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Observed Quotes (149 quotes)

... there is an external world which can in principle be exhaustively described in scientific language. The scientist, as both observer and language-user, can capture the external facts of the world in prepositions that are true if they correspond to the facts and false if they do not. Science is ideally a linguistic system in which true propositions are in one-to-one relation to facts, including facts that are not directly observed because they involve hidden entities or properties, or past events or far distant events. These hidden events are described in theories, and theories can be inferred from observation, that is the hidden explanatory mechnism of the world can be discovered from what is open to observation. Man as scientist is regarded as standing apart from the world and able to experiment and theorize about it objectively and dispassionately.
'Introduction', Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science (1981), xii. In John Templeton and Robert L. Herrmann, Is God the Only Reality (1994), 11-12.
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...what would be observed (if not with one’s actual eyes at least with those of the mind) if an eagle, carried by the force of the wind, were to drop a rock from its talons?
…...
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The Charms of Statistics.—It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once. An Average is but a solitary fact, whereas if a single other fact be added to it, an entire Normal Scheme, which nearly corresponds to the observed one, starts potentially into existence. Some people hate the very name of statistics, but I find them full of beauty and interest. Whenever they are not brutalised, but delicately handled by the higher methods, and are warily interpreted, their power of dealing with complicated phenomena is extraordinary. They are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the Science of man.
Natural Inheritance (1889), 62-3.
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A casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A possible explanation for the observed excess noise is the one given by Dicke, Peebles, Roll, and Wilkinson (1965) in a companion letter in this issue.
[The low-key announcement of the detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation which is the afterglow of the Big Bang. Co-author with Robert Wilson. They received the 1978 Nobel Prize for their discovery.]
'A measurement of excess antenna temperature at 4080 Mc/s'. In Astrophysical Journal (1965). Reprinted in R. B. Partridge, 3 K the cosmic microwave background radiation? (1995), Appendix A, 355.
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About eight days ago I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary, gains it; it is the same with phosphorus; this increase of weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed during combustion and combines with the vapors. This discovery, which I have established by experiments, that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion and calcination; and I am persuaded that the increase in weight of metallic calxes is due to the same cause... This discovery seems to me one of the most interesting that has been made since Stahl and since it is difficult not to disclose something inadvertently in conversation with friends that could lead to the truth I have thought it necessary to make the present deposit to the Secretary of the Academy to await the time I make my experiments public.
Sealed note deposited with the Secretary of the French Academy 1 Nov 1772. Oeuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance, Fasc. II. 1770-75 (1957), 389-90. Adapted from translation by A. N. Meldrum, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Science (1930), 3.
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According to my derivative hypothesis, a change takes place first in the structure of the animal, and this, when sufficiently advanced, may lead to modifications of habits… . “Derivation” holds that every species changes, in time, by virtue of inherent tendencies thereto. “Natural Selection” holds that no such change can take place without the influence of altered external circumstances educing or selecting such change… . The hypothesis of “natural selection” totters on the extension of a conjectural condition, explanatory of extinction to the majority of organisms, and not known or observed to apply to the origin of any species.
In On the Anatomy of Vertebrates (1868), Vol. 3, 808.
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After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus.”
In Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1820), Vol. 1, 218.
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All good intellects have repeated, since Bacon’s time, that there can be no real knowledge but that which is based on observed facts. This is incontestable, in our present advanced stage; but, if we look back to the primitive stage of human knowledge, we shall see that it must have been otherwise then. If it is true that every theory must be based upon observed facts, it is equally true that facts cannot be observed without the guidance of some theory. Without such guidance, our facts would be desultory and fruitless; we could not retain them: for the most part we could not even perceive them.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol. 1, 3-4.
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All things on the earth are the result of chemical combination. The operation by which the commingling of molecules and the interchange of atoms take place we can imitate in our laboratories; but in nature they proceed by slow degrees, and, in general, in our hands they are distinguished by suddenness of action. In nature chemical power is distributed over a long period of time, and the process of change is scarcely to be observed. By acts we concentrate chemical force, and expend it in producing a change which occupies but a few hours at most.
In chapter 'Chemical Forces', The Poetry of Science: Or, Studies of the Physical Phenomena of Nature (1848), 235-236. Charles Dicken used this quote, with his own sub-head of 'Relative Importance Of Time To Man And Nature', to conclude his review of the book, published in The Examiner (1848).
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Among innumerable footsteps of divine providence to be found in the works of nature, there is a very remarkable one to be observed in the exact balance that is maintained, between the numbers of men and women; for by this means is provided, that the species never may fail, nor perish, since every male may have its female, and of proportionable age. This equality of males and females is not the effect of chance but divine providence, working for a good end.
'An Argument for Divine Providence, taken from the Constant Regularity observ’d in the Births of both Sexes', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1710-12, 27,186.
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Among the authorities it is generally agreed that the Earth is at rest in the middle of the universe, and they regard it as inconceivable and even ridiculous to hold the opposite opinion. However, if we consider it more closely the question will be seen to be still unsettled, and so decidedly not to be despised. For every apparent change in respect of position is due to motion of the object observed, or of the observer, or indeed to an unequal change of both.
'Book One. Chapter V. Whether Circular Motion is Proper to the Earth, and of its Place', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 40.
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An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician find themselves in an anecdote, indeed an anecdote quite similar to many that you have no doubt already heard.
After some observations and rough calculations the engineer realizes the situation and starts laughing.
A few minutes later the physicist understands too and chuckles to himself happily, as he now has enough experimental evidence to publish a paper.
This leaves the mathematician somewhat perplexed, as he had observed right away that he was the subject of an anecdote, and deduced quite rapidly the presence of humor from similar anecdotes, but considers this anecdote to be too trivial a corollary to be significant, let alone funny.
Anonymous
In 'Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science' APS News (Jun 2003), 12 No. 6.
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Any opinion as to the form in which the energy of gravitation exists in space is of great importance, and whoever can make his opinion probable will have, made an enormous stride in physical speculation. The apparent universality of gravitation, and the equality of its effects on matter of all kinds are most remarkable facts, hitherto without exception; but they are purely experimental facts, liable to be corrected by a single observed exception. We cannot conceive of matter with negative inertia or mass; but we see no way of accounting for the proportionality of gravitation to mass by any legitimate method of demonstration. If we can see the tails of comets fly off in the direction opposed to the sun with an accelerated velocity, and if we believe these tails to be matter and not optical illusions or mere tracks of vibrating disturbance, then we must admit a force in that direction, and we may establish that it is caused by the sun if it always depends upon his position and distance.
Letter to William Huggins (13 Oct 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 451-2.
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As every circumstance relating to so capital a discovery as this (the greatest, perhaps, that has been made in the whole compass of philosophy, since the time of Sir Isaac Newton) cannot but give pleasure to all my readers, I shall endeavour to gratify them with the communication of a few particulars which I have from the best authority. The Doctor [Benjamin Franklin], after having published his method of verifying his hypothesis concerning the sameness of electricity with the matter lightning, was waiting for the erection of a spire in Philadelphia to carry his views into execution; not imagining that a pointed rod, of a moderate height, could answer the purpose; when it occurred to him, that, by means of a common kite, he could have a readier and better access to the regions of thunder than by any spire whatever. Preparing, therefore, a large silk handkerchief, and two cross sticks, of a proper length, on which to extend it, he took the opportunity of the first approaching thunder storm to take a walk into a field, in which there was a shed convenient for his purpose. But dreading the ridicule which too commonly attends unsuccessful attempts in science, he communicated his intended experiment to no body but his son, who assisted him in raising the kite.
The kite being raised, a considerable time elapsed before there was any appearance of its being electrified. One very promising cloud passed over it without any effect; when, at length, just as he was beginning to despair of his contrivance, he observed some loose threads of the hempen string to stand erect, and to avoid one another, just as if they had been suspended on a common conductor. Struck with this promising appearance, he inmmediately presented his knuckle to the key, and (let the reader judge of the exquisite pleasure he must have felt at that moment) the discovery was complete. He perceived a very evident electric spark. Others succeeded, even before the string was wet, so as to put the matter past all dispute, and when the rain had wetted the string, he collected electric fire very copiously. This happened in June 1752, a month after the electricians in France had verified the same theory, but before he had heard of any thing that they had done.
The History and Present State of Electricity, with Original Experiments (1767, 3rd ed. 1775), Vol. 1, 216-7.
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As I show you this liquid, I too could tell you, 'I took my drop of water from the immensity of creation, and I took it filled with that fecund jelly, that is, to use the language of science, full of the elements needed for the development of lower creatures. And then I waited, and I observed, and I asked questions of it, and I asked it to repeat the original act of creation for me; what a sight it would be! But it is silent! It has been silent for several years, ever since I began these experiments. Yes! And it is because I have kept away from it, and am keeping away from it to this moment, the only thing that it has not been given to man to produce, I have kept away from it the germs that are floating in the air, I have kept away from it life, for life is the germ, and the germ is life.'
Quoted in Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 169.
