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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Persistence Quotes (24 quotes)

Question: If you walk on a dry path between two walls a few feet apart, you hear a musical note or “ring” at each footstep. Whence comes this?
Answer: This is similar to phosphorescent paint. Once any sound gets between two parallel reflectors or walls, it bounds from one to the other and never stops for a long time. Hence it is persistent, and when you walk between the walls you hear the sounds made by those who walked there before you. By following a muffin man down the passage within a short time you can hear most distinctly a musical note, or, as it is more properly termed in the question, a “ring” at every (other) step.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 175-6, Question 2. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Adrenalin does not excite sympathetic ganglia when applied to them directly, as does nicotine. Its effective action is localised at the periphery. The existence upon plain muscle of a peripheral nervous network, that degenerates only after section of both the constrictor and inhibitory nerves entering it, and not after section of either alone, has been described. I find that even after such complete denervation, whether of three days' or ten months' duration, the plain muscle of the dilatator pupillae will respond to adrenalin, and that with greater rapidity and longer persistence than does the iris whose nervous relations are uninjured. Therefore it cannot be that adrenalin excites any structure derived from, and dependent for its persistence on, the peripheral neurone. But since adrenalin does not evoke any reaction from muscle that has at no time of its life been innervated by the sympathetic, the point at which the stimulus of the chemical excitant is received, and transformed into what may cause the change of tension of the muscle fibre, is perhaps a mechanism developed out of the muscle cell in response to its union with the synapsing sympathetic fibre, the function of which is to receive and transform the nervous impulse. Adrenalin might then be the chemical stimulant liberated on each occasion when the impulse arrives at the periphery.
'On the Action of Adrenalin', Proceedings of the Physiological Society, 21 May 1904, in The Journal of Physiology 1904, 31, xxi.
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An expert problem solver must be endowed with two incompatible qualities, a restless imagination and a patient pertinacity.
From In Mathematical Circles (1969).
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And when statesmen or others worry him [the scientist] too much, then he should leave with his possessions. With a firm and steadfast mind one should hold under all conditions, that everywhere the earth is below and the sky above and to the energetic man, every region is his fatherland.
as quoted in Dictionary of Scientific Quotations, by Alan L Mackay
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Bacteria represent the world’s greatest success story. They are today and have always been the modal organisms on earth; they cannot be nuked to oblivion and will outlive us all. This time is their time, not the ‘age of mammals’ as our textbooks chauvinistically proclaim. But their price for such success is permanent relegation to a microworld, and they cannot know the joy and pain of consciousness. We live in a universe of trade-offs; complexity and persistence do not work well as partners.
…...
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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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Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.
…...
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Hard work and for ever sticking to a thing till it’s done, are the main things an inventor needs.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 186.
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I never allow myself to become discouraged under any circumstances. … After we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, … we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way. We sometimes learn a lot from our failures if we have put into the effort the best thought and work we are capable of.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 89.
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I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded.
[Epitaph from Gail Borden's gravestone.]
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If you walk along the street you will encounter a number of scientific problems. Of these, about 80 per cent are insoluble, while 19½ per cent are trivial. There is then perhaps half a per cent where skill, persistence, courage, creativity and originality can make a difference. It is always the task of the academic to swim in that half a per cent, asking the questions through which some progress can be made.
'The Making of a Scientist', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, June 1983, 406.
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In working out an invention, the most important quality is persistence. Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged, that's the place to get interested.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 186.
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It is tautological to say that an organism is adapted to its environment. It is even tautological to say that an organism is physiologically adapted to its environment. However, just as in the case of many morphological characters, it is unwarranted to conclude that all aspects of the physiology of an organism have evolved in reference to a specific milieu. It is equally gratuitous to assume that an organism will inevitably show physiological specializations in its adaptation to a particular set of conditions. All that can be concluded is that the functional capacities of an organism are sufficient to have allowed persistence within its environment. On one hand, the history of an evolutionary line may place serious constraints upon the types of further physiological changes that are readily feasible. Some changes might require excessive restructuring of the genome or might involve maladaptive changes in related functions. On the other hand, a taxon which is successful in occupying a variety of environments may be less impressive in individual physiological capacities than one with a far more limited distribution.
In W.R. Dawson, G.A. Bartholomew, and A.F. Bennett, 'A Reappraisal of the Aquatic Specializations of the Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)', Evolution (1977), 31, 891.
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Mr. [Granville T.] Woods says that he has been frequently refused work because of the previous condition of his race, but he has had great determination and will and never despaired because of disappointments. He always carried his point by persistent efforts. He says the day is past when colored boys will be refused work only because of race prejudice. There are other causes. First, the boy has not the nerve to apply for work after being refused at two or three places. Second, the boy should have some knowledge of mechanics. The latter could be gained at technical schools, which should be founded for the purpose. And these schools must sooner or later be established, and thereby, we should be enabled to put into the hands of our boys and girls the actual means of livelihood.
