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Nothing Quotes (136 quotes)

Nada me inspira más veneración y asombro que un anciano que sabe cambiar de opinión.
Nothing inspires more reverence and awe in me than an old man who knows how to change his mind.
In Pensamientos Escogidos (1924), 58.
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Nullius in Verba.
On no man’s word.
Motto of the Royal Society
Alternate translation: “nothing upon trust.” Based upon Horace: Nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri (“not bound to swear by the words of any master”).
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Thomasina: Every week I plot your equations dot for dot, x’s against y’s in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?
Septimus: We do.
Thomasina: Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?
Septimus: I do not know.
Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Scene 3, 37.
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A creative force that either creates itself or arises from nothing, and which is a causa sui (its own cause), exactly resembles Baron Munchhausen, who drew himself out of the bog by taking hold of his own hair.
From Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (15th ed. 1884), 10.
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A great surgeon performs operations for stone by a single method; later he makes a statistical summary of deaths and recoveries, and he concludes from these statistics that the mortality law for this operation is two out of five. Well, I say that this ratio means literally nothing scientifically and gives us no certainty in performing the next operation; for we do not know whether the next case will be among the recoveries or the deaths. What really should be done, instead of gathering facts empirically, is to study them more accurately, each in its special determinism. We must study cases of death with great care and try to discover in them the cause of mortal accidents so as to master the cause and avoid the accidents.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 137-138. (Note that Bernard overlooks how the statistical method can be useful: a surgeon announcing a mortality rate of 40% invites comparison. A surgeon with worse outcomes should adopt this method. If a surgeon has a better results, that method should be adopted.)
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A laboratory of natural history is a sanctuary where nothing profane should be tolerated. I feel less agony at improprieties in churches than in a scientific laboratory.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147.
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A leg of mutton is better than nothing,
Nothing is better than Heaven,
Therefore a leg of mutton is better than Heaven.
Aphorism 21 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 35.
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A man who writes a great deal and says little that is new writes himself into a daily declining reputation. When he wrote less he stood higher in people’s estimation, even though there was nothing in what he wrote. The reason is that then they still expected better things of him in the future, whereas now they can view the whole progression.
Aphorism 43 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 50.
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A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once. The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. ... He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important. Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1995), 107.
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A scientist lives with all reality. There is nothing better. To know reality is to accept it, and eventually to love it.
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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A theory is scientific only if it can be disproved. But the moment you try to cover absolutely everything the chances are that you cover nothing.
From Assumption and Myth in Physical Theory (1967), 12.
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A “critic” is a man who creates nothing and thereby feels qualified to judge the work of creative men. There is logic in this; he is unbiased—he hates all creative people equally.
In Time Enough For Love (1973), 263. In Carl C. Gaither, Mathematically Speaking (1998), 347.
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Above all things expand the frontiers of science: without this the rest counts for nothing.
Aphorism 262 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 181.
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Although the time of death is approaching me, I am not afraid of dying and going to Hell or (what would be considerably worse) going to the popularized version of Heaven. I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death, I am thankful to atheism.
In John Altson, Patti Rae Miliotis, What Happened to Grandpa? (2009).
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An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God.
Quoted in Clifford A. Pickover, A Passion for Mathematics (2005), 1; but with no footnote to primary source.
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An evolution is a series of events that in itself as series is purely physical, — a set of necessary occurrences in the world of space and time. An egg develops into a chick; … a planet condenses from the fluid state, and develops the life that for millions of years makes it so wondrous a place. Look upon all these things descriptively, and you shall see nothing but matter moving instant after instant, each instant containing in its full description the necessity of passing over into the next. … But look at the whole appreciatively, historically, synthetically, as a musician listens to a symphony, as a spectator watches a drama. Now you shall seem to have seen, in phenomenal form, a story.
In The Spirit of Modern Philosophy: An Essay in the Form of Lectures (1892), 425.
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An expert is a man who understands everything, and nothing else.
Speech, London (16 Dec 1970), 'Israel's International Relations in an Era of Peace', (1979), 22.
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And I do not take my medicines from the apothecaries; their shops are but foul sculleries, from which comes nothing but foul broths. As for you, you defend your kingdom with belly-crawling and flattery. How long do you think this will last? ... let me tell you this: every little hair on my neck knows more than you and all your scribes, and my shoebuckles are more learned than your Galen and Avicenna, and my beard has more experience than all your high colleges.
'Credo', in J. Jacobi (ed.), Paracelsus: Selected Writings (1951), 80.
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Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life; ...
'So careful of the type', but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go' ...
Man, her last work, who seemed so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who rolled the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law—
Tho’ Nature red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed...
