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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index O > Category: Obvious

Obvious Quotes (126 quotes)

... an analysis that puts the final link in the chain, for here we see correlations between cytological evidence and genetic results that are so strong and obvious that their validity cannot be denied. This paper has been called a landmark in experimental genetics. It is more than that—it is a cornerstone.
Describing the paper 'A Correlation of Cytological and Genetic Crossings-over in Zea mays' published by Barbara McClintock and her student Harriet Creighton in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1931), demonstrating that the exchange of genetic information that occurs during the production of sex cells is accompanied by an exchange of chromosomal material.
Classic Papers in Genetics (1959), 156.
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...[T]he natural history of the rat is tragically similar to that of man ... some of the more obvious qualities in which rats resemble men — ferocity, omnivorousness, and adaptability to all climates ... the irresponsible fecundity with which both species breed at all seasons of the year with a heedlessness of consequences, which subjects them to wholesale disaster on the inevitable, occasional failure of the food supply.... [G]radually, these two have spread across the earth, keeping pace with each other and unable to destroy each other, though continually hostile. They have wandered from East to West, driven by their physical needs, and — unlike any other species of living things — have made war upon their own kind. The gradual, relentless, progressive extermination of the black rat by the brown has no parallel in nature so close as that of the similar extermination of one race of man by another...
Rats, Lice and History(1935)
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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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A science cannot be played with. If an hypothesis is advanced that obviously brings into direct sequence of cause and effect all the phenomena of human history, we must accept it, and if we accept it, we must teach it.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919), 131.
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A thing is obvious mathematically after you see it.
Used as a filler, referring to Dean R.D. Carmichael, in Franz E. Hohn (ed.), Pi Mu Epsilon Journal (Fall 1956), 2, No. 5, 224. Carmichael was Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Illinois, from 1933 to his retirement in 1947. The journal was published at the University of Illinois. Webmaster has not yet found an earlier or primary source (can you help?) but would not rule out the quote being passed down by oral tradition at the university.
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About 85 per cent of my “thinking” time was spent getting into a position to think, to make a decision, to learn something I needed to know. Much more time went into finding or obtaining information than into digesting it. Hours went into the plotting of graphs... When the graphs were finished, the relations were obvious at once, but the plotting had to be done in order to make them so.
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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Abstruse mathematical researches … are … often abused for having no obvious physical application. The fact is that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness. A new branch of mathematics, which has sprung up in the last twenty years, was denounced by the Astronomer Royal before the University of Cambridge as doomed to be forgotten, on account of its uselessness. Now it turns out that the reason why we cannot go further in our investigations of molecular action is that we do not know enough of this branch of mathematics.
In 'Conditions of Mental Development', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 115.
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Again and again in reading even his [William Thomson] most abstract writings one is struck by the tenacity with which physical ideas control in him the mathematical form in which he expressed them. An instance of this is afforded by … an example of a mathematical result that is, in his own words, “not instantly obvious from the analytical form of my solution, but which we immediately see must be the case by thinking of the physical meaning of the result.”
As given in Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 2, 1136. The ellipsis gives the reference to the quoted footnote, to a passage in his Mathematical and Physical Papers, Vol. 1, 457. [Note: William Thomson, later became Lord Kelvin. —Webmaster]
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All fossil anthropoids found hitherto have been known only from mandibular or maxillary fragments, so far as crania are concerned, and so the general appearance of the types they represented had been unknown; consequently, a condition of affairs where virtually the whole face and lower jaw, replete with teeth, together with the major portion of the brain pattern, have been preserved, constitutes a specimen of unusual value in fossil anthropoid discovery. Here, as in Homo rhodesiensis, Southern Africa has provided documents of higher primate evolution that are amongst the most complete extant. Apart from this evidential completeness, the specimen is of importance because it exhibits an extinct race of apes intermediate between living anthropoids and man ... Whether our present fossil is to be correlated with the discoveries made in India is not yet apparent; that question can only be solved by a careful comparison of the permanent molar teeth from both localities. It is obvious, meanwhile, that it represents a fossil group distinctly advanced beyond living anthropoids in those two dominantly human characters of facial and dental recession on one hand, and improved quality of the brain on the other. Unlike Pithecanthropus, it does not represent an ape-like man, a caricature of precocious hominid failure, but a creature well advanced beyond modern anthropoids in just those characters, facial and cerebral, which are to be anticipated in an extinct link between man and his simian ancestor. At the same time, it is equally evident that a creature with anthropoid brain capacity and lacking the distinctive, localised temporal expansions which appear to be concomitant with and necessary to articulate man, is no true man. It is therefore logically regarded as a man-like ape. I propose tentatively, then, that a new family of Homo-simidæ be created for the reception of the group of individuals which it represents, and that the first known species of the group be designated Australopithecus africanus, in commemoration, first, of the extreme southern and unexpected horizon of its discovery, and secondly, of the continent in which so many new and important discoveries connected with the early history of man have recently been made, thus vindicating the Darwinian claim that Africa would prove to be the cradle of mankind.
'Australopithicus africanus: The Man-Ape of South Africa', Nature, 1925, 115, 195.
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Almost everyone... seems to be quite sure that the differences between the methodologies of history and of the natural sciences are vast. For, we are assured, it is well known that in the natural sciences we start from observation and proceed by induction to theory. And is it not obvious that in history we proceed very differently? Yes, I agree that we proceed very differently. But we do so in the natural sciences as well.
In both we start from myths—from traditional prejudices, beset with error—and from these we proceed by criticism: by the critical elimination of errors. In both the role of evidence is, in the main, to correct our mistakes, our prejudices, our tentative theories—that is, to play a part in the critical discussion, in the elimination of error. By correcting our mistakes, we raise new problems. And in order to solve these problems, we invent conjectures, that is, tentative theories, which we submit to critical discussion, directed towards the elimination of error.
The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality (1993), 140.
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Altering a gene in the gene line to produce improved offspring is likely to be very difficult because of the danger of unwanted side effects. It would also raise obvious ethical problems.
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An inventor is one who can see the applicability of means to supply demand five years before it is obvious to those skilled in the art.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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At first it seems obvious, but the more you think about it the stranger the deductions from this axiom seem to become; in the end you cease to understand what is meant by it.
