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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Reveal Quotes (52 quotes)

To the Memory of Fourier
Fourier! with solemn and profound delight,
Joy born of awe, but kindling momently
To an intense and thrilling ecstacy,
I gaze upon thy glory and grow bright:
As if irradiate with beholden light;
As if the immortal that remains of thee
Attuned me to thy spirit’s harmony,
Breathing serene resolve and tranquil might.
Revealed appear thy silent thoughts of youth,
As if to consciousness, and all that view
Prophetic, of the heritage of truth
To thy majestic years of manhood due:
Darkness and error fleeing far away,
And the pure mind enthroned in perfect day.
In R. Graves, Life of W. R. Hamilton (1882), Vol. l, 696.
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A scientist who would know the laws of nature must sit passively before nature. He may not dictate to nature its laws, nor may he impose his own intelligence upon nature; rather, the more passive he is before nature, the more nature will reveal its secrets.
In The World's First Love (1952, 2010), 107.
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Active experimentation must force the apparent facts of nature into forms different to those in which they familiarly present themselves; and thus make them tell the truth about themselves, as torture may compel an unwilling witness to reveal what he has been concealing.
In Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), 32.
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As an Art, Mathematics has its own standard of beauty and elegance which can vie with the more decorative arts. In this it is diametrically opposed to a Baroque art which relies on a wealth of ornamental additions. Bereft of superfluous addenda, Mathematics may appear, on first acquaintance, austere and severe. But longer contemplation reveals the classic attributes of simplicity relative to its significance and depth of meaning.
In The Skeleton Key of Mathematics (1949), 12.
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Astronomy has revealed the great truth that the whole universe is bound together by one all-pervading influence.
God's Glory in the Heavens (1862, 3rd Ed. 1867) 327.
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Embryology will often reveal to us the structure, in some degree obscured, of the prototype of each great class.
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Euclidean mathematics assumes the completeness and invariability of mathematical forms; these forms it describes with appropriate accuracy and enumerates their inherent and related properties with perfect clearness, order, and completeness, that is, Euclidean mathematics operates on forms after the manner that anatomy operates on the dead body and its members. On the other hand, the mathematics of variable magnitudes—function theory or analysis—considers mathematical forms in their genesis. By writing the equation of the parabola, we express its law of generation, the law according to which the variable point moves. The path, produced before the eyes of the student by a point moving in accordance to this law, is the parabola.
If, then, Euclidean mathematics treats space and number forms after the manner in which anatomy treats the dead body, modern mathematics deals, as it were, with the living body, with growing and changing forms, and thus furnishes an insight, not only into nature as she is and appears, but also into nature as she generates and creates,—reveals her transition steps and in so doing creates a mind for and understanding of the laws of becoming. Thus modern mathematics bears the same relation to Euclidean mathematics that physiology or biology … bears to anatomy.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 38. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112-113.
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Every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance.
First sentence of Chapter 1, 'The Scientific Literature on the Problems of the Dream, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) as translated by A.A. Brill (1913), 1.
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He saw virus particles shaped like snakes, in negative images. They were white cobras tangled among themselves, like the hair of Medusa. They were the face of nature herself, the obscene goddess revealed naked. This life form thing was breathtakingly beautiful. As he stared at it, he found himself being pulled out of the human world into a world where moral boundaries blur and finally dissolve completely. He was lost in wonder and admiration, even though he knew that he was the prey.
The Hot Zone
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I am willing to believe that my unobtainable sixty seconds within a sponge or a flatworm might not reveal any mental acuity that I would care to ca ll consciousness. But I am also confident ... that vultures and sloths, as close evolutionary relatives with the same basic set of organs, lie on our side of any meaningful (and necessarily fuzzy) border–and that we are therefore not mistaken when we look them in the eye and see a glimmer of emotional and conceptual affinity.
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I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.
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I had a feeling once about Mathematics—that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me—the Byss and Abyss. I saw—as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show—a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.
In Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait (1954), 38.
