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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Safe Quotes (54 quotes)

Boss: Dilbert, You have been chosen to design the world’s safest nuclear power plant.
Dilbert: This is the great assignment that any engineer could hope for. I'm flattered by the trust you have in me.
Boss: By “safe” I mean “not near my house.”
Dilbert comic strip (18 Feb 2002).
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Reply when questioned on the safety of the polio vaccine he developed: It is safe, and you can't get safer than safe.
J. R. Wilson, Margin of Safety (1963), 98.
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Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in infering that he is an inexact man. Every careful measurement in science is always given with the probable error ... every observer admits that he is likely wrong, and knows about how much wrong he is likely to be.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 42.
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Astronomy may be revolutionized more than any other field of science by observations from above the atmosphere. Study of the planets, the Sun, the stars, and the rarified matter in space should all be profoundly influenced by measurements from balloons, rockets, probes and satellites. ... In a new adventure of discovery no one can foretell what will be found, and it is probably safe to predict that the most important new discovery that will be made with flying telescopes will be quite unexpected and unforeseen. (1961)
Opening and closing of 'Flying Telescopes', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 191 and 194.
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Bridges would not be safer if only people who knew the proper definition of a real number were allowed to design them.
In 'Topological Theory of Defects', Review of Modern Physics (Jul 1979), 51, No. 3. 591–648. This is seen widely on the web (? mis-)attributed to H.L. Mencken, for which Webmaster has so far been unable to find any validation whatsoever.
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But we must take other steps, such as increasing conservation, developing an ethanol industry, and increasing CAFE standards if we are to make our country safer by cutting our reliance on foreign oil.
Jim Costa
…...
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Coastal sailing as long as it is perfectly safe and easy commands no magic. Overseas expeditions are invariably bound up with ceremonies and ritual. Man resorts to magic only where chance and circumstances are not fully controlled by knowledge.
Culture (1931), 636.
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Engineering is the practice of safe and economic application of the scientific laws governing the forces and materials of nature by means of organization, design and construction, for the general benefit of mankind.
1920
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Formal thought, consciously recognized as such, is the means of all exact knowledge; and a correct understanding of the main formal sciences, Logic and Mathematics, is the proper and only safe foundation for a scientific education.
In Number and its Algebra (1896), 134.
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Have you ever watched an eagle held captive in a zoo, fat and plump and full of food and safe from danger too?
Then have you seen another wheeling high up in the sky, thin and hard and battle-scarred, but free to soar and fly?
Well, which have you pitied the caged one or his brother? Though safe and warm from foe or storm, the captive, not the other!
There’s something of the eagle in climbers, don’t you see; a secret thing, perhaps the soul, that clamors to be free.
It’s a different sort of freedom from the kind we often mean, not free to work and eat and sleep and live in peace serene.
But freedom like a wild thing to leap and soar and strive, to struggle with the icy blast, to really be alive.
That’s why we climb the mountain’s peak from which the cloud-veils flow, to stand and watch the eagle fly, and soar, and wheel... below...
…...
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He who designs an unsafe structure or an inoperative machine is a bad Engineer; he who designs them so that they are safe and operative, but needlessly expensive, is a poor Engineer, and … he who does the best work at lowest cost sooner or later stands at the top of his profession.
From Address on 'Industrial Engineering' at Purdue University (24 Feb 1905). Reprinted by Yale & Towne Mfg Co of New York and Stamford, Conn. for the use of students in its works.
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I think the name atomic theory was an unfortunate one. We talk fluently about atoms as the smallest particles that exist, and chemists regard them as indivisible … To my mind the infinitely small is as incomprehensible as the infinitely great. … we cannot comprehend it, we cannot take it in. And so with the atom. Therefore I think that it would have been better to have taken a different word—say minim—which would have been a safer term than atom.
Address, in 'Report to the Chemical Society's Jubilee', Nature (26 Mar 1891), 43, 493.
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I think we are living in a new time. I think that the ways of working when there was not the current widespread questioning of what science does are no longer applicable. Besides, there is a difference between the sort of research you do when you’re developing something for the first time and the sort of thing you have to do to make sure it continues to work—and the two different sorts of research are done best by different sorts of people. And, just as with basic science, one needs confirmatory experiments. One can’t just have one group saying “yes they’re safe, yes they’re safe, take our word for it, we made them and we know they’re safe”. Someone else, quite independent, needs to take a look, do the confirmatory experiment. Duplication in this case can do nothing but good.
From interview with Graham Chedd, 'The Lady Gets Her Way', New Scientist (5 Jul 1973), 59, No. 853, 16.
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If you want my opinion on the mystery of life and all that, I can give it to you in a nutshell; the universe is like a safe to which there is a key. But the key is locked up in the safe.
