Quest Quotes (39 quotes)
… just as the astronomer, the physicist, the geologist, or other student of objective science looks about in the world of sense, so, not metaphorically speaking but literally, the mind of the mathematician goes forth in the universe of logic in quest of the things that are there; exploring the heights and depths for facts—ideas, classes, relationships, implications, and the rest; observing the minute and elusive with the powerful microscope of his Infinitesimal Analysis; observing the elusive and vast with the limitless telescope of his Calculus of the Infinite; making guesses regarding the order and internal harmony of the data observed and collocated; testing the hypotheses, not merely by the complete induction peculiar to mathematics, but, like his colleagues of the outer world, resorting also to experimental tests and incomplete induction; frequently finding it necessary, in view of unforeseen disclosures, to abandon one hopeful hypothesis or to transform it by retrenchment or by enlargement:—thus, in his own domain, matching, point for point, the processes, methods and experience familiar to the devotee of natural science.
...to many it is not knowledge but the quest for knowledge that gives greater interest to thought—to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.
[There was] in some of the intellectual leaders a great aspiration to demonstrate that the universe ran like a piece of clock-work, but this was was itself initially a religious aspiration. It was felt that there would be something defective in Creation itself—something not quite worthy of God—unless the whole system of the universe could be shown to be interlocking, so that it carried the pattern of reasonableness and orderliness. Kepler, inaugurating the scientist’s quest for a mechanistic universe in the seventeenth century, is significant here—his mysticism, his music of the spheres, his rational deity demand a system which has the beauty of a piece of mathematics.
A study of history shows that civilizations that abandon the quest for knowledge are doomed to disintegration.
At the outset do not be worried about this big question—Truth. It is a very simple matter if each one of you starts with the desire to get as much as possible. No human being is constituted to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and even the best of men must be content with fragments, with partial glimpses, never the full fruition. In this unsatisfied quest the attitude of mind, the desire, the thirst—a thirst that from the soul must arise!—the fervent longing, are the be-all and the end-all.
Darwin grasped the philosophical bleakness with his characteristic courage. He argued that hope and morality cannot, and should not, be passively read in the construction of nature. Aesthetic and moral truths, as human concepts, must be shaped in human terms, not ‘discovered’ in nature. We must formulate these answers for ourselves and then approach nature as a partner who can answer other kinds of questions for us–questions about the factual state of the universe, not about the meaning of human life. If we grant nature the independence of her own domain–her answers unframed in human terms–then we can grasp her exquisite beauty in a free and humble way. For then we become liberated to approach nature without the burden of an inappropriate and impossible quest for moral messages to assuage our hopes and fears. We can pay our proper respect to nature’s independence and read her own ways as beauty or inspiration in our different terms.
I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. … I feel that restrictive legislation on academic freedom is forever a thing of the past, that religion and science may now address one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and of a common quest for truth. I like to think that the Dayton trial had some part in bringing to birth this new era.
In physiology, as in all other sciences, no discovery is useless, no curiosity misplaced or too ambitious, and we may be certain that every advance achieved in the quest of pure knowledge will sooner or later play its part in the service of man.
In the index to the six hundred odd pages of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, abridged version, the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton do not occur … yet their cosmic quest destroyed the mediaeval vision of an immutable social order in a walled-in universe and transformed the European landscape, society, culture, habits and general outlook, as thoroughly as if a new species had arisen on this planet.
In the index to the six hundred odd pages of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, abridged version, the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton do not occur yet their cosmic quest destroyed the medieval vision of an immutable social order in a walled-in universe and transformed the European landscape, society, culture, habits and general outlook, as thoroughly as if a new species had arisen on this planet.
It is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth.
It must be conceded that a theory has an important advantage if its basic concepts and fundamental hypotheses are 'close to experience,' and greater confidence in such a theory is certainly justified. There is less danger of going completely astray, particularly since it takes so much less time and effort to disprove such theories by experience. Yet more and more, as the depth of our knowledge increases, we must give up this advantage in our quest for logical simplicity in the foundations of physical theory...