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Iconography becomes even more revealing when processes or concepts, rather than objects, must be depicted–for the constraint of a definite ‘thing’ cedes directly to the imagination. How can we draw ‘evolution’ or ‘social organization,’ not to mention the more mundane ‘digestion’ or ‘self-interest,’ without portraying more of a mental structure than a physical reality? If we wish to trace the history of ideas, iconography becomes a candid camera trained upon the scholar’s mind.
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If a photographic plate under the center of a lens focused on the heavens is exposed for hours, it comes to reveal stars so far away that even the most powerful telescopes fail to reveal them to the naked eye. In a similar way, time and concentration allow the intellect to perceive a ray of light in the darkness of the most complex problem.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 34.
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If finally, the science should prove that society at a certain time revert to the church and recover its old foundation of absolute faith in a personal providence and a revealed religion, it commits suicide.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919), 131.
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If you ask a person, “What were you thinking?” you may get an answer that is richer and more revealing of the human condition than any stream of thoughts a novelist could invent. I try to see through people’s faces into their minds and listen through their words into their lives, and what I find there is beyond imagining.
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In this generation, along with the dominating traits, the recessive ones also reappear, their individuality fully revealed, and they do so in the decisively expressed average proportion of 3:1, so that among each four plants of this generation three receive the dominating and one the recessive characteristic.
'Experiments on Plant Hybrids' (1865). In Curt Stern and Eva R. Sherwood (eds.), The Origin of Genetics: A Mendel Source Book (1966), 10.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time … I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—“I like it”,“I don't like it”—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 57.
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It is not merely as an investigator and discoverer, but as a high-principled and unassuming man, that Scheele merits our warmest admiration. His aim and object was the discovery of truth. The letters of the man reveal to us in the most pleasant way his high scientific ideal, his genuinely philosophic temper, and his simple mode of thought. “It is the truth alone that we desire to know, and what joy there is in discovering it!” With these words he himself characterizes his own efforts.
From History of Chemistry (1899). As quoted in Victor Robinson, Pathfinders in Medicine (1912), 121.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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It is well known that the man who first made public the theory of irrationals perished in a shipwreck in order that the inexpressible and unimaginable should ever remain veiled. And so the guilty man, who fortuitously touched on and revealed this aspect of living things, was taken to the place where he began and there is for ever beaten by the waves.
Proclus
In scholium to Book X of Euclid t. V, 417 as quoted and cited in Ettore Carruccio and Isabel Quigly (trans.), Mathematics And Logic in History And in Contemporary Thought (1964), 27.
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It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
From Letter (24 Mar 1954) in Einstein archives. Quoted by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979, 2013), 43. Dukas was Einstein’s personal secretary for 28 years, so she knew his philosophy well.
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Just as the musician is able to form an acoustic image of a composition which he has never heard played by merely looking at its score, so the equation of a curve, which he has never seen, furnishes the mathematician with a complete picture of its course. Yea, even more: as the score frequently reveals to the musician niceties which would escape his ear because of the complication and rapid change of the auditory impressions, so the insight which the mathematician gains from the equation of a curve is much deeper than that which is brought about by a mere inspection of the curve.
In Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereiningung, 13, 864. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 190
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My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
As quoted in obituary, 'Einstein Noted as an Iconoclast In Research, Politics and Religion', The New York Times (19 Apr 1955), 25.
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Nature only shows us the tail of the lion. I am convinced, however, that the lion is attached to it, even though he cannot reveal himself directly because of his enormous size.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 41
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Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But I do not doubt that the lion belongs to it even though he cannot at once reveal himself because of his enormous size.
…...
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No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
In Kahlil Gibran: The Collected Works (207), 134.
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One of the petty ideas of philosophers is to elaborate a classification, a hierarchy of sciences. They all try it, and they are generally so fond of their favorite scheme that they are prone to attach an absurd importance to it. We must not let ourselves be misled by this. Classifications are always artificial; none more than this, however. There is nothing of value to get out of a classification of science; it dissembles more beauty and order than it can possibly reveal.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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Our intelligence has brought us far, but it has also brought us to the brink of total destruction. It cuts both ways, its application sometimes terrifies us, but it also reveals a humbling, sobering perspective of our cosmological home.
…...
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People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within.
…...
