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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
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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'Why do you think it is...', I asked Dr. Cook ... 'that brain surgery, above all else—even rocket science—gets singled out as the most challenging of human feats, the one demanding the utmost of human intelligence?'
[Dr. Cook answered,] 'No margin for error.'
Lucky Man (2002), 208.
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...after my first feeling of revulsion had passed, I spent three of the most entertaining and instructive weeks of my life studying the fascinating molds which appeared one by one on the slowly disintegrating mass of horse-dung. Microscopic molds are both very beautiful and absorbingly interesting. The rapid growth of their spores, the way they live on each other, the manner in which the different forms come and go, is so amazing and varied that I believe a man could spend his life and not exhaust the forms or problems contained in one plate of manure.
The World Was My Garden (1938, 1941), 55.
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...the genes almost always accurately reproduce. If they don't, you get one of the following results: One, monsters—that is, grossly malformed babies resulting from genetic mistakes. Years ago most monsters died, but now many can be saved. This has made possible the National Football League.
Found widely quoted on the web, but without a print source. Please contact webmaster if you know the primary source.
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...the study of butterflies—creatures selected as the types of airiness and frivolity—instead of being despised, will some day be valued as one of the most important branches of Biological science.
From The Naturalist on the River Amazons: A record of Adventures, Habits of Animals, Sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and Aspects of Nature under the Equator, During Eleven Years of Travel (1864), 413.
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...they have never affirm'd any thing, concerning the Cause, till the Trial was past: whereas, to do it before, is a most venomous thing in the making of Sciences; for whoever has fix'd on his Cause, before he experimented; can hardly avoid fitting his Experiment to his Observations, to his own Cause, which he had before imagin'd; rather than the Cause to the Truth of the Experiment itself.
Referring to experiments of the Aristotelian mode, whereby a preconceived truth would be illustrated merely to convince people of the validity of the original thought.
Thomas Sprat, Abraham Cowley, History of the Royal Society (1667, 1734), 108.
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...those experiments be not only esteemed which have an immediate and present use, but those principally which are of most universal consequence for invention of other experiments, and those which give more light to the invention of causes; for the invention of the mariner's needle, which giveth the direction, is of no less benefit for navigation than the invention of the sails, which give the motion.
The Second Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 200
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...With these developments we have every reason to anticipate that in a time not very distant most telegraph messages across the oceans will be transmitted without cables. For short distances we need a “wireless” telephone, which requires no expert operat
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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1839—The fermentation satire
THE MYSTERY OF ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION RESOLVED
(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 stands for atom; it is so small No one has ever seen it at all.
B stands for bomb; the bombs are much bigger,
So, brother, do not be too fast on the trigger.
H has become a most ominous letter.
It means something bigger if not something better.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 74.
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Als Physiker, der sein ganzes Leben der nüchternen Wissenschaft, der Erforschung der Materie widmete, bin ich sicher von dem Verdacht frei, für einen Schwarmgeist gehalten zu werden. Und so sage ich nach meinen Erforschungen des Atoms dieses: Es gibt keine Materie an sich. Alle Materie entsteht und besteht nur durch eine Kraft, welche die Atomteilchen in Schwingung bringt und sie zum winzigsten Sonnensystem des Alls zusammenhält. Da es im ganzen Weltall aber weder eine intelligente Kraft noch eine ewige Kraft gibt - es ist der Menschheit nicht gelungen, das heißersehnte Perpetuum mobile zu erfinden - so müssen wir hinter dieser Kraft einen bewußten intelligenten Geist annehmen. Dieser Geist ist der Urgrund aller Materie.
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.
Lecture, 'Das Wesen der Materie' [The Essence/Nature/Character of Matter], Florence, Italy (1944). Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797. Excerpt in Gregg Braden, The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (2009), 334-35. Note: a number of books showing this quote cite it as from Planck's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1918), which the Webmaster has checked, and does not see this quote therein.
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But how shall we this union well expresse?
Naught tyes the soule: her subtiltie is such
She moves the bodie, which she doth possesse.
Yet no part toucheth, but by Vertue's touch.
Then dwels she not therein as in a tent;
Nor as a pilot in his Ship doth sit;
Nor as the spider in his web is pent;
Nor as the Waxe retaines the print in it;
Nor as a Vessell water doth containe;
Nor as one Liquor in another shed;
Nor as the heate dath in the fire remaine;
Nor as a voice throughout the ayre is spred;
But as the faire and cheerfull morning light,
Doth here, and there, her silver beames impart,
And in an instant doth her selfe unite
To the transparent Aire, in all, and part:
Still resting whole, when blowes the Aire devide;
Abiding pure, when th' Aire is most corrupted;
Throughout the Aire her beames dispersing wide,
And when the Aire is tost, not interrupted:
So doth the piercing Soule the body fill;
Being all in all, and all in part diffus'd;
Indivisible, incorruptible still,
Not forc't, encountred, troubled or confus'd.
And as the Sunne above the light doth bring,
Tough we behold it in the Aire below;
So from th'eternall light the Soule doth spring,
Though in the Bodie she her powers do show.
From 'Nosce Teipsum' (1599), in Claire Howard (ed.), The Poems of Sir John Davies (1941), 151-2.
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Combien de gens se font abstraits pour paraître profonds! La plupart des termes abstraits sont des ombres qui cachent des vides.
How many people become abstract in order to appear profound! Most abstract terms are shadows that conceal a void.
Quoted in M. Paul De Raynal, Pensées de J. Joubert (1862), 456.
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Dilbert: I’m obsessed with inventing a perpetual motion machine. Most scientists think it's impossible, but I have something they don’t.
Dogbert: A lot of spare time?
Dilbert: Exactly.
Dilbert cartoon strip (8 Aug 1991).
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Eine brennendste Zeitfrage allerdings! Es brennt in allen Ecken und Enden der ethnologischen Welt, brennt hell, lichterloh, in vollster Brunst, es brennt ringsum, Gross Feuer! und Niemand regt eine Hand.
A most burning question of time, though. It burns in every nook and cranny of the ethnological world, burning, bright, brightly, in the fullest blaze, and it burns all around, huge fire! and no one lifts a hand.
[Expressing his desperation over the loss of the cultural memory of ethnic traditions as so many cultures were no longer living in isolation.]
From Das Besẗandige in den Menschenrassen und die Spielweite ihrer Veränderlichkeit (1868), 180, footnote. Approximate translation by Webmaster using Google Translate.
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En un mot, pour tirer la loi de l'expérience, if faut généraliser; c'est une nécessité qui s'impose à l'observateur le plus circonspect.
In one word, to draw the rule from experience, one must generalize; this is a necessity that imposes itself on the most circumspect observer.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 186.
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Engineering, too, owes its most useful materials to the achievements of chemists in identifying, separating, and transforming materials: structural steel for the framework of bridges and buildings, portland cement for roadways and aqueducts, pure copper for the electrical industries, aluminum alloys for automobiles and airplanes, porcelain for spark plugs and electrical insulators. The triumphs of engineering skill rest on a chemical foundation.
In Fundamental Chemistry, and Elementary Textbook for College Classes (1936), 8.
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I. Animals have an electricity peculiar to themselves to which the name animal electricity is given.
II. The organs in which animal electricity acts above all others, and by which it is distributed throughout the whole body, are the nerves, and the most important organ of secretion is the brain.
Thierische Elektricitäund Reizbarkeit. Ein Beytrag zu den neuesten Entdeckungen üdiese Gegenstä(1795), 329. Quoted and trans. in Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 180.
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In primis, hominis est propria VERI inquisitio atque investigato. Itaque cum sumus negotiis necessariis, curisque vacui, tum avemus aliquid videre, audire, ac dicere, cognitionemque rerum, aut occultarum aut admirabilium, ad benè beatéque vivendum necessariam ducimus; —ex quo intelligitur, quod VERUM, simplex, sincerumque sit, id esse naturæ hominis aptissimum. Huic veri videndi cupiditati adjuncta est appetitio quædam principatûs, ut nemini parere animus benè a naturâ informatus velit, nisi præcipienti, aut docenti, aut utilitatis causâ justè et legitimè imperanti: ex quo animi magnitudo existit, et humanarum rerum contemtio.
Before all other things, man is distinguished by his pursuit and investigation of TRUTH. And hence, when free from needful business and cares, we delight to see, to hear, and to communicate, and consider a knowledge of many admirable and abstruse things necessary to the good conduct and happiness of our lives: whence it is clear that whatsoever is TRUE, simple, and direct, the same is most congenial to our nature as men. Closely allied with this earnest longing to see and know the truth, is a kind of dignified and princely sentiment which forbids a mind, naturally well constituted, to submit its faculties to any but those who announce it in precept or in doctrine, or to yield obedience to any orders but such as are at once just, lawful, and founded on utility. From this source spring greatness of mind and contempt of worldly advantages and troubles.
In De Officiis, Book 1. Sect. 13. As given in epigraph to John Frederick William Herschel, A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), viii.
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La chaleur pénètre, comme la gravité, toutes les substances de l’univers, ses rayons occupent toutes les parties de l’espace. Le but de notre ouvrage est d’exposer les lois mathématiques que suit cet élément. Cette théorie formera désormais une des branches les plus importantes de la physique générale.
Heat, like gravity, penetrates every substance of the universe, its rays occupy all parts of space. The object of our work is to set forth the mathematical laws which this element obeys. The theory of heat will hereafter form one of the most important branches of general physics.
From 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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La santé est le trésor le plus précieux et le plus facile à perdre; c'est cependant le plus mal gardé.
Health is the most valuable and most easily lost treasure; yet it is the most poorly kept.
Maxim No. 308 in Maximes, Réflexions et Pensées Diverses (1819), 242.
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Les médecins les plus savans en théorie sont rarement les plus habile practiciens.
The doctors most learned in theory are seldom the most skilled practitioners.
Maxim No. 281 in Maximes, Réflexions et Pensées Diverses (1819), 236.
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Prospero: Hast thou, spirit,
Performed, to point, the tempest that I bade thee?
Ariel: To every article.
I boarded the king’s ship. Now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement.
Sometime I’d divide
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards, and bowsprit would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join. Jove’s lightnings, the precursors
O’ th’ dreadful thunderclaps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not. The fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege, and make his bold waves tremble;
Yea, his dread trident shake.
In The Tempest (1611), Act 1, Scene 2, line 193-206.
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Question: If you walk on a dry path between two walls a few feet apart, you hear a musical note or “ring” at each footstep. Whence comes this?
Answer: This is similar to phosphorescent paint. Once any sound gets between two parallel reflectors or walls, it bounds from one to the other and never stops for a long time. Hence it is persistent, and when you walk between the walls you hear the sounds made by those who walked there before you. By following a muffin man down the passage within a short time you can hear most distinctly a musical note, or, as it is more properly termed in the question, a “ring” at every (other) step.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 175-6, Question 2. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: If you were to pour a pound of molten lead and a pound of molten iron, each at the temperature of its melting point, upon two blocks of ice, which would melt the most ice, and why?
Answer: This question relates to diathermancy. Iron is said to be a diathermanous body (from dia, through, and thermo, I heat), meaning that it gets heated through and through, and accordingly contains a large quantity of real heat. Lead is said to be an athermanous body (from a, privative, and thermo, I heat), meaning that it gets heated secretly or in a latent manner. Hence the answer to this question depends on which will get the best of it, the real heat of the iron or the latent heat of the lead. Probably the iron will smite furthest into the ice, as molten iron is white and glowing, while melted lead is dull.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 180-1, Question 14. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Surtout l’astronomie et l’anatomie sont les deux sciences qui nous offrent le plus sensiblement deux grands caractères du Créateur; l’une, son immensité, par les distances, la grandeur, et le nombre des corps célestes; l’autre, son intelligence infinie, par la méchanique des animaux.