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As I strayed into the study of an eminent physicist, I observed hanging against the wall, framed like a choice engraving, several dingy, ribbon-like strips of, I knew not what... My curiosity was at once aroused. What were they? ... They might be shreds of mummy-wraps or bits of friable bark-cloth from the Pacific, ... [or] remnants from a grandmother’s wedding dress... They were none of these... He explained that they were carefully-prepared photographs of portions of the Solar Spectrum. I stood and mused, absorbed in the varying yet significant intensities of light and shade, bordered by mystic letters and symbolic numbers. As I mused, the pale legend began to glow with life. Every line became luminous with meaning. Every shadow was suffused with light shining from behind, suggesting some mighty achievement of knowledge; of knowledge growing more daring in proportion to the remoteness of the object known; of knowledge becoming more positive in its answers, as the questions which were asked seemed unanswerable. No Runic legend, no Babylonish arrowhead, no Egyptian hieroglyph, no Moabite stone, could present a history like this, or suggest thoughts of such weighty import or so stimulate and exalt the imagination.
The Sciences of Nature Versus the Science of Man: A Plea for the Science of Man (1871), 7-9.
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As soon … as it was observed that the stars retained their relative places, that the times of their rising and setting varied with the seasons, that sun, moon, and planets moved among them in a plane, … then a new order of things began.… Science had begun, and the first triumph of it was the power of foretelling the future; eclipses were perceived to recur in cycles of nineteen years, and philosophers were able to say when an eclipse was to be looked for. The periods of the planets were determined. Theories were invented to account for their eccentricities; and, false as those theories might be, the position of the planets could be calculated with moderate certainty by them.
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, 187.
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At length being at Clapham where there is, on the common, a large pond which, I observed to be one day very rough with the wind, I fetched out a cruet of oil and dropt a little of it on the water. I saw it spread itself with surprising swiftness upon the surface; but the effect of smoothing the waves was not produced; for I had applied it first on the leeward side of the pond, where the waves were largest, and the wind drove my oil back upon the shore. I then went to the windward side, where they began to form; and there the oil, though not more than a tea-spoonful, produced an instant calm over a space several yards square, which spread amazingly, and extended itself gradually till it reached the leeside, making all that quarter of the pond, perhaps half an acre, as smooth as a looking-glass.
[Experiment to test an observation made at sea in 1757, when he had seen the wake of a ship smoothed, explained by the captain as presumably due to cooks emptying greasy water in to the sea through the scuppers.]
Letter, extract in 'Of the still of Waves by Means of Oil The Gentleman's Magazine (1775), Vol. 45, 82.
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Between men of different studies and professions, may be observed a constant reciprocation of reproaches. The collector of shells and stones derides the folly of him who pastes leaves and flowers upon paper, pleases himself with colours that are perceptibly fading, and amasses with care what cannot be preserved. The hunter of insects stands amazed that any man can waste his short time upon lifeless matter, while many tribes of animals yet want their history. Every one is inclined not only to promote his own study, but to exclude all others from regard, and having heated his imagination with some favourite pursuit, wonders that the rest of mankind are not seized with the same passion.
From 'Numb. 83, Tuesday, January 1, 1750', The Rambler (1756), Vol. 2, 150.
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Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behavior of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants.
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982, 1995), 47.
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But that which will excite the greatest astonishment by far, and which indeed especially moved me to call the attention of all astronomers and philosophers, is this: namely, that I have observed four planets, neither known nor observed by any one of the astronomers before my time, which have their orbits round a certain bright star [Jupiter], one of those previously known, like Venus or Mercury round the sun, and are sometimes in front of it, sometimes behind it, though they never depart from it beyond certain limits. All of which facts were discovered and observed a few days ago by the help of a telescope devised by me, through God’s grace first enlightening my mind.
In pamphlet, The Sidereal Messenger (1610), reprinted in The Sidereal Messenger of Galileo Galilei: And a Part of the Preface to the Preface to Kepler's Dioptrics Containing the Original Account of Galileo's Astronomical Discoveries (1880), 9.
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But the whole vital process of the earth takes place so gradually and in periods of time which are so immense compared with the length of our life, that these changes are not observed, and before their course can be recorded from beginning to end whole nations perish and are destroyed.
Aristotle
Meteorology, 351b, 8-13. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 573.
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But what exceeds all wonders, I have discovered four new planets and observed their proper and particular motions, different among themselves and from the motions of all the other stars; and these new planets move about another very large star [Jupiter] like Venus and Mercury, and perchance the other known planets, move about the Sun. As soon as this tract, which I shall send to all the philosophers and mathematicians as an announcement, is finished, I shall send a copy to the Most Serene Grand Duke, together with an excellent spyglass, so that he can verify all these truths.
Letter to the Tuscan Court, 30 Jan 1610. Quoted in Albert van Heiden (ed.), Siderius Nuncius or The Sidereal Messenger (1989), 18.
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By destroying the biological character of phenomena, the use of averages in physiology and medicine usually gives only apparent accuracy to the results. From our point of view, we may distinguish between several kinds of averages: physical averages, chemical averages and physiological and pathological averages. If, for instance, we observe the number of pulsations and the degree of blood pressure by means of the oscillations of a manometer throughout one day, and if we take the average of all our figures to get the true or average blood pressure and to learn the true or average number of pulsations, we shall simply have wrong numbers. In fact, the pulse decreases in number and intensity when we are fasting and increases during digestion or under different influences of movement and rest; all the biological characteristics of the phenomenon disappear in the average. Chemical averages are also often used. If we collect a man's urine during twenty-four hours and mix all this urine to analyze the average, we get an analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine, when fasting, is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, and who believed he could thus present an analysis of average European urine! Aside from physical and chemical, there are physiological averages, or what we might call average descriptions of phenomena, which are even more false. Let me assume that a physician collects a great many individual observations of a disease and that he makes an average description of symptoms observed in the individual cases; he will thus have a description that will never be matched in nature. So in physiology, we must never make average descriptions of experiments, because the true relations of phenomena disappear in the average; when dealing with complex and variable experiments, we must study their various circumstances, and then present our most perfect experiment as a type, which, however, still stands for true facts. In the cases just considered, averages must therefore be rejected, because they confuse, while aiming to unify, and distort while aiming to simplify. Averages are applicable only to reducing very slightly varying numerical data about clearly defined and absolutely simple cases.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-135.
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By teaching us how to cultivate each ferment in its purity—in other words, by teaching us how to rear the individual organism apart from all others,—Pasteur has enabled us to avoid all these errors. And where this isolation of a particular organism has been duly effected it grows and multiplies indefinitely, but no change of it into another organism is ever observed. In Pasteur’s researches the Bacterium remained a Bacterium, the Vibrio a Vibrio, the Penicillium a Penicillium, and the Torula a Torula. Sow any of these in a state of purity in an appropriate liquid; you get it, and it alone, in the subsequent crop. In like manner, sow smallpox in the human body, your crop is smallpox. Sow there scarlatina, and your crop is scarlatina. Sow typhoid virus, your crop is typhoid—cholera, your crop is cholera. The disease bears as constant a relation to its contagium as the microscopic organisms just enumerated do to their germs, or indeed as a thistle does to its seed.
In 'Fermentation, and its Bearings on Surgery and Medicine', Essays on the Floating­Matter of the Air in Relation to Putrefaction and Infection (1881), 264.
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Chance alone is at the source of every innovaton, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, only chance, absolute but blind liberty is at the root of the prodigious edifice that is evolution... It today is the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.
Stating life began by the chance collision of particles of nucleic acid in the “prebiotic soup.”
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 112-113.
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Chemistry is like a majestic skyscraper. The concrete secure foundation of chemistry consists of countless experimentally observed facts. The theories, principles and laws developed from these observations are like an elevator which runs from the bottom to the top of the edifice.
Ernest R. Toon and George L. Ellis (eds.), Foundations of Chemistry (1968), 1.
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During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true
In Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (ed.), A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 2.
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Eratosthenes declares that it is no longer necessary to inquire as to the cause of the overflow of the Nile, since we know definitely that men have come to the sources of the Nile and have observed the rains there.
Proclus on Plato Timaeus, Vol. 1, 121.8-11 (Diehl). Quoted in Morris R. Cohen and I. E. Drabkin, A Sourcebook in Greek Science (1948), 383.
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Exper. I. I made a small hole in a window-shutter, and covered it with a piece of thick paper, which I perforated with a fine needle. For greater convenience of observation I placed a small looking-glass without the window-shutter, in such a position as to reflect the sun's light, in a direction nearly horizontal, upon the opposite wall, and to cause the cone of diverging light to pass over a table on which were several little screens of card-paper. I brought into the sunbeam a slip of card, about one-thirtieth of an inch in breadth, and observed its shadow, either on the wall or on other cards held at different distances. Besides the fringes of colour on each side of the shadow, the shadow itself was divided by similar parallel fringes, of smaller dimensions, differing in number, according to the distance at which the shadow was observed, but leaving the middle of the shadow always white. Now these fringes were the joint effects of the portions of light passing on each side of the slip of card and inflected, or rather diffracted, into the shadow. For, a little screen being placed a few inches from the card, so as to receive either edge of the shadow on its margin, all the fringes which had before been observed in the shadow on the wall, immediately disappeared, although the light inflected on the other side was allowed to retain its course, and although this light must have undergone any modification that the proximity of the other edge of the slip of card might have been capable of occasioning... Nor was it for want of a sufficient intensity of light that one of the two portions was incapable of producing the fringes alone; for when they were both uninterrupted, the lines appeared, even if the intensity was reduced to one-tenth or one-twentieth.
'Experiments and Calculations Relative to Physical Optics' (read in 1803), Philosophical Transactions (1804), 94, 2-3.
