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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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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index P > Category: Possibility

Possibility Quotes (164 quotes)

'Normal' science, in Kuhn's sense, exists. It is the activity of the non-revolutionary, or more precisely, the not-too-critical professional: of the science student who accepts the ruling dogma of the day... in my view the 'normal' scientist, as Kuhn describes him, is a person one ought to be sorry for... He has been taught in a dogmatic spirit: he is a victim of indoctrination... I can only say that I see a very great danger in it and in the possibility of its becoming normal... a danger to science and, indeed, to our civilization. And this shows why I regard Kuhn's emphasis on the existence of this kind of science as so important.
'Normal Science and its Dangers', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 52-3.
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“The Universe repeats itself, with the possible exception of history.” Of all earthly studies history is the only one that does not repeat itself. ... Astronomy repeats itself; botany repeats itself; trigonometry repeats itself; mechanics repeats itself; compound long division repeats itself. Every sum if worked out in the same way at any time will bring out the same answer. ... A great many moderns say that history is a science; if so it occupies a solitary and splendid elevation among the sciences; it is the only science the conclusions of which are always wrong.
In 'A Much Repeated Repetition', Daily News (26 Mar 1904). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 82.
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Dilbert: Wow! According to my computer simulation, it should be possible to create new life forms from common household chemicals
Dogbert: This raises some thorny issues.
Dilbert: You mean legal, ethical and religious issues?
Dogbert: I was thinking about parking spaces.
Dilbert comic strip (31 May 1989).
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[Attributing the origin of life to spontaneous generation.] However improbable we regard this event, it will almost certainly happen at least once…. The time… is of the order of two billion years.… Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One only has to wait: time itself performs the miracles.
In 'The Origin of Life', Scientific American (Aug 1964), 191, 46. Note that the quoted time of 2 billion years is rejected as impossibly short by such authors as H. J. Morowitz, in Energy Flow in Biology (1968), 317.
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Aristotle quote: A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility
A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.
Aristotle
Poetics, 1460a, 26-7. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 2337.
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A theory has only the alternative of being right or wrong. A model has a third possibility: it may be right, but irrelevant.
Manfred Eigen, 'The Origin of Biological Information', in Jagdish Mehra (ed.), The Physicists's Conception of Nature (1973), 618.
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A thing is either alive or it isn’t; there is nothing that is almost alive. There is but the remotest possibility of the origin of life by spontaneous generation, and every likelihood that Arrhenius is right when he dares to claim that life is a cosmic phenomenon, something that drifts between the spheres, like light, and like light transiently descends upon those fit to receive it.
In An Almanac for Moderns (1935), 393.
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A universe without law would be a universe without order, without the possibility of science, and the manifestations of an intelligent governor and creator.
Presidential address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (22 Aug 1850),The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 8, 99.
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After the discovery of spectral analysis no one trained in physics could doubt the problem of the atom would be solved when physicists had learned to understand the language of spectra. So manifold was the enormous amount of material that has been accumulated in sixty years of spectroscopic research that it seemed at first beyond the possibility of disentanglement. An almost greater enlightenment has resulted from the seven years of Röntgen spectroscopy, inasmuch as it has attacked the problem of the atom at its very root, and illuminates the interior. What we are nowadays hearing of the language of spectra is a true 'music of the spheres' in order and harmony that becomes ever more perfect in spite of the manifold variety. The theory of spectral lines will bear the name of Bohr for all time. But yet another name will be permanently associated with it, that of Planck. All integral laws of spectral lines and of atomic theory spring originally from the quantum theory. It is the mysterious organon on which Nature plays her music of the spectra, and according to the rhythm of which she regulates the structure of the atoms and nuclei.
Atombau und Spektrallinien (1919), viii, Atomic Structure and Spectral Lines, trans. Henry L. Brose (1923), viii.
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All experimentation is criticism. If an experiment does not hold out the possibility of causing one to revise one’s views, it is hard to see why it should be done at all.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 94.
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Amidst the vicissitudes of the earth’s surface, species cannot be immortal, but must perish, one after another, like the individuals which compose them. There is no possibility of escaping from this conclusion.
Principles of Geology (1837), Vol. 2, 202.
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And, in this case, science could learn an important lesson from the literati–who love contingency for the same basic reason that scientists tend to regard the theme with suspicion. Because, in contingency lies the power of each person, to make a difference in an unconstrained world bristling with possibilities, and nudgeable by the smallest of unpredictable inputs into markedly different channels spelling either vast improvement or potential disaster.
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As immoral and unethical as this may be [to clone a human], there is a real chance that could have had some success. This is a pure numbers game. If they have devoted enough resources and they had access to enough eggs, there is a distinct possibility. But, again, without any scientific data, one has to be extremely skeptical.
Commenting on the announcement of the purported birth of the first cloned human.
Transcript of TV interview by Sanjay Gupta aired on CNN (27 Dec 2002).
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Behind and permeating all our scientific activity, whether in critical analysis or in discovery, there is an elementary and overwhelming faith in the possibility of grasping the real world with out concepts, and, above all, faith in the truth over which we have no control but in the service of which our rationality stands or falls. Faith and intrinsic rationality are interlocked with one another
Christian Theology of Scientific Culture (1981), 63. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 187.
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But if we are to control evolution we shall have to find out how to influence gene reproduction in a definite direction, just as organic chemists nowadays work for definite ends. Such a possibility is at present entirely beyond our grasp, but a century hence it may not be so.
In 'The Biochemistry of the Individual' (1937), collected in Neurath Hans (ed.), Perspectives in Biochemistry (1989), 6.
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But, as we consider the totality of similarly broad and fundamental aspects of life, we cannot defend division by two as a natural principle of objective order. Indeed, the ‘stuff’ of the universe often strikes our senses as complex and shaded continua, admittedly with faster and slower moments, and bigger and smaller steps, along the way. Nature does not dictate dualities, trinities, quarterings, or any ‘objective’ basis for human taxonomies; most of our chosen schemes, and our designated numbers of categories, record human choices from a cornucopia of possibilities offered by natural variation from place to place, and permitted by the flexibility of our mental capacities. How many seasons (if we wish to divide by seasons at all) does a year contain? How many stages shall we recognize in a human life?
…...
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By no amount of reasoning can we altogether eliminate all contingency from our world. Moreover, pure speculation alone will not enable us to get a determinate picture of the existing world. We must eliminate some of the conflicting possibilities, and this can be brought about only by experiment and observation.
Reason and Nature: an Essay on the Meaning of Scientific Method? (2nd Ed., 1964), 82.
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Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist, nor what sort of form they may have; there are many reasons why knowledge on this subject is not possible, owing to the lack of evidence and the shortness of human life.
Protagoras, fr. 1, quoted in E. Hussey, The Pre-Socratics (1972), 109.
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Development of Western science is based on two great achievements: the invention of the formal logical system (in Euclidean geometry) by the Greek philosophers, and the discovery of the possibility to find out causal relationships by systematic experiment (during the Renaissance). In my opinion, one has not to be astonished that the Chinese sages have not made these steps. The astonishing thing is that these discoveries were made at all.
Letter to J. S. Switzer, 23 Apr 1953, Einstein Archive 61-381. Quoted in Alice Calaprice, The Quotable Einstein (1996), 180.
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Don’t confuse hypothesis and theory. The former is a possible explanation; the latter, the correct one. The establishment of theory is the very purpose of science.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944), 7.
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Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.
…...
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Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
A Brief History of Time (1998), 190.
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Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
From paper 'Science, Philosophy and Religion', prepared for initial meeting of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York City (9-11 Sep 1940). Collected in Albert Einstein: In His Own Words (2000), 212.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.
