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Who said: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”
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Past Quotes (109 quotes)


Πάντα ῥεῖ : all things are in flux. It is inevitable that you are indebted to the past. You are fed and formed by it. The old forest is decomposed for the composition of the new forest. The old animals have given their bodies to the earth to furnish through chemistry the forming race, and every individual is only a momentary fixation of what was yesterday another’s, is today his and will belong to a third to-morrow. So it is in thought.
In Lecture, second in a series given at Freeman Place Chapel, Boston (Mar 1859), 'Quotation and Originality', collected in Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1917), 200. The Greek expression, “panta rei” is a quote from Heraclitus.
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A few days ago, a Master of Arts, who is still a young man, and therefore the recipient of a modern education, stated to me that until he had reached the age of twenty he had never been taught anything whatever regarding natural phenomena, or natural law. Twelve years of his life previously had been spent exclusively amongst the ancients. The case, I regret to say, is typical. Now we cannot, without prejudice to humanity, separate the present from the past.
'On the Study of Physics', From a Lecture delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Spring of 1854. Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 284-5.
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A hundred years ago … an engineer, Herbert Spencer, was willing to expound every aspect of life, with an effect on his admiring readers which has not worn off today.
Things do not happen quite in this way nowadays. This, we are told, is an age of specialists. The pursuit of knowledge has become a profession. The time when a man could master several sciences is past. He must now, they say, put all his efforts into one subject. And presumably, he must get all his ideas from this one subject. The world, to be sure, needs men who will follow such a rule with enthusiasm. It needs the greatest numbers of the ablest technicians. But apart from them it also needs men who will converse and think and even work in more than one science and know how to combine or connect them. Such men, I believe, are still to be found today. They are still as glad to exchange ideas as they have been in the past. But we cannot say that our way of life is well-fitted to help them. Why is this?
In 'The Unification of Biology', New Scientist (11 Jan 1962), 13, No. 269, 72.
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A strict materialist believes that everything depends on the motion of matter. He knows the form of the laws of motion though he does not know all their consequences when applied to systems of unknown complexity.
Now one thing in which the materialist (fortified with dynamical knowledge) believes is that if every motion great & small were accurately reversed, and the world left to itself again, everything would happen backwards the fresh water would collect out of the sea and run up the rivers and finally fly up to the clouds in drops which would extract heat from the air and evaporate and afterwards in condensing would shoot out rays of light to the sun and so on. Of course all living things would regrede from the grave to the cradle and we should have a memory of the future but not of the past.
The reason why we do not expect anything of this kind to take place at any time is our experience of irreversible processes, all of one kind, and this leads to the doctrine of a beginning & an end instead of cyclical progression for ever.
Letter to Mark Pattison (7 Apr 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 360-1.
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All of us are interested in our roots. Generally this interest is latent in youth, and grows with age. Until I reached fifty I thought that history of science was a refuge for old scientists whose creative juices had dried up. Now of course I know that I was wrong! As we grow older, we become more interested in the past, in family history, local history, etc. Astronomy is, or was when I started in it, almost a family.
In Organizations and Strategies in Astronomy (2002), Vol. 3, 206.
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All that comes above the surface [of the globe] lies within the province of Geography; all that comes below that surface lies inside the realm of Geology. The surface of the earth is that which, so to speak, divides them and at the same time 'binds them together in indissoluble union.' We may, perhaps, put the case metaphorically. The relationships of the two are rather like that of man and wife. Geography, like a prudent woman, has followed the sage advice of Shakespeare and taken unto her 'an elder than herself; but she does not trespass on the domain of her consort, nor could she possibly maintain the respect of her children were she to flaunt before the world the assertion that she is 'a woman with a past.'
Proceedings of the Geological Society of London (1903), 59, lxxviii.
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An archaeologist is a scientist who seeks to discover past civilizations while the present one is still around.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips & Quotes (1968, 1995), 40.
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As geology is essentially a historical science, the working method of the geologist resembles that of the historian. This makes the personality of the geologist of essential importance in the way he analyzes the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 453.
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Astronomy, as the science of cyclical motions, has nothing in common with Geology. But look at Astronomy where she has an analogy with Geology; consider our knowledge of the heavens as a palaetiological science;—as the study of a past condition, from which the present is derived by causes acting in time. Is there no evidence of a beginning, or of a progress?
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1857), Vol. 3, 516.
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Even a god cannot change the past.
Agathon
As loosely translated from a quote by Aristotle: “Hence Agathon is right in saying ‘This only is denied even to God, The power to make what has been done undone.’”. As quoted by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6, Chap. 2, translation by H. Rackham (1934). Also seen as “The one thing which even God cannot do is to make undone what has been done,” in Susan Ratcliffe (ed.), Oxford Treasury of Sayings and Quotations (2011), 329.
