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Who said: “We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome. Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by human kind.”
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Possibly Quotes (111 quotes)

[About the demand of the Board of Regents of the University of California that professors sign non-Communist loyalty oaths or lose their jobs within 65 days.] No conceivable damage to the university at the hands of hypothetical Communists among us could possibly have equaled the damage resulting from the unrest, ill-will and suspicion engendered by this series of events.
As quoted in 'Professors in West Call Oath “Indignity”', New York Times (26 Feb 1950), 38.
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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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A large part of mathematics which becomes useful developed with absolutely no desire to be useful, and in a situation where nobody could possibly know in what area it would become useful; and there were no general indications that it ever would be so.
From Address (1954) to Princeton Alumni, 'The Role of Mathematics in the Sciences and in Society', published in A.H. Taub (ed.), John von Neumann: Collected Works (1963), Vol. 6, 489. As quoted and cited in Rosemary Schmalz,Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians: A Quotation Book for Philomaths (1993), 123.
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A mile and a half from town, I came to a grove of tall cocoanut trees, with clean, branchless stems reaching straight up sixty or seventy feet and topped with a spray of green foliage sheltering clusters of cocoanuts—not more picturesque than a forest of colossal ragged parasols, with bunches of magnified grapes under them, would be. I once heard a grouty northern invalid say that a cocoanut tree might be poetical, possibly it was; but it looked like a feather-duster struck by lightning. I think that describes it better than a picture—and yet, without any question, there is something fascinating about a cocoanut tree—and graceful, too.
In Roughing It (1913), 184-85.
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A Miracle is a Violation of the Laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable Experience has established these Laws, the Proof against a Miracle, from the very Nature of the Fact, is as entire as any Argument from Experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all Men must die; that Lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the Air; that Fire consumes Wood, and is extinguished by Water; unless it be, that these Events are found agreeable to the Laws of Nature, and there is required a Violation of these Laws, or in other Words, a Miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteem'd a Miracle, if it ever happen in the common Course of Nature... There must, therefore, be a uniform Experience against every miraculous Event, otherwise the Event would not merit that Appellation. And as a uniform Experience amounts to a Proof, there is here a direct and full Proof, from the Nature of the Fact, against the Existence of any Miracle; nor can such a Proof be destroy'd, or the Miracle render'd credible, but by an opposite Proof, which is superior.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 180-181.
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All that Anatomie can doe is only to shew us the gross and sensible parts of the body, or the vapid and dead juices all which, after the most diligent search, will be noe more able to direct a physician how to cure a disease than how to make a man; for to remedy the defects of a part whose organicall constitution and that texture whereby it operates, he cannot possibly know, is alike hard, as to make a part which he knows not how is made. Now it is certaine and beyond controversy that nature performs all her operations on the body by parts so minute and insensible that I thinke noe body will ever hope or pretend, even by the assistance of glasses or any other intervention, to come to a sight of them, and to tell us what organicall texture or what kinde offerment (for whether it be done by one or both of these ways is yet a question and like to be soe always notwithstanding all the endeavours of the most accurate dissections) separate any part of the juices in any of the viscera, or tell us of what liquors the particles of these juices are, or if this could be donne (which it is never like to be) would it at all contribute to the cure of the diseases of those very parts which we so perfectly knew.
'Anatomie' (1668). Quoted in Kenneth Dewhurst (ed.), Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689): His Life and Original Writings (1966), 85-6.
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All that comes above that surface [of the globe] lies within the province of Geography. All that comes below that surface lies inside the realm of Geology. The surface of the earth is that which, so to speak, divides them and at the same time “binds them together in indissoluble union.” We may, perhaps, put the case metaphorically. The relationships of the two are rather like that of man and wife. Geography, like a prudent woman, has followed the sage advice of Shakespeare and taken unto her “an elder than herself;” but she does not trespass on the domain of her consort, nor could she possibly maintain the respect of her children were she to flaunt before the world the assertion that she is “a woman with a past.”
From Anniversary Address to Geological Society of London (20 Feb 1903), 'The Relations of Geology', published in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (22 May 1903), 59, Part 2, lxxviii. As reprinted in Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution (1904), 373.
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As arithmetic and algebra are sciences of great clearness, certainty, and extent, which are immediately conversant about signs, upon the skilful use whereof they entirely depend, so a little attention to them may possibly help us to judge of the progress of the mind in other sciences, which, though differing in nature, design, and object, may yet agree in the general methods of proof and inquiry.
In Alciphron: or the Minute Philosopher, Dialogue 7, collected in The Works of George Berkeley D.D. (1784), Vol. 1, 621.
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As soon as the circumstances of an experiment are well known, we stop gathering statistics. … The effect will occur always without exception, because the cause of the phenomena is accurately defined. Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined,Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined, can we compile statistics. … we must learn therefore that we compile statistics only when we cannot possibly help it; for in my opinion, statistics can never yield scientific truth.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-137.
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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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DNA that used to have some function way back in evolution but currently does not (and might possibly be revived if, say, an ancient parasite reappeared), DNA that controls how genes switch their protein manufacturing on and off, DNA that controls those, and so on. Some may actually be genuine junk. And some (so the joke goes) may encode a message like ‘It was me, I’m God, I existed all along, ha ha.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 218.
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During the time of the Deluge, whilst the Water was out upon, and covered the Terrestrial Globe, … all Fossils whatever that had before obtained any Solidity, were totally dissolved, and their constituent Corpuscles all disjoyned, their Cohesion perfectly ceasing … [A]nd, to be short, all Bodies whatsoever that were either upon the Earth, or that constituted the Mass of it, if not quite down to the Abyss, yet at least to the greatest depth we ever dig: I say all these were assumed up promiscuously into the Water, and sustained in it, in such a manner that the Water, and Bodies in it, together made up one common confused Mass. That at length all the Mass that was thus borne up in the Water, was again precipitated and subsided towards the bottom. That this subsidence happened generally, and as near as possibly could be expected in so great a Confusion, according to the laws of Gravity.
In An Essay Toward A Natural History of the Earth (1695), 74-75.
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Everything that you could possibly imagine, you will find that nature has been there before you.
Attributed to John Berrill in Joseph Silk, The Infinite Cosmos, (2006), 201. Webmaster is tentatively matching this name to Norman John Berrill who is an author of several books, and he is referred to as John Berrill in obituary by Charles R. Scriver in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1999), 45, 21-34. Please contact webmaster if you have either confirmation or correction.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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Felling a tree was possibly the original deed of appropriation of the natural earth by early mankind in Europe. Thousands of years ago,… man lifted a heavy flint tool and struck at the base of a tree. He may have wanted the tree for shelter and fuel, or possibly to make a bridge over a river or a path through a bog…. [E]ventually the tree crashed to the floor, and the first act in the slow possession of the land by its people was complete.