Above all, astronomy and anatomy are the two sciences which present to our minds most significantly the two grand characteristics of the Creator; the one, His immensity, by the distances, size, and number of the heavenly bodies; the other, His infinite intelligence, by the mechanism of animate beings.
Original French and translation in Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed.) Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 119-120.
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That the general characters of the big group to which the embryo belongs appear in development earlier than the special characters. In agreement with this is the fact that the vesicular form is the most general form of all; for what is common in a greater degree to all animals than the opposition of an internal and an external surface?
The less general structural relations are formed after the more general, and so on until the most special appear.
The embryo of any given form, instead of passing through the state of other definite forms, on the contrary separates itself from them.

Fundamentally the embryo of a higher animal form never resembles the adult of another animal form, but only its embryo.
Über Entwicklungsgeschichte der Thiere: Beobachtung und Reflexion (1828), 224. Trans. E. S. Russell, Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology (1916), 125-6.
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Tout homme qui reçoit une éducation libérale compte aujourd'hui la chimie parmi les objets les plus indispensables de ses études.
Everyone who receives a liberal education today counts chemistry among the most essential parts of his studies.
Système des Connaissances Chimiques, et de Leurs Applications aux Phénomènes de la Nature et de l'Art (1800), Vol. 1, Preface, xviii. Translation by Webmaster.
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Trimming consists of clipping off little bits here and there from those observations which differ most in excess from the mean, and in sticking them onto those which are too small; a species of 'equitable adjustment,' as a radical would term it, which cannot be admitted in science.
'On the Frauds of Observers', Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
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[Describing the effects of over-indulgence in wine:]
But most too passive, when the blood runs low
Too weakly indolent to strive with pain,
And bravely by resisting conquer fate,
Try Circe's arts; and in the tempting bowl
Of poisoned nectar sweet oblivion swill.
Struck by the powerful charm, the gloom dissolves
In empty air; Elysium opens round,
A pleasing frenzy buoys the lightened soul,
And sanguine hopes dispel your fleeting care;
And what was difficult, and what was dire,
Yields to your prowess and superior stars:
The happiest you of all that e'er were mad,
Or are, or shall be, could this folly last.
But soon your heaven is gone: a heavier gloom
Shuts o'er your head; and, as the thundering stream,
Swollen o'er its banks with sudden mountain rain,
Sinks from its tumult to a silent brook,
So, when the frantic raptures in your breast
Subside, you languish into mortal man;
You sleep, and waking find yourself undone,
For, prodigal of life, in one rash night
You lavished more than might support three days.
A heavy morning comes; your cares return
With tenfold rage. An anxious stomach well
May be endured; so may the throbbing head;
But such a dim delirium, such a dream,
Involves you; such a dastardly despair
Unmans your soul, as maddening Pentheus felt,
When, baited round Citheron's cruel sides,
He saw two suns, and double Thebes ascend.
The Art of Preserving Health: a Poem in Four Books (2nd. ed., 1745), Book IV, 108-110.
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[Question: What do you think was the most important physics idea to emerge this year?]
We won't know for a few years.
Interview with Deborah Solomon, 'The Science of Second-Guessing', in New York Times Magazine (12 Dec 2004), 37.
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CALPURNIA: When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
CAESAR: Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Julius Caesar (1599), II, ii.
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CLAUDIO: Death is a fearful thing.
ISABELLA: And shamed life a hateful.
CLAUDIO: Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprisioned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worst than worst
Of those lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling—'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisionment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
Measure for Measure (1604), III, i.
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A calculating engine is one of the most intricate forms of mechanism, a telegraph key one of the simplest. But compare their value.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-Book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 174.
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A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
In The Sense of Wonder (1956, 1998), 54.
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A circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other … was my friendship with Professor Henslow … a man who knew every branch of science…. During the latter half of my time at Cambridge [I] took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow.”
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 44.
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A closer look at the course followed by developing theory reveals for a start that it is by no means as continuous as one might expect, but full of breaks and at least apparently not along the shortest logical path. Certain methods often afforded the most handsome results only the other day, and many might well have thought that the development of science to infinity would consist in no more than their constant application. Instead, on the contrary, they suddenly reveal themselves as exhausted and the attempt is made to find other quite disparate methods. In that event there may develop a struggle between the followers of the old methods and those of the newer ones. The former's point of view will be termed by their opponents as out-dated and outworn, while its holders in turn belittle the innovators as corrupters of true classical science.
In 'On the Development of the Methods of Theoretical Physics in Recent Times', Populäre Schriften, Essay 14. Address (22 Sep 1899) to the Meeting of Natural Scientists at Munich. Collected in Brian McGuinness (ed.), Ludwig Boltzmann: Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems, Selected Writings (1974), 79.
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A discovery in science, or a new theory, even when it appears most unitary and most all-embracing, deals with some immediate element of novelty or paradox within the framework of far vaster, unanalysed, unarticulated reserves of knowledge, experience, faith, and presupposition. Our progress is narrow; it takes a vast world unchallenged and for granted. This is one reason why, however great the novelty or scope of new discovery, we neither can, nor need, rebuild the house of the mind very rapidly. This is one reason why science, for all its revolutions, is conservative. This is why we will have to accept the fact that no one of us really will ever know very much. This is why we shall have to find comfort in the fact that, taken together, we know more and more.
Science and the Common Understanding (1954), 53-4.
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A fair number of people who go on to major in astronomy have decided on it certainly by the time they leave junior high, if not during junior high. I think it’s somewhat unusual that way. I think most children pick their field quite a bit later, but astronomy seems to catch early, and if it does, it sticks.
From interview by Rebecca Wright, 'Oral History Transcript' (15 Sep 2000), on NASA website.
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A few days afterwards, I went to him [the same actuary referred to in another quote] and very gravely told him that I had discovered the law of human mortality in the Carlisle Table, of which he thought very highly. I told him that the law was involved in this circumstance. Take the table of the expectation of life, choose any age, take its expectation and make the nearest integer a new age, do the same with that, and so on; begin at what age you like, you are sure to end at the place where the age past is equal, or most nearly equal, to the expectation to come. “You don’t mean that this always happens?”—“Try it.” He did try, again and again; and found it as I said. “This is, indeed, a curious thing; this is a discovery!” I might have sent him about trumpeting the law of life: but I contented myself with informing him that the same thing would happen with any table whatsoever in which the first column goes up and the second goes down.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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A field is the most just possession for men. For what nature requires it carefully bears: barley, oil, wine, figs, honey. Silver-plate and purple will do for the tragedians, not for life.
Philemon
Fragment 105 K-A quoted by Stobaeus 4. 15a. 15. In Matthew Leigh, Comedy and the Rise of Rome (2005), 112.
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A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn’t concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. … Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. … In our business, we don’t expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter’s search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body.
Describing the skill of his co-worker, Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the Turkana Boy, the most complete specimen of Homo erectus, on a slope covered with black lava pebbles.
Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992), 26.
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A good ornithologist should be able to distinguish birds by their air as well as by their colors and shape; on the ground as well as on the wing, and in the bush as well as in the hand. For, though it must not be said that every species of birds has a manner peculiar to itself, yet there is somewhat, in most genera at least, that at first sight discriminates them and enables a judicious observer to pronounce upon them with some certainty.
Letter (7 Aug 1778) to Daines Barrington, collected in The Natural History of Selborne (1829), 274.
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A government, at bottom, is nothing more than a gang of men, and as a practical matter most of them are inferior men ... Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent. Indeed, it would not be far wrong to describe the best as the common enemy of all decent citizens.
…...
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A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree or certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world suffers.
In Bertrand Russell and Paul Edwards (ed.), 'Preface', Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (1957), vi.
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A hot topic of late, expressed most notably in Bernie Siegel’s best-selling books, has emphasized the role of positive attitude in combating such serious diseases as cancer. From the depths of my skeptical and rationalist soul, I ask the Lord to protect me from California touchie-feeliedom.
…...
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A huge net is being dragged across the sea floor, destroying everything in its path. Ahead of it bloom undersea forests and their hundreds and thousands of living creatures, both plant and animal; behind it is a desert. The net is pulled to the surface and most of the dead and dying life forms in it are thrown out. A few marketable species are retained. [Trawling] is like taking a front-end loader and scraping up your entire front garden and shredding it, keeping a few pebbles, and dumping the rest of it down the drain.
In Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008), 191.
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A marine protozoan is an aqueous salty system in an aqueous salty medium, but a man is an aqueous salty system in a medium in which there is but little water and most of that poor in salts.
Quoted in Larry R. Squire (ed.), The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography (1996), Vol. 1, 558.
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A mathematical point is the most indivisble and unique thing which art can present.
Letters, 21. 1817. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 295.
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A mere inference or theory must give way to a truth revealed; but a scientific truth must be maintained, however contradictory it may appear to the most cherished doctrines of religion.
More Worlds Than One: The Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian (1856), 132.
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A million years is a short time—the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet’s time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.
In Basin and Range (1981), 134.
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A most vile face! and yet she spends me forty pound a year in Mercury and Hogs Bones. All her teeth were made in the Black-Fryars, both her Eyebrows i’ the Strand, and her Hair in Silver-street. Every part of Town owns a Piece of her.
A reference to artificial teeth by character Otter, speaking of his wife, in Epicoene: or, The Silent Woman (1609), Act IV, Sc. 2, 64. Also, True-wit makes a specific reference to “false Teeth” in Act I, Sc. 1, 10.
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A multidisciplinary study group ... estimated that it would be 1980 before developments in artificial intelligence make it possible for machines alone to do much thinking or problem solving of military significance. That would leave, say, five years to develop man-computer symbiosis and 15 years to use it. The 15 may be 10 or 500, but those years should be intellectually the most creative and exciting in the history of mankind.
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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John Ray quote: A multitude of words doth rather obscure than illustrate, they being a burden to the memory, and the first apt t
A multitude of words doth rather obscure than illustrate, they being a burden to the memory, and the first apt to be forgotten, before we come to the last. So that he that uses many words for the explaining of any subject, doth, like the cuttle-fish, hide himself, for the most part, in his own ink.
John Ray
The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691).
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A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.
Anonymous
Widely found in varied accounts, so is most likely proverbial. Seen misattributed (?) to George Bernard Shaw, but Webmaster has not yet found a primary source as verification.
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A neurotic person can be most simply described as someone who, while he was growing up, learned ways of behaving that are self-defeating in his society.
In Margaret Mead and Rhoda Bubendey Métraux (ed.), Margaret Mead, Some Personal Views (1979), 216.
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A noteworthy and often-remarked similarity exists between the facts and methods of geology and those of linguistic study. The science of language is, as it were, the geology of the most modern period, the Age of the Man, having for its task to construct the history of development of the earth and its inhabitants from the time when the proper geological record remains silent … The remains of ancient speech are like strata deposited in bygone ages, telling of the forms of life then existing, and of the circumstances which determined or affected them; while words are as rolled pebbles, relics of yet more ancient formations, or as fossils, whose grade indicates the progress of organic life, and whose resemblances and relations show the correspondence or sequence of the different strata; while, everywhere, extensive denudation has marred the completeness of the record, and rendered impossible a detailed exhibition of the whole course of development.
In Language and the Study of Language (1867), 47.
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A parable: A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones.” He asked a stone carver what he was doing. “I am carving a gargoyle.” And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said. “I am helping build a cathedral.”
...Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture.
[For example, in education, a teacher might say in the next class he was going to “explain Young's modulus and how to measure it,” rather than, “I am going to educate the students and prepare them for their future careers.”]
In The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (1975, 2005), 195.
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A pawn is the most important piece on the chessboard—to a pawn.
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 43.

