Celebrating 18 Years on the Web
TODAY IN SCIENCE HISTORY ®
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
more quiz questions >>
Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index O > Category: Obscurity

Obscurity Quotes (18 quotes)

Il ne peut y avoir de langage plus universel et plus simple, plus exempt d’erreurs et d’obscurités, c'est-à-dire plus digne d'exprimer les rapports invariables des êtres naturels.
There cannot be a language more universal and more simple, more free from errors and obscurities, … more worthy to express the invariable relations of all natural things. [About mathematical analysis.]
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), xiv, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Error (230)  |  Express (32)  |  Free (59)  |  Invariable (4)  |  Language (155)  |  Mathematical Analysis (5)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Relation (96)  |  Simple (111)  |  Universal (70)  |  Worthy (21)

L’Astronomie est utile, parce qu’elle nous élève au-dessus de nous-mêmes; elle est utile, parce qu’elle est grande; elle est utile, parce qu’elle est belle… C’est elle qui nous montre combien l’homme est petit par le corps et combien il est grand par l’esprit, puisque cette immensité éclatante où son corps n’est qu’un point obscur, son intelligence peut l’embrasser tout entière et en goûter la silencieuse harmonie.
Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand[; it is useful because it is beautiful]… It shows us how small is man’s body, how great his mind, since his intelligence can embrace the whole of this dazzling immensity, where his body is only an obscure point, and enjoy its silent harmony.
In La Valeur de la Science (1904), 276, translated by George Bruce Halsted, in The Value of Science (1907), 84. Webmaster added the meaning of “elle est utile, parce qu’elle est belle,” in brackets, which was absent in Halsted’s translation.
Science quotes on:  |  Astronomy (175)  |  Beautiful (81)  |  Body (193)  |  Dazzling (11)  |  Enjoyment (27)  |  Grand (15)  |  Great (300)  |  Harmony (55)  |  Immensity (17)  |  Intelligence (138)  |  Man (345)  |  Mind (544)  |  Raising (4)  |  Silent (18)  |  Useful (66)

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).
Science quotes on:  |  Burden (23)  |  Explanation (161)  |  Forgetting (13)  |  Hide (36)  |  Illustration (24)  |  Ink (7)  |  Memory (81)  |  Multitude (14)  |  Subject (129)  |  Word (221)

Being also in accord with Goethe that discoveries are made by the age and not by the individual, I should consider the instances to be exceedingly rare of men who can be said to be living before their age, and to be the repository of knowledge quite foreign to the thought of the time. The rule is that a number of persons are employed at a particular piece of work, but one being a few steps in advance of the others is able to crown the edifice with his name, or, having the ability to generalise already known facts, may become in time to be regarded as their originator. Therefore it is that one name is remembered whilst those of coequals have long been buried in obscurity.
In Historical Notes on Bright's Disease, Addison's Disease, and Hodgkin's Disease', Guy's Hospital Reports (1877), 22, 259-260.
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (591)  |  Edifice (13)  |  Fact (609)  |  Foreign (20)  |  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (127)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Name (118)  |  Originator (2)  |  Repository (3)  |  Thought (374)

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.
Science quotes on:  |  Accumulation (29)  |  Antarctic (5)  |  Asking (23)  |  Civilization (155)  |  Comprehension (51)  |  Continent (39)  |  Contribution (49)  |  Curiosity (89)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Existence (254)  |  Expedition (4)  |  Going (6)  |  Impulse (24)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Lifeless (10)  |  Lodestone (5)  |  Mariner (7)  |  Secret (98)  |  Shadow (35)  |  Terrestrial (14)  |  Use (70)  |  World (667)