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Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter. This is what makes the trade of historian so attractive.
Dean Inge
In 'Prognostications', Assessments and Anticipations (1929), 149.
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Every generation has the right to build its own world out of the materials of the past, cemented by the hopes of the future.
Speech, Republican National Convention, Chicago (27 Jun 1944), 'Freedom in America and the World', collected in Addresses Upon the American Road: 1941-1945 (1946), 254.
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Evolution: At the Mind's Cinema
I turn the handle and the story starts:
Reel after reel is all astronomy,
Till life, enkindled in a niche of sky,
Leaps on the stage to play a million parts.
Life leaves the slime and through all ocean darts;
She conquers earth, and raises wings to fly;
Then spirit blooms, and learns how not to die,-
Nesting beyond the grave in others' hearts.
I turn the handle: other men like me
Have made the film: and now I sit and look
In quiet, privileged like Divinity
To read the roaring world as in a book.
If this thy past, where shall they future climb,
O Spirit, built of Elements and Time?
'Evolution: At the Mind's Cinema' (1922), in The Captive Shrew and Other Poems of a Biologist (1932), 55.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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Faced with a new mutation in an organism, or a fundamental change in its living conditions, the biologist is frequently in no position whatever to predict its future prospects. He has to wait and see. For instance, the hairy mammoth seems to have been an admirable animal, intelligent and well-accoutered. Now that it is extinct, we try to understand why it failed. I doubt that any biologist thinks he could have predicted that failure. Fitness and survival are by nature estimates of past performance.
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any certain way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry for the future as well as for the past.
From unauthorized preface Osiander anonymously added when he was entrusted with arranging the printing of the original work by Copernicus. As translated in Nicolaus Copernicus and Jerzy Dobrzycki (ed.), Nicholas Copernicus on the Revolutions (1978), xvi.
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FORTRAN —’the infantile disorder’—, by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use. PL/I —’the fatal disease’— belongs more to the problem set than to the solution set. It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration. The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence. APL is a mistake, carried through to perfection. It is the language of the future for the programming techniques of the past: it creates a new generation of coding bums.
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Geology got into the hands of the theoreticians who were conditioned by the social and political history of their day more than by observations in the field. … We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into avoiding any interpretation of the past that involves extreme and what might be termed “catastrophic” processes. However, it seems to me that the stratigraphical record is full of examples of processes that are far from “normal” in the usual sense of the word. In particular we must conclude that sedimentation in the past has often been very rapid indeed and very spasmodic. This may be called the “Phenomenon of the Catastrophic Nature of the Stratigraphic Record.”
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (3rd ed., 1993), 70.
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Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
Opening statement of 'A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace' (8 Feb 1996). Published on Electronic Frontier Foundation website. Reproduced in Lawrence Lessig, Code: Version 2.0) (2008), 302.
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Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics, in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such, and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future; the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.
Another Roadside Attraction (1990), 127.
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Have you ever plunged into the immensity of space and time by reading the geological treatises of Cuvier? Borne away on the wings of his genius, have you hovered over the illimitable abyss of the past as if a magician’s hand were holding you aloft?
From 'La Peau de Chagrin' (1831). As translated by Herbert J. Hunt in The Wild Ass’s Skin (1977), 40-41.
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Have you ever plunged into the immensity of time and space by reading the geological tracts of Cuvier? Transported by his genius, have you hovered over the limitless abyss of the past, as if held aloft by a magician’s hand?
From 'La Peau de Chagrin' (1831). As translated as by Helen Constantine The Wild Ass’s Skin (2012), 19.
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His mind illumined the Past and the Future and wrought greatly for the present. By his genius distant lands converse and men sail unafraid upon the deep.
Epitaph
Inscription on the tomb of Reginald and Helen Fessenden in Bermuda. In Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 61, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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Historians constantly rewrite history, reinterpreting (reorganizing) the records of the past. So, too, when the brain's coherent responses become part of a memory, they are organized anew as part of the structure of consciousness. What makes them memories is that they become part of that structure and thus form part of the sense of self; my sense of self derives from a certainty that my experiences refer back to me, the individual who is having them. Hence the sense of the past, of history, of memory, is in part the creation of the self.
The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: An Anatomy of Consciousness (1995), 87.
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Historical science is not worse, more restricted, or less capable of achieving firm conclusions because experiment, prediction, and subsumption under invariant laws of nature do not represent its usual working methods. The sciences of history use a different mode of explanation, rooted in the comparative and observational richness in our data. We cannot see a past event directly, but science is usually based on inference, not unvarnished observation (you don’t see electrons, gravity, or black holes either).
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Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.
Cours d'Economie Politique (1896-7), Vol. 2, 397.
