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Who said: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
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Possible Quotes (155 quotes)

Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
'Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination'. In the collection. Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962, rev. 1973), 14.
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A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.
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A mind exclusively bent upon the idea of utility necessarily narrows the range of the imagination. For it is the imagination which pictures to the inner eye of the investigator the indefinitely extending sphere of the possible,—that region of hypothesis and explanation, of underlying cause and controlling law. The area of suggestion and experiment is thus pushed beyond the actual field of vision.
In 'The Paradox of Research', The North American Review (Sep 1908), 188, No. 634, 425.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
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A possible explanation for the observed excess noise is the one given by Dicke, Peebles, Roll, and Wilkinson (1965) in a companion letter in this issue.
[The low-key announcement of the detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation which is the afterglow of the Big Bang. Co-author with Robert Wilson. They received the 1978 Nobel Prize for their discovery.]
'A measurement of excess antenna temperature at 4080 Mc/s'. In Astrophysical Journal (1965). Reprinted in R. B. Partridge, 3 K the cosmic microwave background radiation? (1995), Appendix A, 355.
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A principle of induction would be a statement with the help of which we could put inductive inferences into a logically acceptable form. In the eyes of the upholders of inductive logic, a principle of induction is of supreme importance for scientific method: “... this principle”, says Reichenbach, “determines the truth of scientific theories. To eliminate it from science would mean nothing less than to deprive science of the power to decide the truth or falsity of its theories. Without it, clearly, science would no longer have the right to distinguish its theories from the fanciful and arbitrary creations of the poet’s mind.” Now this principle of induction cannot be a purely logical truth like a tautology or an analytic statement. Indeed, if there were such a thing as a purely logical principle of induction, there would be no problem of induction; for in this case, all inductive inferences would have to be regarded as purely logical or tautological transformations, just like inferences in inductive logic. Thus the principle of induction must be a synthetic statement; that is, a statement whose negation is not self-contradictory but logically possible. So the question arises why such a principle should be accepted at all, and how we can justify its acceptance on rational grounds.
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A theory of physics is not an explanation; it is a system of mathematical oppositions deduced from a small number of principles the aim of which is to represent as simply, as completely, and as exactly as possible, a group of experimental laws.
As quoted in Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 15, which cites Théorie Physique; Son Objet—Son Structure (1906), 24.
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A troubling question for those of us committed to the widest application of intelligence in the study and solution of the problems of men is whether a general understanding of the social sciences will be possible much longer. Many significant areas of these disciplines have already been removed by the advances of the past two decades beyond the reach of anyone who does not know mathematics; and the man of letters is increasingly finding, to his dismay, that the study of mankind proper is passing from his hands to those of technicians and specialists. The aesthetic effect is admittedly bad: we have given up the belletristic “essay on man” for the barbarisms of a technical vocabulary, or at best the forbidding elegance of mathematical syntax.
Opening paragraph of 'The Study of Man: Sociology Learns the Language of Mathematics' in Commentary (1 Sep 1952). Reprinted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1294.
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All over the world there lingers on the memory of a giant tree, the primal tree, rising up from the centre of the Earth to the heavens and ordering the universe around it. It united the three worlds: its roots plunged down into subterranean abysses, Its loftiest branches touched the empyrean. Thanks to the Tree, it became possible to breathe the air; to all the creatures that then appeared on Earth it dispensed its fruit, ripened by the sun and nourished by the water which it drew from the soil. From the sky it attracted the lightning from which man made fire and, beckoning skyward, where clouds gathered around its fall. The Tree was the source of all life, and of all regeneration. Small wonder then that tree-worship was so prevalent in ancient times.
From 'L'Arbre Sacre' ('The Sacred Tree'), UNESCO Courier (Jan 1989), 4. Epigraph to Chap 1, in Kenton Miller and Laura Tangley, Trees of Life: Saving Tropical Forests and Their Biological Wealt (1991), 1.
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Although with the majority of those who study and practice in these capacities [engineers, builders, surveyors, geographers, navigators, hydrographers, astronomers], secondhand acquirements, trite formulas, and appropriate tables are sufficient for ordinary purposes, yet these trite formulas and familiar rules were originally or gradually deduced from the profound investigations of the most gifted minds, from the dawn of science to the present day. … The further developments of the science, with its possible applications to larger purposes of human utility and grander theoretical generalizations, is an achievement reserved for a few of the choicest spirits, touched from time to time by Heaven to these highest issues. The intellectual world is filled with latent and undiscovered truth as the material world is filled with latent electricity.
In Orations and Speeches, Vol. 3 (1870), 513.
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Among all the occurrences possible in the universe the a priori probability of any particular one of them verges upon zero. Yet the universe exists; particular events must take place in it, the probability of which (before the event) was infinitesimal. At the present time we have no legitimate grounds for either asserting or denying that life got off to but a single start on earth, and that, as a consequence, before it appeared its chances of occurring were next to nil. ... Destiny is written concurrently with the event, not prior to it.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 145.
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As in the domains of practical life so likewise in science there has come about a division of labor. The individual can no longer control the whole field of mathematics: it is only possible for him to master separate parts of it in such a manner as to enable him to extend the boundaries of knowledge by creative research.
In Die reine Mathematik in den Jahren 1884-99, 10. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 94.
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As was the case for Nobel's own invention of dynamite, the uses that are made of increased knowledge can serve both beneficial and potentially harmful ends. Increased knowledge clearly implies increased responsibility. We reject the notion advocated in some quarters that man should stop eating from the tree of knowledge, as if that were humanly possible.
From Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1981), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel 1981 (1981), 44.
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Astronomy has not only taught us that there are laws, but that from these laws there is no escape, that with them there is no possible compromise.
In Henri Poincaré and George Bruce Halsted (trans.), The Value of Science: Essential Writings of Henri Poincare (1907), 86.
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Be joyful because it is humanly possible.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 236
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Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. ...The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive.
Dune
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By the fruit one judges the tree; the tree of science grows exceedingly slowly; centuries elapse before one can pluck the ripe fruits; even today it is hardly possible for us to shell and appraise the kernel of the teachings that blossomed in the seventeenth century. He who sows cannot therefore judge the worth of the corn. He must have faith in the fruitfulness of the seed in order that he may follow untiringly his chosen furrow when he casts his ideas to the four winds of heaven.
As quoted in Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 62, which cites Évolution de la Mécanique (1903).
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Can the cause be reached from knowledge of the effect with the same certainty as the effect can be shown to follow from its cause? Is it possible for one effect to have many causes? If one determinate cause cannot be reached from the effect, since there is no effect which has not some cause, it follows that an effect, when it has one cause, may have another, and so that there may be several causes of it.
As quoted in Alistair Cameron Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (1971), 81.