In The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees: The Ash in Human Culture and History (2015), Chap. 1.
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From earliest memory I wanted to be a surgeon, possibly influenced by the qualities of our family doctor who cared for our childhood ailments.
In Tore Frängsmyr and Jan E. Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures: Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 555.
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Great God, how can we possibly be always right and the others always wrong?
As quoted in Norman Hampson, Will & Circumstance: Montesquieu, Rousseau, and the French Revolution (1983), 11.
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Had you or I been born at the Bay of Soldania, possibly our Thoughts, and Notions, had not exceeded those brutish ones of the Hotentots that inhabit there: And had the Virginia King Apochancana, been educated in England, he had, perhaps been as knowing a Divine, and as good a Mathematician as any in it. The difference between him, and a more improved English-man, lying barely in this, That the exercise of his Facilities was bounded within the Ways, Modes, and Notions of his own Country, and never directed to any other or farther Enquiries.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book I, Chapter 4, Section 12, 92.
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He [Winston Churchill] is rather like a layer cake. One layer was certainly seventeenth century. The eighteenth century in him is obvious. There was the nineteenth century, and a large slice, of course, of the twentieth century; and another, curious, layer which may possibly have been the twenty-first.
As quoted in Peter Stansky, Churchill: A Profile (1973), 197.
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How can altruism, which by definition reduces personal fitness, possibly evolve by natural selection? The answer is kinship: if the genes causing the altruism are shared by two organisms because of common descent, and if the altruistic act by one organism increases the joint contribution of these genes to the next generation, the propensity to altruism will spread through the gene pool. This occurs even though the altruist makes less of a solitary contribution to the gene pool as the price of its altruistic act.
In Sociobiology (1975), 3-4.
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Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-7), Vol. 2, 397.
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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 can think of a few microorganisms, possibly the tubercle bacillus, the syphilis spirochete, the malarial parasite, and a few others, that have a selective advantage in their ability to infect human beings, but there is nothing to be gained, in an evolutionary sense, by the capacity to cause illness or death. Pathogenicity may be something of a disadvantage for most microbes…
In 'Germs', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 90.
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I could not possibly be of such a nature as I am, and yet have in my mind the idea of a God, if God did not in reality exist.
In Meditations (1641), Part 3. English as given in John Veitch (trans.), 'Of God: That He Exists', Meditation III, The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 132. Also seen translated as, “It is not possible that I could have in myself the idea of God, if God did not truly exist.”
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I couldn’t possibly have become a member of this Institute [the Salk Institute], you know, if I hadn’t organized it myself.
In R. Carier, Breakthrough: The Saga of Jonas Salk (1966), 413.
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I do ... humbly conceive (tho' some possibly may think there is too much notice taken of such a trivial thing as a rotten Shell, yet) that Men do generally rally too much slight and pass over without regard these Records of Antiquity which Nature have left as Monuments and Hieroglyphick Characters of preceding Transactions in the like duration or Transactions of the Body of the Earth, which are infinitely more evident and certain tokens than any thing of Antiquity that can be fetched out of Coins or Medals, or any other way yet known, since the best of those ways may be counterfeited or made by Art and Design, as may also Books, Manuscripts and Inscriptions, as all the Learned are now sufficiently satisfied, has often been actually practised; but those Characters are not to be Counterfeited by all the Craft in the World, nor can they be doubted to be, what they appear, by anyone that will impartially examine the true appearances of them: And tho' it must be granted, that it is very difficult to read them, and to raise a Chronology out of them, and to state the intervalls of the Times wherein such, or such Catastrophies and Mutations have happened; yet 'tis not impossible, but that, by the help of those joined to ' other means and assistances of Information, much may be done even in that part of Information also.
Lectures and Discourses of Earthquakes (1668). In The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, containing his Cutlerian Lectures and other Discourses read at the Meetings of the Illustrious Royal Society (1705), 411.
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I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness—to save oneself trouble.
In An Autobiography (1977, 19990), 121.
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I have always felt that astronomical hypotheses should not be regarded as articles of faith, but should only serve as a framework for astronomical calculations, so that it does not matter whether they were right or wrong, as long as the phenomena can be characterized precisely. For who could possibly be certain as to whether the uneven movement of the sun, if we follow the hypotheses of Ptolemy, can be explained by assuming an epicycle or eccentricity. Both assumptions are plausible. That’s why I would consider it quite desirable for you to tell something about that in the preface. In this way you would appease the Aristotelians and the theologians, whose opposition you dread.
From surviving fragment of a Letter (20 Apr 1541) answering a query from Copernicus as to whether he should publish his book (De Revolutionibus). From the German in Leopold Friedrich Prowe, Nicolaus Coppernicus (1883), Vol. 1, Part 2, 521-522. Translated from Prowe by Webmaster using web resources. Original German: “Hypothesen nicht als Glaubens-Artikel zu betrachten seien, sondern nur als Grundlage für die astronomischen Rechnungen zu dienen hätten, so dass es nicht darauf ankomme, ob sie richtig oder falsch seien, wofern sich nur die Erscheinungen dadurch genau bestimmen liessen. »Denn wer dürfte uns wohl darüber sichere Auskunft geben, ob die ungleiche Bewegung der Sonne, wenn wir den Hypothesen des Ptolemaeus folgen, durch Annahme eines Epicykels oder der Ekcentricität zu erklären sei. Beide Annahmen sind gestattet. Daher würde ich—so schliesst Osiander—es für recht wünschenswerth erachten, wenn Du hierüber in der Vorrede etwas beibrächtest. Auf diese Weise würdest Du die Aristoteliker und die Theologen milder stimmen, von denen Du befürchtest, dass sie heftigen Widerspruch kundthun werden.«” Compare Latin text, from Johannes Kepler, 'Apologia Tychonia', Astronomi Opera Omnia (1858), Vol. 1, 246: “De hypothesibus ego sic sensi semper, non esse articulos fidei, sed fundamenta calculi ita ut, etiamsi falsae sint, modo motuum φαινομενα exacte exhibeant, nihil referat; quis enim nos certiores reddet, an Solis inaequalis motus nomine epicycli an nomine eccentricitatis contingat, si Ptolemaei hypotheses sequamur, cum id possit utrumque. Quare plausibile fore videretur, si hac de re in praefatione nonnihil attingeres. Sic enim placidiores redderes peripatheticos et theologos, quos contradicturos metuis.”
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I just looked up at a fine twinkling star and thought that a voyager whom I know, now many a days’ sail from this coast, might possibly be looking up at that same star with me. The stars are the apexes of what triangles!