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I am a Christian which means that I believe in the deity of Christ, like Tycho de Brahe, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, Pascal ... like all great astronomers mathematicians of the past.
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I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. … I feel that restrictive legislation on academic freedom is forever a thing of the past, that religion and science may now address one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and of a common quest for truth. I like to think that the Dayton trial had some part in bringing to birth this new era.
From 'Reflections—Forty Years After', in Jerry R. Tompkins (ed.), D-Days at Dayton: Reflections on the Scopes Trial(1965), 31. As quoted in Stephen Jay Gould, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), 274.
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I cannot separate land and sea: to me they interfinger like a pattern in a moss agate, positive and negative shapes irrevocably interlocked. My knowledge of this peninsula depends on that understanding: of underwater canyons that are continuations of the land, of the shell fossils far inland that measure continuations of the sea in eons past.
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I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.
Speech (Mar 1775) at the Virginia Convention. In W. Thomson (ed.), The Chartist Circular (), 244
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I like to find mavericks, students who don’t know what they’re looking for, who are sensitive and vulnerable and have unusual pasts. If you do enough work with these students you can often transform their level of contribution. After all, the real breakthroughs come from the mavericks.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 143. Mead attributes her own pioneering approach to being educated at home by her grandmother, a retired schoolteacher, whom she said “was about 50 years ahead of her time—for instance, she taught me algebra before arithmetic.”
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If ... the past may be no Rule for the future, all Experience becomes useless and can give rise to no Inferences or Conclusions.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 65.
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If I choose to impose individual blame for all past social ills, there will be no one left to like in some of the most fascinating periods of our history. For example ... if I place every Victorian anti-Semite beyond the pale of my attention, my compass of available music and literature will be pitifully small. Though I hold no shred of sympathy for active persecution, I cannot excoriate individuals who acquiesced passively in a standard societal judgment. Rail instead against the judgment, and try to understand what motivates men of decent will.
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Imagine the chaos that would arise if time machines were as common as automobiles, with tens of millions of them commercially available. Havoc would soon break loose, tearing at the fabric of our universe. Millions of people would go back in time to meddle with their own past and the past of others, rewriting history in the process. … It would thus be impossible to take a simple census to see how many people there were at any given time.
In Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and The Tenth Dimension (1994, 1995), 234.
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In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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In light of new knowledge ... an eventual world state is not just desirable in the name of brotherhood, it is necessary for survival ... Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.
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In preparing the present volume, it has been the aim of the author to do full justice to the ample material at his command, and, where possible, to make the illustrations tell the main story to anatomists. The text of such a memoir may soon lose its interest, and belong to the past, but good figures are of permanent value. [Justifying elaborate illustrations in his monographs.]
In Dinocerata: a monograph of an extinct order of gigantic mammals (1884), Preface, xvii.
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In science the insights of the past are digested and incorporated into the present in the same way that the genetic material of our ancestors is incorporated into the fabric of our body.
In ‘Tradition and Understanding’, School and Society (Nov 1969). As cited by Raymond Hide in 'A Note on Aspects of Classical Physics in the Twentieth Century', The Cultural Values of Science (2002), 357.
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Is not Cuvier the great poet of our era? Byron has given admirable expression to certain moral conflicts, but our immortal naturalist has reconstructed past worlds from a few bleached bones; has rebuilt cities, like Cadmus, with monsters’ teeth; has animated forests with all the secrets of zoology gleaned from a piece of coal; has discovered a giant population from the footprints of a mammoth.
From 'La Peau de Chagrin' (1831). As translated by Ellen Marriage in The Wild Ass’s Skin (1906), 21-22.
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It is always, our eyes alone, our way of looking at things. Nature alone knows what she means now, and what she had meant in the past.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 203.
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It is because simplicity and vastness are both beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts; that we take delight, now in following the giant courses of the stars, now in scrutinizing the microscope that prodigious smallness which is also a vastness, and now in seeking in geological ages the traces of a past that attracts us because of its remoteness.
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It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation. If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
In 'On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1863), 33, 234.
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It is the individual only who is timeless. Societies, cultures, and civilizations - past and present - are often incomprehensible to outsiders, but the individual’s hunger, anxieties, dreams, and preoccupations have remained unchanged through the millennia. Thus, we are up against the paradox that the individual who is more complex, unpredictable, and mysterious than any communal entity is the one nearest to our understanding; so near that even the interval of millennia cannot weaken our feeling of kinshiIf in some manner the voice of an individual reaches us from the remotest distance of time, it is a timeless voice speaking about ourselves.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 97.
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It may be said of many palaeontologists, as Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper said recently of 18th century historians: “Their most serious error was to measure the past by the present”.
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (1973), 26.