Opening line his first letter (13 May 1900) to Octave Chanute. In Marvin W. McFarland (ed.) The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: 1899-1905 (1953), Vol. 1, 13.
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For the environmentalists, The Space Option is the ultimate environmental solution. For the Cornucopians, it is the technological fix that they are relying on. For the hard core space community, the obvious by-product would be the eventual exploration and settlement of the solar system. For most of humanity however, the ultimate benefit is having a realistic hope in a future with possibilities.... If our species does not soon embrace this unique opportunity with sufficient commitment, it may miss its one and only chance to do so. Humanity could soon be overwhelmed by one or more of the many challenges it now faces. The window of opportunity is closing as fast as the population is increasing. Our future will be either a Space Age or a Stone Age.
Arthur Woods and Marco Bernasconi
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Geology differs from physics, chemistry, and biology in that the possibilities for experiment are limited.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 453.
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However far modern science and technics have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one lesson: Nothing is impossible.
Technics and Civilization (1934), 435.
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However, on many occasions, I examined normal blood and normal tissues and there was no possibility of overlooking bacteria or confusing them with granular masses of equal size. I never found organisms. Thus, I conclude that bacteria do not occur in healthy human or animal tissues.
'Investigations of the Etiology of Wound Infections' (1878), Essays of Robert Koch (1987), trans. K. Codell Carter, 27.
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Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-7), Vol. 2, 397.
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I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything.
Letter to Herbert Spencer (22 Mar 1886). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1903), Vol. 2, 443.
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I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
Letter, to General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1650). In The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England (1763), Vol. 19, 322.
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I do not see the possibility of comparison between his [H. G. Wells] work and mine. We do not proceed in the same manner. It occurs to me that his stories do not repose on a very scientific basis. ... I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannon-ball, discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars in an airship, which he constructs of a metal which does not obey the law of gravitation. Ça c'est très joli ... but show me this metal. Let him produce it.
Quoted in R. H. Sherard, 'Jules Verne Re-Visited', T.P.'s Weekly (9 Oct 1903).
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I doubt that Fleming could have obtained a grant for the discovery of penicillin on that basis [a requirement for highly detailed research plans] because he could not have said, 'I propose to have an accident in a culture so that it will be spoiled by a mould falling on it, and I propose to recognize the possibility of extracting an antibiotic from this mould.'
Remarks to the Canadian Senate on Science Policy, in From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist (1964). In Ken G. Smith (ed.) and Michael A. Hitt (ed), Great Minds in Management: the Theory of Process Development (2005), 368
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I found the invention was applicable to painting, and would also contribute to facilitate the study of geography: for I have applied it to some maps, the rivers of which I represented in silver, and in the cities in gold. The rivers appearing, as it were, in silver streams, have a most pleasing effect on the sight, and relieve the eye of that painful search for the course, and origin, of rivers, the minutest branches of which can be splendidly represented this way.
Description of an outcome of her experiments originally investigating 'the possibility of making cloths of gold, silver and other metals by chemical processes.'
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), iii-iv. In Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie and Joy Dorothy Harvey, The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science (2000), 478.
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I had at one time a very bad fever of which I almost died. In my fever I had a long consistent delirium. I dreamt that I was in Hell, and that Hell is a place full of all those happenings that are improbable but not impossible. The effects of this are curious. Some of the damned, when they first arrive below, imagine that they will beguile the tedium of eternity by games of cards. But they find this impossible, because, whenever a pack is shuffled, it comes out in perfect order, beginning with the Ace of Spades and ending with the King of Hearts. There is a special department of Hell for students of probability. In this department there are many typewriters and many monkeys. Every time that a monkey walks on a typewriter, it types by chance one of Shakespeare's sonnets. There is another place of torment for physicists. In this there are kettles and fires, but when the kettles are put on the fires, the water in them freezes. There are also stuffy rooms. But experience has taught the physicists never to open a window because, when they do, all the air rushes out and leaves the room a vacuum.
'The Metaphysician's Nightmare', Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories (1954), 38-9.
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I have always been very fond of mathematics—for one short period, I even toyed with the possibility of abandoning chemistry in its favour. I enjoyed immensely both its conceptual and formal beauties, and the precision and elegance of its relationships and transformations. Why then did I not succumb to its charms? … because by and large, mathematics lacks the sensuous elements which play so large a role in my attraction to chemistry.I love crystals, the beauty of their forms and formation; liquids, dormant, distilling, sloshing! The fumes, the odors—good or bad, the rainbow of colors; the gleaming vessels of every size, shape and purpose.
In Arthur Clay Cope Address, Chicago (28 Aug 1973). In O. T. Benfey and P. J. T. Morris (eds.), Robert Burns Woodward. Architect and Artist in the World of Molecules (2001), 427.
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I have often been amused by our vulgar tendency to take complex issues, with solutions at neither extreme of a continuum of possibilities, and break them into dichotomies, assigning one group to one pole and the other to an opposite end, with no acknowledgment of subtleties and intermediate positions–and nearly always with moral opprobrium attached to opponents.
…...
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I maintain that in every special natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with as mathematics; for… science proper, especially [science] of nature, requires a pure portion, lying at the foundation of the empirical, and based upon a priori knowledge of natural things. … To the possibility of a determinate natural thing, and therefore to cognise it à priori, is further requisite that the intuition corresponding à priori to the conception should be given; in other words, that the conception should be constructed. But the cognition of the reason through construction of conceptions is mathematical. A pure philosophy of nature in general, namely, one that only investigates what constitutes a nature in general, may thus be possible without mathematics; but a pure doctrine of nature respecting determinate natural things (corporeal doctrine and mental doctrine), is only possible by means of mathematics; and as in every natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with therein as there is cognition à priori, a doctrine of nature can only contain so much science proper as there is in it of applied mathematics.
From Preface to The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), as translated by Ernest Belford Boax, in Kant’s Prolegomena: And The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1883), 140.
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I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
From translations of a letter (24 Feb 1918), cited in Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002), 24. Nahin footnotes that the words are not verbatim, but are the result of two translations. Heaviside's original letter in English was quoted, translated in to French by J. Bethenode, for the obituary he wrote, "Oliver Heaviside", in Annales des Posies Telegraphs (1925), 14, 521-538. The quote was retranslated back to English in Nadin's book. Bethenode footnoted that he made the original translation "as literally as possible in order not to change the meaning." Nadin assures that the retranslation was done likewise. Heaviside studyied Maxwell's two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
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I suspect that the changes that have taken place during the last century in the average man's fundamental beliefs, in his philosophy, in his concept of religion. in his whole world outlook, are greater than the changes that occurred during the preceding four thousand years all put together. ... because of science and its applications to human life, for these have bloomed in my time as no one in history had had ever dreamed could be possible.
In The Autobiography of Robert A. Millikan (1951, 1980), xii.
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I tell young people to reach for the stars. And I can't think of a greater high than you could possibly get than by inventing something.
From audio on MIT video '1999 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award Winner', on 'Innovative Lives: Stephanie Kwolek and Kevlar, The Wonder Fiber' on the Smithsonian website.
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I therefore took this opportunity and also began to consider the possibility that the Earth moved. Although it seemed an absurd opinion, nevertheless, because I knew that others before me had been granted the liberty of imagining whatever circles they wished to represent the phenomena of the stars, I thought that I likewise would readily be allowed to test whether, by assuming some motion of the Earth's, more dependable representations than theirs could be found for the revolutions of the heavenly spheres.
'To His Holiness Pope Paul III', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 26.