In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850), Cantos 56-57. Collected in Alfred Tennyson and William James Rolfe (ed.) The Poetic and Dramatic works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1898), 176.
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As for the excellent little wretches who grow up in what they are taught, with never a scruple or a query, ... they signify nothing in the intellectual life of the race.
'Poet at the Breakfast-Table', The Atlantic Monthly (Oct 1872), 429.
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As physicists have arranged an extensive series of effects under the general term of Heat, so they have named another series Light, and a third they have called Electricity. We find ... that all these principles are capable of being produced through the medium of living bodies, for nearly all animals have the power of evolving heat; many insects, moreover, can voluntarily emit light; and the property of producing electricity is well evinced in the terrible shock of the electric eel, as well as in that of some other creatures. We are indeed in the habit of talking of the Electric fluid, or the Galvanic fluid, but this in reality is nothing but a licence of expression suitable to our finite and material notions.
In the Third Edition of Elements of Electro-Metallurgy: or The Art of Working in Metals by the Galvanic Fluid (1851), 1.
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Astronomy, as the science of cyclical motions, has nothing in common with Geology. But look at Astronomy where she has an analogy with Geology; consider our knowledge of the heavens as a palaetiological science;—as the study of a past condition, from which the present is derived by causes acting in time. Is there no evidence of a beginning, or of a progress?
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1857), Vol. 3, 516.
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At first, the sea, the earth, and the heaven, which covers all things, were the only face of nature throughout the whole universe, which men have named Chaos; a rude and undigested mass, and nothing more than an inert weight, and the discordant atoms of things not harmonizing, heaped together in the same spot.
Describing the creation of the universe from chaos, at the beginning of Book I of Metamorphoses, lines 5-9. As translated by Henry T. Riley, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Vol I: Books I-VII (1858), 1-2. Riley footnoted: “A rude and undigested mass.—Ver. 7. This is very similar to the words of the Scriptures, ‘And the earth was without form and void,’ Genesis, ch. i. ver. 2.”
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Augustine's Law XVI: Software is like entropy. It is difficult to grasp, weighs nothing, and obeys the second law of thermodynamics; i.e. it always increases.
In Augustine's Laws (1997), 114.
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Before the seas and lands had been created, before the sky that covers everything, Nature displayed a single aspect only throughout the cosmos; Chaos was its name, a shapeless, unwrought mass of inert bulk and nothing more, with the discordant seeds of disconnected elements all heaped together in anarchic disarray.
Describing the creation of the universe from chaos, at the beginning of Book I of Metamorphoses, lines 5-9. As translated in Charles Martin (trans.), Metamorphoses (2004), 15.
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Behold a universe so immense that I am lost in it. I no longer know where I am. I am just nothing at all. Our world is terrifying in its insignificance.
In Etretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes (Conversations with a Lady on the Plurality of Worlds) (1686) as cited in Edward Harrison, Cosmology: The Science of the Universe (2000), 162.
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But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It speaks, and yet says nothing.
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2.
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Can any thoughtful person admit for a moment that, in a society so constituted that these overwhelming contrasts of luxury and privation are looked upon as necessities, and are treated by the Legislature as matters with which it has practically nothing do, there is the smallest probability that we can deal successfully with such tremendous social problems as those which involve the marriage tie and the family relation as a means of promoting the physical and moral advancement of the race? What a mockery to still further whiten the sepulchre of society, in which is hidden ‘all manner of corruption,’ with schemes for the moral and physical advancement of the race!
In 'Human Selection', Fortnightly Review (1890),48, 330.
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Distinguisht Link in Being's endless Chain!
Midway from Nothing to the Deity!
The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality (1742), Night I, l. 73-4, ed. Stephen Cornford (1989), 39.
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Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing. (1760)
In Robert Allan Weinberg, The Biology of Cancer (2006), 726. (Note: Webmaster has not yet found this quote, in this wording, in a major quotation reference book. If you know a primary print source, or correction, please contact Webmaster.)
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Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
In his dialogue 'The Critic As Artist', collected in Intentions (1904), 101.
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Everything is made of atoms ... Everything that animals do, atoms do. ... There is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.
In The Feynman Lectures (1963), 8.
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Facts are ventriloquists’ dummies. Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may be made to utter words of wisdom; elsewhere, they say nothing, or talk nonsense, or indulge in sheer diabolism.
Spoken by the character Bruno Rontini in Time Must Have A Stop (1944), 301. In Carl C. Gaither, Statistically Speaking (1996), 98.
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Failure is so much more interesting because you learn from it. That's what we should be teaching children at school, that being successful the first time, there's nothing in it. There's no interest, you learn nothing actually.
Interview with Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer (9 May 2014).
