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Who said: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
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Point Quotes (123 quotes)

Salviati: …Now you see how easy it is to understand.
Sagredo: So are all truths, once they are discovered; the point is in being able to discover them.
[Commonly seen merged in a paraphrase as: All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.]
Lines of two characters in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), as translated by S. Drake (1967). As quoted and cited in Barnaby Sheppard, The Logic of Infinity (2014), 398 & 440 footnote. Galileo’s work is written as a series of dialogues over four days between Salviati (supporting the Copernican system), Sagredo (a neutral layman) and Simplicio (supporting the Ptolemaic system).
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Une idée anticipée ou une hypothèse est donc le point de départ nécessaire de tout raisonnement expérimental. Sans cela on ne saurait faire aucune investigation ni s’instruire ; on ne pourrait qu’entasser des observations stériles. Si l’on expérimentait sans idée préconçue, on irait à l’aventure; mais d’un autre côté, ainsi que nous l’avons dit ailleurs, si l’on observait avec des idées préconçues, on ferait de mauvaises observations.
An anticipative idea or an hypothesis is, then, the necessary starting point for all experimental reasoning. Without it, we could not make any investigation at all nor learn anything; we could only pile up sterile observations. If we experimented without a preconceived idea, we should move at random.
[Also seen translated as:] A hypothesis is … the obligatory starting point of all experimental reasoning. Without it no investigation would be possible, and one would learn nothing: one could only pile up barren observations. To experiment without a preconceived idea is to wander aimlessly.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865). English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 32. Alternate translation in Peter Medawar, 'Hypothesis and Imagination', collected in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1974), 30.
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A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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A line is not made up of points. … In the same way, time is not made up of parts considered as indivisible “nows.”
Part of Aristotle’s reply to Zeno's paradox concerning continuity.
Aristotle
A succinct summary, not a direct quotation of Aristotle's words. From Aristotle's Physics, Book VI. Sections 1 and 9 as given by Florian Cajori in part 2 of an article 'The History of Zeno's Arguments on Motion', in The American Mathematical Monthly (Feb 1915), 22:2, 41.
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A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.
First sentences in When Prophecy Fails (1956), 3.
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A mathematical point is the most indivisble and unique thing which art can present.
Letters, 21. 1817. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 295.
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A mathematician thinks that two points are enough to define a straight line, while a physicist wants more data.
Anonymous
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A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once. The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. ... He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important. Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1995), 107.
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An involuntary return to the point of departure is, without doubt, the most disturbing of all journeys.
…...
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Any fool can know. The point is to understand.
…...
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As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
…...
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Astronomy was thus the cradle of the natural sciences and the starting point of geometrical theories. The stars themselves gave rise to the concept of a ‘point’; triangles, quadrangles and other geometrical figures appeared in the constellations; the circle was realized by the disc of the sun and the moon. Thus in an essentially intuitive fashion the elements of geometrical thinking came into existence.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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Behavioral avoidance, not physiological adaptations, is an organism’s primary response to an environmental challenge. This point is elementary, but it is by no means trivial.
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 18.
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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 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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Either one or the other [analysis or synthesis] may be direct or indirect. The direct procedure is when the point of departure is known-direct synthesis in the elements of geometry. By combining at random simple truths with each other, more complicated ones are deduced from them. This is the method of discovery, the special method of inventions, contrary to popular opinion.
Ampère gives this example drawn from geometry to illustrate his meaning for “direct synthesis” when deductions following from more simple, already-known theorems leads to a new discovery. In James R. Hofmann, André-Marie Ampère (1996), 159. Cites Académie des Sciences Ampère Archives, box 261.
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Euclid always contemplates a straight line as drawn between two definite points, and is very careful to mention when it is to be produced beyond this segment. He never thinks of the line as an entity given once for all as a whole. This careful definition and limitation, so as to exclude an infinity not immediately apparent to the senses, was very characteristic of the Greeks in all their many activities. It is enshrined in the difference between Greek architecture and Gothic architecture, and between Greek religion and modern religion. The spire of a Gothic cathedral and the importance of the unbounded straight line in modern Geometry are both emblematic of the transformation of the modern world.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 119.
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Euclidean mathematics assumes the completeness and invariability of mathematical forms; these forms it describes with appropriate accuracy and enumerates their inherent and related properties with perfect clearness, order, and completeness, that is, Euclidean mathematics operates on forms after the manner that anatomy operates on the dead body and its members. On the other hand, the mathematics of variable magnitudes—function theory or analysis—considers mathematical forms in their genesis. By writing the equation of the parabola, we express its law of generation, the law according to which the variable point moves. The path, produced before the eyes of the student by a point moving in accordance to this law, is the parabola.
If, then, Euclidean mathematics treats space and number forms after the manner in which anatomy treats the dead body, modern mathematics deals, as it were, with the living body, with growing and changing forms, and thus furnishes an insight, not only into nature as she is and appears, but also into nature as she generates and creates,—reveals her transition steps and in so doing creates a mind for and understanding of the laws of becoming. Thus modern mathematics bears the same relation to Euclidean mathematics that physiology or biology … bears to anatomy.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 38. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112-113.
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Every lecture should state one main point and repeat it over and over, like a theme with variations. An audience is like a herd of cows, moving slowly in the direction they are being driven towards. If we make one point, we have a good chance that the audience will take the right direction; if we make several points, then the cows will scatter all over the field. The audience will lose interest and everyone will go back to the thoughts they interrupted in order to come to our lecture.
In 'Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 196.
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Every science touches art at some points—every art has its scientific side.