In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: I: 1837-1846 (1906), 486.
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I really enjoy good murder mystery writers, usually women, frequently English, because they have a sense of what the human soul is about and why people do dark and terrible things. I also read quite a lot in the area of particle physics and quantum mechanics, because this is theology. This is about the nature of being. This is what life is all about. I try to read as widely as I possibly can.
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I remember discussions with Bohr which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighboring park I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?
In Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958, 1962), 42.
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I remember growing up thinking that astronauts and their job was the coolest thing you could possibly do... But I absolutely couldn’t identify with the people who were astronauts. I thought they were movie stars.
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I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
From translations of a letter (24 Feb 1918), cited in Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002), 24. Nahin footnotes that the words are not verbatim, but are the result of two translations. Heaviside's original letter in English was quoted, translated in to French by J. Bethenode, for the obituary he wrote, "Oliver Heaviside", in Annales des Posies Telegraphs (1925), 14, 521-538. The quote was retranslated back to English in Nadin's book. Bethenode footnoted that he made the original translation "as literally as possible in order not to change the meaning." Nadin assures that the retranslation was done likewise. Heaviside studyied Maxwell's two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
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I shall consider this paper an essay in geopoetry. In order not to travel any further into the realm of fantasy than is absolutely necessary I shall hold as closely as possibly to a uniformitarian approach; even so, at least one great catastrophe will be required early in the Earth's history.
'History of Ocean Basins', in A. E. J. Engel, H. L. James and B. F. Leonard (eds.), Petrologic Studies: A Volume to Honour F. Buddington (1962), 599-600.
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I specifically paused to show that, if there were such machines with the organs and shape of a monkey or of some other non-rational animal, we would have no way of discovering that they are not the same as these animals. But if there were machines that resembled our bodies and if they imitated our actions as much as is morally possible, we would always have two very certain means for recognizing that, none the less, they are not genuinely human. The first is that they would never be able to use speech, or other signs composed by themselves, as we do to express our thoughts to others. For one could easily conceive of a machine that is made in such a way that it utters words, and even that it would utter some words in response to physical actions that cause a change in its organs—for example, if someone touched it in a particular place, it would ask what one wishes to say to it, or if it were touched somewhere else, it would cry out that it was being hurt, and so on. But it could not arrange words in different ways to reply to the meaning of everything that is said in its presence, as even the most unintelligent human beings can do. The second means is that, even if they did many things as well as or, possibly, better than anyone of us, they would infallibly fail in others. Thus one would discover that they did not act on the basis of knowledge, but merely as a result of the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument that can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need a specific disposition for every particular action.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 5, 40.
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I tell young people to reach for the stars. And I can't think of a greater high than you could possibly get than by inventing something.
From audio on MIT video '1999 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award Winner', on 'Innovative Lives: Stephanie Kwolek and Kevlar, The Wonder Fiber' on the Smithsonian website.
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I took a good clear piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife sharpen'd as keen as a Razor, I cut a piece of it off, and thereby left the surface of it exceeding smooth, then examining it very diligently with a Microscope, me thought I could perceive it to appear a little porous; but I could not so plainly distinguish them, as to be sure that they were pores, much less what Figure they were of: But judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, that certainly the texture could not be so curious, but that possibly, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope, I with the same sharp Penknife, cut off from the former smooth surface an exceeding thin piece of it with a deep plano-convex Glass, I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular; yet it was not unlike a Honey-comb in these particulars.
First, in that it had a very little solid substance, in comparison of the empty cavity that was contain'd between, ... for the Interstitia or walls (as I may so call them) or partitions of those pores were neer as thin in proportion to their pores as those thin films of Wax in a Honey-comb (which enclose and constitute the sexangular cells) are to theirs.
Next, in that these pores, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes, separated out of one continued long pore, by certain Diaphragms...
I no sooner discerned these (which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this) but me thought I had with the discovery of them, presently hinted to me the true and intelligible reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 112-6.
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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 it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 171.
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If Melancholy increases so far, that from the great motion of the Liquid of the Brain the Patient be thrown into a wild Fury, it is call’d Madness.… The greatest Remedy for it is to throw the Patient unwarily into the Sea, and to keep him under Water as long as he can possibly bear without being quite stifled.
Aphorism No. 1118 and 1123 in Boerhaave’s Aphorisms: Concerning The Knowledge and Cure of Diseases (1715), 302-303.
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If we can possibly avoid wrecking this little planet of ours, we will, But—there must be risks! There must be. In experimental work there always are!
The First Men in the Moon (1901), 39.
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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 1-2.
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In discussing the state of the atmosphere following a nuclear exchange, we point especially to the effects of the many fires that would be ignited by the thousands of nuclear explosions in cities, forests, agricultural fields, and oil and gas fields. As a result of these fires, the loading of the atmosphere with strongly light absorbing particles in the submicron size range (1 micron = 10-6 m) would increase so much that at noon solar radiation at the ground would be reduced by at least a factor of two and possibly a factor of greater than one hundred.
Paul J. Crutzen -and John W. Birks (1946-, American chemist), 'The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War: Twilight at Noon', Ambio, 1982, 11, 115.
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In other branches of science, where quick publication seems to be so much desired, there may possibly be some excuse for giving to the world slovenly or ill-digested work, but there is no such excuse in mathematics. The form ought to be as perfect as the substance, and the demonstrations as rigorous as those of Euclid. The mathematician has to deal with the most exact facts of Nature, and he should spare no effort to render his interpretation worthy of his subject, and to give to his work its highest degree of perfection. “Pauca sed matura” was Gauss’s motto.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1890), Nature, 42, 467. [The Latin motto translates as “Few, but ripe”. —Webmaster]
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In this great celestial creation, the catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident in life with us, and in all probability such final and general Doomsdays may be as frequent there, as even Birthdays or mortality with us upon the earth. This idea has something so cheerful in it, that I know I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers; and that men endowed with sense and reason should neglect a science they are naturally so much interested in, and so capable of enlarging their understanding, as next to a demonstration must convince them of their immortality, and reconcile them to all those little difficulties incident to human nature, without the least anxiety. All this the vast apparent provision in the starry mansions seem to promise: What ought we then not to do, to preserve our natural birthright to it and to merit such inheritance, which alas we think created all to gratify alone a race of vain-glorious gigantic beings, while they are confined to this world, chained like so many atoms to a grain of sand.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 132.