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Pure mathematics … reveals itself as nothing but symbolic or formal logic. It is concerned with implications, not applications. On the other hand, natural science, which is empirical and ultimately dependent upon observation and experiment, and therefore incapable of absolute exactness, cannot become strictly mathematical. The certainty of geometry is thus merely the certainty with which conclusions follow from non-contradictory premises. As to whether these conclusions are true of the material world or not, pure mathematics is indifferent.
In 'Non-Euclidian Geometry of the Fourth Dimension', collected in Henry Parker Manning (ed.), The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained (1910), 58.
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Statistics are like a bikini: what they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital.
Attributed, for example, in Peter’s Quotations (1977, 1978), 477. Also seen attributed to Arthur Koestler.
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String theory is revealing the deepest understanding of the Universe we have ever had.
…...
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Telescopes are in some ways like time machines. They reveal galaxies so far away that their light has taken billions of years to reach us. We in astronomy have an advantage in studying the universe, in that we can actually see the past.
We owe our existence to stars, because they make the atoms of which we are formed. So if you are romantic you can say we are literally starstuff. If you’re less romantic you can say we’re the nuclear waste from the fuel that makes stars shine.
We’ve made so many advances in our understanding. A few centuries ago, the pioneer navigators learnt the size and shape of our Earth, and the layout of the continents. We are now just learning the dimensions and ingredients of our entire cosmos, and can at last make some sense of our cosmic habitat.
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That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
…...
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The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.
Epigraph, without citation, in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972), 231. Need primary source. Can you help?
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The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own.
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The hero reveals the possibilities of human nature. The celebrity reveals the possibilities of the press and media.
Quoted in Ponchitta Pierce, 'Who Are Our Heroes?', Parade Magazine (6 Aug 1995). As cited in Before I Pour This Over Your Head, Remember That I Love You (), 41 & 63.
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The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
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The mathematical facts worthy of being studied are those which, by their analogy with other facts, are capable of leading us to the knowledge of a physical law. They reveal the kinship between other facts, long known, but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another.
From Lecture to the Psychological Society, Paris, 'Mathematical Creation', translation collected in James Roy Newman The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2043.
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The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. … It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.
In 'Decay of Lying', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 5.
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The motive for the study of mathematics is insight into the nature of the universe. Stars and strata, heat and electricity, the laws and processes of becoming and being, incorporate mathematical truths. If language imitates the voice of the Creator, revealing His heart, mathematics discloses His intellect, repeating the story of how things came into being. And Value of Mathematics, appealing as it does to our energy and to our honor, to our desire to know the truth and thereby to live as of right in the household of God, is that it establishes us in larger and larger certainties. As literature develops emotion, understanding, and sympathy, so mathematics develops observation, imagination, and reason.
In A Theory of Motives, Ideals and Values in Education (1907), 406.
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The mythology of science asserts that with many different scientists all asking their own questions and evaluating the answers independently, whatever personal bias creeps into their individual answers is cancelled out when the large picture is put together. This might conceivably be so if scientists were women and men from all sorts of different cultural and social backgrounds who came to science with very different ideologies and interests. But since, in fact, they have been predominantly university-trained white males from privileged social backgrounds, the bias has been narrow and the product often reveals more about the investigator than about the subject being researched.
'Have Only Men Evolved?' Women Look at Biology Looking At Women, eds. Ruth Hubbard, Mary Sue Henifin, and Barbara Fried (1979).
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The prominent reason why a mathematician can be judged by none but mathematicians, is that he uses a peculiar language. The language of mathesis is special and untranslatable. In its simplest forms it can be translated, as, for instance, we say a right angle to mean a square corner. But you go a little higher in the science of mathematics, and it is impossible to dispense with a peculiar language. It would defy all the power of Mercury himself to explain to a person ignorant of the science what is meant by the single phrase “functional exponent.” How much more impossible, if we may say so, would it be to explain a whole treatise like Hamilton’s Quaternions, in such a wise as to make it possible to judge of its value! But to one who has learned this language, it is the most precise and clear of all modes of expression. It discloses the thought exactly as conceived by the writer, with more or less beauty of form, but never with obscurity. It may be prolix, as it often is among French writers; may delight in mere verbal metamorphoses, as in the Cambridge University of England; or adopt the briefest and clearest forms, as under the pens of the geometers of our Cambridge; but it always reveals to us precisely the writer’s thought.
