Principal Quotes (28 quotes)
Every river appears to consist of a main trunk, fed from a variety of branches, each running in a valley proportional to its size, and all of them together forming a system of vallies, communicating with one another, and having such a nice adjustment of their declivities that none of them join the principal valley on too high or too low a level; a circumstance which would be infinitely improbable if each of these vallies were not the work of the stream that flows in it.
I am more of a sponge than an inventor. I absorb ideas from every source. I take half-matured schemes for mechanical development and make them practical. I am a sort of middleman between the long-haired and impractical inventor and the hard-headed businessman who measures all things in terms of dollars and cents. My principal business is giving commercial value to the brilliant but misdirected ideas of others.
I would clarify that by ‘animal’ I understand a being that has feeling and that is capable of exercising life functions through a principle called soul; that the soul uses the body's organs, which are true machines, by virtue of its being the principal cause of the action of each of the machine's parts; and that although the placement that these parts have with respect to one another does scarcely anything else through the soul's mediation than what it does in pure machines, the entire machine nonetheless needs to be activated and guided by the soul in the same way as an organ, which, although capable of rendering different sounds through the placement of the parts of which it is composed, nonetheless never does so except through the guidance of the organist.
If I have succeeded in discovering any truths in the sciences…, I can declare that they are but the consequences and results of five or six principal difficulties which I have surmounted, and my encounters with which I reckoned as battles in which victory declared for me.
In all cases when a particular agent or cause is to be studied, experiments should be arranged in such a way as to lead if possible to results depending on it alone ; or, if this cannot be done, they should be arranged so as to increase the effects due to the cause to be studied till these so far exceed the unavoidable concomitants, that the latter may be considered as only disturbing, not essentially modifying the effects of the principal agent.
In the tropical and subtropical regions, endemic malaria takes first place almost everywhere among the causes of morbidity and mortality and it constitutes the principal obstacle to the acclimatization of Europeans in these regions.
It is true that Fourier had the opinion that the principal end of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher as he is should have known that the unique end of science is the honor of the human mind and that from this point of view a question of [the theory of] number is as important as a question of the system of the world.
It is true that M. Fourier believed that the main aim of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher of his ability ought to have known that the sole aim of science is the honour of the human intellect, and that on this ground a problem in numbers is as important as a problem on the system of the world.
Kepler’s principal goal was to explain the relationship between the existence of five planets (and their motions) and the five regular solids. It is customary to sneer at Kepler for this. … It is instructive to compare this with the current attempts to “explain” the zoology of elementary particles in terms of irreducible representations of Lie groups.
Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, the arithmetical theory of forms, of which the foundation was laid in the diophantine theorems of Fermat, left without proof by their author, which resisted all efforts of the myriad-minded Euler to reduce to demonstration, and only yielded up their cause of being when turned over in the blow-pipe flame of Gauss’s transcendent genius; or the doctrine of double periodicity, which resulted from the observation of Jacobi of a purely analytical fact of transformation; or Legendre’s law of reciprocity; or Sturm’s theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected (if my memory serves me right) with the motion of compound pendulums; or Huyghen’s method of continued fractions, characterized by Lagrange as one of the principal discoveries of that great mathematician, and to which he appears to have been led by the construction of his Planetary Automaton; or the new algebra, speaking of which one of my predecessors (Mr. Spottiswoode) has said, not without just reason and authority, from this chair, “that it reaches out and indissolubly connects itself each year with fresh branches of mathematics, that the theory of equations has become almost new through it, algebraic geometry transfigured in its light, that the calculus of variations, molecular physics, and mechanics” (he might, if speaking at the present moment, go on to add the theory of elasticity and the development of the integral calculus) “have all felt its influence”.
Natural powers, principally those of steam and falling water, are subsidized and taken into human employment Spinning-machines, power-looms, and all the mechanical devices, acting, among other operatives, in the factories and work-shops, are but so many laborers. They are usually denominated labor-saving machines, but it would be more just to call them labor-doing machines. They are made to be active agents; to have motion, and to produce effect; and though without intelligence, they are guided by laws of science, which are exact and perfect, and they produce results, therefore, in general, more accurate than the human hand is capable of producing.
Oh, my dear Kepler, how I wish that we could have one hearty laugh together. Here, at Padua, is the principal professor of philosophy, whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass, [telescope] which he pertinaciously refuses to do. Why are you not here? what shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly! and to hear the professor of philosophy at Pisa laboring before the grand duke with logical arguments, as if with magical incantations, to charm the new planets out of the sky.
One of the principal objects of theoretical research in my department of knowledge is to find the point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest simplicity.