In Armand Trousseau and John Rose Cormack (trans.), Lectures on Clinical Medicine: Delivered at the Hôtel-Dieu, Paris (1869), Vol. 2, 40.
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Everyone makes for himself a clear idea of the motion of a point, that is to say, of the motion of a corpuscle which one supposes to be infinitely small, and which one reduces by thought in some way to a mathematical point.
Théorie Nouvelle de la Rotation des Corps (1834). As translated by Charles Thomas Whitley in Outlines of a New Theory of Rotatory Motion (1834), 1.
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Everything is made of atoms ... Everything that animals do, atoms do. ... There is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.
In The Feynman Lectures (1963), 8.
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Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against a bastion and citadel of the stars.
Cosmos
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things (which is the chief point) , and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to reconsider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture. So I thought my nature had a kind of familiarity and relationship with Truth.
From 'Progress of philosophical speculations. Preface to intended treatise De Interpretatione Naturæ (1603), in Francis Bacon and James Spedding (ed.), Works of Francis Bacon (1868), Vol. 3, 85.
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For the saving the long progression of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every case, the mind should provide itself several stages; that is to say, intermediate principles, which it might have recourse to in the examining those positions that come in its way. These, though they are not self-evident principles, yet, if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and serve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending upon them, by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. … And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms through all the whole train of intermediate propositions. Certain theorems that they have settled to themselves upon sure demonstration, serve to resolve to them multitudes of propositions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that tie them to first self-evident principles.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 21.
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Forty years as an astronomer have not quelled my enthusiasm for lying outside after dark, staring up at the stars. It isn’t only the beauty of the night sky that thrills me. It’s the sense I have that some of those points of light are the home stars of beings not so different from us, daily cares and all, who look across space and wonder, just as we do.
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I am quite aware that we have just now lightheartedly expelled in imagination many excellent men who are largely, perhaps chiefly, responsible for the buildings of the temple of science; and in many cases our angel would find it a pretty ticklish job to decide. But of one thing I feel sure: if the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have come to be, any more than a forest can grow which consists of nothing but creepers. For these people any sphere of human activity will do, if it comes to a point; whether they become engineers, officers, tradesmen, or scientists depends on circumstances.
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I am sorry to say that there is too much point to the wisecrack that life is extinct on other planets because their scientists were more advanced than ours.
From Speech (11 Dec 1959) at Washington, D.C., 'Disarmament', printed in President John F. Kennedy, A Grand and Global Alliance (1968), 1.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
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I never could make out what those damned dots meant.
Referring to decimal points. “But this was surely only to tease.” Quoted in W.S. Churchill, Lord Randolph Churchill (1906), Vol. 2, 184.
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I think that space flight is a condition of Nature that comes into effect when an intelligent species reaches the saturation point of its planetary habitat combined with a certain level of technological ability... I think it is a built-in gene-directed drive for the spreading of the species and its continuation.
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I wanted to be a scientist from my earliest school days. The crystallizing moment came when I first caught on that stars are mighty suns, and how staggeringly far away they must be to appear to us as mere points of light. I’m not sure I even knew the word science then, but I was gripped by the prospect of understanding how things work, of helping to uncover deep mysteries, of exploring new worlds.
In 'With Science on Our Side', Washington Post (9 Jan 1994).
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If we can get kids talking about conservation and doing it, they can have a great influence on their parents by lecturing them and pointing the finger.
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If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact or the description of one actual phenomenon to infer all the particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect, but the harmony which results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws which we have not detected, is still more wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as to the traveler, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form. Even when cleft or bored through, it is not comprehended in its entireness.
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In the expressions we adopt to prescribe physical phenomena we necessarily hover between two extremes. We either have to choose a word which implies more than we can prove, or we have to use vague and general terms which hide the essential point, instead of bringing it out. The history of electrical theories furnishes a good example.
Opening Address to the Annual Meeting of the British Association by Prof. Arthur Schuster, in Nature (4 Aug 1892), 46, 325.
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It has always irked me as improper that there are still so many people for whom the sky is no more than a mass of random points of light. I do not see why we should recognize a house, a tree, or a flower here below and not, for example, the red Arcturus up there in the heavens as it hangs from its constellation Bootes, like a basket hanging from a balloon.
As quoted in J. L. Locher, Escher: With a Complete Catalogue of the Graphic Works (1982), 113.
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It has been said that [William Gull] “seldom delivered a lecture which was not remarkable for some phrase full of wise teaching, which from its point and conciseness became almost a proverb amongst his pupils.”
Stated in Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), xxiv.
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It is above all the duty of the methodical text-book to adapt itself to the pupil’s power of comprehension, only challenging his higher efforts with the increasing development of his imagination, his logical power and the ability of abstraction. This indeed constitutes a test of the art of teaching, it is here where pedagogic tact becomes manifest. In reference to the axioms, caution is necessary. It should be pointed out comparatively early, in how far the mathematical body differs from the material body. Furthermore, since mathematical bodies are really portions of space, this space is to be conceived as mathematical space and to be clearly distinguished from real or physical space. Gradually the student will become conscious that the portion of the real space which lies beyond the visible stellar universe is not cognizable through the senses, that we know nothing of its properties and consequently have no basis for judgments concerning it. Mathematical space, on the other hand, may be subjected to conditions, for instance, we may condition its properties at infinity, and these conditions constitute the axioms, say the Euclidean axioms. But every student will require years before the conviction of the truth of this last statement will force itself upon him.
In Methodisches Lehrbuch der Elementar-Mathemalik (1904), Teil I, Vorwort, 4-5.
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It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship; endure any insult, for a moment’s additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.