From William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887), 108.
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Richard Drew embodied the essential spirit of the inventor, a person of vision and unrelenting persistence who refused to give in to adversity. He made an enormous contribution, not only to the growth of 3M, but also to advancement of many modern industries vital to worldwide economic growth.
Speaking at Drew's posthumous induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Akron, Ohio (4 May 2007). From Press Release (7 May 2007) on 3M Company website.
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The conditions that direct the order of the whole of the living world around us, are marked by their persistence in improving the birthright of successive generations. They determine, at much cost of individual comfort, that each plant and animal shall, on the general average, be endowed at its birth with more suitable natural faculties than those of its representative in the preceding generation.
In 'The Observed Order of Events', Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development (1882), 229.
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The frequent allegation that the selective processes in the human species are no longer 'natural' is due to persistence of the obsolete nineteenth-century concept of 'natural' selection. The error of this view is made clear when we ask its proponents such questions as, why should the 'surviving fittest' be able to withstand cold and inclement weather without the benefit of fire and clothing? Is it not ludicrous to expect selection to make us good at defending ourselves against wild beasts when wild beasts are getting to be so rare that it is a privilege to see one outside of a zoo? Is it necessary to eliminate everyone who has poor teeth when our dentists stand ready to provide us with artificial ones? Is it a great virtue to be able to endure pain when anaesthetics are available?
[Co-author with American statistician Gordon Allen]
Theodosius Dobzhansky and Gordon Allen, 'Does Natural Selection Continue to Operate in Modern Mankind?', American Anthropologist, 1956, 58, 595.
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The mystery of life is certainly the most persistent problem ever placed before the thought of man. There is no doubt that from the time humanity began to think it has occupied itself with the problem of its origin and its future which undoubtedly is the problem of life. The inability of science to solve it is absolute. This would be truly frightening were it not for faith.
Address (10 Sep 1934) to the International Congress of Electro-Radio Biology, Venice. In Associated Press, 'Life a Closed Book, Declares Marconi', New York Times (11 Sep 1934), 15.
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The process of natural selection has been summed up in the phrase “survival of the fittest.” This, however, tells only part of the story. “Survival of the existing” in many cases covers more of the truth. For in hosts of cases the survival of characters rests not on any special usefulness or fitness, but on the fact that individuals possessing these characters have inhabited or invaded a certain area. The principle of utility explains survivals among competing structures. It rarely accounts for qualities associated with geographic distribution.
The nature of animals which first colonize a district must determine what the future fauna will be. From their specific characters, which are neither useful nor harmful, will be derived for the most part the specific characters of their successors.
It is not essential to the meadow lark that he should have a black blotch on the breast or the outer tail-feather white. Yet all meadow larks have these characters just as all shore larks have the tiny plume behind the ear. Those characters of the parent stock, which may be harmful in the new relations, will be eliminated by natural selection. Those especially helpful will be intensified and modified, but the great body of characters, the marks by which we know the species, will be neither helpful nor hurtful. These will be meaningless streaks and spots, variations in size of parts, peculiar relations of scales or hair or feathers, little matters which can neither help nor hurt, but which have all the persistence heredity can give.
Foot-notes to Evolution. A Series of Popular Addresses on the Evolution of Life (1898), 218.
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The radiation of radium was “contagious”—Contagious like a persistent scent or a disease. It was impossible for an object, a plant, an animal or a person to be left near a tube of radium without immediately acquiring a notable “activity” which a sensitive apparatus could detect.
Eve Curie
In Eve Curie, Madame Curie: a Biography by Eve Curie (1937, 2007), 196.
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The sciences have sworn among themselves an inviolable partnership; it is almost impossible to separate them, for they would rather suffer than be torn apart; and if anyone persists in doing so, he gets for his trouble only imperfect and confused fragments. Yet they do not arrive all together, but they hold each other by the hand so that they follow one another in a natural order which it is dangerous to change, because they refuse to enter in any other way where they are called. ...
Les Préludes de l'Harmonie Universelle (1634), 135-139. In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 316.
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The vigorous branching of life’s tree, and not the accumulating valor of mythical marches to progress, lies behind the persistence and expansion of organic diversity in our tough and constantly stressful world. And if we do not grasp the fundamental nature of branching as the key to life’s passage across the geological stage, we will never understand evolution aright.
…...
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We took on things which people might think would take a year or two. They weren't particularly hard. What was hard was believing they weren't hard.
[Recalling high-pressure, short-deadline problem solving leading up to planned release date of Polaroid instant color film.]
Quoted in Alix Kerr, 'What It Took: Intuition, Goo,' Life (25 Jan 1963), 54, No. 4, 86.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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