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Catastrophe Theory is—quite likely—the first coherent attempt (since Aristotelian logic) to give a theory on analogy. When narrow-minded scientists object to Catastrophe Theory that it gives no more than analogies, or metaphors, they do not realise that they are stating the proper aim of Catastrophe Theory, which is to classify all possible types of analogous situations.
From 'La Théorie des catastrophes État présent et perspective', as quoted in Erick Christopher Zeeman, (ed.), Catastrophe Theory: Selected Papers, 1972-1977 (1977), 637, as cited in Martin Krampe (ed.), Classics of Semiotics (1987), 214.
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Collective unity is not the result of the brotherly love of the faithful for each other. The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole—the church, party, nation—and not to his fellow true believer. True loyalty between individuals is possible only in a loose and relatively free society.
In The True Believer (1951), 122
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Darwinian fitness is compounded of a mutual relationship between the organism and the environment. Of this, fitness of environment is quite as essential a component as the fitness which arises in the process of organic evolution; and in fundamental characteristics the actual environment is the fittest possible abode of life.
His thesis for the book stated at the beginning of The Fitness of the Environment (1913), Preface, v.
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Each new machine or technique, in a sense, changes all existing machines and techniques, by permitting us to put them together into new combinations. The number of possible combinations rises exponentially as the number of new machines or techniques rises
Future Shock (1970).
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Engineering is the science and art of efficient dealing with materials and forces … it involves the most economic design and execution … assuring, when properly performed, the most advantageous combination of accuracy, safety, durability, speed, simplicity, efficiency, and economy possible for the conditions of design and service.
As coauthor with Frank W. Skinner, and Harold E. Wessman, Vocational Guidance in Engineering Lines (1933), 6.
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Everything material which is the subject of knowledge has number, order, or position; and these are her first outlines for a sketch of the universe. If our feeble hands cannot follow out the details, still her part has been drawn with an unerring pen, and her work cannot be gainsaid. So wide is the range of mathematical sciences, so indefinitely may it extend beyond our actual powers of manipulation that at some moments we are inclined to fall down with even more than reverence before her majestic presence. But so strictly limited are her promises and powers, about so much that we might wish to know does she offer no information whatever, that at other moments we are fain to call her results but a vain thing, and to reject them as a stone where we had asked for bread. If one aspect of the subject encourages our hopes, so does the other tend to chasten our desires, and he is perhaps the wisest, and in the long run the happiest, among his fellows, who has learned not only this science, but also the larger lesson which it directly teaches, namely, to temper our aspirations to that which is possible, to moderate our desires to that which is attainable, to restrict our hopes to that of which accomplishment, if not immediately practicable, is at least distinctly within the range of conception.
From Presidential Address (Aug 1878) to the British Association, Dublin, published in the Report of the 48th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1878), 31.
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Extinction has only separated groups: it has by no means made them; for if every form which has ever lived on this earth were suddenly to reappear, though it would be quite impossible to give definitions by which each group could be distinguished from other groups, as all would blend together by steps as fine as those between the finest existing varieties, nevertheless a natural classification, or at least a natural arrangement, would be possible.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1860), 431.
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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For forty-nine months between 1968 and 1972, two dozen Americans had the great good fortune to briefly visit the Moon. Half of us became the first emissaries from Earth to tread its dusty surface. We who did so were privileged to represent the hopes and dreams of all humanity. For mankind it was a giant leap for a species that evolved from the Stone Age to create sophisticated rockets and spacecraft that made a Moon landing possible. For one crowning moment, we were creatures of the cosmic ocean, an epoch that a thousand years hence may be seen as the signature of our century.
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From a mathematical standpoint it is possible to have infinite space. In a mathematical sense space is manifoldness, or combinations of numbers. Physical space is known as the 3-dimension system. There is the 4-dimension system, the 10-dimension system.
As quoted in 'Electricity Will Keep The World From Freezing Up', New York Times (12 Nov 1911), SM4.
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Geometrical axioms are neither synthetic a priori conclusions nor experimental facts. They are conventions: our choice, amongst all possible conventions, is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. ... In other words, axioms of geometry are only definitions in disguise.
That being so what ought one to think of this question: Is the Euclidean Geometry true?
The question is nonsense. One might as well ask whether the metric system is true and the old measures false; whether Cartesian co-ordinates are true and polar co-ordinates false.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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Great things are only possible with outrageous requests.
As quoted, without citation in Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, The Aladdin Factor (1995), 212.
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He should avail himself of their resources in such ways as to advance the expression of the spirit in the life of mankind. He should use them so as to afford to every human being the greatest possible opportunity for developing and expressing his distinctively human capacity as an instrument of the spirit, as a centre of sensitive and intelligent awareness of the objective universe, as a centre of love of all lovely things, and of creative action for the spirit.
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Humans everywhere share the same goals when the context is large enough. And the study of the Cosmos provides the largest possible context … . If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another … . If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.
Cosmos
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Hyper-selectionism has been with us for a long time in various guises; for it represents the late nineteenth century’s scientific version of the myth of natural harmony–all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds (all structures well designed for a definite purpose in this case). It is, indeed, the vision of foolish Dr. Pangloss, so vividly satirized by Voltaire in Candide–the world is not necessarily good, but it is the best we could possibly have.
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I am paid by the word, so I always write the shortest words possible.
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I believe that certain erroneous developments in particle theory ... are caused by a misconception by some physicists that it is possible to avoid philosophical arguments altogether. Starting with poor philosophy, they pose the wrong questions. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that good physics has at times been spoiled by poor philosophy.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I do not think it is possible really to understand the successes of science without understanding how hard it is—how easy it is to be led astray, how difficult it is to know at any time what is the next thing to be done.
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I had the ambition to not only go farther than man had gone before, but to go as far as it was possible to go.
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I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful. To go
Small is Beautiful (1973).
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I strive that in public dissection the students do as much as possible so that if even the least trained of them must dissect a cadaver before a group of spectators, he will be able to perform it accurately with his own hands; and by comparing their studies one with another they will properly understand, this part of medicine.
In De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem [Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body] (1543), 547. Quoted and trans. in Charles Donald O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (1964), 144.
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I would “like” to be positivistic, [and do] research; but I can’t impress myself sufficiently by the “importance” of any possible research which I can imagine, to embark upon it.… The terrible secret is that I don’t believe in natural science. And yet I do, I do.
From notebook K12 manuscript, 2-3. As quoted and cited in Allan Beveridge, Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man: The Early Writing and Work of R.D. Laing, 1927-1960 (2011), 45.
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If a project is truly innovative, you cannot possibly know its exact cost and exact schedule at the beginning. And if you do know the exact cost and the exact schedule, chances are that the technology is obsolete.
