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Past Quotes (152 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 afterwards, I went to him [the same actuary referred to in another quote] and very gravely told him that I had discovered the law of human mortality in the Carlisle Table, of which he thought very highly. I told him that the law was involved in this circumstance. Take the table of the expectation of life, choose any age, take its expectation and make the nearest integer a new age, do the same with that, and so on; begin at what age you like, you are sure to end at the place where the age past is equal, or most nearly equal, to the expectation to come. “You don’t mean that this always happens?”—“Try it.” He did try, again and again; and found it as I said. “This is, indeed, a curious thing; this is a discovery!” I might have sent him about trumpeting the law of life: but I contented myself with informing him that the same thing would happen with any table whatsoever in which the first column goes up and the second goes down.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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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 that 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.”
From Anniversary Address to Geological Society of London (20 Feb 1903), 'The Relations of Geology', published in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (22 May 1903), 59, Part 2, lxxviii. As reprinted in Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution (1904), 373.
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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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Beyond lonely Pluto, dark and shadowless, lies the glittering realm of interstellar space, the silent ocean that rolls on and on, past stars and galaxies alike, to the ends of the Universe. What do men know of this vast infinity, this shoreless ocean? Is it hostile or friendly–or merely indifferent?
…...
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Biological disciplines tend to guide research into certain channels. One consequence is that disciplines are apt to become parochial, or at least to develop blind spots, for example, to treat some questions as “interesting” and to dismiss others as “uninteresting.” As a consequence, readily accessible but unworked areas of genuine biological interest often lie in plain sight but untouched within one discipline while being heavily worked in another. For example, historically insect physiologists have paid relatively little attention to the behavioral and physiological control of body temperature and its energetic and ecological consequences, whereas many students of the comparative physiology of terrestrial vertebrates have been virtually fixated on that topic. For the past 10 years, several of my students and I have exploited this situation by taking the standard questions and techniques from comparative vertebrate physiology and applying them to insects. It is surprising that this pattern of innovation is not more deliberately employed.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 233.
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But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.
…...
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Cosmology does, I think, affect the way that we perceive humanity’s role in nature. One thing we’ve learnt from astronomy is that the future lying ahead is more prolonged than the past. Even our sun is less than halfway through its life.
…...
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Create a vision and never let the environment, other people’s beliefs, or the limits of what has been done in the past shape your decisions. Ignore conventional wisdom.
…...
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Does it mean, if you don’t understand something, and the community of physicists don’t understand it, that means God did it? Is that how you want to play this game? Because if it is, here’s a list of the things in the past that the physicists—at the time—didn’t understand … [but now we do understand.] If that’s how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance, that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller, as time moves on. So just be ready for that to happen, if that’s how you want to come at the problem. That’s simply the “God of the Gaps” argument that’s been around for ever.
From interview, The Science Studio video series of The Science Network website, episode 'The Moon, the Tides and why Neil DeGrasse Tyson is Colbert’s God' (20 Jan 2011), time 26:58-27:55.
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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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Faraday thinks from day to day, against a background of older thinking, and anticipating new facts of tomorrow. In other words, he thinks in three dimensions of time; past, present, and future.
In 'The Scientific Grammar of Michael Faraday’s Diaries', Part I, 'The Classic of Science', A Classic and a Founder (1937), collected in Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (1981), Vol. 1, 1.
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For all these years you were merely
A smear of light through our telescopes
On the clearest, coldest night; a hint
Of a glint, just a few pixels wide
On even your most perfectly-framed portraits.
But now, now we see you!
Swimming out of the dark - a great
Stone shark, your star-tanned skin pitted
And pocked, scarred after eons of drifting
Silently through the endless ocean of space.
Here on Earth our faces lit up as we saw
You clearly for the first time; eyes wide
With wonder we traced the strangely familiar
Grooves raked across your sides,
Wondering if Rosetta had doubled back to Mars
And raced past Phobos by mistake –
Then you were gone, falling back into the black,
Not to be seen by human eyes again for a thousand
Blue Moons or more. But we know you now,
We know you; you’ll never be just a speck of light again.
…...
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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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Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
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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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Guided only by their feeling for symmetry, simplicity, and generality, and an indefinable sense of the fitness of things, creative mathematicians now, as in the past, are inspired by the art of mathematics rather than by any prospect of ultimate usefulness.
In The Queen of the Sciences (1938), 2.
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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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He who lacks a sense of the past is condemned to live in the narrow darkness of his own generation
Quoted, and described as “an old Armenian saying”, in Differential Equations: With Applications and Historical Notes (1972), ix.