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I think that the event which, more than anything else, led me to the search for ways of making more powerful radio telescopes, was the recognition, in 1952, that the intense source in the constellation of Cygnus was a distant galaxy—1000 million light years away. This discovery showed that some galaxies were capable of producing radio emission about a million times more intense than that from our own Galaxy or the Andromeda nebula, and the mechanisms responsible were quite unknown. ... [T]he possibilities were so exciting even in 1952 that my colleagues and I set about the task of designing instruments capable of extending the observations to weaker and weaker sources, and of exploring their internal structure.
From Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1974). In Stig Lundqvist (ed.), Nobel Lectures, Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 187.
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I understood that you would take the human race in the concrete, have exploded the absurd notion of Pope’s Essay on Man, [Erasmus] Darwin, and all the countless believers even (strange to say) among Christians of man’s having progressed from an ouran-outang state—so contrary to all History, to all religion, nay, to all possibility—to have affirmed a Fall in some sense as a fact….
Letter to William Wordsworth (30 May 1815). In William Knight, The Life of William Wordsworth (1889), Vol. 2, 259. [Note: “ouran” is as written. Erasmus identified in footnote.]
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If I get the impression that Nature itself makes the decisive choice [about] what possibility to realize, where quantum theory says that more than one outcome is possible, then I am ascribing personality to Nature, that is to something that is always everywhere. [An] omnipresent eternal personality which is omnipotent in taking the decisions that are left undetermined by physical law is exactly what in the language of religion is called God.
As quoted by John D. Barrow in The Universe that Discovered Itself (2000), 171.
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If I had my life to live over again I would not devote it to develop new industrial processes: I would try to add my humble efforts to use Science to the betterment of the human race.
I despair of the helter-skelter methods of our vaulted homo sapiens, misguided by his ignorance and his politicians. If we continue our ways, there is every possibility that the human race may follow the road of former living races of animals whose fossils proclaim that they were not fit to continue. Religion, laws and morals is not enough. We need more. Science can help us.
Letter to a friend (14 Jan 1934). In Savage Grace (1985, 2007), 62.
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If it were possible for a metaphysician to be a golfer, he might perhaps occasionally notice that his ball, instead of moving forward in a vertical plane (like the generality of projectiles, such as brickbats and cricket balls), skewed away gradually to the right. If he did notice it, his methods would naturally lead him to content himself with his caddies’s remark-“ye heeled that yin,” or “Ye jist sliced it.” … But a scientific man is not to be put off with such flimsy verbiage as that. He must know more. What is “Heeling”, what is “slicing”, and why would either operation (if it could be thoroughly carried out) send a ball as if to cover point, thence to long slip, and finally behind back-stop? These, as Falstaff said, are “questions to be asked.”
In 'The Unwritten Chapter on Golf, Nature (1887), 36, 502.
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If politics is the art of the possible, research is surely the art of the soluble. Both are immensely practical-minded affairs.
In 'The Act of Creation', a book review (of Arthur Koestler’s book, The Act of Creation) in New Statesman (19 Jun 1964). Collected in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 42. Also collected in Medawar’s The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 7.
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If the Weismann idea triumphs, it will be in a sense a triumph of fatalism; for, according to it, while we may indefinitely improve the forces of our education and surroundings, and this civilizing nurture will improve the individuals of each generation, its actual effects will not be cumulative as regards the race itself, but only as regards the environment of the race; each new generation must start de novo, receiving no increment of the moral and intellectual advance made during the lifetime of its predecessors. It would follow that one deep, almost instinctive motive for a higher life would be removed if the race were only superficially benefited by its nurture, and the only possible channel of actual improvement were in the selection of the fittest chains of race plasma.
'The Present Problem of Heredity', The Atlantic Monthly (1891), 57, 363.
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 1-2.
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In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), 255.
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In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast … “To physics and metaphysics.” Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy—truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and … the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind (as I was saying a moment ago) from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else. The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense—not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), 293.
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In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle. ‘All space’ in this context may mean either all of an infinite universe, or all of a finite universe which curves back on itself like the surface of a sphere. Neither possibility is easy to comprehend, but this will not get in our way; it matters hardly at all in the early universe whether space is finite or infinite. At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high­energy nuclear physics.
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 5.
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In the fall of 1967, [I was invited] to a conference … on pulsars. … In my talk, I argued that we should consider the possibility that the center of a pulsar is a gravitationally completely collapsed object. I remarked that one couldn't keep saying “gravitationally completely collapsed object” over and over. One needed a shorter descriptive phrase. “How about black hole?” asked someone in the audience. I had been searching for the right term for months, mulling it over in bed, in the bathtub, in my car, whenever I had quiet moments. Suddenly this name seemed exactly right. When I gave a more formal Sigma Xi-Phi Beta Kappa lecture … on December 29, 1967, I used the term, and then included it in the written version of the lecture published in the spring of 1968. (As it turned out, a pulsar is powered by “merely” a neutron star, not a black hole.)
[Although John Wheeler is often identified as coining the term “black hole,” he in fact merely popularized the expression. In his own words, this is his explanation of the true origin: a suggestion from an unidentified person in a conference audience.]
In Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam (2000), 296-297.
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Is science visionary? Is it not the hardest-headed intellectual discipline we know? How, then, does science look at this universe? Always as a bundle of possibilities. Habitually the scientist looks at this universe and every area in it as a bundle of possibilities, with no telling what might come if we fulfilled the conditions. Thomas Edison was no dreamer. He was a seer. The possibilities that he brought out were factually there. They were there before he saw them. They would have been there if he never had seen them. Always the possibilities are part of the actualities in any given situation.
In 'Don't Lose Faith in Human Possibilities', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 15.
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It has hitherto been a serious impediment to the progress of knowledge, that is in investigating the origin or causes of natural productions, recourse has generally been had to the examination, both by experiment and reasoning, of what might be rather than what is. The laws or processes of nature we have every reason to believe invariable. Their results from time to time vary, according to the combinations of influential circumstances; but the process remains the same. Like the poet or the painter, the chemist may, and no doubt often' does, create combinations which nature never produced; and the possibility of such and such processes giving rise to such and such results, is no proof whatever that they were ever in natural operation.
Considerations on Volcanoes (1825), 243.
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It is a better world with some buffalo left in it, a richer world with some gorgeous canyons unmarred by signboards, hot-dog stands, super highways, or high-tension lines, undrowned by power or irrigation reservoirs. If we preserved as parks only those places that have no economic possibilities, we would have no parks. And in the decades to come, it will not be only the buffalo and the trumpeter swan who need sanctuaries. Our own species is going to need them too. It needs them now.
Conclusion of essay 'The Marks of Human Passage', collected in This is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and its Magic Rivers (1955), 17.
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It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere.
…...
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It is entirely unprecedented that evolution should provide a species with an organ which it does not know how to use. … But the evolution of man’s brain has so wildly overshot man’s immediate needs that he is still breathlessly catching up with its unexploited, unexplored possibilities.
In The Ghost in the Machine (1967), 298-299. This is often seen paraphrased as “The evolution of the brain not only overshot the needs of prehistoric man, it is the only example of evolution providing a species with an organ which it does not know how to use.”
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It is in scientific honesty that I endorse the presentation of alternative theories for the origin of the universe, life and man in the science classroom. It would be an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned rather than happening by chance.
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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It is not always the most brilliant speculations nor the choice of the most exotic materials that is most profitable. I prefer Monsieur de Reaumur busy exterminating moths by means of an oily fleece; or increasing fowl production by making them hatch without the help of their mothers, than Monsieur Bemouilli absorbed in algebra, or Monsieur Leibniz calculating the various advantages and disadvantages of the possible worlds.
Spectacle, 1, 475. Quoted in Camille Limoges, 'Noel-Antoine Pluche', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974 ), Vol. 11, 43.
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It is not easy to imagine how little interested a scientist usually is in the work of any other, with the possible exception of the teacher who backs him or the student who honors him.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 195.
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It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge & skill.