A peacetime draft is the most un-American thing I know.
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit about stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption. If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), 272.
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A physician’s subject of study is necessarily the patient, and his first field for observation is the hospital. But if clinical observation teaches him to know the form and course of diseases, it cannot suffice to make him understand their nature; to this end he must penetrate into the body to find which of the internal parts are injured in their functions. That is why dissection of cadavers and microscopic study of diseases were soon added to clinical observation. But to-day these various methods no longer suffice; we must push investigation further and, in analyzing the elementary phenomena of organic bodies, must compare normal with abnormal states. We showed elsewhere how incapable is anatomy alone to take account of vital phenenoma, and we saw that we must add study of all physico-chemical conditions which contribute necessary elements to normal or pathological manifestations of life. This simple suggestion already makes us feel that the laboratory of a physiologist-physician must be the most complicated of all laboratories, because he has to experiment with phenomena of life which are the most complex of all natural phenomena.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 140-141.
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A railroad may have to be carried over a gorge or arroya. Obviously it does not need an Engineer to point out that this may be done by filling the chasm with earth, but only a Bridge Engineer is competent to determine whether it is cheaper to do this or to bridge it, and to design the bridge which will safely and most cheaply serve.
From Address on 'Industrial Engineering' at Purdue University (24 Feb 1905). Reprinted by Yale & Towne Mfg Co of New York and Stamford, Conn. for the use of students in its works.
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A science in its infancy is the least satisfactory, and, at the same time, the most profitable theme for a general description.
In Modern Astrophysics (1924), Preface, v.
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A vast technology has been developed to prevent, reduce, or terminate exhausting labor and physical damage. It is now dedicated to the production of the most trivial conveniences and comfort.
Reflections on Behaviorism and Society (1978), 6.
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A vision of the whole of life!. Could any human undertaking be ... more grandiose? This attempt stands without rival as the most audacious enterprise in which the mind of man has ever engaged ... Here is man, surrounded by the vastness of a universe in which he is only a tiny and perhaps insignificant part—and he wants to understand it.
…...
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A wonder then it must needs be,—that there should be any Man found so stupid and forsaken of reason as to persuade himself, that this most beautiful and adorned world was or could be produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms.
John Ray
The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691), 21-2.
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A … difference between most system-building in the social sciences and systems of thought and classification of the natural sciences is to be seen in their evolution. In the natural sciences both theories and descriptive systems grow by adaptation to the increasing knowledge and experience of the scientists. In the social sciences, systems often issue fully formed from the mind of one man. Then they may be much discussed if they attract attention, but progressive adaptive modification as a result of the concerted efforts of great numbers of men is rare.
The Study of Man (1941), 19-20.
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A “pacifist male” is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described “pacifists” are not pacific; they simply assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger.
In 'From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long', Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 258.
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About eight days ago I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary, gains it; it is the same with phosphorus; this increase of weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed during combustion and combines with the vapors. This discovery, which I have established by experiments, that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion and calcination; and I am persuaded that the increase in weight of metallic calxes is due to the same cause... This discovery seems to me one of the most interesting that has been made since Stahl and since it is difficult not to disclose something inadvertently in conversation with friends that could lead to the truth I have thought it necessary to make the present deposit to the Secretary of the Academy to await the time I make my experiments public.
Sealed note deposited with the Secretary of the French Academy 1 Nov 1772. Oeuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance, Fasc. II. 1770-75 (1957), 389-90. Adapted from translation by A. N. Meldrum, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Science (1930), 3.
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Abstract as it is, science is but an outgrowth of life. That is what the teacher must continually keep in mind. … Let him explain … science is not a dead system—the excretion of a monstrous pedantism—but really one of the most vigorous and exuberant phases of human life.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 195-196.
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Abstruse mathematical researches … are … often abused for having no obvious physical application. The fact is that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness. A new branch of mathematics, which has sprung up in the last twenty years, was denounced by the Astronomer Royal before the University of Cambridge as doomed to be forgotten, on account of its uselessness. Now it turns out that the reason why we cannot go further in our investigations of molecular action is that we do not know enough of this branch of mathematics.
In 'Conditions of Mental Development', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 115.
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After Gibbs, one the most distinguished [American scientists] was Langley, of the Smithsonian. … He had the physicist’s heinous fault of professing to know nothing between flashes of intense perception. … Rigidly denying himself the amusement of philosophy, which consists chiefly in suggesting unintelligible answers to insoluble problems, and liked to wander past them in a courteous temper, even bowing to them distantly as though recognizing their existence, while doubting their respectability.
The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography? (1918), 377.
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Again and again in reading even his [William Thomson] most abstract writings one is struck by the tenacity with which physical ideas control in him the mathematical form in which he expressed them. An instance of this is afforded by … an example of a mathematical result that is, in his own words, “not instantly obvious from the analytical form of my solution, but which we immediately see must be the case by thinking of the physical meaning of the result.”
As given in Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 2, 1136. The ellipsis gives the reference to the quoted footnote, to a passage in his Mathematical and Physical Papers, Vol. 1, 457. [Note: William Thomson, later became Lord Kelvin. —Webmaster]
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Alchymy, or Chymistry, is …
An Art which good men bate, and most men blame,
Which her admirers practice to their shame,
Whose plain Impostures, easie to perceive,
Not onely others, but themselves deceive.
In The Vanity of Arts and Sciences (1676), 312.
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All admit that the mountains of the globe are situated mostly along the border regions of the continents (taking these regions as 300 to 1000 miles or more in width), and that over these same areas the sedimentary deposits have, as a general thing, their greatest thickness. At first thought, it would seem almost incredible that the upliftings of mountains, whatever their mode of origin, should have taken place just where the earth’s crust, through these sedimentary accumulations, was the thickest, and where, therefore, there was the greatest weight to be lifted. … Earthquakes show that even now, in this last of the geological ages, the same border regions of the continents, although daily thickening from the sediments borne to the ocean by rivers, are the areas of the greatest and most frequent movements of the earth’s crust. (1866)
[Thus, the facts were known long ago; the explanation by tectonic activity came many decades later.]
In 'Observations on the Origin of Some of the Earth's Features', The American Journal of Science (Sep 1866), Second Series, 42, No. 125, 210-211.
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All fossil anthropoids found hitherto have been known only from mandibular or maxillary fragments, so far as crania are concerned, and so the general appearance of the types they represented had been unknown; consequently, a condition of affairs where virtually the whole face and lower jaw, replete with teeth, together with the major portion of the brain pattern, have been preserved, constitutes a specimen of unusual value in fossil anthropoid discovery. Here, as in Homo rhodesiensis, Southern Africa has provided documents of higher primate evolution that are amongst the most complete extant. Apart from this evidential completeness, the specimen is of importance because it exhibits an extinct race of apes intermediate between living anthropoids and man ... Whether our present fossil is to be correlated with the discoveries made in India is not yet apparent; that question can only be solved by a careful comparison of the permanent molar teeth from both localities. It is obvious, meanwhile, that it represents a fossil group distinctly advanced beyond living anthropoids in those two dominantly human characters of facial and dental recession on one hand, and improved quality of the brain on the other. Unlike Pithecanthropus, it does not represent an ape-like man, a caricature of precocious hominid failure, but a creature well advanced beyond modern anthropoids in just those characters, facial and cerebral, which are to be anticipated in an extinct link between man and his simian ancestor. At the same time, it is equally evident that a creature with anthropoid brain capacity and lacking the distinctive, localised temporal expansions which appear to be concomitant with and necessary to articulate man, is no true man. It is therefore logically regarded as a man-like ape. I propose tentatively, then, that a new family of Homo-simidæ be created for the reception of the group of individuals which it represents, and that the first known species of the group be designated Australopithecus africanus, in commemoration, first, of the extreme southern and unexpected horizon of its discovery, and secondly, of the continent in which so many new and important discoveries connected with the early history of man have recently been made, thus vindicating the Darwinian claim that Africa would prove to be the cradle of mankind.
'Australopithicus africanus: The Man-Ape of South Africa', Nature, 1925, 115, 195.
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All good intellects have repeated, since Bacon’s time, that there can be no real knowledge but that which is based on observed facts. This is incontestable, in our present advanced stage; but, if we look back to the primitive stage of human knowledge, we shall see that it must have been otherwise then. If it is true that every theory must be based upon observed facts, it is equally true that facts cannot be observed without the guidance of some theory. Without such guidance, our facts would be desultory and fruitless; we could not retain them: for the most part we could not even perceive them.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol. 1, 3-4.
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All historians, even the most scientific, have bias, if in no other sense than the determination not to have any.
In Everyman His Own Historian (1935), 136. The book is expanded from his presidential address (1931) to the American Historical Association.
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All men and women are born, live suffer and die; what distinguishes us one from another is our dreams, whether they be dreams about worldly or unworldly things, and what we do to make them come about... We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time and conditions of our death. But within this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we live.
…...
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All Men are liable to Error, and most Men are in many Points, by Passion or Interest, under Temptation to it.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 20, Section 17, 718.
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All men seek to be enlightened. Religion is but the most ancient and honorable way in which men have striven to make sense out of God's universe. Scientists seek the lawfulness of events. It is the task of Religion to fit man into this lawfulness.
Dune (1965), 406
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All men seek to be enlightened. Religion is but the most ancient and honorable way in which men have striven to make sense out of God's universe. Scientists seek the lawfulness of events. It is the task of Religion to fit man into this lawfulness.
Dune (1965), 406
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All men seek to be enlightened. Religion is but the most ancient and honorable way in which men have striven to make sense out of God's universe. Scientists seek the lawfulness of events. It is the task of Religion to fit man into this lawfulness.
Dune (1965), 406
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All revolutionary advances in science may consist less of sudden and dramatic revelations than a series of transformations, of which the revolutionary significance may not be seen (except afterwards, by historians) until the last great step. In many cases the full potentiality and force of a most radical step in such a sequence of transformations may not even be manifest to its author.
The Newtonian Revolution (1980), 162.
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All that Anatomie can doe is only to shew us the gross and sensible parts of the body, or the vapid and dead juices all which, after the most diligent search, will be noe more able to direct a physician how to cure a disease than how to make a man; for to remedy the defects of a part whose organicall constitution and that texture whereby it operates, he cannot possibly know, is alike hard, as to make a part which he knows not how is made. Now it is certaine and beyond controversy that nature performs all her operations on the body by parts so minute and insensible that I thinke noe body will ever hope or pretend, even by the assistance of glasses or any other intervention, to come to a sight of them, and to tell us what organicall texture or what kinde offerment (for whether it be done by one or both of these ways is yet a question and like to be soe always notwithstanding all the endeavours of the most accurate dissections) separate any part of the juices in any of the viscera, or tell us of what liquors the particles of these juices are, or if this could be donne (which it is never like to be) would it at all contribute to the cure of the diseases of those very parts which we so perfectly knew.
'Anatomie' (1668). Quoted in Kenneth Dewhurst (ed.), Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689): His Life and Original Writings (1966), 85-6.
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All the inventions and devices ever constructed by the human hand or conceived by the human mind, no matter how delicate, how intricate and complicated, are simple, childish toys compared with that most marvelously wrought mechanism, the human body. Its parts are far more delicate, and their mutual adjustments infinitely more accurate, than are those of the most perfect chronometer ever made.
In Plain Facts For Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life (1879, 1887), Revised Ed., 332.
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All the summer long is the swallow a most instructive pattern of unwearied industry and affection; for, from morning to night, while there is a family to be supported, she spends the whole day in skimming close to the ground, and exerting the most sudden turns and quick evolutions. Avenues, and long walks under hedges, and pasture-fields, and mown meadows where cattle graze, are her delight, especially if there are trees interspersed; because in such spots insects most abound. When a fly is taken a smart snap from her bill is heard, resembling the noise at the shutting of a watch case; but the motion of the mandibles are too quick for the eye.