Learning how to access a continuity of common sense can be one of your most efficient accomplishments in this decade. Can you imagine common sense surpassing science and technology in the quest to unravel the human stress mess? In time, society will have a new measure for confirming truth. It’s inside the people-not at the mercy of current scientific methodology. Let scientists facilitate discovery, but not invent your inner truth.
Man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.
Mankind will not remain on Earth forever, but in its quest for light and space will at first timidly penetrate beyond the confines of the atmosphere, and later will conquer for itself all the space near the Sun.
My original decision to devote myself to science was a direct result of the discovery which has never ceased to fill me with enthusiasm since my early youth—the comprehension of the far from obvious fact that the laws of human reasoning coincide with the laws governing the sequences of the impressions we receive from the world about us; that, therefore, pure reasoning can enable man to gain an insight into the mechanism of the latter. In this connection, it is of paramount importance that the outside world is something independent from man, something absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute appeared to me as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life.
No national sovereignty rules in outer space. Those who venture there go as envoys of the entire human race. Their quest, therefore, must be for all mankind, and what they find should belong to all mankind.
Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course—a stoic’s creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here. If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way.
Science is a speculative enterprise. The validity of a new idea and the significance of a new experimental finding are to be measured by the consequences—consequences in terms of other ideas and other experiments. Thus conceived, science is not a quest for certainty; it is rather a quest which is successful only to the degree that it is continuous.
Science tries to answer the question: ‘How?’ How do cells act in the body? How do you design an airplane that will fly faster than sound? How is a molecule of insulin constructed? Religion, by contrast, tries to answer the question: ‘Why?’ Why was man created? Why ought I to tell the truth? Why must there be sorrow or pain or death? Science attempts to analyze how things and people and animals behave; it has no concern whether this behavior is good or bad, is purposeful or not. But religion is precisely the quest for such answers: whether an act is right or wrong, good or bad, and why.
Sir,—The Planet [Neptune] whose position you marked out actually exists. On the day on which your letter reached me, I found a star of the eighth magnitude, which was not recorded in the excellent map designed by Dr. Bremiker, containing the twenty-first hour of the collection published by the Royal Academy of Berlin. The observation of the succeeding day showed it to be the Planet of which we were in quest.
The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, Seek simplicity and distrust it.
The desire for truth so prominent in the quest of science, a reaching out of the spirit from its isolation to something beyond, a response to beauty in nature and art, an Inner Light of conviction and guidance—are these as much a part of our being as our sensitivity to sense impressions?
The game of status seeking, organized around committees, is played in roughly the same fashion in Africa and in America and in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the aptitude for this game is a part of our genetic inheritance, like the aptitude for speech and for music. The game has had profound consequences for science. In science, as in the quest for a village water supply, big projects bring enhanced status; small projects do not. In the competition for status, big projects usually win, whether or not they are scientifically justified. As the committees of academic professionals compete for power and influence, big science becomes more and more preponderant over small science. The large and fashionable squeezes out the small and unfashionable. The space shuttle squeezes out the modest and scientifically more useful expendable launcher. The Great Observatory squeezes out the Explorer. The centralized adduction system squeezes out the village well. Fortunately, the American academic system is pluralistic and chaotic enough that first-rate small science can still be done in spite of the committees. In odd corners, in out-of the-way universities, and in obscure industrial laboratories, our Fulanis are still at work.
The history of Europe is the history of Rome curbing the Hebrew and the Greek, with their various impulses of religion, and of science, and of art, and of quest for material comfort, and of lust of domination, which are all at daggers drawn with each other. The vision of Rome is the vision of the unity of civilisation.