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For man being the minister and interpreter of nature, acts and understands so far as he has observed of the order, the works and mind of nature, and can proceed no further; for no power is able to loose or break the chain of causes, nor is nature to be conquered but by submission: whence those twin intentions, human knowledge and human power, are really coincident; and the greatest hindrance to works is the ignorance of causes.
In The Great lnstauration.
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Genius itself has been analyzed by the shrewdest observers into a higher capacity of attention. “Genius,” says Helvetius … “is nothing but a continued attention,” (une attention suivie). “Genius,” says Buffon, “is only a protracted patience,” (une longue patience). “In the exact sciences, at least,” says Cuvier, “it is the patience of a sound intellect, when invincible, which truly constitutes genius.” And Chesterfield has also observed, that “the power of applying an attention, steady and undissipated, to a single object, is the sure mark of a superior genius.”
In Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic (1860), Vol. 1, 179.
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Have you ever observed a humming-bird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem that changes its colour with every change of position— … its exquisite form, its changeful splendour, its swift motions and intervals of aërial suspension, it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.
In Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest (1916),
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Having always observed that most of them who constantly took in the weekly Bills of Mortality made little other use of them than to look at the foot how the burials increased or decreased, and among the Casualties what had happened, rare and extraordinary, in the week current; so as they might take the same as a Text to talk upon in the next company, and withal in the Plague-time, how the Sickness increased or decreased, that the Rich might judg of the necessity of their removal, and Trades-men might conjecture what doings they were likely to have in their respective dealings.
From Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made upon Bills of Mortality (1662), Preface. Reproduced in Cornelius Walford, The Insurance Cyclopaedia (1871), Vol. 1, 286. Italicizations from another source.
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He had constructed for himself a certain system which thereafter exercised such an influence on his way of thinking that those who observed him always saw his judgment walking a few steps in front of his feeling, though he himself believed it was keeping to the rear.
Aphorism 82 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 56-57.
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I complained to Mr. Johnson that I was much afflicted with melancholy, which was hereditary in our family. He said that he himself had been greatly distressed with it, and for that reason had been obliged to fly from study and meditation to the dissipating variety of life. He advised me to have constant occupation of mind, to take a great deal of exercise, and to live moderately; especially to shun drinking at night. “Melancholy people,” said he, are apt to fly to intemperance, which gives a momentary relief but sinks the soul much lower in misery.” He observed that laboring men who work much and live sparingly are seldom or never troubled with low spirits.
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I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an arm-chair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Frequently.”
“How often?”
“'Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many! I don't know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
From 'Adventure I.—A Scandal in Bohemia', Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly (Jul 1891), Vol. 2, 62.
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I do not … reject the use of statistics in medicine, but I condemn not trying to get beyond them and believing in statistics as the foundation of medical science. … Statistics … apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still [uncertain or] indeterminate. … There will always be some indeterminism … in all the sciences, and more in medicine than in any other. But man’s intellectual conquest consists in lessening and driving back indeterminism in proportion as he gains ground for determinism by the help of the experimental method..
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138-140.
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I had observed that there were different lines exhibited in the spectra of different metals when ignited in the voltaic arc; and if I had had any reasonable amount of wit I ought to have seen the converse, viz., that by ignition different bodies show in their spectral lines the materials of which they are formed. If that thought had occured to my mind, I should have discovered the spectroscope before Kirchoff; but it didn’t.
Address, in 'Report to the Chemical Society's Jubilee', Nature (26 Mar 1891), 43, 493. Words as in original text, occured and Kirchoff are sic.
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I have looked further into space than ever human being did before me. I have observed stars of which the light, it can be proved, must take two million years to reach the earth.
Having identified Uranus (1781), the first planet discovered since antiquity. Quoted in Constance Anne Lubbock, The Herschel Chronicle: the Life-story of William Herschel and his Sister, Caroline Herschel (1933), 336.
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I have recently observed and stated that the serum of normal people is capable of clumping the red cells of other healthy individuals... As commonly expressed, it can be said that in these cases at least two different kinds of agglutinins exist, one kind in A, the other in B, both together in C. The cells are naturally insensitive to the agglutinins in their own serum.
Ueber Agglutinationserscheinungen normalen menschlichen Blutes', Wiener klinische Wochenschrift (1901), 14, 1132-1134. Trans. Pauline M. H. Mazumdar.
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I observed on most collected stones the imprints of innumerable plant fragments which were so different from those which are growing in the Lyonnais, in the nearby provinces, and even in the rest of France, that I felt like collecting plants in a new world… The number of these leaves, the way they separated easily, and the great variety of plants whose imprints I saw, appeared to me just as many volumes of botany representing in the same quarry the oldest library of the world.
In 'Examen des causes des Impressions des Plantes marquees sur certaines Pierres des environs de Saint-Chaumont dans le Lionnais', Memoires de l’ Academie Royale des Sciences (1718), 364, as trans. by Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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I observed that plants not only have a faculty to correct bad air in six to ten days, by growing in it…but that they perform this important office in a complete manner in a few hours; that this wonderful operation is by no means owing to the vegetation of the plant, but to the influence of light of the sun upon the plant.
In Tobias George Smollett (ed.), 'Experiments Upon Vegetables', The Critical Review, Or, Annals of Literature (1779), 48, 334.
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I once lodged in Hanover in a room whose window gave on to a narrow Street which formed a communicating link between two bigger streets. It was very pleasant to see how people's faces changed when they entered the little Street, where they thought they were less observed; how here one pissed, there another fixed her garter, one gave way to private laughter and another shook his head. Girls thought with a smile of the night before and adjusted their ribbons for conquests in the big Street ahead.
Aphorism 19 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 34.
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I shall conclude, for the time being, by saying that until Philosophers make observations (especially of mountains) that are longer, more attentive, orderly, and interconnected, and while they fail to recognize the two great agents, fire and water, in their distinct affects, they will not be able to understand the causes of the great natural variety in the disposition, structure, and other matter that can be observed in the terrestrial globe in a manner that truly corresponds to the facts and to the phenomena of Nature.
'Aleune Osservazioni Orittologiche fatte nei Monti del Vicentino', Giomale d’Italia, 1769, 5, 411, trans. Ezio Vaccari.
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I wanted to see what no one had yet observed, even if I had to pay for this curiosity with my life.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea translated by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter (1870). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 116.
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I would picture myself as a virus, or as a cancer cell, for example, and try to sense what it would be like to be either. I would also imagine myself as the immune system, and I would try to reconstruct what I would do as an immune system engaged in combating a virus or cancer cell. When I had played through a series of such scenarios on a particular problem and had acquired new insights, I would design laboratory experiments accordingly… Based upon the results of the experiment, I would then know what question to ask next… When I observed phenomena in the laboratory that I did not understand, I would also ask questions as if interrogating myself: “Why would I do that if I were a virus or a cancer cell, or the immune system?” Before long, this internal dialogue became second nature to me; I found that my mind worked this way all the time.
In Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983), 7, footnote b, as quoted and cited in Roger Frantz, Two Minds: Intuition and Analysis in the History of Economic Thought (2006), 7.
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John B. Watson quote: I would rather see the behavior of one white rat observed carefully from the moment of birth until death t
I would rather see the behavior of one white rat observed carefully from the moment of birth until death than to see a large volume of accurate statistical data on how 2,000 rats learned to open a puzzle box.
Introduction to G. V. Hamilton and Kenneth Macgowan, What Is Wrong with Marriage? (1929), xx.
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If the Commission is to enquire into the conditions “to be observed,” it is to be presumed that they will give the result of their enquiries; or, in other words, that they will lay down, or at least suggest, “rules” and “conditions to be (hereafter) observed” in the construction of bridges, or, in other words, embarrass and shackle the progress of improvement to-morrow by recording and registering as law the prejudices or errors of to-day.
[Objecting to any interference by the State with the freedom of civil engineers in the conduct of their professional work.]
Letter (13 Mar 1848) to the Royal Commission on the Application of Iron in Railway Structures. Collected in The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Civil Engineer (1870), 487. The above verbatim quote may be the original source of the following statement as seen in books and on the web without citation: “I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for his latter form, and suspects it may be a synopsis, rather than a verbatim quote. If you know of such a primary source, please inform Webmaster.
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If there is any kind of animal which is female and has no male separate from it, it is possible that this may generate a young one from itself. No instance of this worthy of any credit has been observed up to the present at any rate, but one case in the class of fishes makes us hesitate. No male of the so-called erythrinus has ever yet been seen, but females, and specimens full of roe, have been seen. Of this, however, we have as yet no proof worthy of credit.
Aristotle
Generation of Animals, 741a, 32-8. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 1150.
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If we ascribe the ejection of the proton to a Compton recoil from a quantum of 52 x 106 electron volts, then the nitrogen recoil atom arising by a similar process should have an energy not greater than about 400,000 volts, should produce not more than about 10,000 ions, and have a range in the air at N.T.P. of about 1-3mm. Actually, some of the recoil atoms in nitrogen produce at least 30,000 ions. In collaboration with Dr. Feather, I have observed the recoil atoms in an expansion chamber, and their range, estimated visually, was sometimes as much as 3mm. at N.T.P.
These results, and others I have obtained in the course of the work, are very difficult to explain on the assumption that the radiation from beryllium is a quantum radiation, if energy and momentum are to be conserved in the collisions. The difficulties disappear, however, if it be assumed that the radiation consists of particles of mass 1 and charge 0, or neutrons. The capture of the a-particle by the Be9 nucleus may be supposed to result in the formation of a C12 nucleus and the emission of the neutron. From the energy relations of this process the velocity of the neutron emitted in the forward direction may well be about 3 x 109 cm. per sec. The collisions of this neutron with the atoms through which it passes give rise to the recoil atoms, and the observed energies of the recoil atoms are in fair agreement with this view. Moreover, I have observed that the protons ejected from hydrogen by the radiation emitted in the opposite direction to that of the exciting a-particle appear to have a much smaller range than those ejected by the forward radiation.