From his first letter (13 May 1900) to Octave Chanute. In Marvin W. McFarland (ed.) The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: 1899-1905 (1953), Vol. 1, 13.
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It is to geometry that we owe in some sort the source of this discovery [of beryllium]; it is that [science] that furnished the first idea of it, and we may say that without it the knowledge of this new earth would not have been acquired for a long time, since according to the analysis of the emerald by M. Klaproth and that of the beryl by M. Bindheim one would not have thought it possible to recommence this work without the strong analogies or even almost perfect identity that Citizen Haüy found for the geometrical properties between these two stony fossils.
Haüy used the geometry of cleavage to reveal the underlying crystal structure, and thus found the emeral and beryl were geometrically identical. In May Elvira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 153, citing Mellor, Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry (1923), 204-7.
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It takes someone with a vision of the possibilities to attain new levels of experience. Someone with the courage to live his dreams.
Les Brown
…...
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It will be possible, through the detailed determination of amino-acid sequences of hemoglobin molecules and of other molecules too, to obtain much information about the course of the evolutionary process, and to illuminate the question of the origin of species.
'Molecular Disease and Evolution'. Typescript of the Rudolph Virchow Lecture (5 Nov 1962). Quoted in T. Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1997), 541.
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Its [science’s] effectiveness is almost inevitable because it narrows the possibility of refutation and failure. Science begins by saying it can only answer this type of question and ends by saying these are the only questions that can be asked. Once the implications and shallowness of this trick are fully realised, science will be humbled and we shall be free to celebrate ourselves once again.
From Understanding the Present: An Alternative History of Science (2004), 249.
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Kurt Gödel’s achievement in modern logic is singular and monumental—indeed it is more than a monument, it is a landmark which will remain visible far in space and time. … The subject of logic has certainly completely changed its nature and possibilities with Gödel's achievement.
From remarks at the Presentation (Mar 1951) of the Albert Einstein Award to Dr. Gödel, as quoted in 'Tribute to Dr. Gödel', in Jack J. Bulloff, ‎Thomas C. Holyok (eds.), Foundations of Mathematics: Symposium Papers Commemorating the Sixtieth Birthday of Kurt Gödel (1969), ix. https://books.google.com/books?id=irZLAAAAMAAJ Kurt Gödel, ‎Jack J. Bulloff, ‎Thomas C. Holyoke - 1969 -
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Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us consider the two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that He is.
In Pensées (1670), Section 10. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 85. Also seen translated as, “…consider the two possibilities…”. From the French, “Pesons le gain et la perte, en prenant croix, que Dieu est. Estimons ces deux cas: si vous gagnez, vous gagnez tout; si vous perdez, vous ne perdez rien. Gagez donc qu’il est, sans hésiter,” in Oeuvres Complètes de Blaise Pascal (1864), Vol. 1, 304.
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Mathematics is not a book confined within a cover and bound between brazen clasps, whose contents it needs only patience to ransack; it is not a mine, whose treasures may take long to reduce into possession, but which fill only a limited number of veins and lodes; it is not a soil, whose fertility can be exhausted by the yield of successive harvests; it is not a continent or an ocean, whose area can be mapped out and its contour defined: it is limitless as that space which it finds too narrow for its aspirations; its possibilities are as infinite as the worlds which are forever crowding in and multiplying upon the astronomer’s gaze; it is as incapable of being restricted within assigned boundaries or being reduced to definitions of permanent validity, as the consciousness of life, which seems to slumber in each monad, in every atom of matter, in each leaf and bud cell, and is forever ready to burst forth into new forms of vegetable and animal existence.
From Commemoration Day Address (22 Feb 1877) at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, collected in The Collected Mathematical Papers: (1870-1883) (1909), 77-78.
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May every young scientist remember … and not fail to keep his eyes open for the possibility that an irritating failure of his apparatus to give consistent results may once or twice in a lifetime conceal an important discovery.
Commenting on the discovery of thoron gas because one of Rutherford’s students had found his measurements of the ionizing property of thorium were variable. His results even seemed to relate to whether the laboratory door was closed or open. After considering the problem, Rutherford realized a radioactive gas was emitted by thorium, which hovered close to the metal sample, adding to its radioactivity—unless it was dissipated by air drafts from an open door. (Thoron was later found to be argon.)
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics (1987), 21.
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Most scientists think wars and national boundaries are a menace to the true creative spirit by which science must live, they hate war and they are terrified of atomic war—because they know its possibilities.
As quoted in Michael Amrine, 'I’m A Frightened Man', Collier’s (1946), 117, 51.
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My task was to show the psychologists that it is possible to apply physiological knowledge to the phenomena of psychical life.
'Reflexes of the Brain', Selected Works (1935), 335-6.
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Nature becomes fertile only by virtue of laws that oblige matter to organize itself into one of a number of necessarily very simple primitive forms. Because of their very simplicity, these are capable of constituting the basis for increasingly complex bodies, by the addition of organs calculated according to identical laws of possibility.
'Matiere', Dictionnaire Classique d' Histoire Naturelle (1822-31), Vol. 10, 277, trans. J. Mandelbaum. Quoted in Pietro Corsi, The Age of Lamarck (1988), 225.
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Nothing in physics seems so hopeful to as the idea that it is possible for a theory to have a high degree of symmetry was hidden from us in everyday life. The physicist's task is to find this deeper symmetry.
In American Scientist (1977) (as cited in The Atlantic (1984), 254, 81.) As an epigraph in Crystal and Dragon: The Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness (1993), 139.
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On the afternoon of October 19, 1899, I climbed a tall cherry tree and, armed with a saw which I still have, and a hatchet, started to trim the dead limbs from the cherry tree. It was one of the quiet, colorful afternoons of sheer beauty which we have in October in New England, and as I looked towards the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars. I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended for existence at last seemed very purposive.
In The Papers of Robert H. Goddard: 1898-1924 (1970), 9.
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Philosophy stands in need of a science which shall determine the possibility, principles, and extent of human knowledge à priori.
Critique of Pure Reason, translated by John Miller Dow Meiklejohn (1899), 4.
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Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.
In 'The Value of Philosophy', The Problems of Philosophy (1912), 157.
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Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics (1938), 33.
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Physicists often quote from T. H. White’s epic novel The Once and Future King, where a society of ants declares, “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” In other words, if there isn't a basic principle of physics forbidding time travel, then time travel is necessarily a physical possibility. (The reason for this is the uncertainty principle. Unless something is forbidden, quantum effects and fluctuations will eventually make it possible if we wait long enough. Thus, unless there is a law forbidding it, it will eventually occur.)
In Parallel Worlds: a Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (2006), 136.
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Physics is NOT a body of indisputable and immutable Truth; it is a body of well-supported probable opinion only .... Physics can never prove things the way things are proved in mathematics, by eliminating ALL of the alternative possibilities. It is not possible to say what the alternative possibilities are.... Write down a number of 20 figures; if you multiply this by a number of, say, 30 figures, you would arrive at some enormous number (of either 49 or 50 figures). If you were to multiply the 30-figure number by the 20-figure number you would arrive at the same enormous 49- or 50-figure number, and you know this to be true without having to do the multiplying. This is the step you can never take in physics.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 68, 88, 179.
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Profound thoughts arise only in debate, with a possibility of counterargument, only when there is a possibility of expressing not only correct ideas but also dubious ideas.
In Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom (1968).
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Progress imposes not only new possibilities for the future but new restrictions.
In 'Progress and Entropy', The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950, 1954), 46.
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Qualified scientists in Washington believe that the atom-blasting of Japan is the start toward heating plants the size of telephone booths for great factories, and motor-car trips of 1,000 hours on one gram of fuel. One expert estimated that with a few grams of uranium it might be possible to power the Queen Mary from Europe to the U.S. and back again. One of America’s leading scientists, Doctor Vollrath, said that the new discovery brings man’s attempt to reach the moon within bounds of possibility.