In Letter to Daines Barrington (29 Jan 1774), in In The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 169-170.
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All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence ... there is an enormous amount of information about the world.
His suggestion that the most valuable information on scientific knowledge in a single sentence using the fewest words is to state the atomic hypothesis.
Six Easy Pieces (1995), 4.
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All things on the earth are the result of chemical combination. The operation by which the commingling of molecules and the interchange of atoms take place we can imitate in our laboratories; but in nature they proceed by slow degrees, and, in general, in our hands they are distinguished by suddenness of action. In nature chemical power is distributed over a long period of time, and the process of change is scarcely to be observed. By acts we concentrate chemical force, and expend it in producing a change which occupies but a few hours at most.
In chapter 'Chemical Forces', The Poetry of Science: Or, Studies of the Physical Phenomena of Nature (1848), 235-236. Charles Dicken used this quote, with his own sub-head of 'Relative Importance Of Time To Man And Nature', to conclude his review of the book, published in The Examiner (1848).
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Also the earth is not spherical, as some have said, although it tends toward sphericity, for the shape of the universe is limited in its parts as well as its movement… . The movement which is more perfect than others is, therefore, circular, and the corporeal form which is the most perfect is the sphere.
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Although I was four years at the University [of Wisconsin], I did not take the regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new world, mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany and and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and should have stayed longer.
[Enrolled in Feb 1861, left in 1863 without completing a degree, and began his first botanical foot journey.]
John Muir
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 286.
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Although the works of the Creator may be in themselves all equally perfect, the animal is, as I see it, the most complete work of nature, and man is her masterpiece.
'Histoire des Animaux', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 2, 2. Quoted in Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth -Century French Thought, ed. Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 437.
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Although we know nothing of what an atom is, yet we cannot resist forming some idea of a small particle, which represents it to the mind ... there is an immensity of facts which justify us in believing that the atoms of matter are in some way endowed or associated with electrical powers, to which they owe their most striking qualities, and amongst them their mutual chemical affinity.
[Summarizing his investigations in electrolysis.]
Experimental Researches in Electricity (1839), section 852. Cited in Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais, Brian Pippard, Twentieth Century Physics (1995), Vol. 1, 51.
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Although with the majority of those who study and practice in these capacities [engineers, builders, surveyors, geographers, navigators, hydrographers, astronomers], secondhand acquirements, trite formulas, and appropriate tables are sufficient for ordinary purposes, yet these trite formulas and familiar rules were originally or gradually deduced from the profound investigations of the most gifted minds, from the dawn of science to the present day. … The further developments of the science, with its possible applications to larger purposes of human utility and grander theoretical generalizations, is an achievement reserved for a few of the choicest spirits, touched from time to time by Heaven to these highest issues. The intellectual world is filled with latent and undiscovered truth as the material world is filled with latent electricity.
In Orations and Speeches, Vol. 3 (1870), 513.
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Aluminum is at once as white as silver, as incorrodible as gold, as tenacious as iron, as fusible as copper, and as light as glass. It is easily worked; it is widely spread in nature, alumina forming the bases of most rocks; it is three times lighter than iron; in short, it seems to have been created expressly to furnish material for our projectile!
Planning a spacecraft to be fired from a cannon to the moon. In From the Earth to the Moon (1865, 1890), 38.
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Among all highly civilized peoples the golden age of art has always been closely coincident with the golden age of the pure sciences, particularly with mathematics, the most ancient among them.
This coincidence must not be looked upon as accidental, but as natural, due to an inner necessity. Just as art can thrive only when the artist, relieved of the anxieties of existence, can listen to the inspirations of his spirit and follow in their lead, so mathematics, the most ideal of the sciences, will yield its choicest blossoms only when life’s dismal phantom dissolves and fades away, when the striving after naked truth alone predominates, conditions which prevail only in nations while in the prime of their development.
From Die Entwickelung der Mathematik im Zusammenhange mit der Ausbreitung der Kultur (1893), 4. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 191-192. From the original German, “Bei allen Kulturvölkern ist die Blüthezeit der Kunst auch immer zeitlich eng verbunden mit einer Blüthezeit der reinen Wissenschaften, insbesondere der ältesten unter ihnen, der Mathematik.
Dieses Zusammentreffen dürfte auch nicht ein zufälliges, sondern ein natürliches, ein Ergebniss innerer Notwendigkeit sein. Wie die Kunst nur gedeihen kann, wenn der Künstler, unbekümmert um die Bedrängnisse des Daseins, den Eingebungen seines Geistes lauschen und ihnen folgen kann, so kann die idealste Wissenschaft, die Mathematik, erst dann ihre schönsten Blüthen treiben, wenn des Erdenlebens schweres Traumbild sinkt und sinkt und sinkt, wenn das Streben nach der nackten Wahrheit allein bestimmend ist, was nur bei Nationen in der Vollkraft ihrer Entwickelung vorkommt.”
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Among all types of sexual activity, masturbation is ... the one in which the female most frequently reaches orgasm.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), 132.
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Among both the Northern and Eastern Hamites are to be found some of the most beautiful types of humanity.
In An Introduction to Physical Anthropology (1960), 456.
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Among natural bodies some have, and some have not, life; and by life we mean the faculties of self-nourishment, self-growth and self-decay. Thus every natural body partaking of life may be regarded as an essential existence; … but then it is an existence only in combination. … And since the organism is such a combination, being possessed of life, it cannot be the Vital Principle. Therefore it follows that the Vital Principle most be an essence, as being the form of a natural body, holding life in potentiality; but essence is a reality (entetechie). The Vital Principle is the original reality of a natural body endowed with potential life; this, however, is to be understood only of a body which may be organized. Thus the parts even of plants are organs, but they are organs that are altogether simple; as the leaf which is the covering of the pericarp, the pericarp of the fruit. If, then, there be any general formula for every kind of Vital Principle, it is—tthe primary reality of an organism.
Aristotle
In George Henry Lewes, Aristotle (1864), 231.
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Among the memoirs of Kirchhoff are some of uncommon beauty. … Can anything be beautiful, where the author has no time for the slightest external embellishment?—But—; it is this very simplicity, the indispensableness of each word, each letter, each little dash, that among all artists raises the mathematician nearest to the World-creator; it establishes a sublimity which is equalled in no other art, something like it exists at most in symphonic music. The Pythagoreans recognized already the similarity between the most subjective and the most objective of the arts.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 28-29, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 186. From the original German, “Gerade unter den zuletzt erwähnten Abhandlungen Kirchhoff’s sind einige von ungewöhnlicher Schönheit. … kann etwas schön sein, wo dem Autor auch zur kleinsten äusseren Ausschmückung die Zeit fehlt?–Doch–; gerade durch diese Einfachheit, durch diese Unentbehrlichkeit jedes Wortes, jedes Buchstaben, jedes Strichelchens kömmt der Mathematiker unter allen Künstlern dem Weltenschöpfer am nächsten; sie begründet eine Erhabenheit, die in keiner Kunst ein Gleiches,–Aehnliches höchstens in der symphonischen Musik hat. Erkannten doch schon die Pythagoräer die Aehnlichkeit der subjectivsten und der objectivsten der Künste.”
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Ampère was a mathematician of various resources & I think might rather be called excentric [sic] than original. He was as it were always mounted upon a hobby horse of a monstrous character pushing the most remote & distant analogies. This hobby horse was sometimes like that of a child ['s] made of heavy wood, at other times it resembled those [?] shapes [?] used in the theatre [?] & at other times it was like a hypogrif in a pantomime de imagie. He had a sort of faith in animal magnetism & has published some refined & ingenious memoirs to prove the identity of electricity & magnetism but even in these views he is rather as I said before excentric than original. He has always appeared to me to possess a very discursive imagination & but little accuracy of observation or acuteness of research.
'Davy’s Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia, 1967, 12, 135-6.
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An accomplished mathematician, i.e. a most wretched orator.
[Closing remark in an address, referring to himself.]
In 'The Prefactory Oration' (address to the University of Cambridge upon being elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, 14 Mar 1664). In Mathematical Lectures (1734), Preface, xxxii.
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An announcement of [Christopher] Zeeman’s lecture at Northwestern University in the spring of 1977 contains a quote describing catastrophe theory as the most important development in mathematics since the invention of calculus 300 years ago.
In book review of Catastrophe Theory: Collected Papers, 1972-1977, in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Nov 1978), 84, No. 6, 1360. Reprinted in Stephen Smale, Roderick Wong(ed.), The Collected Papers of Stephen Smale (2000), Vol. 2, 814.
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An inventive age
Has wrought, if not with speed of magic, yet
To most strange issues. I have lived to mark
A new and unforeseen creation rise
From out the labours of a peaceful Land:
Wielding her potent enginery to frame
And to produce, with appetite as keen
As that of war, which rests not night or day.
In The Excursion (1814). In The Works of William: Wordsworth (1994), Book 8, 875.
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An involuntary return to the point of departure is, without doubt, the most disturbing of all journeys.
…...
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Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. The physicist, with his facts, seeks reason; the biologist seeks something very much like rhyme, and rhyme is a kind of analogy.... This analogizing, this fine sweeping ability to see likenesses in the midst of differences is the great glory of biology, but biologists don't know it.... They have always been so fascinated and overawed by the superior prestige of exact physical science that they feel they have to imitate it.... In its central content, biology is not accurate thinking, but accurate observation and imaginative thinking, with great sweeping generalizations.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 98-100.
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Analysis and natural philosophy owe their most important discoveries to this fruitful means, which is called induction. Newton was indebted to it for his theorem of the binomial and the principle of universal gravity.
In Frederick Wilson Truscott (trans.) and Frederick Lincoln Emory (trans.), A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1902), 176.
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Anaximenes ... said that infinite air was the principle, from which the things that are becoming, and that are, and that shall be, and gods and things divine, all come into being, and the rest from its products. The form of air is of this kind: whenever it is most equable it is invisible to sight, but is revealed by the cold and the hot and the damp and by movement. It is always in motion; for things that change do not change unless there be movement. Through becoming denser or finer it has different appearances; for when it is dissolved into what is finer it becomes fire, while winds, again, are air that is becoming condensed, and cloud is produced from air by felting. When it is condensed still more, water is produced; with a further degree of condensation earth is produced, and when condensed as far as possible, stones. The result is that the most influential components of the generation are opposites, hot and cold.
Hippolytus, Refutation, 1.7.1. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 145.
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And do you know what “the world” is to me? Shall I,show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income; enclosed by “nothingness”' as by a boundary; not by something blurry or wasted, not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be “empty” here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing there; a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back, with tremendous years of recurrence, with an ebb and a flood of its forms; out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex, out of the stillest, most rigid, coldest forms toward the hottest, most turbulent, most self-contradictory, and then again returning home to the simple out of this abundance, out of the play of contradictions back to the joy of concord, still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my “beyond good and evil,” without goal, unless the joy of the circle itself is a goal; without will, unless a ring feels good will toward itself-do you want a name for this world? A solution for all its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?—This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing besides!
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 4, no. 1067. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 549-50.
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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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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point… . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy’s in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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And so the great truth, now a paradox, may become a commonplace, that man is greater than his surroundings, and that the production of a breed of men and women, even in our great cities, less prone to disease, and pain, more noble in aspect, more rational in habits, more exultant in the pure joy of living, is not only scientifically possible, but that even the partial fulfillment of this dream, if dream it be, is the most worthy object towards which the lover of his kind can devote the best energies of his life.