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It would take a civilization far more advanced than ours, unbelievably advanced, to begin to manipulate negative energy to create gateways to the past. But if you could obtain large quantities of negative energy—and that's a big “IF”—then you could create a time machine that apparently obeys Einstein's equation and perhaps the laws of quantum theory.
Quoted by J.R. Minkel in 'Borrowed Time: Interview with Michio Kaku', Scientific American (23 Nov 2003).
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I’m not an historian but I can get interested—obsessively interested—with any aspect of the past, whether it’s palaeontology or archaeology or the very recent past.
Interview with Robert McCrum, in The Observer (26 Aug 2001).
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Know thyself! This is the source of all wisdom, said the great thinkers of the past, and the sentence was written in golden letters on the temple of the gods. To know himself, Linnæus declared to be the essential indisputable distinction of man above all other creatures. I know, indeed, in study nothing more worthy of free and thoughtful man than the study of himself. For if we look for the purpose of our existence, we cannot possibly find it outside ourselves. We are here for our own sake.
As translated and quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 9, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 244.
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Lift off! We have a lift off 32 minutes past the hour!
NASA
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Looking back across the long cycles of change through which the land has been shaped into its present form, let us realise that these geographical revolutions are not events wholly of the dim past, but that they are still in progress. So slow and measured has been their march, that even from the earliest times of human history they seem hardly to have advanced at all. But none the less are they surely and steadily transpiring around us. In the fall of rain and the flow of rivers, in the bubble of springs and the silence of frost, in the quiet creep of glaciers and the tumultuous rush of ocean waves, in the tremor of the earthquake and the outburst of the volcano, we may recognise the same play of terrestrial forces by which the framework of the continents has been step by step evolved.
Lecture at the Evening Meeting, Royal Geographical Society (24 Mar 1879), 'Discussion on Geographical Evolution', in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record (1879), New Monthly Series, 1, 443.
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No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no past at my back.
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No scientist or student of science, need ever read an original work of the past. As a general rule, he does not think of doing so. Rutherford was one of the greatest experimental physicists, but no nuclear scientist today would study his researches of fifty years ago. Their substance has all been infused into the common agreement, the textbooks, the contemporary papers, the living present.
Attempting to distinguish between science and the humanities in which original works like Shakespeare's must be studied verbatim. 'The Case of Leavis and the Serious Case', (1970), reprinted in Public Affairs (1971), 94.
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Nobody knows more than a tiny fragment of science well enough to judge its validity and value at first hand. For the rest he has to rely on views accepted at second hand on the authority of a community of people accredited as scientists. But this accrediting depends in its turn on a complex organization. For each member of the community can judge at first hand only a small number of his fellow members, and yet eventually each is accredited by all. What happens is that each recognizes as scientists a number of others by whom he is recognized as such in return, and these relations form chains which transmit these mutual recognitions at second hand through the whole community. This is how each member becomes directly or indirectly accredited by all. The system extends into the past. Its members recognize the same set of persons as their masters and derive from this allegiance a common tradition, of which each carries on a particular strand.
Personal Knowledge (1958), 163.
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Organisms ... are directed and limited by their past. They must remain imperfect in their form and function, and to that extent unpredictable since they are not optimal machines. We cannot know their future with certainty, if only because a myriad of quirky functional shifts lie within the capacity of any feature, however well adapted to a present role.
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Our educational system is like an automobile which has strong rear lights, brightly illuminating the past. But looking forward things are barely discernible.
As quoted by his daughter, as given in Marsha Freeman, How We Got to the Moon: The Story of the German Space Pioneers (1993), 5.
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Our experience shows that not everything that is observable and measurable is predictable, no matter how complete our past observations may have been.
In Presidential Address (8 Feb 1963), Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (Mar 1963), 4, 197.
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Our world is not an optimal place, fine tuned by omnipotent forces of selection. It is a quirky mass of imperfections, working well enough (often admirably); a jury-rigged set of adaptations built of curious parts made available by past histories in different contexts ... A world optimally adapted to current environments is a world without history, and a world without history might have been created as we find it. History matters; it confounds perfection and proves that current life transformed its own past.
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Ours is a golden age of minorities. At no time in the past have dissident minorities felt so much at home and had so much room to throw their weight around. They speak and act as if they were “the people,” and what they abominate most is the dissent of the majority.
In 'The Trend Toward Anarchy', In Our Time (1976), 52.
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Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination—stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern—of which I am a part. … What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the “why?” It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
In 'Astronomy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1961), Vol. 1, 3-6, footnote.
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Relatively few benefits have flowed to the people who live closest to the more than 3,000 protected areas that have been established in tropical countries during the past 50 years. For this reason, the preservation of biodiversity is often thought of as something that poor people are asked to do to fulfill the wishes of rich people living in comfort thousands of miles away.