The personal adventures of a geologist would form an amusing narrative. He is trudging along, dusty and weatherbeaten, with his wallet at his back, and his hammer on his shoulder, and he is taken for a stone-mason travelling in search of work. In mining-countries, he is supposed to be in quest of mines, and receives many tempting offers of shares in the ‘Wheel Dream’, or the ‘Golden Venture’;—he has been watched as a smuggler; it is well if he has not been committed as a vagrant, or apprehended as a spy, for he has been refused admittance to an inn, or has been ushered into the room appropriated to ostlers and postilions. When his fame has spread among the more enlightened part of the community of a district which he has been exploring, and inquiries are made of the peasantry as to the habits and pursuits of the great philosopher who has been among them, and with whom they have become familiar, it is found that the importance attached by him to shells and stones, and such like trumpery, is looked upon as a species of derangement, but they speak with delight of his affability, sprightliness, and good-humour. They respect the strength of his arm, and the weight of his hammer, as they point to marks which he inflicted on the rocks, and they recount with wonder his pedestrian performances, and the voracious appetite with which, at the close of a long day’s work he would devour the coarsest food that was set before him.
The power of man to do work—one man-power—is, in its purely physical sense, now an insignificant accomplishment, and could only again justify his existence if other sources of power failed. … Curious persons in cloisteral seclusion are experimenting with new sources of energy, which, if ever harnessed, would make coal and oil as useless as oars and sails. If they fail in their quest, or are too late, so that coal and oil, everywhere sought for, are no longer found, and the only hope of men lay in their time-honoured traps to catch the sunlight, who doubts that galley-slaves and helots would reappear in the world once more?
The pursuit of pretty formulas and neat theorems can no doubt quickly degenerate into a silly vice, but so can the quest for austere generalities which are so very general indeed that they are incapable of application to any particular.
The quest of the absolute leads into the four-dimensional world.
The road to the general, to the revelatory simplicities of science, lies through a concern with the particular, the circumstantial, the concrete, but a concern organized and directed in terms of … theoretical analysis … analyses of physical evolution, of the functioning of the nervous system, of social organization, of psychological process, of cultural patterning, and so on—and, most especially, in terms of the interplay among them. That is to say, the road lies, like any genuine Quest, through a terrifying complexity.
The Scientific Revolution turns us away from the older sayings to discover the lost authorization in Nature. What we have been through in these last four millennia is the slow inexorable profaning of our species. And in the last part of the second millennium A.D., that process is apparently becoming complete. It is the Great Human Irony of our noblest and greatest endeavor on this planet that in the quest for authorization, in our reading of the language of God in Nature, we should read there so clearly that we have been so mistaken.
There are but few saints among scientists, as among other men, but truth itself is a goal comparable to sanctity. As the Pythagoreans had already understood it more than twenty-four centuries ago, there is sanctity in pure knowledge, as there is in pure beauty, and the disinterested quest of truth is perhaps the greatest purification.
Think impossible and dreams get discarded, projects get abandoned, and hope for wellness is torpedoed. But let someone yell the words it’s possible, and resources we hadn’t been aware of come rushing in to assist us in our quest.
This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity?
Time’s arrow of ‘just history’ marks each moment of time with a distinctive brand. But we cannot, in our quest to understand history, be satisfied only with a mark to recognize each moment and a guide to order events in temporal sequence. Uniqueness is the essence of history, but we also crave some underlying generality, some principles of order transcending the distinction of moments–lest we be driven mad by Borges’s vision of a new picture every two thousand pages in a book without end. We also need, in short, the immanence of time’s cycle.
To cosmologists that [the universe is expanding] is the most amazing scientific discovery ever made. … It’s an audacious quest that is unparalleled in human inquiry. … We have entered what once was the ethereal realm only of speculative philosophers.
We live in an essential and unresolvable tension between our unity with nature and our dangerous uniqueness. Systems that attempt to place and make sense of us by focusing exclusively either on the uniqueness or the unity are doomed to failure. But we must not stop asking and questing because the answers are complex and ambiguous.
Whoever wins to a great scientific truth will find a poet before him in the quest.
Young people, especially young women, often ask me for advice. Here it is, valeat quantum. Do not undertake a scientific career in quest of fame or money. There are easier and better ways to reach them. Undertake it only if nothing else will satisfy you; for nothing else is probably what you will receive. Your reward will be the widening of the horizon as you climb. And if you achieve that reward you will ask no other.