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Reason Quotes (744 quotes)

...for the animals, which we resemble and which would be our equals if we did not have reason, do not reflect upon the actions or the passions of their external or internal senses, and do not know what is color, odor or sound, or if there is any differences between these objects, to which they are moved rather than moving themselves there. This comes about by the force of the impression that the different objects make on their organs and on their senses, for they cannot discern if it is more appropriate to go and drink or eat or do something else, and they do not eat or drink or do anything else except when the presence of objects or the animal imagination [l'imagination brutalle], necessitates them and transports them to their objects, without their knowing what they do, whether good or bad; which would happen to us just as to them if we were destitute of reason, for they have no enlightenment except what they must have to take their nourishment and to serve us for the uses to which God has destined them.
[Arguing the uniqueness of man by regarding animals to be merely automatons.].
Les Préludes de l'Harmonie Universelle (1634), 135-139. In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 318.
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...I believe there exists, & I feel within me, an instinct for the truth, or knowledge or discovery, of something of the same nature as the instinct of virtue, & that our having such an instinct is reason enough for scientific researches without any practical results ever ensuing from them.
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 4. (1847-50)
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...With these developments we have every reason to anticipate that in a time not very distant most telegraph messages across the oceans will be transmitted without cables. For short distances we need a “wireless” telephone, which requires no expert operat
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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Error of confounding cause and effect.—There is no more dangerous error than confounding consequence with cause: I call it the intrinsic depravity of reason. … I take an example: everybody knows the book of the celebrated Comaro, in which he recommends his spare diet as a recipe for a long and happy life,—for a virtuous life also. Few books have been read so much… I believe hardly any book … has caused so much harm, has shortened so many lives, as this well-meant curiosity. The source of this mischief is in confounding consequence with cause. The candid Italian saw in his diet the cause of his long life, while the prerequisite to long life, the extraordinary slowness of the metabolic process, small consumption, was the cause of his spare diet. He was not at liberty to eat little or much; his frugality—was not of “free will;” he became sick when he ate more.
From 'The Four Great Errors', The Twilight of the Idols (1888), collected in Thomas Common (trans.), The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1896), Vol. 11, 139.
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La jeunesse est une ivresse continuelle: c’est la fièvre de la raison.
Youth is continual intoxication; it is a fever of reason.
Original French from Maximes et Réflexions Morales (1796), 40, Maxim 279. This English translation in Maxims and Moral Reflexions: An Improved Edition (1797), 126, Maxim 503.
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La théorie est l’hypothèse vérifiée, après qu’elle a été soumise au contrôle du raisonnement et de la critique expérimentale. La meilleure théorie est celle qui a été vérifiée par le plus grand nombre de faits. Mais une théorie, pour rester bonne, doit toujours se modifier avec les progrès de la science et demeurer constamment soumise à la vérification et à la critique des faits nouveaux qui apparaissent.
A theory is a verified hypothesis, after it has been submitted to the control of reason and experimental criticism. The soundest theory is one that has been verified by the greatest number of facts. But to remain valid, a theory must be continually altered to keep pace with the progress of science and must be constantly resubmitted to verification and criticism as new facts appear.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865), 385. English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 220.
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Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.
Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817). In H. E. Rollins (ed.), Letters of John Keats (1958), Vol. 1, 193-4.
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Nihil est sine ratione.
There is nothing without a reason.
Attributed.
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On se persuade mieux, pour l’ordinaire, par les raisons qu’on a soi-même trouvées, que par celles qui sont venues dans l’esprit des autres.
We are generally more effectually persuaded by reasons we have ourselves discovered than by those which have occurred to others.
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 18. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 11. Original French text in Pensées de Pascal: publiées dans leur texte authentique (1866), Vol. 1, 99.
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Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate.
A plurality (of reasons) should not be posited without necessity.
Quodlibeta (Quodlibetal Questions) [1324-13], Quodlibet 6, q. 10, trans. A. Freddoso (1991), Vol. 2, 521.
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Question: On freezing water in a glass tube, the tube sometimes breaks. Why is this? An iceberg floats with 1,000,000 tons of ice above the water line. About how many tons are below the water line?
Answer: The water breaks the tube because of capallarity. The iceberg floats on the top because it is lighter, hence no tons are below the water line. Another reason is that an iceberg cannot exceed 1,000,000 tons in weight: hence if this much is above water, none is below. Ice is exceptional to all other bodies except bismuth. All other bodies have 1090 feet below the surface and 2 feet extra for every degree centigrade. If it were not for this, all fish would die, and the earth be held in an iron grip.
P.S.—When I say 1090 feet, I mean 1090 feet per second.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 179-80, Question 13. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: What is the reason that the hammers which strike the strings of a pianoforte are made not to strike the middle of the strings? Why are the bass strings loaded with coils of wire?
Answer: Because the tint of the clang would be bad. Because to jockey them heavily.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 176, Question 3. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Socrates: Very good; let us begin then, Protarchus, by asking whether all this which they call the universe is left to the guidance of unreason and chance medley, or, on the contrary, as our fathers have declared, ordered and governed by a marvellous intelligence and wisdom.
Protarchus: Wide asunder are the two assertions, illustrious Socrates, for that which you were just now saying to me appears to be blasphemy, but the other assertion, that mind orders all things, is worthy of the aspect of the world…
Plato
From 'Philebus', collected in The Dialogues of Plato (1875), Vol. 4, 70.
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The Word Reason in the English Language has different Significances: sometimes it is taken for true, and clear Principles: Sometimes for clear, and fair deductions from those Principles: and sometimes for Cause, and particularly the final Cause: but the Consideration I shall have of it here, is in a Signification different from all these; and that is, as it stands for a Faculty of Man, That Faculty, whereby Man is supposed to be distinguished from Beasts; and wherein it is evident he much surpasses them.
In 'Of Reason', Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), Book 4, Ch. 17, Sec. 1, 341.
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A discovery in science, or a new theory, even when it appears most unitary and most all-embracing, deals with some immediate element of novelty or paradox within the framework of far vaster, unanalysed, unarticulated reserves of knowledge, experience, faith, and presupposition. Our progress is narrow; it takes a vast world unchallenged and for granted. This is one reason why, however great the novelty or scope of new discovery, we neither can, nor need, rebuild the house of the mind very rapidly. This is one reason why science, for all its revolutions, is conservative. This is why we will have to accept the fact that no one of us really will ever know very much. This is why we shall have to find comfort in the fact that, taken together, we know more and more.
Science and the Common Understanding (1954), 53-4.
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A distinguished writer [Siméon Denis Poisson] has thus stated the fundamental definitions of the science:
“The probability of an event is the reason we have to believe that it has taken place, or that it will take place.”
“The measure of the probability of an event is the ratio of the number of cases favourable to that event, to the total number of cases favourable or contrary, and all equally possible” (equally like to happen).
From these definitions it follows that the word probability, in its mathematical acceptation, has reference to the state of our knowledge of the circumstances under which an event may happen or fail. With the degree of information which we possess concerning the circumstances of an event, the reason we have to think that it will occur, or, to use a single term, our expectation of it, will vary. Probability is expectation founded upon partial knowledge. A perfect acquaintance with all the circumstances affecting the occurrence of an event would change expectation into certainty, and leave neither room nor demand for a theory of probabilities.
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 243-244. The Poisson quote is footnoted as from Recherches sur la Probabilité des Jugemens.
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A fact is like a sack which won’t stand up if it’s empty. In order that it may stand up, one has to put into it the reason and sentiment which caused it to exist.
Character, The Father, in play Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), Act 1. Collected in John Gassner and Burns Mantle, A Treasury of the Theatre (1935), Vol. 2, 507.
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A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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A Law of Nature, (Lex Naturalis) is a Precept, or general Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved
Leviathan, ch. 14 (1651).
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A lecturer should … give them [the audience] full reason to believe that all his powers have been exerted for their pleasure and instruction.
In Letter to his friend Benjamin Abbott (11 Jun 1813), collected in Bence Jones, Life and Letters of Faraday, Vol. 1, 73. Faraday was age 21, less than a year since completing his bookbinder apprenticeship, and had decided upon “giving up trade and taking to science.” From several letters, various opinions about lecturing were gathered in an article, 'Faraday on Scientific Lecturing', Norman Locker (ed.), Nature (23 Oct 1873), 8, 524.
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A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man—a man of restless and versatile intellect—who … plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.
As recollected in a letter written by an undergraduate, John Richard Green, writing to his friend, afterwards Professor Boyd Dawkins. This was Huxley's rebuttal to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce who ridiculed Darwin's theory of evolution at a meeting of the British Association at Oxford (30 Jun 1860). After hearing Wilberforce's speech, and before rising himself, Huxley is said to have remarked, “The Lord has delivered him into my hands!” (No transcript was taken at the time, so the words are not verbatim. The version above is commonly seen, and was said by Huxley to be fair in substance, if not wholely accurate. The letter excerpt is in Leonard Huxley (ed.), Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1916), Vol. 1, 199. Additional accounts of the debate are given in the book.
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A man who writes a great deal and says little that is new writes himself into a daily declining reputation. When he wrote less he stood higher in people’s estimation, even though there was nothing in what he wrote. The reason is that then they still expected better things of him in the future, whereas now they can view the whole progression.
Aphorism 43 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 50.
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A scientifically unimportant discovery is one which, however true and however interesting for other reasons, has no consequences for a system of theory with which scientists in that field are concerned.
The Structure of Social Action (1937), Vol. 1, 7.
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A scientist can be productive in various ways. One is having the ability to plan and carry out experiments, but the other is having the ability to formulate new ideas, which can be about what experiments can be carried out … by making [the] proper calculations. Individual scientists who are successful in their work are successful for different reasons.
Interview with George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman, in 'Linus Pauling: Reflections', American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1994), 82, No. 6, 522.
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A strict materialist believes that everything depends on the motion of matter. He knows the form of the laws of motion though he does not know all their consequences when applied to systems of unknown complexity.
Now one thing in which the materialist (fortified with dynamical knowledge) believes is that if every motion great & small were accurately reversed, and the world left to itself again, everything would happen backwards the fresh water would collect out of the sea and run up the rivers and finally fly up to the clouds in drops which would extract heat from the air and evaporate and afterwards in condensing would shoot out rays of light to the sun and so on. Of course all living things would regrede from the grave to the cradle and we should have a memory of the future but not of the past.
The reason why we do not expect anything of this kind to take place at any time is our experience of irreversible processes, all of one kind, and this leads to the doctrine of a beginning & an end instead of cyclical progression for ever.
Letter to Mark Pattison (7 Apr 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 360-1.
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A superficial knowledge of mathematics may lead to the belief that this subject can be taught incidentally, and that exercises akin to counting the petals of flowers or the legs of a grasshopper are mathematical. Such work ignores the fundamental idea out of which quantitative reasoning grows—the equality of magnitudes. It leaves the pupil unaware of that relativity which is the essence of mathematical science. Numerical statements are frequently required in the study of natural history, but to repeat these as a drill upon numbers will scarcely lend charm to these studies, and certainly will not result in mathematical knowledge.
In Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1897), 26-27.
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A vacuum is repugnant to reason.
A commonly seen shortened version of a longer quote. From the original Latin: “Repugnare ut detur vacuum, sive in quo nulla plane sit res.” Subtitle of Article XVI in Principia Philospphiæ (1644), Pars Secunda, XVI, 41-42. Also collected in Œuvres de Descartes (1905), Vol. 8, 49. As translated by John Veitch: “That a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely no body is repugnant to reason,” in Meditations and Selections from the Principles of Philosophy (1853, 1913), 185. [Note: In the French edition, the subtitle was translated as, “Qu'il ne peut y avoir aucun vuide au sens que les Philosophes prenent ce mot,” which in English would be, “That there can be no vacuum in the sense that Philosophers take this word.” In Les Principes de la Philosophie (1651), Seconde Partie, Article XVI, 75.]
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A very sincere and serious freshman student came to my office with a question that had clearly been troubling him deeply. He said to me, ‘I am a devout Christian and have never had any reason to doubt evolution, an idea that seems both exciting and well documented. But my roommate, a proselytizing evangelical, has been insisting with enormous vigor that I cannot be both a real Christian and an evolutionist. So tell me, can a person believe both in God and in evolution?’ Again, I gulped hard, did my intellectual duty, a nd reassured him that evolution was both true and entirely compatible with Christian belief –a position that I hold sincerely, but still an odd situation for a Jewish agnostic.
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A Vulgar Mechanick can practice what he has been taught or seen done, but if he is in an error he knows not how to find it out and correct it, and if you put him out of his road, he is at a stand; Whereas he that is able to reason nimbly and judiciously about figure, force and motion, is never at rest till he gets over every rub.
Letter (25 May 1694) to Nathaniel Hawes. In J. Edleston (ed.), Correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Cotes (1850), 284.
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A wonder then it must needs be,—that there should be any Man found so stupid and forsaken of reason as to persuade himself, that this most beautiful and adorned world was or could be produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms.
John Ray
The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691), 21-2.
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About weak points [of the Origin] I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder.
Letter to Asa Gray, 8 or 9 February 1860. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1860 (1993), Vol. 8, 75.
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Abstruse mathematical researches … are … often abused for having no obvious physical application. The fact is that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness. A new branch of mathematics, which has sprung up in the last twenty years, was denounced by the Astronomer Royal before the University of Cambridge as doomed to be forgotten, on account of its uselessness. Now it turns out that the reason why we cannot go further in our investigations of molecular action is that we do not know enough of this branch of mathematics.
In 'Conditions of Mental Development', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 115.
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According to the older view, for every single effect of a serum, there was a separate substance, or at least a particular chemical group... A normal serum contained as many different haemagglutinins as it agglutinated different cells. The situation was undoubtedly made much simpler if, to use the Ehrlich terminology... the separate haptophore groups can combine with an extremely large number of receptors in stepwise differing quantities as a stain does with different animal tissues, though not always with the same intensity. A normal serum would therefore visibly affect such a large number of different blood cells... not because it contained countless special substances, but because of the colloids of the serum, and therefore of the agglutinins by reason of their chemical constitution and the electrochemical properties resulting from it. That this manner of representation is a considerable simplification is clear; it also opens the way to direct experimental testing by the methods of structural chemistry.
'Die Theorien der Antikorperbildung ... ', Wiener klinische Wöchenschrift (1909), 22, 1623-1631. Trans. Pauline M. H. Mazumdar.
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After what has been premised, I think we may lay down the following Conclusions. First, It is plain Philosophers amuse themselves in vain, when they inquire for any natural efficient Cause, distinct from a Mind or Spirit. Secondly, Considering the whole Creation is the Workmanship of a wise and good Agent, it should seem to become Philosophers, to employ their Thoughts (contrary to what some hold) about the final Causes of Things: And I must confess, I see no reason, why pointing out the various Ends, to which natural Things are adapted and for which they were originally with unspeakable Wisdom contrived, should not be thought one good way of accounting for them, and altogether worthy a Philosopher.
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [first published 1710], (1734), 126-7.
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Algebra reverses the relative importance of the factors in ordinary language. It is essentially a written language, and it endeavors to exemplify in its written structures the patterns which it is its purpose to convey. The pattern of the marks on paper is a particular instance of the pattern to be conveyed to thought. The algebraic method is our best approach to the expression of necessity, by reason of its reduction of accident to the ghost-like character of the real variable.
In Science and Philosophy (1948), 116.
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All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, “Whatever IS, is RIGHT.”
'An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle I. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 515.
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All of modern physics is governed by that magnificent and thoroughly confusing discipline called quantum mechanics ... It has survived all tests and there is no reason to believe that there is any flaw in it.... We all know how to use it and how to apply it to problems; and so we have learned to live with the fact that nobody can understand it.
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All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.
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All other men, being born of woman, have a navel, by reason of the umbilical vessels inserted into it, which from the placenta carry nourishment to children in the womb of their mothers; but it could not be so with our first parents. It cannot be believed that God gave them navels which would have been altogether useless.
A Treatise of Laws of Nature (1727).
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All palaetiological sciences, all speculations which attempt to ascend from the present to the remote past, by the chain of causation, do also, by an inevitable consequence, urge us to look for the beginning of the state of things which we thus contemplate; but in none of these cases have men been able, by the aid of science, to arrive at a beginning which is homogeneous with the known course of events. The first origin of language, of civilization, of law and government, cannot be clearly made out by reasoning and research; and just as little, we may expect, will a knowledge of the origin of the existing and extinct species of plants and animals, be the result of physiological and geological investigation.
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1837), Vol. 3, 581.
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All Pretences of foretelling by Astrology, are Deceits; for this manifest Reason, because the Wise and Learned, who can only judge whether there be any Truth in this Science, do all unanimously agree to laugh at and despise it; and none but the poor ignorant Vulgar give it any Credit.
'An Account of the Death of Mr. Patrige' (1708), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 124.
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All sciences originated among the sons of Israel, the reason being the existence of prophecy among them which made their perfection in the sciences amazing.
Averroes
In Benzion Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel, Statesman and Philosopher (1953, 1998), 100. Footnote gives: See Abravanel’s Comm, on Gen., io.i (f. 48, col. 4). The corresponding passage in Happoint ha-Happalah (Hebrew translation of Averroes’ Destruction of the Destruction, by Kalonymos ben David ben Todros, Bodleian Library, Michael Collection, Ms. 293, ff. 137b-138a) is somewhat different. Abravanel might have used the other Hebrew translation (MS. in Leyden) of Averroes' work (cf. Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, pp. 333-4).
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All the experiments which have been hitherto carried out, and those that are still being daily performed, concur in proving that between different bodies, whether principles or compounds, there is an agreement, relation, affinity or attraction (if you will have it so), which disposes certain bodies to unite with one another, while with others they are unable to contract any union: it is this effect, whatever be its cause, which will help us to give a reason for all the phenomena furnished by chemistry, and to tie them together.
From Elemens de Chymie Theorique (1749). As quoted, in Trevor Harvey Levere, Affinity and Matter: Elements of Chemical Philosophy, 1800-1865 (1971), 17.
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All the inventions that the world contains,
Were not by reason first found out, nor brains;
But pass for theirs who had the luck to light
Upon them by mistake or oversight.
Under 'Butler's Poems: Miscellaneous Thoughts', in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper(1810), Vol. 8, 227.
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All the real true knowledge we have of Nature is intirely experimental, insomuch that, how strange soever the assertion seems, we may lay this down as the first fundamental unerring rule in physics, That it is not within the compass of human understanding to assign a purely speculative reason for any one phaenomenon in nature.
In The Procedure, Extent, and Limits of Human Understanding (1728, 1729), 205-206.
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Almighty God, to whose efficacious Word all things owe their original, abounding in his own glorious Essence with infinite goodness and fecundity, did in the beginning Create Man after his own likeness, Male and Female, created he them; the true distinction of which Sexes, consists merely in the different site of those parts of the body, wherein Generation necessarily requires a Diversity: for both Male and Female he impartially endued with the same, and altogether indifferent form of Soul, the Woman being possess’d of no less excellent Faculties of Mind, Reason, and Speech, than the Man, and equally with him aspiring to those Regions of Bliss and Glory, where there shall be no exception of Sex.
In Female Pre-eminence: Or, The Dignity and Excellency of that Sex above the Male, translation (1670).
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Although man is not armed by nature nor is naturally swiftest in flight, yet he has something better by far—reason. For by the possession of this function he exceeds the beasts to such a degree that he subdues. … You see, therefore, how much the gift of reason surpasses mere physical equipment.
As given in Toby E. Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West (2003), 102, citing Tina Stiefel, Science, Reason, and Faith in the Twelfth Century (1976), 3.
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Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence as I said before with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.
'Movement and Weight', from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 546.
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Although the cooking of food presents some unsolved problems, the quick warming of cooked food and the thawing of frozen food both open up some attractive uses. ... There is no important reason why the the housewife of the future should not purchase completely frozen meals at the grocery store just as she buys quick frozen vegetables. With a quick heating, high-frequency unit in her kitchen, food preparation from a pre-cooked, frozen meal becomes a simple matter.
[Predicting home kitchen appliances could be developed from the radionic tube employed to jam enemy radar in World War II.]
In 'Physics of Today Become the Engineering of Tomorrow', Proceedings of the National Electronics Conference (1947), Vols. 1-2, 24-25. Note: by 1947 Ratheon was able to demonstrate a refrigerator-sized commercial microwave oven.
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Although the whole of this life were said to be nothing but a dream and the physical world nothing but a phantasm, I should call this dream or phantasm real enough, if, using reason well, we were never deceived by it.
Epigraph, without citation, in J.R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics (1956), 1832.
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Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment, but to change it. And that series of inventions, by which man from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution—not biological, but cultural evolution. I call that brilliant sequence of cultural peaks The Ascent of Man. I use the word ascent with a precise meaning. Man is distinguished from other animals by his imaginative gifts. He makes plans, inventions, new discoveries, by putting different talents together; and his discoveries become more subtle and penetrating, as he learns to combine his talents in more complex and intimate ways. So the great discoveries of different ages and different cultures, in technique, in science, in the arts, express in their progression a richer and more intricate conjunction of human faculties, an ascending trellis of his gifts.
The Ascent of Man (1973), 19-20.
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An autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels. For this reason I have always been passionately opposed to systems such as we see in Italy and Russia to-day.
In The World As I See It (1934), 240.
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An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions. The plain fact is that the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earth's surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago, especially as we have no experimental evidence from that era to check our ideas against.
In Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981), 88.
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Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. The physicist, with his facts, seeks reason; the biologist seeks something very much like rhyme, and rhyme is a kind of analogy.... This analogizing, this fine sweeping ability to see likenesses in the midst of differences is the great glory of biology, but biologists don't know it.... They have always been so fascinated and overawed by the superior prestige of exact physical science that they feel they have to imitate it.... In its central content, biology is not accurate thinking, but accurate observation and imaginative thinking, with great sweeping generalizations.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 98-100.