This again receives a simple explanation on the neutron hypothesis.
'Possible Existence of a Neutron', Letter to the Editor, Nature, 1932, 129, 312.
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In both social and natural sciences, the body of positive knowledge grows by the failure of a tentative hypothesis to predict phenomena the hypothesis professes to explain; by the patching up of that hypothesis until someone suggests a new hypothesis that more elegantly or simply embodies the troublesome phenomena, and so on ad infinitum. In both, experiment is sometimes possible, sometimes not (witness meteorology). In both, no experiment is ever completely controlled, and experience often offers evidence that is the equivalent of controlled experiment. In both, there is no way to have a self-contained closed system or to avoid interaction between the observer and the observed. The Gödel theorem in mathematics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, the self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecy in the social sciences all exemplify these limitations.
Inflation and Unemployment (1976), 348.
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In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it.
In 'The Anthropic Universe', New Scientist (6 Aug 1987), 46.
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It appears, then, to be a condition of a genuinely scientific hypothesis, that it be not destined always to remain an hypothesis, but be certain to be either proved or disproved by.. .comparison with observed facts.
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 293.
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It is not always the magnitude of the differences observed between species that must determine specific distinctions, but the constant preservation of those differences in reproduction.
'Espece', Encyclopédie Methodique Botanique (1773-1789), Vol. 2, 396. In Pietro Corsi, The Age of Lamarck: Evolutionary Theories in France 1790- 1830, trans. J. Mandelbaum, (1988), 43.
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It is related of the Socratic philosopher Aristippus that, being shipwrecked and cast ashore on the coast of the Rhodians, he observed geometrical figures drawn thereon, and cried out to his companions:"Let us be of good cheer, for I see the traces of man."
Vitruvius
In Vitruvius Pollio and Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), 'Book VI: Introduction', Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 167. From the original Latin, “Aristippus philosophus Socraticus, naufragio cum ejectus ad Rhodiensium litus animaduertisset Geometrica schemata descripta, exclama uisse ad comites ita dicitur, Bene speremus, hominum enim vestigia video.” In De Architectura libri decem (1552), 218.
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It is structure that we look for whenever we try to understand anything. All science is built upon this search; we investigate how the cell is built of reticular material, cytoplasm, chromosomes; how crystals aggregate; how atoms are fastened together; how electrons constitute a chemical bond between atoms. We like to understand, and to explain, observed facts in terms of structure. A chemist who understands why a diamond has certain properties, or why nylon or hemoglobin have other properties, because of the different ways their atoms are arranged, may ask questions that a geologist would not think of formulating, unless he had been similarly trained in this way of thinking about the world.
‘The Place of Chemistry In the Integration of the Sciences’, Main Currents in Modern Thought (1950), 7, 110.
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It is the reciprocity of these appearances—that each party should think the other has contracted—that is so difficult to realise. Here is a paradox beyond even the imagination of Dean Swift. Gulliver regarded the Lilliputians as a race of dwarfs; and the Lilliputians regarded Gulliver as a giant. That is natural. If the Lilliputians had appeared dwarfs to Gulliver, and Gulliver had appeared a dwarf to the Lilliputians—but no! that is too absurd for fiction, and is an idea only to be found in the sober pages of science. …It is not only in space but in time that these strange variations occur. If we observed the aviator carefully we should infer that he was unusually slow in his movements; and events in the conveyance moving with him would be similarly retarded—as though time had forgotten to go on. His cigar lasts twice as long as one of ours. …But here again reciprocity comes in, because in the aviator’s opinion it is we who are travelling at 161,000 miles a second past him; and when he has made all allowances, he finds that it is we who are sluggish. Our cigar lasts twice as long as his.
In Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory (1920, 1921), 23-24.
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It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It is the theory that decides what can be observed.
…...
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It is well-known that those who have charge of young infants, that it is difficult to feel sure when certain movements about their mouths are really expressive; that is when they really smile. Hence I carefully watched my own infants. One of them at the age of forty-five days, and being in a happy frame of mind, smiled... I observed the same thing on the following day: but on the third day the child was not quite well and there was no trace of a smile, and this renders it probable that the previous smiles were real.
The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals
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It may be observed of mathematicians that they only meddle with such things as are certain, passing by those that are doubtful and unknown. They profess not to know all things, neither do they affect to speak of all things. What they know to be true, and can make good by invincible arguments, that they publish and insert among their theorems. Of other things they are silent and pass no judgment at all, chusing [choosing] rather to acknowledge their ignorance, than affirm anything rashly. They affirm nothing among their arguments or assertions which is not most manifestly known and examined with utmost rigour, rejecting all probable conjectures and little witticisms. They submit nothing to authority, indulge no affection, detest subterfuges of words, and declare their sentiments, as in a Court of Judicature [Justice], without passion, without apology; knowing that their reasons, as Seneca testifies of them, are not brought to persuade, but to compel.
Mathematical Lectures (1734), 64.
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It then came into my mind what that most careful observer of natural phenomena [Amontons] had written about the correction of the barometer; for he had observed that the height of the column of mercury in the barometer was a little (though sensibly enough) altered by the varying temperature of the mercury. From this I gathered that a thermometer might be perhaps constructed with mercury.
From 'Experimenta circa gradum caloris liquorum nonnullorum ebullientium instituta', Philosophical Transactions (1724), 33, 1, as translated in William Francis Magie, A Source Book in Physics (1935), 131.
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It was a great step in science when men became convinced that, in order to understand the nature of things, they must begin by asking, not whether a thing is good or bad, noxious or beneficial, but of what kind it is? And how much is there of it? Quality and Quantity were then first recognised as the primary features to be observed in scientific inquiry.
'Address to the Mathematical and Physical Sections of the British Association, Liverpool, 15 Sep 1870', The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890 edition, reprint 2003), Vol. 2, 217.
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It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.
[Recalling in 1936 the discovery of the nucleus in 1909, when some alpha particles were observed instead of travelling through a very thin gold foil were seen to rebound backward, as if striking something much more massive than the particles themselves.]
Quoted in Abraham Pais, Inward Bound (1986), 189, from E. N. da C. Andrade, Rutherford and the nature of the atom, (1964) 111.
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It would appear... that moral phenomena, when observed on a great scale, are found to resemble physical phenomena; and we thus arrive, in inquiries of this kind, at the fundamental principle, that the greater the number of individuals observed, the more do individual peculiarities, whether physical or moral, become effaced, and leave in a prominent point of view the general facts, by virtue of which society exists and is preserved.
A Treatise on Man and the Development of his Faculties (1842). Reprinted with an introduction by Solomon Diamond (1969), 6.
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Just now nuclear physicists are writing a great deal about hypothetical particles called neutrinos supposed to account for certain peculiar facts observed in β-ray disintegration. We can perhaps best describe the neutrinos as little bits of spin-energy that have got detached. I am not much impressed by the neutrino theory. In an ordinary way I might say that I do not believe in neutrinos… But I have to reflect that a physicist may be an artist, and you never know where you are with artists. My old-fashioned kind of disbelief in neutrinos is scarcely enough. Dare I say that experimental physicists will not have sufficient ingenuity to make neutrinos? Whatever I may think, I am not going to be lured into a wager against the skill of experimenters under the impression that it is a wager against the truth of a theory. If they succeed in making neutrinos, perhaps even in developing industrial applications of them, I suppose I shall have to believe—though I may feel that they have not been playing quite fair.
From Tarner Lecture, 'Discovery or Manufacture?' (1938), in The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939, 2012), 112.
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Lagrange, in one of the later years of his life, imagined that he had overcome the difficulty (of the parallel axiom). He went so far as to write a paper, which he took with him to the Institute, and began to read it. But in the first paragraph something struck him that he had not observed: he muttered: 'Il faut que j'y songe encore', and put the paper in his pocket.' [I must think about it again]
Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 173.
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Language is simply alive, like an organism. We all tell each other this, in fact, when we speak of living languages, and I think we mean something more than an abstract metaphor. We mean alive. Words are the cells of language, moving the great body, on legs. Language grows and evolves, leaving fossils behind. The individual words are like different species of animals. Mutations occur. Words fuse, and then mate. Hybrid words and wild varieties or compound words are the progeny. Some mixed words are dominated by one parent while the other is recessive. The way a word is used this year is its phenotype, but it has deeply immutable meanings, often hidden, which is its genotype.... The separate languages of the Indo-European family were at one time, perhaps five thousand years ago, maybe much longer, a single language. The separation of the speakers by migrations had effects on language comparable to the speciation observed by Darwin on various islands of the Galapagos. Languages became different species, retaining enough resemblance to an original ancestor so that the family resemblance can still be seen.
in 'Living Language,' The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, (1974, 1984), 106.
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Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or thought of the course of nature; beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 1. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 47.
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Mathematics is a science of Observation, dealing with reals, precisely as all other sciences deal with reals. It would be easy to show that its Method is the same: that, like other sciences, having observed or discovered properties, which it classifies, generalises, co-ordinates and subordinates, it proceeds to extend discoveries by means of Hypothesis, Induction, Experiment and Deduction.