In 'The Breed of Man', The Nineteenth Century, (Oct 1900), 669, as collected in Martin Polley (ed.), The History of Sport in Britain, 1880-1914: Sport, Education, and Improvement (2004), Vol. 2, 181.
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And what a science Natural History will be, when we are in our graves, when all the laws of change are thought one of the most important parts of Natural History.
From Letter (1856) to J.D. Hooker, collected in in Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1896), 439. [Darwin was contemplating natural history as the synthesis of evolution (change) and forces of the environment.]
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And, notwithstanding a few exceptions, we do undoubtedly find that the most truly eminent men have had not only their affections, but also their intellect, greatly influenced by women. I will go even farther; and I will venture to say that those who have not undergone that influence betray a something incomplete and mutilated. We detect, even in their genius, a certain frigidity of tone; and we look in vain for that burning fire, that gushing and spontaneous nature with which our ideas of genius are indissolubly associated. Therefore, it is, that those who are most anxious that the boundaries of knowledge should be enlarged, ought to be most eager that the influence of women should be increased, in order that every resource of the human mind may be at once and quickly brought into play.
Lecture (19 Mar 1858) at the Royal Institution, 'The Influence Of Women On The Progress Of Knowledge', collected in The Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works of Henry Thomas Buckle (1872), Vol. 1, 17. Published in Frazier’s Magazine (Apr 1858).
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Another diversity of Methods is according to the subject or matter which is handled; for there is a great difference in delivery of the Mathematics, which are the most abstracted of knowledges, and Policy, which is the most immersed ... , yet we see how that opinion, besides the weakness of it, hath been of ill desert towards learning, as that which taketh the way to reduce learning to certain empty and barren generalities; being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the torture and press of the method.
Advancement of Learning, Book 2. In James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), Vol. 6, 292-293 . Peter Pešić, explains that 'By Mathematics, he had in mind a sterile and rigid scheme of logical classifications, called dichotomies in his time,' inLabyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 73.
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Anthropology has been compared to a great region, marked out indeed as within the sphere of influence of science, but unsettled and for the most part unsubdued. Like all such hinterland sciences, it is a happy hunting-ground for adventurers.
Mankind in the Making (1903), 52.
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Anthropology has reached that point of development where the careful investigation of facts shakes our firm belief in the far-reaching theories that have been built up. The complexity of each phenomenon dawns on our minds, and makes us desirous of proceeding more cautiously. Heretofore we have seen the features common to all human thought. Now we begin to see their differences. We recognize that these are no less important than their similarities, and the value of detailed studies becomes apparent. Our aim has not changed, but our method must change. We are still searching for the laws that govern the growth of human culture, of human thought; but we recognize the fact that before we seek for what is common to all culture, we must analyze each culture by careful and exact methods, as the geologist analyzes the succession and order of deposits, as the biologist examines the forms of living matter. We see that the growth of human culture manifests itself in the growth of each special culture. Thus we have come to understand that before we can build up the theory of the growth of all human culture, we must know the growth of cultures that we find here and there among the most primitive tribes of the Arctic, of the deserts of Australia, and of the impenetrable forests of South America; and the progress of the civilization of antiquity and of our own times. We must, so far as we can, reconstruct the actual history of mankind, before we can hope to discover the laws underlying that history.
The Jesup North Pacific Expedition: Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History (1898), Vol. 1, 4.
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Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.
…...
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Anton Chekhov wrote that ‘one must not put a loaded rifle on stage if no one is thinking of firing it.’ Good drama requires spare and purposive action, sensible linking of potential causes with realized effects. Life is much messier; nothing happens most of the time. Millions of Americans (many hotheaded) own rifles (many loaded), but the great majority, thank God, do not go off most of the time. We spend most of real life waiting for Godot, not charging once more unto the breach.
…...
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Any chemist reading this book can see, in some detail, how I have spent most of my mature life. They can become familiar with the quality of my mind and imagination. They can make judgements about my research abilities. They can tell how well I have documented my claims of experimental results. Any scientist can redo my experiments to see if they still work—and this has happened! I know of no other field in which contributions to world culture are so clearly on exhibit, so cumulative, and so subject to verification.
From Design to Discovery (1990), 119-20.
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Any frontal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession: their ignorance.
Quote appears in Henry Wysham Lanier, The Golden Book Magazine (Feb 1933), 17, 10.
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Any opinion as to the form in which the energy of gravitation exists in space is of great importance, and whoever can make his opinion probable will have, made an enormous stride in physical speculation. The apparent universality of gravitation, and the equality of its effects on matter of all kinds are most remarkable facts, hitherto without exception; but they are purely experimental facts, liable to be corrected by a single observed exception. We cannot conceive of matter with negative inertia or mass; but we see no way of accounting for the proportionality of gravitation to mass by any legitimate method of demonstration. If we can see the tails of comets fly off in the direction opposed to the sun with an accelerated velocity, and if we believe these tails to be matter and not optical illusions or mere tracks of vibrating disturbance, then we must admit a force in that direction, and we may establish that it is caused by the sun if it always depends upon his position and distance.
Letter to William Huggins (13 Oct 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 451-2.
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Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of highly scientific knowledge, that though these inventions [used to defend Syracuse against the Romans] had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, or the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Archimedes … had stated that given the force, any given weight might be moved, and even boasted, we are told, relying on the strength of demonstration, that if there were another earth, by going into it he could remove this. Hiero being struck with amazement at this, and entreating him to make good this problem by actual experiment, and show some great weight moved by a small engine, he fixed accordingly upon a ship of burden out of the king’s arsenal, which could not be drawn out of the dock without great labor and many men; and, loading her with many passengers and a full freight, sitting himself the while far off with no great endeavor, but only holding the head of the pulley in his hand and drawing the cords by degrees, he drew the ship in a straight line, as smoothly and evenly, as if she had been in the sea. The king, astonished at this, and convinced of the power of the art, prevailed upon Archimedes to make him engines accommodated to all the purposes, offensive and defensive, of a siege. … the apparatus was, in most opportune time, ready at hand for the Syracusans, and with it also the engineer himself.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Architecture is of all the arts the one nearest to a science, for every architectural design is at its inception dominated by scientific considerations. The inexorable laws of gravitation and of statics must be obeyed by even the most imaginative artist in building.
Anonymous
In 'The Message of Greek Architecture', The Chautauquan (Apr 1906), 43, 110.
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Are you aware that humanity is just a blip? Not even a blip. Just a fraction of a fraction of what the universe has been and will become? Talk about perspective. I figure I can’t feel so entirely stupid about saying what I said because, first of all, it’s true. And second of all, there will be no remnant of me or my stupidity. No fossil or geographical shift that can document, really, even the most important historical human beings, let alone my paltry admissions.
…...
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Art includes everything that stimulates the desire to live; science, everything that sharpens the desire to know. Art, even the most disinterested, the most disembodied, is the auxiliary of life.
Rémy de Gourmont and Glenn Stephen Burne (ed.), Selected Writings (1966), 170.
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As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.
Endymion (1880), 156.
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As a scientist and geneticist I started to feel that science would probably soon reach the point where its interference into the life processes would be counterproductive if a properly designed governing policy was not implemented. A heavily overcrowded planet, ninety-five percent urbanized with nuclear energy as the main source of energy and with all aspects of life highly computerized, is not too pleasant a place for human life. The life of any individual soon will be predictable from birth to death. Medicine, able to cure almost everything, will make the load of accumulated defects too heavy in the next two or three centuries. The artificial prolongation of life, which looked like a very bright idea when I started research in aging about twenty-five years ago, has now lost its attractiveness for me. This is because I now know that the aging process is so multiform and complex that the real technology and chemistry of its prevention by artificial interference must be too complex and expensive. It would be the privilege of a few, not the method for the majority. I also was deeply concerned about the fact that most research is now either directly or indirectly related to military projects and objectives for power.
Quoted in 'Zhores A(leksandrovich) Medvedev', Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002.
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As a scientist Miss [Rosalind] Franklin was distinguished by extreme clarity and perfection in everything she undertook. Her photographs are among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken.
In his Obituary for Rosalind Franklin, Nature, 1958, 182, 154. As given in Andrew Brown, J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science (2005), 359.
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As a well-known sports announcer would have put it: “ATP is the most underrated molecule in the league today.”
In The Wine of Life, and other Essays on Societies, Energy & Living Things (1981), 19.
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As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries—not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.
From A Logical Point of View (1953), 44. [Note: “qua” means “in the character or role of,” thus “qua lay physicist” means “in the role of lay physicist,” or perhaps even (?) “putting on my lay physicist hat.” —Webmaster]
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As history proves abundantly, mathematical achievement, whatever its intrinsic worth, is the most enduring of all.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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As language-using organisms, we participate in the evolution of the Universe most fruitfully through interpretation. We understand the world by drawing pictures, telling stories, conversing. These are our special contributions to existence. It is our immense good fortune and grave responsibility to sing the songs of the Cosmos.
Epigraph, without citation, in Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2008), 103.
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As mineralogy constitutes a part of chemistry, it is clear that this arrangement [of minerals] must derive its principles from chemistry. The most perfect mode of arrangement would certainly be to allow bodies to follow each other according to the order of their electro-chemical properties, from the most electro-negative, oxygen, to the most electro-positive, potassium; and to place every compound body according to its most electro-positive ingredient.
An Attempt to Establish a Pure Scientific System of Mineralogy (1814), trans. J. Black, 48.
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As soon as matter took over, the force of Newtonian gravity, which represents one of the most important characteristics of “ponderable” matter, came into play.
In Conclusion of The Creation of the Universe (1952, 2012), 136.
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As the Director of the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos, I participated at the most senior level in the World War II Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic weapons.
Now, at age 88, I am one of the few remaining such senior persons alive. Looking back at the half century since that time, I feel the most intense relief that these weapons have not been used since World War II, mixed with the horror that tens of thousands of such weapons have been built since that time—one hundred times more than any of us at Los Alamos could ever have imagined.
Today we are rightly in an era of disarmament and dismantlement of nuclear weapons. But in some countries nuclear weapons development still continues. Whether and when the various Nations of the World can agree to stop this is uncertain. But individual scientists can still influence this process by withholding their skills.
Accordingly, I call on all scientists in all countries to cease and desist from work creating, developing, improving and manufacturing further nuclear weapons - and, for that matter, other weapons of potential mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.
[On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Hiroshima.]
Letter, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Nov 1995), 51:6, 3.
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As the nineteenth century drew to a close, scientists could reflect with satisfaction that they had pinned down most of the mysteries of the physical world: electricity, magnetism, gases, optics, acoustics, kinetics and statistical mechanics ... all had fallen into order before the. They had discovered the X ray, the cathode ray, the electron, and radioactivity, invented the ohm, the watt, the Kelvin, the joule, the amp, and the little erg.
A Short History of Nearly Everything. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 172.
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As to Science, she has never sought to ally herself to civil power. She has never attempted to throw odium or inflict social ruin on any human being. She has never subjected anyone to mental torment, physical torture, least of all to death, for the purpose of upholding or promoting her ideas. She presents herself unstained by cruelties and crimes. But in the Vatican—we have only to recall the Inquisition—the hands that are now raised in appeals to the Most Merciful are crimsoned. They have been steeped in blood!
History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1875), xi.
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Astronomers and physicists, dealing habitually with objects and quantities far beyond the reach of the senses, even with the aid of the most powerful aids that ingenuity has been able to devise, tend almost inevitably to fall into the ways of thinking of men dealing with objects and quantities that do not exist at all, e.g., theologians and metaphysicians. Thus their speculations tend almost inevitably to depart from the field of true science, which is that of precise observation, and to become mere soaring in the empyrean. The process works backward, too. That is to say, their reports of what they pretend actually to see are often very unreliable. It is thus no wonder that, of all men of science, they are the most given to flirting with theology. Nor is it remarkable that, in the popular belief, most astronomers end by losing their minds.
Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956), Sample 74, 60.
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Astronomy affords the most extensive example of the connection of physical sciences. In it are combined the sciences of number and quantity, or rest and motion. In it we perceive the operation of a force which is mixed up with everything that exists in the heavens or on earth; which pervades every atom, rules the motion of animate and inanimate beings, and is a sensible in the descent of the rain-drop as in the falls of Niagara; in the weight of the air, as in the periods of the moon.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 1.
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Astronomy is older than physics. In fact, it got physics started by showing the beautiful simplicity of the motion of the stars and planets, the understanding of which was the beginning of physics. But the most remarkable discovery in all of astronomy is that the stars are made of atoms of the same kind as those on the earth.
In 'Astronomy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 3-6.
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Astronomy is the most ancient of all the sciences, and has been the introducer of vast knowledge.
In W. Hazlitt (trans.), 'Of Astronomy and Astrology', The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther (1848), 341.
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Astronomy may be revolutionized more than any other field of science by observations from above the atmosphere. Study of the planets, the Sun, the stars, and the rarified matter in space should all be profoundly influenced by measurements from balloons, rockets, probes and satellites. ... In a new adventure of discovery no one can foretell what will be found, and it is probably safe to predict that the most important new discovery that will be made with flying telescopes will be quite unexpected and unforeseen. (1961)
Opening and closing of 'Flying Telescopes', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 191 and 194.
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Astronomy, that micography of heaven, is the most magnificent of the sciences. ... Astronomy has its clear side and its luminous side; on its clear side it is tinctured with algebra, on its luminous side with poetry.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O’Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 237-8.
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At terrestrial temperatures matter has complex properties which are likely to prove most difficult to unravel; but it is reasonable to hope that in the not too distant future we shall be competent to understand so simple a thing as a star.
The Internal Constitution of Stars, Cambridge. (1926, 1988), 393.
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At the entrance to the observatory Stjerneborg located underground, Tycho Brahe built a Ionic portal. On top of this were three sculptured lions. On both sides were inscriptions and on the backside was a longer inscription in gold letters on a porfyr stone: Consecrated to the all-good, great God and Posterity. Tycho Brahe, Son of Otto, who realized that Astronomy, the oldest and most distinguished of all sciences, had indeed been studied for a long time and to a great extent, but still had not obtained sufficient firmness or had been purified of errors, in order to reform it and raise it to perfection, invented and with incredible labour, industry, and expenditure constructed various exact instruments suitable for all kinds of observations of the celestial bodies, and placed them partly in the neighbouring castle of Uraniborg, which was built for the same purpose, partly in these subterranean rooms for a more constant and useful application, and recommending, hallowing, and consecrating this very rare and costly treasure to you, you glorious Posterity, who will live for ever and ever, he, who has both begun and finished everything on this island, after erecting this monument, beseeches and adjures you that in honour of the eternal God, creator of the wonderful clockwork of the heavens, and for the propagation of the divine science and for the celebrity of the fatherland, you will constantly preserve it and not let it decay with old age or any other injury or be removed to any other place or in any way be molested, if for no other reason, at any rate out of reverence to the creator’s eye, which watches over the universe. Greetings to you who read this and act accordingly. Farewell!
(Translated from the original in Latin)
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At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes—an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), 304.
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At the present time all property is personal; the man owns his own ponies and other belongings he has personally acquired; the woman owns her horses, dogs, and all the lodge equipments; children own their own articles; and parents do not control the possessions of their children. There is no family property as we use the term. A wife is as independent as the most independent man in our midst. If she chooses to give away or sell all of her property, there is no one to gainsay her.
Speech on 'The Legal Conditions of Indian Women', delivered to Evening Session (Thur 29 Mar 1888), collected in Report of the International Council of Women: Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C., U.S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888 (1888), Vol. 1, 239-240.
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At the present time it is of course quite customary for physicists to trespass on chemical ground, for mathematicians to do excellent work in physics, and for physicists to develop new mathematical procedures. … Trespassing is one of the most successful techniques in science.
In Dynamics in Psychology (1940, 1973), 116.
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At their best, at their most creative, science and engineering are attributes of liberty—noble expressions of man’s God-given right to investigate and explore the universe without fear of social or political or religious reprisals.
From 'Sarnoff Honored by I.R.E.', in Department of Information of the Radio Corporation of America, Radio Age: Research, Manufacturing, Communications, Broadcasting (Apr 1953), 12, No. 2, 32.
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At this very minute, with almost absolute certainty, radio waves sent forth by other intelligent civilizations are falling on the earth. A telescope can be built that, pointed in the right place, and tuned to the right frequency, could discover these waves. Someday, from somewhere out among the stars, will come the answers to many of the oldest, most important, and most exciting questions mankind has asked.
In Intelligent Life in Space (1962), 111.
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Bankers regard research as most dangerous a thing that makes banking hazardous due to the rapid changes it brings about in industry.
Address (1927), quoted in U.S. National Resources Committee Technology and Planning, Washington 1937, 5-6. Also U.S. Government Report, Technological Trends (1937), 63.
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Beasts have not the high advantages which we possess; but they have some which we have not. They have not our hopes, but then they have not our fears; they are subject like us to death, but it is without being aware of it; most of them are better able to preserve themselves than we are, and make a less bad use of their passions.
In Edwin Davies, Other Men's Minds, Or, Seven Thousand Choice Extracts (1800), 55.
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Because intelligence is our own most distinctive feature, we may incline to ascribe superior intelligence to the basic primate plan, or to the basic plan of the mammals in general, but this point requires some careful consideration. There is no question at all that most mammals of today are more intelligent than most reptiles of today. I am not going to try to define intelligence or to argue with those who deny thought or consciousness to any animal except man. It seems both common and scientific sense to admit that ability to learn, modification of action according to the situation, and other observable elements of behavior in animals reflect their degrees of intelligence and permit us, if only roughly, to compare these degrees. In spite of all difficulties and all the qualifications with which the expert (quite properly) hedges his conclusions, it also seems sensible to conclude that by and large an animal is likely to be more intelligent if it has a larger brain at a given body size and especially if its brain shows greater development of those areas and structures best developed in our own brains. After all, we know we are intelligent, even though we wish we were more so.
In The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 78.
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Before I flew I was already aware of how small and vulnerable our planet is; but only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind’s most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations.
In Jack Hassard and Julie Weisberg , Environmental Science on the Net: The Global Thinking Project (1999), 40.
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Before Kuhn, most scientists followed the place-a-stone-in-the-bright-temple-of-knowledge tradition, and would have told you that they hoped, above all, to lay many of the bricks, perhaps even the keystone, of truth’s temple. Now most scientists of vision hope to foment revolution. We are, therefore, awash in revolutions, most self-proclaimed.
…...
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Before the introduction of the Arabic notation, multiplication was difficult, and the division even of integers called into play the highest mathematical faculties. Probably nothing in the modern world could have more astonished a Greek mathematician than to learn that, under the influence of compulsory education, the whole population of Western Europe, from the highest to the lowest, could perform the operation of division for the largest numbers. This fact would have seemed to him a sheer impossibility. … Our modern power of easy reckoning with decimal fractions is the most miraculous result of a perfect notation.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59.
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Being the most striking manifestation of the art of metal structures by which our engineers have shown in Europe, it [the Eiffel Tower] is one of the most striking of our modern national genius.
English version by Webmaster using Google Translate, from the original French, “Étant la plus saisissante manifestation de l’art des constructions métalliques par lesquelles nos ingénieurs se sont illustrés en Europe, elle est une des formes les plus frappantes de notre génie national moderne.” From interview of Eiffel by Paul Bourde, in the newspaper Le Temps (14 Feb 1887). Reprinted in 'Au Jour le Jour: Les Artistes Contre la Tour Eiffel', Gazette Anecdotique, Littéraire, Artistique et Bibliographique (Feb 1887), 126, and in Gustave Eiffel, Travaux Scientifiques Exécutés à la Tour de 300 Mètres de 1889 à 1900 (1900), 14. Also quoted in review of the Gustave Eiffel’s book La Tour Eiffel (1902), in Nature (30 Jan 1902), 65, 292.
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Bertrand Russell had given a talk on the then new quantum mechanics, of whose wonders he was most appreciative. He spoke hard and earnestly in the New Lecture Hall. And when he was done, Professor Whitehead, who presided, thanked him for his efforts, and not least for “leaving the vast darkness of the subject unobscured.”
Quoted in Robert Oppenheimer, The Open Mind (1955), 102.
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Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one’s native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.
…...
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Besides accustoming the student to demand, complete proof, and to know when he has not obtained it, mathematical studies are of immense benefit to his education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellencies of mathematical discipline, that the mathematician is never satisfied with à peu près. He requires the exact truth. Hardly any of the non-mathematical sciences, except chemistry, has this advantage. One of the commonest modes of loose thought, and sources of error both in opinion and in practice, is to overlook the importance of quantities. Mathematicians and chemists are taught by the whole course of their studies, that the most fundamental difference of quality depends on some very slight difference in proportional quantity; and that from the qualities of the influencing elements, without careful attention to their quantities, false expectation would constantly be formed as to the very nature and essential character of the result produced.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611. [The French phrase, à peu près means “approximately”. —Webmaster]
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Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.
In letter to Harmann Huth (27 Dec 1930). Presumably published in Vegetarische Warte (Vegetarian Watch, some time before 1935), a German magazine published by the society Vegetarier-Bund of which Harmann Huth was vice-president. As cited by Alice Calaprice (ed.) in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2010), 453. This might be the inspiration for a much-circulated and much-elaborated version attributed, but apparently wrongly, to Einstein. The questionable quote appears as: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet,” but no reliable source has been found for this as Einstein’s own words. Calaprice included this quote in her earlier edition of The Quotable Einstein (1996) in a final section of “Attributed to Einstein,” but it was removed from the final edition (2010), presumably because after much effort, it remained unsubstantiated.
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Biodiversity is our most valuable but least appreciated resource.
In 'Unmined Riches', The Diversity of Life (1992), 281.
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Biologists have long attempted by chemical means to induce in higher organisms predictable and specific changes which thereafter could be transmitted in series as hereditary characters. Among microorganisms the most striking example of inheritable and specific alterations in cell structure and function that can be experimentally induced and are reproducible under well defined and adequately controlled conditions is the transformation of specific types of Pneumococcus.
Oswald T. Avery (1877-1955), Colin Macleod (1909-72) and Maclyn McCarty (1911-2005), 'Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types', Journal of Experimental Medicine 1944, 79, 137.
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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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Blushing is the most peculiar and most human of all expressions. Monkeys redden from passion but it would take an overwhelming amount of evidence to make us believe that any animal can blush.
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), 310.
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Books and libraries and the will to use them are among the most important tools our nation has to diffuse knowledge and to develop our powers of creative wisdom.
Statement on the Occasion of National Library Week (16 Apr 1961). In Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961 (1962), 125.
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Botany here is but an object of amusement, a great one indeed and in which all our family mingles more or less. mr Randolph is our leader, and a good one. my mind has been so long ingrossed by other objects, that those I loved most have escaped from it, and none more than botany.
Letter (22 Oct 1810) from Jefferson at Monticello to Benjamin Smith Barton.
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Botany,—the science of the vegetable kingdom, is one of the most attractive, most useful, and most extensive departments of human knowledge. It is, above every other, the science of beauty.
Using pseudonym Peter Parley, in Peter Parley’s Cyclopedia of Botany (1838), ix. [This is a correction. Earlier on this website, the quote was identified as by Joseph Paxton, because that author’s name was on Google’s (erroneous) cover image of the book search result.]