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For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things (which is the chief point) , and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to reconsider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture. So I thought my nature had a kind of familiarity and relationship with Truth.
From 'Progress of philosophical speculations. Preface to intended treatise De Interpretatione Naturæ (1603), in Francis Bacon and James Spedding (ed.), Works of Francis Bacon (1868), Vol. 3, 85.
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For to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
Hamlet (1601), II, ii.
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Frost is but slender weeks away,
Tonight the sunset glow will stay,
Swing to the north and burn up higher
And Northern Lights wall earth with fire.
Nothing is lost yet, nothing broken,
And yet the cold blue word is spoken:
Say goodbye to the sun.
The days of love and leaves are done.
Apples by Ocean (1950), 10.
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Gentlemen, now you will see that now you see nothing. And why you see nothing you will see presently.
Quoted in R. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 164.
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How many wells of science there are in whose depths there is nothing but clear water!
In Bluettes et Boutardes. Translated in Conceits and Caprices (1869), 13.
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However far modern science and technics have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one lesson: Nothing is impossible.
Technics and Civilization (1934), 435.
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Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.
Cours d'Economie Politique (1896-7), Vol. 2, 397.
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I am only a physicist with nothing material to show for my labours. I have never even seen the ionosphere, although I have worked on the subject for thirty years. That does show how lucky people can be. If there had been no ionosphere I would not have been standing here this morning.
Response to receiving an honour from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. As quoted in New Scientist (22 Nov 1956), 33.
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I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the thread that tied them together.
In William Hazlitt (ed.), The Works of Michael de Montaigne: His Essays, Letters, and Journey Through Germany and Italy (1849), 515. Alternate translation: “I have gathered a posy [posie] of other men's flowers and nothing but the thread which binds them is my own,” as epigraph to article 'A Country Walk With the Poets', The Victoria Magazine (May 1874), 23, 1. No citations given. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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I say it is impossible that so sensible a people [citizens of Paris], under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing.
[Describing the energy-saving benefit of adopting daylight saving time. (1784)]
'An Economical Project', The Life and Miscellaneous Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1839), 58. A translation of this letter appeared in one of the Paris daily papers about 1784. He estimated, during six months, a saving of over 64 million pound weight of candles, worth over 96 million livres tournois.
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I've found out so much about electricity that I've reached the point where I understand nothing and can explain nothing.
[Describing his experiments with the Leyden jar.]
Letter to Réamur (20 Jan 1746), in AS. Proc. verb., LXV (1746), 6. Cited in J. L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: a Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 314.
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If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right in the country.
Quoted as “He had a strong belief” in Journal of Plantation Crops (2002), 30-33, 72. Also in Combating Hunger and Achieving Food Security (2016), 86, ending with wording “in our country”, referring to India.
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If conservation of natural resources goes wrong, nothing else will go right.
Quoted in India Today (Apr 2008), 33, No 16, 130.
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If farm ecology and economics go wrong, nothing else will go right in agriculture.
In 'Science and Shaping the Future of Rice', collected in Pramod K. Aggarwal et al. (eds.), 2006 International Rice Congress: Science, Technology, and Trade for Peace and Prosperity (2007), 5.
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If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives.
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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If, then, there must be something eternal, let us see what sort of Being it must be. And to that it is very obvious to Reason, that it must necessarily be a cogitative Being. For it is as impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative Matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being, as that nothing should of itself produce Matter...
In Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690, 1801), Book 4, Chap. 10, Sec. 10, 114.
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In modern thought, (if not in fact)
Nothing is that doesn't act, So that is reckoned wisdom which
Describes the scratch but not the itch.
Anonymous
Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man? (2nd Ed.,1964), 25.
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It has often been said that, to make discoveries, one must be ignorant. This opinion, mistaken in itself, nevertheless conceals a truth. It means that it is better to know nothing than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we constantly seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 37.
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It is difficult even to attach a precise meaning to the term “scientific truth.” So different is the meaning of the word “truth” according to whether we are dealing with a fact of experience, a mathematical proposition or a scientific theory. “Religious truth” conveys nothing clear to me at all.
From 'Scientific Truth' in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 11.
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It is like the man who became short-sighted and refused to wear glasses, saying there was nothing wrong with him, but that the trouble was that the recent papers were so badly printed.
In Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff (1972), 98.
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It may be said “In research, if you know what you are doing, then you shouldn't be doing it.” In a sense, if the answer turns out to be exactly what you expected, then you have learned nothing new, although you may have had your confidence increased somewhat.
In Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers (1973), 704.
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It often seems to me as if History was like a child’s box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose.