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It appears, nevertheless, that all such simple solutions of the problem of vertebrate ancestry are without warrant. They arise from a very common tendency of the mind, against which the naturalist has to guard himself,—a tendency which finds expression in the very widespread notion that the existing anthropoid apes, and more especially the gorilla, must be looked upon as the ancestors of mankind, if once the doctrine of the descent of man from ape-like forefathers is admitted. A little reflexion suffices to show that any given living form, such as the gorilla, cannot possibly be the ancestral form from which man was derived, since ex-hypothesi that ancestral form underwent modification and development, and in so doing, ceased to exist.
'Vertebrata', entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition (1899), Vol. 24, 180.
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It did not cause anxiety that Maxwell’s equations did not apply to gravitation, since nobody expected to find any link between electricity and gravitation at that particular level. But now physics was faced with an entirely new situation. The same entity, light, was at once a wave and a particle. How could one possibly imagine its proper size and shape? To produce interference it must be spread out, but to bounce off electrons it must be minutely localized. This was a fundamental dilemma, and the stalemate in the wave-photon battle meant that it must remain an enigma to trouble the soul of every true physicist. It was intolerable that light should be two such contradictory things. It was against all the ideals and traditions of science to harbor such an unresolved dualism gnawing at its vital parts. Yet the evidence on either side could not be denied, and much water was to flow beneath the bridges before a way out of the quandary was to be found. The way out came as a result of a brilliant counterattack initiated by the wave theory, but to tell of this now would spoil the whole story. It is well that the reader should appreciate through personal experience the agony of the physicists of the period. They could but make the best of it, and went around with woebegone faces sadly complaining that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they must look on light as a wave; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle. On Sundays they simply prayed.
The Strange Story of the Quantum (1947), 42.
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It has been said that computing machines can only carry out the processes that they are instructed to do. This is certainly true in the sense that if they do something other than what they were instructed then they have just made some mistake. It is also true that the intention in constructing these machines in the first instance is to treat them as slaves, giving them only jobs which have been thought out in detail, jobs such that the user of the machine fully understands what in principle is going on all the time. Up till the present machines have only been used in this way. But is it necessary that they should always be used in such a manner? Let us suppose we have set up a machine with certain initial instruction tables, so constructed that these tables might on occasion, if good reason arose, modify those tables. One can imagine that after the machine had been operating for some time, the instructions would have altered out of all recognition, but nevertheless still be such that one would have to admit that the machine was still doing very worthwhile calculations. Possibly it might still be getting results of the type desired when the machine was first set up, but in a much more efficient manner. In such a case one would have to admit that the progress of the machine had not been foreseen when its original instructions were put in. It would be like a pupil who had learnt much from his master, but had added much more by his own work. When this happens I feel that one is obliged to regard the machine as showing intelligence.
Lecture to the London Mathematical Society, 20 February 1947. Quoted in B. E. Carpenter and R. W. Doran (eds.), A. M. Turing's Ace Report of 1946 and Other Papers (1986), 122-3.
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It has occurred to me that possibly the white corpuscles may have the office of picking up and digesting bacterial organisms when by any means they find their way into the blood. The propensity exhibited by the leukocytes for picking up inorganic granules is well known, and that they may be able not only to pick up but to assimilate, and so dispose of, the bacteria which come in their way does not seem to me very improbable in view of the fact that amoebae, which resemble them so closely, feed upon bacteria and similar organisms.
'A Contribution to the Study of the Bacterial Organisms Commonly Found Upon Exposed Mucous Surfaces and in the Alimentary Canal of Healthy Individuals', Studies from the Biological Laboratory (1883), 2, 175.
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It is a remarkable illustration of the ranging power of the human intellect that a principle first detected in connection with the clumsy puffing of the early steam engines should be found to apply to the whole world, and possibly, even to the whole cosmic universe.
In Man and Energy (1955, 1963), 132.
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It is a substance called Chlorophyll, the most wonderful substance in our world. A world without chlorophyll would be a world without the higher forms of life, and in such a world no life, save perhaps that of the lowest bacteria, could possibly endure. In fact, without this remarkable pigment the living world as at present constituted could not exist.
In Life: A Book for Elementary Students (1925, 2013), 28.
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It is certain that as a nation we are all smoking a great deal too much ... Smoking among boys—to whom it cannot possibly do any kind of good, while it may do a vast amount of active harm—is becoming prevalent to a most pernicious extent. ... It would be an excellent thing for the morality of the people could the use of “intoxicants and tobacco” be forbidden to all persons under twenty years of age. (1878)
In London Daily Telegraph (22 Jan 1878). Reprinted in English Anti-Tobacco Society and Anti-Narcotic League, Monthly letters of the Committee of the English Anti-Tobacco Society and Anti-Narcotic League 1878, 1879, 1880, (1 Feb 1878), 85.
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It may seem rash indeed to draw conclusions valid for the whole universe from what we can see from the small corner to which we are confined. Who knows that the whole visible universe is not like a drop of water at the surface of the earth? Inhabitants of that drop of water, as small relative to it as we are relative to the Milky Way, could not possibly imagine that beside the drop of water there might be a piece of iron or a living tissue, in which the properties of matter are entirely different.
Space and Time (1926), 227.
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It often happens that men, even of the best understandings and greatest circumspection, are guilty of that fault in reasoning which the writers on logick call the insufficient, or imperfect enumeration of parts, or cases: insomuch that I will venture to assert, that this is the chief, and almost the only, source of the vast number of erroneous opinions, and those too very often in matters of great importance, which we are apt to form on all the subjects we reflect upon, whether they relate to the knowledge of nature, or the merits and motives of human actions. It must therefore be acknowledged, that the art which affords a cure to this weakness, or defect, of our understandings, and teaches us to enumerate all the possible ways in which a given number of things may be mixed and combined together, that we may be certain that we have not omitted anyone arrangement of them that can lead to the object of our inquiry, deserves to be considered as most eminently useful and worthy of our highest esteem and attention. And this is the business of the art, or doctrine of combinations ... It proceeds indeed upon mathematical principles in calculating the number of the combinations of the things proposed: but by the conclusions that are obtained by it, the sagacity of the natural philosopher, the exactness of the historian, the skill and judgement of the physician, and the prudence and foresight of the politician, may be assisted; because the business of all these important professions is but to form reasonable conjectures concerning the several objects which engage their attention, and all wise conjectures are the results of a just and careful examination of the several different effects that may possibly arise from the causes that are capable of producing them.
Ars conjectandi (1713). In F. Maseres, The Doctrine of Permutations and Combinations (1795), 36.
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Know thyself! This is the source of all wisdom, said the great thinkers of the past, and the sentence was written in golden letters on the temple of the gods. To know himself, Linnæus declared to be the essential indisputable distinction of man above all other creatures. I know, indeed, in study nothing more worthy of free and thoughtful man than the study of himself. For if we look for the purpose of our existence, we cannot possibly find it outside ourselves. We are here for our own sake.