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It is from this absolute indifference and tranquility of the mind, that mathematical speculations derive some of their most considerable advantages; because there is nothing to interest the imagination; because the judgment sits free and unbiased to examine the point. All proportions, every arrangement of quantity, is alike to the understanding, because the same truths result to it from all; from greater from lesser, from equality and inequality.
In On the Sublime and Beautiful, Part 3, sect. 2.
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It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
In Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 105. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 19.
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It is the middle of the night when a glittering theatre of light suddenly appears in front of the Dhaka. Where, moments before there was only darkness, suddenly there are hundreds of columns of light. The sound of helicopters and car horns carry across to the ship on the breeze. There is the scent of rain after it has evaporated from warm streets. This is unmistakably Singapore, the small city-state at the most southern point of the Asiatic mainland. Singapore was built as a centre for world trade by the British over 250 years ago, and today, Singapore has the largest container harbour in the world. This is where the axes of world trade cross paths: from the Far East to Europe, from the Far East to Southeast Asia/the East, and from the Far East to Australia. Everything runs like clockwork here. Within five hours the Dhaka has been unloaded.
Made on Earth
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It needs scarcely be pointed out that in placing Mathematics at the head of Positive Philosophy, we are only extending the application of the principle which has governed our whole Classification. We are simply carrying back our principle to its first manifestation. Geometrical and Mechanical phenomena are the most general, the most simple, the most abstract of all,— the most irreducible to others, the most independent of them; serving, in fact, as a basis to all others. It follows that the study of them is an indispensable preliminary to that of all others. Therefore must Mathematics hold the first place in the hierarchy of the sciences, and be the point of departure of all Education whether general or special.
In Auguste Comte and Harriet Martineau (trans.), The Positive Philosophy (1858), Introduction, Chap. 2, 50.
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It sometimes strikes me that the whole of science is a piece of impudence; that nature can afford to ignore our impertinent interference. If our monkey mischief should ever reach the point of blowing up the earth by decomposing an atom, and even annihilated the sun himself, I cannot really suppose that the universe would turn a hair.
The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, ch. 14 (1929, rev 1970).
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It would be wrong to assume that one must stay with a research programme until it has exhausted all its heuristic power, that one must not introduce a rival programme before everybody agrees that the point of degeneration has probably been reached.
In Radio Lecture (30 Jun 1973) broadcast by the Open University, collected in Imre Lakatos, John Worrall (ed.) and Gregory Currie (ed.), 'Introduction: Science and Pseudoscience', The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes (1978, 1980), Vol. 1, 68.
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Magnitude may be compared to the power output in kilowatts of a [radio] broadcasting station; local intensity, on the Mercalli or similar scale, is then comparable to the signal strength noted on a receiver at a given locality. Intensity, like signal strength, will generally fall off with distance from the source; it will also depend on local conditions at the point of observation, and to some extent on the conditions along the path from source to that point.
From interview in the Earthquake Information Bulletin (Jul-Aug 1971), 3, No. 4, as abridged in article on USGS website.
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Man does not live by bread alone, there are other wants to be supplied, and even in a practical point of view, a single thought may be fraught with a thousand useful inventions.
Presidential Address (Aug 1853) to the American Association for the Advancement of Education, in Proceedings of the Third Session of the American Association for the Advancement of Education (1854), 29.
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Mathematics … engages, it fructifies, it quickens, compels attention, is as circumspect as inventive, induces courage and self-confidence as well as modesty and submission to truth. It yields the essence and kernel of all things, is brief in form and overflows with its wealth of content. It discloses the depth and breadth of the law and spiritual element behind the surface of phenomena; it impels from point to point and carries within itself the incentive toward progress; it stimulates the artistic perception, good taste in judgment and execution, as well as the scientific comprehension of things.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 40. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 49.
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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Mr. Hillaire Belloc has pointed out that science has changed greatly, and for the worse, since it became popular. Some hundred years ago, or more, only very unusual, highly original spirits were attracted to science at all; scientific work was therefore carried out by men of exceptional intelligence. Now, scientists are turned out by mass production in our universities.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 23-24.
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My position is a naturalistic one; I see philosophy not as an a priori propaedeutic or groundwork for science, but as continuous with science. I see philosophy and science as in the same boat—a boat which, to revert to Neurath’s figure as I so often do, we can rebuild only at sea while staying afloat in it. There is no external vantage point, no first philosophy.
Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, pp. 126-127, Columbia University Press (1969).
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Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence—don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.
From letter to Edith Rix with hints for studying (about Mar 1885), in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 241.
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New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.
Address on the 25th anniversary of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft (Jan 1936). Quoted in Surviving the Swastika: Scientific Research in Nazi Germany (1993), 97.
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Newton’s theory is the circle of generalization which includes all the others [as Kepler’s laws, Ptolemy’s theory, etc.];—the highest point of the inductive ascent;—the catastrophe of the philosophic drama to which Plato had prologized;— the point to which men’s minds had been journeying for two thousand years.
In History of the Inductive Sciences, Bk. 7, chap. 2, sect. 5.
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No gun is perfectly true. So the marksman, that he may hit the bull's-eye, points elsewhere.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-Book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 169.
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Now, it may be stretching an analogy to compare epidemics of cholera—caused by a known agent—with that epidemic of violent crime which is destroying our cities. It is unlikely that our social problems can be traced to a single, clearly defined cause in the sense that a bacterial disease is ‘caused’ by a microbe. But, I daresay, social science is about as advanced in the late twentieth century as bacteriological science was in the mid nineteenth century. Our forerunners knew something about cholera; they sensed that its spread was associated with misdirected sewage, filth, and the influx of alien poor into crowded, urban tenements. And we know something about street crime; nowhere has it been reported that a member of the New York Stock Exchange has robbed ... at the point of a gun. Indeed, I am naively confident that an enlightened social scientist of the next century will be able to point out that we had available to us at least some of the clues to the cause of urban crime.
