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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Play Quotes (98 quotes)

Strictly Germ-proof

The Antiseptic Baby and the Prophylactic Pup
Were playing in the garden when the Bunny gamboled up;
They looked upon the Creature with a loathing undisguised;—
It wasn't Disinfected and it wasn't Sterilized.

They said it was a Microbe and a Hotbed of Disease;
They steamed it in a vapor of a thousand-odd degrees;
They froze it in a freezer that was cold as Banished Hope
And washed it in permanganate with carbolated soap.

In sulphurated hydrogen they steeped its wiggly ears;
They trimmed its frisky whiskers with a pair of hard-boiled shears;
They donned their rubber mittens and they took it by the hand
And elected it a member of the Fumigated Band.

There's not a Micrococcus in the garden where they play;
They bathe in pure iodoform a dozen times a day;
And each imbibes his rations from a Hygienic Cup—
The Bunny and the Baby and the Prophylactic Pup.
Printed in various magazines and medical journals, for example, The Christian Register (11 Oct 1906), 1148, citing Women's Home Companion. (Making fun of the contemporary national passion for sanitation.)
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Die Welt der chemischen Vorgänge gleicht einer Bühne, auf welcher sich in unablässiger Aufeinanderfolge Scene um Scene abspielt. Die handelnden Personen auf ihr sind die Elemente.
The world of chemical reactions is like a stage, on which scene after scene is ceaselessly played. The actors on it are the elements.
Original German quote in Mary Elvira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 2, citing Winkler, 'Ueber die Entdeckung neuer Elemente im Verlaufe der letzten fünfundzwanzig Jahre," Ber. (Jan 1897), 30, 13. Translation in Mary Elvira Weeks and Henry M. Leicester (ed.)The Discovery of the Elements (6th ed. 1956), 3.
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Gott würfelt nicht.
God does not play dice.
Commonly seen paraphrase. Einstein expressed this idea at different times. See variations on this website on the Albert Einstein Quotes page.
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La determination de la relation & de la dépendance mutuelle de ces données dans certains cas particuliers, doit être le premier but du Physicien; & pour cet effet, il falloit one mesure exacte qui indiquât d’une manière invariable & égale dans tous les lieux de la terre, le degré de l'électricité au moyen duquel les expéiences ont été faites… Aussi, l'histoire de l'électricité prouve une vérité suffisamment reconnue; c'est que le Physicien sans mesure ne fait que jouer, & qu'il ne diffère en cela des enfans, que par la nature de son jeu & la construction de ses jouets.
The determination of the relationship and mutual dependence of the facts in particular cases must be the first goal of the Physicist; and for this purpose he requires that an exact measurement may be taken in an equally invariable manner anywhere in the world… Also, the history of electricity yields a well-known truth—that the physicist shirking measurement only plays, different from children only in the nature of his game and the construction of his toys.
'Mémoire sur la mesure de force de l'électricité', Journal de Physique (1782), 21, 191. English version by Google Translate tweaked by Webmaster.
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Lepidoptera are for children to play with, pretty to look at, so some think. Give me the Coleoptera, and the kings of the Coleoptera are the beetles! Lepidoptera and Neuroptera for little folks; Coleoptera for men, sir!
In 'The Poet at the Breakfast Table: III', The Atlantic Monthly (Mar 1872), 29, 344.
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Louis Agassiz quote: A man cannot be professor of zoölogy on one day and of chemistry on the next, and do good work in both. As
A man cannot be professor of zoölogy on one day and of chemistry on the next, and do good work in both. As in a concert all are musicians,—one plays one instrument, and one another, but none all in perfection.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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A mathematician’s work is mostly a tangle of guesswork, analogy, wishful thinking and frustration, and proof, far from being the core of discovery, is more often than not a way of making sure that our minds are not playing tricks.
In Rota's 'Introduction' written (1980) to preface Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh, The Mathematical Experience (1981, 2012), xxii.
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A science cannot be played with. If an hypothesis is advanced that obviously brings into direct sequence of cause and effect all the phenomena of human history, we must accept it, and if we accept it, we must teach it.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919), 131.