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Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, son of Hegesiboulos, held that the first principles of things were the homoeomeries. For it seemed to him quite impossible that anything should come into being from the non-existent or be dissolved into it. Anyhow we take in nourishment which is simple and homogeneous, such as bread or water, and by this are nourished hair, veins, arteries, flesh, sinews, bones and all the other parts of the body. Which being so, we must agree that everything that exists is in the nourishment we take in, and that everything derives its growth from things that exist. There must be in that nourishment some parts that are productive of blood, some of sinews, some of bones, and so on-parts which reason alone can apprehend. For there is no need to refer the fact that bread and water produce all these things to sense-perception; rather, there are in bread and water parts which only reason can apprehend.
Aetius 1.3.5. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 375.
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And if one look through a Prism upon a white Object encompassed with blackness or darkness, the reason of the Colours arising on the edges is much the same, as will appear to one that shall a little consider it. If a black Object be encompassed with a white one, the Colours which appear through the Prism are to be derived from the Light of the white one, spreading into the Regions of the black, and therefore they appear in a contrary order to that, when a white Object is surrounded with black. And the same is to be understood when an Object is viewed, whose parts are some of them less luminous than others. For in the borders of the more and less luminous Parts, Colours ought always by the same Principles to arise from the Excess of the Light of the more luminous, and to be of the same kind as if the darker parts were black, but yet to be more faint and dilute.
Opticks (1704), Book I, Part 2, Prop. VIII, Prob. III, 123.
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And so many think incorrectly that everything was created by the Creator in the beginning as it is seen, that not only the mountains, valleys, and waters, but also various types of minerals occurred together with the rest of the world, and therefore it is said that it is unnecessary to investigate the reasons why they differ in their internal properties and their locations. Such considerations are very dangerous for the growth of all the sciences, and hence for natural knowledge of the Earth, particularly the art of mining, though it is very easy for those clever people to be philosophers, having learnt by heart the three words 'God so created' and to give them in reply in place of all reasons.
About the Layers of the Earth and other Works on Geology (1757), trans. A. P. Lapov (1949), 55.
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And yet I think that the Full House model does teach us to treasure variety for its own sake–for tough reasons of evolutionary theory and nature’s ontology, and not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative– and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, of ten unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellence–where McDonald’s drives out the local diner, and the mega-Stop & Shop eliminates the corner Mom and Pop–an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to stem the tide and preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation itself.
…...
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And yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Æsop makes the fable, that when he died he told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried under the ground in his vineyard: and they digged over the ground, gold they found none, but by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man's life.
The Advancement of Learning (1605, 1712), Vol. 1, 15.
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And, in this case, science could learn an important lesson from the literati–who love contingency for the same basic reason that scientists tend to regard the theme with suspicion. Because, in contingency lies the power of each person, to make a difference in an unconstrained world bristling with possibilities, and nudgeable by the smallest of unpredictable inputs into markedly different channels spelling either vast improvement or potential disaster.
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Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they can produce other organisms like themselves. This is their normal function, they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t do this, and it’s not plausible that this is the reason why they abound in the world. In other words, living organisms are very complicated aggregations of elementary parts, and by any reasonable theory of probability or thermodynamics highly improbable. That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude; the only thing which removes, or mitigates, this miracle is that they reproduce themselves. Therefore, if by any peculiar accident there should ever be one of them, from there on the rules of probability do not apply, and there will be many of them, at least if the milieu is reasonable. But a reasonable milieu is already a thermodynamically much less improbable thing. So, the operations of probability somehow leave a loophole at this point, and it is by the process of self-reproduction that they are pierced.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Are the atoms of the dextroacid (tartaric) grouped in the spirals of a right-hand helix or situated at the angles of an irregular tetrahedron, or arranged in such or such particular unsymmetrical fashion? We are unable to reply to these questions. But there can be no reason for doubting that the grouping of the atoms has an unsymmetrical arrangement with a non-superimposable image. It is not less certain that the atoms of the laevo-acid realize precisely an unsymmetrical arrangement of the inverse of the above.
Leçons de Chemie (1860), 25.
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As an exercise of the reasoning faculty, pure mathematics is an admirable exercise, because it consists of reasoning alone, and does not encumber the student with an exercise of judgment: and it is well to begin with learning one thing at a time, and to defer a combination of mental exercises to a later period.
In Annotations to Bacon’s Essays (1873), Essay 1, 493.
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As for methods I have sought to give them all the rigour that one requires in geometry, so as never to have recourse to the reasons drawn from the generality of algebra.
In Cours d’analyse (1821), Preface, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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As kids we started smoking because we thought it was smart. Why don't we stop smoking for the same reason?
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 85.
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As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
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As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss.
From a British television interview (30 Mar 1978) quoted in The Listener (6 Apr 1978). In Alfred J. Kolatch, Great Jewish Quotations (1996), 87.
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Astronomy is, not without reason, regarded, by mankind, as the sublimest of the natural sciences. Its objects so frequently visible, and therefore familiar, being always remote and inaccessible, do not lose their dignity.
In Elements of Chemistry: In the Order of the Lectures Given in Yale College (1830), 11.
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At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that everything can be subdivided into smaller parts. Nevertheless, for entirely speculative reasons the philosophers of Antiquity, especially the Stoics, concluded this concept to be quite unnecessary. The prodigious development of physics has now reached the same conclusion as those philosophers, Empedocles and Democritus in particular, who lived around 500 B.C. and for whom even ancient man had a lively admiration.
'Development of the Theory of Electrolytic Dissociation', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 45.
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At the entrance to the observatory Stjerneborg located underground, Tycho Brahe built a Ionic portal. On top of this were three sculptured lions. On both sides were inscriptions and on the backside was a longer inscription in gold letters on a porfyr stone: Consecrated to the all-good, great God and Posterity. Tycho Brahe, Son of Otto, who realized that Astronomy, the oldest and most distinguished of all sciences, had indeed been studied for a long time and to a great extent, but still had not obtained sufficient firmness or had been purified of errors, in order to reform it and raise it to perfection, invented and with incredible labour, industry, and expenditure constructed various exact instruments suitable for all kinds of observations of the celestial bodies, and placed them partly in the neighbouring castle of Uraniborg, which was built for the same purpose, partly in these subterranean rooms for a more constant and useful application, and recommending, hallowing, and consecrating this very rare and costly treasure to you, you glorious Posterity, who will live for ever and ever, he, who has both begun and finished everything on this island, after erecting this monument, beseeches and adjures you that in honour of the eternal God, creator of the wonderful clockwork of the heavens, and for the propagation of the divine science and for the celebrity of the fatherland, you will constantly preserve it and not let it decay with old age or any other injury or be removed to any other place or in any way be molested, if for no other reason, at any rate out of reverence to the creator’s eye, which watches over the universe. Greetings to you who read this and act accordingly. Farewell!
(Translated from the original in Latin)
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At this point, however, I have no intention whatever of criticizing the false teachings of Galen, who is easily first among the professors of dissection, for I certainly do not wish to start off by gaining a reputation for impiety toward him, the author of all good things, or by seeming insubordinate to his authority. For I am well aware how upset the practitioners (unlike the followers of Aristotle) invariably become nowadays, when they discover in the course of a single dissection that Galen has departed on two hundred or more occasions from the true description of the harmony, function, and action of the human parts, and how grimly they examine the dissected portions as they strive with all the zeal at their command to defend him. Yet even they, drawn by their love of truth, are gradually calming down and placing more faith in their own not ineffective eyes and reason than in Galen’s writings.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, iv, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), Preface, liv.
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Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.
From 'Mending Wall', in North of Boston (1914). Collected in Robert Frost and Thomas Fasano (ed.), Selected Early Poems of Robert Frost (2008), 52. Note: This passage may be the source which John F. Kennedy had in mind when he wrote in his personal notebook, "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up." (see John F. Kennedy quotes on this site). The words in that terse paraphrase are those of Kennedy, and are neither those of Frost, or, as often attributed, G.K. Chesterton (q.v).
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Before the promulgation of the periodic law the chemical elements were mere fragmentary incidental facts in nature; there was no special reason to expect the discovery of new elements, and the new ones which were discovered from time to time appeared to be possessed of quite novel properties. The law of periodicity first enabled us to perceive undiscovered elements at a distance which formerly were inaccessible to chemical vision, and long ere they were discovered new elements appeared before our eyes possessed of a number of well-defined properties.
In Faraday Lecture, delivered before the Fellows of the Chemical Society in the Theatre of the Royal Institution (4 Jun 1889), printed in Professor Mendeléeff, 'The Periodic Law of the Chemical Elements', Transactions of the Chemical Society (1889), 55, 648.
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Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his power and strength
But for his intellectual length.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason 'A priori'
As well as 'A posteriori'.
No problem bothered him a bit
He made both head and tail of it.
So wise was he, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong
It passed a few ideas along.
If something slipped his forward mind
'Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.
As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
Thus he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.
Oh, gaze upon this model beast
Defunct ten million years at least.
'The Dinosaur: A Poem' (1912). In E. H. Colbert (ed.), The Dinosaur Book (1951), 78.
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Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.
In letter to Harmann Huth (27 Dec 1930). Presumably published in Vegetarische Warte (Vegetarian Watch, some time before 1935), a German magazine published by the society Vegetarier-Bund of which Harmann Huth was vice-president. As cited by Alice Calaprice (ed.) in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2010), 453. This might be the inspiration for a much-circulated and much-elaborated version attributed, but apparently wrongly, to Einstein. The questionable quote appears as: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet,” but no reliable source has been found for this as Einstein’s own words. Calaprice included this quote in her earlier edition of The Quotable Einstein (1996) in a final section of “Attributed to Einstein,” but it was removed from the final edition (2010), presumably because after much effort, it remained unsubstantiated.
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Blessings on Science! When the earth seem’d old,
When Faith grew doting, and the Reason cold,
Twas she discover’d that the world was young,
And taught a language to its lisping tongue:
’Twas she disclosed a future to its view,
And made old knowledge pale before the new.
From poem, 'Railways' (1846), collected in The Poetical Works of Charles Mackay: Now for the First Time Collected Complete in One Volume (1876), 214.
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Brutes by their natural instinct have produced many discoveries, whereas men by discussion and the conclusions of reason have given birth to few or none.
Novum Organum, LXXIII
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But from the time I was in college I learned that there is nothing one could imagine which is so strange and incredible that it was not said by some philosopher; and since that time, I have recognized through my travels that all those whose views are different from our own are not necessarily, for that reason, barbarians or savages, but that many of them use their reason either as much as or even more than we do. I also considered how the same person, with the same mind, who was brought up from infancy either among the French or the Germans, becomes different from what they would have been if they had always lived among the Chinese or among the cannibals, and how, even in our clothes fashions, the very thing that we liked ten years ago, and that we may like again within the next ten years, appears extravagant and ridiculous to us today. Thus our convictions result from custom and example very much more than from any knowledge that is certain... truths will be discovered by an individual rather than a whole people.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 2, 14-5.