John Mitchinson and John Lloyd, If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren't There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times (2009), 217.
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In our popular discussions, unwise ideas must have a hearing as well as wise ones, dangerous ideas as well as safe.
…...
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In physics, there are many discoveries already made, too powerful to be safe, too unmanageable to be subservient.
Reflection 328, in Lacon: or Many things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think (1820), 155.
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Increasingly, our leaders must deal with dangers that threaten the entire world, where an understanding of those dangers and the possible solutions depends on a good grasp of science. The ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, questions of diet and heredity. All require scientific literacy. Can Americans choose the proper leaders and support the proper programs if they themselves are scientifically illiterate? The whole premise of democracy is that it is safe to leave important questions to the court of public opinion—but is it safe to leave them to the court of public ignorance?
In Los Angeles Times (31 Mar 1989).
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It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profoundity, he is talking nonsense.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 227.
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is safe to say that the little pamphlet which was left to find its way through the slow mails to the English scientist outweighed in importance and interest for the human race all the press dispatches which have been flashed under the channel since the delivery of the address—March 24. The rapid growth of the Continental capitals, the movements of princely noodles and fat, vulgar Duchesses, the debates in the Servian Skupschina, and the progress or receding of sundry royal gouts are given to the wings of lightning; a lumbering mail-coach is swift enough for the news of one of the great scientific discoveries of the age. Similarly, the gifted gentlemen who daily sift out for the American public the pith and kernel of the Old World's news; leave Dr. KOCH and his bacilli to chance it in the ocean mails, while they challenge the admiration of every gambler and jockey in this Republic by the fullness and accuracy of their cable reports of horse-races.
New York Times (3 May 1882). Quoted in Thomas D. Brock, Robert Koch (1988), 131.
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It is the modest, not the presumptuous, inquirer who makes a real and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows Nature and Nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works and in his word.
Letter to Alexander Pope. As cited in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (1875, 10th ed., 1919), 304. The quote has a footnote to compare from Pope’s philosophical poem, Essay on Man (1733-34), epistle iv, lines 331-32: “Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, But looks through Nature up to Nature’s God.”
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It might be argued that a genetically enhanced athlete, like a drug-enhanced one, would have an unfair advantage over his unenhanced competitors. But the fairness argument against enhancement has a fatal flaw: it has always been the case that some athletes are better endowed genetically than others, and yet we do not consider this to undermine the fairness of competitive sports. From the standpoint of fairness, enhanced genetic differences would be no worse than natural ones, assuming they were safe and made available to all. If genetic enhancement in sports is morally objectionable, it must be for reasons other than fairness.
Michael J. Sandel, 'The Case Against Perfection', The Atlantic Monthly (Apr 2004).
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It would seem at first sight as if the rapid expansion of the region of mathematics must be a source of danger to its future progress. Not only does the area widen but the subjects of study increase rapidly in number, and the work of the mathematician tends to become more and more specialized. It is, of course, merely a brilliant exaggeration to say that no mathematician is able to understand the work of any other mathematician, but it is certainly true that it is daily becoming more and more difficult for a mathematician to keep himself acquainted, even in a general way, with the progress of any of the branches of mathematics except those which form the field of his own labours. I believe, however, that the increasing extent of the territory of mathematics will always be counteracted by increased facilities in the means of communication. Additional knowledge opens to us new principles and methods which may conduct us with the greatest ease to results which previously were most difficult of access; and improvements in notation may exercise the most powerful effects both in the simplification and accessibility of a subject. It rests with the worker in mathematics not only to explore new truths, but to devise the language by which they may be discovered and expressed; and the genius of a great mathematician displays itself no less in the notation he invents for deciphering his subject than in the results attained. … I have great faith in the power of well-chosen notation to simplify complicated theories and to bring remote ones near and I think it is safe to predict that the increased knowledge of principles and the resulting improvements in the symbolic language of mathematics will always enable us to grapple satisfactorily with the difficulties arising from the mere extent of the subject.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A., (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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I’m sick of people thinking that efficiency is going to be sufficient. I’m sick of seeing people say, “I’m going to reduce my carbon footprint,” and think that being less bad is being good. … I want healthy, safe things in closed cycles, not just being less bad.
In interview with Kerry A. Dolan, 'William McDonough On Cradle-to-Cradle Design', Forbes (4 Aug 2010)
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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More than ever before in the history of science and invention, it is safe now to say what is possible and what is impossible. No one would claim for a moment that during the next five hundred years the accumulated stock of knowledge of geography will increase as it has during the last five hundred In the same way it may safely be affirmed that in electricity the past hundred years is not likely to be duplicated in the next, at least as to great, original, and far-reaching discoveries, or novel and almost revolutionary applications.
In A Century of Electricity (1890), 223.