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All knowledge and understanding of the Universe was no more than playing with stones and shells on the seashore of the vast imponderable ocean of truth.
…...
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Astrology fosters astronomy. Mankind plays its way up.
The original German “Astrologie fördert Astronomie. Die Menschen spielen sich in die Höhe,” appears in Ernst Volkmann (ed.), Aphorismen: Eine Sammlung aus Lichtenbergs Gedankenbüchern (1944), 85. However, so far, this is the only German source found by Webmaster. English as gived in H.W. Auden, The Faber Book of Aphorisms (1962), 261.
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Bacon himself was very ignorant of all that had been done by mathematics; and, strange to say, he especially objected to astronomy being handed over to the mathematicians. Leverrier and Adams, calculating an unknown planet into a visible existence by enormous heaps of algebra, furnish the last comment of note on this specimen of the goodness of Bacon’s view… . Mathematics was beginning to be the great instrument of exact inquiry: Bacon threw the science aside, from ignorance, just at the time when his enormous sagacity, applied to knowledge, would have made him see the part it was to play. If Newton had taken Bacon for his master, not he, but somebody else, would have been Newton.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 53-54.
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Be glad of life, because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.
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Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year’s Southern Conference champion, from the NCAA championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple-two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton players shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from 20 feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots-the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball-and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.
A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton
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But weightier still are the contentment which comes from work well done, the sense of the value of science for its own sake, insatiable curiosity, and, above all, the pleasure of masterly performance and of the chase. These are the effective forces which move the scientist. The first condition for the progress of science is to bring them into play.
from his preface to Claude Bernard's 'Experimental Medicine'
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But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask; why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
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Chance... in the accommodation peculiar to sensorimotor intelligence, plays the same role as in scientific discovery. It is only useful to the genius and its revelations remain meaningless to the unskilled.
The Origin of Intelligence in the Child (1936), trans. Margaret Cook (1953), 303.
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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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Einstein never accepted quantum mechanics because of this element of chance and uncertainty. He said: God does not play dice. It seems that Einstein was doubly wrong. The quantum effects of black holes suggests that not only does God play dice, He sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.
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Einstein was wrong when he said, 'God does not play dice'. Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can't be seen.
In The Nature Of Space And Time (1996, 2010), 26.
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Elaborate apparatus plays an important part in the science of to-day, but I sometimes wonder if we are not inclined to forget that the most important instrument in research must always be the mind of man.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1951), ix.
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Erasmus Darwin held that every so often you should try a damn-fool experiment. He played the trombone to his tulips. This particular result was, in fact, negative.
In 'The Mathematician’s Art of Work' (1967), collected in Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 194. Webmaster has looked for a primary source to verify this statement and so far has found none. Can you help?
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Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future. If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.
Interview (1977), as quoted in Kenneth C. Davis, Don't Know Much About History (2009), 435.
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Every phenomenon, however trifling it be, has a cause, and a mind infinitely powerful, and infinitely well-informed concerning the laws of nature could have foreseen it from the beginning of the ages. If a being with such a mind existed, we could play no game of chance with him; we should always lose.
Science and Method (1908), trans. Francis Maitland (1914), 65.
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Everyone is aware of the difficult and menacing situation in which human society–shrunk into one community with a common fate–now finds itself, but only a few act accordingly. Most people go on living their every-day life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghostly tragicomedy which is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world. But on that stage, on which the actors under the floodlights play their ordained parts, our fate of tomorrow, life or death of the nations, is being decided.
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Five centuries ago the printing press sparked a radical reshaping of the nature of education. By bringing a master’s words to those who could not hear a master’s voice, the technology of printing dissolved the notion that education must be reserved for those with the means to hire personal tutors. Today we are approaching a new technological revolution, one whose impact on education may be as far-reaching as that of the printing press: the emergence of powerful computers that are sufficiently inexpensive to be used by students for learning, play and exploration. It is our hope that these powerful but simple tools for creating and exploring richly interactive environments will dissolve the barriers to the production of knowledge as the printing press dissolved the barriers to its transmission.
As co-author with A.A. diSessa, from 'Preface', Turtle Geometry: The Computer as a Medium for Exploring Mathematics (1986), xiii.