From interview with Technology Review, quoted in Douglas Martin, 'Joseph Gavin, Who Helped Put First Man on Moon, Dies at 90', New York Times (4 Nov 2010)
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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 it were possible to have a life absolutely free from every feeling of sin, what a terrifying vacuum it would be!
In The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950 (1961), 175.
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If you have imagination as a grain of sesame seed, all things are possible to you.
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In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.
From the original Latin: “Veritatem inquirenti, semel in vita de omnibus, quantum fieri potest, esse dubitandum,” Principles of Philosophy (1644). Pars Prima, as collected in Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, Œuvres de Descartes (1905), Vol. 8, Proposition I, 5. English version as given in John Veitch (trans.), The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 193. Also seen translated as: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
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In the sense that [truth] means the reality about a human being it is probably impossible for a biographer to achieve. In the sense that it means a reasonable presentation of all the available facts it is more nearly possible, but even this limited goal is harder to reach than it appears to be. A biographer needs to be both humble and cautious.
Describing the difficulty of historical sources giving conflicting facts. From 'Getting at the Truth', The Saturday Review (19 Sep 1953), 36, No. 38, 11. Excerpted in Meta Riley Emberger and Marian Ross Hall, Scientific Writing (1955), 399.
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Induction. The mental operation by which from a number of individual instances, we arrive at a general law. The process, according to Hamilton, is only logically valid when all the instances included in the law are enumerated. This being seldom, if ever, possible, the conclusion of an Induction is usually liable to more or less uncertainty, and Induction is therefore incapable of giving us necessary (general) truths.
Stated as narrative, not a direct quote, by his biographer W.H.S. Monck in 'Glossary of Philosophical Terms', appended in Sir William Hamilton (1881), 181.
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Intelligence is important in psychology for two reasons. First, it is one of the most scientifically developed corners of the subject, giving the student as complete a view as is possible anywhere of the way scientific method can be applied to psychological problems. Secondly, it is of immense practical importance, educationally, socially, and in regard to physiology and genetics.
From Intelligence: Its Structure, Growth and Action: Its Structure, Growth and Action (1987), 1.
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It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them.
Epigraph in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), 11.
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It is characteristic of science that the full explanations are often seized in their essence by the percipient scientist long in advance of any possible proof.
The Origin of Life, 1967
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It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation. If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
In 'On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1863), 33, 234.
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It is never possible to predict a physical occurrence with unlimited precision.
In 'The Meaning of Causality in Physics' (1953), collected in Max Planck and Frank Gaynor (trans.), Scientific Autobiography: and Other Papers (1949, 2007), 124.
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It is not always possible to know what one has learned, or when the dawning will arrive. You will continue to shift, sift, to shake out and to double back. The synthesis that finally occurs can be in the most unexpected place and the most unexpected time. My charge ... is to be alert to the dawnings.
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It is not possible to find in all geometry more difficult and more intricate questions or more simple and lucid explanations [than those given by Archimedes]. Some ascribe this to his natural genius; while others think that incredible effort and toil produced these, to all appearance, easy and unlaboured results. No amount of investigation of yours would succeed in attaining the proof, and yet, once seen, you immediately believe you would have discovered it; by so smooth and so rapid a path he leads you to the conclusion required.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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It is possible in quantum mechanics to sneak quickly across a region which is illegal energetically.
In Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 3, 8-12.
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It is primarily through the growth of science and technology that man has acquired those attributes which distinguish him from the animals, which have indeed made it possible for him to become human.
In The Human Meaning of Science (1940), 2.
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It is the peculiar beauty of this method, gentlemen, and one which endears it to the really scientific mind, that under no circumstance can it be of the smallest possible utility.
Quoted as “It is reported that once in a lecture after explaining a new solution of an old problem he said…”, in Alexander Macfarlane, 'Henry John Stephen Smith', Lectures on Ten British Mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century (1916), 100.
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It might be thought … that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already very well understood.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 138-139.
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It should be the function of medicine to have people die young as late as possible.
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It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, the thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.
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Kepler’s discovery would not have been possible without the doctrine of conics. Now contemporaries of Kepler—such penetrating minds as Descartes and Pascal—were abandoning the study of geometry ... because they said it was so UTTERLY USELESS. There was the future of the human race almost trembling in the balance; for had not the geometry of conic sections already been worked out in large measure, and had their opinion that only sciences apparently useful ought to be pursued, the nineteenth century would have had none of those characters which distinguish it from the ancien régime.
From 'Lessons from the History of Science: The Scientific Attitude' (c.1896), in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 32.
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Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
As referenced to a private conversation with Professor henderson and quoted in Edwin Björkman, 'The Serious Bernard Shaw', The American Review of Reviews (1911), 43, 425.
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Looking back over the geological record it would seem that Nature made nearly every possible mistake before she reached her greatest achievement Man—or perhaps some would say her worst mistake of all. ... At last she tried a being of no great size, almost defenseless, defective in at least one of the more important sense organs; one gift she bestowed to save him from threatened extinction—a certain stirring, a restlessness, in the organ called the brain.
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Mathematics is the classification and study of all possible patterns.
In Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 12.
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Mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the world, but every possible world, must conform.
In 'The Study of Mathematics', The New Quarterly (1907), reprinted in Philosophical Essays (1910). As quoted and cited in 'The Retreat From Pythagoras', The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903-1959 (1992), 254.
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Mathematics was born and nurtured in a cultural environment. Without the perspective which the cultural background affords, a proper appreciation of the content and state of present-day mathematics is hardly possible.
In Introduction to the Foundations of Mathematics (1952), 265.
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Mathematics… is the set of all possible self-consistent structures, and there are vastly more logical structures than physical principles.
In 'Conclusion', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 328.
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More than ever before in the history of science and invention, it is safe now to say what is possible and what is impossible. No one would claim for a moment that during the next five hundred years the accumulated stock of knowledge of geography will increase as it has during the last five hundred In the same way it may safely be affirmed that in electricity the past hundred years is not likely to be duplicated in the next, at least as to great, original, and far-reaching discoveries, or novel and almost revolutionary applications.
In A Century of Electricity (1890), 223.
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My belief (is) that one should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments. If they are unsuccessful one is not then discouraged since many possible reasons for failure can be thought of, and improvements can be made. Much can often be learned by the repetition under different conditions, even if the desired result is not obtained. If every conceivable precaution is taken at first, one is often too discouraged to proceed at all.
Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), Vol. 3, 364.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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Never believe that the atom is a complex mystery—it is not. The atom is what we find when we look for the underlying architecture in nature, whose bricks are as few, as simple and orderly as possible.
Quoted in Andrew Jon Rotter, Hiroshima (2008), 7, without citation. Also in 'ABC of the Atom'. Reader's Digest (Feb 1952), 40, 25.