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He who neglects learning in his youth loses the past and is dead for the future
Euripides
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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.
In 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 can hear the sizzle of newborn stars, and know anything of meaning, of the fierce magic emerging here. I am witness to flexible eternity, the evolving past, and I know we will live forever, as dust or breathe in the face of stars, in the shifting pattern of winds.
Joy Harjo
In Secrets from the Center of the World (1989), 56.
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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 a mathematician of the past, an Archimedes or even a Descartes, could view the field of geometry in its present condition, the first feature to impress him would be its lack of concreteness. There are whole classes of geometric theories which proceed not only without models and diagrams, but without the slightest (apparent) use of spatial intuition. In the main this is due, to the power of the analytic instruments of investigations as compared with the purely geometric.
In 'The Present Problems in Geometry', Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1906), 286.
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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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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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If you’ve got one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re pissing on the present.
Greg Ames
Aphorism seen used by various writers, for example, in Buffalo Lockjaw (2009), 276-277. Variants also seen attributed to Michael J. Fox in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future (2010), 96; P.J. Parrish in The Killing Song (2011), 126; and Malachy McCourt. Webmaster has as yet not found a distinct primary source, and believes it may be an aphorism of unknown origin.
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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 famous passage, René Descartes tells us that he considered himself to be placed in three simultaneous domiciles, patiently recognizing his loyalties to the social past, fervidly believing in a final solution of nature’s secrets and in the meantime consecrated to the pursuit of scientific doubt. Here we have the half way house of the scientific laboratory, of the scientific mind in the midst of its campaign.
In 'The Three Dimensions of Time', Part I, 'The Classic of Science', A Classic and a Founder (1937), collected in Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (1981), Vol. 1, 14.
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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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In the past we see that periods of great intellectual activity have followed certain events which have acted by freeing the mind from dogma, extending the domain in which knowledge can be sought, and stimulating the imagination. … [For example,] the development of the cell theory and the theory of evolution.
From address, 'A Medical Retrospect'. Published in Yale Medical Journal (Oct 1910), 17, No. 2, 59.
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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 has been proposed (in despair) to define mathematics as “what mathematicians do.” Only such a broad definition, it was felt, would cover all the things that might become embodied in mathematics; for mathematicians today attack many problems not regarded as mathematics in the past, and what they will do in the future there is no saying.
In 'The Extent of Mathematics', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 11.
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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 bad enough to know the past; it would be intolerable to know the future.
As quoted in Richard Hughes, Foreign Devil: Thirty Years of Reporting From the Far East (1972) 209.
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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 usually develops that after much laborious and frustrating effort the investigator of environmental physiology succeeds in proving that the animal in question can actually exist where it lives. It is always somewhat discouraging for an investigator to realize that his efforts can be made to appear so trite, but this statement does not belittle the ecological physiologist. If his data assist the understanding of the ways in which an animal manages to live where it does, he makes an important contribution to the study of distribution, for the present is necessarily a key to the past.”
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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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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Keep some souvenirs of your past, or how will you ever prove it wasn’t all a dream?
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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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Learn to reverence night and to put away the vulgar fear of it, for, with the banishment of night from the experience of man, there vanishes as well a religious emotion, a poetic mood, which gives depth to the adventure of humanity. By day, space is one with the earth and with man - it is his sun that is shining, his clouds that are floating past; at night, space is his no more. When the great earth, abandoning day, rolls up the deeps of the heavens and the universe, a new door opens for the human spirit, and there are few so clownish that some awareness of the mystery of being does not touch them as they gaze. For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars - pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience.
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Lift off! We have a lift off 32 minutes past the hour!
NASA
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Look into the past as guidance for the future.
Quoted, without citation as epigraph in Claus Grupen, Astroparticle Physics (2005), 1. Need primary source. Can you help?
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Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future.
In The Time Machine (1898), 144.
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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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Official science is fully committed to the principle of muddling through and not looking beyond the tip of your nose. All past experience, it is said, teaches us to take only one step at a time.
From transcript of BBC radio Reith Lecture (12 Nov 1967), 'A Runaway World', on the bbc.co.uk website.
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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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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 has now been for a long time—and to an ever-increasing extent—a collective enterprise. Actually, new results are always, in fact, the work of specific individuals; but, save perhaps for rare exceptions, the value of any result depends on such a complex set of interrelations with past discoveries and possible future researches that even the mind of the inventor cannot embrace the whole.
In Oppression and Liberty (1955, 1958), 109.