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Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response. Expelled from individual consciousness by the rush of change, history finds its revenge by stamping the collective unconsciousness with habits, values, expectations, dreams. The dialectic between past and future will continue to form our lives.
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Science only advances by renouncing its past.
Webmaster is suspicious of the authenticity of this quote. An epigraph, without citation, in Chandler Burr, Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (1997), 309. Seen in only a few recent places. It does not seem to appear in earlier decades, as might be expected for such a snappy quote. Perhaps it is a restatement of another quote. Please contact if you know the primary source.
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Scientific training gives its votaries freedom from the impositions of modern quackery. Those who know nothing of the laws and processes of Nature fall an easy prey to quacks and impostors. Perfectionism in the realm of religion; a score of frauds in the realm of medicine, as electric shoe soles, hair brushes and belts, electropises, oxydonors, insulating bed casters, and the like; Christian science. In the presence of whose unspeakable stillness and self-stultifying idealism a wise man knows not whether to laugh or cry; Prof. Weltmer's magnetic treatment of disease; divine healing and miracle working by long-haired peripatetics—these and a score of other contagious fads and rank impostures find their followers among those who have no scientific training. Among their deluded victims are thousands of men and women of high character, undoubted piety, good intentions, charitable impulses and literary culture, but none trained to scientific research. Vaccinate the general public with scientific training and these epidemics will become a thing of the past.
As quoted by S.D. Van Meter, Chairman, closing remarks for 'Report of Committee on Public Policy and Legislation', to the Colorado State Medical Society in Denver, printed in Colorado Medicine (Oct 1904), 1, No. 12, 363. Van Meter used the quote following his statement, “In conclusion, allow me to urge once more the necessity of education of the public as well as the profession if we ever expect to correct the evils we are striving to reach by State and Society legislation. Much can be accomplished toward this end by the publication of well edited articles in the secular press upon medical subjects the public is eager to know about.” Prof. Weitmer is presumably Sidney A. Weltmer, founder of The Weltmer Institute of Suggestive Therapeutics, who offered a Course in Magnetic Healing by mail order correspondance (1899).
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Simultaneous discovery is utterly commonplace, and it was only the rarity of scientists, not the inherent improbability of the phenomenon, that made it remarkable in the past. Scientists on the same road may be expected to arrive at the same destination, often not far apart.
From review '[Arthur] Koestler’s Theory of the Creative Act: “The Act of Creation”', in New Statesman (19 Jun 1964). According to Michael Scammell in his biography (Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic (2009), 491 and 654), Medawar eviscerated the book as “amateurish” with “overstretched metaphors” and “fatuous epigrams” while Koestler’s psychological insights were “in the style of the nineteenth century.” The review, with follow-ups, were reprinted in Medawar’s The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 85-98.
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So the dividing line between the wave or particle nature of matter and radiation is the moment “Now”. As this moment steadily advances through time, it coagulates a wavy future into a particle past.
In The Development of X-ray analysis (1975) 13.
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Lord Byron Quote: Newton declared himself “like a youth Picking up shells by the great ocean—Truth.”
Background of ocean and rocky outcrop with kelp on sandy shore in foreground, at Channel Islands NMS, California. , Photo by Claire Fackler, NOAA (source)
Socrates said, our only knowledge was
“To know that nothing could be known;” a pleasant
Science enough, which levels to an ass
Each Man of Wisdom, future, past, or present.
Newton, (that Proverb of the Mind,) alas!
Declared, with all his grand discoveries recent,
That he himself felt only “like a youth
Picking up shells by the great Ocean—Truth.”
From poem, 'Don Juan,' (1822), canto 7, verse V. In Lord Byron, Don Juan: Cantos VI, VII and VIII (1823), 67.
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Some blessings have been ours in the past, and these may be repeated or even multiplied.
Quoted, without citation, in front matter to T. A. Edison Foundation, Lewis Howard Latimer: A Black Inventor: a Biography and Related Experiments You Can Do (1973). If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
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The advance of science is not comparable to the changes of a city, where old edifices are pitilessly torn down to give place to new, but to the continuous evolution of zoologic types which develop ceaselessly and end by becoming unrecognisable to the common sight, but where an expert eye finds always traces of the prior work of the centuries past. One must not think then that the old-fashioned theories have been sterile and vain.
The Value of Science (1905), in The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method(1946), trans. by George Bruce Halsted, 208.