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Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
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Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in its elf, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?
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Obviously we biologists should fit our methods to our materials. An interesting response to this challenge has been employed particularly by persons who have entered biology from the physical sciences or who are distressed by the variability in biology; they focus their research on inbred strains of genetically homogeneous laboratory animals from which, to the maximum extent possible, variability has been eliminated. These biologists have changed the nature of the biological system to fit their methods. Such a bold and forthright solution is admirable, but it is not for me. Before I became a professional biologist, I was a boy naturalist, and I prefer a contrasting approach; to change the method to fit the system. This approach requires that one employ procedures which allow direct scientific utilization of the successful long-term evolutionary experiments which are documented by the fascinating diversity and variability of the species of animals which occupy the earth. This is easy to say and hard to do.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 232.
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Of possible quadruple algebras the one that had seemed to him by far the most beautiful and remarkable was practically identical with quaternions, and that he thought it most interesting that a calculus which so strongly appealed to the human mind by its intrinsic beauty and symmetry should prove to be especially adapted to the study of natural phenomena. The mind of man and that of Nature’s God must work in the same channels.
As quoted in W. E. Byerly (writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, but a former student at a Peirce lecture on Hamilton’s new calculus of quaternions), 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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One feature which will probably most impress the mathematician accustomed to the rapidity and directness secured by the generality of modern methods is the deliberation with which Archimedes approaches the solution of any one of his main problems. Yet this very characteristic, with its incidental effects, is calculated to excite the more admiration because the method suggests the tactics of some great strategist who foresees everything, eliminates everything not immediately conducive to the execution of his plan, masters every position in its order, and then suddenly (when the very elaboration of the scheme has almost obscured, in the mind of the spectator, its ultimate object) strikes the final blow. Thus we read in Archimedes proposition after proposition the bearing of which is not immediately obvious but which we find infallibly used later on; and we are led by such easy stages that the difficulties of the original problem, as presented at the outset, are scarcely appreciated. As Plutarch says: “It is not possible to find in geometry more difficult and troublesome questions, or more simple and lucid explanations.” But it is decidedly a rhetorical exaggeration when Plutarch goes on to say that we are deceived by the easiness of the successive steps into the belief that anyone could have discovered them for himself. On the contrary, the studied simplicity and the perfect finish of the treatises involve at the same time an element of mystery. Though each step depends on the preceding ones, we are left in the dark as to how they were suggested to Archimedes. There is, in fact, much truth in a remark by Wallis to the effect that he seems “as it were of set purpose to have covered up the traces of his investigation as if he had grudged posterity the secret of his method of inquiry while he wished to extort from them assent to his results.” Wallis adds with equal reason that not only Archimedes but nearly all the ancients so hid away from posterity their method of Analysis (though it is certain that they had one) that more modern mathematicians found it easier to invent a new Analysis than to seek out the old.
In The Works of Archimedes (1897), Preface, vi.
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One may be a mathematician of the first rank without being able to compute. It is possible to be a great computer without having the slightest idea of mathematics.
In Schriften, Zweiter Teil (1901), 223.
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Richard P. Feynman quote: One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the l
One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the law. … In other words we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 158.
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One striking peculiarity of mathematics is its unlimited power of evolving examples and problems. A student may read a book of Euclid, or a few chapters of Algebra, and within that limited range of knowledge it is possible to set him exercises as real and as interesting as the propositions themselves which he has studied; deductions which might have pleased the Greek geometers, and algebraic propositions which Pascal and Fermat would not have disdained to investigate.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 82.
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Our civilization is an engineering civilization, and the prosperous life of the large population, which our earth now supports has become possible only by the work of the engineer. Engineering, however, is the application of science to the service of man, and so to-day science is the foundation, not only of our prosperity, but of our very existence, and thus necessarily has become the dominant power in our human society.
In 'Religion and Modern Science', The Christian Register (16 Nov 1922), 101, 1089. The article is introduced as “the substance of an address to the Laymen’s League in All Soul’s Church (5 Nov 1922).
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Our treatment of this science will be adequate, if it achieves the amount of precision which belongs to its subject matter.
Aristotle
In Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chap 3. In Harris Rackham (trans.), Aristotle’s Ethics for English Readers (1943), 14.
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Out of all possible universes, the only one which can exist, in the sense that it can be known, is simply the one which satisfies the narrow conditions necessary for the development of intelligent life.
From In the Centre of Immensities: Creation (1979), as cited in Bill Swainson, The Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 579.
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Quantum mechanics and relativity, taken together, are extraordinarily restrictive, and they therefore provide us with a great logical machine. We can explore with our minds any number of possible universes consisting of all kinds of mythical particles and interactions, but all except a very few can be rejected on a priori grounds because they are not simultaneously consistent with special relativity and quantum mechanics. Hopefully in the end we will find that only one theory is consistent with both and that theory will determine the nature of our particular universe.
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Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics. … The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible. … I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s Algebra published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Radiation, unlike smoking, drinking, and overeating, gives no pleasure, so the possible victims object.
As given in The Journal of NIH Research (1990), 2, 30
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Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason ;knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity.
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Reason is the only ability that makes it possible for humans to rule the Earth and to ruin it.
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Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air. We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging environments. The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement.
Speech, NASA Headquarters (14 Jan 2004). In Office of the Federal Register (U.S.) Staff (eds.), Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George W. Bush (2007), 58.
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Rulers and generals muster their troops. Magnates muster the sums of money which give them power. The fascist dictators muster the irrational human reactions which make it possible for them to attain and maintain their power over the masses. The scientists muster knowledge and means of research. But, thus far, no organization fighting for freedom has ever mustered the biological arsenal where the weapons are to be found for the establishment and the maintenance of human freedom. All precision of our social existence notwithstanding, there is as yet no definition of the word freedom which would be in keeping with natural science. No word is more misused and misunderstood. To define freedom is the same as to define sexual health. But nobody will openly admit this. The advocacy of personal and social freedom is connected with anxiety and guilt feelings. As if to be free were a sin or at least not quite as it should be. Sex-economy makes this guilt feeling comprehensible: freedom without sexual self-determination is in itself a contradiction. But to be sexual means—according to the prevailing human structure—to be sinful or guilty. There are very few people who experience sexual love without guilt feeling. “Free love” has acquired a degrading meaning: it lost the meaning given it by the old fighters for freedom. In films and in books, to be genital and to be criminal are presented as the same thing.