As quoted, without citation, in Stories about Sets (1968), 84.
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At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that everything can be subdivided into smaller parts. Nevertheless, for entirely speculative reasons the philosophers of Antiquity, especially the Stoics, concluded this concept to be quite unnecessary. The prodigious development of physics has now reached the same conclusion as those philosophers, Empedocles and Democritus in particular, who lived around 500 B.C. and for whom even ancient man had a lively admiration.
'Development of the Theory of Electrolytic Dissociation', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 45.
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But it is just this characteristic of simplicity in the laws of nature hitherto discovered which it would be fallacious to generalize, for it is obvious that simplicity has been a part cause of their discovery, and can, therefore, give no ground for the supposition that other undiscovered laws are equally simple.
From Herbert Spencer lecture delivered at Oxford (1914) 'On Scientific Method in Philosophy', collected in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1919), 102.
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But it seems to me equally obvious that the orderliness is not all-pervasive. There are streaks of order to be found among the chaos, and the nature of scientific method is to seek these out and to stick to them when found and to reject or neglect the chaos. It is obvious that we have succeeded in finding some order in nature, but this fact in itself does not prove anything farther.
Scientific Method: An Inquiry into the Character and Validy of Natural Law (1923), 200.
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Common sense … has the very curious property of being more correct retrospectively than prospectively. It seems to me that one of the principal criteria to be applied to successful science is that its results are almost always obvious retrospectively; unfortunately, they seldom are prospectively. Common sense provides a kind of ultimate validation after science has completed its work; it seldom anticipates what science is going to discover.
Quoted in A. De Reuck, M. Goldsmith and J. Knight (eds.), Decision Making in National Science Policy (1968), 96.
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Difficulties [in defining mathematics with full generality, yet simplicity] are but consequences of our refusal to see that mathematics cannot be defined without acknowledging its most obvious feature: namely, that it is interesting. Nowhere is intellectual beauty so deeply felt and fastidiously appreciated.
In Personal Knowledge (1958, 2012), 200,
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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we can see the emergence of a tension that has yet to be resolved, concerning the attitude of scientists towards the usefulness of science. During this time, scientists were careful not to stress too much their relationships with industry or the military. They were seeking autonomy for their activities. On the other hand, to get social support there had to be some perception that the fruits of scientific activity could have useful results. One resolution of this dilemma was to assert that science only contributed at the discovery stage; others, industrialists for example, could apply the results. ... Few noted the ... obvious paradox of this position; that, if scientists were to be distanced from the 'evil' effects of the applications of scientific ideas, so too should they receive no credit for the 'good' or socially beneficial, effects of their activities.
Co-author with Philip Gummett (1947- ), -British social scientist
Science, Technology and Society Today (1984), Introduction, 4.
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Each species has evolved a special set of solutions to the general problems that all organisms must face. By the fact of its existence, a species demonstrates that its members are able to carry out adequately a series of general functions. … These general functions offer a framework within which one can integrate one’s view of biology and focus one’s research. Such a view helps one to avoid becoming lost in a morass of unstructured detail—even though the ways in which different species perform these functions may differ widely. A few obvious examples will suffice. Organisms must remain functionally integrated. They must obtain materials from their environments, and process and release energy from these materials. … They must differentiate and grow, and they must reproduce. By focusing one’s questions on one or another of these obligatory and universal capacities, one can ensure that one’s research will not be trivial and that it will have some chance of achieving broad general applicability.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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Events and developments, such as … the Copernican Revolution, … occurred only because some thinkers either decided not to be bound by certain “obvious” methodological rules, or because they unwittingly broke them.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975, 1993), 14.
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Every complete set of chromosomes contains the full code; so there are, as a rule, two copies of the latter in the fertilized egg cell, which forms the earliest stage of the future individual. In calling the structure of the chromosome fibres a code-script we mean that the all-penetrating mind, once conceived by Laplace, to which every causal connection lay immediately open, could tell from their structure whether the egg would develop, under suitable conditions, into a black cock or into a speckled hen, into a fly or a maize plant, a rhododendron, a beetle, a mouse or a woman. To which we may add, that the appearances of the egg cells are very often remarkably similar; and even when they are not, as in the case of the comparatively gigantic eggs of birds and reptiles, the difference is not so much in the relevant structures as in the nutritive material which in these cases is added for obvious reasons.
But the term code-script is, of course, too narrow. The chromosome structures are at the same time instrumental in bringing about the development they foreshadow. They are law-code and executive power?or, to use another simile, they are architect's plan and builder’s craft-in one.
In What is Life? : The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (1944), 20-21.
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Everything you’ve learned in school as “obvious” becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.
…...
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Experts always tend to obscure the obvious.
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (1973), 7.
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Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.
In Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925 (1925), 6.
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Few intellectual tyrannies can be more recalcitrant than the truths that everybody knows and nearly no one can defend with any decent data (for who needs proof of anything so obvious). And few intellectual activities can be more salutary than attempts to find out whether these rocks of ages might crumble at the slightest tap of an informational hammer.
…...
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Fiction is, indeed, an indispensable supplement to logic, or even a part of it; whether we are working inductively or deductively, both ways hang closely together with fiction: and axioms, though they seek to be primary verities, are more akin to fiction. If we had realized the nature of axioms, the doctrine of Einstein, which sweeps away axioms so familiar to us that they seem obvious truths, and substitutes others which seem absurd because they are unfamiliar, might not have been so bewildering.
In The Dance of Life (1923), 86.
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First... a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.
'Pragmatism's Conception of Truth', in Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking, Popular Lectures on Philosophy (1907), 198.
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For it is obvious to everybody, I think, that this study [of astronomy] compels the soul to look upward and leads it away from things here to higher things.
Plato
The Republic 7 529a ((5th-4th century B.C.), trans. P. Shorey (1935), Vol. 2, Book 7, 179-81. Another translation gives: “For everyone, as I think, must see that astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.”
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For it is owing to their wonder that men now both begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of wisdom, for myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation were present, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for himself and not for another, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for itself.