'Cholera at the Harvey,' Woods Hole Cantata: Essays on Science and Society (1985).
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Now, when all these studies reach the point of inter-communion and connection with one another, and come to be considered in their mutual affinities, then, I think, but not till then, will the pursuit of them have a value for our objects: otherwise there is no profit in them.
Plato
From The Republic, Book 7, Chap. 7, 531. As translated in The Dialogues of Plato (1871), Vol. 2, 367.
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One of the principal obstacles to the rapid diffusion of a new idea lies in the difficulty of finding suitable expression to convey its essential point to other minds. Words may have to be strained into a new sense, and scientific controversies constantly resolve themselves into differences about the meaning of words. On the other hand, a happy nomenclature has sometimes been more powerful than rigorous logic in allowing a new train of thought to be quickly and generally accepted.
Opening Address to the Annual Meeting of the British Association by Prof. Arthur Schuster, in Nature (4 Aug 1892), 46, 325.
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Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
…...
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Ploughing deep, your recipe for killing weeds, is also the recipe for almost every good thing in farming. … We now plough horizontally following the curvatures of the hills and hollows, on the dead level, however crooked the lines may be. Every furrow thus acts as a reservoir to receive and retain the waters, all of which go to the benefit of the growing plant, instead of running off into streams … In point of beauty nothing can exceed that of the waving lines and rows winding along the face of the hills and vallies.
In letter (17 Apr 1813) from Jefferson at Monticello to Charles Willson Peale. Collected in The Jefferson Papers: 1770-1826 (1900), 178-180.
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Religion and science ... constitute deep-rooted and ancient efforts to find richer experience and deeper meaning than are found in the ordinary biological and social satisfactions. As pointed out by Whitehead, religion and science have similar origins and are evolving toward similar goals. Both started from crude observations and fanciful concepts, meaningful only within a narrow range of conditions for the people who formulated them of their limited tribal experience. But progressively, continuously, and almost simultaneously, religious and scientific concepts are ridding themselves of their coarse and local components, reaching higher and higher levels of abstraction and purity. Both the myths of religion and the laws of science, it is now becoming apparent, are not so much descriptions of facts as symbolic expressions of cosmic truths.
'On Being Human,' A God Within, Scribner (1972).
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Science has not solved problems, only shifted the points of problems.
…...
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Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point. ...
Yet I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns.…
Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers…
In poem, 'Locksley Hall', collected in Poems by Alfred Tennyson (1842), Vol. 1, 105-106.
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Science … is perpetually advancing. It is like a torch in the sombre forest of mystery. Man enlarges every day the circle of light which spreads round him, but at the same time, and in virtue of his very advance, he finds himself confronting, at an increasing number of points, the darkness of the Unknown.
In Einstein and the Universe; A Popular Exposition of the Famous Theory (1922), xvi.
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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So numerous are the objects which meet our view in the heavens, that we cannot imagine a point of space where some light would not strike the eye;—innumerable stars, thousands of double and multiple systems, clusters in one blaze with their tens of thousands of stars, and the nebulae amazing us by the strangeness of their forms and the incomprehensibility of their nature, till at last, from the limit of our senses, even these thin and airy phantoms vanish in the distance.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 420.
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Some may claim that is it unscientific to speak of the operations of nature as “miracles.” But the point of the title lies in the paradox of finding so many wonderful things ... subservient to the rule of law.
In Nature’s Miracles: Familiar Talks on Science (1899), Vol. 1, Introduction, v.
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Some of the men stood talking in this room, and at the right of the door a little knot had formed round a small table, the center of which was the mathematics student, who was eagerly talking. He had made the assertion that one could draw through a given point more than one parallel to a straight line; Frau Hagenström had cried out that this was impossible, and he had gone on to prove it so conclusively that his hearers were constrained to behave as though they understood.
In Little Herr Friedemann (1961), 25.
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Speaking of libraries: A big open-stack academic or public library is no small pleasure to work in. You’re, say, trying to do a piece on something in Nevada, and you go down to C Floor, deep in the earth, and out to what a miner would call a remote working face. You find 10995.497S just where the card catalog and the online computer thought it would be, but that is only the initial nick. The book you knew about has led you to others you did not know about. To the ceiling the shelves are loaded with books about Nevada. You pull them down, one at a time, and sit on the floor and look them over until you are sitting on a pile five feet high, at which point you are late home for dinner and you get up and walk away. It’s an incomparable boon to research, all that; but it is also a reason why there are almost no large open-stack libraries left in the world.
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Standing now in diffused light, with the wind at my back, I experience suddenly a feeling of completeness–not a feeling of having achieved something or of being stronger than everyone who was ever here before, not a feeling of having arrived at the ultimate point, not a feeling of supremacy. Just a breath of happiness deep inside my mind and my breast. The summit seemed suddenly to me to be a refuge, and I had not expected to find any refuge up here. Looking at the steep, sharp ridges below us, I have the impression that to have come later would have been too late. Everything we now say to one another, we only say out of embarrassment. I don’t think anymore. As I pull the tape recorder, trancelike, from my rucksack, and switch it on wanting to record a few appropriate phrases, tears again well into my eyes. “Now we are on the summit of Everest,” I begin, “it is so cold that we cannot take photographs…” I cannot go on, I am immediately shaken with sobs. I can neither talk nor think, feeling only how this momentous experience changes everything. To reach only a few meters below the summit would have required the same amount of effort, the same anxiety and burden of sorrow, but a feeling like this, an eruption of feeling, is only possible on the summit itself.
In Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate (1979), 180.
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Surely the claim of mathematics to take a place among the liberal arts must now be admitted as fully made good. Whether we look at the advances made in modern geometry, in modern integral calculus, or in modern algebra, in each of these three a free handling of the material employed is now possible, and an almost unlimited scope is left to the regulated play of fancy. It seems to me that the whole of aesthetic (so far as at present revealed) may be regarded as a scheme having four centres, which may be treated as the four apices of a tetrahedron, namely Epic, Music, Plastic, and Mathematic. There will be found a common plane to every three of these, outside of which lies the fourth; and through every two may be drawn a common axis opposite to the axis passing through the other two. So far is certain and demonstrable. I think it also possible that there is a centre of gravity to each set of three, and that the line joining each such centre with the outside apex will intersect in a common point the centre of gravity of the whole body of aesthetic; but what that centre is or must be I have not had time to think out.
In 'Proof of the Hitherto Undemonstrated Fundamental Theorem of Invariants', Collected Mathematical Papers (1909), Vol. 3, 123.
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That man is an Euclidian point: position without substance.
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That mathematics “do not cultivate the power of generalization,”; … will be admitted by no person of competent knowledge, except in a very qualified sense. The generalizations of mathematics, are, no doubt, a different thing from the generalizations of physical science; but in the difficulty of seizing them, and the mental tension they require, they are no contemptible preparation for the most arduous efforts of the scientific mind. Even the fundamental notions of the higher mathematics, from those of the differential calculus upwards are products of a very high abstraction. … To perceive the mathematical laws common to the results of many mathematical operations, even in so simple a case as that of the binomial theorem, involves a vigorous exercise of the same faculty which gave us Kepler’s laws, and rose through those laws to the theory of universal gravitation. Every process of what has been called Universal Geometry—the great creation of Descartes and his successors, in which a single train of reasoning solves whole classes of problems at once, and others common to large groups of them—is a practical lesson in the management of wide generalizations, and abstraction of the points of agreement from those of difference among objects of great and confusing diversity, to which the purely inductive sciences cannot furnish many superior. Even so elementary an operation as that of abstracting from the particular configuration of the triangles or other figures, and the relative situation of the particular lines or points, in the diagram which aids the apprehension of a common geometrical demonstration, is a very useful, and far from being always an easy, exercise of the faculty of generalization so strangely imagined to have no place or part in the processes of mathematics.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 612-13.
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The ancients devoted a lifetime to the study of arithmetic; it required days to extract a square root or to multiply two numbers together. Is there any harm in skipping all that, in letting the school boy learn multiplication sums, and in starting his more abstract reasoning at a more advanced point? Where would be the harm in letting the boy assume the truth of many propositions of the first four books of Euclid, letting him assume their truth partly by faith, partly by trial? Giving him the whole fifth book of Euclid by simple algebra? Letting him assume the sixth as axiomatic? Letting him, in fact, begin his severer studies where he is now in the habit of leaving off? We do much less orthodox things. Every here and there in one’s mathematical studies one makes exceedingly large assumptions, because the methodical study would be ridiculous even in the eyes of the most pedantic of teachers. I can imagine a whole year devoted to the philosophical study of many things that a student now takes in his stride without trouble. The present method of training the mind of a mathematical teacher causes it to strain at gnats and to swallow camels. Such gnats are most of the propositions of the sixth book of Euclid; propositions generally about incommensurables; the use of arithmetic in geometry; the parallelogram of forces, etc., decimals.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1904), 12.
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The chances for favorable serendipity are increased if one studies an animal that is not one of the common laboratory species. Atypical animals, or preparations, force one to use non-standard approaches and non-standard techniques, and even to think nonstandard ideas. My own preference is to seek out species which show some extreme of adaptation. Such organisms often force one to abandon standard methods and standard points of view. Almost inevitably they lead one to ask new questions, and most importantly in trying to comprehend their special and often unusual adaptations one often serendipitously stumbles upon new insights.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 234.
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The discovery in 1846 of the planet Neptune was a dramatic and spectacular achievement of mathematical astronomy. The very existence of this new member of the solar system, and its exact location, were demonstrated with pencil and paper; there was left to observers only the routine task of pointing their telescopes at the spot the mathematicians had marked.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), 'Commentary on John Couch Adams', The World of Mathematics (1956), 820.
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The equation eπi = -1 has been called the eutectic point of mathematics, for no matter how you boil down and explain this equation, which relates four of the most remarkable numbers of mathematics, it still has a certain mystery about it that cannot be explained away.
Anonymous
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The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there was never any doubt as to the striving for culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.
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The first atomic warhead I saw was … like a piece of beautiful sculpture, a work of the highest level of technological skill. It’s the point of a spear.
In Raymond Mungo, 'Dixy Lee Ray: How Madame Nuke Took Over Washington', Mother Jones (May 1977), 2, No. 4, 40.
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The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.
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The geometrical problems and theorems of the Greeks always refer to definite, oftentimes to rather complicated figures. Now frequently the points and lines of such a figure may assume very many different relative positions; each of these possible cases is then considered separately. On the contrary, present day mathematicians generate their figures one from another, and are accustomed to consider them subject to variation; in this manner they unite the various cases and combine them as much as possible by employing negative and imaginary magnitudes. For example, the problems which Apollonius treats in his two books De sectione rationis, are solved today by means of a single, universally applicable construction; Apollonius, on the contrary, separates it into more than eighty different cases varying only in position. Thus, as Hermann Hankel has fittingly remarked, the ancient geometry sacrifices to a seeming simplicity the true simplicity which consists in the unity of principles; it attained a trivial sensual presentability at the cost of the recognition of the relations of geometric forms in all their changes and in all the variations of their sensually presentable positions.