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Science is not gadgetry. The desirable adjuncts of modern living, although in many instances made possible by science, certainly do not constitute science. Basic scientific knowledge often (but not always) is a prerequisite to such developments, but technology primarily deserves the credit for having the financial courage, the ingenuity, and the driving energy to see to it that so-called ‘pure knowledge’ is in fact brought to the practical service of man. And it should also be recognized that those who have the urge to apply knowledge usefully have themselves often made significant contribution to pure knowledge and have even more often served as a stimulation to the activities of a pure researcher.
Warren Weaver (1894–1978), U.S. mathematician, scientist, educator. Science and Imagination, ch. 1, Basic Books (1967).
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Science is the search for truth. It is not a game in which one tries to beat his opponent, to do harm to others. We need to have the spirit of science in international affairs, to make the conduct of international affairs the effort to find the right solution, the just solution of international problems, not the effort by each nation to get the better of other nations, to do harm to them when it is possible.
In No More War! (1958).
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Scientific theories tell us what is possible; myths tell us what is desirable. Both are needed to guide proper action.
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Sooner or later for good or ill, a united mankind, equipped with science and power, will probably turn its attention to the other planets, not only for economic exploitation, but also as possible homes for man... The goal for the solar system would seem to be that it should become an interplanetary community of very diverse worlds... each contributing to the common experience its characteristic view of the universe. Through the pooling of this wealth of experience, through this “commonwealth of worlds,” new levels of mental and spiritual development should become possible, levels at present quite inconceivable to man.
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Standing now in diffused light, with the wind at my back, I experience suddenly a feeling of completeness–not a feeling of having achieved something or of being stronger than everyone who was ever here before, not a feeling of having arrived at the ultimate point, not a feeling of supremacy. Just a breath of happiness deep inside my mind and my breast. The summit seemed suddenly to me to be a refuge, and I had not expected to find any refuge up here. Looking at the steep, sharp ridges below us, I have the impression that to have come later would have been too late. Everything we now say to one another, we only say out of embarrassment. I don’t think anymore. As I pull the tape recorder, trancelike, from my rucksack, and switch it on wanting to record a few appropriate phrases, tears again well into my eyes. “Now we are on the summit of Everest,” I begin, “it is so cold that we cannot take photographs…” I cannot go on, I am immediately shaken with sobs. I can neither talk nor think, feeling only how this momentous experience changes everything. To reach only a few meters below the summit would have required the same amount of effort, the same anxiety and burden of sorrow, but a feeling like this, an eruption of feeling, is only possible on the summit itself.
In Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate (1979), 180.
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Taking … the mathematical faculty, probably fewer than one in a hundred really possess it, the great bulk of the population having no natural ability for the study, or feeling the slightest interest in it*. And if we attempt to measure the amount of variation in the faculty itself between a first-class mathematician and the ordinary run of people who find any kind of calculation confusing and altogether devoid of interest, it is probable that the former could not be estimated at less than a hundred times the latter, and perhaps a thousand times would more nearly measure the difference between them.
[* This is the estimate furnished me by two mathematical masters in one of our great public schools of the proportion of boys who have any special taste or capacity for mathematical studies. Many more, of course, can be drilled into a fair knowledge of elementary mathematics, but only this small proportion possess the natural faculty which renders it possible for them ever to rank high as mathematicians, to take any pleasure in it, or to do any original mathematical work.]
In Darwinism, chap. 15.
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Technology feeds on itself. Technology makes more technology possible.
Future Shock (1970).
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Thanks to the sharp eyes of a Minnesota man, it is possible that two identical snowflakes may finally have been observed. While out snowmobiling, Oley Skotchgaard noticed a snowflake that looked familiar to him. Searching his memory, he realized it was identical to a snowflake he had seen as a child in Vermont. Weather experts, while excited, caution that the match-up will be difficult to verify.
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 105.
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That which is possible is inevitable.
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The actual evolution of mathematical theories proceeds by a process of induction strictly analogous to the method of induction employed in building up the physical sciences; observation, comparison, classification, trial, and generalisation are essential in both cases. Not only are special results, obtained independently of one another, frequently seen to be really included in some generalisation, but branches of the subject which have been developed quite independently of one another are sometimes found to have connections which enable them to be synthesised in one single body of doctrine. The essential nature of mathematical thought manifests itself in the discernment of fundamental identity in the mathematical aspects of what are superficially very different domains. A striking example of this species of immanent identity of mathematical form was exhibited by the discovery of that distinguished mathematician … Major MacMahon, that all possible Latin squares are capable of enumeration by the consideration of certain differential operators. Here we have a case in which an enumeration, which appears to be not amenable to direct treatment, can actually be carried out in a simple manner when the underlying identity of the operation is recognised with that involved in certain operations due to differential operators, the calculus of which belongs superficially to a wholly different region of thought from that relating to Latin squares.
In Presidential Address to British Association for the Advancement of Science (1910), Nature, 84, 290.
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The average English author [of mathematical texts] leaves one under the impression that he has made a bargain with his reader to put before him the truth, the greater part of the truth, and nothing but the truth; and that if he has put the facts of his subject into his book, however difficult it may be to unearth them, he has fulfilled his contract with his reader. This is a very much mistaken view, because effective teaching requires a great deal more than a bare recitation of facts, even if these are duly set forth in logical order—as in English books they often are not. The probable difficulties which will occur to the student, the objections which the intelligent student will naturally and necessarily raise to some statement of fact or theory—these things our authors seldom or never notice, and yet a recognition and anticipation of them by the author would be often of priceless value to the student. Again, a touch of humour (strange as the contention may seem) in mathematical works is not only possible with perfect propriety, but very helpful; and I could give instances of this even from the pure mathematics of Salmon and the physics of Clerk Maxwell.
In Perry, Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 59-61.
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The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance— the idea that anything is possible.
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The critical mathematician has abandoned the search for truth. He no longer flatters himself that his propositions are or can be known to him or to any other human being to be true; and he contents himself with aiming at the correct, or the consistent. The distinction is not annulled nor even blurred by the reflection that consistency contains immanently a kind of truth. He is not absolutely certain, but he believes profoundly that it is possible to find various sets of a few propositions each such that the propositions of each set are compatible, that the propositions of each such set imply other propositions, and that the latter can be deduced from the former with certainty. That is to say, he believes that there are systems of coherent or consistent propositions, and he regards it his business to discover such systems. Any such system is a branch of mathematics.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 94. Also in Science (1912), New Series, 35, 107.
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The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in not giving up.
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The Excellence of Modern Geometry is in nothing more evident, than in those full and adequate Solutions it gives to Problems; representing all possible Cases in one view, and in one general Theorem many times comprehending whole Sciences; which deduced at length into Propositions, and demonstrated after the manner of the Ancients, might well become the subjects of large Treatises: For whatsoever Theorem solves the most complicated Problem of the kind, does with a due Reduction reach all the subordinate Cases.