Aristotle
Metaphysics, 982b, 12-27. In Jonathan Baines (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1554.
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For the environmentalists, The Space Option is the ultimate environmental solution. For the Cornucopians, it is the technological fix that they are relying on. For the hard core space community, the obvious by-product would be the eventual exploration and settlement of the solar system. For most of humanity however, the ultimate benefit is having a realistic hope in a future with possibilities.... If our species does not soon embrace this unique opportunity with sufficient commitment, it may miss its one and only chance to do so. Humanity could soon be overwhelmed by one or more of the many challenges it now faces. The window of opportunity is closing as fast as the population is increasing. Our future will be either a Space Age or a Stone Age.
Arthur Woods and Marco Bernasconi
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From whence it is obvious to conclude that, since our Faculties are not fitted to penetrate into the internal Fabrick and real Essences of Bodies; but yet plainly discover to us the Being of a GOD, and the Knowledge of our selves, enough to lead us into a full and clear discovery of our Duty, and great Concernment, it will become us, as rational Creatures, to imploy those Faculties we have about what they are most adapted to, and follow the direction of Nature, where it seems to point us out the way.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 11, 646.
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He [Winston Churchill] is rather like a layer cake. One layer was certainly seventeenth century. The eighteenth century in him is obvious. There was the nineteenth century, and a large slice, of course, of the twentieth century; and another, curious, layer which may possibly have been the twenty-first.
As quoted in Peter Stansky, Churchill: A Profile (1973), 197.
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I concluded that I might take as a general rule the principle that all things which we very clearly and obviously conceive are true: only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive.
In Discours de la Méthode (1637), as translated by J. Veitch, A Discourse on Method (1912), 27.
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I consider then, that generally speaking, to render a reason of an effect or Phaenomenon, is to deduce It from something else in Nature more known than it self, and that consequently there may be divers kinds of Degrees of Explication of the same thing. For although such Explications be the most satisfactory to the Understanding, wherein 'tis shewn how the effect is produc'd by the more primitive and Catholick Affection of Matter, namely bulk, shape and motion, yet are not these Explications to be despis'd, wherein particular effects are deduc'd from the more obvious and familiar Qualities or States of Bodies, ... For in the search after Natural Causes, every new measure of Discovery does both instinct and gratifie the Understanding.
Physiological Essays (1669), 20.
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I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
Attributed. Quoted in James GleickChaos (1988), 38. Contact webmaster if you know a primary print source.
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I notice that, in the lecture … which Prof. Lowry gave recently, in Paris … he brought forward certain freak formulae for tartaric acid, in which hydrogen figures as bigamist … I may say, he but follows the loose example set by certain Uesanians, especially one G. N. Lewis, a Californian thermodynamiter, who has chosen to disregard the fundamental canons of chemistry—for no obvious reason other than that of indulging in premature speculation upon electrons as the cause of valency…
'Bigamist Hydrogen. A Protest', Nature (1926), 117, 553.
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If the proof starts from axioms, distinguishes several cases, and takes thirteen lines in the text book … it may give the youngsters the impression that mathematics consists in proving the most obvious things in the least obvious way.
Mathematical Discovery: on Understanding, Learning, and Teaching Problem Solving (1981), 129.
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If, then, there must be something eternal, let us see what sort of Being it must be. And to that it is very obvious to Reason, that it must necessarily be a cogitative Being. For it is as impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative Matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being, as that nothing should of itself produce Matter...
In Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690, 1801), Book 4, Chap. 10, Sec. 10, 114.
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In a sense, of course, probability theory in the form of the simple laws of chance is the key to the analysis of warfare;… My own experience of actual operational research work, has however, shown that its is generally possible to avoid using anything more sophisticated. … In fact the wise operational research worker attempts to concentrate his efforts in finding results which are so obvious as not to need elaborate statistical methods to demonstrate their truth. In this sense advanced probability theory is something one has to know about in order to avoid having to use it.
In 'Operations Research', Physics Today (Nov 1951), 19. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 25.
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In my estimation it was obvious that Jansky had made a fundamental and very important discovery. Furthermore, he had exploited it to the limit of his equipment facilities. If greater progress were to be made it would be necessary to construct new and different equipment especially designed to measure the cosmic static.
Reber explaining his own motivation to build the first radio telescope.
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In this respect mathematics fails to reproduce with complete fidelity the obvious fact that experience is not composed of static bits, but is a string of activity, or the fact that the use of language is an activity, and the total meanings of terms are determined by the matrix in which they are embedded.
In The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 58.
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It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
…...
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It is a curious property of research activity that after the problem has been solved the solution seems obvious. This is true not only for those who have not previously been acquainted with the problem, but also for those who have worked over it for years.
Address at the Franklin Institute (1937). Journal of the Franklin Institute (1937), 224, 277. Also see Paul C. Wensberg, Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man who Invented It (1987), 31.
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It is an obvious and imperative duty of every teacher of mathematics to study the masterpieces of mathematical literature.
In A Preface to Mathematics (1938), 76.
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It is appallingly obvious that our technology exceeds our humanity.
…...
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It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
In Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
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It is obvious that man dwells in a splendid universe, a magnificent expanse of earth and sky and heaven, which manifestly is built on a majestic plan, maintains some mighty design, though man himself cannot grasp it. Yet for him it is not a pleasant or satisfying world. In his few moments of respite from labor or from his enemies, he dreams that this very universe might indeed be perfect, its laws operating just as now they seem to do, and yet he and it somehow be in full accord. The very ease with which he can frame this image to himself makes the reality all the more mocking. ... It is only too clear that man is not at home in this universe, and yet he is not good enough to deserve a better.
In The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939, 1954), 7.
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It is obvious that we know with certainty, that the Flütz [layered] and primitive mountains have been produced by a series of precipitations and depositions formed in succession; that they took place from water which covered the globe, existing always more or less generally, and containing the different substances which have been produced from them.
In New Theory of the Formation of Veins (1809), 110-1.
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It is obvious that while science is struggling to bring Heaven to earth some men are using its materials in the construction of Hell.