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The Archetypal idea was manifested in the flesh, under divers such modifications, upon this planet, long prior to the existence of those animal species that actually exemplify it. To what natural laws or secondary causes the orderly succession and progression of such organic phaenomena may have been committed we as yet are ignorant. But if, without derogation of the Divine power, we may conceive the existence of such ministers, and personify them by the term 'Nature,' we learn from the past history of our globe that she has advanced with slow and stately steps, guided by the archetypal light, amidst the wreck of worlds, from the first embodiment of the Vertebrate idea under its old Ichthyic vestment, until it became arrayed in the glorious garb of the Human form.
On the Nature of Limbs (1849), 86.
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The Doctrine of Evolution states the fact that the present is the child of the past and the parent of the future.
In Outline of Science: A Plain Story Simply Told (1922), Vol. 1, 185.
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The hypothetical character of continual creation has been pointed out, but why is it more of a hypothesis to say that creation is taking place now than that it took place in the past? On the contrary, the hypothesis of continual creation is more fertile in that it answers more questions and yields more results, and results that are, at least in principle, observable. To push the entire question of creation into the past is to restrict science to a discussion of what happened after creation while forbidding it to examine creation itself. This is a counsel of despair to be taken only if everything else fails.
From Cosmology (), 152.
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The increase of disorder or entropy with time is one example of what is called an arrow of time something that gives a direction to time and distinguishes the past from the future. There are at least three different directions of time. First, there is the thermodynamic arrow of time—the direction of time in which disorder or entropy increases. Second, there is the psychological arrow of time. This is the direction in which we feel time passes—the direction of time in which we remember the past, but not the future. Third, there is the cosmological arrow of time. This is the direction of time in which the universe is expanding rather than contracting.
In 'The Direction of Time', New Scientist (9 Jul 1987), 46.
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The meaning of human life and the destiny of man cannot be separable from the meaning and destiny of life in general. 'What is man?' is a special case of 'What is life?' Probably the human species is not intelligent enough to answer either question fully, but even such glimmerings as are within our powers must be precious to us. The extent to which we can hope to understand ourselves and to plan our future depends in some measure on our ability to read the riddles of the past. The present, for all its awesome importance to us who chance to dwell in it, is only a random point in the long flow of time. Terrestrial life is one and continuous in space and time. Any true comprehension of it requires the attempt to view it whole and not in the artificial limits of any one place or epoch. The processes of life can be adequately displayed only in the course of life throughout the long ages of its existence.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 9.
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The mind can quickly scan not only the past, but also the projected future consequences of a choice. Its dynamics transcend the time and space of brain physiology.
From interview collected in Pamela Weintraub (ed.), The Omni Interviews (1984), 187.
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The moral faculties are generally and justly esteemed as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should bear in mind that the activity of the mind in vividly recalling past impressions is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being.
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The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be radically different from the past. In the face of this enormous uncertainty, the least we can do for future generations is to pass on as many of the planet’s resources as possible.
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The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
Opening sentence of Prologue, in The Go-Between (1953), 9.
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The scientist, if he is to be more than a plodding gatherer of bits of information, needs to exercise an active imagination. The scientists of the past whom we now recognize as great are those who were gifted with transcendental imaginative powers, and the part played by the imaginative faculty of his daily life is as least as important for the scientist as it is for the worker in any other field—much more important than for most. A good scientist thinks logically and accurately when conditions call for logical and accurate thinking—but so does any other good worker when he has a sufficient number of well-founded facts to serve as the basis for the accurate, logical induction of generalizations and the subsequent deduction of consequences.
‘Imagination in Science’, Tomorrow (Dec 1943), 38-9. Quoted In Barbara Marinacci (ed.), Linus Pauling In His Own Words: Selected Writings, Speeches, and Interviews (1995), 82.
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The subject-matter of Archaeology is threefold—the Oral, the Written and the Monumental.
In Lecture to the Oxford meeting of the Archaeological Institute (18 Jun 1850), printed in 'On the Study of Achaeology', Archaeological Journal (1851), 8, 2.
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The unavoidable conclusion is that the unprecedented meekness of the majority is responsible for the increase in violence. Social stability is the product of an equilibrium between a vigorous majority and violent minorities. Disorder does not come from an increased inner pressure or from the interaction of explosive ingredients. There is no reason to believe that the nature of the violent minorities is now greatly different from what it was in the past. What has changed is the will and ability of the majority to react.
In 'Thoughts on the Present', First Things, Last Things (1971), 110.
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There are still psychologists who, in a basic misunderstanding, think that gestalt theory tends to underestimate the role of past experience. Gestalt theory tries to differentiate between and-summative aggregates, on the one hand, and gestalten, structures, on the other, both in sub-wholes and in the total field, and to develop appropriate scientific tools for investigating the latter. It opposes the dogmatic application to all cases of what is adequate only for piecemeal aggregates. The question is whether an approach in piecemeal terms, through blind connections, is or is not adequate to interpret actual thought processes and the role of the past experience as well. Past experience has to be considered thoroughly, but it is ambiguous in itself; so long as it is taken in piecemeal, blind terms it is not the magic key to solve all problems.