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From my father I learned to build things, to take them apart, and to fix mechanical and electrical equipment in general. I spent vast hours in a woodworking shop he maintained in the basement of our house, building gadgets, working both with my father and alone, often late into the night. … This play with building, fixing, and designing was my favorite activity throughout my childhood, and was a wonderful preparation for my later career as an experimentalist working on the frontiers of chemistry and physics.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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God is a child; and when he began to play, he cultivated mathematics. It is the most godly of man’s games.
Said by the fictional character, mathematics teacher, Professor Hirt, in Das Blinde Spiel (The Blind Game, 1954), 253. As translated in an epigraph, Stanley Gudder, A Mathematical Journey (1976), 269. From the original German, “Gott ist ein Kind, und als er zu spielen begann, trieb er Mathematik. Die Mathematik ist göttlichste Spielerei unter den Menschen”, as quoted in Herbert Meschkowski, Hundert Jahre Mengenlehre (1973), 119.
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God is dead not because He doesn’t exist, but because we live, play, procreate, govern, and die as though He doesn’t.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 30
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God not only plays dice. He also sometimes throws the dice where they cannot be seen.
…...
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Have fun: You only go through life once, but if you play it right once is enough.
In J.S. "Torch" Lewis, 'Lear the Legend', Aviation Week & Space Technology (2 Jul 2001 ), 155 Supplement, No 1, 116
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Isaac Newton Quote: like a boy playing on the seashore [pebbles]…whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me
Click image for larger 800 x 500px version
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
First reported in Joseph Spence, Anecdotes, Observations and Characters, of Books and Men (1820), Vol. 1 of 1966 edn, sect. 1259, p. 462. Purported to have been addressed by Newton in the final year of his life (1727) to Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsey (which conflicts with the Dictionary of National Biography article giving that he was in France at the time). Quoted in David Brewster, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (1855), Vol. 2, 407.
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I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play or not.
…...
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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I play a tiresome game.
As quoted on the website mcescher.com, without citation.
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I wish there was a verb to otter, ottering around in pure play, to honour Otter ludens, which plays in my mind long after I’ve seen one.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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If a person sweeps streets for a living, he should sweep them as Michelangelo painted, as Beethoven composed music, as Shakespeare wrote his plays.
As quoted, without citation, in Patricia J. Raskin, Pathfinding: Seven Principles for Positive Living (2002), 102.
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Imagine that … the world is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. … If we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules…. However, we might not be able to understand why a particular move is made in the game, merely because it is too complicated and our minds are limited…. We must limit ourselves to the more basic question of the rules of the game.
If we know the rules, we consider that we “understand” the world.
In 'Basic Physics', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964, 2013), Vol. 1, 2-1.
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In Heaven there'll be no algebra,
No learning dates or names,
But only playing golden harps
And reading Henry James.
Anonymous
Displayed at James’s home, Lambs House in Rye. Said to have been written by Henry James’s nephew in the guest book there, as stated in J.D. McClatchy, Sweet Theft: A Poet's Commonplace Book (2016), 212. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1619027607 J.D. McClatchy - 2016
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In physiology, as in all other sciences, no discovery is useless, no curiosity misplaced or too ambitious, and we may be certain that every advance achieved in the quest of pure knowledge will sooner or later play its part in the service of man.
The Linacre Lecture on the Law of the Heart (1918), 147.
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In the printed page the only real things are the paper and the ink; the white spaces play the same part in aiding the eye to take in the meaning of the print as do the black letters.
From Under the Apple-Trees (1916), 302.
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Inspiration in the field of science by no means plays any greater role, as academic conceit fancies, than it does in the field of mastering problems of practical life by a modern entrepreneur. On the other hand, and this also is often misconstrued, inspiration plays no less a role in science than it does in the realm of art.
Max Weber
In 'Wissenschart aIs Berur', Gessammelte Aufslitze zur Wlssenschaftslehre (1922), 524-525. Originally a Speech at Munich University. Translated as 'Science as a Vocation', reprinted in H. H. Gerlh and C. Wright-Mills (eds.), Max Weber (1974), 136.