Lecture delivered to the Royal Institution (5 Feb 1864), 'On the Science of History'. Collected in Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain with Abstracts of the Discourses (1866), Vol. 4, 180.
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Look wise, say nothing, and grunt. Speech was given to conceal thought.
William Bennett Bean (ed.), Sir William Osler: Aphorisms from his Bedside Teachings and Writings, No. 267 (1950), 126.
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Measure, time and number are nothing but modes of thought or rather of imagination.
Letter to Ludvicus Meyer (20 Apr 1663), in Correspondence of Spinoza (2003), 118.
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Most Mens Learning is nothing but History duly taken up. If I quote Thomas Aquinas for some Tenet, and believe it, because the School-Men say so, that is but History. Few men make themselves Masters of the things they write or speak.
In John Selden, Richard Milward (ed.), 'Learning', Table-Talk of John Selden (1689, 1856), 85.
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My picture of the world is drawn in perspective and not like a model to scale. The foreground is occupied by human beings and the stars are all as small as three-penny bits. I don't really believe in astronomy, except as a complicated description of part of the course of human and possibly animal sensation. I apply my perspective not merely to space but also to time. In time the world will cool and everything will die; but that is a long time off still and its present value at compound discount is almost nothing.
From a paper read to the Apostles, a Cambridge discussion society (1925). In 'The Foundations of Mathematics' (1925), collected in Frank Plumpton Ramsey and D. H. Mellor (ed.), Philosophical Papers (1990), Epilogue, 249. Citation to the paper, in Nils-Eric Sahlin, The Philosophy of F.P. Ramsey (1990), 225.
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Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.
In Isaac Newton and Andrew Motte (trans.), The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1803), Vol. 2, 160. Newton's comment on his Rules of Reasoning Philosophy, Rule 1.
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No engineer can go upon a new work and not find something peculiar, that will demand his careful reflection, and the deliberate consideration of any advice that he may receive; and nothing so fully reveals his incapacity as a pretentious assumption of knowledge, claiming to understand everything.
In Railway Property: A Treatise on the Construction and Management of Railways (1866), 247.
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Nothing can be believed unless it is first understood; and that for any one to preach to others that which either he has not understood nor they have understood is absurd.
From Historia Calamitatum, Chap. 9. As translated in Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, 'The Word Amen' reprinted from The Independent in Friends' Intelligencer (1872), Vol. 28, 575.
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Nothing can be unworthy of being investigated by man, which was thought worthy of being created by God.
In 'Report of the Secretary', Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1852 (1853), 15.
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Nothing cools so fast as undue enthusiasm. Water that has boiled freezes sooner than any other.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-Book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 171.
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Nothing could be more obvious than that the earth is stable and unmoving, and that we are in the center of the universe. Modern Western science takes its beginning from the denial of this common sense axiom.
In The Discoverers (2011), 294.
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Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.
The Education of Henry Adams (1907, 1918), 379.
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Nothing in physics seems so hopeful to as the idea that it is possible for a theory to have a high degree of symmetry was hidden from us in everyday life. The physicist's task is to find this deeper symmetry.
In American Scientist (1977) (as cited in The Atlantic (1984), 254, 81.) As an epigraph in Crystal and Dragon: The Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness (1993), 139.
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Nothing is accidental in the universe— this is one of my Laws of Physics—except the entire universe itself, which is Pure Accident, pure divinity.
In ‘The Summing Up: Meredith Dawe’, Do What You Will, (1970). As cited in Robert Andrews, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993), 946.
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Nothing is indifferent, nothing is powerless in the universe; an atom might destroy everything, an atom might save everything!
In Aurélia ou Le Rêve et la vie (1855).
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Nothing is less predictable than the development of an active scientific field.
From interview with Henry Spall, as in an abridged version of Earthquake Information Bulletin (Jan-Feb 1980), 12, No. 1, that is on the USGS website.
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Nothing is lost and nothing is created in the operations of art as those of nature.
Pasteur Vallery-Radot (ed.), Correspondance de Pasteur 1840-1895 (1940), Vol. 1, 326. Quoted in Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 90.
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Nothing is really small; whoever is open to the deep penetration of nature knows this.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature.
Laboratory notebook (19 Mar 1850), while musing on the possible relation of gravity to electricy. In Michael Faraday and Bence Jones (ed.), The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870), 253
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Nothing leads the scientist so astray as a premature truth.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 89.
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Nothing retains less of desire in art, in science, than this will to industry, booty, possession.
Mad Love (1937) translated by Mary Ann Caws (1988), 25.
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Nothing that you do in science is guaranteed to result in benefits for mankind. Any discovery, I believe, is morally neutral and it can be turned either to constructive ends or destructive ends. That’s not the fault of science.