In Productive Thinking (1959), 65.
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There are two processes which we adopt consciously or unconsciously when we try to prophesy. We can seek a period in the past whose conditions resemble as closely as possible those of our day, and presume that the sequel to that period will, save for some minor alterations, be similar. Secondly, we can survey the general course of development in our immediate past, and endeavor to prolong it into the near future. The first is the method the historian; the second that of the scientist. Only the second is open to us now, and this only in a partial sphere.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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There are … two fields for human thought and action—the actual and the possible, the realized and the real. In the actual, the tangible, the realized, the vast proportion of mankind abide. The great, region of the possible, whence all discovery, invention, creation proceed, and which is to the actual as a universe to a planet, is the chosen region of genius. As almost every thing which is now actual was once only possible, as our present facts and axioms were originally inventions or discoveries, it is, under God, to genius that we owe our present blessings. In the past, it created the present; in the present, it is creating the future.
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 202.
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There are, as we have seen, a number of different modes of technological innovation. Before the seventeenth century inventions (empirical or scientific) were diffused by imitation and adaption while improvement was established by the survival of the fittest. Now, technology has become a complex but consciously directed group of social activities involving a wide range of skills, exemplified by scientific research, managerial expertise, and practical and inventive abilities. The powers of technology appear to be unlimited. If some of the dangers may be great, the potential rewards are greater still. This is not simply a matter of material benefits for, as we have seen, major changes in thought have, in the past, occurred as consequences of technological advances.
Concluding paragraph of "Technology," in Dictionary of the History of Ideas (1973), Vol. 4, 364.
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There can be no real conflict between the two Books of the Great Author. Both are revelations made by Him to man,—the earlier telling of God-made harmonies coming up from the deep past, and rising to their height when man appeared, the later teaching man's relations to his Maker, and speaking of loftier harmonies in the eternal future.
Conclusion of 'Cosmogony', the last chapter in Manual of Geology, Treating of the Principles of the Science (1863), 746.
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There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.
In The Analysis of Mind (1921) 159–160.
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There is only one law of Nature—the second law of thermodynamics—which recognises a distinction between past and future more profound than the difference of plus and minus. It stands aloof from all the rest. … It opens up a new province of knowledge, namely, the study of organisation; and it is in connection with organisation that a direction of time-flow and a distinction between doing and undoing appears for the first time.
In The Nature of the Physical World (1928, 2005), 67-68.
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Therefore, these [geotectonic] models cannot be expected to assume that the deeper parts of the earth’s crust were put together and built in a simpler way. The myth about the increasing simplicity with depth results from a general pre-scientific trend according to which the unknown or little known has to be considered simpler than the known. Many examples of this myth occur in the history of geology as, for instance, the development of views on the nature of the seafloor from the past to the present.
In 'Stockwerktektonik und Madelle van Esteinsdifferentiation', in Geotektonisches Symposium zu Ehren von Hans Stille, als Festschrift zur Vollendung seines 80, Lebensjahres (1956), 17, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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This ability to incorporate the past gives the sharpest diagnostic tool, if one asks whether a body of knowledge is a science or not. Do present practitioners have to go back to an original work of the past? Or has it been incorporated? … Science is cumulative, and embodies its past.
'The Case of Leavis and the Serious Case’, Times Literary Supplement (9 Jul 1970), 737-740. Collected in Public Affairs (1971), 95.
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Those who suggest that the “dark ages” were a time of violence and superstition would do well to remember the appalling cruelties of our own time, truly without parallel in past ages, as well as the fact that the witch-hunts were not strictly speaking a medieval phenomenon but belong rather to the so-called Renaissance.
From Interview (2003) on the Exhibition, 'Il Medioevo Europeo di Jacques le Goff' (The European Middle Ages by Jacques Le Goff), at Parma, Italy (27 Sep 2003—11 Jan 2004). Published among web pages about the Exhibition, that were on the website of the Province of Parma.
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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
Four Quartets (1943), 7.
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We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.
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We do live in a conceptual trough that encourages such yearning for unknown and romanticized greener pastures of other times. The future doesn’t seem promising, if only because we can extrapolate some disquieting present trends in to further deterioration: pollution, nationalism, environmental destruction, and aluminum bats. Therefore, we tend to take refuge in a rose-colored past ... I do not doubt the salutary, even the essential, properties of this curiously adaptive human trait, but we must also record the down side. Legends of past golden ages become impediments when we try to negotiate our current dilemma.
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We must use the past as a guidepost, not as a hitching post.
As quoted in book review, T.A. Boyd, 'Charles F. Kettering: Prophet of Progress', Science (30 Jan 1959), 255.