In Problems of Life and Mind: The Method of Science and its Application (1874), 423-424. [The reals are the relations of magnitude.]
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Motion with respect to the universal ocean of aether eludes us. We say, “Let V be the velocity of a body through the aether”, and form the various electromagnetic equations in which V is scattered liberally. Then we insert the observed values, and try to eliminate everything which is unknown except V. The solution goes on famously; but just as we have got rid of all the other unknowns, behold! V disappears as well, and we are left with the indisputable but irritating conclusion —
0 = 0
This is a favourite device that mathematical equations resort to, when we propound stupid questions.
From Gifford Lecture, Edinburgh, (1927), 'Relativity', collected in The Nature of the Physical World (1928), 30.
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Nature does nothing without a purpose. In children may be observed the traces and seeds of what will one day be settled psychological habits, though psychologically a child hardly differs for the time being from an animal.
Aristotle
In D. W. Thompson (trans.), Historia Animalium, VIII, 1. Another translation of the first sentence is, “Nature does nothing uselessly.”
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Nature proceeds little by little from things lifeless to animal life in such a way that it is impossible to determine the exact line of demarcation, nor on which side thereof an intermediate form should lie. Thus, next after lifeless things comes the plant, and of plants one will differ from another as to its amount of apparent vitality; and, in a word, the whole genus of plants, whilst it is devoid of life as compared with an animal, is endowed with life as compared with other corporeal entities. Indeed, as we just remarked, there is observed in plants a continuous scale of ascent towards the animal. So, in the sea, there are certain objects concerning which one would be at a loss to determine whether they be animal or vegetable. For instance, certain of these objects are fairly rooted, and in several cases perish if detached.
Aristotle
History of Animals, 588b, 4-14. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.) The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 922.
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No phenomenon is a physical phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.
Quoted in Robert J. Scully, The Demon and the Quantum (2007), 191.
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Now, I must tell you of a strange experience which bore fruit in my later life. ... We had a cold [snap] drier that ever observed before. People walking in the snow left a luminous trail behind them and a snowball thrown against an obstacle gave a flare of light like a loaf of sugar hit with a knife. [As I stroked] MaÄŤak's back, [it became] a sheet of light and my hand produced a shower of sparks. ... My father ... remarked, this is nothing but electricity, the same thing you see on the trees in a storm. My mother seemed alarmed. Stop playing with the cat, she said, he might start a fire. I was thinking abstractly. Is nature a cat? If so, who strokes its back? It can only be God, I concluded. ...
I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvelous sight on my childish imagination. Day after day I asked myself what is electricity and found no answer. Eighty years have gone by since and I still ask the same question, unable to answer it.
Letter to Miss Pola Fotitch, 'A Story of Youth Told by Age' (1939). In John Ratzlaff, editor, Tesla Said (1984), 283-84. Cited in Marc J. Seifer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla (1998), 5.
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Observation by means of the microscope will reveal more wonderful things than those viewed in regard to mere structure and connection: for while the heart is still beating the contrary (i.e., in opposite directions in the different vessels) movement of the blood is observed in the vessels—though with difficulty—so that the circulation of the blood is clearly exposed.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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Observation is so wide awake, and facts are being so rapidly added to the sum of human experience, that it appears as if the theorizer would always be in arrears, and were doomed forever to arrive at imperfect conclusion; but the power to perceive a law is equally rare in all ages of the world, and depends but little on the number of facts observed.
In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1862), 383.
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On principle, there is nothing new in the postulate that in the end exact science should aim at nothing more than the description of what can really be observed. The question is only whether from now on we shall have to refrain from tying description to a clear hypothesis about the real nature of the world. There are many who wish to pronounce such abdication even today. But I believe that this means making things a little too easy for oneself.
…...
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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Our physicians have observed that, in process of time, some diseases have abated of their virulence, and have, in a manner, worn out their malignity, so as to be no longer mortal.
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Saturated with that speculative spirit then pervading the Greek mind, he [Pythagoras] endeavoured to discover some principle of homogeneity in the universe. Before him, the philosophers of the Ionic school had sought it in the matter of things; Pythagoras looked for it in the structure of things. He observed the various numerical relations or analogies between numbers and the phenomena of the universe. Being convinced that it was in numbers and their relations that he was to find the foundation to true philosophy, he proceeded to trace the origin of all things to numbers. Thus he observed that musical strings of equal lengths stretched by weights having the proportion of 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, produced intervals which were an octave, a fifth and a fourth. Harmony, therefore, depends on musical proportion; it is nothing but a mysterious numerical relation. Where harmony is, there are numbers. Hence the order and beauty of the universe have their origin in numbers. There are seven intervals in the musical scale, and also seven planets crossing the heavens. The same numerical relations which underlie the former must underlie the latter. But where number is, there is harmony. Hence his spiritual ear discerned in the planetary motions a wonderful “Harmony of spheres.”
In History of Mathematics (1893), 67.
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Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.
In Storm: The Animated Movie (2011).
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Scientists are not robotic inducing machines that infer structures of explanation only from regularities observed in natural phenomena (assuming, as I doubt, that such a style of reasoning could ever achieve success in principle). Scientists are human beings, immersed in culture, and struggling with all the curious tools of inference that mind permits ... Culture can potentiate as well as constrain–as Darwin’s translation of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economic models into biology as the theory of natural selection. In any case, objective minds do not exist outside culture, so we must make the best of our ineluctable embedding.
…...
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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Several times every day I observed the portions of the polyp with a magnifying glass. On the 4th December, that is to say on the ninth day after having cut the polyp, I seemed in the morning to be able to perceive, on the edges of the anterior end of the second part (the part that had neither head nor arms), three little points arising from those edges. They immediately made me think of the horns that serve as the legs and arms of the polyp. Nevertheless I did not want to decide at once that these were actually arms that were beginning to grow. Throughout the next day I continually observed these points: this excited me extremely, and awaited with impatience the moment when I should know with certainty what they were. At last, on the following day, they were so big that there was no longer any room for doubt that they were actually arms growing at the anterior extremity of this second part. The next day two more arms started to grow out, and a few days later three more. The second part thus had eight of them, and they were all in a short time as long as those of the first part, that is to say as long as those the polyp possessed before it was cut. I then no longer found any difference between the second part and a polyp that had never been cut. I had remarked the same thing about the first part since the day after the operation. When I observed them with the magnifying glass with all the attention of which I was capable, each of the two appeared perceptibly to be a complete polyp, and they performed all the functions that were known to me: they extended, contracted, and walked.
Mémoires, pour servir à l'histoire d'un genre de polyps d'eau douce à bras en forme de cornes (1744), 7-16. Trans. John R. Baker, in Abraham Trembley of Geneva: Scientist and Philosopher 1710-1784 (1952), 32.
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So the horns of the stag are sharp to offend his adversary, but are branched for the purpose of parrying or receiving the thrusts of horns similar to his own, and have therefore been formed for the purpose of combating other stags for the exclusive possession of the females; who are observed, like the ladies in the times of chivalry, to attend to the car of the victor... The final cause of this contest amongst the males seems to be, that the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species, which should thence become improved.
Zoonomia (1794), Vol. 1, 507.
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Some months ago we discovered that certain light elements emit positrons under the action of alpha particles. Our latest experiments have shown a very striking fact: when an aluminium foil is irradiated on a polonium preparation [alpha ray emitter], the emission of positrons does not cease immediately when the active preparation is removed: the foil remains radioactive and the emission of radiation decays exponentially as for an ordinary radio-element. We observed the same phenomenon with boron and magnesium.
[Co-author with Irčne Joliot-Curie. This one-page paper reported their discovery of artificial radioactivity for which they were awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.]
Letter to the Editor, 'Artificial Production of a New Kind of Radio-Element'(10 Jan 1934) published in Nature (1934), 133, 201-2. Cited in Mauro Dardo, Nobel Laureates and Twentieth-Century Physics (2004), 187.
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Somebody once observed to the eminent philosopher Wittgenstein how stupid medieval Europeans living before the time of Copernicus must have been that they could have looked at the sky and thought that the sun was circling the earth. Surely a modicum of astronomical good sense would have told them that the reverse was true. Wittgenstein is said to have replied: “I agree. But I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun had been circling the earth.”
In Day the Universe Changed (1985), 11.
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Strictly speaking, the observed death rate for the human condition is something like 93%—that is, around 93% of all humans have died. This means the death rate among humans who were not members of The Beatles is significantly higher than the 50% death rate among humans who were.
On website what-if.xkcd.com
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Thanks to the sharp eyes of a Minnesota man, it is possible that two identical snowflakes may finally have been observed. While out snowmobiling, Oley Skotchgaard noticed a snowflake that looked familiar to him. Searching his memory, he realized it was identical to a snowflake he had seen as a child in Vermont. Weather experts, while excited, caution that the match-up will be difficult to verify.
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 105.
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That no real Species of Living Creatures is so utterly extinct, as to be lost entirely out of the World, since it was first Created, is the Opinion of many Naturalists; and 'tis grounded on so good a Principle of Providence taking Care in general of all its Animal Productions, that it deserves our Assent. However great Vicissitudes may be observed to attend the Works of Nature, as well as Humane Affairs; so that some entire Species of Animals, which have been formerly Common, nay even numerous in certain Countries; have, in Process of time, been so perfectly soft, as to become there utterly unknown; tho' at the same time it cannot be denyed, but the kind has been carefully preserved in some other part of the World.