Geologists have usually had recourse for the explanation of these changes to the supposition of sundry violent and extraordinary catastrophes, cataclysms, or general revolutions having occurred in the physical state of the earth's surface.
As the idea imparted by the term Cataclysm, Catastrophe, or Revolution, is extremely vague, and may comprehend any thing you choose to imagine, it answers for the time very well as an explanation; that is, it stops further inquiry. But it also has had the disadvantage of effectually stopping the advance of science, by involving it in obscurity and confusion.
Considerations on Volcanoes (1825), iv.
Science quotes on:  |  Advancement (36)  |  Answer (201)  |  Catastrophe (17)  |  Change (291)  |  Comprehension (51)  |  Confusion (34)  |  Disadvantage (8)  |  Earth (487)  |  Explanation (161)  |  Geologist (42)  |  Imagination (209)  |  Impart (2)  |  Inquiry (33)  |  Recourse (6)  |  Revolution (56)  |  Science (1699)  |  State (96)  |  Stop (56)  |  Sundry (4)  |  Supposition (33)  |  Surface (74)  |  Term (87)  |  Vagueness (8)  |  Violence (20)

I have destroyed almost the whole race of frogs, which does not happen in that savage Batrachomyomachia of Homer. For in the anatomy of frogs, which, by favour of my very excellent colleague D. Carolo Fracassato, I had set on foot in order to become more certain about the membranous substance of the lungs, it happened to me to see such things that not undeservedly I can better make use of that [saying] of Homer for the present matter—
“I see with my eyes a work trusty and great.”
For in this (frog anatomy) owing to the simplicity of the structure, and the almost complete transparency of the vessels which admits the eye into the interior, things are more clearly shown so that they will bring the light to other more obscure matters.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Anatomy (59)  |  Certainty (97)  |  Destruction (80)  |  Eye (159)  |  Frog (30)  |  Great (300)  |  Homer (7)  |  Interior (13)  |  Lung (17)  |  Membrane (11)  |  See (197)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Structure (191)  |  Transparency (3)  |  Vessel (21)  |  Work (457)

I trust ... I have succeeded in convincing you that modern chemistry is not, as it has so long appeared, an ever-growing accumulation of isolated facts, as impossible for a single intellect to co-ordinate as for a single memory to grasp.
The intricate formulae that hang upon these walls, and the boundless variety of phenomena they illustrate, are beginning to be for us as a labyrinth once impassable, but to which we have at length discovered the clue. A sense of mastery and power succeeds in our minds to the sort of weary despair with which we at first contemplated their formidable array. For now, by the aid of a few general principles, we find ourselves able to unravel the complexities of these formulae, to marshal the compounds which they represent in orderly series; nay, even to multiply their numbers at our will, and in a great measure to forecast their nature ere we have called them into existence. It is the great movement of modern chemistry that we have thus, for an hour, seen passing before us. It is a movement as of light spreading itself over a waste of obscurity, as of law diffusing order throughout a wilderness of confusion, and there is surely in its contemplation something of the pleasure which attends the spectacle of a beautiful daybreak, something of the grandeur belonging to the conception of a world created out of chaos.
Concluding remark for paper presented at the Friday Discourse of the the Royal Institution (7 Apr 1865). 'On the Combining Power of Atoms', Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1865), 4, No. 42, 416.
Science quotes on:  |  Accumulation (29)  |  Chaos (63)  |  Chemistry (239)  |  Clue (14)  |  Complexity (80)  |  Compound (53)  |  Confusion (34)  |  Fact (609)  |  Forecast (8)  |  Formula (51)  |  Grandeur (15)  |  Isolated (12)  |  Labyrinth (9)  |  Law (418)  |  Light (246)  |  Mastery (20)

Mediocre men often have the most acquired knowledge. It is in the darker. It is in the darker regions of science that great men are recognized; they are marked by ideas which light up phenomena hitherto obscure and carry science forward.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (reprint 1999), 42.
Science quotes on:  |  Acquired (4)  |  Carry (35)  |  Dark (49)  |  Forward (21)  |  Great (300)  |  Idea (440)  |  Inspiration (50)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Light (246)  |  Mark (28)  |  Mediocrity (8)  |  Men Of Science (97)  |  Phenomenon (218)  |  Recognition (62)  |  Region (26)  |  Understanding (317)