In 'An Instance of the Excellence of Modern Algebra, etc', Philosophical Transactions, 1694, 960.
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The game of chess has always fascinated mathematicians, and there is reason to suppose that the possession of great powers of playing that game is in many features very much like the possession of great mathematical ability. There are the different pieces to learn, the pawns, the knights, the bishops, the castles, and the queen and king. The board possesses certain possible combinations of squares, as in rows, diagonals, etc. The pieces are subject to certain rules by which their motions are governed, and there are other rules governing the players. … One has only to increase the number of pieces, to enlarge the field of the board, and to produce new rules which are to govern either the pieces or the player, to have a pretty good idea of what mathematics consists.
In Book review, 'What is Mathematics?', Bulletin American Mathematical Society (May 1912), 18, 386-387.
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The history of a species, or any natural phenomenon that requires unbroken continuity in a world of trouble, works like a batting streak. All are games of a gambler playing with a limited stake against a house with infinite resources. The gambler must eventually go bust. His aim can only be to stick around as long as possible, to have some fun while he’s at it, and, if he happens to be a moral agent as well, to worry about staying the course with honor.
In Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1991), 471-472.
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The long-range trend toward federal regulation, which found its beginnings in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Act of 1890, which was quickened by a large number of measures in the Progressive era, and which has found its consummation in our time, was thus at first the response of a predominantly individualistic public to the uncontrolled and starkly original collectivism of big business. In America the growth of the national state and its regulative power has never been accepted with complacency by any large part of the middle-class public, which has not relaxed its suspicion of authority, and which even now gives repeated evidence of its intense dislike of statism. In our time this growth has been possible only under the stress of great national emergencies, domestic or military, and even then only in the face of continuous resistance from a substantial part of the public. In the Progressive era it was possible only because of widespread and urgent fear of business consolidation and private business authority. Since it has become common in recent years for ideologists of the extreme right to portray the growth of statism as the result of a sinister conspiracy of collectivists inspired by foreign ideologies, it is perhaps worth emphasizing that the first important steps toward the modern organization of society were taken by arch-individualists—the tycoons of the Gilded Age—and that the primitive beginning of modern statism was largely the work of men who were trying to save what they could of the eminently native Yankee values of individualism and enterprise.
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The maxim of science is simply that of common sense—simple cases first; begin with seeing how the main force acts when there is as little as possible to impede it, and when you thoroughly comprehend that, add to it in succession the separate effects of each of the incumbering and interfering agencies.
Collected in The Works of Walter Bagehot (1889), Vol. 5, 319-320.
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The measure of the probability of an event is the ratio of the number of cases favourable to that event, to the total number of cases favourable or contrary, and all equally possible, or all of which have the same chance.
In 'Règles générales des probabilités', Recherches sur la Probabilités des Jugemens (1837), Chap. 1, 31, as translated in George Boole, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 244. From the original French, “La mesure de la probabilité d'un événement, est le rapport du nombre de cas favorables à cet événement, au nombre total de cas favorables ou contraires, et tous également possibles, ou qui ont tous une même chance.”
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The moral faculties are generally and justly esteemed as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should bear in mind that the activity of the mind in vividly recalling past impressions is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being.
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The more a science advances, the more will it be possible to understand immediately results which formerly could be demonstrated only by means of lengthy intermediate considerations: a mathematical subject cannot be considered as finally completed until this end has been attained.
In Formensystem binärer Formen (1875), 2.
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The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, we open up the way for false statements by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.
In The Search (1934, rev. ed. 1959). Also seen attributed to Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (1935). Webmaster has not yet solved the mystery of which author wrote it first. If you have access to both books, and can identify the first to publish, please contact Webmaster.
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The only possible conclusion the social sciences can draw is: some do, some don’t.
Attributed.
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The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be radically different from the past. In the face of this enormous uncertainty, the least we can do for future generations is to pass on as many of the planet’s resources as possible.
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The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.
From Address (Jun 1963) to the Irish Parliament, Dublin, as collected in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy (1964), 537.
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The scientific method is a potentiation of common sense, exercised with a specially firm determination not to persist in error if any exertion of hand or mind can deliver us from it. Like other exploratory processes, it can be resolved into a dialogue between fact and fancy, the actual and the possible; between what could be true and what is in fact the case. The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of Natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature. It begins as a story about a Possible World—a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 59.
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The simplest schoolboy is now familiar with facts for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life. What would we not give to make it possible for us to steal a look at a book that will serve primary schools in a hundred years?
In Souvenirs d’Enfance et de Jeunesse (1846), Preface, 13. From the original French, “Le simple écolier sait maintenant des vérités pour lesquelles Archimède eût sacrifié sa vie. Que ne donnerions-nous pas pour qu’il nous fût possible de jeter un coup d’œil furtif sur tel livre qui servira aux écoles primaires dans cent ans?”
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The succession of individuals, connected by reproduction and belonging to a species, makes it possible for the specific form itself to last for ages. In the end, however, the species is temporary; it has no “eternal life.” After existing for a certain period, it either dies or is converted by modification into other forms.
As translated by Joseph McCabe in Haeckel's The Wonders of Life: a Popular Study of Biological Philosophy (1904), 248.
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The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
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The trick in discovering evolutionary laws is the same as it is in discovering laws of physics or chemistry—namely, finding the right level of generalization to make prediction possible. We do not try to find a law that says when and where explosions will occur. We content ourselves with saying that certain sorts of compounds are explosive under the right conditions, and we predict that explosions will occur whenever those conditions are realized.
In 'Paleoanthropology: Science or Mythical Charter?', Journal of Anthropological Research (Summer 2002), 58, No. 2, 193.
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The varieties of chemical substances actually found in living things are vastly more restricted than the possible varieties. A striking illustration is that if one molecule each of all the possible types of proteins were made, they would together weigh more than the observable universe. Obviously there are a fantastically large number of protein types that are not made by living cells.
In The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (2014).
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The … publicity is always the same; only the blanks need to be filled in: “It was announced today by scientists at [Harvard, Vanderbilt, Stanford] Medical School that a gene responsible for [some, many, a common form of] [schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, arterio-sclerosis, prostate cancer] has been located and its DNA sequence determined. This exciting research, say scientists, is the first step in what may eventually turn out to be a possible cure for this disease.”
From review, 'Billions and Billions of Demons', of the book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan, in New York Review of Books (9 Jan 1997).
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There are now several women astronauts who have a test pilot background, and that was not true for a long time. For quite some time, women at NASA only had scientific backgrounds. So it would’ve been impossible to have an all-women crew because there weren’t women pilots. But now it would be very possible!
Interview conducted on Scholastic website (20 Nov 1998).
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There are two possible outcomes: If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.