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But having considered everything which has been said, one could by this believe that the earth and not the heavens is so moved, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, this seems prima facie as much, or more, against natural reason as are all or several articles of our faith. Thus, that which I have said by way of diversion (esbatement) in this manner can be valuable to refute and check those who would impugn our faith by argument.
On the Book of the Heavens and the World of Aristotle [1377], bk. II, ch. 25, sect. 10, trans. A. D. Menut and A. J. Denomy, quoted in Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (1959), 606.
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But I do not feel obliged to believe that that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.
Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: (1615). In Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, trans. Stillman Drake (1957), 183.
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But it is precisely mathematics, and the pure science generally, from which the general educated public and independent students have been debarred, and into which they have only rarely attained more than a very meagre insight. The reason of this is twofold. In the first place, the ascendant and consecutive character of mathematical knowledge renders its results absolutely insusceptible of presentation to persons who are unacquainted with what has gone before, and so necessitates on the part of its devotees a thorough and patient exploration of the field from the very beginning, as distinguished from those sciences which may, so to speak, be begun at the end, and which are consequently cultivated with the greatest zeal. The second reason is that, partly through the exigencies of academic instruction, but mainly through the martinet traditions of antiquity and the influence of mediaeval logic-mongers, the great bulk of the elementary text-books of mathematics have unconsciously assumed a very repellant form,—something similar to what is termed in the theory of protective mimicry in biology “the terrifying form.” And it is mainly to this formidableness and touch-me-not character of exterior, concealing withal a harmless body, that the undue neglect of typical mathematical studies is to be attributed.
In Editor’s Preface to Augustus De Morgan and Thomas J. McCormack (ed.), Elementary Illustrations of the Differential and Integral Calculus (1899), v.
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But notwithstanding these Arguments are so convictive and demonstrative, its marvellous to see how some Popish Authors (Jesuites especially) strain their wits to defend their Pagan Master Aristotle his Principles. Bullialdus speaks of a Florentine Physitian, that all the Friends he had could ever perswade him once to view the Heavens through a Telescope, and he gave that reason for his refusal, because he was afraid that then his Eyes would make him stagger concerning the truth of Aristotle’s Principles, which he was resolved he would not call into question. It were well, if these Men had as great veneration for the Scripture as they have, for Aristotles (if indeed they be his) absurd Books de cælo Sed de his satis.
(Indicating a belief that the Roman Catholic church impeded the development of modern science.)
Kometographia, Or a Discourse Concerning Comets (Boston 1684). Quoted in Michael Garibaldi Hall, The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather, 1639-1723 (1988), 167.
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But the greatest error of all the rest is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge: for men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession; and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men...
The First Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 174
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But we have reason to think that the annihilation of work is no less a physical impossibility than its creation, that is, than perpetual motion.
'On the Change of Refrangibility of Light' (1852). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1901), Vol. 3, 397.
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But when great and ingenious artists behold their so inept performances, not undeservedly do they ridicule the blindness of such men; since sane judgment abhors nothing so much as a picture perpetrated with no technical knowledge, although with plenty of care and diligence. Now the sole reason why painters of this sort are not aware of their own error is that they have not learnt Geometry, without which no one can either be or become an absolute artist; but the blame for this should be laid upon their masters, who are themselves ignorant of this art.
In The Art of Measurement (1525). As quoted in Albrecht Dürer and R.T. Nichol (trans.), 'Preface', Of the Just Shaping of Letters (1965), Book 3, 1-2.
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But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values.
Regarding the atomic bomb project.
From speech at Los Alamos (17 Oct 1945). Quoted in David C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century (2009), 214.
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By no process of sound reasoning can a conclusion drawn from limited data have more than a limited application.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), 2.
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By these pleasures it is permitted to relax the mind with play, in turmoils of the mind, or when our labors are light, or in great tension, or as a method of passing the time. A reliable witness is Cicero, when he says (De Oratore, 2): 'men who are accustomed to hard daily toil, when by reason of the weather they are kept from their work, betake themselves to playing with a ball, or with knucklebones or with dice, or they may also contrive for themselves some new game at their leisure.'
The Book of Games of Chance (1663), final sentences, trans. Sydney Henry Gould. In Oysten Ore, The Gambling Scholar (1953), 241.
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Calm reason and alarmist environmentalism do not co-exist.
In Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal With Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone, and the Soviet Threat Among Other Things (1990), 7.
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Casting off the dark fog of verbal philosophy and vulgar medicine, which inculcate names alone ... I tried a series of experiments to explain more clearly many phenomena, particularly those of physiology. In order that I might subject as far as possible the reasonings of the Galenists and Peripatetics to sensory criteria, I began, after trying experiments, to write dialogues in which a Galenist adduced the better-known and stronger reasons and arguments; these a mechanist surgeon refuted by citing to the contrary the experiments I had tried, and a third, neutral interlocutor weighed the reasons advanced by both and provided an opportunity for further progress.
'Malpighi at Pisa 1656-1659', in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 1, 155-6.
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Chemistry has been termed by the physicist as the messy part of physics, but that is no reason why the physicists should be permitted to make a mess of chemistry when they invade it.
Attributed. As quoted in American Journal of Physics (1946),14 248. Also in Robert L. Weber, More Random Walks in Science: An Anthology (1982), 64, without citation. Contact Webmaster if you know any primary source.
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Classes and concepts may, however, also be conceived as real objects, namely classes as “pluralities of things” or as structures consisting of a plurality of things and concepts as the properties and relations of things existing independently of our definitions and constructions. It seems to me that the assumption of such objects is quite as legitimate as the assumption of physical bodies and there is quite as much reason to believe in their existence. They are in the same sense necessary to obtain a satisfactory system of mathematics as physical bodies are necessary for a satisfactory theory of our sense perceptions…
In 'Russell's Mathematical Logic', in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1944), Vol. 1, 137.
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Clearly it is not reason that has failed. What has failed—as it has always failed—is the attempt to achieve certainty, to reach an absolute, to find the course of human events to a final end. ... It is not reason that has promised to eliminate risk in human undertakings; it is the emotional needs of men.
In The Quest For Identity (1958), 135.
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Common sense is science exactly in so far as it fulfills the ideal of common sense; that is, sees facts as they are, or at any rate, without the distortion of prejudice, and reasons from them in accordance with the dictates of sound judgment. And science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789.
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Common sense is the favorite daughter of Reason, and altho thare are menny other wimmin more attraktive for a time, thare is nothing but death kan rob common sense ov her buty.
In The Complete Works of Josh Billings (1876), 214.
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Compare the length of a moment with the period of ten thousand years; the first, however minuscule, does exist as a fraction of a second. But that number of years, or any multiple of it that you may name, cannot even be compared with a limitless extent of time, the reason being that comparisons can be drawn between finite things, but not between finite and infinite.
The Consolation of Philosophy [before 524], Book II, trans. P. G. Walsh (1999), 36.
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Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist, nor what sort of form they may have; there are many reasons why knowledge on this subject is not possible, owing to the lack of evidence and the shortness of human life.
Protagoras, fr. 1, quoted in E. Hussey, The Pre-Socratics (1972), 109.
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Considering that, among all those who up to this time made discoveries in the sciences, it was the mathematicians alone who had been able to arrive at demonstrations—that is to say, at proofs certain and evident—I did not doubt that I should begin with the same truths that they have investigated, although I had looked for no other advantage from them than to accustom my mind to nourish itself upon truths and not to be satisfied with false reasons.
In Discourse upon Method, Part 2, in Henry A. Torrey (ed., trans. )Philosophy of Descartes in Extracts from His Writings , (1892), 47-48.
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Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before. Some day, I doubt not, we shall arrive at an understanding of the evolution of the aesthetic faculty; but all the understanding in the world will neither increase nor diminish the force of the intuition that this is beautiful and that is ugly.
'Evolution and Ethics' (1893). In Collected Essays (1894), Vol. 9, 80.
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Creation science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage—good teaching—than a bill forcing our honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?.
In 'The Verdict on Creationism' The Sketical Inquirer (Winter 1987/88), 12, 186.
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Definition of Mathematics.—It has now become apparent that the traditional field of mathematics in the province of discrete and continuous number can only be separated from the general abstract theory of classes and relations by a wavering and indeterminate line. Of course a discussion as to the mere application of a word easily degenerates into the most fruitless logomachy. It is open to any one to use any word in any sense. But on the assumption that “mathematics” is to denote a science well marked out by its subject matter and its methods from other topics of thought, and that at least it is to include all topics habitually assigned to it, there is now no option but to employ “mathematics” in the general sense of the “science concerned with the logical deduction of consequences from the general premisses of all reasoning.”
In article 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911, 11th ed.), Vol. 17, 880. In the 2006 DVD edition of the encyclopedia, the definition of mathematics is given as “The science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects.” [Premiss is a variant form of “premise”. —Webmaster]
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Dirichlet was not satisfied to study Gauss’ Disquisitiones arithmetical once or several times, but continued throughout life to keep in close touch with the wealth of deep mathematical thoughts which it contains by perusing it again and again. For this reason the book was never placed on the shelf but had an abiding place on the table at which he worked. … Dirichlet was the first one, who not only fully understood this work, but made it also accessible to others.
In Dirichlet, Werke, Bd. 2, 315. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 159.
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Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.
In a personal notebook (1945-46). Discussed in Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2005), 201, as possibly being a very brief paraphrase of a verse by Robert Frost from 'The Wall' (1914) (See Robert Frost quotations page on this site). Elsewhere, it has been suggested to be a summary paraphrase of a much longer passage in G.K. Chesterton, The Thing (1929). (See G.K. Chesterton quotations on this site.) Meanwhile, many collections of quotations incorrectly attribute the short quote as worded above directly to either Robert Frost or G.K. Chesterton.
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Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.
from her lecture notes
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Doubtless the reasoning faculty, the mind, is the leading and characteristic attribute of the human race. By the exercise of this, man arrives at the properties of the natural bodies. This is science, properly and emphatically so called. It is the science of pure mathematics; and in the high branches of this science lies the truly sublime of human acquisition. If any attainment deserves that epithet, it is the knowledge, which, from the mensuration of the minutest dust of the balance, proceeds on the rising scale of material bodies, everywhere weighing, everywhere measuring, everywhere detecting and explaining the laws of force and motion, penetrating into the secret principles which hold the universe of God together, and balancing worlds against worlds, and system against system. When we seek to accompany those who pursue studies at once so high, so vast, and so exact; when we arrive at the discoveries of Newton, which pour in day on the works of God, as if a second fiat had gone forth from his own mouth; when, further, we attempt to follow those who set out where Newton paused, making his goal their starting-place, and, proceeding with demonstration upon demonstration, and discovery upon discovery, bring new worlds and new systems of worlds within the limits of the known universe, failing to learn all only because all is infinite; however we may say of man, in admiration of his physical structure, that “in form and moving he is express and admirable,” it is here, and here without irreverence, we may exclaim, “In apprehension how like a god!” The study of the pure mathematics will of course not be extensively pursued in an institution, which, like this [Boston Mechanics’ Institute], has a direct practical tendency and aim. But it is still to be remembered, that pure mathematics lie at the foundation of mechanical philosophy, and that it is ignorance only which can speak or think of that sublime science as useless research or barren speculation.