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It is hard to sneak a look at God’s cards. But that he would choose to play dice with the world … is something I cannot believe for a single moment.
On quantum theory. In Letter (21 Mar 1942) to his student-colleague, Cornel Lanczos. In Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 229. Also seen paraphrased as, “I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe.”
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It is sages and grey-haired philosophers who ought to sit up all night reading Alice in Wonderland in order to study that darkest problem of metaphysics, the borderland between reason and unreason, and the nature of the most erratic of spiritual forces, humour, which eternally dances between the two. That we do find a pleasure in certain long and elaborate stories, in certain complicated and curious forms of diction, which have no intelligible meaning whatever, is not a subject for children to play with; it is a subject for psychologists to go mad over.
In 'The Library of the Nursery', in Lunacy and Letters (1958), 26.
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It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can’t go on without the facts … if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly.
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 137.
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It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.
Quoted, without citation, as a column filler, in New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, Mental Hygiene News (1949), Volumes 20-26, 20. Webmaster has so far been unable to find a primary source, so please contact if you know the primary source.
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Let no one say that I have said nothing new; the arrangement of the subject is new. When we play tennis, we both play with the same ball, but one of us places it better.
In Pensées (1670), Section 7, No. 9. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 14. From the French, “Qu’on ne dise pas que je n’ai rien dit de nouveau: la disposition des matières est nouvelle. Quand on joue à la paume, c’est une même balle dont on joue l’un et l’autre; mais l’un la place mieux,” in Oeuvres Complètes de Blaise Pascal (1864), Vol. 1, 287.
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Many professional mathematicians regard their work as a form of play, in the same way professional golfers or basketball stars might.
In his final retrospective article, 'A Quarter-Century of Recreational Mathematics', Scientific American (Aug 1998).
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Mathematicians pretend to count by means of a system supposed to satisfy the so-called Peano axioms. In fact, the piano has only 88 keys; hence, anyone counting with these axioms is soon played out.
In Mathematics Made Difficult (1971). As quoted in Michael Stueben and Diane Sandford, Twenty Years Before the Blackboard (1998), 131.
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Mathematics gives the young man a clear idea of demonstration and habituates him to form long trains of thought and reasoning methodically connected and sustained by the final certainty of the result; and it has the further advantage, from a purely moral point of view, of inspiring an absolute and fanatical respect for truth. In addition to all this, mathematics, and chiefly algebra and infinitesimal calculus, excite to a high degree the conception of the signs and symbols—necessary instruments to extend the power and reach of the human mind by summarizing an aggregate of relations in a condensed form and in a kind of mechanical way. These auxiliaries are of special value in mathematics because they are there adequate to their definitions, a characteristic which they do not possess to the same degree in the physical and mathematical [natural?] sciences.
There are, in fact, a mass of mental and moral faculties that can be put in full play only by instruction in mathematics; and they would be made still more available if the teaching was directed so as to leave free play to the personal work of the student.
In 'Science as an Instrument of Education', Popular Science Monthly (1897), 253.
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Mathematics is a game played according to certain simple rules with meaningless marks on paper.
Given as narrative, without quotation marks, in Eric Temple Bell, Mathematics, Queen and Servant of Science (1951, 1961), 21.
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Mssr. Fermat—what have you done?
Your simple conjecture has everyone
Churning out proofs,
Which are nothing but goofs!
Could it be that your statement’s an erudite spoof?
A marginal hoax
That you’ve played on us folks?
But then you’re really not known for your practical jokes.
Or is it then true
That you knew what to do
When n was an integer greater than two?
Oh then why can’t we find
That same proof…are we blind?
You must be reproved, for I’m losing my mind.
In 'Fermat's Last Theorem', Mathematics Magazine (Apr 1986), 59, No. 2, 76.
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Nature offers us a thousand simple pleasures—plays of light and color, fragrance in the air, the sun’s warmth on skin and muscle, the audible rhythm of life’s stir and push—for the price of merely paying attention. What joy! But how unwilling or unable many of us are to pay this price in an age when manufactured sources of stimulation and pleasure are everywhere at hand. For me, enjoying nature’s pleasures takes conscious choice, a choice to slow down to seed time or rock time, to still the clamoring ego, to set aside plans and busyness, and to simply to be present in my body, to offer myself up.
In Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose and Poetry (1991), 43.
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Nature! … She performs a play; we know not whether she sees it herself, and yet she acts for us, the lookers-on.
Jeremy Naydler (ed.), Goethe On Science: An Anthology of Goethe's Scientific Writings (1996), 60
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Nature, with equal mind,
Sees all her sons at play,
Sees man control the wind,
The wind sweep man away.
From dramatic poem, 'Empedocles on Etna', first published anonymously, collected in Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems (1852). As quoted in The Contemporary Review (1867), Vol. 6, 344. Also in The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840-1867 (1909), 94.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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Neither in the subjective nor in the objective world can we find a criterion for the reality of the number concept, because the first contains no such concept, and the second contains nothing that is free from the concept. How then can we arrive at a criterion? Not by evidence, for the dice of evidence are loaded. Not by logic, for logic has no existence independent of mathematics: it is only one phase of this multiplied necessity that we call mathematics.
How then shall mathematical concepts be judged? They shall not be judged. Mathematics is the supreme arbiter. From its decisions there is no appeal. We cannot change the rules of the game, we cannot ascertain whether the game is fair. We can only study the player at his game; not, however, with the detached attitude of a bystander, for we are watching our own minds at play.
In Number: The Language of Science; a Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-Mathematician (1937), 244-245.
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Not in the ground of need, not in bent and painful toil, but in the deep-centred play-instinct of the world, in the joyous mood of the eternal Being, which is always young, science has her origin and root; and her spirit, which is the spirit of genius in moments of elevation, is but a sublimated form of play, the austere and lofty analogue of the kitten playing with the entangled skein or of the eaglet sporting with the mountain winds.
In Mathematics (1907), 44.
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On the way back [from the moon] we had an EVA [extra-vehicular activity, or spacewalk] I had a chance to look around while I was outside and Earth was off to the right, 180,000 miles away, a little thin sliver of blue and white like a new moon surrounded by this blackness of space. Back over my left shoulder was almost a full moon. I didn’t feel like I was a participant. It was like sitting in the last row of the balcony, looking down at all of that play going on down there. I had that insignificant feeling of the immensity of this, God’s creation.
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Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.
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Pauling was shocked by the freedom with which the X-ray crystallographers of the time, including particularly Astbury, played with the intimate chemical structure of their models. They seemed to think that if the atoms were arranged in the right order and about the right distance apart, that was all that mattered, that no further restrictions need to be put on them.
Quoted by John Law in 'The Case of X-ray Protein Crystallography', collected in Gerard Lemaine (ed.), Perspectives on the Emergence of Scientific Disciplines, 1976, 140.
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Pavlov’s data on the two fundamental antagonistic nervous processes—stimulation and inhibition—and his profound generalizations regarding them, in particular, that these processes are parts of a united whole, that they are in a state of constant conflict and constant transition of the one to the other, and his views on the dominant role they play in the formation of the higher nervous activity—all those belong to the most established natural—scientific validation of the Marxist dialectal method. They are in complete accord with the Leninist concepts on the role of the struggle between opposites in the evolution, the motion of matter.
In E. A. Asratyan, I. P. Pavlov: His Life and Work (1953), 153.
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Pure mathematics and physics are becoming ever more closely connected, though their methods remain different. One may describe the situation by saying that the mathematician plays a game in which he himself invents the rules while the while the physicist plays a game in which the rules are provided by Nature, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly evident that the rules which the mathematician finds interesting are the same as those which Nature has chosen. … Possibly, the two subjects will ultimately unify, every branch of pure mathematics then having its physical application, its importance in physics being proportional to its interest in mathematics.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 124.
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Quantum mechanics is very imposing. … I, at any rate, am convinced that He [God] is not playing at dice.
In letter (4 Dec 1926) to Max Born. From the original German, “Die Quantenmechanik ist sehr achtung-gebietend. … Jedenfalls bin ich überzeugt, daß der nicht würfelt.” English version as in Albert Einstein, Max Born, Hedwig Born and Irene Born (trans.), The Born-Einstein Letters (1971).