Attributed. Found in various sources, but without citation, for example in Nancy Trautmann, Assessing Toxic Risk: Teacher Edition (2001), 29. Also rephrased as “Experimental confirmation of a prediction is merely a measurement. An experiment disproving a prediction is a discovery,” as given elsewhere on this page. Webmaster has been unable to find an original source for a direct quote with either wording. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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There are two processes which we adopt consciously or unconsciously when we try to prophesy. We can seek a period in the past whose conditions resemble as closely as possible those of our day, and presume that the sequel to that period will, save for some minor alterations, be similar. Secondly, we can survey the general course of development in our immediate past, and endeavor to prolong it into the near future. The first is the method the historian; the second that of the scientist. Only the second is open to us now, and this only in a partial sphere.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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There are … two fields for human thought and action—the actual and the possible, the realized and the real. In the actual, the tangible, the realized, the vast proportion of mankind abide. The great, region of the possible, whence all discovery, invention, creation proceed, and which is to the actual as a universe to a planet, is the chosen region of genius. As almost every thing which is now actual was once only possible, as our present facts and axioms were originally inventions or discoveries, it is, under God, to genius that we owe our present blessings. In the past, it created the present; in the present, it is creating the future.
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 202.
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There may only be a small number of laws, which are self-consistent and which lead to complicated beings like ourselves. … And even if there is only one unique set of possible laws, it is only a set of equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to govern? Is the ultimate unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?
Lecture (1987), 'The Origin of the Universe', collected in Black Holes And Baby Universes And Other Essays (1993), 99.
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Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.
From Isaac Newton, Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy, Rule 2, as translated by Andrew Motte in The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1803), Vol. 2, 160.
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Think impossible and dreams get discarded, projects get abandoned, and hope for wellness is torpedoed. But let someone yell the words it’s possible, and resources we hadn’t been aware of come rushing in to assist us in our quest.
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This is the goal: To make available for life every place where life is possible. To make inhabitable all worlds as yet uninhabitable, and all life purposeful.
In G.P.H. Freville (trans.), Man Into Space: New Projects for Rocket and Space Travel (1957), 167. Quoted, for example, in Charles H. Holbrow, 'Suburbs in Space', The Rotarian (Jun 1978), 19.
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This science, Geometry, is one of indispensable use and constant reference, for every student of the laws of nature; for the relations of space and number are the alphabet in which those laws are written. But besides the interest and importance of this kind which geometry possesses, it has a great and peculiar value for all who wish to understand the foundations of human knowledge, and the methods by which it is acquired. For the student of geometry acquires, with a degree of insight and clearness which the unmathematical reader can but feebly imagine, a conviction that there are necessary truths, many of them of a very complex and striking character; and that a few of the most simple and self-evident truths which it is possible for the mind of man to apprehend, may, by systematic deduction, lead to the most remote and unexpected results.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences Part 1, Bk. 2, chap. 4, sect. 8 (1868).
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This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilisation ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism–how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business.
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To be in a world which is a hell, to be of that world and neither to believe in or guess at anything but that world is not merely hell but the only possible damnation: the act of a man damning himself. It may be—I hope it is—redemption to guess and perhaps perceive that the universe, the hell which we see for all its beauty, vastness, majesty, is only part of a whole which is quite unimaginable.
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To emphasize this opinion that mathematicians would be unwise to accept practical issues as the sole guide or the chief guide in the current of their investigations, ... let me take one more instance, by choosing a subject in which the purely mathematical interest is deemed supreme, the theory of functions of a complex variable. That at least is a theory in pure mathematics, initiated in that region, and developed in that region; it is built up in scores of papers, and its plan certainly has not been, and is not now, dominated or guided by considerations of applicability to natural phenomena. Yet what has turned out to be its relation to practical issues? The investigations of Lagrange and others upon the construction of maps appear as a portion of the general property of conformal representation; which is merely the general geometrical method of regarding functional relations in that theory. Again, the interesting and important investigations upon discontinuous two-dimensional fluid motion in hydrodynamics, made in the last twenty years, can all be, and now are all, I believe, deduced from similar considerations by interpreting functional relations between complex variables. In the dynamics of a rotating heavy body, the only substantial extension of our knowledge since the time of Lagrange has accrued from associating the general properties of functions with the discussion of the equations of motion. Further, under the title of conjugate functions, the theory has been applied to various questions in electrostatics, particularly in connection with condensers and electrometers. And, lastly, in the domain of physical astronomy, some of the most conspicuous advances made in the last few years have been achieved by introducing into the discussion the ideas, the principles, the methods, and the results of the theory of functions. … the refined and extremely difficult work of Poincare and others in physical astronomy has been possible only by the use of the most elaborate developments of some purely mathematical subjects, developments which were made without a thought of such applications.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1897), Nature, 56, 377.
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Two lights for guidance. The first, our little glowing atom of community, with all that it signifies. The second, the cold light of the stars, symbol of the hypercosmical reality, with its crystal ecstasy. Strange that in this light, in which even the dearest love is frostily asserted, and even the possible defeat of our half-waking world is contemplated without remission of praise, the human crisis does not lose but gains significance. Strange, that it seems more, not less, urgent to play some part in this struggle, this brief effort of animalcules striving to win for their race some increase of lucidity before the ultimate darkness.
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Unless we can “remember” ourselves, we are completely mechanical. Self-observation is possible only through self-remembering. These are the first steps in self-consciousness.
In On Love & Psychological Exercises: With Some Aphorisms & Other Essays (1998), 54.
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Was it not the great philosopher and mathematician Leibnitz who said that the more knowledge advances the more it becomes possible to condense it into little books?
Opening remark in 'Introductory Note', Outline of Science: A Plain Story Simply Told (1922), Vol. 1, iii. Webmaster has not yet identified the quote in Leibnitz's original words (translated). If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.
From the German, “Wir fühlen, dass selbst, wenn alle möglichen wissenschaftlichen Fragen beantwortet sind, unsere Lebensprobleme noch gar nicht berührt sind. Freilich bleibt dann eben keine Frage mehr; und eben dies ist die Antwort,” in Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung (1921). German text with English translation in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), 186-187.
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We have little more personal stake in cosmic destiny than do sunflowers or butterflies. The transfiguration of the universe lies some 50 to 100 billion years in the future; snap your fingers twice and you will have consumed a greater fraction of your life than all human history is to such a span. ... We owe our lives to universal processes ... and as invited guests we might do better to learn about them than to complain about them. If the prospect of a dying universe causes us anguish, it does so only because we can forecast it, and we have as yet not the slightest idea why such forecasts are possible for us. ... Why should nature, whether hostile or benign, be in any way intelligible to us? Al the mysteries of science are but palace guards to that mystery.