Newspaper
The Maple Leaf (8 Aug 1945), 4.
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Science has succeeded to poetry, no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possibility of averting this sore evil?
Letter to Coleridge (23 Oct 1802). In Edwin W. Marrs, Jr. (ed.), The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb (1976), Vol. 2, 81-2.
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Science is a progressive activity. The outstanding peculiarity of man is that he stumbled onto the possibility of progressive activities. Such progress, the accumulation of experience from generation to generation, depended first on the development of language, then of writing and finally of printing. These allowed the accumulation of tradition and of knowledge, of the whole aura of cultural inheritance that surrounds us. This has so conditioned our existence that it is almost impossible for us to stop and examine the nature of our culture. We accept it as we accept the air we breathe; we are as unconscious of our culture as a fish, presumably, is of water.
The Nature of Natural History 1950)
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Science is concerned with what is possible while engineering is concerned with choosing, from among the many possible ways, one that meets a number of often poorly stated economic and practical objectives.
From Turing Award lecture (1968), 'One Man's View of Computer Science', collected in ACM Turing Award Lectures: The First Twenty Years, 1966 to 1985 (1987), 209. ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery. Also in Journal of the ACM (Jan 1969), 16, No. 1, 5.
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Scientific reasoning is a kind of dialogue between the possible and the actual, between what might be and what is in fact the case.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 48.
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Scientists still do not appear to understand sufficiently that all earth sciences must contribute evidence toward unveiling the state of our planet in earlier times, and that the truth of the matter can only be reached by combing all this evidence. ... It is only by combing the information furnished by all the earth sciences that we can hope to determine 'truth' here, that is to say, to find the picture that sets out all the known facts in the best arrangement and that therefore has the highest degree of probability. Further, we have to be prepared always for the possibility that each new discovery, no matter what science furnishes it, may modify the conclusions we draw.
The Origins of Continents and Oceans
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Seeing and thinking have done much for human progress; in the sphere of mind and morals everything, and could the world have been saved by armchair philosophy, the Greeks would have done it; but only a novum organon could do this, the powerful possibilities of which were only revealed when man began to search our the secrets of nature by way of experiment, to use the words of Harvey.
Address at the opening of the new Pathological Institute of the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow (4 Oct 1911). Printed in 'The Pathological Institute of a General Hospital', Glasgow Medical Journal (1911), 76, 326.
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Should the research worker of the future discover some means of releasing this [atomic] energy in a form which could be employed, the human race will have at its command powers beyond the dream of scientific fiction, but the remotest possibility must always be considered that the energy once liberated will be completely uncontrollable and by its intense violence detonate all neighbouring substances. In this event, the whole of the hydrogen on earth might be transformed at once and the success of the experiment published at large to the universe as a new star.
'Mass Spectra and Isotopes', Nobel Lecture, 12 December 1922. In Nobel Lectures, Chemistry, 1922-1941 (1966), 20.
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Since 1849 I have studied incessantly, under all its aspects, a question which was already in my mind [since 1832. I confess that my scheme is still a mere dream, and I do not shut my eyes to the fact that so long as I alone believe it to be possible, it is virtually impossible. ... The scheme in question is the cutting of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez. This has been thought of from the earliest historical times, and for that very reason is looked upon as impracticable. Geographical dictionaries inform us indeed that the project would have been executed long ago but for insurmountable obstacles. [On his inspiration for the Suez Canal.]
Letter to M.S.A. Ruyssenaers, Consul-General for Holland in Egypt, from Paris (8 Jul 1852), seeking support. Collected in Ferdinand de Lesseps, The Suez Canal: Letters and Documents Descriptive of Its Rise and Progress in 1854-1856 (1876), 2.
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Talent deals with the actual, with discovered and realized truths, any analyzing, arranging, combining, applying positive knowledge, and, in action, looking to precedents. Genius deals with the possible, creates new combinations, discovers new laws, and acts from an insight into new principles.
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203.
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That atomic energy though harnessed by American scientists and army men for destructive purposes may be utilised by other scientists for humanitarian purposes is undoubtedly within the realm of possibility. … An incendiary uses fire for his destructive and nefarious purpose, a housewife makes daily use of it in preparing nourishing food for mankind.
In The Words of Gandhi (2001), 87.
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The edifice of science not only requires material, but also a plan. Without the material, the plan alone is but a castle in the air—a mere possibility; whilst the material without a plan is but useless matter.
In The Principles of Chemistry (1891), Vol. 1, preface, footnote, ix, as translated from the Russian 5th edition by George Kamensky, edited by A. J. Greenaway.
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The end of our foundation [Salomon's House in the New Atlantis] is the knowledge of Causes and the secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.
In Francis Bacon and William Rawle (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon: Philosophical Works (1887), 156.
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The fact that the proof of a theorem consists in the application of certain simple rules of logic does not dispose of the creative element in mathematics, which lies in the choice of the possibilities to be examined.
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), 15.
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The first possibility of rural cleanliness lies in water supply.
Letter to the Medical Officer of Health (Nov 1891)
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The great truths with which it [mathematics] deals, are clothed with austere grandeur, far above all purposes of immediate convenience or profit. It is in them that our limited understandings approach nearest to the conception of that absolute and infinite, towards which in most other things they aspire in vain. In the pure mathematics we contemplate absolute truths, which existed in the divine mind before the morning stars sang together, and which will continue to exist there, when the last of their radiant host shall have fallen from heaven. They existed not merely in metaphysical possibility, but in the actual contemplation of the supreme reason. The pen of inspiration, ranging all nature and life for imagery to set forth the Creator’s power and wisdom, finds them best symbolized in the skill of the surveyor. "He meted out heaven as with a span;" and an ancient sage, neither falsely nor irreverently, ventured to say, that “God is a geometer”.
In Orations and Speeches (1870), Vol. 3, 614.
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The greatest possibility of evil in self-medication [with penicillin] is the use of too-small doses, so that, instead of clearing up the infection, the microbes are educated to resist penicillin and a host of penicillin-fast organisms is bred out which can be passed on to other individuals and perhaps from there to others until they reach someone who gets a septicemia or a pneumonia which penicillin cannot save. In such a case the thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who finally succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism. I hope this evil can be averted.
In 'Penicillin’s Finder Assays Its Future: Sir Alexander Fleming Says Improved Dosage Method is Needed to Extend Use', New York Times (26 Jun 1945), 21.
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The hero reveals the possibilities of human nature. The celebrity reveals the possibilities of the press and media.
Quoted in Ponchitta Pierce, 'Who Are Our Heroes?', Parade Magazine (6 Aug 1995). As cited in Before I Pour This Over Your Head, Remember That I Love You (), 41 & 63.
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The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
Contact (1997), 162.
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The mathematical intellectualism is henceforth a positive doctrine, but one that inverts the usual doctrines of positivism: in place of originating progress in order, dynamics in statics, its goal is to make logical order the product of intellectual progress. The science of the future is not enwombed, as Comte would have had it, as Kant had wished it, in the forms of the science already existing; the structure of these forms reveals an original dynamism whose onward sweep is prolonged by the synthetic generation of more and more complicated forms. No speculation on number considered as a category a priori enables one to account for the questions set by modern mathematics … space affirms only the possibility of applying to a multiplicity of any elements whatever, relations whose type the intellect does not undertake to determine in advance, but, on the contrary, it asserts their existence and nourishes their unlimited development.
