerned these (which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this) but me thought I had with the discovery of them, presently hinted to me the true and intelligible reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 112-6.
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If the entire Mandelbrot set were placed on an ordinary sheet of paper, the tiny sections of boundary we examine would not fill the width of a hydrogen atom. Physicists think about such tiny objects; only mathematicians have microscopes fine enough to actually observe them.
In 'Can We See the Mandelbrot Set?', The College Mathematics Journal (Mar 1995), 26, No. 2, 90.
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If we take a survey of our own world … our portion in the immense system of creation, we find every part of it, the earth, the waters, and the air that surround it, filled, and as it were crouded with life, down from the largest animals that we know of to the smallest insects the naked eye can behold, and from thence to others still smaller, and totally invisible without the assistance of the microscope. Every tree, every plant, every leaf, serves not only as an habitation, but as a world to some numerous race, till animal existence becomes so exceedingly refined, that the effluvia of a blade of grass would be food for thousands.
In The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (27 Jan O.S. 1794), 60. The word “crouded” is as it appears in the original.
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If you're shopping for a home entertainment system you can't do better than a good dissecting microscope.
Quoted from NPR radio interview, also published on NPR web page by Christopher Joyce, Morning Edition (1 Aug 2013).
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It is because simplicity and vastness are both beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts; that we take delight, now in following the giant courses of the stars, now in scrutinizing the microscope that prodigious smallness which is also a vastness, and now in seeking in geological ages the traces of a past that attracts us because of its remoteness.
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M. Waldman … concluded with a panegyric upon modern chemistry…:— “The ancient teachers of this science” said he, “Promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
In Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus (1823), Vol. 1, 73-74. Webmaster note: In the novel, when the fictional characters meet, M. Waldman, professor of chemistry, sparks Victor Frankenstein’s interest in science. Shelley was age 20 when the first edition of the novel was published anonymously (1818).
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My interest in Science had many roots. Some came from my mother … while I was in my early teens. She fell in love with science,… [from] classes on the Foundations of Physical Science. … I was infected by [her] professor second hand, through hundreds of hours of conversations at my mother’s knees. It was from my mother that I first learned of Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin. We spent hours together collecting single-celled organisms from a local pond and watching them with a microscope.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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Nature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope.
In Where the Wasteland Ends (1972), 330.
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Nature, … in order to carry out the marvelous operations [that occur] in animals and plants has been pleased to construct their organized bodies with a very large number of machines, which are of necessity made up of extremely minute parts so shaped and situated as to form a marvelous organ, the structure and composition of which are usually invisible to the naked eye without the aid of a microscope. … Just as Nature deserves praise and admiration for making machines so small, so too the physician who observes them to the best of his ability is worthy of praise, not blame, for he must also correct and repair these machines as well as he can every time they get out of order.
'Reply to Doctor Sbaraglia' in Opera Posthuma (1697), in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 1, 568.
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Nothing in the whole system of nature is isolated or unimportant. The fall of a leaf and the motion of a planet are governed by the same laws. … It is in the study of objects considered trivial and unworthy of notice by the casual observer that genius finds the most important and interesting phenomena. It was in the investigation of the varying colors of the soap-bubble that Newton detected the remarkable fact of the fits of easy reflection and easy refraction presented by a ray of light in its passage through space, and upon which he established the fundamental principle of the present generalization of the undulatory theory of light. … The microscopic organization of animals and plants is replete with the highest instruction; and, surely, in the language of one of the fathers of modern physical science, “nothing can be unworthy of being investigated by man which was thought worthy of being created by GOD.”
In 'Report of the Secretary', Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1852 (1853), 15.
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Observation by means of the microscope will reveal more wonderful things than those viewed in regard to mere structure and connection: for while the heart is still beating the contrary (i.e., in opposite directions in the different vessels) movement of the blood is observed in the vessels—though with difficulty—so that the circulation of the blood is clearly exposed.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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Passing just lately over this lake, … and examining this water next day, I found floating therein divers earthy particles, and some green streaks, spirally wound serpent-wise, and orderly arranged, after the manner of the copper or tin worms, which distillers use to cool their liquors as they distil over. The whole circumference of each of these streaks was about the thickness of a hair of one's head. … all consisted of very small green globules joined together: and there were very many small green globules as well. [The earliest recorded observation of the common green alga Spyrogyra.]
Letter to the Royal Society, London (7 Sep 1674). In John Carey, Eyewitness to Science (1997), 28-29
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People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that—and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I have spent more time than many will believe, but I have done them with joy, and I have taken no notice of those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?—but I do not write for such people but only for the philosophical!