In North American Review (Jul 1857), 85, 224-225.
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The true foundation of theology is to ascertain the character of God. It is by the aid of Statistics that law in the social sphere can be ascertained and codified, and certain aspects of the character of God thereby revealed. The study of statistics is thus a religious service.
As quoted by Florence Nightingale David in Games, Gods, and Gambling: A History of Probability and Statistical Ideas (1962, 1998), 103. David introduced the quote by saying “Florence Nightingale, after some lengthy calculations, wrote:”.
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The vast spread
Of darkness
That speaks of mystery
The darkness that reveals
The beauty that lies beneath
In the form of glittering
Stars, a countless beauty
That seemed to conceal
A million stories
That can make the mankind
Take a new look at life
And the majestic moon
That silently looks at mankind
Wondering how its serenity
Was disturbed by the little steps
Of a man from the beautiful earth
Yet softly smiling back
And let the world sleep
In its magical glow
A glow that soothes
The world’s senses
And forget the pain of reality
…...
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Thou, Chemistry, do penetrate
With vision keen the bowels of earth,
Reveal what treasure Russia hides there… .
As quoted, without citation, in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 45.
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Twin sister of natural and revealed religion, and of heavenly birth, science will never belie her celestial origin, nor cease to sympathize with all that emanates from the same pure home. Human ignorance and prejudice may for a time seem to have divorced what God has joined together; but human ignorance and prejudice shall at length pass away, and then science and religion shall be seen blending their particolored rays into one beautiful bow of light, linking heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
…...
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When physiologists revealed the existence and functions of hormones they not only gave increased opportunities for the activities of biochemists but in particular gave a new charter to biochemical thought, and with the discovery of vitamins that charter was extended.
'Biological Thought and Chemical Thought: A Plea for Unification', Linacre Lecture, Cambridge (6 May 1938), published in Lancet (1938),2, 1201.
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When the boy begins to understand that the visible point is preceded by an invisible point, that the shortest distance between two points is conceived as a straight line before it is ever drawn with the pencil on paper, he experiences a feeling of pride, of satisfaction. And justly so, for the fountain of all thought has been opened to him, the difference between the ideal and the real, potentia et actu, has become clear to him; henceforth the philosopher can reveal him nothing new, as a geometrician he has discovered the basis of all thought.
In Sprüche in Reimen. Sprüche in Prosa. Ethisches (1850), Vol. 3, 214. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 67. From the original German, “Wenn der knabe zu begreifen anfängt, daß einem sichtbaren Punkte ein unsichtbarer vorhergehen müsse, daß der nächste Weg zwischen zwei Punkten schon als Linie gedacht werde, ehe sie mit dem Bleistift aufs Papier gezogen wird, so fühlt er einen gewissen Stolz, ein Behagen. Und nicht mit Unrecht; denn ihm ist die Quelle alles Denkens aufgeschlossen, Idee und Verwirklichtes, potentia et actu, ist ihm klargeworden; der Philosoph entdeckt ihm nichts Neues; dem Geometer war von seiner Seite der Grund alles Denkens aufgegangen.” The Latin phrase, “potentia et actu” means “potentiality and actuality”.
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When the great truth accidentally revealed and experimentally confirmed is fully recognized, that this planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric currents virtually no more than a small metal ball and that by this fact many possibilities, ea
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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Why, then, are we surprised that comets, such a rare spectacle in the universe, are not known, when their return is at vast intervals?. … The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject … And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them …. Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate … Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all. Someday there will be a man who will show in what regions comets have their orbit, why they travel so remote from other celestial bodies, how large they are and what sort they are.
Natural Questions, Book 7. As translated by Thomas H. Corcoran in Seneca in Ten Volumes: Naturales Quaestiones II (1972), 279 and 293.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Charles Babbage
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Euclid
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Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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- 60 -
Francis Galton
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Avicenna
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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