Newton advanced, with one gigantic stride, from the regions of twilight into the noon day of science. A Boyle and a Hooke, who would otherwise have been deservedly the boast of their century, served but as obscure forerunners of Newton's glories.
A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts (1845), 5.
Science quotes on:  |  Boast (12)  |  Robert Boyle (25)  |  Century (94)  |  Day (38)  |  Deserving (4)  |  Forerunner (3)  |  Gigantic (16)  |  Glory (44)  |  Robert Hooke (20)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (258)  |  Noon (6)  |  Otherwise (16)  |  Region (26)  |  Science (1699)  |  Stride (7)  |  Twilight (4)

The calculus is to mathematics no more than what experiment is to physics, and all the truths produced solely by the calculus can be treated as truths of experiment. The sciences must proceed to first causes, above all mathematics where one cannot assume, as in physics, principles that are unknown to us. For there is in mathematics, so to speak, only what we have placed there… If, however, mathematics always has some essential obscurity that one cannot dissipate, it will lie, uniquely, I think, in the direction of the infinite; it is in that direction that mathematics touches on physics, on the innermost nature of bodies about which we know little….
In Elements de la géométrie de l'infini (1727), Preface, ciii. Quoted as a footnote to Michael S. Mahoney, 'Infinitesimals and Transcendent Relations: The Mathematics of Motion in the Late Seventeenth Century', collected in David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman (eds.), Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (1990), 489-490, footnote 46
Science quotes on:  |  Assume (19)  |  Body (193)  |  Calculus (23)  |  Cause (231)  |  Dissipate (5)  |  Essential (87)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Infinite (88)  |  Innermost (3)  |  Know (321)  |  Little (126)  |  Mathematics (587)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Physics (301)  |  Principle (228)  |  Touching (4)  |  Truth (750)  |  Unknown (87)

The reputation of science which ought to be the most lasting, as synonymous with truth, is often the least so. One discovery supersedes another; and the progress of light throws the past into obscurity. What is become of the Blacks, the Lavoisiers, the Priestleys, in chemistry? … When any set of men think theirs the only science worth studying, and themselves the only infallible persons in it, it is a sign how frail the traces are of past excellence in it.
Characteristics: In the Manner of Rochefoucault's Maxims (1837), 148-149.
Science quotes on:  |  Joseph Black (14)  |  Chemistry (239)  |  Discovery (591)  |  Excellence (28)  |  Frail (2)  |  Infallible (4)  |  Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (33)  |  Least (43)  |  Light (246)  |  Often (69)  |  Joseph Priestley (16)  |  Progress (317)  |  Reputation (17)  |  Study (331)  |  Supersede (3)  |  Trace (39)  |  Truth (750)  |  Worth (74)

The sciences are like a beautiful river, of which the course is easy to follow, when it has acquired a certain regularity; but if one wants to go back to the source, one will find it nowhere, because it is everywhere; it is spread so much [as to be] over all the surface of the earth; it is the same if one wants to go back to the origin of the sciences, one will find only obscurity, vague ideas, vicious circles; and one loses oneself in the primitive ideas.
In Essai sur les machines en général (1783), conclusion, as translated in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840 (1990), Vol. 1, 32.
Science quotes on:  |  Beautiful (81)  |  Course (57)  |  Earth (487)  |  Easy (56)  |  Everywhere (14)  |  Find (248)  |  Follow (66)  |  Idea (440)  |  Lose (53)  |  Nowhere (19)  |  Origin (77)  |  Primitive (37)  |  Regularity (24)  |  River (68)  |  Science (1699)  |  Source (71)  |  Spread (19)  |  Surface (74)  |  Vague (10)

There are many things akin to highest deity that are still obscure. Some may be too subtle for our powers of comprehension, others imperceptible to us because such exalted majesty conceals itself in the holiest part of its sanctuary, forbidding access to any power save that of the spirit. How many heavenly bodies revolve unseen by human eye!
From Quaestiones Naturales as translated in Charles Singer, From Magic to Science (1958), 57.
Science quotes on:  |  Access (12)  |  Comprehension (51)  |  Concealment (8)  |  Deity (11)  |  Exultation (4)  |  Forbidden (8)  |  Heavenly Body (2)  |  Holiness (3)  |  Human Eye (2)  |  Imperceptibility (2)  |  Majesty (10)  |  Power (273)  |  Revolution (56)  |  Sanctuary (4)  |  Spirit (113)  |  Subtlety (9)  |  Unseen (7)