In Works (1872), Vol. 1, 180.
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Drunkenness, the ruin of reason, the destruction of strength, premature old age, momentary death.
Homilies, No. XIV, Ch. 7.
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During the school period the student has been mentally bending over his desk; at the University he should stand up and look around. For this reason it is fatal if the first year at the University be frittered away in going over the old work in the old spirit. At school the boy painfully rises from the particular towards glimpses at general ideas; at the University he should start from general ideas and study their applications to concrete cases.
In 'The Rhythm of Education', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 26.
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D’you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? Have you any idea? One of the reasons l became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing.
Spoken by character Dr. Malone in His Dark Materials Omnibus (2012), 370.
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Education consists in co-operating with what is already inside a child's mind … The best way to learn geometry is to follow the road which the human race originally followed: Do things, make things, notice things, arrange things, and only then reason about things.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 27.
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Energy is the only life ... as Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1792-93) [See Freeman J. Dyson].
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Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.
In Alan Harris (ed.), The World As I See It (1934), 242.
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Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
From his First Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801). In Annals of the Congress of the United States (1801), 11, 583.
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Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
From paper 'Science, Philosophy and Religion', prepared for initial meeting of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York City (9-11 Sep 1940). Collected in Albert Einstein: In His Own Words (2000), 212.
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Every complete set of chromosomes contains the full code; so there are, as a rule, two copies of the latter in the fertilized egg cell, which forms the earliest stage of the future individual. In calling the structure of the chromosome fibres a code-script we mean that the all-penetrating mind, once conceived by Laplace, to which every causal connection lay immediately open, could tell from their structure whether the egg would develop, under suitable conditions, into a black cock or into a speckled hen, into a fly or a maize plant, a rhododendron, a beetle, a mouse or a woman. To which we may add, that the appearances of the egg cells are very often remarkably similar; and even when they are not, as in the case of the comparatively gigantic eggs of birds and reptiles, the difference is not so much in the relevant structures as in the nutritive material which in these cases is added for obvious reasons.
But the term code-script is, of course, too narrow. The chromosome structures are at the same time instrumental in bringing about the development they foreshadow. They are law-code and executive power?or, to use another simile, they are architect's plan and builder’s craft-in one.
In What is Life? : The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (1944), 20-21.
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Every discipline must be honored for reason other than its utility, otherwise it yields no enthusiasm for industry.
For both reasons, I consider mathematics the chief subject for the common school. No more highly honored exercise for the mind can be found; the buoyancy [Spannkraft] which it produces is even greater than that produced by the ancient languages, while its utility is unquestioned.
In 'Mathematischer Lehrplan für Realschulen' Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 167. (Mathematics Curriculum for Secondary Schools). As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 61.
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Everything around us is filled with mystery and magic. I find this no cause for despair, no reason to turn for solace to esoteric formulae or chariots of gods. On the contrary, our inability to find easy answers fills me with a fierce pride in our ambivalent biology ... with a constant sense of wonder and delight that we should be part of anything so profound.
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Faith is a permanent and vital endowment of the human mind—a part of reason itself. The insane alone are without it.
A Shadow Passes (1919), 62.
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Finally, since I thought that we could have all the same thoughts, while asleep, as we have while we are awake, although none of them is true at that time, I decided to pretend that nothing that ever entered my mind was any more true than the illusions of my dreams. But I noticed, immediately afterwards, that while I thus wished to think that everything was false, it was necessarily the case that I, who was thinking this, was something. When I noticed that this truth “I think, therefore I am” was so firm and certain that all the most extravagant assumptions of the sceptics were unable to shake it, I judged that I could accept it without scruple as the first principle of the philosophy for which I was searching. Then, when I was examining what I was, I realized that I could pretend that I had no body, and that there was no world nor any place in which I was present, but I could not pretend in the same way that I did not exist. On the contrary, from the very fact that I was thinking of doubting the truth of other things, it followed very evidently and very certainly that I existed; whereas if I merely ceased to think, even if all the rest of what I had ever imagined were true, I would have no reason to believe that I existed. I knew from this that I was a substance, the whole essence or nature of which was to think and which, in order to exist, has no need of any place and does not depend on anything material. Thus this self—that is, the soul by which I am what I am—is completely distinct from the body and is even easier to know than it, and even if the body did not exist the soul would still be everything that it is.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 4, 24-5.
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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First, by what means it is that a Plant, or any Part of it, comes to Grow, a Seed to put forth a Root and Trunk... How the Aliment by which a Plant is fed, is duly prepared in its several Parts ... How not only their Sizes, but also their Shapes are so exceedingly various ... Then to inquire, What should be the reason of their various Motions; that the Root should descend; that its descent should sometimes be perpendicular, sometimes more level: That the Trunk doth ascend, and that the ascent thereof, as to the space of Time wherein it is made, is of different measures... Further, what may be the Causes as of the Seasons of their Growth; so of the Periods of their Lives; some being Annual, others Biennial, others Perennial ... what manner the Seed is prepared, formed and fitted for Propagation.
'An Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants', in The Anatomy of Plants With an Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants and Several Other Lectures Read Before the Royal Society (1682), 3-4.
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For hundreds of pages the closely-reasoned arguments unroll, axioms and theorems interlock. And what remains with us in the end? A general sense that the world can be expressed in closely-reasoned arguments, in interlocking axioms and theorems.
In Constructions. 1974, 278.
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For the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense-experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words.
Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: Concerning the Use of Biblical Quotations in Matters of Science (1615), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 182-3.
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For the Members of the Assembly having before their eyes so many fatal Instances of the errors and falshoods, in which the greatest part of mankind has so long wandred, because they rely'd upon the strength of humane Reason alone, have begun anew to correct all Hypotheses by sense, as Seamen do their dead Reckonings by Cœlestial Observations; and to this purpose it has been their principal indeavour to enlarge and strengthen the Senses by Medicine, and by such outward Instruments as are proper for their particular works.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), preface sig.
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For undemocratic reasons and for motives not of State, they arrive at their conclusions—largely inarticulate. Being void of self-expression they confide their views to none; but sometimes in a smoking room, one learns why things were done.
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For, in mathematics or symbolic logic, reason can crank out the answer from the symboled equations—even a calculating machine can often do so—but it cannot alone set up the equations. Imagination resides in the words which define and connect the symbols—subtract them from the most aridly rigorous mathematical treatise and all meaning vanishes. Was it Eddington who said that we once thought if we understood 1 we understood 2, for 1 and 1 are 2, but we have since found we must learn a good deal more about “and”?
In 'The Biological Basis of Imagination', American Thought: 1947 (1947), 81.
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Forc’d by reflective Reason, I confess,
Human science is uncertain guess.
From poem, 'Solomon', Collected in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets: Volume the Thirty-First: The Poems of Prior: Volume II (1760), 126.
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From this fountain (the free will of God) it is those laws, which we call the laws of nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experimental. He who is presumptuous enough to think that he can find the true principles of physics and the laws of natural things by the force alone of his own mind, and the internal light of his reason, must either suppose the world exists by necessity, and by the same necessity follows the law proposed; or if the order of Nature was established by the will of God, the [man] himself, a miserable reptile, can tell what was fittest to be done.
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Geometrical reasoning, and arithmetical process, have each its own office: to mix the two in elementary instruction, is injurious to the proper acquisition of both.
In Trigonometry and Double Algebra (1849), 92.
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Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God. That share in it accorded to men is one of the reasons that Man is the image of God.
Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger [an open letter to Galileo Galilei], Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo (1610), in Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 4, 308, ll. 9-10.
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Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection of the mind of God. That men are able to participate in it is one of the reasons why man is an image of God.
As quoted in Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 524, citing Letter (9 or 10 April 1599) to Herwart von Hohenburg.
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Geometry may sometimes appear to take the lead of analysis, but in fact precedes it only as a servant goes before his master to clear the path and light him on his way. The interval between the two is as wide as between empiricism and science, as between the understanding and the reason, or as between the finite and the infinite.
From 'Astronomical Prolusions', Philosophical Magazine (Jan 1866), 31, No. 206, 54, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of James Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 521.
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God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.
Written in his spiritual diary, published posthumously, Markings (1963), 56.
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God is a philosophical black hole—the point where reason breaks down.
In Quotations: Superultramodern Science and Philosophy (2005), 5.
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Good lawyers know that in many cases where the decisions are correct, the reasons that are given to sustain them may be entirely wrong. This is a thousand times more likely to be true in the practice of medicine than in that of the law, and hence the impropriety, not to say the folly, in spending your time in the discussion of medical belief and theories of cure that are more ingenious and seductive than they are profitable.
Introductory lecture (22 Sep 1885), Hahnemann Medical College, Chicago, printed in United States Medical Investigator (1885), 21, 526.
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Guessing right for the wrong reason does not merit scientific immortality.
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GUILLOTINE, n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  124.
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Half the time of all medical men is wasted keeping life in human wrecks who have no more intelligible reason for hanging on than a cow has for giving milk.
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He that believes, without having any Reason for believing, may be in love with his own Fancies; but neither seeks Truth as he ought, nor pays the Obedience due to his Maker, who would have him use those discerning Faculties he has given him, to keep him out of Mistake and Errour.
In 'Of Reason', Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), Book 4, Ch. 17, Sec. 24, 347.
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He that could teach mathematics well, would not be a bad teacher in any of [physics, chemistry, biology or psychology] unless by the accident of total inaptitude for experimental illustration; while the mere experimentalist is likely to fall into the error of missing the essential condition of science as reasoned truth; not to speak of the danger of making the instruction an affair of sensation, glitter, or pyrotechnic show.
In Education as a Science (1879), 298.
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He who wishes to explain Generation must take for his theme the organic body and its constituent parts, and philosophize about them; he must show how these parts originated, and how they came to be in that relation in which they stand to each other. But he who learns to know a thing not only from its phenomena, but also its reasons and causes; and who, therefore, not by the phenomena merely, but by these also, is compelled to say: “The thing must be so, and it cannot be otherwise; it is necessarily of such a character; it must have such qualities; it is impossible for it to possess others”—understands the thing not only historically but truly philosophically, and he has a philosophic knowledge of it. Our own Theory of Generation is to be such a philosphic comprehension of an organic body, a very different one from one merely historical. (1764)
Quoted as an epigraph to Chap. 2, in Ernst Haeckel, The Evolution of Man, (1886), Vol 1, 25.
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He who would know what geometry is, must venture boldly into its depths and learn to think and feel as a geometer. I believe that it is impossible to do this, and to study geometry as it admits of being studied and am conscious it can be taught, without finding the reason invigorated, the invention quickened, the sentiment of the orderly and beautiful awakened and enhanced, and reverence for truth, the foundation of all integrity of character, converted into a fixed principle of the mental and moral constitution, according to the old and expressive adage “abeunt studia in mores”.