In 'Die Synthetische Geometrie im Altertum und in der Neuzeit', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung (1902), 2, 346-347. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112. The spelling of the first “Apollonius” has been corrected from “Appolonius” in the original English text. From the original German, “Die geometrischen Probleme und Sätze der Griechen beziehen sich allemal auf bestimmte, oft recht komplizierte Figuren. Nun können aber die Punkte und Linien einer solchen Figur häufig sehr verschiedene Lagen zu einander annehmen; jeder dieser möglichen Fälle wird alsdann für sich besonders erörtert. Dagegen lassen die heutigen Mathematiker ihre Figuren aus einander entstehen und sind gewohnt, sie als veränderlich zu betrachten; sie vereinigen so die speziellen Fälle und fassen sie möglichst zusammen unter Benutzung auch negativer und imaginärer Gröfsen. Das Problem z. B., welches Apollonius in seinen zwei Büchern de sectione rationis behandelt, löst man heutzutage durch eine einzige, allgemein anwendbare Konstruktion; Apollonius selber dagegen zerlegt es in mehr als 80 nur durch die Lage verschiedene Fälle. So opfert, wie Hermann Hankel treffend bemerkt, die antike Geometrie einer scheinbaren Einfachheit die wahre, in der Einheit der Prinzipien bestehende; sie erreicht eine triviale sinnliche Anschaulichkeit auf Kosten der Erkenntnis vom Zusammenhang geometrischer Gestalten in aller Wechsel und in aller Veränderlichkeit ihrer sinnlich vorstellbaren Lage.”
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The goal of science is clear—it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe. But the goal is an ideal one—it marks the direction in which we move and strive, but never the point we shall actually reach.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 17.
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The history of mathematics may be instructive as well as agreeable; it may not only remind us of what we have, but may also teach us to increase our store. Says De Morgan, “The early history of the mind of men with regards to mathematics leads us to point out our own errors; and in this respect it is well to pay attention to the history of mathematics.” It warns us against hasty conclusions; it points out the importance of a good notation upon the progress of the science; it discourages excessive specialization on the part of the investigator, by showing how apparently distinct branches have been found to possess unexpected connecting links; it saves the student from wasting time and energy upon problems which were, perhaps, solved long since; it discourages him from attacking an unsolved problem by the same method which has led other mathematicians to failure; it teaches that fortifications can be taken by other ways than by direct attack, that when repulsed from a direct assault it is well to reconnoiter and occupy the surrounding ground and to discover the secret paths by which the apparently unconquerable position can be taken.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 1-2.
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The ingenious but nevertheless somewhat artificial assumptions of [Bohr’s model of the atom], … are replaced by a much more natural assumption in de Broglie’s wave phenomena. The wave phenomenon forms the real “body” of the atom. It replaces the individual punctiform electrons, which in Bohr’s model swarm around the nucleus.
From 'Our Image of Matter', collected in Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Erwin Schrödinger, Pierre Auger, On Modern Physics (1961), 50. Webmaster note: “punctiform” means composed of points.
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The iron labor of conscious logical reasoning demands great perseverance and great caution; it moves on but slowly, and is rarely illuminated by brilliant flashes of genius. It knows little of that facility with which the most varied instances come thronging into the memory of the philologist or historian. Rather is it an essential condition of the methodical progress of mathematical reasoning that the mind should remain concentrated on a single point, undisturbed alike by collateral ideas on the one hand, and by wishes and hopes on the other, and moving on steadily in the direction it has deliberately chosen.
In Ueber das Verhältniss der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammtheit der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 178.
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The most disgraceful cause of the scarcity [of remedies] is that even those who know them do not want to point them out, as if they were going to lose what they pass on to others.
Natural History, 25, 16. Trans. R. W. Sharples.
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The most remarkable feature about the magnitude scale was that it worked at all and that it could be extended on a worldwide basis. It was originally envisaged as a rather rough-and-ready procedure by which we could grade earthquakes. We would have been happy if we could have assigned just three categories, large, medium, and small; the point is, we wanted to avoid personal judgments. It actually turned out to be quite a finely tuned scale.
From interview with Henry Spall, as in an abridged version of Earthquake Information Bulletin (Jan-Feb 1980), 12, No. 1, that is on the USGS website.
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The mystery of creation is not within the range of [Nature’s] legitimate territory; [Nature] says nothing, but she points upwards.
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1837), Vol. 3, 588.
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The night spread out of the east in a great flood, quenching the red sunlight in a single minute. We wriggled by breathless degrees deep into our sleeping bags. Our sole thought was of comfort; we were not alive to the beauty or the grandeur of our position; we did not reflect on the splendor of our elevation. A regret I shall always have is that I did not muster up the energy to spend a minute or two stargazing. One peep I did make between the tent flaps into the night, and I remember dimly an appalling wealth of stars, not pale and remote as they appear when viewed through the moisture-laden air of lower levels, but brilliant points of electric blue fire standing out almost stereoscopically. It was a sight an astronomer would have given much to see, and here were we lying dully in our sleeping bags concerned only with the importance of keeping warm and comfortable.
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The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
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The phenomenon of emergence takes place at critical points of instability that arise from fluctuations in the environment, amplified by feedback loops. Emergence results in the creation of novelty, and this novelty is often qualitatively different from the phenomenon out of which it emerged.
In The Hidden Connections (2002), 116-117.