As translated in James Byrnie Shaw, Lectures on the Philosophy of Mathematics (1918), 193. From Léon Brunschvicg, Les Étapes de La Philosophie Mathématique (1912), 567-568, “L’intellectualisme mathématique est désormais une doctrine positive, mais qui intervertira les formules habituelles du positivisme: au lieu de faire sortir le progrès de l’ordre, ou le dynamique du statique, il tend à faire de l'ordre logique le produit du progrès intellectuel. La science à venir n'est pas enfermée, comme l’aurait voulu Comte, comme le voulait déjà Kant, dans les formes de la science déjà faite; la constitution de ces formes révèle un dynamisme originel dont l’élan se prolonge par la génération synthétique de notions de plus en plus compliquées. Aucune spéculation sur le nombre, considéré comme catégorie a priori, ne permet de rendre compte des questions qui se sont posées pour la mathématique moderne … … l’espace ne fait qu'affirmer la possibilité d'appliquer sur une multiplicité d’éléments quelconques des relations dont l’intelligence ne cherche pas à déterminer d’avance le type, dont elle constate, au contraire, dont elle suscite le développement illimité.”
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The McCarthy period came along … and many of the other scientists who had been working on these same lines gave up. Probably saying “Why should I sacrifice myself? I am a scientist, I am supposed to be working on scientific things, so I don’t need to put myself at risk by talking about these possibilities.” And I have said that perhaps I’m just stubborn… I have said “I don’t like anybody to tell me what to do or to think, except Mrs. Pauling.”
From interview (11 Nov 1990) with Wayne Reynolds, website of the American Academy of Achievement.
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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.
In Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4.
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The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions. As instances of such discoveries, which are in most cases due to the increasing order of accuracy made possible by improvements in measuring instruments, may be mentioned: first, the departure of actual gases from the simple laws of the so-called perfect gas, one of the practical results being the liquefaction of air and all known gases; second, the discovery of the velocity of light by astronomical means, depending on the accuracy of telescopes and of astronomical clocks; third, the determination of distances of stars and the orbits of double stars, which depend on measurements of the order of accuracy of one-tenth of a second-an angle which may be represented as that which a pin's head subtends at a distance of a mile. But perhaps the most striking of such instances are the discovery of a new planet or observations of the small irregularities noticed by Leverrier in the motions of the planet Uranus, and the more recent brilliant discovery by Lord Rayleigh of a new element in the atmosphere through the minute but unexplained anomalies found in weighing a given volume of nitrogen. Many other instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that “our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
In Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4. Michelson had some years earlier referenced “an eminent physicist” that he did not name who had “remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals,” near the end of his Convocation Address at the Dedication of the Ryerson Physical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, 'Some of the Objects and Methods of Physical Science' (4 Jul 1894), published in University of Chicago Quarterly Calendar (Aug 1894), 3, No.2, 15. Also
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The most fundamental difference between compounds of low molecular weight and macromolecular compounds resides in the fact that the latter may exhibit properties that cannot be deduced from a close examination of the low molecular weight materials. Not very different structures can be obtained from a few building blocks; but if 10,000 or 100,000 blocks are at hand, the most varied structures become possible, such as houses or halls, whose special structure cannot be predicted from the constructions that are possible with only a few building blocks... Thus, a chromosome can be viewed as a material whose macromolecules possess a well defined arrangement, like a living room in which each piece of furniture has its place and not, as in a warehouse, where the pieces of furniture are placed together in a heap without design.
Quoted, without citation, in Ralph E. Oesper (ed.), The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 175.
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The most striking impression was that of an overwhelming bright light. I had seen under similar conditions the explosion of a large amount—100 tons—of normal explosives in the April test, and I was flabbergasted by the new spectacle. We saw the whole sky flash with unbelievable brightness in spite of the very dark glasses we wore. Our eyes were accommodated to darkness, and thus even if the sudden light had been only normal daylight it would have appeared to us much brighter than usual, but we know from measurements that the flash of the bomb was many times brighter than the sun. In a fraction of a second, at our distance, one received enough light to produce a sunburn. I was near Fermi at the time of the explosion, but I do not remember what we said, if anything. I believe that for a moment I thought the explosion might set fire to the atmosphere and thus finish the earth, even though I knew that this was not possible.
In Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147.
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The native intellectual powers of men in different times, are not so much the causes of the different success of their labours, as the peculiar nature of the means and artificial resources in their possession‎. Independent of vessels of glass, there could have been no accurate manipulations in common chemistry: the air pump was necessary for live investigation of the properties of gaseous matter; and without the Voltaic apparatus, there was no possibility of examining the relations of electrical polarities to chemical attractions.
In Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812), Vol. 1, Part 1, 28-29.
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The number of hypotheses and theories about climate change are numerous. Quite naturally they have caught the public attention, as any proof of past climactic change points to the possibility of future climate change, which inevitably will have significant implications for global economics.
'Klimaschwankungen seit 1700 nebst Bemerkungen fiber die Klimaschwankungen der Diluvialzeit' Pencks Geographische Abhandlingen (1890) 4,2. In Eduard Brückner, Nico Stehr (Ed.), Hans von Storch (Ed.) and Barbara Stehr, Eduard Brückner (2000), 11.
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The possibility that the infective agent may not contain nucleic acid and consist only of a peptide or peptide-polysaccharide complex which has replication properties within susceptible cells is intriguing. If peptides, short-chain proteins, or peptide/fatty-acid/ polysaccharide complexes activate nucleic-acid template activity in the host genes to produce identical infective particles, this would invalidate the accepted dogma of present-day molecular biology in which D.N.A. and R.N.A. templates control all biological activity.
'Scrapie: An Infective Peptide?', The Lancet (1972), i, 748.
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The quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behaviour at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: 'The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.' The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 136.
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The science and technology which have advanced man safely into space have brought about startling medical advances for man on earth. Out of space research have come new knowledge, techniques and instruments which have enabled some bedridden invalids to walk, the totally deaf to hear, the voiceless to talk, and, in the foreseeable future, may even make it possible for the blind to “see.”
'From Outer Space—Advances For Medicine on Earth', contributed in Lillian Levy, Space, Its Impact on Man and Society (1965, reprinted 1973), 117.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The trouble is that all the investigators proceeded in exactly the same spirit, the spirit that is of scientific curiosity, and with no possibility of telling whether the issue of their work would prove them to be fiends, or dreamers, or angels.
'The Presidential Address: Part II Science and Warfare', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1938), 18-9.
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The truth is that other systems of geometry are possible, yet after all, these other systems are not spaces but other methods of space measurements. There is one space only, though we may conceive of many different manifolds, which are contrivances or ideal constructions invented for the purpose of determining space.
In Science (1903), 18, 106. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 352.
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The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth—never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves, in a sense, responsible for that future.
In 'The Conservation of Natural Resources', The Outlook (), 87, 294.
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The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin's theory, like all other attempts, to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural. I believe he has not even made the best conjecture possible in the present state of our knowledge.
In Evolution and Permanence of Type (1874), 12.
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There are almost unlimited possibilities for making discoveries and to uncover the unknown. It is in the nature of the discovery that it can not be planned or programmed. On the contrary it consists of surprises and appears many times in the most unexpected places.
Nobel Banquet speech (10 Dec 1982). In Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1982 (1983)
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Bertrand Russell quote: There are infinite possibilities of error, and more cranks take up fashionable untruths than unfashionab
There are infinite possibilities of error, and more cranks take up fashionable untruths than unfashionable truths.
Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916). Also in An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), reprinted in Unpopular Essays (1950) and collected in 'An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish', The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 61.
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There is a point of view among astronomical researchers that is generally referred to as the Principle of Mediocrity. ... If the Sun and its retinue of worlds is only one system among many, then many other systems will be like ours: home to life. Indeed, to the extent that this is true, we should be prepared for the possibility that, even in the Milky Way galaxy, billions of planets may be carpeted by the dirty, nasty business known as life.