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Both died, ignored by most; they neither sought nor found public favour, for high roads never lead there. Laurent and Gerhardt never left such roads, were never tempted to peruse those easy successes which, for strongly marked characters, offer neither allure nor gain. Their passion was for the search for truth; and, preferring their independence to their advancement, their convictions to their interests, they placed their love for science above that of their worldly goods; indeed above that for life itself, for death was the reward for their pains. Rare example of abnegation, sublime poverty that deserves the name nobility, glorious death that France must not forget!
'Éloge de Laurent et Gerhardt', Moniteur Scientifique (1862), 4, 473-83, trans. Alan J. Rocke.
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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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Briefly, in the act of composition, as an instrument there intervenes and is most potent, fire, flaming, fervid, hot; but in the very substance of the compound there intervenes, as an ingredient, as it is commonly called, as a material principle and as a constituent of the whole compound the material and principle of fire, not fire itself. This I was the first to call phlogiston.
Specimen Beccherianum (1703). Trans. J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1961), Vol. 2, 668.
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Buffon, who, with all his theoretical ingenuity and extraordinary eloquence, I suspect had little actual information in the science on which he wrote so admirably For instance, he tells us that the cow sheds her horns every two years; a most palpable error. ... It is wonderful that Buffon who lived so much in the country at his noble seat should have fallen into such a blunder I suppose he has confounded the cow with the deer.
In The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1826), Vol. 3, 70, footnote.
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Built up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, together with traces of a few other elements, yet of a complexity of structure that has hitherto resisted all attempts at complete analysis, protoplasm is at once the most enduring and the most easily destroyed of substances; its molecules are constantly breaking down to furnish the power for the manifestations of vital phenomena, and yet, through its remarkable property of assimilation, a power possessed by nothing else upon earth, it constantly builds up its substance anew from the surrounding medium.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 1.
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But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position—namely, at the close of the Introduction—the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.
In The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection with additions and corrections from sixth and last English edition (1899), Vol. 2, 293.
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But I should be very sorry if an interpretation founded on a most conjectural scientific hypothesis were to get fastened to the text in Genesis... The rate of change of scientific hypothesis is naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretations, so that if an interpretation is founded on such an hypothesis, it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it ought to be buried and forgotten.
Letter to Rev. C. J. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol (22 Nov 1876). Quoted in Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 394.
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But I think that in the repeated and almost entire changes of organic types in the successive formations of the earth—in the absence of mammalia in the older, and their very rare appearance (and then in forms entirely. unknown to us) in the newer secondary groups—in the diffusion of warm-blooded quadrupeds (frequently of unknown genera) through the older tertiary systems—in their great abundance (and frequently of known genera) in the upper portions of the same series—and, lastly, in the recent appearance of man on the surface of the earth (now universally admitted—in one word, from all these facts combined, we have a series of proofs the most emphatic and convincing,—that the existing order of nature is not the last of an uninterrupted succession of mere physical events derived from laws now in daily operation: but on the contrary, that the approach to the present system of things has been gradual, and that there has been a progressive development of organic structure subservient to the purposes of life.
'Address to the Geological Society, delivered on the Evening of the 18th of February 1831', Proceedings of the Geological Society (1834), 1, 305-6.
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But in nothing are swifts more singular than in their early retreat. They retire, as to the main body of them, by the tenth of August, and sometimes a few days sooner: and every straggler invariably withdraws by the twentieth, while their congeners, all of them, stay till the beginning of October; many of them all through that month, and some occasionally to the beginning of November. This early retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since that time is often the sweetest season in the year. But, what is more extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most southerly parts of Andalusia, where they can be no ways influenced by any defect of heat; or, as one might suppose, defect of food. Are they regulated in their motions with us by failure of food, or by a propensity to moulting, or by a disposition to rest after so rapid a life, or by what? This is one of those incidents in natural history that not only baffles our searches, but almost eludes our guesses!
In Letter to Daines Barrington, (28 Sep 1774), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 278.
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But most of us, however strict we may be, are apt to apply the epithet “beautiful” to objects that do not provoke that peculiar emotion produced by works of art.
In Art (1913), 12.
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But of all environments, that produced by man’s complex technology is perhaps the most unstable and rickety. In its present form, our society is not two centuries old, and a few nuclear bombs will do it in.
To be sure, evolution works over long periods of time and two centuries is far from sufficient to breed Homo technikos… .
The destruction of our technological society in a fit of nuclear peevishness would become disastrous even if there were many millions of immediate survivors.
The environment toward which they were fitted would be gone, and Darwin’s demon would wipe them out remorselessly and without a backward glance.
Asimov on Physics (1976), 151. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 181.
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But science is the great instrument of social change, all the greater because its object is not change but knowledge, and its silent appropriation of this dominant function, amid the din of political and religious strife, is the most vital of all the revolutions which have marked the development of modern civilisation.
Decadence: Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture (1908), 55-6.
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But shall gravity be therefore called an occult cause, and thrown out of philosophy, because the cause of gravity is occult and not yet discovered? Those who affirm this, should be careful not to fall into an absurdity that may overturn the foundations of all philosophy. For causes usually proceed in a continued chain from those that are more compounded to those that are more simple; when we are arrived at the most simple cause we can go no farther ... These most simple causes will you then call occult and reject them? Then you must reject those that immediately depend on them.
Mathematical Principles (1729), 27.
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But the greatest error of all the rest is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge: for men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession; and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men...
The First Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 174
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But what exceeds all wonders, I have discovered four new planets and observed their proper and particular motions, different among themselves and from the motions of all the other stars; and these new planets move about another very large star [Jupiter] like Venus and Mercury, and perchance the other known planets, move about the Sun. As soon as this tract, which I shall send to all the philosophers and mathematicians as an announcement, is finished, I shall send a copy to the Most Serene Grand Duke, together with an excellent spyglass, so that he can verify all these truths.
Letter to the Tuscan Court, 30 Jan 1610. Quoted in Albert van Heiden (ed.), Siderius Nuncius or The Sidereal Messenger (1989), 18.
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But why, it has been asked, did you go there [the Antarctic]? Of what use to civilization can this lifeless continent be? ... [Earlier] expeditions contributed something to the accumulating knowledge of the Antarctic ... that helps us thrust back further the physical and spiritual shadows enfolding our terrestrial existence. Is it not true that one of the strongest and most continuously sustained impulses working in civilization is that which leads to discovery? As long as any part of the world remains obscure, the curiosity of man must draw him there, as the lodestone draws the mariner's needle, until he comprehends its secret.
In 'Hoover Presents Special Medal to Byrd...', New York Times (21 Jun 1930), 1.
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But, as we consider the totality of similarly broad and fundamental aspects of life, we cannot defend division by two as a natural principle of objective order. Indeed, the ‘stuff’ of the universe often strikes our senses as complex and shaded continua, admittedly with faster and slower moments, and bigger and smaller steps, along the way. Nature does not dictate dualities, trinities, quarterings, or any ‘objective’ basis for human taxonomies; most of our chosen schemes, and our designated numbers of categories, record human choices from a cornucopia of possibilities offered by natural variation from place to place, and permitted by the flexibility of our mental capacities. How many seasons (if we wish to divide by seasons at all) does a year contain? How many stages shall we recognize in a human life?
…...
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By blending water and minerals from below with sunlight and CO2 from above, green plants link the earth to the sky. We tend to believe that plants grow out of the soil, but in fact most of their substance comes from the air. The bulk of the cellulose and the other organic compounds produced through photosynthesis consists of heavy carbon and oxygen atoms, which plants take directly from the air in the form of CO2. Thus the weight of a wooden log comes almost entirely from the air. When we burn a log in a fireplace, oxygen and carbon combine once more into CO2, and in the light and heat of the fire we recover part of the solar energy that went into making the wood.
The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (1997), 178.
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By destroying the biological character of phenomena, the use of averages in physiology and medicine usually gives only apparent accuracy to the results. From our point of view, we may distinguish between several kinds of averages: physical averages, chemical averages and physiological and pathological averages. If, for instance, we observe the number of pulsations and the degree of blood pressure by means of the oscillations of a manometer throughout one day, and if we take the average of all our figures to get the true or average blood pressure and to learn the true or average number of pulsations, we shall simply have wrong numbers. In fact, the pulse decreases in number and intensity when we are fasting and increases during digestion or under different influences of movement and rest; all the biological characteristics of the phenomenon disappear in the average. Chemical averages are also often used. If we collect a man's urine during twenty-four hours and mix all this urine to analyze the average, we get an analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine, when fasting, is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, and who believed he could thus present an analysis of average European urine! Aside from physical and chemical, there are physiological averages, or what we might call average descriptions of phenomena, which are even more false. Let me assume that a physician collects a great many individual observations of a disease and that he makes an average description of symptoms observed in the individual cases; he will thus have a description that will never be matched in nature. So in physiology, we must never make average descriptions of experiments, because the true relations of phenomena disappear in the average; when dealing with complex and variable experiments, we must study their various circumstances, and then present our most perfect experiment as a type, which, however, still stands for true facts. In the cases just considered, averages must therefore be rejected, because they confuse, while aiming to unify, and distort while aiming to simplify. Averages are applicable only to reducing very slightly varying numerical data about clearly defined and absolutely simple cases.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-135.
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By far the most important consequence of the conceptual revolution brought about in physics by relativity and quantum theory lies not in such details as that meter sticks shorten when they move or that simultaneous position and momentum have no meaning, but in the insight that we had not been using our minds properly and that it is important to find out how to do so.
'Quo Vadis'. In Gerald Holton (ed.), Science and the Modern Mind (1971), 84.
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By God’s mercy British and American science outpaced all German efforts. … This revelation of the secrets of nature, long mercifully withheld from man, should arouse the most solemn reflections in the mind and conscience of every human being capable of comprehension. We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce to peace among the nations, and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe, may become a perennial fountain of world prosperity.
[Concerning use of the atomic bomb.]
Statement drafted by Churchill following the use of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Due to the change in government, the statement was released by Clement Attlee (6 Aug 1945). In Sir Winston Churchill, Victory: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston Churchill (1946), 289.
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By natural selection our mind has adapted itself to the conditions of the external world. It has adopted the geometry most advantageous to the species or, in other words, the most convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.
Science and Hypothesis (1902), in The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method(1946), trans. by George Bruce Halsted, 91.
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By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.
Confucius
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 109
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Calculation touches, at most, certain phenomena of organic destruction. Organic creation, on the contrary, the evolutionary phenomena which properly constitute life, we cannot in any way subject to a mathematical treatment.
In Creative Evolution (1911).
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Can a physicist visualize an electron? The electron is materially inconceivable and yet, it is so perfectly known through its effects that we use it to illuminate our cities, guide our airlines through the night skies and take the most accurate measurements. What strange rationale makes some physicists accept the inconceivable electrons as real while refusing to accept the reality of a Designer on the ground that they cannot conceive Him?
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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Cavendish gave me once some bits of platinum for my experiments, and came to see my results on the decomposition of the alkalis, and seemed to take an interest in them; but he encouraged no intimacy with any one, and received nobody at his own house. … He was acute, sagacious, and profound, and, I think, the most accomplished British philosopher of his time.
As quoted in Victor Robinson, Pathfinders in Medicine (1912), 143.
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Cavendish was a great Man with extraordinary singularities—His voice was squeaking his manner nervous He was afraid of strangers & seemed when embarrassed to articulate with difficulty—He wore the costume of our grandfathers. Was enormously rich but made no use of his wealth... He Cavendish lived latterly the life of a solitary, came to the Club dinner & to the Royal Society: but received nobody at his home. He was acute sagacious & profound & I think the most accomplished British Philosopher of his time.
Quoted in J. Z. Fullmer, 'Davy's Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia, 1967, 12, 133.