'A Discourse concerning the Large Horns frequently found under Ground in Ireland, Concluding from them that the great American Deer, call'd a Moose, was formerly common in that Island: With Remarks on some other things Natural to that Country', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1697), 19, 489.
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The 4th sort of creatures... which moved through the 3 former sorts, were incredibly small, and so small in my eye that I judged, that if 100 of them lay [stretched out] one by another, they would not equal the length of a grain of course Sand; and according to this estimate, ten hundred thousand of them could not equal the dimensions of a grain of such course Sand. There was discover’d by me a fifth sort, which had near the thickness of the former, but they were almost twice as long.
The first time bacteria were observed.
Letter to H. Oldenburg, 9 Oct 1676. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 2, 95.
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The aim of scientific thought, then, is to apply past experience to new circumstances; the instrument is an observed uniformity in the course of events. By the use of this instrument it gives us information transcending our experience, it enables us to infer things that we have not seen from things that we have seen; and the evidence for the truth of that information depends on our supposing that the uniformity holds good beyond our experience.
'On the Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought,' a Lecture delivered before the members of the British Association, at Brighton, on 19 Aug 1872, in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays, by the Late William Kingdon Clifford (1886), 90.
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The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabrics of science are formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions.
'The Need For General Knowledge,' Rambler No. 137 (9 Jul 1751). In Samuel Johnson, Donald Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson (1984), 223.
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The discrepancy between what was expected and what has been observed has grown over the years, and we're straining harder and harder to fill the gap.
[Commenting on the 1984 article in Nature discrediting neutrinos as the explanation for the missing mass of the universe, leaving astrophysicists more baffled for a solution.]
In 'If Theory is Right, Most of Universe is Still “Missing”', New York Times (11 Sep 1984).
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The endeavour to observe oneself must inevitably introduce changes into the course of mental events,—changes which could not have occurred without it, and whose usual consequence is that the very process which was to have been observed disappears from consciousness.
In Principles of Physiological Psychology (1873, 1904), Vol. 1, 5.
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The faith of scientists in the power and truth of mathematics is so implicit that their work has gradually become less and less observation, and more and more calculation. The promiscuous collection and tabulation of data have given way to a process of assigning possible meanings, merely supposed real entities, to mathematical terms, working out the logical results, and then staging certain crucial experiments to check the hypothesis against the actual empirical results. But the facts which are accepted by virtue of these tests are not actually observed at all. With the advance of mathematical technique in physics, the tangible results of experiment have become less and less spectacular; on the other hand, their significance has grown in inverse proportion. The men in the laboratory have departed so far from the old forms of experimentation—typified by Galileo's weights and Franklin's kite—that they cannot be said to observe the actual objects of their curiosity at all; instead, they are watching index needles, revolving drums, and sensitive plates. No psychology of 'association' of sense-experiences can relate these data to the objects they signify, for in most cases the objects have never been experienced. Observation has become almost entirely indirect; and readings take the place of genuine witness.
Philosophy in a New Key; A Study in Inverse the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942), 19-20.
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The farther researches we make into this admirable scene of things, the more beauty and harmony we see in them: And the stronger and clearer convictions they give us, of the being, power and wisdom of the divine Architect, who has made all things to concur with a wonderful conformity, in carrying on, by various and innumerable combinations of matter, such a circulation of causes, and effects, as was necessary to the great ends of nature. And since we are assured that the all-wise Creator has observed the most exact proportions, of number, weight and measure, in the make of all things; the most likely way therefore, to get any insight into the nature of those parts of the creation, which come within our observation, must in all reason be to number, weigh and measure. And we have much encouragement to pursue this method, of searching into the nature of things, from the great success that has attended any attempts of this kind.
Vegetable Staticks (1727), xxxi.
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The goal of scientific physicians in their own science … is to reduce the indeterminate. Statistics therefore apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still indeterminate.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 139.
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The hypotheses which we accept ought to explain phenomena which we have observed. But they ought to do more than this; our hypotheses ought to foretell phenomena which have not yet been observed; ... because if the rule prevails, it includes all cases; and will determine them all, if we can only calculate its real consequences. Hence it will predict the results of new combinations, as well as explain the appearances which have occurred in old ones. And that it does this with certainty and correctness, is one mode in which the hypothesis is to be verified as right and useful.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 62-63.
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The importance of group theory was emphasized very recently when some physicists using group theory predicted the existence of a particle that had never been observed before, and described the properties it should have. Later experiments proved that this particle really exists and has those properties.
Groups in the New Mathematics (1967), 7. Quoted in Rosemary Schmalz, Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians: A Quotation Book for Philomaths (1993), 42.
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The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence) might well have thought that, at [Dayton C.] Miller's announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a “positive effect” [indicating that the speed of light is not independent from the motion of the observer, as Einstein's theory of relativity demands] in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller's results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong.
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958, 1998), 13. Miller had earlier presented his evidence against the validity of the relativity theory at the annual meeting, 28 Apr 1925, of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller believed he had, by a much-refined and improved repetition of the so-called Michelson-Morley experiment, shown that there is a definite and measurable motion of the earth through the ether. In 1955, a paper by R.S. Shankland, et al., in Rev. Modern Phys. (1955), 27, 167, concluded that statistical fluctuations and temperature effects in the data had simulated what Miller had taken to be he apparent ether drift.
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The more the subject is examined the more complex must we suppose the constitution of matter in order to explain the remarkable effects observed.
In Radio-activity (1905), 1.
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The native hospital in Tunis was the focal point of my research. Often, when going to the hospital, I had to step over the bodies of typhus patients who were awaiting admission to the hospital and had fallen exhausted at the door. We had observed a certain phenomenon at the hospital, of which no one recognized the significance, and which drew my attention. In those days typhus patients were accommodated in the open medical wards. Before reaching the door of the wards they spread contagion. They transmitted the disease to the families that sheltered them, and doctors visiting them were also infected. The administrative staff admitting the patients, the personnel responsible for taking their clothes and linen, and the laundry staff were also contaminated. In spite of this, once admitted to the general ward the typhus patient did not contaminate any of the other patients, the nurses or the doctors. I took this observation as my guide. I asked myself what happened between the entrance to the hospital and the wards. This is what happened: the typhus patient was stripped of his clothes and linen, shaved and washed. The contagious agent was therefore something attached to his skin and clothing, something which soap and water could remove. It could only be the louse. It was the louse.
'Investigations on Typhus', Nobel lecture, 1928. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 181.
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The next object which I have observed is the essence or substance of the Milky Way. By the aid of a telescope anyone may behold this in a manner which so distinctly appeals to the senses that all the disputes which have tormented philosophers through so many ages are exploded at once by the irrefragable evidence of our eyes, and we are freed from wordy disputes upon this subject, for the Galaxy is nothing else but a mass of innumerable stars planted together in clusters.
In pamphlet, The Sidereal Messenger (1610), reprinted in The Sidereal Messenger of Galileo Galilei: And a Part of the Preface to the Preface to Kepler's Dioptrics Containing the Original Account of Galileo's Astronomical Discoveries (1880), 42.
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The organic creation, as we now see it ... was not placed upon the earth at once:—it observed a PROGRESS.
Explanations (1845), 30.
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The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work—that is, correctly to describe phenomena from a reasonably wide area. Furthermore, it must satisfy certain esthetic criteria—that is, in relation to how much it describes, it must be rather simple.
From 'Method in the Physical Sciences', in John von Neumann and L. Leary (ed.), The Unity of Knowledge (1955), 158. Reprinted in John Von Neumann, F. Bródy (ed.) and Tibor Vámos (ed.), The Neumann Compendium (2000), 628.
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The statistics of nihilism … “No matter how many times something new has been observed, it cannot be believed until it has been observed again.” I have also reduced my attitude toward this form of statistics to an axiom: “No matter how bad a thing you say about it, it is not bad enough.”
In Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science (1998), 75.
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The teaching process, as commonly observed, has nothing to do with the investigation and establishment of facts, assuming that actual facts may ever be determined. Its sole purpose is to cram the pupils, as rapidly and as painlessly as possible, with the largest conceivable outfit of current axioms, in all departments of human thought—to make the pupil a good citizen, which is to say, a citizen differing as little as possible, in positive knowledge and habits of mind, from all other citizens.
From Baltimore Evening Sun (12 Mar 1923). Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 316.
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The tendency of the sciences has long been an increasing proclivity of separation and dismemberment … The mathematician turns away from the chemist; the chemist from the naturalist; the mathematician, left to himself divides himself into a pure mathematician and a mixed mathematician, who soon part company … And thus science, even mere physical science, loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings at York, Oxford and Cambridge, in the last three summers. There was no general term by which these gentlemen could describe themselves with reference to their pursuits … some ingenious gentleman [William Whewell] proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form Scientist, and added that there could be no scruple … when we have words such as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
In Review of Mrs Somerville, 'On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences', The Quarterly Review (1834), 51, 58-61.
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The theory I propose may therefore be called a theory of the Electromagnetic Field because it has to do with the space in the neighbourhood of the electric or magnetic bodies, and it may be called a Dynamical Theory, because it assumes that in the space there is matter in motion, by which the observed electromagnetic phenomena are produced.
'A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field' (1865). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell(1890), Vol. 2, 527.