Quoted by Jeremy Pearce in 'Arthur Galston, Agent Orange Researcher, Is Dead at 88', New York Times (23 Jun 2008), B6.
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Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.
In Mostly Harmless (1992), 1.
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Nuclear weapons offer us nothing but a balance of terror, and a balance of terror is still terror.
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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Of all the conceptions of the human mind from unicorns to gargoyles to the hydrogen bomb perhaps the most fantastic is the black hole: a hole in space with a definite edge over which anything can fall and nothing can escape; a hole with a gravitational field so strong that even light is caught and held in its grip; a hole that curves space and warps time.
In Cosmology + I: Readings from Scientific American (1977), 63.
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One of my friends, reading the title of these lectures [The Whence and Whither of Man] said: “Of man's origin you know nothing, of his future you know less.”
From the Introduction to The Whence and Whither of Man; a Brief History of his Origin and Development through Conformity to Environment; being the Morse Lectures of 1895. (1896), ix. The Morse lectureship was founded by Prof. Samuel F.B. Morse in 1865 at Union Theological Seminary, the lectures to deal with “the relation of the Bible to any of the sciences.”
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One of the petty ideas of philosophers is to elaborate a classification, a hierarchy of sciences. They all try it, and they are generally so fond of their favorite scheme that they are prone to attach an absurd importance to it. We must not let ourselves be misled by this. Classifications are always artificial; none more than this, however. There is nothing of value to get out of a classification of science; it dissembles more beauty and order than it can possibly reveal.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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Physio-philosophy has to show how, and in accordance indeed with what laws, the Material took its origin; and, therefore, how something derived its existence from nothing. It has to portray the first periods of the world's development from nothing; how the elements and heavenly bodies originated; in what method by self-evolution into higher and manifold forms, they separated into minerals, became finally organic, and in Man attained self-consciousness.
In Lorenz Oken, trans. by Alfred Tulk, Elements of Physiophilosophy (1847), 1.
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Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination—stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern—of which I am a part. … What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the “why?” It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
In 'Astronomy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 3-6, footnote.
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Population stabilization policies are a must for sustainable food, health, and livelihood security in many developing countries. If population policies go wrong, nothing else will have a chance to succeed.
In 'Malthus and Mendel: Children for Happiness', Politics and the Life Sciences (Sep 1997), 16, No. 2, 221.
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Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of “touching” a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.
From 'Charles II', Twelve Types (1906), 98.
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Rules of Thumb
Thumb's First Postulate: It is better to use a crude approximation and know the truth, plus or minus 10 percent, than demand an exact solution and know nothing at all.
Thumb's Second Postulate: An easily understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex incomprehensible truth.
Anonymous
In Arthur Bloch, The Complete Murphy's Law: A Definitive Collection (1991), 126. books.google.com - 1991
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Science has but one fashion—to lose nothing once gained.
In chapter 'Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Poet of the Old School', Poets of America (1885), 275. Also in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (Feb 1885), 29, New Series Vol. 7, No. 4, 503.
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Science has “explained” nothing; the more we know the more fantastic the world becomes and the profounder the surrounding darkness.
Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (1928), 108.
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Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.
[Answer to question: You've said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?]
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it's a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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See, thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of being, which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
From thee to Nothing—On superior pow'rs
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroy'd:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
'An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle I. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 513.
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Sir Isaac Newton and Dr. Bentley met accidentally in London, and on Sir Isaac’s inquiring what philosophical pursuits were carrying on at Cambridge, the doctor replied—None—for when you go a hunting Sir Isaac, you kill all the game; you have left us nothing to pursue.—Not so, said the philosopher, you may start a variety of game in every bush if you will but take the trouble to beat for it.
From Richard Watson, Chemical Essays (1786, 1806), Vol. 4, 257-258. No citation given, so—assuming it is more or less authentic—Webmaster offers this outright guess. Watson was the source of another anecdote about Newton (see “I find more sure marks…”). Thus, one might by pure speculation wonder if this quote was passed along in the same way. Was this another anecdote relayed to Watson by his former teacher, Dr. Robert Smith (Master of Trinity House), who might have been told this by Newton himself? Perhaps we’ll never know, but if you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Lord Byron Quote: Newton declared himself “like a youth Picking up shells by the great ocean—Truth.”
Background of ocean and rocky outcrop with kelp on sandy shore in foreground, at Channel Islands NMS, California. , Photo by Claire Fackler, NOAA (source)
Socrates said, our only knowledge was
“To know that nothing could be known;” a pleasant
Science enough, which levels to an ass
Each Man of Wisdom, future, past, or present.
Newton, (that Proverb of the Mind,) alas!