As quoted, without citation, by Dugald Caleb Jackson and Walter Paul Jones, in This Scientific Age: Essays in Modern Thought and Achievement (1930), 132.
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Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to able, by its total command of a worldview, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can now only impede and retard—or try to turn back—the measureable advances that we have made.
In God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007, 2009), 282.
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Since disease originates in the elementary cell, the organization and microscopic functions of which reproduce the general organization exactly and in all its relationships, nothing is more suited to simplifying the work of classification and of systematic division than to take the elementary cell as the basis of division.
As quoted in article, Marc Klein,'François-Vincent Raspail', in Charles Coulston Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975). Vol.11, 300-301.
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The 31th of May, I perceived in the same water more of those Animals, as also some that were somewhat bigger. And I imagine, that [ten hundred thousand] of these little Creatures do not equal an ordinary grain of Sand in bigness: And comparing them with a Cheese-mite (which may be seen to move with the naked eye) I make the proportion of one of these small Water-creatures to a Cheese-mite, to be like that of a Bee to a Horse: For, the circumference of one of these little Animals in water, is not so big as the thickness of a hair in a Cheese-mite.
Letter to H. Oldenburg, 9 Oct 1676. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 2, 75.
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The 4th sort of creatures... which moved through the 3 former sorts, were incredibly small, and so small in my eye that I judged, that if 100 of them lay [stretched out] one by another, they would not equal the length of a grain of course Sand; and according to this estimate, ten hundred thousand of them could not equal the dimensions of a grain of such course Sand. There was discover’d by me a fifth sort, which had near the thickness of the former, but they were almost twice as long.
The first time bacteria were observed.
Letter to H. Oldenburg, 9 Oct 1676. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 2, 95.
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The ancestors of the higher animals must be regarded as one-celled beings, similar to the Amœbæ which at the present day occur in our rivers, pools, and lakes. The incontrovertible fact that each human individual develops from an egg, which, in common with those of all animals, is a simple cell, most clearly proves that the most remote ancestors of man were primordial animals of this sort, of a form equivalent to a simple cell. When, therefore, the theory of the animal descent of man is condemned as a “horrible, shocking, and immoral” doctrine, tho unalterable fact, which can be proved at any moment under the microscope, that the human egg is a simple cell, which is in no way different to those of other mammals, must equally be pronounced “horrible, shocking, and immoral.”
Translated from his Ueber die Entstehung und den Stammbaum des Menschengeschlechts, (1873), Vol. 2, as an epigraph to Chap. 6, The Evolution of Man, (1879), Vol 1, 120-121.
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The design of a book is the pattern of reality controlled and shaped by the mind of the writer. This is completely understood about poetry or fiction, but it is too seldom realized about books of fact. And yet the impulse which drives a man to poetry will send a man into the tide pools and force him to report what he finds there. Why is an expedition to Tibet undertaken, or a sea bottom dredged? Why do men, sitting at the microscope, examine the calcareous plates of a sea cucumber and give the new species a name, and write about it possessively? It would be good to know the impulse truly, not to be confused by the “services to science” platitudes or the other little mazes into which we entice our minds so that they will not know what we are doing.
In John Steinbeck and Edward Flanders Ricketts, Introduction to Sea of Cortez: a Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), opening paragraph. John Steinbeck had an interest in marine science before he met Ricketts. This book is an account of their trip in the Gulf of California, once called the Sea of Cortez, and recording the marine life to be found there.
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The engineer is concerned to travel from the abstract to the concrete. He begins with an idea and ends with an object. He journeys from theory to practice. The scientist’s job is the precise opposite. He explores nature with his telescopes or microscopes, or much more sophisticated techniques, and feeds into a computer what he finds or sees in an attempt to define mathematically its significance and relationships. He travels from the real to the symbolic, from the concrete to the abstract. The scientist and the engineer are the mirror image of each other.
In The Development of Design (1981), 19-20.
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Rufus Porter quote Animalculae…hideous forms…with malignant and voracious propensities
From paragraph in Scientific American (1846) urging the use of water filters. (source)
The fact is generally known that nearly all liquids contain a variety of minute living animals, though in some they are too small for observation, even with a microscope. In others, especially in water that has been long stagnant, these animals appear not only in hideous forms, but with malignant and voracious propensities. … we cheerfully and heartily recommend the adoption of filters by all who use this water, from either the public or private hydrants.
In 'Animalculae in Water', Scientific American (10 Oct 1846), 2, No. 3, 22.
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The first observation of cancer cells in the smear of the uterine cervix gave me one of the greatest thrills I ever experienced during my scientific career.