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The word “electromagnetic” which is used to characterize the phenomena produced by the conducting wires of the voltaic pile, … were those which M. Oersted discovered, exhibited by an electric current and a magnet. I have determined to use the word electrodynamic in order to unite under a common name all these phenomena, and particularly to designate those which I have observed between two voltaic conductors. It expresses their true character, that of being produced by electricity in motion: while the electric attractions and repulsions, which have been known for a long time, are electrostatic phenomena produced by the unequal distribution of electricity at rest in the bodies in which they are observed.
New terminology introduced in 'Experiments on the New Electrodynamical Phenomena', Annales de Chemie et de Physique (1822), Series 2, Vol. 20, 60. As translated in Dagobert David Runes (ed.), A Treasury of World Science (1962), 5.
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The wound is granulating well, the matter formed is diminishing in quantity and is laudable. But the wound is still deep and must be dressed from the bottom to ensure sound healing. … In view of the fact that sinister stories continue to be manufactured and to be printed, it may again be stated, as emphatically as possible, that during the operation no trace of malignant disease was observed, … His Majesty will leave Buckingham Palace for change of air shortly, and the date of the Coronation will be announced almost immediately.
Anonymous
In 'The King’s Progress Towards Recovery', British Medical Journal (1902), 144. The appendectomy caused the coronation of King Edward VII to be postponed.
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There is plenty of room left for exact experiment in art, and the gate has been opened for some time. What had been accomplished in music by the end of the eighteenth century has only begun in the fine arts. Mathematics and physics have given us a clue in the form of rules to be strictly observed or departed from, as the case may be. Here salutary discipline is come to grips first of all with the function of forms, and not with form as the final result … in this way we learn how to look beyond the surface and get to the root of things.
Paul Klee
Quoted in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Feb 1959), 59, citing Bauhaus-Zeitschrijt (1928).
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Thus one becomes entangled in contradictions if one speaks of the probable position of the electron without considering the experiment used to determine it ... It must also be emphasized that the statistical character of the relation depends on the fact that the influence of the measuring device is treated in a different manner than the interaction of the various parts of the system on one another. This last interaction also causes changes in the direction of the vector representing the system in the Hilbert space, but these are completely determined. If one were to treat the measuring device as a part of the system—which would necessitate an extension of the Hilbert space—then the changes considered above as indeterminate would appear determinate. But no use could be made of this determinateness unless our observation of the measuring device were free of indeterminateness. For these observations, however, the same considerations are valid as those given above, and we should be forced, for example, to include our own eyes as part of the system, and so on. The chain of cause and effect could be quantitatively verified only if the whole universe were considered as a single system—but then physics has vanished, and only a mathematical scheme remains. The partition of the world into observing and observed system prevents a sharp formulation of the law of cause and effect. (The observing system need not always be a human being; it may also be an inanimate apparatus, such as a photographic plate.)
The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, trans. Carl Eckart and Frank C. Hoyt (1949), 58.
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Thus the system of the world only oscillates around a mean state from which it never departs except by a very small quantity. By virtue of its constitution and the law of gravity, it enjoys a stability that can be destroyed only by foreign causes, and we are certain that their action is undetectable from the time of the most ancient observations until our own day. This stability in the system of the world, which assures its duration, is one of the most notable among all phenomena, in that it exhibits in the heavens the same intention to maintain order in the universe that nature has so admirably observed on earth for the sake of preserving individuals and perpetuating species.
'Sur l'Équation Séculaire de la Lune' (1786, published 1788). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 11, 248-9, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 145.
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Thus, we have three principles for increasing adequacy of data: if you must work with a single object, look for imperfections that record historical descent; if several objects are available, try to render them as stages of a single historical process; if processes can be directly observed, sum up their effects through time. One may discuss these principles directly or recognize the ‘little problems’ that Darwin used to exemplify them: orchids, coral reefs, and worms–the middle book, the first, and the last.
…...
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To day we made the grand experiment of burning the diamond and certainly the phenomena presented were extremely beautiful and interesting… The Duke’s burning glass was the instrument used to apply heat to the diamond. It consists of two double convex lenses … The instrument was placed in an upper room of the museum and having arranged it at the window the diamond was placed in the focus and anxiously watched. The heat was thus continued for 3/4 of an hour (it being necessary to cool the globe at times) and during that time it was thought that the diamond was slowly diminishing and becoming opaque … On a sudden Sir H Davy observed the diamond to burn visibly, and when removed from the focus it was found to be in a state of active and rapid combustion. The diamond glowed brilliantly with a scarlet light, inclining to purple and, when placed in the dark, continued to burn for about four minutes. After cooling the glass heat was again applied to the diamond and it burned again though not for nearly so long as before. This was repeated twice more and soon after the diamond became all consumed. This phenomenon of actual and vivid combustion, which has never been observed before, was attributed by Sir H Davy to be the free access of air; it became more dull as carbonic acid gas formed and did not last so long.
Entry (Florence, 27 Mar 1814) in his foreign journal kept whilst on a continental tour with Sir Humphry Davy. In Michael Faraday, Bence Jones (ed.), The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870), Vol. 1, 119. Silvanus Phillips Thompson identifies the Duke as the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in Michael Faraday, His Life and Work (1901), 21.
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To discover a Conception of the mind which will justly represent a train of observed facts is, in some measure, a process of conjecture, ... and the business of conjecture is commonly conducted by calling up before our minds several suppositions, selecting that one which most agrees with what we know of the observed facts. Hence he who has to discover the laws of nature may have to invent many suppositions before he hits upon the right one; and among the endowments which lead to his success, we must reckon that fertility of invention which ministers to him such imaginary schemes, till at last he finds the one which conforms to the true order of nature.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 54.
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Today we no longer ask what really goes on in an atom; we ask what is likely to be observed—and with what likelihood—when we subject atoms to any specified influences such as light or heat, magnetic fields or electric currents.
What Little I Remember (1979), 20.
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We believe the substance we have extracted from pitch-blende contains a metal not yet observed, related to bismuth by its analytical properties. If the existence of this new metal is confirmed we propose to call it polonium, from the name of the original country of one of us.
Proceedings of the Academy of Science (18 July 1898). In Eve Curie, Madame Curie (1937, 2007), 161.
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We bombarded aluminum with alpha rays … then after a certain period of irradiation, we removed the source of alpha rays. We now observed that the sheet of aluminum continued to emit positive electrons over a period of several minutes.
Describing the crucial experiment made in 1934 that discovered artificial radioactivity. As quoted in John Daintith and Derek Gjertsen, A Dictionary of Scientists (1999), 287.
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We cannot observe external things without some degree of Thought; nor can we reflect upon our Thoughts, without being influenced in the course of our reflection by the Things which we have observed.
In The Elements of Morality (1845), Vol 1, 1.
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We have also here an acting cause to account for that balance so often observed in nature,—a deficiency in one set of organs always being compensated by an increased development of some others—powerful wings accompanying weak feet, or great velocity making up for the absence of defensive weapons; for it has been shown that all varieties in which an unbalanced deficiency occurred could not long continue their existen The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.
In 'On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type', Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, Zoology (1858), 3, 61-62.
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We have here no esoteric theory of the ultimate nature of concepts, nor a philosophical championing of the primacy of the 'operation'. We have merely a pragmatic matter, namely that we have observed after much experience that if we want to do certain kinds of things with our concepts, our concepts had better be constructed in certain ways. In fact one can see that the situation here is no different from what we always find when we push our analysis to the limit; operations are not ultimately sharp or irreducible any more than any other sort of creature. We always run into a haze eventually, and all our concepts are describable only in spiralling approximation.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950 ), 9.
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We have hitherto considered those Ideas, in the reception whereof, the Mind is only passive, which are those simple ones received from Sensation and Reflection before-mentioned, whereof the Mind cannot make anyone to it self, nor have any Idea which does not wholy consist of them. But as these simple Ideas are observed to exist in several Combinations united together; so the Mind has a power to consider several of them united together, as one Idea; and that not only as they are united in external Objects, but as it self has joined them. Ideas thus made up of several simple ones put together, I call Complex; such as are Beauty, Gratitude, a Man, an Army, the Universe; which tough complicated various simple Ideas, made up of simple ones, yet are, when the Mind pleases, considered each by if self, as one entire thing, and signified by one name.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 12, Section 1, 163-4.
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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 think the heavens enjoy their spherical
Their round proportion, embracing all;
But yet their various and perplexed course,
Observed in divers ages, doth enforce
Men to find out so many eccentric parts,
Such diverse downright lines, such overthwarts,
As disproportion that pure form.
From poem, 'An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary', lines 251-257, as collected in The Poems of John Donne (1896), Vol. 2, 113.
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Well-observed facts, though brought to light by passing theories, will never die; they are the material on which alone the house of science will at last be built.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 165.
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What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on September 12, 1758, while observing the comet of that year. ... This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would not confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to shine. I observed further with suitable refractors for the discovery of comets, and this is the purpose I had in mind in compiling the catalog.
After me, the celebrated Herschel published a catalog of 2000 which he has observed. This unveiling the sky, made with instruments of great aperture, does not help in the perusal of the sky for faint comets. Thus my object is different from his, and I need only nebulae visible in a telescope of two feet [focal length].
Connaissance des Temps for 1800/1801. In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 330.
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What I chiefly admired, and thought altogether unaccountable, was the strong disposition I observed in them [the mathematicians of Laputa] towards news and politics; perpetually inquiring into public affairs; giving their judgments in matters of state; and passionately disputing every inch of party opinion. I have indeed observed the same disposition among most of the mathematicians I have known in Europe, although I could never discover the least analogy between the two sciences.