As translated and quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 9, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 244.
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MAGNITUDE, n. Size. Magnitude being purely relative, nothing is large and nothing small. If everything in the universe were increased in bulk one thousand diameters nothing would be any larger than it was before, but if one thing remained unchanged all the others would be larger than they had been. To an understanding familiar with the relativity of magnitude and distance the spaces and masses of the astronomer would be no more impressive than those of the microscopist. For anything we know to the contrary, the visible universe may be a small part of an atom, with its component ions, floating in the life-fluid (luminiferous ether) of some animal. Possibly the wee creatures peopling the corpuscles of our own blood are overcome with the proper emotion when contemplating the unthinkable distance from one of these to another.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  209.
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Modern Science has along with the theory that the Earth dated its beginning with the advent of man, swept utterly away this beautiful imagining. We can, indeed, find no beginning of the world. We trace back events and come to barriers which close our vistabarriers which, for all we know, may for ever close it. They stand like the gates of ivory and of horn; portals from which only dreams proceed; and Science cannot as yet say of this or that dream if it proceeds from the gate of horn or from that of ivory.
In short, of the Earth's origin we have no certain knowledge; nor can we assign any date to it. Possibly its formation was an event so gradual that the beginning was spread over immense periods. We can only trace the history back to certain events which may with considerable certainty be regarded as ushering in our geological era.
John Joly
Lecture at the Royal Dublin Society, 6 Feb 1914. Published in Science Progress, Vol. 9, 37. Republished in The Birth-Time of the World and Other Scientific Essays, (1915), 2.
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My picture of the world is drawn in perspective and not like a model to scale. The foreground is occupied by human beings and the stars are all as small as three-penny bits. I don't really believe in astronomy, except as a complicated description of part of the course of human and possibly animal sensation. I apply my perspective not merely to space but also to time. In time the world will cool and everything will die; but that is a long time off still and its present value at compound discount is almost nothing.
From a paper read to the Apostles, a Cambridge discussion society (1925). In 'The Foundations of Mathematics' (1925), collected in Frank Plumpton Ramsey and D.H. Mellor (ed.), Philosophical Papers (1990), Epilogue, 249. Citation to the paper, in Nils-Eric Sahlin, The Philosophy of F.P. Ramsey (1990), 225.
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Neutrinos ... win the minimalist contest: zero charge, zero radius, and very possibly zero mass.
In Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question (1993, 2006), xiii.
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Oersted would never have made his great discovery of the action of galvanic currents on magnets had he stopped in his researches to consider in what manner they could possibly be turned to practical account; and so we would not now be able to boast of the wonders done by the electric telegraphs. Indeed, no great law in Natural Philosophy has ever been discovered for its practical implications, but the instances are innumerable of investigations apparently quite useless in this narrow sense of the word which have led to the most valuable results.
From Silvanus Phillips Thompson, 'Introductory Lecture to the Course on Natural Philosophy', The Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), Vol. 1, Appendix to Chap. 5, 249.
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Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power—that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth’s surface— for instance, Illinois; and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space. And yet it has not, so far in the world’s history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few windmills, and pumps, and you have about all. … As yet, the wind is an untamed, and unharnessed force; and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of it.
Lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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Of the Passive Principle, and Material Cause of the Small Pox ... Nature, in the first compounding and forming of us, hath laid into the Substance and Constitution of each something equivalent to Ovula, of various distinct Kinds, productive of all the contagious, venomous Fevers, we can possibly have as long as we live.
Exanthematologia: Or, An Attempt to Give a Rational Account of Eruptive Fevers, Especially of the Measles and SmallPox (1730), Part II, 'Of the Small-Pox', 175. In Ludvig Hektoen, 'Thomas Fuller 1654-1734: Country Physician and Pioneer Exponent of Specificness in Infection and Immunity', read to the Society (8 Nov 1921), published in Bulletin of the Society of Medical History of Chicago (Mar 1922), 2, 329, or in reprint form, p. 11.
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Once you have learned to fly your plane, it is far less fatiguing to fly than it is to drive a car. You don’t have to watch every second for cats, dogs, children, lights, road signs, ladies with baby carriages and citizens who drive out in the middle of the block against the lights... Nobody who has not been up in the sky on a glorious morning can possibly imagine the way a pilot feels in free heaven.
…...
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One hears a lot of talk about the hostility between scientists and engineers. I don't believe in any such thing. In fact I am quite certain it is untrue... There cannot possibly be anything in it because neither side has anything to do with the other.
Quoted in A. Rosenfeld, Langmuir: The Man and the Scientist (1962), 57.
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One of the earliest questions asked by an intelligent child is: “What is this made of?” “What is that made of?” And the answer is generally more or less satisfactory. For example, if the question relates to butter, the reply may be, “From cream.” It may be explained, besides, that when cream is beaten up, or churned, the butter separates, leaving skim-milk behind. But the question has not been answered. The child may ask, “Was the butter in the milk before it was churned? or has it been made out of the milk by the churning?” Possibly the person to whom the question is addressed may know that the milk contained the butter in the state of fine globules, and that the process of churning breaks up the globules, and causes them to stick together. The original question has not really been answered; and indeed it is not an easy one to reply to. Precisely such questions suggested themselves to the people of old, and they led to many speculations.
Opening paragraph of Modern Chemistry (1900, rev. 1907), 1.
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One of the petty ideas of philosophers is to elaborate a classification, a hierarchy of sciences. They all try it, and they are generally so fond of their favorite scheme that they are prone to attach an absurd importance to it. We must not let ourselves be misled by this. Classifications are always artificial; none more than this, however. There is nothing of value to get out of a classification of science; it dissembles more beauty and order than it can possibly reveal.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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Our survival, the future of our civilization, possibly the existence of mankind, depends on American leadership
Quoted in 'Antiseptic Christianity', book review of Lindbergh, Of Flight and Life in Time magazine, (6 Sep 1948).
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People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.
In The Planet That Wasn't (1976), 3.
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Population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geometrical ratio. … The means of subsistence, under circumstances the most favorable to human industry, could not possibly be made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population: (new ed. 1803), Vol. 1, 5 and 7.
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Possibly the most pregnant recent development in molecular biology is the realization that the beginnings of life are closely associated with the interactions of proteins and nucleic acids.
'X-ray and Related Studies of the Structure of the Proteins and Nucleic Acids', PhD Thesis, University of Leeds (1939), 63. As quoted in Robert Cecil Olby, The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA (1974), 70.