Quoted in 'Do Aliens Exist in the Milky Way', PBS web page for WGBH Nova, 'Origins.'
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There is thus a possibility that the ancient dream of philosophers to connect all Nature with the properties of whole numbers will some day be realized. To do so physics will have to develop a long way to establish the details of how the correspondence is to be made. One hint for this development seems pretty obvious, namely, the study of whole numbers in modern mathematics is inextricably bound up with the theory of functions of a complex variable, which theory we have already seen has a good chance of forming the basis of the physics of the future. The working out of this idea would lead to a connection between atomic theory and cosmology.
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, 129.
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This alleged damage which the small radioactivity is causing—supposedly cancer and leukemia—has not been proved, to the best of my knowledge, by decent and clear statistics. It is possible that there is damage. It is even possible, to my mind, that there is no damage; and there is the possibility, further, that very small amounts of radioactivity are helpful.
From debate (20 Feb 1958) between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller on WQED-TV, San Francisco. Transcript published as Fallout and Disarmament: The Pauling-Teller Debate (1958). Reprinted in 'Fallout and Disarmament: A Debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller', Daedalus (Spring 1958), 87, No. 2, 155.
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This is the element that distinguishes applied science from basic. Surprise is what makes the difference. When you are organized to apply knowledge, set up targets, produce a usable product, you require a high degree of certainty from the outset. All the facts on which you base protocols must be reasonably hard facts with unambiguous meaning. The challenge is to plan the work and organize the workers so that it will come out precisely as predicted. For this, you need centralized authority, elaborately detailed time schedules, and some sort of reward system based on speed and perfection. But most of all you need the intelligible basic facts to begin with, and these must come from basic research. There is no other source. In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.
The Planning of Science, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, (1974) .
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This success permits us to hope that after thirty or forty years of observation on the new Planet [Neptune], we may employ it, in its turn, for the discovery of the one following it in its order of distances from the Sun. Thus, at least, we should unhappily soon fall among bodies invisible by reason of their immense distance, but whose orbits might yet be traced in a succession of ages, with the greatest exactness, by the theory of Secular Inequalities.
[Following the success of the confirmation of the existence of the planet Neptune, he considered the possibility of the discovery of a yet further planet.]
In John Pringle Nichol, The Planet Neptune: An Exposition and History (1848), 90.
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Time is in itself [not] a difficulty, but a time-rate, assumed on very insufficient grounds, is used as a master-key, whether or not it fits, to unravel all difficulties. What if it were suggested that the brick-built Pyramid of Hawara had been laid brick by brick by a single workman? Given time, this would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. But Nature, like the Pharaohs, had greater forces at her command to do the work better and more expeditiously than is admitted by Uniformitarians.
'The Position of Geology', The Nineteenth Century (1893), 34, 551.
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Today it is no longer questioned that the principles of the analysts are the more far-reaching. Indeed, the synthesists lack two things in order to engage in a general theory of algebraic configurations: these are on the one hand a definition of imaginary elements, on the other an interpretation of general algebraic concepts. Both of these have subsequently been developed in synthetic form, but to do this the essential principle of synthetic geometry had to be set aside. This principle which manifests itself so brilliantly in the theory of linear forms and the forms of the second degree, is the possibility of immediate proof by means of visualized constructions.
In Riemannsche Flächen (1906), Bd. 1, 234.
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Understanding a theory has, indeed, much in common with understanding a human personality. We may know or understand a man's system of dispositions pretty well; that is to say, we may be able to predict how he would act in a number of different situations. But since there are infinitely many possible situations, of infinite variety, a full understanding of a man's dispositions does not seem to be possible.
Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach (1972), 299.
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Using material ferried up by rockets, it would be possible to construct a “space station” in ... orbit. The station could be provided with living quarters, laboratories and everything needed for the comfort of its crew, who would be relieved and provisioned by a regular rocket service. (1945)
In 'Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Coverage?', Wireless World (Oct 1945). Quoted and cited in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 22. Also quoted in 'Hazards of Communication Satellites', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 181, by John R. Pierce Pierce, who then commented, “Clarke thought in terms of manned space stations; today these seem very remote.”
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Very little comes easily to our poor, benighted species (the first creature, after all, to experiment with the novel evolutionary inventions of self-conscious philosophy and art). Even the most ‘obvious,’ ‘accurate,’ and ‘natural’ style of thinking or drawing must be regulated by history and won by struggle. Solutions must therefore arise within a social context and record the complex interactions of mind and environment that define the possibility of human improvement.
…...
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We are at that very point in time when a four-hundred-year-old age is rattling in its deathbed and another is struggling to be born. A shifting of culture, science, society and institutions enormously greater and swifter than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, lies the possibility of regeneration of individuality, liberty, community and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another and with the divine intelligence such as the world has always dreamed.
Birth of the Chaordic Age (1999), 310-311.
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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 have already considered with disfavour the possibility of the universe having been planned by a biologist or an engineer; from the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 134.
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We have been forced to admit for the first time in history not only the possibility of the fact of the growth and decay of the elements of matter. With radium and with uranium we do not see anything but the decay. And yet, somewhere, somehow, it is almost certain that these elements must be continuously forming. They are probably being put together now in the laboratory of the stars. ... Can we ever learn to control the process. Why not? Only research can tell.
'The Significance of Radium,' an address delivered (in connection with the presentation of a gram of radium to Madame Curie) at the National Museum, Washington, D.C. (25 May 1921). In Science (1921), 54, No. 1383, 1921. In Rodney P. Carlisle, Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries (2004), 375.
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We know that there exist true propositions which we can never formally prove. What about propositions whose proofs require arguments beyond our capabilities? What about propositions whose proofs require millions of pages? Or a million, million pages? Are there proofs that are possible, but beyond us?
Mathematical Mysteries (1999), 295.
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We know the laws of trial and error, of large numbers and probabilities. We know that these laws are part of the mathematical and mechanical fabric of the universe, and that they are also at play in biological processes. But, in the name of the experimental method and out of our poor knowledge, are we really entitled to claim that everything happens by chance, to the exclusion of all other possibilities?
From Nobel Prize Lecture (Dec 1974), 'The Coming Age of the Cell'. Collected in Jan Lindsten (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1971-1980 (1992).
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We need to explore the possibility that homosexual bonding may be a biological mechanism.
In Pamela Weintraub (ed.), 'E. O. Wilson', The Omni Interviews (1984), 225.
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We regard as 'scientific' a method based on deep analysis of facts, theories, and views, presupposing unprejudiced, unfearing open discussion and conclusions. The complexity and diversity of all the phenomena of modern life, the great possibilities and dangers linked with the scientific-technical revolution and with a number of social tendencies demand precisely such an approach, as has been acknowledged in a number of official statements.
Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom (1968), 25.
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What [man landing on the moon] is doing up there is indulging his obsession with the impossible. The impossible infuriates and tantalizes him. Show him an impossible job and he will reduce it to a possibility so trite that eventually it bores him.
'Why on Earth Are We There? Because It's Impossible', New York Times (21 Jul 1969), 17.
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Whatever answers faith gives.. .such answers always give an infinite meaning to the finite existence of man; a meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation or death. This means only in faith can we find the meaning and possibility of life.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 19
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When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
In Is Shakespeare Dead?: From My Autobiography (1909), 127-128.