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Science is a game we play with God, to find out what his rules are.
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Science is a great game. It is inspiring and refreshing. The playing field is the universe itself.
In 'Humanistic Scientist: Isidor Isaac Rabi', New York Times (28 Oct 1964), 38.
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Science progresses by a series of combinations in which chance plays not the least role. Its life is rough and resembles that of minerals which grow by juxtaposition [accretion]. This applies not only to science such as it emerges [results] from the work of a series of scientists, but also to the particular research of each one of them. In vain would analysts dissimulate: (however abstract it may be, analysis is no more our power than that of others); they do not deduce, they combine, they compare: (it must be sought out, sounded out, solicited.) When they arrive at the truth it is by cannoning from one side to another that they come across it.
English translation from manuscript, in Évariste Galois and Peter M. Neumann, 'Dossier 12: On the progress of pure analysis', The Mathematical Writings of Évariste Galois (2011), 263. A transcription of the original French is on page 262. In the following quote from that page, indicated deletions are omitted, and Webmaster uses parentheses to enclose indications of insertions above the original written line. “La science progresse par une série de combinaisons où le hazard ne joue pas le moindre rôle; sa vie est brute et ressemble à celle des minéraux qui croissent par juxtà position. Cela s’applique non seulement à la science telle qu’elle résulte des travaux d’une série de savants, mais aussi aux recherches particulières à chacun d’eux. En vain les analystes voudraient-ils se le dissimuler: (toute immatérielle qu’elle wst analyse n’est pas pas plus en notre pouvoir que des autres); ils ne déduisent pas, ils combinent, ils comparent: (il faut l’epier, la sonder, la solliciter) quand ils arrivent à la vérité, c’est en heurtant de côté et d’autre qu’il y sont tombés.” Webmaster corrected from typo “put” to “but” in the English text.
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That small word “Force,” they make a barber's block,
Ready to put on
Meanings most strange and various, fit to shock
Pupils of Newton....
The phrases of last century in this
Linger to play tricks—
Vis viva and Vis Mortua and Vis Acceleratrix:
Those long-nebbed words that to our text books still
Cling by their titles,
And from them creep, as entozoa will,
Into our vitals.
But see! Tait writes in lucid symbols clear
One small equation;
And Force becomes of Energy a mere
Space-variation.
'Report on Tait's Lecture on Force:— B.A., 1876', reproduced in Bruce Clarke, Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics (2001), 19. Maxwell's verse was inspired by a paper delivered at the British Association (B.A.. He was satirizing a “considerable cofusion of nomenclature” at the time, and supported his friend Tait's desire to establish a redefinition of energy on a thermnodynamic basis.
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The ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health.
In 'Childhood’s Promises', Television & Children (1980), 3, No. 3, 17.
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The average gambler will say “The player who stakes his whole fortune on a single play is a fool, and the science of mathematics can not prove him to be otherwise.” The reply is obvious: “The science of mathematics never attempts the impossible, it merely shows that other players are greater fools.”
Concluding remarks to his mathematical proof, with certain assumptions, that the best betting strategy for “Gambler’s Ruin” would be to always make his largest stake on his first play. In 'Gambler’s Ruin', Annals of Mathematics (Jul 1909), 2nd Series, 10, No. 4, 189. This is also seen, without primary source, quoted as “It is true that a man who does this is a fool. I have only proved that a man who does anything else is an even bigger fool,” in Harold Eves, Return to Mathematical Circles (1988), 39.
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The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.
In David Leonhardt, 'John Tukey, 85, Statistician; Coined the Word ‘Software’', New York Times (28 Jul 2000). No citation, except “Mr. Tukey once told a colleague.”
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The first man of science was he who looked into a thing, not to learn whether it furnished him with food, or shelter, or weapons, or tools, armaments, or playwiths but who sought to know it for the gratification of knowing.