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Pure mathematics and physics are becoming ever more closely connected, though their methods remain different. One may describe the situation by saying that the mathematician plays a game in which he himself invents the rules while the while the physicist plays a game in which the rules are provided by Nature, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly evident that the rules which the mathematician finds interesting are the same as those which Nature has chosen. … Possibly, the two subjects will ultimately unify, every branch of pure mathematics then having its physical application, its importance in physics being proportional to its interest in mathematics.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 124.
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Recollections [his autobiographical work] might possibly interest my children or their children. I know that it would have interested me greatly to have read even so short and dull a sketch of the mind of my grandfather, written by himself, and what he thought and did, and how he worked. I have attempted to write the following account of myself as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me.
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Religious creeds are a great obstacle to any full sympathy between the outlook of the scientist and the outlook which religion is so often supposed to require … The spirit of seeking which animates us refuses to regard any kind of creed as its goal. It would be a shock to come across a university where it was the practice of the students to recite adherence to Newton's laws of motion, to Maxwell's equations and to the electromagnetic theory of light. We should not deplore it the less if our own pet theory happened to be included, or if the list were brought up to date every few years. We should say that the students cannot possibly realise the intention of scientific training if they are taught to look on these results as things to be recited and subscribed to. Science may fall short of its ideal, and although the peril scarcely takes this extreme form, it is not always easy, particularly in popular science, to maintain our stand against creed and dogma.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929), Science and the Unseen World (1929), 54-56.
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Since as the Creation is, so is the Creator also magnified, we may conclude in consequence of an infinity, and an infinite all-active power, that as the visible creation is supposed to be full of siderial systems and planetary worlds, so on, in like similar manner, the endless Immensity is an unlimited plenum of creations not unlike the known Universe.… That this in all probability may be the real case, is in some degree made evident by the many cloudy spots, just perceivable by us, as far without our starry Regions, in which tho’ visibly luminous spaces, no one Star or particular constituent body can possibly be distinguished; those in all likelyhood may be external creation, bordering upon the known one, too remote for even our Telescopes to reach.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 143-144.
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Since many cases are known in which the specificities of antigens and enzymes appear to bear a direct relation to gene specificities, it seems reasonable to suppose that the gene’s primary and possibly sole function is in directing the final configurations of protein molecules.
Assuming that each specific protein of the organism has its unique configuration copied from that of a gene, it follows that every enzyme whose specificity depends on a protein should be subject to modification or inactivation through gene mutation. This would, of course, mean that the reaction normally catalyzed by the enzyme in question would either have its rate or products modified or be blocked entirely.
Such a view does not mean that genes directly “make” proteins. Regardless of precisely how proteins are synthesized, and from what component parts, these parts must themselves be synthesized by reactions which are enzymatically catalyzed and which in turn depend on the functioning of many genes. Thus in the synthesis of a single protein molecule, probably at least several hundred different genes contribute. But the final molecule corresponds to only one of them and this is the gene we visualize as being in primary control.
In 'Genetics and Metabolism in Neurospora', Physiological Reviews, 1945, 25, 660.
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Some say that everything that is called a psychical law is nothing but the psychological reflex of physical combinations, which is made up of sensations joined to certain central cerebral processes... It is contradicted by the fact of consciousness itself, which cannot possibly be derived from any physical qualities of material molecules or atoms.
An Introduction to Psychology (1912)
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Some years ago John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in an essay on his efforts at writing a history of economics: “As one approaches the present, one is filled with a sense of hopelessness; in a year and possibly even a month, there is now more economic comment in the supposedly serious literature than survives from the whole of the thousand years commonly denominated as the Middle Ages … anyone who claims to be familiar with it all is a confessing liar.” I believe that all physicists would subscribe to the same sentiments regarding their own professional literature. I do at any rate.
In H. Henry Stroke, 'The Physical Review Then and Now', Physical Review: The First Hundred Years: a Selection of Seminal Papers and Commentaries, Vol. 1, 1.
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Suppose that you are in love with a lady on Neptune and that she returns the sentiment. It will be some consolation for the melancholy separation if you can say to yourself at some possibly pre-arranged moment, “She is thinking of me now.” Unfortunately a difficulty has arisen because we have had to abolish Now. There is no absolute Now, but only the various relative Nows, differing according to their reckoning of different observers and covering the whole neutral wedge which at the distance of Neptune is about eight hours thick. She will have to think of you continuously for eight hours on end in order to circumvent the ambiguity “Now.”
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 49.
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The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 1.
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The classical example of a successful research programme is Newton’s gravitational theory: possibly the most successful research programme ever.
In Radio Lecture (30 Jun 1973) broadcast by the Open University, collected in Imre Lakatos, John Worrall (ed.) and Gregory Currie (ed.), 'Introduction: Science and Pseudoscience', The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes (1978, 1980), Vol. 1, 48.
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The difficulties connected with my criterion of demarcation (D) are important, but must not be exaggerated. It is vague, since it is a methodological rule, and since the demarcation between science and nonscience is vague. But it is more than sharp enough to make a distinction between many physical theories on the one hand, and metaphysical theories, such as psychoanalysis, or Marxism (in its present form), on the other. This is, of course, one of my main theses; and nobody who has not understood it can be said to have understood my theory.
The situation with Marxism is, incidentally, very different from that with psychoanalysis. Marxism was once a scientific theory: it predicted that capitalism would lead to increasing misery and, through a more or less mild revolution, to socialism; it predicted that this would happen first in the technically highest developed countries; and it predicted that the technical evolution of the 'means of production' would lead to social, political, and ideological developments, rather than the other way round.
But the (so-called) socialist revolution came first in one of the technically backward countries. And instead of the means of production producing a new ideology, it was Lenin's and Stalin's ideology that Russia must push forward with its industrialization ('Socialism is dictatorship of the proletariat plus electrification') which promoted the new development of the means of production.
Thus one might say that Marxism was once a science, but one which was refuted by some of the facts which happened to clash with its predictions (I have here mentioned just a few of these facts).
However, Marxism is no longer a science; for it broke the methodological rule that we must accept falsification, and it immunized itself against the most blatant refutations of its predictions. Ever since then, it can be described only as nonscience—as a metaphysical dream, if you like, married to a cruel reality.
Psychoanalysis is a very different case. It is an interesting psychological metaphysics (and no doubt there is some truth in it, as there is so often in metaphysical ideas), but it never was a science. There may be lots of people who are Freudian or Adlerian cases: Freud himself was clearly a Freudian case, and Adler an Adlerian case. But what prevents their theories from being scientific in the sense here described is, very simply, that they do not exclude any physically possible human behaviour. Whatever anybody may do is, in principle, explicable in Freudian or Adlerian terms. (Adler's break with Freud was more Adlerian than Freudian, but Freud never looked on it as a refutation of his theory.)