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When the great truth accidentally revealed and experimentally confirmed is fully recognized, that this planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric currents virtually no more than a small metal ball and that by this fact many possibilities, ea
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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When... the biologist is confronted with the fact that in the organism the parts are so adapted to each other as to give rise to a harmonious whole; and that the organisms are endowed with structures and instincts calculated to prolong their life and perpetuate their race, doubts as to the adequacy of a purely physiochemical viewpoint in biology may arise. The difficulties besetting the biologist in this problem have been rather increased than diminished by the discovery of Mendelian heredity, according to which each character is transmitted independently of any other character. Since the number of Mendelian characters in each organism is large, the possibility must be faced that the organism is merely a mosaic of independent hereditary characters. If this be the case the question arises: What moulds these independent characters into a harmonious whole? The vitalist settles this question by assuming the existence of a pre-established design for each organism and of a guiding 'force' or 'principle' which directs the working out of this design. Such assumptions remove the problem of accounting for the harmonious character of the organism from the field of physics or chemistry. The theory of natural selection invokes neither design nor purpose, but it is incomplete since it disregards the physiochemical constitution of living matter about which little was known until recently.
The Organism as a Whole: From a Physiochemical Viewpoint (1916), v-vi.
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Where any answer is possible, all answers are meaningless.
Referring to speculations (on “Not as We Know It” alien lifeforms) made in the total absence of evidence. In 'Fifty Million Big Brothers', The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Nov 1978), 55, No. 5, 86.
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Where the untrained eye will see nothing but mire and dirt, Science will often reveal exquisite possibilities. The mud we tread under our feet in the street is a grimy mixture of clay and sand, soot and water. Separate the sand, however, as Ruskinn observes—let the atoms arrange themselves in peace according to their nature—and you have the opal. Separate the clay, and it becomes a white earth, fit for the finest porcelain; or if it still further purifies itself, you have a sapphire. Take the soot, and it properly treated it will give you a diamond. While lastly, the water, purified and distilled, will become a dew-drop, or crystallize into a lovely star. Or, again, you may see as you will in any shallow pool either the mud lying at the bottom, or the image of the heavens above.
The Pleasures of Life (1887, 2007), 63.
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Wherever there is the slightest possibility for the human mind to know, there is a legitimate problem of science.
In The Grammar of Science (1892), 25.
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With moth cytochrome C there are 30 differences and 74 identities. With bread yeast and humans, there are about 45 amino acids that are different and about 59 that are identical. Think how close together man and this other organism, bread yeast, are. What is the probability that in 59 positions the same choice out of 20 possibilities would have been made by accident? It is impossibly small. There is, there must be, a developmental explanation of this. The developmental explanation is that bread yeast and man have a common ancestor, perhaps two billion years ago. And so we see that not only are all men brothers, but men and yeast cells, too, are at least close cousins, to say nothing about men and gorillas or rhesus monkeys. It is the duty of scientists to dispel ignorance of such relationships.
'The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Science', The Science Teacher (1933), 33, 15.
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You can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you're a fool.
Character Wonko the Sane in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (1985), collected in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2002), 587.
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[About research with big particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider.] I think the primary justification for this sort of science that we do is fundamental human curiosity. ... It's true, of course, that every previous generation that's made some breakthrough in understanding nature has seen those discoveries translated into new technologies, new possibilities for the human race. That may well happen with the Higgs boson. Quite frankly, at the moment I don't see how you can use the Higgs boson for anything useful.
As quoted in Alan Boyle, 'Discovery of Doom? Collider Stirs Debate', article (8 Sep 2008) on a msnbc.com web page.
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[Concerning] phosphorescent bodies, and in particular to uranium salts whose phosphorescence has a very brief duration. With the double sulfate of uranium and potassium ... I was able to perform the following experiment: One wraps a Lumière photographic plate with a bromide emulsion in two sheets of very thick black paper, such that the plate does not become clouded upon being exposed to the sun for a day. One places on the sheet of paper, on the outside, a slab of the phosphorescent substance, and one exposes the whole to the sun for several hours. When one then develops the photographic plate, one recognizes that the silhouette of the phosphorescent substance appears in black on the negative. If one places between the phosphorescent substance and the paper a piece of money or a metal screen pierced with a cut-out design, one sees the image of these objects appear on the negative. One can repeat the same experiments placing a thin pane of glass between the phosphorescent substance and the paper, which excludes the possibility of chemical action due to vapors which might emanate from the substance when heated by the sun's rays. One must conclude from these experiments that the phosphorescent substance in question emits rays which pass through the opaque paper and reduces silver salts.
[Although the sun is irrelevant, and he misinterprets the role of phosphorescence, he has discovered the effect of radioactivity.]
Read at French Academy of Science (24 Feb 1896). In Comptes Rendus (1896), 122, 420. As translated by Carmen Giunta on the Classic Chemistry web site.
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[It] is not the nature of things for any one man to make a sudden, violent discovery; science goes step by step and every man depends on the work of his predecessors. When you hear of a sudden unexpected discovery—a bolt from the blue—you can always be sure that it has grown up by the influence of one man or another, and it is the mutual influence which makes the enormous possibility of scientific advance. Scientists are not dependent on the ideas of a single man, but on the combined wisdom of thousands of men, all thinking of the same problem and each doing his little bit to add to the great structure of knowledge which is gradually being erected.
Concluding remark in Lecture ii (1936) on 'Forty Years of Physics', revised and prepared for publication by J.A. Ratcliffe, collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.), Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 73-74. Note that the words as prepared for publication may not be verbatim as spoken in the original lecture by the then late Lord Rutherford.
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[Regarding evolution believers:] Their business is not with the possible, but the actual—not with a world which might be, but with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not unmixed with reverence, and according to methods which, like the quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one desire—to know the truth. They have but one fear—to believe a lie.
'Scientific Use of the Imagination', Discourse Delivered Before the British Association at Liverpool, (16 Sep 1870). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 134.
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[The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task. ... We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946),
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[To a man expecting a scientific proof of the impossibility of flying saucers] I might have said to him: “Listen, I mean that from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.” It is just more likely, that is all. It is a good guess. And we always try to guess the most likely explanation, keeping in the back of the mind the fact that if it does not work we must discuss the other possibilities.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 166.
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… certain conditions under which the observable thing is perceived are tacitly assumed ... for the possibility that we deal with hallucinations or a dream can never be excluded.
In The Language of Modern Physics (1956).
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…The present revolution of scientific thought follows in natural sequence on the great revolutions at earlier epochs in the history of science. Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which explains the indeterminateness of the frame of space and time, crowns the work of Copernicus who first led us to give up our insistence on a geocentric outlook on nature; Einstein's general theory of relativity, which reveals the curvature or non-Euclidean geometry of space and time, carries forward the rudimentary thought of those earlier astronomers who first contemplated the possibility that their existence lay on something which was not flat. These earlier revolutions are still a source of perplexity in childhood, which we soon outgrow; and a time will come when Einstein’s amazing revelations have likewise sunk into the commonplaces of educated thought.
In The Theory of Relativity and its Influence on Scientific Thought (1922), 31-32
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“Endow scientific research and we shall know the truth, when and where it is possible to ascertain it;” but the counterblast is at hand: “To endow research is merely to encourage the research for endowment; the true man of science will not be held back by poverty, and if science is of use to us, it will pay for itself.” Such are but a few samples of the conflict of opinion which we find raging around us.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 5.
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“If there are two theories, one simpler man the other, the simpler one is to be preferred.” At first sight this does not seem quite so bad, but a little thought shows that our tendency to prefer the simpler possibility is psychological rather than scientific. It is less trouble to think that way. Experience invariably shows that the more correct a theory becomes, the more complex does it seem. … So this … interpretation of [Ockham’s Razor] is … worthless.
With co-author Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (1981), 135.
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“Unless,” said I [Socrates], “either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of' philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun.”
Plato
From The Republic 5 473 c-e, in Paul Shorey (trans.), Plato in Twelve Volumes (1930, 1969), Vol. 5, 509.
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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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