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Certain students of genetics inferred that the Mendelian units responsible for the selected character were genes producing only a single effect. This was careless logic. It took a good deal of hammering to get rid of this erroneous idea. As facts accumulated it became evident that each gene produces not a single effect, but in some cases a multitude of effects on the characters of the individual. It is true that in most genetic work only one of these character-effects is selected for study—the one that is most sharply defined and separable from its contrasted character—but in most cases minor differences also are recognizable that are just as much the product of the same gene as is the major effect.
'The Relation of Genetics to Physiology and Medicine', Nobel Lecture (4 Jun 1934). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 317.
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Certainly one of the most enthralling things about human life is the recognition that we live in what, for practical purposes, is a universe without bounds.
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Certainty is the most vivid condition of ignorance and the most necessay condition for knowledge.
Quotations: Superultramodern Science and Philosophy (2005), 2
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Charles Darwin [is my personal favorite Fellow of the Royal Society]. I suppose as a physical scientist I ought to have chosen Newton. He would have won hands down in an IQ test, but if you ask who was the most attractive personality then Darwin is the one you'd wish to meet. Newton was solitary and reclusive, even vain and vindictive in his later years when he was president of the society.
From interview with Graham Lawton, 'One Minute with Martin Rees', in New Scientist (12 Dec 2009), 204, No. 2738.
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Cheetah genes cooperate with cheetah genes but not with camel genes, and vice versa. This is not because cheetah genes, even in the most poetic sense, see any virtue in the preservation of the cheetah species. They are not working to save the cheetah from extinction like some molecular World Wildlife Fund.
From Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder (1998), 218.
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Chemistry affords two general methods of determining the constituent principles of bodies, the method of analysis, and that of synthesis. When, for instance, by combining water with alkohol, we form the species of liquor called, in commercial language, brandy or spirit of wine, we certainly have a right to conclude, that brandy, or spirit of wine, is composed of alkohol combined with water. We can produce the same result by the analytical method; and in general it ought to be considered as a principle in chemical science, never to rest satisfied without both these species of proofs. We have this advantage in the analysis of atmospherical air, being able both to decompound it, and to form it a new in the most satisfactory manner.
Elements of Chemistry (1790), trans. R. Kerr, 33.
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Chemistry: that most excellent child of intellect and art.
From presidential address to 1953 conference of Science Masters Association, Oxford, part of the Centenary Celbrations of the Chemical Society of London. As quoted in Charles Alfred Coulson, Science and Christian Belief (1956), 51.
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Chiromancy is a most dangerous science, and one that ought not to be encouraged, except in a “tête-à-tête.”
Aphorism collected in Sebastian Melmoth (1908), 15. Note: Sebastian Melmoth was the pseudonym used by Oscar Wilde in his exile in France after released from prison. Chiromancy is palmistry.
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Climate change threatens every corner of our country, every sector of our economy and the health and future of every child. We are already seeing its impacts and we know the poorest and most vulnerable people in the United States and around the world will suffer most of all.
In Hillary Clinton, 'Hillary Clinton: America Must Lead at Paris Climate Talks', Time (29 Nov 2015).
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Combining in our survey then, the whole range of deposits from the most recent to the most ancient group, how striking a succession do they present:– so various yet so uniform–so vast yet so connected. In thus tracing back to the most remote periods in the physical history of our continents, one system of operations, as the means by which many complex formations have been successively produced, the mind becomes impressed with the singleness of nature's laws; and in this respect, at least, geology is hardly inferior in simplicity to astronomy.
The Silurian System (1839), 574.
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Committees are dangerous things that need most careful watching. I believe that a research committee can do one useful thing and one only. It can find the workers best fitted to attack a particular problem, bring them together, give them the facilities they need, and leave them to get on with the work. It can review progress from time to time, and make adjustments; but if it tries to do more, it will do harm.
Attributed.
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Common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.
Epigraph in Ian Glynn, An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind (), Chap. 2, 7. A more freely translated version of the Descartes (longer) quote beginning, “Good sense is, of all things among men…” also on the René Descartes Quotes page on this website.
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Common sense is, of all kinds, the most uncommon.
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 13.
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Communism is at once a complete system of proletarian ideology and a new social system. It is different from any other ideological and social system, and is the most complete, progressive, revolutionary, and rational system in human history.
In Mao Tse-Tung: On New Democracy: Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art (1967), 32.
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Complex organisms cannot be construed as the sum of their genes, nor do genes alone build particular items of anatomy or behavior by them selves. Most genes influence several aspects of anatomy and behavior–as they operate through complex interactions with other genes and their products, and with environmental factors both within and outside the developing organism. We fall into a deep error, not just a harmful oversimplification, when we speak of genes ‘for’ particular items of anatomy or behavior.
…...
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Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.
…...
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Compounds of gaseous substances with each other are always formed in very simple ratios, so that representing one of the terms by unity, the other is 1, 2, or at most 3 ... The apparent contraction of volume suffered by gas on combination is also very simply related to the volume of one of them.
Mémoires de la Société d' Arcueil, 1809, 2, 233-4. Trans. Foundations of the Molecular Theory, Alembic Club Reprint, no. 4 (1950), 24.
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Confined to its true domain, mathematical reasoning is admirably adapted to perform the universal office of sound logic: to induce in order to deduce, in order to construct. … It contents itself to furnish, in the most favorable domain, a model of clearness, of precision, and consistency, the close contemplation of which is alone able to prepare the mind to render other conceptions also as perfect as their nature permits. Its general reaction, more negative than positive, must consist, above all, in inspiring us everywhere with an invincible aversion for vagueness, inconsistency, and obscurity, which may always be really avoided in any reasoning whatsoever, if we make sufficient effort.
In Synthèse Subjective (1856), 98. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 202-203. From the original French, “Bornée à son vrai domaine, la raison mathématique y peut admirablement remplir l’office universel de la saine logique: induire pour déduire, afin de construire. … Elle se contente de former, dans le domaine le plus favorable, un type de clarté, de précision, et de consistance, dont la contemplation familière peut seule disposer l’esprit à rendre les autres conceptions aussi parfaites que le comporte leur nature. Sa réaction générale, plus négative que positive, doit surtout consister à nous inspirer partout une invincible répugnance pour le vague, l’incohérence, et l’obscurité, que nous pouvons réellement éviter envers des pensées quelconques, si nous y faisons assez d’efforts.”
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Connected by innumerable ties with abstract science, Physiology is yet in the most intimate relation with humanity; and by teaching us that law and order, and a definite scheme of development, regulate even the strangest and wildest manifestations of individual life, she prepares the student to look for a goal even amidst the erratic wanderings of mankind, and to believe that history offers something more than an entertaining chaos—a journal of a toilsome, tragi-comic march nowither.
In 'Educational Value of Natural History Sciences', Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1870), 97.
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Consciousness… does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as “chain” or “train” do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A “river” or a “stream” are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.
Source of the expression “stream of consciousness”.
The Principles of Psychology (1890), Vol. 1, 239.
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Constant, or free, life is the third form of life; it belongs to the most highly organized animals. In it, life is not suspended in any circumstance, it unrolls along a constant course, apparently indifferent to the variations in the cosmic environment, or to the changes in the material conditions that surround the animal. Organs, apparatus, and tissues function in an apparently uniform manner, without their activity undergoing those considerable variations exhibited by animals with an oscillating life. This because in reality the internal environment that envelops the organs, the tissues, and the elements of the tissues does not change; the variations in the atmosphere stop there, so that it is true to say that physical conditions of the environment are constant in the higher animals; it is enveloped in an invariable medium, which acts as an atmosphere of its own in the constantly changing cosmic environment. It is an organism that has placed itself in a hot-house. Thus the perpetual changes in the cosmic environment do not touch it; it is not chained to them, it is free and independent.
Lectures on the Phenomena of Life Common to Animals and Plants (1878), trans. Hebbel E. Hoff, Roger Guillemin and Lucienne Guillemin (1974), 83.
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Contrary to popular parlance, Darwin didn't discover evolution. He uncovered one (most would say the) essential mechanism by which it operates: natural selection. Even then, his brainstorm was incomplete until the Modern Synthesis of the early/mid-20th century when (among other things) the complementary role of genetic heredity was fully realized. Thousands upon thousands of studies have followed, providing millions of data points that support this understanding of how life on Earth has come to be as it is.
In online article, 'The Day That Botany Took on Bobby Jindal by Just Being Itself', Huffington Post (5 Aug 2013).
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Copernicus, the most learned man whom we are able to name other than Atlas and Ptolemy, even though he taught in a most learned manner the demonstrations and causes of motion based on observation, nevertheless fled from the job of constructing tables, so that if anyone computes from his tables, the computation is not even in agreement with his observations on which the foundation of the work rests. Therefore first I have compared the observations of Copernicus with those of Ptolemy and others as to which are the most accurate, but besides the bare observations, I have taken from Copernicus nothing other than traces of demonstrations. As for the tables of mean motion, and of prosthaphaereses and all the rest, I have constructed these anew, following absolutely no other reasoning than that which I have judged to be of maximum harmony.
Dedication to the Duke of Prussia, Prutenicae Tabulae (1551), 1585 edition, as quoted in Owen Gingerich, The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler (1993), 227.
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Cosmic religiousness is the strongest and most noble driving force of scientific research.
…...
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Could the waters of the Atlantic be drawn off so as to expose to view this great seagash which separates continents, and extends from the Arctic to the Antarctic, it would present a scene the most rugged, grand and imposing. The very ribs of the solid earth, with the foundations of the sea, would be brought to light.
(1860)
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Creation science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage—good teaching—than a bill forcing our honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?.
In 'The Verdict on Creationism' The Sketical Inquirer (Winter 1987/88), 12, 186.
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Creative imagination is likely to find corroborating novel evidence even for the most 'absurd' programme, if the search has sufficient drive. This look-out for new confirming evidence is perfectly permissible. Scientists dream up phantasies and then pursue a highly selective hunt for new facts which fit these phantasies. This process may be described as “science creating its own universe” (as long as one remembers that “creating” here is used in a provocative-idiosyncratic sense). A brilliant school of scholars (backed by a rich society to finance a few well-planned tests) might succeed in pushing any fantastic programme ahead, or alternatively, if so inclined, in overthrowing any arbitrarily chosen pillar of “established knowledge”.
In 'Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London 1965 (1970), Vol. 4, 187-8.
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Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. A merely well informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth. What we should aim at producing is men who possess both culture and expert knowledge in some special direction.
Opening sentences of Chapter 1,'The Aims of Education', in Aims of Education and Other Essays (1917), 1.
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Custom is the most certain mistress of language, as the public stamp makes the current money.
In 'Timber: or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter', The Works of Ben Jonson (1756), Vol. 7, 132.
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Cuvier had even in his address & manner the character of a superior Man, much general power & eloquence in conversation & great variety of information on scientific as well as popular subjects. I should say of him that he is the most distinguished man of talents I have ever known on the continent: but I doubt if He be entitled to the appellation of a Man of Genius.
J. Z. Fullmer, 'Davy's Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia, 1967, 12, 132.
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Dear Mr. Bell: … Sir Wm. Thomson … speaks with much enthusiasm of your achievement. What yesterday he would have declared impossible he has today seen realized, and he declares it the most wonderful thing he has seen in America. You speak of it as an embryo invention, but to him it seems already complete, and he declares that, before long, friends will whisper their secrets over the electric wire. Your undulating current he declares a great and happy conception.
Letter to Alexander Graham Bell (25 Jun 1876). Quoted in Alexander Graham Bell, The Bell Telephone: The Deposition of Alexander Graham Bell, in the Suit Brought by the United States to Annul the Bell Patents (1908), 101. Note: William Thomson is better known as Lord Kelvin.
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