In 'A probationary Lecture on Geometry, in Collected Mathematical Papers (1908), Vol. 2, 9. [The Latin phrase, “abeunt studia in mores” translates as “studies pass on into character”. —Webmaster]
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He [Lord Bacon] appears to have been utterly ignorant of the discoveries which had just been made by Kepler’s calculations … he does not say a word about Napier’s Logarithms, which had been published only nine years before and reprinted more than once in the interval. He complained that no considerable advance had been made in Geometry beyond Euclid, without taking any notice of what had been done by Archimedes and Apollonius. He saw the importance of determining accurately the specific gravities of different substances, and himself attempted to form a table of them by a rude process of his own, without knowing of the more scientific though still imperfect methods previously employed by Archimedes, Ghetaldus and Porta. He speaks of the εὕρηκα of Archimedes in a manner which implies that he did not clearly appreciate either the problem to be solved or the principles upon which the solution depended. In reviewing the progress of Mechanics, he makes no mention either of Archimedes, or Stevinus, Galileo, Guldinus, or Ghetaldus. He makes no allusion to the theory of Equilibrium. He observes that a ball of one pound weight will fall nearly as fast through the air as a ball of two, without alluding to the theory of acceleration of falling bodies, which had been made known by Galileo more than thirty years before. He proposed an inquiry with regard to the lever,—namely, whether in a balance with arms of different length but equal weight the distance from the fulcrum has any effect upon the inclination—though the theory of the lever was as well understood in his own time as it is now. … He speaks of the poles of the earth as fixed, in a manner which seems to imply that he was not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes; and in another place, of the north pole being above and the south pole below, as a reason why in our hemisphere the north winds predominate over the south.
From Spedding’s 'Preface' to De Interpretations Naturae Proœmium, in The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 3, 511-512. [Note: the Greek word “εὕρηκα” is “Eureka” —Webmaster.]
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Hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason itselfe.
In Areopagitica: A speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenced printing to the Parliament of England (23 Nov 1644), 4.
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Here arises a puzzle that has disturbed scientists of all periods. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things?
From 'Geometry and Experience', an expanded form of an Address by Albert Einstein to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (27 Jan 1921). In Albert Einstein, translated by G. B. Jeffery and W. Perrett, Sidelights on Relativity (1923).
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Higher Mathematics is the art of reasoning about numerical relations between natural phenomena; and the several sections of Higher Mathematics are different modes of viewing these relations.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), Prologue, xvii.
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How do we discover the individual laws of Physics, and what is their nature? It should be remarked, to begin with, that we have no right to assume that any physical law exists, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future. It is perfectly conceivable that one fine day Nature should cause an unexpected event to occur which would baffle us all; and if this were to happen we would be powerless to make any objection, even if the result would be that, in spite of our endeavors, we should fail to introduce order into the resulting confusion. In such an event, the only course open to science would be to declare itself bankrupt. For this reason, science is compelled to begin by the general assumption that a general rule of law dominates throughout Nature.
Max Planck, Walter Henry Johnston, The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 58.
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How happy … does the sagacious investigator of nature seem, whose fancy is ever employed in the invention of hypotheses, and his reason in the support of them!
From Letter (29 Sep 1783) to Rev. William Unwin, collected in William Cowper and William Hayley (ed.), The Life, and Posthumous Writings, of William Cowper (1803), Vol. 3, 196.
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How many and how curious problems concern the commonest of the sea-snails creeping over the wet sea-weed! In how many points of view may its history be considered! There are its origin and development, the mystery of its generation, the phenomena of its growth, all concerning each apparently insignificant individual; there is the history of the species, the value of its distinctive marks, the features which link it with the higher and lower creatures, the reason why it takes its stand where we place it in the scale of creation, the course of its distribution, the causes of its diffusion, its antiquity or novelty, the mystery (deepest of mysteries) of its first appearance, the changes of the outline of continents and of oceans which have taken place since its advent, and their influence on its own wanderings.
On the Natural History of European Seas. In George Wilson and Archibald Geikie, Memoir of Edward Forbes F.R.S. (1861), 547-8.
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How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.
'Prometheus.' The Roving Mind (1983), Chap 25.
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How twins are born my discourse will explain thus. The cause is chiefly the nature of the womb in woman. For if it has grown equally on either side of its mouth, and if it opens equally, and also dries equally after menstruation, it can give nourishment, if it conceive the secretion of the man so that it immediately divides into both parts of the womb equally. Now if the seed secreted from both parents be abundant and strong, it can grow in both places, as it masters the nourishment that reaches it. In all other cases twins are not formed. Now when the secretion from both parents is male, of necessity boys are begotten in both places; but when from both it is female, girls are begotten. But when one secretion is female and the other male, whichever masters the other gives the embryo its sex. Twins are like one another for the following reasons. First, the places are alike in which they grow; then they were secreted together; then they grow by the same nourishment, and at birth they reach together the light of day.
Regimen, in Hippocrates, trans. W. H. S. Jones (1931), Vol. 4, 273.
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However far the calculating reason of the mathematician may seem separated from the bold flight of the artist’s phantasy, it must be remembered that these expressions are but momentary images snatched arbitrarily from among the activities of both. In the projection of new theories the mathematician needs as bold and creative a phantasy as the productive artist, and in the execution of the details of a composition the artist too must calculate dispassionately the means which are necessary for the successful consummation of the parts. Common to both is the creation, the generation, of forms out of mind.
From Die Entwickelung der Mathematik im Zusammenhange mit der Ausbreitung der Kultur (1893), 4. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 185. From the original German, “Wie weit auch der rechnende Verstand des Mathematikers von dem kühnen Fluge der Phantasie des Künstlers getrennt zu sein scheint, so bezeichnen diese Ausdrücke doch blosse Augenblicksbilder, die willkürlich aus der Thätigkeit Beider herausgerissen sind. Bei dem Entwurfe neuer Theorieen bedarf der Mathematiker einer ebenso kühnen und schöpferischen Phantasie wie der schaffende Künstler, und bei der Ausführung der Einzelheiten eines Werkes muss auch der Künstler kühl alle Mittel berechnen, welche zum Gelingen der Theile erforderlich sind. Gemeinsam ist Beiden die Hervorbringung, die Erzeugung der Gebilde aus dem Geiste.”
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Hubble's observations suggested that there was a time, called the big bang, when the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. Under such conditions all the laws of science, and therefore all ability to predict the future, would break down. If there were events earlier than this time, then they could not affect what happens at the present time. Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined. It should be emphasized that this beginning in time is very different from those that had been considered previously. In an unchanging universe a beginning in time is something that has to be imposed by some being outside the universe; there is no physical necessity for a beginning. One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 8-9.
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I accepted the Copernican position several years ago and discovered from thence the causes of many natural effects which are doubtless inexplicable by the current theories. I have written up many reasons and refutations on the subject, but I have not dared until now to bring them into the open, being warned by the fortunes of Copernicus himself, our master, who procured for himself immortal fame among a few but stepped down among the great crowd (for this is how foolish people are to be numbered), only to be derided and dishonoured. I would dare publish my thoughts if there were many like you; but since there are not, I shall forbear.
Letter to Johannes Kepler, 4 Aug 1597. Quoted in G. de Santillana, Crime of Galileo (1955), 11.
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I always love geology. In winter, particularly, it is pleasant to listen to theories about the great mountains one visited in the summer; or about the Flood or volcanoes; about great catastrophes or about blisters; above all about fossils … Everywhere there are hypotheses, but nowhere truths; many workmen, but no experts; priests, but no God. In these circumstances each man can bring his hypothesis like a candle to a burning altar, and on seeing his candle lit declare ‘Smoke for smoke, sir, mine is better than yours’. It is precisely for this reason that I love geology.
In Nouvelles Genevoises (1910), 306. First edition, 1841.
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I am a firm believer in the theory that you can do or be anything that you wish in this world, within reason, if you are prepared to make the sacrifices, think and work hard enough and long enough.
From Cameron Prize Lecture (1928), delivered before the University of Edinburgh. As quoted and cited in Editorial Section, 'Sir Frederick Banting', Canadian Public Health Journal (May 1941), 32, No. 5, 266-267.
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I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.
'Isaac Asimov on Science and the Bible'. In Sidney Hook, et. al. On the Barricades: Religion and Free Inquiry in Conflict (1989), 329.
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I am further inclined to think, that when our views are sufficiently extended, to enable us to reason with precision concerning the proportions of elementary atoms, we shall find the arithmetical relation alone will not be sufficient to explain their mutual action, and that we shall be obliged to acquire a geometric conception of their relative arrangement in all three dimensions of solid extension.
Paper. Read to the Royal Society (28 Jan 1808), in 'On Super-acid and Sub-acid salts', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, (1808), 98, 101.
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I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence–as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.
…...
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I can assure you, reader, that in a very few hours, even during the first day, you will learn more natural philosophy about things contained in this book, than you could learn in fifty years by reading the theories and opinions of the ancient philosophers. Enemies of science will scoff at the astrologers: saying, where is the ladder on which they have climbed to heaven, to know the foundation of the stars? But in this respect I am exempt from such scoffing; for in proving my written reason, I satisfy sight, hearing, and touch: for this reason, defamers will have no power over me: as you will see when you come to see me in my little Academy.
The Admirable Discourses (1580), trans. Aurele La Rocque (1957), 27.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I can understand your aversion to the use of the term ‘religion’ to describe an emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza ... I have not found a better expression than ‘religious’ for the trust in the rational nature of reality that is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to human reason.
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I cannot find anything showing early aptitude for acquiring languages; but that he [Clifford] had it and was fond of exercising it in later life is certain. One practical reason for it was the desire of being able to read mathematical papers in foreign journals; but this would not account for his taking up Spanish, of which he acquired a competent knowledge in the course of a tour to the Pyrenees. When he was at Algiers in 1876 he began Arabic, and made progress enough to follow in a general way a course of lessons given in that language. He read modern Greek fluently, and at one time he was furious about Sanskrit. He even spent some time on hieroglyphics. A new language is a riddle before it is conquered, a power in the hand afterwards: to Clifford every riddle was a challenge, and every chance of new power a divine opportunity to be seized. Hence he was likewise interested in the various modes of conveying and expressing language invented for special purposes, such as the Morse alphabet and shorthand. … I have forgotten to mention his command of French and German, the former of which he knew very well, and the latter quite sufficiently; …
In paper, 'William Kingdon Clifford', The Fortnightly Review (1879), 31, 671. Published in advance of Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Clifford’s Lectures and Essays (1879), Vol. 1, Introduction, 9. The 'Introduction' was written by Pollock.
