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Notion Quotes (32 quotes)

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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As was the case for Nobel's own invention of dynamite, the uses that are made of increased knowledge can serve both beneficial and potentially harmful ends. Increased knowledge clearly implies increased responsibility. We reject the notion advocated in some quarters that man should stop eating from the tree of knowledge, as if that were humanly possible.
From Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1981), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel 1981 (1981), 44.
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First get a clear notion of what you desire to accomplish and then in all probability you will succeed in doing it.
As quoted in Joseph Wickham Roe, English and American Tool Builders (1916), 48-49.
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How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.
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I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.
Letter to Asa Gray (22 May 1860). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 236.
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I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls.
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I never said a word against eminent men of science. What I complain of is a vague popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion and an uncommonly nasty one. When people talked about the fall of man, they knew they were talking about a mystery, a thing they didn’t understand. Now they talk about the survival of the fittest: they think they do understand it, whereas they have not merely no notion, they have an elaborately false notion of what the words mean.
In The Club of Queer Trades (1903, 1905), 241.
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I once spoke to a human geneticist who declared that the notion of intelligence was quite meaningless, so I tried calling him unintelligent. He was annoyed, and it did not appease him when I went on to ask how he came to attach such a clear meaning to the notion of lack of intelligence. We never spoke again.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 25, footnote 2.
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If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact or the description of one actual phenomenon to infer all the particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect, but the harmony which results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws which we have not detected, is still more wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as to the traveler, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form. Even when cleft or bored through, it is not comprehended in its entireness.
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In science it is no crime to be wrong, unless you are (inappropriately) laying claim to truth. What matters is that science as a whole is a self-correcting mechanism in which both new and old notions are constantly under scrutiny. In other words, the edifice of scientific knowledge consists simply of a body of observations and ideas that have (so far) proven resistant to attack, and that are thus accepted as working hypotheses about nature.
In The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (2003), 9.
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In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge... to his mother in Lincolnshire & whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (wch brought an apple from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but that this power must extend much farther than was usually thought. Why not as high as the moon said he to himself & if so that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition but being absent from books & taking the common estimate in use among Geographers & our seamen before Norwood had measured the earth, that 60 English miles were contained in one degree of latitude on the surface of the Earth his computation did not agree with his theory & inclined him then to entertain a notion that together with the force of gravity there might be a mixture of that force wch the moon would have if it was carried along in a vortex.
[The earliest account of Newton, gravity and an apple.]
Memorandum of a conversation with Newton in August 1726. Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 154.
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It is not always the truth that tells us where to look for new knowledge. We don’t search for the penny under the lamp post where the light is. We know we are more likely to find it out there in the darkness. My favorite way of expressing this notion to graduate students who are trying to do very hard experiments is to remind them that “God loves the noise as much as he does the signal.”
In 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 50.
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It is still believed, apparently, that there is some thing mysteriously laudable about achieving viable offspring. I have searched the sacred and profane scriptures, for many years, but have yet to find any ground for this notion. To have a child is no more creditable than to have rheumatism–and no more discreditable. Ethically, it is absolutely meaningless. And practically, it is mainly a matter of chance.
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It is the function of notions in science to be useful, to be interesting, to be verifiable and to acquire value from anyone of these qualities. Scientific notions have little to gain as science from being forced into relation with that formidable abstraction, “general truth.”
In paper delivered before the Royal College of Surgeons of England (15 Feb 1932), in 'The Commemoration of Great Men', British Medical Journal (1932), 1, 32. Collected in The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 29.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 19.
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Probability is the most important concept in modern science, especially as nobody has the slightest notion of what it means.
In Lecture (1929), as quoted in E.T. Bell (ed.), Development of Mathematics (1940), 540.
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Scholars should always receive with thanks new suppositions about things, provided they possess some tincture of sense; another head may often make an important discovery prompted by nothing more than such a stimulus: the generally accepted way of explaining a thing no longer had any effect on his brain and could communicate to it no new notion.
Aphorism 81 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 56.
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Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual ... The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.
In Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), 29.
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Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game of chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight?
Yet, it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well the highest stakes are paid with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated—without haste, but without remorse.
Address to the South London Working Men’s College. 'A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It', in David Masson, (ed.), Macmillan’s Magazine (Mar 1868), 17, 369. Also in 'A Liberal Education and Where to Find it' (1868). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 82.
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The great thing [about Kant’s philosophy] was to form the idea that this one thing—mind or world—may well be capable of other forms of appearance that we cannot grasp and that do not imply the notions of space and time. This means an imposing liberation from our inveterate prejudice.
…...
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The notion of evolution predicts the nested pattern of relationships we find in the living world; supernatural creation, on the other hand, predicts nothing. It is concepts of this latter kind that are truly untestable.
In The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (2003), 15.
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The powerful notion of entropy, which comes from a very special branch of physics … is certainly useful in the study of communication and quite helpful when applied in the theory of language.
From 'The Growth of Science and the Structure of Culture', Daedalus (Winter 1958), 87, No. 1, 67.
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The thing about electronic games is that they are basically repetitive. After a while, the children get bored. They need something different. [Meccano construction toy kits] offer creativity, a notion of mechanics, discovery of the world around you.
As quoted in by Hugh Schofield in web article 'Meccano Revives French Production' (23 Dec 2010).
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This notion that “science” is something that belongs in a separate compartment of its own, apart from everyday life, is one that I should like to challenge. We live in a scientific age; yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priest-like in their laboratories. This is not true. It cannot be true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally.
Address upon receiving National Book Award at reception, Hotel Commodore, New York (27 Jan 1952). As cited in Linda Lear, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature (1997), 218-219.
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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 don't know what we are talking about. Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory. But now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break. The state of physics today is like it was when we were mystified by radioactivity. They were missing something absolutely fundamental. We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.
Closing address to the 23rd Solvay Conference in Physics, Brussels, Belgium (Dec 2005). Quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Cite in Alfred B. Bortz, Physics: Decade by Decade (2007), 206.
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We have overcome the notion that mathematical truths have an existence independent and apart from our own minds. It is even strange to us that such a notion could ever have existed. [Coauthor with James R. Newman]
In Edward Kasner and James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination (1940, 1949), 359.
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We speak erroneously of “artificial” materials, “synthetics”, and so forth. The basis for this erroneous terminology is the notion that Nature has made certain things which we call natural, and everything else is “man-made”, ergo artificial. But what one learns in chemistry is that Nature wrote all the rules of structuring; man does not invent chemical structuring rules; he only discovers the rules. All the chemist can do is find out what Nature permits, and any substances that are thus developed or discovered are inherently natural. It is very important to remember that.
From 'The Comprehensive Man', Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure (1963), 75-76.
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We … came up with the notion that not all web pages are created equal. People are, but not web pages.
Guest Lecture, UC Berkeley, 'Search Engines, Technology, and Business' (3 Oct 2005). At 7:43 in the YouTube video.
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You sometimes speak of gravity as essential and inherent to matter. Pray do not ascribe that notion to me, for the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know, and therefore would take more time to consider of it.
Letter to Dr. Bentley (17 Jan 1692). In Four Letters from Sir Isaac Newton to Doctor Bentley (1756), 20.
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You’ve got to be fairly solemn [about the environment]. I mean the mere notion that there are three times as many people on Earth as there were when I started making television. How can the Earth accommodate them? When people, including politicians, set their faces against looking at the consequences—it’s just unbelievable that anyone could ignore it.
'Sir David Attenborough interview' (aged 84), by Andrew Pettie in The Telegraph (23 Dec 2010).
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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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