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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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Since natural selection demands only adequacy, elegance of design is not relevant; any combination of behavioural adjustment, physiological regulation, or anatomical accommodation that allows survival and reproduction may be favoured by selection. Since all animals are caught in a phylogenetic trap by the nature of past evolutionary adjustments, it is to be expected that a given environmental challenge will be met in a variety of ways by different animals. The delineation of the patterns of the accommodations of diverse types of organisms to the environment contributes much of the fascination of ecologically relevant physiology.
In 'The roles of physiology and behaviour in the maintenance of homeostasis in the desert environment.', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology (1964), 11.
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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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Society expresses its sympathy for the geniuses of the past to distract attention from the fact that it has no intention of being sympathetic to the geniuses of the present.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 4.
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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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Telescopes are in some ways like time machines. They reveal galaxies so far away that their light has taken billions of years to reach us. We in astronomy have an advantage in studying the universe, in that we can actually see the past.
We owe our existence to stars, because they make the atoms of which we are formed. So if you are romantic you can say we are literally starstuff. If you’re less romantic you can say we’re the nuclear waste from the fuel that makes stars shine.
We’ve made so many advances in our understanding. A few centuries ago, the pioneer navigators learnt the size and shape of our Earth, and the layout of the continents. We are now just learning the dimensions and ingredients of our entire cosmos, and can at last make some sense of our cosmic habitat.
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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 belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
In 'The Humanization of Teaching of Mathematics', Science, New Series, 35, 645-46.
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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 economic and technological triumphs of the past few years have not solved as many problems as we thought they would, and, in fact, have brought us new problems we did not foresee.
In 'Henry Ford on What’s Wrong With the U.S.', U.S. News & World Report (1966), 60, 24.
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The history of the universe is in every one of us. Every particle in our bodies has a multibillion-year past, every cell and every bodily organ has a multimillion-year past, and many of our ways of thinking have multithousand-year pasts.
As co-author with Nancy Ellen Abrams, in The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos (2006), 151.
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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 opinion appears to be gaining ground that this very general conception of functionality, born on mathematical ground, is destined to supersede the narrower notion of causation, traditional in connection with the natural sciences. As an abstract formulation of the idea of determination in its most general sense, the notion of functionality includes and transcends the more special notion of causation as a one-sided determination of future phenomena by means of present conditions; it can be used to express the fact of the subsumption under a general law of past, present, and future alike, in a sequence of phenomena. From this point of view the remark of Huxley that Mathematics “knows nothing of causation” could only be taken to express the whole truth, if by the term “causation” is understood “efficient causation.” The latter notion has, however, in recent times been to an increasing extent regarded as just as irrelevant in the natural sciences as it is in Mathematics; the idea of thorough-going determinancy, in accordance with formal law, being thought to be alone significant in either domain.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 290.
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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 ultimate function of prophecy is not to tell the future, but to make it. Your successful past will block your visions of the future.
…...
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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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The value of mathematical instruction as a preparation for those more difficult investigations, consists in the applicability not of its doctrines but of its methods. Mathematics will ever remain the past perfect type of the deductive method in general; and the applications of mathematics to the simpler branches of physics furnish the only school in which philosophers can effectually learn the most difficult and important of their art, the employment of the laws of simpler phenomena for explaining and predicting those of the more complex. These grounds are quite sufficient for deeming mathematical training an indispensable basis of real scientific education, and regarding with Plato, one who is … as wanting in one of the most essential qualifications for the successful cultivation of the higher branches of philosophy
In System of Logic, Bk. 3, chap. 24, sect. 9.
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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 an integration of the present impressions with such past ones as they resemble, and a differentiation of them from such past ones as they do not resemble; and this comparison of present with past impressions, dependent on memory, implies classification, and is the germ of what we call Perception and Reasoning.
In Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy: Based on the Doctrine of Evolution (1874), Vol. 2, 155-156.
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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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This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 658.
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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.
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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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We sometimes are inclined to look into a science not our own as into a catalogue of results. In Faraday’s Diary, it becomes again what it really is, a campaign of mankind, balancing in any given moment, past experience, present speculation, and future experimentation, in a unique concoction of scepticism, faith, doubt, and expectation.
In 'The Scientific Grammar of Michael Faraday’s Diaries', Part I, 'The Classic of Science', A Classic and a Founder (1937), collected in Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (1981), Vol. 1, 1. The context is that Faraday, for “more than four decades. He was in the habit of describing each experiment and every observation inside and outside his laboratory, in full and accurate detail, on the very day they were made. Many of the entries discuss the consequences which he drew from what he observed. In other cases they outline the proposed course of research for the future.”
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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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When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind, and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.
…...
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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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