The point is very clear. Neither Freud nor Adler excludes any particular person's acting in any particular way, whatever the outward circumstances. Whether a man sacrificed his life to rescue a drowning, child (a case of sublimation) or whether he murdered the child by drowning him (a case of repression) could not possibly be predicted or excluded by Freud's theory; the theory was compatible with everything that could happen—even without any special immunization treatment.
Thus while Marxism became non-scientific by its adoption of an immunizing strategy, psychoanalysis was immune to start with, and remained so. In contrast, most physical theories are pretty free of immunizing tactics and highly falsifiable to start with. As a rule, they exclude an infinity of conceivable possibilities.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 127-128.
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The facts obtained in this study may possibly be sufficient proof of the causal relationship, that only the most sceptical can raise the objection that the discovered microorganism is not the cause but only an accompaniment of the disease... It is necessary to obtain a perfect proof to satisfy oneself that the parasite and the disease are ... actually causally related, and that the parasite is the... direct cause of the disease. This can only be done by completely separating the parasite from the diseased organism [and] introducing the isolated parasite into healthy organisms and induce the disease anew with all its characteristic symptoms and properties.
Berliner Klinische Wochenschrift (1882), 393. Quoted in Edward J. Huth and T. Jock Murray (eds.), Medicine in Quotations: Views of Health and Disease Through the Ages (2000), 52.
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The faculty of resolution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, merely on account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis.
In The Murders in Rue Morgue.
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The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, “What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?” and my answer must at once be, “It is no use.” There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
…...
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The greatest of all spectral classifiers, Antonia Maury had two strikes on her: the biggest one was, she was a woman. A woman had no chance at anything in astronomy except at Harvard in the 1880’s and 1890’s. And even there, things were rough. It now turns out that her director, E.C. Pickering, did not like the way she classified; she then refused to change to suit him; and after her great publication in Harvard Annals 28 (1897), she left Harvard—and in a sense, astronomy. ... I would say the most remarkable phenomenological investigation in modern astronomy is Miss Maury’s work in Harvard Annals 28. She didn’t have anything astrophysical to go on. Investigations between 1890 and 1900 were the origin of astrophysics. But these were solar, mostly. And there Miss Maury was on the periphery. I’ve seen pictures of groups, where she’d be standing away a little bit to one side of the other people, a little bit in the background. It was a very sad thing. When Hertzsprung wrote Pickering to congratulate him on Miss Maury’s work that had led to Hertzsprung’s discovery of super giants, Pickering is supposed to have replied that Miss Maury’s work was wrong — could not possibly be correct.
'Oral History Transcript: Dr. William Wilson Morgan' (8 Aug 1978) in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
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The Himalayas are the crowning achievement of the Indo-Australian plate. India in the Oligocene crashed head on into Tibet, hit so hard that it not only folded and buckled the plate boundaries but also plowed into the newly created Tibetan plateau and drove the Himalayas five and a half miles into the sky. The mountains are in some trouble. India has not stopped pushing them, and they are still going up. Their height and volume are already so great they are beginning to melt in their own self-generated radioactive heat. When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in a warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as 20,000 feet below the sea floor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth.
If by some fiat, I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence; this is the one I would choose: the summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone.
Annals of the Former World
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The longer mathematics lives the more abstract—and therefore, possibly also the more practical—it becomes.
As quoted in The Mathematical Intelligencer (Winter 1991), 13, No. 1.
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The love of mathematics is daily on the increase, not only with us but in the army. The result of this was unmistakably apparent in our last campaigns. Bonaparte himself has a mathematical head, and though all who study this science may not become geometricians like Laplace or Lagrange, or heroes like Bonaparte, there is yet left an influence upon the mind which enables them to accomplish more than they could possibly have achieved without this training.
In Letter (26 Jan 1798) to Von Zach. As quoted in translation in Karl Bruhns (ed.), Jane Lassell (trans.) and Caroline Lassell (trans.), Life of Alexander von Humboldt (1872), Vol. 1, 232. [Webmaster assigns this quote to Jérôme Lalande as an informed guess for the following reasons. The cited text gives only the last names, Lalande and von Zach, but it does also give a source footnote to a Allgemeine geographische Ephemeriden, 1, 340. The journal editor, Franz Xaver von Zach, was a Hungarian astronomer. Jérôme Lalande was a French astronomer, living at the same time, who called himself Jérôme Le Français de la Lande. Their names are seen referred to together in the same journal, Vol. 6, 360.]
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The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair.
Mostly Harmless
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The more man inquires into the laws which regulate the material universe, the more he is convinced that all its varied forms arise from the action of a few simple principles. These principles themselves converge, with accelerating force, towards some still more comprehensive law to which all matter seems to be submitted. Simple as that law may possibly be, it must be remembered that it is only one amongst an infinite number of simple laws: that each of these laws has consequences at least as extensive as the existing one, and therefore that the Creator who selected the present law must have foreseen the consequences of all other laws.
In Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 402.
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The physicist cannot simply surrender to the philosopher the critical contemplation of the theoretical foundations for he himself knows best and feels most surely where the shoe pinches. … he must try to make clear in his own mind just how far the concepts which he uses are justified … The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking. It is for this reason that the critical thinking of the physicist cannot possibly be restricted by the examination of the concepts of his own specific field. He cannot proceed without considering critically a much more difficult problem, the problem of analyzing the nature of everyday thinking.
‘Physics and Reality’, Franklin Institute Journal (Mar 1936). Collected in Out of My Later Years (1950), 59.
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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 scientist has to take 95 per cent of his subject on trust. He has to because he can't possibly do all the experiments, therefore he has to take on trust the experiments all his colleagues and predecessors have done. Whereas a mathematician doesn't have to take anything on trust. Any theorem that's proved, he doesn't believe it, really, until he goes through the proof himself, and therefore he knows his whole subject from scratch. He's absolutely 100 per cent certain of it. And that gives him an extraordinary conviction of certainty, and an arrogance that scientists don't have.
Essay, 'Private Games', in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, (eds.), A Passion for Science (1988), 61.
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The Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of increase ... This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 12.
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The term element is applied in chemistry to those forms of matter which have hitherto resisted all attempts to decompose them. Nothing is ever meant to be affirmed concerning their real nature; they are simply elements to us at the present time; hereafter, by new methods of research, or by new combinations of those already possessed by science, many of the substances which now figure as elements may possibly be shown to be compounds; this has already happened, and may again take place.
In Elementary Chemistry, Theoretical and Practical (1854), 103. There follows on this page, 62 listed elements, some indicated as “of recent discovery and yet imperfectly known”. Two of the later names were Norium and Pelopium.