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The phosphorous smell which is developed when electricity (to speak the profane language) is passing from the points of a conductor into air, or when lightning happens to fall upon some terrestrial object, or when water is electrolysed, has been engaging my attention the last couple of years, and induced me to make many attempts at clearing up that mysterious phenomenon. Though baffled for a long time, at last, I think, I have succeeded so far as to have got the clue which will lead to the discovery of the true cause of the smell in question.
[His first reference to investigating ozone, for which he is remembered.]
Letter to Michael Faraday (4 Apr 1840), The Letters of Faraday and Schoenbein, 1836-1862 (1899), 73. This letter was communicated to the Royal Society on 7 May, and an abstract published in the Philosophical Magazine.
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The point of mathematics is that in it we have always got rid of the particular instance, and even of any particular sorts of entities. So that for example, no mathematical truths apply merely to fish, or merely to stones, or merely to colours. So long as you are dealing with pure mathematics, you are in the realm of complete and absolute abstraction. … Mathematics is thought moving in the sphere of complete abstraction from any particular instance of what it is talking about.
In Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925 (1925), 31.
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The point of mathematics is that in it we have always got rid of the particular instance, and even of any particular sorts of entities. So that for example, no mathematical truths apply merely to fish, or merely to stones, or merely to colours. … Mathematics is thought moving in the sphere of complete abstraction from any particular instance of what it is talking about.
In 'Mathematics', Science and the Modern World (1926, 2011), 27.
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The point to remember is that a giant leap into space can be a giant leap toward peace down below.
Willy Ley
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The principles of Geology like those of geometry must begin at a point, through two or more of which the Geometrician draws a line and by thus proceeding from point to point, and from line to line, he constructs a map, and so proceeding from local to gen maps, and finally to a map of the world. Geometricians founded the science of Geography, on which is based that of Geology.
Abstract View of Geology, page proofs of unpublished work, Department of Geology, University of Oxford, 1.
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The reason I cannot really say that I positively enjoy nature is that I do not quite realize what it is that I enjoy. A work of art, on the other hand, I can grasp. I can — if I may put it this way — find that Archimedian point, and as soon as I have found it, everything is readily clear for me. Then I am able to pursue this one main idea and see how all the details serve to illuminate it.
Søren Kierkegaard, translation by Howard Vincent Hong and Edna Hatlestad Hong Søren Kierkegaard’s Journal and Papers (1834), 50.
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The reasoning of mathematicians is founded on certain and infallible principles. Every word they use conveys a determinate idea, and by accurate definitions they excite the same ideas in the mind of the reader that were in the mind of the writer. When they have defined the terms they intend to make use of, they premise a few axioms, or self-evident principles, that every one must assent to as soon as proposed. They then take for granted certain postulates, that no one can deny them, such as, that a right line may be drawn from any given point to another, and from these plain, simple principles they have raised most astonishing speculations, and proved the extent of the human mind to be more spacious and capacious than any other science.
In Diary, Works (1850), Vol. 2, 21.
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The seemingly useless or trivial observation made by one worker leads on to a useful observation by another: and so science advances, “creeping on from point to point.”
Lecture 6, collected in Light Visible and Invisible: A Series of Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, at Christmas, 1896 (1897), 276.
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The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 1.
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The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.
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There is no doubt that human survival will continue to depend more and more on human intellect and technology. It is idle to argue whether this is good or bad. The point of no return was passed long ago, before anyone knew it was happening.
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There was no point in telling your bosses everything; they were busy men, they didn’t want explanations. There was no point in burdening them. What they wanted was little stories that they felt they could understand, and then they’d go away and stop worrying.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 17.
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Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two points. The third time you go through it, you know you don't understand it, but by that time you are so used to the subject, it doesn't bother you anymore.
Quoted, without citation, in Stanley W. Angrist and Loren G. Hepler, Order and Chaos: Laws of Energy and Entropy (1967), 215. The authors identify it as “perhaps apocryphal.” The quote is used as epigraph, dated as 1950 in Anton Z. Capri, Quips, Quotes, and Quanta: An Anecdotal History of Physics (2011), 50. The quote is introduced as “When asked why he did not write on that field he replied somewhat as follows,” by Keith J. Laidler in Physical Chemistry with Biological Applications (1978), 145.
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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 spontaneous emergence of order at critical points of instability, which is often referred to simply as “emergence,” is one of the hallmarks of life. It has been recognized as the dynamic origin of development, learning, and evolution. In other words, creativity—the generation of new forms—is a key property of all living systems.
From 'Complexity and Life', in Fritjof Capra, Alicia Juarrero, Pedro Sotolongo (eds.) Reframing Complexity: Perspectives From the North and South (2007), 16.
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Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 31-32.
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Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.
…...
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We are concerned to understand the motivation for the development of pure mathematics, and it will not do simply to point to aesthetic qualities in the subject and leave it at that. It must be remembered that there is far more excitement to be had from creating something than from appreciating it after it has been created. Let there be no mistake about it, the fact that the mathematician is bound down by the rules of logic can no more prevent him from being creative than the properties of paint can prevent the artist. … We must remember that the mathematician not only finds the solutions to his problems, he creates the problems themselves.
In A Signpost to Mathematics (1951), 19. As quoted and cited in William L. Schaaf, 'Memorabilia Mathematica', The Mathematics Teacher (Mar 1957), 50, No. 3, 230. Note that this paper incorrectly attributes “A.H. Head”.
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We are impressed and even daunted by the immense Universe to be explored. “What we know is a point to what we do not know.”
In Emerson’s Complete Works: Volume 1, Nature, Addresses and Lectures (1855, 1889), 45.