Declared, with all his grand discoveries recent,
That he himself felt only “like a youth
Picking up shells by the great Ocean—Truth.”
From poem, 'Don Juan,' (1822), canto 7, verse V. In Lord Byron, Don Juan: Cantos VI, VII and VIII (1823), 67.
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The acquirements of science may be termed the armour of the mind; but that armour would be worse than useless, that cost us all we had, and left us nothing to defend.
In Lacon, Or, Many Things in a Few Words: Addressed to Those who Think (1820), Vol. 1, 121.
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The Big Bang theory says nothing about what banged, why it banged, or what happened before it banged.
Alan Guth
As quoted in Neil Swidey, 'Alan Guth: What Made the Big Bang Bang', Boston Globe (2 May 2014).
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The difference between science and Congress is that in science facts mean everything and the illusions mean nothing. And in politics, it's just the opposite.
Anonymous
Seen attributed on the NPR website to perhaps congressman Rush Holt (Verification pending). Also seen recalled by NPR's Ira Flatow as: “I think it was Rush Holt who was quoted when he got into Congress, his saying, when I was a scientist, facts meant everything and illusions meant nothing. When I became a politician, illusions meant everything and facts meant nothing.” From program transcript for Science Friday (11 May 2012).
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The Europeans and the Americans are not throwing $10 billion down this gigantic tube for nothing. We're exploring the very forefront of physics and cosmology with the Large Hadron Collider because we want to have a window on creation, we want to recreate a tiny piece of Genesis to unlock some of the greatest secrets of the universe.
Quoted by Alexander G. Higgins (AP), in 'Particle Collider: Black Hole or Crucial Machine', The Journal Gazette (7 Aug 2009).
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The fact which interests us most is the life of the naturalist. The purest science is still biographical. Nothing will dignify and elevate science while it is sundered so wholly from the moral life of its devotee.
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1873), 383.
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The facts, gentlemen, and nothing but the facts, for careful eyes are narrowly watching.
In Fact and Fancy (1962), 11.
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The generality of men are so accustomed to judge of things by their senses that, because the air is indivisible, they ascribe but little to it, and think it but one remove from nothing.
In Mary Elvira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 29, citing Boyle, 'Memoirs for a General History of the Air', in Shaw's Abridgment of Boyle's works (1725), Vol. 3, 61, and Ramsay, The Gases of the Atmosphere (1915), 10.
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The indescribable pleasure—which pales the rest of life's joys—is abundant compensation for the investigator who endures the painful and persevering analytical work that precedes the appearance of the new truth, like the pain of childbirth. It is true to say that nothing for the scientific scholar is comparable to the things that he has discovered. Indeed, it would be difficult to find an investigator willing to exchange the paternity of a scientific conquest for all the gold on earth. And if there are some who look to science as a way of acquiring gold instead of applause from the learned, and the personal satisfaction associated with the very act of discovery, they have chosen the wrong profession.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 50.
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The instinct of brutes and insects can be the effect of nothing else than the wisdom and skill of a powerful ever-living agent.
From 'Query 31', Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 379.
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The law of conservation of energy tells us we can't get something for nothing, but we refuse to believe it.
In Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 75.
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The moral principle inherent in evolution, that nothing can be gained in this world without an effort; the ethical principle inherent in evolution is that only the best has the right to survive; the spiritual principle in evolution is the evidence of beauty, of order, and of design in the daily myriad of miracles to which we owe our existence.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91.
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The Nihilists do not believe in nothing; they only believe in nothing that does not commend itself to themselves; that is, they will not allow that anything may be beyond their comprehension. As their comprehension is not great their creed is, after all, very nearly nihil.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 216.
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The northern ocean is beautiful, ... and beautiful the delicate intricacy of the snowflake before it melts and perishes, but such beauties are as nothing to him who delights in numbers, spurning alike the wild irrationality of life and baffling complexity of nature’s laws.
In Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy (1957), 101.
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The steam-engine I call fire-demon and great; but it is nothing to the invention of fire.
From Chartism, collected in James Wood (ed.) The Carlyle Reader (1894), 74.
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The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.
Opus Tertium. Translation as stated in Popular Science (Aug 1901), 337.
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The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa.
In Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1987), 247.
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The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.
Widely quoted, but without citation, for example in Eve Herold, George Daley, Stem Cell Wars (2007), 79. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Theoretical and experimental physicists are now studying nothing at all—the vacuum. But that nothingness contains all of being.
The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1982), 279.
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There are two kinds of biologists, those who are looking to see if there is one thing that can be understood and those who keep saying it is very complicated and that nothing can be understood. ... You must study the simplest system you think has the properties you are interested in.