One of the principal obstacles to the rapid diffusion of a new idea lies in the difficulty of finding suitable expression to convey its essential point to other minds. Words may have to be strained into a new sense, and scientific controversies constantly resolve themselves into differences about the meaning of words. On the other hand, a happy nomenclature has sometimes been more powerful than rigorous logic in allowing a new train of thought to be quickly and generally accepted.
One of the principal results of civilization is to reduce more and more the limits within which the different elements of society fluctuate. The more intelligence increases the more these limits are reduced, and the nearer we approach the beautiful and the good. The perfectibility of the human species results as a necessary consequence of all our researches. Physical defects and monstrosities are gradually disappearing; the frequency and severity of diseases are resisted more successfully by the progress of modern science; the moral qualities of man are proving themselves not less capable of improvement; and the more we advance, the less we shall have need to fear those great political convulsions and wars and their attendant results, which are the scourges of mankind.
So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.
Such is the tendency of the human mind to speculation, that on the least idea of an analogy between a few phenomena, it leaps forward, as it were, to a cause or law, to the temporary neglect of all the rest; so that, in fact, almost all our principal inductions must be regarded as a series of ascents and descents, and of conclusions from a few cases, verified by trial on many.
The ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health.
The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
The opinion of Bacon on this subject [geometry] was diametrically opposed to that of the ancient philosophers. He valued geometry chiefly, if not solely, on account of those uses, which to Plato appeared so base. And it is remarkable that the longer Bacon lived the stronger this feeling became. When in 1605 he wrote the two books on the Advancement of Learning, he dwelt on the advantages which mankind derived from mixed mathematics; but he at the same time admitted that the beneficial effect produced by mathematical study on the intellect, though a collateral advantage, was “no less worthy than that which was principal and intended.” But it is evident that his views underwent a change. When near twenty years later, he published the De Augmentis, which is the Treatise on the Advancement of Learning, greatly expanded and carefully corrected, he made important alterations in the part which related to mathematics. He condemned with severity the pretensions of the mathematicians, “delidas et faslum mathematicorum.” Assuming the well-being of the human race to be the end of knowledge, he pronounced that mathematical science could claim no higher rank than that of an appendage or an auxiliary to other sciences. Mathematical science, he says, is the handmaid of natural philosophy; she ought to demean herself as such; and he declares that he cannot conceive by what ill chance it has happened that she presumes to claim precedence over her mistress.
The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.
The teacher can seldom afford to miss the questions: What is the unknown? What are the data? What is the condition? The student should consider the principal parts of the problem attentively, repeatedly, and from various sides.
This is one of the greatest advantages of modern geometry over the ancient, to be able, through the consideration of positive and negative quantities, to include in a single enunciation the several cases which the same theorem may present by a change in the relative position of the different parts of a figure. Thus in our day the nine principal problems and the numerous particular cases, which form the object of eighty-three theorems in the two books De sectione determinata of Appolonius constitute only one problem which is resolved by a single equation.
We are told that “Mathematics is that study which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation.” I think no statement could have been made more opposite to the facts of the case; that mathematical analysis is constantly invoking the aid of new principles, new ideas, and new methods, not capable of being defined by any form of words, but springing direct from the inherent powers and activities of the human mind, and from continually renewed introspection of that inner world of thought of which the phenomena are as varied and require as close attention to discern as those of the outer physical world (to which the inner one in each individual man may, I think, be conceived to stand somewhat in the same relation of correspondence as a shadow to the object from which it is projected, or as the hollow palm of one hand to the closed fist which it grasps of the other), that it is unceasingly calling forth the faculties of observation and comparison, that one of its principal weapons is induction, that it has frequent recourse to experimental trial and verification, and that it affords a boundless scope for the exercise of the highest efforts of the imagination and invention.
We may have three principal objects in the study of truth: one to discover it when it is sought; another to demonstrate it when it is possessed; and a third, to discriminate it from the false when it is examined.
We see, then, that the disappearance of the conscious personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality, the turning by means of suggestion and contagion of feelings and ideas in an identical direction, the tendency to immediately transform the suggested ideas into acts; these, we see, are the principal characteristics of the individual forming part of a crowd. He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will.
When we survey our lives and endeavours we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings. We see that our whole nature resembles that of the social animals. We eat food that others have grown, wear clothes that others have made, live in houses that others have built. The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created. Without language our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals; we have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.
You boil it in sawdust: you salt it in glue:
You condense it with locusts and tape:
Still keeping one principal object in view—
To preserve its symmetrical shape.
You condense it with locusts and tape:
Still keeping one principal object in view—
To preserve its symmetrical shape.