Address delivered to Annual Meeting of the York Bible Class, Toronto, Canada (22 Nov 1938), 'The Imperative Need for Moral Re-armament', collected in America's Way Forward (1939), 51.
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It is very desirable to have a word to express the Availability for work of the heat in a given magazine; a term for that possession, the waste of which is called Dissipation. Unfortunately the excellent word Entropy, which Clausius has introduced in this connexion, is applied by him to the negative of the idea we most naturally wish to express. It would only confuse the student if we were to endeavour to invent another term for our purpose. But the necessity for some such term will be obvious from the beautiful examples which follow. And we take the liberty of using the term Entropy in this altered sense ... The entropy of the universe tends continually to zero.
Sketch of Thermodynamics (1868), 100-2.
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It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.
In Foundation (1951), 88.
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It seems to me that the older subjects, classics and mathematics, are strongly to be recommended on the ground of the accuracy with which we can compare the relative performance of the students. In fact the definiteness of these subjects is obvious, and is commonly admitted. There is however another advantage, which I think belongs in general to these subjects, that the examinations can be brought to bear on what is really most valuable in these subjects.
In Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 6-7.
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It seems very strange … that in the course of the world’s history so obvious an improvement should never have been adopted. … The next generation of Britishers would be the better for having had this extra hour of daylight in their childhood.
In Report, and Special Report, from the Select Committee on the Daylight Saving Bill: Minutes of Evidence (1908), 116.
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It takes many years of training to ignore the obvious.
Magazine
In The Economist (18 Nov 1898), 77. As quoted and cited in Robert G. Evans, 'Health Care as a Threat to Health: Defense, Opulence, and the Social Environment', Daedalus (Fall 1994), 124, No. 123, 22 & Note 1 on p.40.
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It was obvious—to me at any rate—that the answer was to why an enzyme is able to speed up a chemical reaction by as much as 10 million times. It had to do this by lowering the energy of activation—the energy of forming the activated complex. It could do this by forming strong bonds with the activated complex, but only weak bonds with the reactants or products.
Quoted In Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 284.
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It’s hard to explain to people what the significance of an invention is, so it’s hard to get funding. The first thing they say is that it can’t be done. Then they say, “You didn't do it right.” Then, when you’ve done it, they finally say, “Well, it was obvious anyway.”
http://www.thetech.org/nmot/detail.cfm?id=95&st=awardDate&qt=1997&kiosk=Off
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Man has never been a particularly modest or self-deprecatory animal, and physical theory bears witness to this no less than many other important activities. The idea that thought is the measure of all things, that there is such a thing as utter logical rigor, that conclusions can be drawn endowed with an inescapable necessity, that mathematics has an absolute validity and controls experience—these are not the ideas of a modest animal. Not only do our theories betray these somewhat bumptious traits of self-appreciation, but especially obvious through them all is the thread of incorrigible optimism so characteristic of human beings.
In The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 135-136.
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Many psychologists ... thought by turning their attention to their own consciousness to be able to explain what happened when we were thnking. Or they sought to attain the same end by asking another person a question, by means of which certain processes of thought would be excited, and then by questioning the person about the introspection he had made. It is obvious ... that nothing can be discovered in such experiments.
An Introduction to Psychology (1912)
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Mathematics is perfectly free in its development and is subject only to the obvious consideration, that its concepts must be free from contradictions in themselves, as well as definitely and orderly related by means of definitions to the previously existing and established concepts.
In Grundlagen einer allgemeinen Manigfaltigkeitslehre (1883), Sect. 8.
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Mathematics make the mind attentive to the objects which it considers. This they do by entertaining it with a great variety of truths, which are delightful and evident, but not obvious. Truth is the same thing to the understanding as music to the ear and beauty to the eye. The pursuit of it does really as much gratify a natural faculty implanted in us by our wise Creator as the pleasing of our senses: only in the former case, as the object and faculty are more spiritual, the delight is more pure, free from regret, turpitude, lassitude, and intemperance that commonly attend sensual pleasures.
In An Essay on the Usefulness of Mathematical Learning (1701), 3-4.
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My original decision to devote myself to science was a direct result of the discovery which has never ceased to fill me with enthusiasm since my early youth—the comprehension of the far from obvious fact that the laws of human reasoning coincide with the laws governing the sequences of the impressions we receive from the world about us; that, therefore, pure reasoning can enable man to gain an insight into the mechanism of the latter. In this connection, it is of paramount importance that the outside world is something independent from man, something absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute appeared to me as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 13.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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No one should feel at all offended or threatened by the obvious fact that we are not all born entirely blank, or entirely the same, in our mixture of the broad behavioral propensities defining what we call ‘temperament.’
…...
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No question is so difficult as that to which the answer is obvious.
Anonymous
Saying.
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No question is so difficult to answer as that which the answer is obvious.
…...
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Not seldom did he [Sir William Thomson], in his writings, set down some mathematical statement with the prefacing remark “it is obvious that” to the perplexity of mathematical readers, to whom the statement was anything but obvious from such mathematics as preceded it on the page. To him it was obvious for physical reasons that might not suggest themselves at all to the mathematician, however competent.
As given in Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 2, 1136. [Note: William Thomson, later became Lord Kelvin —Webmaster]
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Nothing could be more obvious than that the earth is stable and unmoving, and that we are in the center of the universe. Modern Western science takes its beginning from the denial of this common sense axiom.
In The Discoverers (2011), 294.
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Obvious facts are apt to be over-rated. System-makers see the gravitation of history, and fail to observe its chemistry, of greater though less evident power.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 179.
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Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world.
Concerning philanthropy and investment in alternative energy research. In Tim Walker, 'Sergey Brin: Engine Driver', Independent (15 Jan 2010).
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Once when lecturing to a class he [Lord Kelvin] used the word “mathematician,” and then interrupting himself asked his class: “Do you know what a mathematician is?” Stepping to the blackboard he wrote upon it:— [an integral expression equal to the square root of pi]
Then putting his finger on what he had written, he turned to his class and said: “A mathematician is one to whom that is as obvious as that twice two makes four is to you. Liouville was a mathematician.”
In Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), 1139.