Quoted on web page http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/2402.html
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The foundations of population genetics were laid chiefly by mathematical deduction from basic premises contained in the works of Mendel and Morgan and their followers. Haldane, Wright, and Fisher are the pioneers of population genetics whose main research equipment was paper and ink rather than microscopes, experimental fields, Drosophila bottles, or mouse cages. Theirs is theoretical biology at its best, and it has provided a guiding light for rigorous quantitative experimentation and observation.
'A Review of Some Fundamental Concepts and Problems of Population Genetics', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 1955, 20, 13-14.
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The history of the knowledge of the phenomena of life and of the organized world can be divided into two main periods. For a long time anatomy, and particularly the anatomy of the human body, was the α and ω of scientific knowledge. Further progress only became possible with the discovery of the microscope. A long time had yet to pass until through Schwann the cell was established as the final biological unit. It would mean bringing coals to Newcastle were I to describe here the immeasurable progress which biology in all its branches owes to the introduction of this concept of the cell concept. For this concept is the axis around which the whole of the modern science of life revolves.
Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1908) 'Partial Cell Functions.' Collected in Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 304.
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The human mind prefers something which it can recognize to something for which it has no name, and, whereas thousands of persons carry field glasses to bring horses, ships, or steeples close to them, only a few carry even the simplest pocket microscope. Yet a small microscope will reveal wonders a thousand times more thrilling than anything which Alice saw behind the looking-glass.
In The World Was My Garden (1938, 1941), 11.

The Microbe is so very small,
You cannot make him out at all.
But many sanguine people hope
To see him down a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us they must be so ...
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!
In More Beasts for Worse Children (1897), 47-8.
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The microscope has shown me that all the varied forms in the animal tissues are nothing but transformed cells. … All my work has authorized me to apply to animals as to plants the doctrine of the individuality of the cells.
From his preliminary announcement (1838). As quoted in William Dobinson Halliburton, A Textbook of Chemical Physiology and Pathology (1891) 186.
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The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplisht with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of Optical Glasses. By the means of Telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible World discovered to the understanding. By this means the Heavens are open'd, and a vast number of new Stars, and new Motions, and new Productions appear in them, to which all the ancient Astronomers were utterly Strangers. By this the Earth it self, which lyes so neer us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter, we now behold almost as great a variety of creatures as we were able before to reckon up on the whole Universe it self.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), preface, sig. A2V.
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The Panama Canal was dug with a microscope.
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The power of the eye could not be extended further in the opened living animal, hence I had believed that this body of the blood breaks into the empty space, and is collected again by a gaping vessel and by the structure of the walls. The tortuous and diffused motion of the blood in divers directions, and its union at a determinate place offered a handle to this. But the dried lung of the frog made my belief dubious. This lung had, by chance, preserved the redness of the blood in (what afterwards proved to be) the smallest vessels, where by means of a more perfect lens, no more there met the eye the points forming the skin called Sagrino, but vessels mingled annularly. And, so great is the divarication of these vessels as they go out, here from a vein, there from an artery, that order is no longer preserved, but a network appears made up of the prolongations of both vessels. This network occupies not only the whole floor, but extends also to the walls, and is attached to the outgoing vessel, as I could see with greater difficulty but more abundantly in the oblong lung of a tortoise, which is similarly membranous and transparent. Here it was clear to sense that the blood flows away through the tortuous vessels, that it is not poured into spaces but always works through tubules, and is dispersed by the multiplex winding of the vessels.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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The work … was … so blinding that I could scarcely see afterwards, and the difficulty was increased by the fact that my microscope was almost worn out, the screws being rusted with sweat from my hands and forehead, and my only remaining eye-piece being cracked… Fortunately invaluable oil-imraersion object-glass remained good.
From 'Researches on Malaria', Journal of the Raoyal Army Medical Corps (May 1905), 4, No. 5, 549.
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These motions were such as to satisfy me, after frequently repeated observation, that they arose neither from currents in the fluid, nor from its gradual evaporation, but belonged to the particle itself.
Summary of Brownian motion.
A Brief Account of Microscopical Observations made in the Middle of June, July, and August, 1827, on the Particles Contained in the Pollen of Plants', Philosophical Magazine, 1828, NS 4, 162-3.
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They look a little like the monster in ‘Alien.’ They’re horrifying to look at up close. That’s sort of what makes them fun. [About his microscopic study of ants.]
As quoted by Lindsay Whitehurst in 'University of Utah Scientist Discovers Terrifying Ant Species', The Salt Lake Tribune (31 Jul 2013)
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Those who would legislate against the teaching of evolution should also legislate against gravity, electricity and the unreasonable velocity of light, and also should introduce a clause to prevent the use of the telescope, the microscope and the spectroscope or any other instrument of precision which may in the future be invented ,constructed or used for the discovery of truth.