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I complained to Mr. Johnson that I was much afflicted with melancholy, which was hereditary in our family. He said that he himself had been greatly distressed with it, and for that reason had been obliged to fly from study and meditation to the dissipating variety of life. He advised me to have constant occupation of mind, to take a great deal of exercise, and to live moderately; especially to shun drinking at night. “Melancholy people,” said he, are apt to fly to intemperance, which gives a momentary relief but sinks the soul much lower in misery.” He observed that laboring men who work much and live sparingly are seldom or never troubled with low spirits.
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I consider then, that generally speaking, to render a reason of an effect or Phaenomenon, is to deduce It from something else in Nature more known than it self, and that consequently there may be divers kinds of Degrees of Explication of the same thing. For although such Explications be the most satisfactory to the Understanding, wherein 'tis shewn how the effect is produc'd by the more primitive and Catholick Affection of Matter, namely bulk, shape and motion, yet are not these Explications to be despis'd, wherein particular effects are deduc'd from the more obvious and familiar Qualities or States of Bodies, ... For in the search after Natural Causes, every new measure of Discovery does both instinct and gratifie the Understanding.
Physiological Essays (1669), 20.
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I contend that the continued racial classification of Homo sapiens represents an outmoded approach to the general problem of differentiation within a species. In other words, I reject a racial classification of humans for the same reasons that I prefer not to divide into subspecies the prodigiously variable West Indian land snails that form the subject of my own research.
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I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an arm-chair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Frequently.”
“How often?”
“'Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many! I don't know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
From 'Adventure I.—A Scandal in Bohemia', Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly (Jul 1891), Vol. 2, 62.
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I do not see any reason to assume that the heuristic significance of the principle of general relativity is restricted to gravitation and that the rest of physics can be dealt with separately on the basis of special relativity, with the hope that later on the whole may be fitted consistently into a general relativistic scheme. I do not think that such an attitude, although historically understandable, can be objectively justified. The comparative smallness of what we know today as gravitational effects is not a conclusive reason for ignoring the principle of general relativity in theoretical investigations of a fundamental character. In other words, I do not believe that it is justifiable to ask: What would physics look like without gravitation?
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I don't really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.
In The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), 75.
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I have always tried to fit knowledge that I acquired into my understanding of the world. … When something comes along that I don’t understand, that I can’t fit in, that bothers me, I think about it, mull over it, and perhaps ultimately do some work with it. That’s perhaps the reason that I’ve been able to make discoveries in molecular biology.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 739.
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I have before mentioned mathematics, wherein algebra gives new helps and views to the understanding. If I propose these it is not to make every man a thorough mathematician or deep algebraist; but yet I think the study of them is of infinite use even to grown men; first by experimentally convincing them, that to make anyone reason well, it is not enough to have parts wherewith he is satisfied, and that serve him well enough in his ordinary course. A man in those studies will see, that however good he may think his understanding, yet in many things, and those very visible, it may fail him. This would take off that presumption that most men have of themselves in this part; and they would not be so apt to think their minds wanted no helps to enlarge them, that there could be nothing added to the acuteness and penetration of their understanding.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have found no better expression than ‘religious’ for confidence in the rational nature of reality, insofar as it is accessible to human reason. Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism.
…...
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I have mentioned mathematics as a way to settle in the mind a habit of reasoning closely and in train; not that I think it necessary that all men should be deep mathematicians, but that, having got the way of reasoning which that study necessarily brings the mind to, they might be able to transfer it to other parts of knowledge, as they shall have occasion. For in all sorts of reasoning, every single argument should be managed as a mathematical demonstration; the connection and dependence of ideas should be followed till the mind is brought to the source on which it bottoms, and observes the coherence all along; …
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have never had reason, up to now, to give up the concept which I have always stressed, that nerve cells, instead of working individually, act together, so that we must think that several groups of elements exercise a cumulative effect on the peripheral organs through whole bundles of fibres. It is understood that this concept implies another regarding the opposite action of sensory functions. However opposed it may seem to the popular tendency to individualize the elements, I cannot abandon the idea of a unitary action of the nervous system, without bothering if, by that, I approach old conceptions.
'The Neuron Doctrine-Theory and Facts', Nobel Lecture 11 Dec 1906. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 216.
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I have no doubt that certain learned men, now that the novelty of the hypotheses in this work has been widely reported—for it establishes that the Earth moves, and indeed that the Sun is motionless in the middle of the universe—are extremely shocked, and think that the scholarly disciplines, rightly established once and for all, should not be upset. But if they are willing to judge the matter thoroughly, they will find that the author of this work has committed nothing which deserves censure. For it is proper for an astronomer to establish a record of the motions of the heavens with diligent and skilful observations, and then to think out and construct laws for them, or rather hypotheses, whatever their nature may be, since the true laws cannot be reached by the use of reason; and from those assumptions the motions can be correctly calculated, both for the future and for the past. Our author has shown himself outstandingly skilful in both these respects. Nor is it necessary that these hypotheses should be true, nor indeed even probable, but it is sufficient if they merely produce calculations which agree with the observations. … For it is clear enough that this subject is completely and simply ignorant of the laws which produce apparently irregular motions. And if it does work out any laws—as certainly it does work out very many—it does not do so in any way with the aim of persuading anyone that they are valid, but only to provide a correct basis for calculation. Since different hypotheses are sometimes available to explain one and the same motion (for instance eccentricity or an epicycle for the motion of the Sun) an astronomer will prefer to seize on the one which is easiest to grasp; a philosopher will perhaps look more for probability; but neither will grasp or convey anything certain, unless it has been divinely revealed to him. Let us therefore allow these new hypotheses also to become known beside the older, which are no more probable, especially since they are remarkable and easy; and let them bring with them the vast treasury of highly learned observations. And let no one expect from astronomy, as far as hypotheses are concerned, anything certain, since it cannot produce any such thing, in case if he seizes on things constructed for another other purpose as true, he departs from this discipline more foolish than he came to it.
Although this preface would have been assumed by contemporary readers to be written by Copernicus, it was unsigned. It is now believed to have been written and added at press time by Andreas Osiander (who was then overseeing the printing of the book). It suggests the earth’s motion as described was merely a mathematical device, and not to be taken as absolute reality. Text as given in 'To the Reader on the Hypotheses in this Work', Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), translated by ‎Alistair Matheson Duncan (1976), 22-3. By adding this preface, Osiander wished to stave off criticism by theologians. See also the Andreas Osiander Quotes page of this website.
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I have patiently born with abundance of Clamour and Ralary [raillery], for beginning a new Practice here (for the Good of the Publick) which comes well Recommended, from Gentlemen of Figure & Learning, and which well agrees to Reason, when try’d & duly considered, viz. Artificially giving the Small Pocks, by Inoculation, to One of my Children, and Two of my Slaves, in order to prevent the hazard of Life… . and they never took one grain or drop of Medicine since, & are perfectly well.
By “clamour” he is referring to the public commotion in Boston reacting to his introduction of smallpox inoculation. Public statement in the Gazette (Jul 10-17), No. 85, 1721. As quoted and cited in Reginald H. Fitz, 'Zabdiel Boylston, Inoculator, and the Epidemic of Smallpox in Boston in 1721', Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital (1911), 22, 319.
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I learnt very quickly that the only reason that would be accepted for not attending a committee meeting was that one already had a previous commitment to attend a meeting of another organization on the same day. I therefore invented a society, the Orion Society, a highly secret and very exclusive society that spawned a multitude of committees, sub-committees, working parties, evaluation groups and so on that, regrettably, had a prior claim on my attention. Soon people wanted to know more about this club and some even decided that they would like to join it. However, it was always made clear to them that applications were never entertained and that if they were deemed to qualify for membership they would be discreetly approached at the appropriate time.
Loose Ends from Current Biology (1997), 14.
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I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.
In Walden: or, Life in the Woods (1854, 1893), 496.
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I like to browse in occult bookshops if for no other reason than to refresh my commitment to science.
The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Science of Complexity (1988). In Adam Frank, The Constant Fire (2009), 35.
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I like to look at mathematics almost more as an art than as a science; for the activity of the mathematician, constantly creating as he is, guided though not controlled by the external world of the senses, bears a resemblance, not fanciful I believe but real, to the activity of an artist, of a painter let us say. Rigorous deductive reasoning on the part of the mathematician may be likened here to technical skill in drawing on the part of the painter. Just as no one can become a good painter without a certain amount of skill, so no one can become a mathematician without the power to reason accurately up to a certain point. Yet these qualities, fundamental though they are, do not make a painter or mathematician worthy of the name, nor indeed are they the most important factors in the case. Other qualities of a far more subtle sort, chief among which in both cases is imagination, go to the making of a good artist or good mathematician.
From 'Fundamental Conceptions and Methods in Mathematics', Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 9, 133. As cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 182.
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I maintain that in every special natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with as mathematics; for… science proper, especially [science] of nature, requires a pure portion, lying at the foundation of the empirical, and based upon a priori knowledge of natural things. … To the possibility of a determinate natural thing, and therefore to cognise it à priori, is further requisite that the intuition corresponding à priori to the conception should be given; in other words, that the conception should be constructed. But the cognition of the reason through construction of conceptions is mathematical. A pure philosophy of nature in general, namely, one that only investigates what constitutes a nature in general, may thus be possible without mathematics; but a pure doctrine of nature respecting determinate natural things (corporeal doctrine and mental doctrine), is only possible by means of mathematics; and as in every natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with therein as there is cognition à priori, a doctrine of nature can only contain so much science proper as there is in it of applied mathematics.
From Preface to The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), as translated by Ernest Belford Boax, in Kant’s Prolegomena: And The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1883), 140.
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I much condole with you on your late loss... pains and diseases of the mind are only cured by Forgetfulness;-—Reason but skins the wound, which is perpetually liable to fester again.
Letter to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, 24 April 1790. Quoted in Desmond King-Hele (ed.), The Letters of Erasmus Darwin (1981), 201.
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I notice that, in the lecture … which Prof. Lowry gave recently, in Paris … he brought forward certain freak formulae for tartaric acid, in which hydrogen figures as bigamist … I may say, he but follows the loose example set by certain Uesanians, especially one G. N. Lewis, a Californian thermodynamiter, who has chosen to disregard the fundamental canons of chemistry—for no obvious reason other than that of indulging in premature speculation upon electrons as the cause of valency…
'Bigamist Hydrogen. A Protest', Nature (1926), 117, 553.
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I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don't have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.
In Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov (ed.), It's Been a Good Life (2002), 21. Attribution uncertain. If you know an original print citation, please contact Webmaster.
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I propose to provide proof... that just as always an alcoholic ferment, the yeast of beer, is found where sugar is converted into alcohol and carbonic acid, so always a special ferment, a lactic yeast, is found where sugar is transformed into lactic acid. And, furthermore, when any plastic nitrogenated substance is able to transform sugar into that acid, the reason is that it is a suitable nutrient for the growth of the [lactic] ferment.
Comptes Rendus (1857), 45, 913.
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I propose to put forward an apology for mathematics; and I may be told that it needs none, since there are now few studies more generally recognized, for good reasons or bad, as profitable and praiseworthy.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 63-64.
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I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone.
In Origin of Species (1860), 417.