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One feature which will probably most impress the mathematician accustomed to the rapidity and directness secured by the generality of modern methods is the deliberation with which Archimedes approaches the solution of any one of his main problems. Yet this very characteristic, with its incidental effects, is calculated to excite the more admiration because the method suggests the tactics of some great strategist who foresees everything, eliminates everything not immediately conducive to the execution of his plan, masters every position in its order, and then suddenly (when the very elaboration of the scheme has almost obscured, in the mind of the spectator, its ultimate object) strikes the final blow. Thus we read in Archimedes proposition after proposition the bearing of which is not immediately obvious but which we find infallibly used later on; and we are led by such easy stages that the difficulties of the original problem, as presented at the outset, are scarcely appreciated. As Plutarch says: “It is not possible to find in geometry more difficult and troublesome questions, or more simple and lucid explanations.” But it is decidedly a rhetorical exaggeration when Plutarch goes on to say that we are deceived by the easiness of the successive steps into the belief that anyone could have discovered them for himself. On the contrary, the studied simplicity and the perfect finish of the treatises involve at the same time an element of mystery. Though each step depends on the preceding ones, we are left in the dark as to how they were suggested to Archimedes. There is, in fact, much truth in a remark by Wallis to the effect that he seems “as it were of set purpose to have covered up the traces of his investigation as if he had grudged posterity the secret of his method of inquiry while he wished to extort from them assent to his results.” Wallis adds with equal reason that not only Archimedes but nearly all the ancients so hid away from posterity their method of Analysis (though it is certain that they had one) that more modern mathematicians found it easier to invent a new Analysis than to seek out the old.
In The Works of Archimedes (1897), Preface, vi.
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One precept for the scientist-to-be is already obvious. Do not place yourself in an environment where your advisor is already suffering from scientific obsolescence. If one is so unfortunate as to receive his training under a person who is either technically or intellectually obsolescent, one finds himself to be a loser before he starts. It is difficult to move into a position of leadership if one’s launching platform is a scientific generation whose time is already past.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 229.
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Probably among all the pursuits of the University, mathematics pre-eminently demand self-denial, patience, and perseverance from youth, precisely at that period when they have liberty to act for themselves, and when on account of obvious temptations, habits of restraint and application are peculiarly valuable.
In The Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 12.
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Significant advances in science often have a peculiar quality: they contradict obvious, commonsense opinions.
A Slot Machine, A Broken Test Tube: An Autobiography (1984).
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Since an organism is inseparable from its environment, any person who attempts to understand an organism’s distribution must keep constantly in mind that the item being studied is neither a stuffed skin, a pickled specimen, nor a dot on a map. It is not even the live organism held in the hand, caged in a laboratory, or seen in the field. It is a complex interaction between a self-sustaining physicochemical system and the environment. An obvious corollary is that to know the organism it is necessary to know its environment.
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 83.
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Since the stomach gives no obvious external sign of its workings, investigators of gastric movements have hitherto been obliged to confine their studies to pathological subjects or to animals subjected to serious operative interference. Observations made under these necessarily abnormal conditions have yielded a literature which is full of conflicting statements and uncertain results. The only sure conclusion to be drawn from this material is that when the stomach receives food, obscure peristaltic contractions are set going, which in some way churn the food to a liquid chyme and force it into the intestines. How imperfectly this describes the real workings of the stomach will appear from the following account of the actions of the organ studied by a new method. The mixing of a small quantity of subnitrate of bismuth with the food allows not only the contractions of the gastric wall, but also the movements of the gastric contents to be seen with the Röntgen rays in the uninjured animal during normal digestion.
In 'The Movements of the Stomach Studied by Means of the Röntgen Rays,' American Journal of Physiology (1898), 1, 359-360.
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Sir Hiram Maxim is a genuine and typical example of the man of science, romantic, excitable, full of real but somewhat obvious poetry, a little hazy in logic and philosophy, but full of hearty enthusiasm and an honorable simplicity. He is, as he expresses it, “an old and trained engineer,” and is like all of the old and trained engineers I have happened to come across, a man who indemnifies himself for the superhuman or inhuman concentration required for physical science by a vague and dangerous romanticism about everything else.
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 87.
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So far, the clumsily long name 'quasi-stellar radio sources' is used to describe these objects. Because the nature of these objects is entirely unknown, it is hard to prepare a short, appropriate nomenclature for them so that their essential properties are obvious from their name. For convenience, the abbreviated form 'quasar' will be used throughout this paper.
'Gravitational Collapse', Physics Today, 1964, 17, 21.
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Some persons have contended that mathematics ought to be taught by making the illustrations obvious to the senses. Nothing can be more absurd or injurious: it ought to be our never-ceasing effort to make people think, not feel.
Seven Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton (1856) 24.
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Symbolism is useful because it makes things difficult. Now in the beginning everything is self-evident, and it is hard to see whether one self-evident proposition follows from another or not. Obviousness is always the enemy to correctness. Hence we must invent a new and difficult symbolism in which nothing is obvious. … Thus the whole of Arithmetic and Algebra has been shown to require three indefinable notions and five indemonstrable propositions.
In International Monthly (1901), 4, 85-86.
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That was the beginning, and the idea seemed so obvious to me and so elegant that I fell deeply in love with it. And, like falling in love with a woman, it is only possible if you do not know much about her, so you cannot see her faults. The faults will become apparent later, but after the love is strong enough to hold you to her. So, I was held to this theory, in spite of all difficulties, by my youthful enthusiasm.
Expressing how his work on quantum electrodynamics began with an original idea. In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 157.
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The average gambler will say “The player who stakes his whole fortune on a single play is a fool, and the science of mathematics can not prove him to be otherwise.” The reply is obvious: “The science of mathematics never attempts the impossible, it merely shows that other players are greater fools.”
Concluding remarks to his mathematical proof, with certain assumptions, that the best betting strategy for “Gambler’s Ruin” would be to always make his largest stake on his first play. In 'Gambler’s Ruin', Annals of Mathematics (Jul 1909), 2nd Series, 10, No. 4, 189. This is also seen, without primary source, quoted as “It is true that a man who does this is a fool. I have only proved that a man who does anything else is an even bigger fool,” in Harold Eves, Return to Mathematical Circles (1988), 39.