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The very bulk of scientific publications is itself delusive. It is of very unequal value; a large proportion of it, possibly as much as three-quarters, does not deserve to be published at all, and is only published for economic considerations which have nothing to do with the real interests of science.
The Social Function of Science (1939), 118.
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.
From 'The Power of Words', collected in Siân Miles (ed.), Simone Weil: An Anthology (2000), 222-223.
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There must be some bond of union between mass and the chemical elements; and as the mass of a substance is ultimately expressed (although not absolutely, but only relatively) in the atom, a functional dependence should exist and be discoverable between the individual properties of the elements and their atomic weights. But nothing, from mushrooms to a scientific dependence can be discovered without looking and trying. So I began to look about and write down the elements with their atomic weights and typical properties, analogous elements and like atomic weights on separate cards, and soon this convinced me that the properties of the elements are in periodic dependence upon their atomic weights; and although I had my doubts about some obscure points, yet I have never doubted the universality of this law, because it could not possibly be the result of chance.
Principles of Chemistry (1905), Vol. 2, 18.
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These results demonstrate that there is a new polymerase inside the virions of RNA tumour viruses. It is not present in supernatents of normal cells but is present in virions of avian sarcoma and leukemia RNA tumour viruses. The polymerase seems to catalyse the incorporation of deoxyrinonucleotide triphosphates into DNA from an RNA template. Work is being performed to characterize further the reaction and the product. If the present results and Baltimore's results with Rauscher leukemia virus are upheld, they will constitute strong evidence that the DNA proviruses have a DNA genome when they are in virions. This result would have strong implications for theories of viral carcinogenesis and, possibly, for theories of information transfer in other biological systems. [Co-author with American virologist Satoshi Mizutani]
'RNA-dependent DNA Polymerase in Virions of Rous Sarcoma Virus', Nature (1970), 226, 1213.
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Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum mechanics cannot possibly have understood it.
…...
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Thus science strips off, one after the other, the more or less gross materialisations by which we endeavour to form an objective image of the soul, till men of science, speculating, in their non-scientific intervals, like other men on what science may possibly lead to, have prophesied that we shall soon have to confess that the soul is nothing else than a function of certain complex material systems.
Review of B. Stewart and P. G. Tait's book on Paradoxical Philosophy, in Nature, 19, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 760.
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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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When an element A has an affinity for another substance B, I see no mechanical reason why it should not take as many atoms of B as are presented to it, and can possibly come into contact with it (which may probably be 12 in general), except so far as the repulsion of the atoms of B among themselves are more than a match for the attraction of an atom of A. Now this repulsion begins with 2 atoms of B to 1 atom of A, in which case the 2 atoms of B are diametrically opposed; it increases with 3 atoms of B to 1 of A, in which case the atoms are only 120° asunder; with 4 atoms of B it is still greater as the distance is then only 90; and so on in proportion to the number of atoms. It is evident from these positions, that, as far as powers of attraction and repulsion are concerned (and we know of no other in chemistry), binary compounds must first be formed in the ordinary course of things, then ternary and so on, till the repulsion of the atoms of B (or A, whichever happens to be on the surface of the other), refuse to admit any more.
Observations on Dr. Bostock's Review of the Atomic Principles of Chemistry', Nicholson's Journal, 1811, 29, 147.
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When I began my physical studies [in Munich in 1874] and sought advice from my venerable teacher Philipp von Jolly...he portrayed to me physics as a highly developed, almost fully matured science...Possibly in one or another nook there would perhaps be a dust particle or a small bubble to be examined and classified, but the system as a whole stood there fairly secured, and theoretical physics approached visibly that degree of perfection which, for example, geometry has had already for centuries.

From a lecture (1924). In Damien Broderick (ed.), Year Million: Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge (2008), 104.
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When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as twenty thousand feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.
Annals of the Former World
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While we keep an open mind on this question of vitalism, or while we lean, as so many of us now do, or even cling with a great yearning, to the belief that something other than the physical forces animates the dust of which we are made, it is rather the business of the philosopher than of the biologist, or of the biologist only when he has served his humble and severe apprenticeship to philosophy, to deal with the ultimate problem. It is the plain bounden duty of the biologist to pursue his course unprejudiced by vitalistic hypotheses, along the road of observation and experiment, according to the accepted discipline of the natural and physical sciences. … It is an elementary scientific duty, it is a rule that Kant himself laid down, that we should explain, just as far as we possibly can, all that is capable of such explanation, in the light of the properties of matter and of the forms of energy with which we are already acquainted.
From Presidential Address to Zoological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. As quoted in H.V. Neal, 'The Basis of Individuality in Organisms: A Defense of Vitalism', Science (21 Jul 1916), 44 N.S., No. 1125, 82.
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Who shall declare the time allotted to the human race, when the generations of the most insignificant insect also existed for unnumbered ages? Yet man is also to vanish in the ever-changing course of events. The earth is to be burnt up, and the elements are to melt with fervent heat—to be again reduced to chaos—possibly to be renovated and adorned for other races of beings. These stupendous changes may be but cycles in those great laws of the universe, where all is variable but the laws themselves and He who has ordained them.
Physical Geography (1848), Vol. 1, 2-3.
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With a few honorable exceptions the press of the United States is at the beck and call of the patent medicines. Not only do the newspapers modify news possibly affecting these interests, but they sometimes become their agents.
'The Nostrum Evil,' Collier’s Weekly (7 Oct 1905). Reprinted in The Great American Fraud (1907), 5.
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You can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you're a fool.
Character Wonko the Sane in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (1985), collected in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2002), 587.
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You see, if the height of the mercury [barometer] column is less on the top of a mountain than at the foot of it (as I have many reasons for believing, although everyone who has so far written about it is of the contrary opinion), it follows that the weight of the air must be the sole cause of the phenomenon, and not that abhorrence of a vacuum, since it is obvious that at the foot of the mountain there is more air to have weight than at the summit, and we cannot possibly say that the air at the foot of the mountain has a greater aversion to empty space than at the top.
In letter to brother-in-law Perier (Nov 1647) as given in Daniel Webster Hering, Physics: the Science of the Forces of Nature (1922), 114. As also stated by Hering, Perier conducted an experiment on 19 Sep 1648 comparing readings on two barometers, one at the foot, and another at the top of 4,000-ft Puy-de-Dôme neighboring mountain.
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You want to find out what the facts are, and what you do is in that respect similar to what a laboratory technician does. Possibly philosophers would look on us mathematicians the same way as we look on the technicians, if they dared.
In I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography (1985), 321.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
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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