In 'Science and Civilization', Prescott Evening Courier (3 Nov 1925), 6.
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Until 1930 or thereabout biologists [using microscopes], in the situation of Astronomers and Astrophysicists, were permitted to see the objects of their interest, but not to touch them; the cell was as distant from us, as the stars and galaxies were from them.
Nobel Lecture, The Coming Age of the Cell, 12 Dec 1974
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Upon viewing the milt or semen Masculinum of a living Codfish with a Microscope, such Numbers of Animalcules with long Tails were found therein, that at least ten thousand of them were supposed to exist in the quantity of a Grain of Sand.
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We have the opportunity of observing her [Nature] through these delicate and pellucid teguments of the bodies of Insects acting according to her usual course and way, undisturbed, whereas when we endeavour to pry into her secrets by breaking open the doors upon her, and dissecting and mangling creatures whil'st there is life yet within them, we find her indeed at work, but put into such disorder by the violence offer'd, as it may easily be imagin'd how differing a thing we should find, if we could, as we can with a Microscope, in these smaller creatures, quietly peep in at the windows, without frighting her out of her usual byas.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 186.
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We see past time in a telescope and present time in a microscope. Hence the apparent enormities of the present.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 380.
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We talk about life as being dull as ditchwater, but is ditchwater dull? Naturalists with microscopes have told me that it teems with quiet fun.
'The Spice of Life', The Listener (1936). As cited, without initial phrase, in Bill Swainson (ed.), The Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 201. Full sentences quote from Alzina Stone Dale, The Outline of Sanity: A Biography of G. K. Chesterton (2005), 288.
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What are they doing, examining last month's costs with a microscope when they should be surveying the horizon with a telescope?
[Acerbic comment about directors of Brunner Mond, where he worked.]
As quoted by Peter Allen in obituary, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1976), 22, 116.
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Whatever is Natural doth by that appear, adorned with all imaginable Elegance and Beauty. There are such inimitable gildings and embroideries in the smallest seeds of Plants, but especially in the parts of Animals, in the head or eye of a small Fly: such accurate order and symmetry in the frame of the most minute creatures, a Lowse or a Mite, as no man were able to conceive without seeing of them. Whereas the most curious works of Art, the sharpest finest Needle, doth appear as a blunt rough bar of iron, coming from the furnace or the forge. The most accurate engravings or embossments, seem such rude bungling deformed works, as if they had been done with a Mattock or a Trowel.
In Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion (1675), 80.
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Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Whoever it was who searched the heavens with a telescope and found no God would not have found the human mind if he had searched the brain with a microscope.
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Why has not Man a microscopic eye?
For this plain reason, Man is not a Fly.
An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle I. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 511.
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With NMR we don’t touch the cell at all. We can follow it through time, watch its development.
Describing the benefits of the newly developed nuclear magnetic resonance imaging microscope. As quoted in L. Davis, 'Seeing the Cell and Letting it Live', Science News (19 Jul 1986), 130, No. 3, 39. Reference to Letter, James B. Aguayo, et al.,'Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging of a Single Cell', Nature (10 Jul 1986), 322, 190–191, which announced the first NMR images of a single cell.
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Within the nucleus [of a cell] is a network of fibers, a sap fills the interstices of the network. The network resolves itself into a definite number of threads at each division of the cell. These threads we call chromosomes. Each species of animals and plants possesses a characteristic number of these threads which have definite size and sometimes a specific shape and even characteristic granules at different levels. Beyond this point our strongest microscopes fail to penetrate.
In A Critique of the Theory of Evolution (1916), 91.
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You are literally filled with the fruit of your own devices, with rats and mice and such small deer, paramecia, and entomostraceæ, and kicking things with horrid names, which you see in microscopes at the Polytechnic, and rush home and call for brandy—without the water—stone, and gravel, and dyspepsia, and fragments of your own muscular tissue tinged with your own bile.
'The Water Supply of London', North British Review (1851), 15, 246
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[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. ... On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 82-83.
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[Microscopic] evidence cannot be presented ad populum. What is seen with the microscope depends not only upon the instrument and the rock-section, but also upon the brain behind the eye of the observer. Each of us looks at a section with the accumulated experience of his past study. Hence the veteran cannot make the novice see with his eyes; so that what carries conviction to the one may make no appeal to the other. This fact does not always seem to be sufficiently recognized by geologists at large.
'The Anniversary Address of the President', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 1885, 41, 59.
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… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 26
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“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.
Faith is a Fine Invention (c.1860). T.W. Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd (eds.), Poems: Second Series (1892), 53.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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