As quoted, without source, by John R. Platt in 'Science, Strong Inference', Science (16 Oct 1964), 146, No. 3642, 349.
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There is no more potent antidote to the corroding influence of mammon than the presence in the community of a body of men devoted to science, living for investigation and caring nothing for the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
In address at the University of Minnesota, "Teacher and Student" (1892) collected in Aequanimitas: With Other Addresses to Medical Students, Nurses and Practitioners of Medicine (1904), 29.
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There is no one central problem in philosophy, but countless little problems. Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.
From conversation with Rush Rhees (1930) as given by Rush Rhees in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections (1981), 96.
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There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Hamlet (1601), II, ii.
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There is nothing more mysterious than a TV set left on in an empty room. It is even stranger than a man talking to himself or a woman standing dreaming at her stove. It is as if another planet is communicating with you.
In Jean Baudrillard and Chris Turner (trans.), America (1989), 50.
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There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.
Webmaster has searched for a primary print source without success. Walter Isaacson likewise found no direct evidence, as he reports in Einstein (2007), 575. However, these sentences are re-quoted in a variety of books and other sources (often citing them as a remark reportedly made by Kelvin in an Address at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1900). Although the quote appears noteworthy, it is not included in the major biographical work, the two volumes by Silvanus P. Thomson, The Life of Lord Kelvin (1976). The quote is included here so that this caveat should be read with it.
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There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.
First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union (8 Jan 1790).
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There is nothing which Nature so clearly reveals, and upon which science so strongly insists, as the universal reign of law, absolute, universal, invariable law... Not one jot or tittle of the laws of Nature are unfulfilled. I do not believe it is possible to state this fact too strongly... Everything happens according to law, and, since law is the expression of Divine will, everything happens according to Divine will, i.e. is in some sense ordained, decreed.
Lecture 18, 'Predestination and Free-Will', Religion and Science: A Series of Sunday Lectures (1874), 278.
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There is only one subject matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children—Algebra, from which nothing follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to be in substance committed to memory.
In The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 18.
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There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth, what changes hast thou seen!
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.
The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.
In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850), canto 123. Collected in Alfred Tennyson and William James Rolfe (ed.) The Poetic and Dramatic works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1898), 194.
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Think binary. When matter meets antimatter, both vanish, into pure energy. But both existed; I mean, there was a condition we'll call “existence.” Think of one and minus one. Together they add up to zero, nothing, nada, niente, right? Picture them together, then picture them separating—peeling apart. ... Now you have something, you have two somethings, where once you had nothing.
In Roger's Version (1996), 304.
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Though human ingenuity may make various inventions which, by the help of various machines answering the same end, it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous, and she needs no counterpoise when she makes limbs proper for motion in the bodies of animals.
W. An. IV. 184a (7). Translated by Jean Paul Richter, in 'Physiology', The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci: Compiled and Edited from the Original Manuscripts (1883), Vol. 2, 126, selection 837.
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To Nature nothing can be added; from Nature nothing can be taken away; the sum of her energies is constant, and the utmost man can do in the pursuit of physical truth, or in the applications of physical knowledge, is to shift the constituents of the never-varying total. The law of conservation rigidly excludes both creation and annihilation. Waves may change to ripples, and ripples to waves; magnitude may be substituted for number, and number for magnitude; asteroids may aggregate to suns, suns may resolve themselves into florae and faunae, and floras and faunas melt in air: the flux of power is eternally the same. It rolls in music through the ages, and all terrestrial energy—the manifestations of life as well as the display of phenomena—are but the modulations of its rhythm.
Conclusion of Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion: Being a Course of Twelve Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Season of 1862 (1863), 449.
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To say that mind is a product or function of protoplasm, or of its molecular changes, is to use words to which we can attach no clear conception. You cannot have, in the whole, what does not exist in any of the parts; and those who argue thus should put forth a definite conception of matter, with clearly enunciated properties, and show, that the necessary result of a certain complex arrangement of the elements or atoms of that matter, will be the production of self-consciousness. There is no escape from this dilemma—either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter, and in the latter case, its presence in material forms is a proof of the existence of conscious beings, outside of, and independent of, what we term matter. The foregoing considerations lead us to the very important conclusion, that matter is essentially force, and nothing but force; that matter, as popularly understood, does not exist, and is, in fact, philosophically inconceivable. When we touch matter, we only really experience sensations of resistance, implying repulsive force; and no other sense can give us such apparently solid proofs of the reality of matter, as touch does. This conclusion, if kept constantly present in the mind, will be found to have a most important bearing on almost every high scientific and philosophical problem, and especially on such as relate to our own conscious existence.
In 'The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man', last chapter of Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870), 365-366.