In Gulliver's Travels, Part 8, chap. 2.
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When a man of science speaks of his “data,” he knows very well in practice what he means. Certain experiments have been conducted, and have yielded certain observed results, which have been recorded. But when we try to define a “datum” theoretically, the task is not altogether easy. A datum, obviously, must be a fact known by perception. But it is very difficult to arrive at a fact in which there is no element of inference, and yet it would seem improper to call something a “datum” if it involved inferences as well as observation. This constitutes a problem. …
In The Analysis of Matter (1954).
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When a [mercury] thermometer … was made (perhaps imperfect in many ways) the result answered to my prayer; and with great pleasure of mind I observed the truth [that water boils at a fixed degree of heat].
From 'Experimenta circa gradum caloris liquorum nonnullorum ebullientium instituta', Philosophical Transactions (1724), 33, 1, as translated in William Francis Magie, A Source Book in Physics (1935), 131.
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When external objects are impressed on the sensory nerves, they excite vibrations in the aether residing in the pores of these nerves... Thus it seems that light affects both the optic nerve and the aether and ... the affections of the aether are communicated to the optic nerve, and vice versa. And the same may be observed of frictions of the skin, taste, smells and sounds... Vibrations in the aether will agitate the small particles of the medullary substance of the sensory nerves with synchronous vibrations... up to the brain... These vibrations are motions backwards and forwards of small particles, of the same kind with the oscillations of pendulums, and the tremblings of the particles of the sounding bodies (but) exceedingly short and small, so as not to have the least efficacy to disturb or move the whole bodies of the nerves... That the nerves themselves should vibrate like musical strings is highly absurd.
Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749), part 1, 11-22.
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When I was young I observed that nine out of every ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work.
…...
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Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.
Quoted in Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971), 77.
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While the method of the natural sciences is... analytic, the method of the social sciences is better described as compositive or synthetic. It is the so-called wholes, the groups of elements which are structurally connected, which we learn to single out from the totality of observed phenomena... Insofar as we analyze individual thought in the social sciences the purpose is not to explain that thought, but merely to distinguish the possible types of elements with which we shall have to reckon in the construction of different patterns of social relationships. It is a mistake... to believe that their aim is to explain conscious action ... The problems which they try to answer arise only insofar as the conscious action of many men produce undesigned results... If social phenomena showed no order except insofar as they were consciously designed, there would indeed be no room for theoretical sciences of society and there would be, as is often argued, only problems of psychology. It is only insofar as some sort of order arises as a result of individual action but without being designed by any individual that a problem is raised which demands a theoretical explanation... people dominated by the scientistic prejudice are often inclined to deny the existence of any such order... it can be shown briefly and without any technical apparatus how the independent actions of individuals will produce an order which is no part of their intentions... The way in which footpaths are formed in a wild broken country is such an instance. At first everyone will seek for himself what seems to him the best path. But the fact that such a path has been used once is likely to make it easier to traverse and therefore more likely to be used again; and thus gradually more and more clearly defined tracks arise and come to be used to the exclusion of other possible ways. Human movements through the region come to conform to a definite pattern which, although the result of deliberate decision of many people, has yet not be consciously designed by anyone.
…...
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Will it be possible to solve these problems? It is certain that nobody has thus far observed the transformation of dead into living matter, and for this reason we cannot form a definite plan for the solution of this problem of transformation. But we see that plants and animals during their growth continually transform dead into living matter, and that the chemical processes in living matter do not differ in principle from those in dead matter. There is, therefore, no reason to predict that abiogenesis is impossible, and I believe that it can only help science if the younger investigators realize that experimental abiogenesis is the goal of biology.
The Dynamics of Living Matter (1906), 223.
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[A crowd] thinks in images, and the image itself calls up a series of other images, having no logical connection with the first … A crowd scarcely distinguishes between the subjective and the objective. It accepts as real the images invoked in its mind, though they most often have only a very distant relation with the observed facts. * * * Crowds being only capable of thinking in images are only to be impressed by images. It is only images that terrify or attract them and become motives of action.
From Psychologie des Foules (1895), 29 & 56. English text in The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1897), Book 1, Chap 2, 22 & last sentence, 55. Original French text: “[La foule] pense par images, et l’image évoquée en évoque elle-męme une série d’autres n’ayant aucun lien logique avec la premičre. … La foule ne sépare gučre le subjectif de l’objectif. Elle admet comme réelles les images évoquées dans son esprit, et qui le plus souvent n’ont qu’une parenté lointaine avec le fait observé. * * * Les foules, ne pouvant penser que par images,ne se laissent impressionner que par des images. Seules les images les terrifient ou les séduisent, et deviennent des mobiles d’action.”
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[E.H.] Moore was presenting a paper on a highly technical topic to a large gathering of faculty and graduate students from all parts of the country. When half way through he discovered what seemed to be an error (though probably no one else in the room observed it). He stopped and re-examined the doubtful step for several minutes and then, convinced of the error, he abruptly dismissed the meeting—to the astonishment of most of the audience. It was an evidence of intellectual courage as well as honesty and doubtless won for him the supreme admiration of every person in the group—an admiration which was in no wise diminished, but rather increased, when at a later meeting he announced that after all he had been able to prove the step to be correct.
In Obituary, 'Eliakim Hastings Moore', The American Mathematical Monthly (Apr 1933), 40, 191.
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[In 1909,] Paris was the center of the aviation world. Aeronautics was neither an industry nor even a science; both were yet to come. It was an “art” and I might say a “passion”. Indeed, at that time it was a miracle. It meant the realization of legends and dreams that had existed for thousands of years and had been pronounced again and again as impossible by scientific authorities. Therefore, even the brief and unsteady flights of that period were deeply impressive. Many times I observed expressions of joy and tears in the eyes of witnesses who for the first time watched a flying machine carrying a man in the air.
In address (16 Nov 1964) presented to the Wings Club, New York City, Recollections and Thoughts of a Pioneer (1964), 5.
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[King Hiero II] requested Archimedes to consider [whether a crown was pure gold or alloyed with silver]. The latter, while the case was still on his mind, happened to go to the bath, and on getting into a tub observed that the more his body sank into it the more water ran out over the tub. As this pointed out the way to explain the case in question, without a moment’s delay, and transported with joy, he jumped out of the tub and rushed home naked, crying with a loud voice that he had found what he was seeking; for as he ran he shouted repeatedly in Greek, “Eὕρηκα, εὕρηκα.”
Vitruvius
This famous anecdote, being written about two centuries after Archimedes, is of questionable authenticity, but Vitruvius provided the origin of the story as we know it. In De Architectura, Book 9, Introduction, Sec. 10. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 254. Also seen translated as “While Archimedes was turning the problem over, he chanced to come to the place of bathing, and there, as he was sitting down in the tub, he noticed that the amount of water which flowed over the tub was equal to the amount by which his body was immersed. This showed him a means of solving the problem. … In his joy, he leapt out of the tub and, rushing naked towards his home, he cried out with a loud voice that he had found what he sought.” In Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, Selections Illustrating the History of Greek Mathematics (1939), 37.
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[Napoleon] directed Bourrienne to leave all his letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself, and no longer required an answer.
Lecture, 'Napoleon', collected in Representative Men (1850), 177.
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[On the 11th day of November 1572], in the evening, after sunset, when, according to my habit, I was contemplating the stars in a clear sky, I noticed that a new and unusual star, surpassing all others in brilliancy, was shining almost directly over my head; and since I had, almost from boyhood, known all the stars of the heavens perfectly (there is no great difficulty in gaining that knowledge), it was quite evident to me that there had never before been any star in that place in the sky, even the smallest, to say nothing of a star so conspicuously bright as this. I was so astonished at this sight that I was not ashamed to doubt the trustworthiness of my own eyes. But when I observed that others, too, on having the place pointed out to them, could see that there was a star there, I had no further doubts. A miracle indeed, either the greatest of all that have occurred in the whole range of nature since the beginning of the world, or one certainly that is to be classed with those attested by the Holy Oracles.
De Stello. Nova (On the New Star) (1573). Quoted in H. Shapley and A. E. Howarth (eds.), Source Book in Astronomy (1929), 13.
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… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 26
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…I distinguish two parts of it, which I call respectively the brighter and the darker. The brighter seems to surround and pervade the whole hemisphere; but the darker part, like a sort of cloud, discolours the Moon’s surface and makes it appear covered with spots. Now these spots, as they are somewhat dark and of considerable size, are plain to everyone and every age has seen them, wherefore I will call them great or ancient spots, to distinguish them from other spots, smaller in size, but so thickly scattered that they sprinkle the whole surface of the Moon, but especially the brighter portion of it. These spots have never been observed by anyone before me; and from my observations of them, often repeated, I have been led to the opinion which I have expressed, namely, that I feel sure that the surface of the Moon is not perfectly smooth, free from inequalities and exactly spherical… but that, on the contrary, it is full of inequalities, uneven, full of hollows and protuberances, just like the surface of the Earth itself, which is varied everywhere by lofty mountains and deep valleys.
Describing his pioneering telescope observations of the Moon made from Jan 1610. In The Starry Messenger (Mar 1610). Quoted in Patrick Moore, Patrick Moore on the Moon (2006), 56.
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…separation of the observer from the phenomenon to be observed is no longer possible.
Quoted in Robert J. Scully, The Demon and the Quantum (2007), 3.
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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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