We ought then to consider the present state of the universe as the effect of its previous state and as the cause of that which is to follow. An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms. For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 2.
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We see past time in a telescope and present time in a microscope. Hence the apparent enormities of the present.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 380.
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What is possible can never be demonstrated to be false; and 'tis possible the course of nature may change, since we can conceive such a change. Nay, I will go farther, and assert, that he could not so much as prove by any probable arguments, that the future must be conformable to the past. All probable arguments are built on the supposition, that there is this conformity betwixt the future and the past, and therefore can never prove it. This conformity is a matter of fact, and if it must be proved, will admit of no proof but from experience. But our experience in the past can be a proof of nothing for the future, but upon a supposition, that there is a resemblance betwixt them. This therefore is a point, which can admit of no proof at all, and which we take for granted without any proof.
An Abstract of A Treatise on Human Nature (1740), ed. John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa (1938), 15.
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When every fact, every present or past phenomenon of that universe, every phase of present or past life therein, has been examined, classified, and co-ordinated with the rest, then the mission of science will be completed. What is this but saying that the task of science can never end till man ceases to be, till history is no longer made, and development itself ceases?
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 15.
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When I look back upon the past, I can only dispel the sadness which falls upon me by gazing into that happy future when the infection [puerperal fever] will be banished. But if it is not vouchsafed for me to look upon that happy time with my own eyes … the conviction that such a time must inevitably sooner or later arrive will cheer my dying hour.
[Webmaster note: He had identified that puerperal fever was transmitted to women by the “cadaveric material” on the hands of physicians coming direct from the post-mortem room to an examination. He discovered that washing the physician’s hands in a solution of chlorinated lime prevented the transmission of this disease. His doctrine was opposed by many, and he died in an insane asylum in 1865, at age 47.] Original publication, Die Aetiologie, der Begriff und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfiebvers (1861), trans. by F.P. Murphy as The Etiology, the Concept, and the Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever (1941), Foreword. As quoted in Francis Randolph Packard (ed.), Annals of Medical History (1939), 3rd Series, 1, 94; and Stephen Jay Gould, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1985), 274.
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When we look back beyond one hundred years over the long trails of history, we see immediately why the age we live in differs from all other ages in human annals. … It remained stationary in India and in China for thousands of years. But now it is moving very fast. … A priest from Thebes would probably have felt more at home at the council of Trent, two thousand years after Thebes had vanished, than Sir Isaac Newton at a modern undergraduate physical society, or George Stephenson in the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The changes have have been so sudden and so gigantic, that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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Whereas in The Two Towers you have different races, nations, cultures coming together and examining their conscience and unifying against a very real and terrifying enemy. What the United States has been doing for the past year is bombing innocent civilians without having come anywhere close to catching Osama bin Laden or any presumed enemy.
…...
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While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice.
'Spectroscopy, Molecular Orbitals, and Chemical Bonding', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1966). In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972), 159.
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While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established, and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous applications of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice. It is here that the science of measurement shows its importance—where the quantitative results are more to be desired than qualitative work. An eminent physicist has remarked that the future truths of Physical Science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.
University of Chicago, Annual Register 1894-1895 (1894), 150. Michelson also incorporated these lines in his address, 'Some of the Objects and Methods of Physical Science', at the opening of the Physics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory at the University of Kansas, reprinted in The Electrical Engineer (1 Jan 1896), 21, No. 400, 9.
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While natural selection drives Darwinian evolution, the growth of human culture is largely Lamarckian: new generations of humans inherit the acquired discoveries of generations past, enabling cosmic insight to grow slowly, but without limit.
In magazine article, 'The Beginning of Science', Natural History (Mar 2001). Collected in Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 20.
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Why is it so easy to acquire the solutions of past problems and so difficult to solve current ones
(Attributed ??) This quote is often seen, but without a citation, even on the official Marshall McLuhan website. If you known a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.
In Connections (1978, 1979), 287.
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Without adventure civilization is in full decay. ... The great fact [is] that in their day the great achievements of the past were the adventures of the past.
In Adventures of Ideas (1933), 36.
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[On common water.] Its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of air. It can assume forms of exquisite perfection in a snowflake, or strip the living to a single shining bone cast up by the sea.
From essay 'The Flow of the River', collected in The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1957, 1959), 16.
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[To] mechanical progress there is apparently no end: for as in the past so in the future, each step in any direction will remove limits and bring in past barriers which have till then blocked the way in other directions; and so what for the time may appear to be a visible or practical limit will turn out to be but a bend in the road.
Opening address to the Mechanical Science Section, Meeting of the British Association, Manchester. In Nature (15 Sep 1887), 36, 475.
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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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