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I see no good reason why the views given this volume [The Origin of Species] should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, “as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.”
The Origin of Species (1909), 520.
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I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals. Again, I see no reason why the belief that we are insignificant or fortuitous should lessen our faith.
Letter to her father, Ellis Franklin, undated, perhaps summer 1940 while she was an undergraduate at Cambridge. Excerpted in Brenda Maddox, The Dark Lady of DNA (2002), 61.
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I shall no doubt be blamed by certain scientists, and, I am afraid, by some philosophers, for having taken serious account of the alleged facts which are investigated by Psychical Researchers. I am wholly impenitent about this. The scientists in question seem to me to confuse the Author of Nature with the Editor of Nature; or at any rate to suppose that there can be no productions of the former which would not be accepted for publication by the latter. And I see no reason to believe this.
The Mind and its Place in Nature (1925), viii.
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I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about the problem of space and time. These are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up.
In Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (1971), 10.
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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 suspect one of the reasons that fantasy and science fiction appeal so much to younger readers is that, when the space and time have been altered to allow characters to travel easily anywhere through the continuum and thus escape physical dangers and timepiece inevitabilities, mortality is so seldom an issue.
…...
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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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I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was 'It won the fight!'
Quoted in George Wald, 'The Origin of Optical Activity', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (1957), 60, 352-68.
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I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaître first proposed this [Big Bang] theory. ... There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. .... It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago.
[Expressing his belief that the Big Bang is a myth devised to explain creation. He said he heard Lemaître (who was, at the time both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist) say in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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I wish people would more generally bring back the seeds of pleasing foreign plants and introduce them broadcast, sowing them by our waysides and in our fields, or in whatever situation is most likely to suit them. It is true, this would puzzle botanists, but there is no reason why botanists should not be puzzled. A botanist is a person whose aim is to uproot, kill and exterminate every plant that is at all remarkable for rarity or any special virtue, and the rarer it is the more bitterly he will hunt it down.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 281.
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I work for perfection, for perfection's sake. I don't care what the external reasons are. And it's much more like a ballerina on opening night. You've done what you've got to do. When you go out, the purpose is to turn a perfect turn. You are not thinking about the future of the company, you are not thinking about your future, you're not thinking about the critics, it is you and the perfect turn.
[Describing his task of repairing the Hubble Space Telescope.]
Interview (22 May 1997). On Academy of Achievement website.
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I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn't, I would die.
Isaac Asimov, Stanley Asimov (ed.), Yours, Isaac Asimov: a Lifetime of Letters (1995), 8.
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I've always felt that maybe one of the reasons that I did well as a student and made such good grades was because I lacked ... self-confidence, and I never felt that I was prepared to take an examination, and I had to study a little bit extra. So that sort of lack of confidence helped me, I think, to make a good record when I was a student.
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I, Galileo Galilei, son of the late Vincenzo Galilei, of Florence, aged seventy years, being brought personally to judgment, and kneeling before your Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lords Cardinals, General Inquisitors of the universal Christian republic against heretical depravity, having before my eyes the Holy Gospels, which I touch with my own hands, swear that I have always believed, and now believe, and with the help of God will in future believe, every article which the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome holds, teaches, and preaches. But because I have been enjoined by this Holy Office altogether to abandon the false opinion which maintains that the sun is the centre and immovable, and forbidden to hold, defend, or teach the said false doctrine in any manner, and after it hath been signified to me that the said doctrine is repugnant with the Holy Scripture, I have written and printed a book, in which I treat of the same doctrine now condemned, and adduce reasons with great force in support of the same, without giving any solution, and therefore have been judged grievously suspected of heresy; that is to say, that I held and believed that the sun is the centre of the universe and is immovable, and that the earth is not the centre and is movable; willing, therefore, to remove from the minds of your Eminences, and of every Catholic Christian, this vehement suspicion rightfully entertained toward me, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I abjure, curse, and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally every other error and sect contrary to Holy Church; and I swear that I will never more in future say or assert anything verbally, or in writing, which may give rise to a similar suspicion of me; but if I shall know any heretic, or anyone suspected of heresy, that I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place where I may be; I swear, moreover, and promise, that I will fulfil and observe fully, all the penances which have been or shall be laid on me by this Holy Office. But if it shall happen that I violate any of my said promises, oaths, and protestations (which God avert!), I subject myself to all the pains and punishments which have been decreed and promulgated by the sacred canons, and other general and particular constitutions, against delinquents of this description. So may God help me, and his Holy Gospels which I touch with my own hands. I, the above-named Galileo Galilei, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above, and in witness thereof with my own hand have subscribed this present writing of my abjuration, which I have recited word for word. At Rome, in the Convent of Minerva, June 22, 1633. I, Galileo Galilei, have abjured as above with my own hand.
Abjuration, 22 Jun 1633. In J.J. Fahie, Galileo, His Life and Work (1903), 319-321.
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Idealism is the highest form of reason.
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If a small animal and a lighted candle be placed in a closed flask, so that no air can enter, in a short time the candle will go out, nor will the animal long survive. ... The animal is not suffocated by the smoke of the candle. ... The reason why the animal can live some time after the candle has gone out seems to be that the flame needs a continuous rapid and full supply of nitro-aereal particles. ... For animals, a less aereal spirit is sufficient. ... The movements of the lungs help not a little towards sucking in aereal particles which may remain in said flask and towards transferring them to the blood of the animal.
Remarking (a hundred years before Priestley identified oxygen) that a component of the air is taken into the blood.
Quoted in William Stirling, Some Apostles of Physiology (1902), 45.
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If arithmetical skill is the measure of intelligence, then computers have been more intelligent than all human beings all along. If the ability to play chess is the measure, then there are computers now in existence that are more intelligent than any but a very few human beings. However, if insight, intuition, creativity, the ability to view a problem as a whole and guess the answer by the “feel” of the situation, is a measure of intelligence, computers are very unintelligent indeed. Nor can we see right now how this deficiency in computers can be easily remedied, since human beings cannot program a computer to be intuitive or creative for the very good reason that we do not know what we ourselves do when we exercise these qualities.
In Machines That Think (1983).
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If everything in chemistry is explained in a satisfactory manner without the help of phlogiston, it is by that reason alone infinitely probable that the principle does not exist; that it is a hypothetical body, a gratuitous supposition; indeed, it is in the principles of good logic, not to multiply bodies without necessity.
'Reflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 623, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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If God is as real as the shadow of the Great War on Armistice Day, need we seek further reason for making a place for God in our thoughts and lives? We shall not be concerned if the scientific explorer reports that he is perfectly satisfied that he has got to the bottom of things without having come across either.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 67.
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If he [Thomas Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … [J]ust a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25. In 1884, Tesla had moved to America to assist Edison in the designing of motors and generators.
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If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
In unpublished manuscript, 'Is There a God', (5 Mar 1952) written for the magazine, Illustrated. Collected in Bertrand Russell, John G. Slater (ed.) and Peter Köllner (ed.) The Collected Papers of Bertran Russell: Volume II: Last Philosophical Testament: 1943-68 (1997), 547-548.
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If mankind is to profit freely from the small and sporadic crop of the heroically gifted it produces, it will have to cultivate the delicate art of handling ideas. Psychology is now able to tell us with reasonable assurance that the most influential obstacle to freedom of thought and to new ideas is fear; and fear which can with inimitable art disguise itself as caution, or sanity, or reasoned skepticism, or on occasion even as courage.
'The Commemoration of Great Men', Hunterian Oration, Royal College of Surgeons (15 Feb 1952) British Medical Journal (20 Feb 1932), 1, 317-20. The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 30.
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If one small and odd lineage of fishes had not evolved fins capable of bearing weight on land (though evolved for different reasons in lakes and seas,) terrestrial vertebrates would never have arisen. If a large extraterrestrial object—the ultimate random bolt from the blue—had not triggered the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, mammals would still be small creatures, confined to the nooks and crannies of a dinosaur's world, and incapable of evolving the larger size that brains big enough for self-consciousness require. If a small and tenuous population of protohumans had not survived a hundred slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and potential extinction) on the savannas of Africa, then Homo sapiens would never have emerged to spread throughout the globe. We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (1996), 216.
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If the Humours of the Eye by old Age decay, so as by shrinking to make the Cornea and Coat of the Crystalline Humour grow flatter than before, the Light will not be refracted enough, and for want of a sufficient Refraction will not converge to the bottom of the Eye but to some place beyond it, and by consequence paint in the bottom of the Eye a confused Picture, and according to the Indistinctuess of this Picture the Object will appear confused. This is the reason of the decay of sight in old Men, and shews why their Sight is mended by Spectacles. For those Convex glasses supply the defect of plumpness in the Eye, and by increasing the Refraction make the rays converge sooner, so as to convene distinctly at the bottom of the Eye if the Glass have a due degree of convexity. And the contrary happens in short-sighted Men whose Eyes are too plump. For the Refraction being now too great, the Rays converge and convene in the Eyes before they come at the bottom; and therefore the Picture made in the bottom and the Vision caused thereby will not be distinct, unless the Object be brought so near the Eye as that the place where the converging Rays convene may be removed to the bottom, or that the plumpness of the Eye be taken off and the Refractions diminished by a Concave-glass of a due degree of Concavity, or lastly that by Age the Eye grow flatter till it come to a due Figure: For short-sighted Men see remote Objects best in Old Age, and therefore they are accounted to have the most lasting Eyes.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Axiom VII, 10-11.
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If there be an order in which the human race has mastered its various kinds of knowledge, there will arise in every child an aptitude to acquire these kinds of knowledge in the same order. So that even were the order intrinsically indifferent, it would facilitate education to lead the individual mind through the steps traversed by the general mind. But the order is not intrinsically indifferent; and hence the fundamental reason why education should be a repetition of civilization in little.
Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical (1861), 76.
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If this is what the McCarran Act means in practice, it seems to us a form of organized cultural suicide.
In a letter co-signed with his Princeton University physics professor colleagues, Walker Bleakney and Milton G. White, protesting that Nobel Prize-winning, Cambridge professor, Dirac having been invited for a year's visit to Princeton, had been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department under section 212A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (McCarran Act). Quoting a report in Physics Today, this regulation includes 'categories of undesireables ranging from vagrants to stowaways.' The real reason remains unclear, but was perhaps related to Dirac's prior science-related visits to Russia. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance had recently been revoked, and this was the era of McCarthy's rabid anti-Communism hearings.
'Letters to the Times: Denial of Visa to Physicist Seen as Loss to American Science'. New York Times (3 Jun 1954), 26. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 108.
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If this seems complex, the reason is because Tao is both simple and complex. It is complex when we try to understand it, and simple when we allow ourselves to experience it.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 327.
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If Watson and I had not discovered the [DNA] structure, instead of being revealed with a flourish it would have trickled out and that its impact would have been far less. For this sort of reason Stent had argued that a scientific discovery is more akin to a work of art than is generally admitted. Style, he argues, is as important as content. I am not completely convinced by this argument, at least in this case.
What Mad Pursuit (1990), 76.
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