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The concept of number is the obvious distinction between the beast and man. Thanks to number, the cry becomes a song, noise acquires rhythm, the spring is transformed into a dance, force becomes dynamic, and outlines figures.
Epigraph, without citation, in Corrective and Social Psychiatry and Journal of Behavior Technology Methods and Therapy (1966), Vol. 12, 409.
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The discovery of an interaction among the four hemes made it obvious that they must be touching, but in science what is obvious is not necessarily true. When the structure of hemoglobin was finally solved, the hemes were found to lie in isolated pockets on the surface of the subunits. Without contact between them how could one of them sense whether the others had combined with oxygen? And how could as heterogeneous a collection of chemical agents as protons, chloride ions, carbon dioxide, and diphosphoglycerate influence the oxygen equilibrium curve in a similar way? It did not seem plausible that any of them could bind directly to the hemes or that all of them could bind at any other common site, although there again it turned out we were wrong. To add to the mystery, none of these agents affected the oxygen equilibrium of myoglobin or of isolated subunits of hemoglobin. We now know that all the cooperative effects disappear if the hemoglobin molecule is merely split in half, but this vital clue was missed. Like Agatha Christie, Nature kept it to the last to make the story more exciting. There are two ways out of an impasse in science: to experiment or to think. By temperament, perhaps, I experimented, whereas Jacques Monod thought.
From essay 'The Second Secret of Life', collected in I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier (1998), 263-5.
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The fact that stares one in the face is that people of the greatest sincerity and of all levels of intelligence differ and have always differed in their religious beliefs. Since at most one faith can be true, it follows that human beings are extremely liable to believe firmly and honestly in something untrue in the field of revealed religion. One would have expected this obvious fact to lead to some humility, to some thought that however deep one's faith, one may conceivably be mistaken. Nothing is further from the believer, any believer, than this elementary humility. All in his power … must have his faith rammed down their throats. In many cases children are indeed indoctrinated with the disgraceful thought that they belong to the one group with superior knowledge who alone have a private wire to the office of the Almighty, all others being less fortunate than they themselves.
From 'Religion is a Good Thing', collected in R. Duncan and M. Wesson-Smith (eds.) Lying Truths: A Critical Scruting of Current Beliefs and Conventions (1979), 205. As quoted in Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (1984), 6-7.
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The fact that, with respect to size, the viruses overlapped with the organisms of the biologist at one extreme and with the molecules of the chemist at the other extreme only served to heighten the mystery regarding the nature of viruses. Then too, it became obvious that a sharp line dividing living from non-living things could not be drawn and this fact served to add fuel for discussion of the age-old question of “What is life?”
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1946), 'The Isolation and Properties of Crystalline Tobacco Mosaic Virus', collected in Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), 140.
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The fundamental hypothesis of genetic epistemology is that there is a parallelism between the progress made in the logical and rational organization of knowledge and the corresponding formative psychological processes. With that hypothesis, the most fruitful, most obvious field of study would be the reconstituting of human history—the history of human thinking in prehistoric man. Unfortunately, we are not very well informed in the psychology of primitive man, but there are children all around us, and it is in studying children that we have the best chance of studying the development of logical knowledge, physical knowledge, and so forth.
'Genetic Epistemology', Columbia Forum (1969), 12, 4.
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The job of theorists, especially in biology, is to suggest new experiments. A good theory makes not only predictions, but surprising predictions that then turn out to be true. (If its predictions appear obvious to experimentalists, why would they need a theory?)
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 142.
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The links between ecosystem and human health are many and obvious: the value in wetlands of filtering pollutants out of groundwater aquifers; the potential future medical use of different plants’ genetic material; the human health effects of heavy metal accumulation in fish and shellfish. It is clear that healthy ecosystems provide the underpinnings for the long-term health of economics and societies.
…...
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The mathematician starts with a few propositions, the proof of which is so obvious that they are called self-evident, and the rest of his work consists of subtle deductions from them. The teaching of languages, at any rate as ordinarily practised, is of the same general nature authority and tradition furnish the data, and the mental operations are deductive.
In 'Scientific Education: Notes of an After-Dinner Speech' (Delivered to Liverpool Philomathic Society, Apr 1869), published in Macmillan’s Magazine (Jun 1869), 20, No. 116, 177. Collected in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1871), Chap 4, 66.
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The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterward.
In The Act of Creation (1964), 120.
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The most important and lasting truths are the most obvious ones. Nature cheats us with her mysteries, one after another, like a juggler with his tricks; but shews us her plain honest face, without our paying for it.
Characteristics: In the Manner of Rochefoucault's Maxims (1837), 149.
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The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.
From Address (Jun 1963) to the Irish Parliament, Dublin, as collected in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy (1964), 537.
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The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. … It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wilderness lies in wait.
In Orthodoxy (1908), 148.
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The scientist is not content to stop at the obvious.
'Problems in Medical Education', Collected Papers of the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation (1926), 18, 1093. Cited in The Journal of the American Dental Association (1955), 50, 198. , Volume 50
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The theory of numbers is particularly liable to the accusation that some of its problems are the wrong sort of questions to ask. I do not myself think the danger is serious; either a reasonable amount of concentration leads to new ideas or methods of obvious interest, or else one just leaves the problem alone. “Perfect numbers” certainly never did any good, but then they never did any particular harm.
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 74.
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The truth is, the Science of Nature has been already too long made only a work of the Brain and the Fancy: It is now high time that it should return to the plainness and soundness of Observations on material and obvious things.
Micrographia (1665). In Extracts from Micrographia (1906), 10.
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Then one day Lagrange took out of his pocket a paper which he read at the Académe, and which contained a demonstration of the famous Postulatum of Euclid, relative to the theory of parallels. This demonstration rested on an obvious paralogism, which appeared as such to everybody; and probably Lagrange also recognised it such during his lecture. For, when he had finished, he put the paper back in his pocket, and spoke no more of it. A moment of universal silence followed, and one passed immediately to other concerns.
Quoting Lagrange at a meeting of the class of mathematical and physical sciences at the Institut de France (3 Feb 1806) in Journal des Savants (1837), 84, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled ‘Nature.’” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature”—but beavers and their dams are.
In Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 263.
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There is thus a possibility that the ancient dream of philosophers to connect all Nature with the properties of whole numbers will some day be realized. To do so physics will have to develop a long way to establish the details of how the correspondence is to be made. One hint for this development seems pretty obvious, namely, the study of whole numbers in modern mathematics is inextricably bound up with the theory of functions of a complex variable, which theory we have already seen has a good chance of forming the basis of the physics of the future. The working out of this idea would lead to a connection between atomic theory and cosmology.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 129.
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These facts shaw that mitosis is due to the co-ordinate play of an extremely complex system of forces which are as yet scarcely comprehended. Its purpose is, however, as obvious as its physiological explanation is difficult. It is the end of mitosis to divide every part of the chromatin of the mother-cell equally between the daughter-nuclei. All the other operations are tributary to this. We may therefore regard the mitotic figure as essentially an apparatus for the distribution of the hereditary substance, and in this sense as the especial instrument of inheritance.
The Cell in Development and Inheritance (1896), 86.
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Thus, we see that one of the obvious origins of human disagreement lies in the use of noises for words.
Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1958), 82.
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Time has a different quality in a forest, a different kind of flow. Time moves in circles, and events are linked, even if it’s not obvious that they are linked. Events in a forest occur with precision in the flow of tree time, like the motions of an endless dance.
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring
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To prove to an indignant questioner on the spur of the moment that the work I do was useful seemed a thankless task and I gave it up. I turned to him with a smile and finished, 'To tell you the truth we don't do it because it is useful but because it's amusing.' The answer was thought of and given in a moment: it came from deep down in my soul, and the results were as admirable from my point of view as unexpected. My audience was clearly on my side. Prolonged and hearty applause greeted my confession. My questioner retired shaking his head over my wickedness and the newspapers next day, with obvious approval, came out with headlines 'Scientist Does It Because It's Amusing!' And if that is not the best reason why a scientist should do his work, I want to know what is. Would it be any good to ask a mother what practical use her baby is? That, as I say, was the first evening I ever spent in the United States and from that moment I felt at home. I realised that all talk about science purely for its practical and wealth-producing results is as idle in this country as in England. Practical results will follow right enough. No real knowledge is sterile. The most useless investigation may prove to have the most startling practical importance: Wireless telegraphy might not yet have come if Clerk Maxwell had been drawn away from his obviously 'useless' equations to do something of more practical importance. Large branches of chemistry would have remained obscure had Willard Gibbs not spent his time at mathematical calculations which only about two men of his generation could understand. With this faith in the ultimate usefulness of all real knowledge a man may proceed to devote himself to a study of first causes without apology, and without hope of immediate return.
A.V. Hill
Quoted in Larry R. Squire (ed.), The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography (1996), Vol. I, 351.
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To this day, we see all around us the Promethean drive to omnipotence through technology and to omniscience through science. The effecting of all things possible and the knowledge of all causes are the respective primary imperatives of technology and of science. But the motivating imperative of society continues to be the very different one of its physical and spiritual survival. It is now far less obvious than it was in Francis Bacon's world how to bring the three imperatives into harmony, and how to bring all three together to bear on problems where they superpose.
In 'Science, Technology and the Fourth Discontinuity' (1982). Reprinted in The Advancement of Science, and its Burdens (1986), 183.
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Very little comes easily to our poor, benighted species (the first creature, after all, to experiment with the novel evolutionary inventions of self-conscious philosophy and art). Even the most ‘obvious,’ ‘accurate,’ and ‘natural’ style of thinking or drawing must be regulated by history and won by struggle. Solutions must therefore arise within a social context and record the complex interactions of mind and environment that define the possibility of human improvement.
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We cannot conceive how the Foetus is form'd in the Womb, nor as much as how a Plant springs from the Earth we tread on ... And if we are ignorant of the most obvious things about us, and the most considerable within our selves, 'tis then no wonder that we know not the constitution and powers of the creatures, to whom we are such strangers.
Saducismus Triumphatus or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1689),72-3.
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We find in the history of ideas mutations which do not seem to correspond to any obvious need, and at first sight appear as mere playful whimsies—such as Apollonius’ work on conic sections, or the non-Euclidean geometries, whose practical value became apparent only later.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 515.
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We spend long hours discussing the curious situation that the two great bodies of biological knowledge, genetics and embryology, which were obviously intimately interrelated in development, had never been brought together in any revealing way. An obvious difficulty was that the most favorable organisms for genetics, Drosophila as a prime example, were not well suited for embryological study, and the classical objects of embryological study, sea urchins and frogs as examples, were not easily investigated genetically. What might we do about it? There were two obvious approaches: one to learn more about the genetics of an embryologically favourable organism, the other to better understand the development of Drosophila. We resolved to gamble up to a year of our lives on the latter approach, this in Ephrussi’s laboratory in Paris which was admirably equipped for tissue culture, tissue or organ transplantation, and related techniques.
In 'Recollections', Annual Review of Biochemistry, 1974, 43, 6.
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What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
From 'Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World', quoted in Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest (1971), 40-41.
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What is important is the gradual development of a theory, based on a careful analysis of the ... facts. ... Its first applications are necessarily to elementary problems where the result has never been in doubt and no theory is actually required. At this early stage the application serves to corroborate the theory. The next stage develops when the theory is applied to somewhat more complicated situations in which it may already lead to a certain extent beyond the obvious and familiar. Here theory and application corroborate each other mutually. Beyond lies the field of real success: genuine prediction by theory. It is well known that all mathematized sciences have gone through these successive stages of evolution.
'Formulation of the Economic Problem' in Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1964), 8. Reprinted in John Von Neumann, F. Bródy (ed.) and Tibor Vámos (ed.), The Neumann Compendium (2000), 416.