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We are like the explorers of a great continent, who have penetrated its margins in most points of the compass and have mapped the major mountain chains and rivers. There are still innumerable details to fill in, but the endless horizons no longer exist.
Stating his belief that within a generation or two, scientific progress was likely to halt. In Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24. Quoted in obituary by Douglas Martin, New York Times (20 Jan 2005).
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We should be most careful about retreating from the specific challenge of our age. We should be reluctant to turn our back upon the frontier of this epoch… We cannot be indifferent to space, because the grand slow march of our intelligence has brought us, in our generation, to a point from which we can explore and understand and utilize it. To turn back now would be to deny our history, our capabilities.
At a 1979 U.S. Senate hearing. As quoted in House Congressional Record (21 Jun 1991), 13874. Also quoted in James E. Oberg, Mission to Mars: Plans and Concepts for the First Manned Landing (2017), 174.
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What binds us to space-time is our rest mass, which prevents us from flying at the speed of light, when time stops and space loses meaning. In a world of light there are neither points nor moments of time; beings woven from light would live “nowhere” and “nowhen”; only poetry and mathematics are capable of speaking meaningfully about such things.
In 'Mathematics and Physics', collected in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 130.
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When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning-rod, the clergy, both in England and America, with the enthusiastic support of George III, condemned it as an impious attempt to defeat the will of God. For, as all right-thinking people were aware, lightning is sent by God to punish impiety or some other grave sin—the virtuous are never struck by lightning. Therefore if God wants to strike any one, Benjamin Franklin [and his lightning-rod] ought not to defeat His design; indeed, to do so is helping criminals to escape. But God was equal to the occasion, if we are to believe the eminent Dr. Price, one of the leading divines of Boston. Lightning having been rendered ineffectual by the “iron points invented by the sagacious Dr. Franklin,” Massachusetts was shaken by earthquakes, which Dr. Price perceived to be due to God’s wrath at the “iron points.” In a sermon on the subject he said,“In Boston are more erected than elsewhere in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of God.” Apparently, however, Providence gave up all hope of curing Boston of its wickedness, for, though lightning-rods became more and more common, earthquakes in Massachusetts have remained rare.
In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), 6-7.
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When experimental results are found to be in conflict with those of an earlier investigator, the matter is often taken too easily and disposed of for an instance by pointing out a possible source of error in the experiments of the predessessor, but without enquiring whether the error, if present, would be quantitatively sufficient to explain the discrepancy. I think that disagreement with former results should never be taken easily, but every effort should be made to find a true explanation. This can be done in many more cases than it actually is; and as a result, it can be done more easily by the man “on the spot” who is already familiar with the essential details. But it may require a great deal of imagination, and very often it will require supplementary experiments.
From 'August Krogh' in Festkrift Københavns Universitet 1950 (1950), 18, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 501. The DSB quote is introduced, “All his life Krogh was more interested in physical than in chemiical problems in biology, and he explained his critical attitude thus.”
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When I was eight, I played Little League. I was on first; I stole third; I went straight across. Earlier that week, I learned that the shortest distance between two points was a direct line. I took advantage of that knowledge.
In Comic Relief (1996).
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When the boy begins to understand that the visible point is preceded by an invisible point, that the shortest distance between two points is conceived as a straight line before it is ever drawn with the pencil on paper, he experiences a feeling of pride, of satisfaction. And justly so, for the fountain of all thought has been opened to him, the difference between the ideal and the real, potentia et actu, has become clear to him; henceforth the philosopher can reveal him nothing new, as a geometrician he has discovered the basis of all thought.
In Sprüche in Reimen. Sprüche in Prosa. Ethisches (1850), Vol. 3, 214. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 67. From the original German, “Wenn der knabe zu begreifen anfängt, daß einem sichtbaren Punkte ein unsichtbarer vorhergehen müsse, daß der nächste Weg zwischen zwei Punkten schon als Linie gedacht werde, ehe sie mit dem Bleistift aufs Papier gezogen wird, so fühlt er einen gewissen Stolz, ein Behagen. Und nicht mit Unrecht; denn ihm ist die Quelle alles Denkens aufgeschlossen, Idee und Verwirklichtes, potentia et actu, ist ihm klargeworden; der Philosoph entdeckt ihm nichts Neues; dem Geometer war von seiner Seite der Grund alles Denkens aufgegangen.” The Latin phrase, “potentia et actu” means “potentiality and actuality”.
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Why is it so very important to know that the lines drawn from the extremities of the base of an isosceles triangle to the middle points of the opposite sides are equal!
In Letter (29 May 1898), at age almost 18, to Mrs. Lawrence Hutton, excerpted in The Story of My Life: With her Letters (1887-1901) (1903, 1921), 242.
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Without the slightest doubt there is something through which material and spiritual energy hold togehter and are complementary. In the last analysis, somehow or other, there must be a single energy operating in the world. And the first idea that occurs to us is that the 'soul' must be as it were the focal point of transformation at which, from all the points of nature, the forces of bodies converge, to become interiorised and sublimated in beauty and truth.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 63. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 26
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“But in the binary system,” Dale points out, handing back the squeezable glass, “the alternative to one isn’t minus one, it’s zero. That’s the beauty of it, mechanically.” “O.K. Gotcha. You’re asking me, What’s this minus one? I’ll tell you. It’s a plus one moving backward in time. This is all in the space-time foam, inside the Planck duration, don’t forget. The dust of points gives birth to time, and time gives birth to the dust of points. Elegant, huh? It has to be. It’s blind chance, plus pure math. They’re proving it, every day. Astronomy, particle physics, it’s all coming together. Relax into it, young fella. It feels great. Space-time foam.”
In Roger's Version: A Novel (1986), 304.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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