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The game of chess has always fascinated mathematicians, and there is reason to suppose that the possession of great powers of playing that game is in many features very much like the possession of great mathematical ability. There are the different pieces to learn, the pawns, the knights, the bishops, the castles, and the queen and king. The board possesses certain possible combinations of squares, as in rows, diagonals, etc. The pieces are subject to certain rules by which their motions are governed, and there are other rules governing the players. … One has only to increase the number of pieces, to enlarge the field of the board, and to produce new rules which are to govern either the pieces or the player, to have a pretty good idea of what mathematics consists.
In Book review, 'What is Mathematics?', Bulletin American Mathematical Society (May 1912), 18, 386-387.
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The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 9, chap. 14, sect. 3.
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The history of a species, or any natural phenomenon that requires unbroken continuity in a world of trouble, works like a batting streak. All are games of a gambler playing with a limited stake against a house with infinite resources. The gambler must eventually go bust. His aim can only be to stick around as long as possible, to have some fun while he’s at it, and, if he happens to be a moral agent as well, to worry about staying the course with honor.
In Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1991), 471-472.
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The human mind needs nature in order to think most deeply. Pretending to be other creatures, children practise metaphor and empathy alike.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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The losses of the natural world are our loss, their silence silences something within the human mind. Human language is lit with animal life: we play cats-cradle or have hare-brained ideas; we speak of badgering, or outfoxing someone; to squirrel something away and to ferret it out. … When our experience of the wild world shrinks, we no longer fathom the depths of our own words; language loses its lustre and vividness.
In 'Fifty Years On, the Silence of Rachel Carson’s Spring Consumes Us', The Guardian (25 Sep 2012),
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The nature of the atoms, and the forces called into play in their chemical union; the interactions between these atoms and the non-differentiated ether as manifested in the phenomena of light and electricity; the structures of the molecules and molecular systems of which the atoms are the units; the explanation of cohesion, elasticity, and gravitation—all these will be marshaled into a single compact and consistent body of scientific knowledge.
In Light Waves and Their Uses? (1902), 163.
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The typewriting machine, when played with expression, is no more annoying than the piano when played by a sister or near relation.
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The understanding of atomic physics is child’s play, compared with the understanding of child’s play.
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There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that... or: There is capitalism in so far as... The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills. [p.222]
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This brings me to the final point of my remarks, the relation between creativity and aging, a topic with which I have had substantial experience. Scientific research, until it has gone through the grueling and sometimes painful process of publication, is just play, and play is characteristic of young vertebrates, particularly young mammals. In some ways, scientific creativity is related to the exuberant behavior of young mammals. Indeed, creativity seems to be a natural characteristic of young humans. If one is fortunate enough to be associated with a university, even as one ages, teaching allows one to contribute to, and vicariously share, in the creativity of youth.”
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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This is often the way it is in physics—our mistake is not that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them seriously enough. It is always hard to realize that these numbers and equations we play with at our desks have something to do with the real world.
In The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977, Rev. ed. 1993), 131-132.
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Thus God himself was too kind to remain idle, and began to play the game of signatures, signing his likeness into the world; therefore I chance to think that all nature and the graceful sky are symbolized in the art of geometry.
In Tertius Interveniens (1610), as quoted in Freeman Dyson, 'Mathematics in the Physical Sciences', Scientific American (Sep 1964), 211, No. 3, 129.
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Two lights for guidance. The first, our little glowing atom of community, with all that it signifies. The second, the cold light of the stars, symbol of the hypercosmical reality, with its crystal ecstasy. Strange that in this light, in which even the dearest love is frostily asserted, and even the possible defeat of our half-waking world is contemplated without remission of praise, the human crisis does not lose but gains significance. Strange, that it seems more, not less, urgent to play some part in this struggle, this brief effort of animalcules striving to win for their race some increase of lucidity before the ultimate darkness.
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Until its results have gone through the painful process of publication, preferably in a refereed journal of high standards, scientific research is just play. Publication is an indispensable part of science. “Publish or perish” is not an indictment of the system of academia; it is a partial prescription for creativity and innovation. Sustained and substantial publication favors creativity. Novelty of conception has a large component of unpredictability. ... One is often a poor judge of the relative value of his own creative efforts. An artist’s ranking of his own works is rarely the same as that of critics or of history. Most scientists have had similar experiences. One’s supply of reprints for a pot-boiler is rapidly exhausted, while a major monograph that is one’s pride and joy goes unnoticed. The strategy of choice is to increase the odds favoring creativity by being productive.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 233-234.