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Tobacco, in its various forms, is one of the most mischievous of all drugs. There is perhaps no other drug which injures the body in so many ways and so universally as does tobacco. Some drugs offer a small degree of compensation for the evil effects which they produce; but tobacco has not a single redeeming feature and gives nothing in return.
In Tobaccoism: or, How Tobacco Kills (1922), Preface, 7.
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Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea, and hypothesis—which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism—especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested—and you're not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science. A judicious mix is what we need.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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We have not known a single great scientist who could not discourse freely and interestingly with a child. Can it be that haters of clarity have nothing to say, have observed nothing, have no clear picture of even their own fields?
In John Steinbeck and Edward Flanders Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: a Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), 73.
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We often observe in lawyers, who as Quicquid agunt homines is the matter of law suits, are sometimes obliged to pick up a temporary knowledge of an art or science, of which they understood nothing till their brief was delivered, and appear to be much masters of it.
In The Life of Samuel Johnson (1820), Vol. 1, 218. The Latin phrase translates as “what people do.”
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We see not only thought as participating in evolution as an anomaly or as an epiphenomenon; but evolution as so reducible to and identifiable with a progress towards thought that the movement of our souls expresses and measures the very stages of progress of evolution itself. Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 221. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Wit must grow like Fingers. If it be taken from others, ’tis like Plums stuck upon black Thorns; there they are for a while, but they come to nothing.
In John Selden, Richard Milward (ed.), 'Wit', Table-Talk of John Selden (1689), 60.
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You know the formula m over naught equals infinity, m being any positive number? [m/0 = ∞]. Well, why not reduce the equation to a simpler form by multiplying both sides by naught? In which case you have m equals infinity times naught [m = ∞ × 0]. That is to say, a positive number is the product of zero and infinity. Doesn't that demonstrate the creation of the Universe by an infinite power out of nothing? Doesn't it?
In Point Counter Point (1928), 162.
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[On why are numbers beautiful?] It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is.
As quoted in Paul Hoffman, The Man who Loves Only Numbers (1998), 44.
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[Scientists] have learned to respect nothing but evidence, and to believe that their highest duty lies in submitting to it however it may jar against their inclinations.
From Man’s Place in Nature (1894), 109
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“On earth there is nothing great but man; and in man there is nothing great but mind.”
A favorite quote by Phavorinus which Hamilton used as a motto posted in his classroom.
As translated from a reported quote by Phavorinus. Hamilton showed his fondness for this motto by having it painted in gold letters on a green board posted on his classroom wall, behind the chair. However, he did not originate it. He made this clear during a lecture, when he stated, “‘On earth’ says a forgotten philosopher, ‘there is nothing great but man; and in man there is nothing great but mind.’” This was in Lecture II, 'Philosophy—Its Absolute Utility (B) Objective' (1836), part of Hamilton's Biennial Course while Chair of Logic and Mathematics, University of Edinburgh. The lectures were collected and annotated by editors ‎Henry L. Mansel and John Veitch, in Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic (1858, 6th ed. 1877), 24. The epigraph following the title page of this book also reads, “On earth, there is nothing great but man, and in man there is nothing great but Mind.” Since the collection was published posthumously, Webmaster speculates this was the choice of the editors, as Hamilton's motto. In the book, a footnote to the quote identifies the philosopher as “Phavorinus, quoted by Joannes Picus Mirandulanus, In Astrologiam, lib. iii p.351*, Basil, ed.” This information was found by an editor in Hamilton’s Commonplace-Book or fragmentary papers. An editor’s own addition to the footnote gives “For notice of Phavorinus, see Vossius, De Hist. Grœc, lib. ii c. 10.” Thus, although this quote is widely seen attributed to Sir William Hamilton, and although he may have been very fond of repeating it, his own notes reveal the original author was the ancient philosopher, Phavorinus. In the Latin written in Basil's work, Mirandula stated that Phavorinus said “Nihil magnum in terra praeter hominem, nihil magnum in homine praeter mentem & animum.” A footnote points this out in Lester Frank Ward, Pure Sociology: A Treatise on the Origin and Spontaneous Development of Society (1921), 496. *Ward corrects the page number to 529, not 351, and notes the passage also occurs in an earlier 1498 edition.
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“Try another Subtraction sum. Take a bone from a dog: what remains?” [asked the Red Queen]
Alice considered. “The bone wouldn't remain, of course, if I took it—and the dog wouldn’t remain; it would come to bite me—and I’m sure I shouldn’t remain!”
“Then you think nothing would remain?” said the Red Queen.
“I think that’s the answer.”
“Wrong, as usual,” said the Red Queen, “the dog's temper would remain.”
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871, 1897), 190-191.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

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