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We live in a capitalist economy, and I have no particular objection to honorable self-interest. We cannot hope to make the needed, drastic improvement in primary and secondary education without a dramatic restructuring of salaries. In my opinion, you cannot pay a good teacher enough money to recompense the value of talent applied to the education of young children. I teach an hour or two a day to tolerably well-behaved near-adults–and I come home exhausted. By what possible argument are my services worth more in salary than those of a secondary-school teacher with six classes a day, little prestige, less support, massive problems of discipline, and a fundamental role in shaping minds. (In comparison, I only tinker with intellects already largely formed.)
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We must remember that all our [models of flying machine] inventions are but developments of crude ideas; that a commercially successful result in a practically unexplored field cannot possibly be got without an enormous amount of unremunerative work. It is the piled-up and recorded experience of many busy brains that has produced the luxurious travelling conveniences of to-day, which in no way astonish us, and there is no good reason for supposing that we shall always be content to keep on the agitated surface of the sea and air, when it is possible to travel in a superior plane, unimpeded by frictional disturbances.
Paper to the Royal Society of New South Wales (4 Jun 1890), as quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 2226.
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We should have positive expectations of what is in the universe, not fears and dreads. We are made with the realization that we’re not Earthbound, and that our acceptance of the universe offers us room to explore and extend outward. It’s like being in a dark room and imagining all sorts of terrors. But when we turn on the light – technology - suddenly it’s just a room where we can stretch out and explore. If the resources here on Earth are limited, they are not limited in the universe. We are not constrained by the limitations of our planet. As children have to leave the security of family and home life to insure growth into mature adults, so also must humankind leave the security and familiarity of Earth to reach maturity and obtain the highest attainment possible for the human race.
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We should make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.
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What is possible can never be demonstrated to be false; and 'tis possible the course of nature may change, since we can conceive such a change. Nay, I will go farther, and assert, that he could not so much as prove by any probable arguments, that the future must be conformable to the past. All probable arguments are built on the supposition, that there is this conformity betwixt the future and the past, and therefore can never prove it. This conformity is a matter of fact, and if it must be proved, will admit of no proof but from experience. But our experience in the past can be a proof of nothing for the future, but upon a supposition, that there is a resemblance betwixt them. This therefore is a point, which can admit of no proof at all, and which we take for granted without any proof.
An Abstract of A Treatise on Human Nature (1740), ed. John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa (1938), 15.
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What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? Only one answer seems possible—significant form. In each, lines and colors combined in a particular way; certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colours, these æsthetically moving forms, I call “Significant Form”; and “Significant Form” is the one quality common to all works of visual art.
In Art (1913), 8.
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Whatever you can teach him from the nature of things themselves, do not teach him by words. Leave him to himself to see, hear, find, stumble, rise again, and be mistaken. Give no words when action or deed is possible. What he can do for himself, let him do.
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When experimental results are found to be in conflict with those of an earlier investigator, the matter is often taken too easily and disposed of for an instance by pointing out a possible source of error in the experiments of the predessessor, but without enquiring whether the error, if present, would be quantitatively sufficient to explain the discrepancy. I think that disagreement with former results should never be taken easily, but every effort should be made to find a true explanation. This can be done in many more cases than it actually is; and as a result, it can be done more easily by the man “on the spot” who is already familiar with the essential details. But it may require a great deal of imagination, and very often it will require supplementary experiments.
From 'August Krogh' in Festkrift Københavns Universitet 1950 (1950), 18, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 501. The DSB quote is introduced, “All his life Krogh was more interested in physical than in chemiical problems in biology, and he explained his critical attitude thus.”
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When science, art, literature, and philosophy are simply the manifestation of personality, they are on a level where glorious and dazzling achievements are possible, which can make a man’s name live for thousands of years. But above this level, far above, separated by an abyss, is the level where the highest things are achieved. These things are essentially anonymous.
In Simone Weil and Siân Miles (ed.), 'Human Personality', Simone Weil: An Anthology (2000), 55.
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While the method of the natural sciences is... analytic, the method of the social sciences is better described as compositive or synthetic. It is the so-called wholes, the groups of elements which are structurally connected, which we learn to single out from the totality of observed phenomena... Insofar as we analyze individual thought in the social sciences the purpose is not to explain that thought, but merely to distinguish the possible types of elements with which we shall have to reckon in the construction of different patterns of social relationships. It is a mistake... to believe that their aim is to explain conscious action ... The problems which they try to answer arise only insofar as the conscious action of many men produce undesigned results... If social phenomena showed no order except insofar as they were consciously designed, there would indeed be no room for theoretical sciences of society and there would be, as is often argued, only problems of psychology. It is only insofar as some sort of order arises as a result of individual action but without being designed by any individual that a problem is raised which demands a theoretical explanation... people dominated by the scientistic prejudice are often inclined to deny the existence of any such order... it can be shown briefly and without any technical apparatus how the independent actions of individuals will produce an order which is no part of their intentions... The way in which footpaths are formed in a wild broken country is such an instance. At first everyone will seek for himself what seems to him the best path. But the fact that such a path has been used once is likely to make it easier to traverse and therefore more likely to be used again; and thus gradually more and more clearly defined tracks arise and come to be used to the exclusion of other possible ways. Human movements through the region come to conform to a definite pattern which, although the result of deliberate decision of many people, has yet not be consciously designed by anyone.
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Who could believe an ant in theory?
A giraffe in blueprint?
Ten thousand doctors of what’s possible
Could reason half the jungle out of being.
In The Achievement of John Ciardi: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems (1969), 73.
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Why do they prefer to tell stories about the possible medicinal bene-fits of the Houston toad rather than to offer moral reasons for sup-porting the Endangered Species Act? That law is plainly ideological; it is hardly to be excused on economic grounds.
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With the extension of mathematical knowledge will it not finally become impossible for the single investigator to embrace all departments of this knowledge? In answer let me point out how thoroughly it is ingrained in mathematical science that every real advance goes hand in hand with the invention of sharper tools and simpler methods which, at the same time, assist in understanding earlier theories and in casting aside some more complicated developments.
In 'Mathematical Problems', Lecture at the International Congress of Mathematics, Paris, (8 Aug 1900). Translated by Dr. Maby Winton Newson in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (1902), 8, 479. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 94-95. It is reprinted in Jeremy Gray, The Hilbert Challenge (2000), 282.
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[Kepler] had to realize clearly that logical-mathematical theoretizing, no matter how lucid, could not guarantee truth by itself; that the most beautiful logical theory means nothing in natural science without comparison with the exactest experience. Without this philosophic attitude, his work would not have been possible.
From Introduction that Einstein wrote for Carola Baumgardt and Jamie Callan, Johannes Kepler Life and Letters (1953), 13.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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