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We all know, from what we experience with and within ourselves, that our conscious acts spring from our desires and our fears. Intuition tells us that that is true also of our fellows and of the higher animals. We all try to escape pain and death, while we seek what is pleasant. We are all ruled in what we do by impulses; and these impulses are so organized that our actions in general serve for our self preservation and that of the race. Hunger, love, pain, fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual’s instinct for self preservation. At the same time, as social beings, we are moved in the relations with our fellow beings by such feelings as sympathy, pride, hate, need for power, pity, and so on. All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man’s actions. All such action would cease if those powerful elemental forces were to cease stirring within us. Though our conduct seems so very different from that of the higher animals, the primary instincts are much alike in them and in us. The most evident difference springs from the important part which is played in man by a relatively strong power of imagination and by the capacity to think, aided as it is by language and other symbolical devices. Thought is the organizing factor in man, intersected between the causal primary instincts and the resulting actions. In that way imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts. But their intervention makes our acts to serve ever less merely the immediate claims of our instincts.
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We are going through the body-snatching phase right now, and there are all these Burke and Hare attitudes towards geneticists-that they are playing God and that DNA is sacred. No, it’s not. It’s no more sacred than your toenails. Basically, we are not going to make long-term medical progress without understanding how the genes work.
[Referring to the similarity of fears and superstitions in genetics as once were associated with anatomy ]
Quoted by Sean O’Hagan, in 'End of sperm report', The Observer (14 Sep 2002).
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We believe in the possibility of a theory which is able to give a complete description of reality, the laws of which establish relations between the things themselves and not merely between their probabilities ... God does not play dice.
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We can’t all be Einstein (because we don’t all play the violin). At the very least we need a sort of street-smart science: the ability to recognize evidence gather it assess it and act on it.
In Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity (1991), 14.
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We do not cease to play because we grow old.
We grow old because we cease to play.
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We do not inhabit a perfected world where natural selection ruthlessly scrutinizes all organic structures and then molds them for optimal utility. Organisms inherit a body form and a style of embryonic development; these impose constraint s upon future change and adaptation. In many cases, evolutionary pathways reflect inherited patterns more than current environmental demands. These inheritances constrain, but they also provide opportunity. A potentially minor genetic change ... entails a host of complex, nonadaptive consequences ... What ‘play’ would evolution have if each structure were built for a restricted purpose and could be used for nothing else? How could humans learn to write if our brain had not evolved for hunting, social cohesion, or whatever, and could not transcend the adaptive boundaries of its original purpose?
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We must in imagination sweep off the drifted matter that clogs the surface of the ground; we must suppose all the covering of moss and heath and wood to be torn away from the sides of the mountains, and the green mantle that lies near their feet to be lifted up; we may then see the muscular integuments, and sinews, and bones of our mother Earth, and so judge of the part played by each of them during those old convulsive movements whereby her limbs were contorted and drawn up into their present posture.
Letter 2 to William Wordsworth. Quoted in the appendix to W. Wordsworth, A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Direction for the Tourist, with Mr Wordsworth's Description of the Scenery of the County and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District (1842), 15.
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Well, there’s no doubt about the fact that, that higher energy prices lead to greater conservation, greater energy efficiency, and they also, of course, play a useful role on the supply side.
John Snow
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When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless no one doubts that we are confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main known to us.
Out of My Later Years (1995), 28.
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Would it (the world) otherwise (without consciousness) have remained a play before empty benches, not existing for anybody, thus quite properly not existing?
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You will be astonished when I tell you what this curious play of carbon amounts to. A candle will burn some four, five, six, or seven hours. What, then, must be the daily amount of carbon going up into the air in the way of carbonic acid! ... Then what becomes of it? Wonderful is it to find that the change produced by respiration ... is the very life and support of plants and vegetables that grow upon the surface of the earth.
In A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle (1861), 117.
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[Science] is sort of a game. Any fundamental advances in our field are made by looking at it with the smile of a child who plays a game.
As quoted in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 4.
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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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- 40 -
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