There could not be a language more universal and more simple, more exempt from errors and obscurities, that is to say, more worthy of expressing the invariable relations of natural objects. Considered from this point of view, it is coextensive with nature itself; it defines all the sensible relations, measures the times, the spaces, the forces, the temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it retains all the principles it has once acquired. It grows and becomes more certain without limit in the midst of so many errors of the human mind.
From introduction to Theory of Heat as quoted in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359.
Science quotes on:  |  Acquired (4)  |  Become (100)  |  Certain (84)  |  Considered (10)  |  Definition (152)  |  Difficult (62)  |  Error (230)  |  Force (194)  |  Grow (66)  |  Human Mind (51)  |  Invariable (4)  |  Language (155)  |  Limit (86)  |  Measure (70)  |  Natural (128)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Object (110)  |  Point Of View (26)  |  Principle (228)  |  Relation (96)  |  Retain (10)  |  Science (1699)  |  Sensible (22)  |  Simple (111)  |  Slowly (10)  |  Space (154)  |  Temperature (42)  |  Time (439)  |  Universal (70)

Tungsten, X-rays, and Coolidge form a trinity that has left an indelible impression upon our life and times. The key word in this triad is Coolidge, for his work brought the element tungsten from laboratory obscurity to the central role of the industrial stage and gave the X-ray a central role in the progress of medicine throughout the world.
In National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 53, 141.
Science quotes on:  |  Central (23)  |  Element (129)  |  Impression (51)  |  Industry (91)  |  Laboratory (120)  |  Medicine (322)  |  Progress (317)  |  Role (35)  |  Stage (39)  |  Trinity (7)  |  Tungsten (2)  |  X-ray (18)

When one begins to speak of something it sounds plausible, but when we reflect on it we find it false. The initial impression a thing makes on my mind is very important. Taking an overall view of a thing the mind sees every side of it obscurely, which is often of more value than a clear idea of only one side of it.
Aphorism 47 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 50-51.
Science quotes on:  |  Clarity (31)  |  Importance (183)  |  Impression (51)  |  Initial (13)  |  Plausibility (6)  |  Reflection (50)  |  Side (36)  |  Value (180)

While Newton seemed to draw off the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he showed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored her ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.
The History Of Great Britain, Containing the Commonwealth and the Reigns of Charles II. and James II. (2nd ed. 1759), Vol. 2, 450.
Science quotes on:  |  Imperfection (19)  |  Mystery (125)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (258)  |  Philosophy (213)  |  Secret (98)


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
Quotations by:Albert EinsteinIsaac NewtonLord KelvinCharles DarwinSrinivasa RamanujanCarl SaganFlorence NightingaleThomas EdisonAristotleMarie CurieBenjamin FranklinWinston ChurchillGalileo GalileiSigmund FreudRobert BunsenLouis PasteurTheodore RooseveltAbraham LincolnRonald ReaganLeonardo DaVinciMichio KakuKarl PopperJohann GoetheRobert OppenheimerCharles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about:Atomic  BombBiologyChemistryDeforestationEngineeringAnatomyAstronomyBacteriaBiochemistryBotanyConservationDinosaurEnvironmentFractalGeneticsGeologyHistory of ScienceInventionJupiterKnowledgeLoveMathematicsMeasurementMedicineNatural ResourceOrganic ChemistryPhysicsPhysicianQuantum TheoryResearchScience and ArtTeacherTechnologyUniverseVolcanoVirusWind PowerWomen ScientistsX-RaysYouthZoology  ... (more topics)
Sitewide search within all Today In Science History pages:
Visit our Science and Scientist Quotations index for more Science Quotes from archaeologists, biologists, chemists, geologists, inventors and inventions, mathematicians, physicists, pioneers in medicine, science events and technology.

Names index: | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

Categories index: | 1 | 2 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.