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What is peculiar and new to the [19th] century, differentiating it from all its predecessors, is its technology. It was not merely the introduction of some great isolated inventions. It is impossible not to feel that something more than that was involved. … The process of change was slow, unconscious, and unexpected. In the nineteeth century, the process became quick, conscious, and expected. … The whole change has arisen from the new scientific information. Science, conceived not so much in its principles as in its results, is an obvious storehouse of ideas for utilisation. … Also, it is a great mistake to think that the bare scientific idea is the required invention, so that it has only to be picked up and used. An intense period of imaginative design lies between. One element in the new method is just the discovery of how to set about bridging the gap between the scientific ideas, and the ultimate product. It is a process of disciplined attack upon one difficulty after another This discipline of knowledge applies beyond technology to pure science, and beyond science to general scholarship. It represents the change from amateurs to professionals. … But the full self-conscious realisation of the power of professionalism in knowledge in all its departments, and of the way to produce the professionals, and of the importance of knowledge to the advance of technology, and of the methods by which abstract knowledge can be connected with technology, and of the boundless possibilities of technological advance,—the realisation of all these things was first completely attained in the nineteeth century.
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 1997), 96.
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Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice the men will have forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances. Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your textbooks, burnt your lecture notes, and forgotten the minutiae which you learned by heart for the examination. What, in the way of detail, you continually require will stick in your memory as obvious facts like the sun and the moon; and what you casually require can be looked up in any work of reference. The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles. When I speak of principles I am hardly even thinking of verbal formulations. A principle which has thoroughly soaked into you is rather a mental habit than a formal statement. It becomes the way the mind reacts to the appropriate stimulus in the form of illustrative circumstances. Nobody goes about with his knowledge clearly and consciously before him. Mental cultivation is nothing else than the satisfactory way in which the mind will function when it is poked up into activity.
In 'The Rhythm of Education', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 41.
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When an apparent fact runs contrary to logic and common sense, it’s obvious that you have failed to interpret the fact correctly.
In Orphans of the Sky (1963, 1964), 169.
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When the inclination is not obvious, the mind meanders, or maunders, as a stream in a flat meadow.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 222.
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Wherever possible, scientists experiment. Which experiments suggest themselves often depends on which theories currently prevail. Scientists are intent of testing those theories to the breaking point. They do not trust what is intuitively obvious. That the Earth is flat was once obvious. That heavy bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious. That bloodsucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious. That some people are naturally and by divine decree slaves was once obvious. That there is such a place as the center of the Universe, and that the Earth sits in that exalted spot was once obvious. That there is an absolute standard of rest was once obvious. The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment is how we get a handle on it.
In The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle in the Dark (1995), 36.
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While no one can ascribe a single weather event to climate change with any degree of scientific certainty, higher maximum temperatures are one of the most predictable impacts of accelerated global warming, and the parallels—between global climate change and global terrorism—are becoming increasingly obvious.
In 'Global Warming is Now a Weapon of Mass Destruction', The Guardian (28 Jul 2003).
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Why it is that animals, instead of developing in a simple and straightforward way, undergo in the course of their growth a series of complicated changes, during which they often acquire organs which have no function, and which, after remaining visible for a short time, disappear without leaving a trace ... To the Darwinian, the explanation of such facts is obvious. The stage when the tadpole breathes by gills is a repetition of the stage when the ancestors of the frog had not advanced in the scale of development beyond a fish.
In The Works of Francis Maitland Balfour (1885), Vol. 1, 702.
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Why then be concerned about the conservation of wildlife when for all practical purposes we would be much better off if humans and their domestic animals and pets were the only living creatures on the face of the earth? There is no obvious and demolishing answer to this rather doubtful logic although in practice the destruction of all wild animals would certainly bring devastating changes to our existence on this planet as we know it today...The trouble is that everything in nature is completely interdependent. Tinker with one part of it and the repercussions ripple out in all directions...Wildlife - and that includes everything from microbes to blue whales and from a fungus to a redwood tree - has been so much part of life on the earth that we are inclined to take its continued existence for granted...Yet the wildlife of the world is disappearing, not because of a malicious and deliberate policy of slaughter and extermination, but simply because of a general and widespread ignorance and neglect.
…...
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You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity. When you get it right, it is obvious that it is right—at least if you have any experience—because usually what happens is that more comes out than goes in. … The inexperienced, the crackpots, and people like that, make guesses that are simple, but you can immediately see that they are wrong, so that does not count. Others, the inexperienced students, make guesses that are very complicated, and it sort of looks as if it is all right, but I know it is not true because the truth always turns out to be simpler than you thought.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 171.
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You see, if the height of the mercury [barometer] column is less on the top of a mountain than at the foot of it (as I have many reasons for believing, although everyone who has so far written about it is of the contrary opinion), it follows that the weight of the air must be the sole cause of the phenomenon, and not that abhorrence of a vacuum, since it is obvious that at the foot of the mountain there is more air to have weight than at the summit, and we cannot possibly say that the air at the foot of the mountain has a greater aversion to empty space than at the top.
In letter to brother-in-law Perier (Nov 1647) as given in Daniel Webster Hering, Physics: the Science of the Forces of Nature (1922), 114. As also stated by Hering, Perier conducted an experiment on 19 Sep 1648 comparing readings on two barometers, one at the foot, and another at the top of 4,000-ft Puy-de-Dôme neighboring mountain.
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[About a conference on Systematic Biology] Many interesting statements were made that apply directly to the work of taxonomists. In some cases the interest lay in the value of the suggestion and sometimes in the obvious need for rebuttal.
In 'Illogicality in Criticism', Systematic Zoology (Dec 1969), 18, No. 4, 470.
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[My dream dinner guest is] Charles Darwin. It’s an obvious answer, but it’s the truth. Think of any problem and before you start theorising, just check up whether Charles Darwin mentioned it in one of those green books sitting on your shelf. Whether it’s earthworms, human gestures or the origin of species, the observations that man made are unbelievable. He touched on so many subjects. Then, Alexander von Humboldt, the last polymath. There was no aspect of the natural world that he wasn’t curious about or didn’t write about in Kosmos, an extraordinary book.
From interview with Alice Roberts, 'Attenborough: My Life on Earth', The Biologist (Aug 2015), 62, No. 4, 16.
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[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
Cosmos (1985), 277.
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“Obvious” is the most dangerous word in mathematics.
In The Queen of the Sciences (1938), 14.
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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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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 40 -
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