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So long as the mother, Ignorance, lives, it is not safe for Science, the offspring, to divulge the hidden causes of things.
In Somnium (1634).
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So many of the chemical reactions occurring in living systems have been shown to be catalytic processes occurring isothermally on the surface of specific proteins, referred to as enzymes, that it seems fairly safe to assume that all are of this nature and that the proteins are the necessary basis for carrying out the processes that we call life.
In 'The Physical Basis of Life', (1951), 39. As given in Andrew Brown, J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science (2005), 359.
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The best and safest way of philosophising seems to be, first to enquire diligently into the properties of things, and to establish those properties by experiences [experiments] and then to proceed slowly to hypotheses for the explanation of them. For hypotheses should be employed only in explaining the properties of things, but not assumed in determining them; unless so far as they may furnish experiments.
Letter to the French Jesuit, Gaston Pardies. Translation from the original Latin, as in Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest: a Biography of Isaac Newton (1983), 242.
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The pilots I worked with in the aerospace industry were willing to put on almost anything to keep them safe in case of a crash, but regular people in cars don't want to be uncomfortable even for a minute.
as quoted by Karl Ritter, Associated Press writer in news article Inventor of Three-Point Seat Belt Dies, 26 Sep 2002
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The rigid electron is in my view a monster in relation to Maxwell's equations, whose innermost harmony is the principle of relativity... the rigid electron is no working hypothesis, but a working hindrance. Approaching Maxwell's equations with the concept of the rigid electron seems to me the same thing as going to a concert with your ears stopped up with cotton wool. We must admire the courage and the power of the school of the rigid electron which leaps across the widest mathematical hurdles with fabulous hypotheses, with the hope to land safely over there on experimental-physical ground.
In Arthur I. Miller, Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1981), 350.
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The technologists claim that if everything works [in a nuclear fission reactor] according to their blueprints, fission energy will be a safe and very attractive solution to the energy needs of the world. ... The real issue is whether their blueprints will work in the real world and not only in a “technological paradise.”...
Opponents of fission energy point out a number of differences between the real world and the “technological paradise.” ... No acts of God can be permitted.
'Energy and Environment', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1972), 6.
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The Truly Healthy environment is not merely safe but stimulating.
Environmental Science and Technology (Feb 1968).
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The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.
In Let Me Count the Ways (1965).
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The vital act is the act of participation. “Participator” is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum mechanics. It strikes down the term “observer” of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says.
In Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, John Archibald Wheeler, 'Beyond the Edge of Time', Gravitation (1973), Part 3, 1217.
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The whole premise of democracy is that it is safe to leave important questions to the court of public opinion—but is it safe to leave them to the court of public ignorance?
In 'Combatting U.S. Scientific Illiteracy', Los Angeles Times (31 Mar 1989).
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There is no one central problem in philosophy, but countless little problems. Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.
From conversation with Rush Rhees (1930) as given by Rush Rhees in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections (1981), 96.
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Though the parallel is not complete, it is safe to say that science will never touch them unaided by its practical applications. Its wonders may be catalogued for purposes of education, they may be illustrated by arresting experiments, by numbers and magnitudes which startle or fatigue the imagination but they will form no familiar portion of the intellectual furniture of ordinary men unless they be connected, however remotely, with the conduct of ordinary life.
Decadence (1908), 53.
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To blink facts is as safe as to fight blindfolded.
Magazine
By Glen B. Winship, editor, in 'Foreword', Sinclair’s Magazine (Sep 1918), 2, No. 2, 1.
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To find fault with our ancestors for not having annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot, would be like quarrelling with the Greeks and Romans for not using steam navigation, when we know it is so safe and expeditious; which would be, in short, simply finding fault with the third century before Christ for not being the eighteenth century after. It was necessary that many other things should be thought and done, before, according to the laws of human affairs, it was possible that steam navigation should be thought of. Human nature must proceed step by step, in politics as well as in physics.
The Spirit of the Age (1831). Ed. Frederick A. von Hayek (1942), 48.
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To mess around with Ebola is an easy way to die. Better to work with something safer, such as anthrax.
The Hot Zone
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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
…...
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Were it my business to understand physic, would not the safe way be to consult nature herself in the history of diseases and their cures, than espouse the principles of the dogmatists, methodists, or chemists?
In Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1796, 20th ed.), Vol. 2, Book 4, 383.
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When the mathematician says that such and such a proposition is true of one thing, it may be interesting, and it is surely safe. But when he tries to extend his proposition to everything, though it is much more interesting, it is also much more dangerous. In the transition from one to all, from the specific to the general, mathematics has made its greatest progress, and suffered its most serious setbacks, of which the logical paradoxes constitute the most important part. For, if mathematics is to advance securely and confidently, it must first set its affairs in order at home.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 219.
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When the president said, “We’re going to send a man to the moon and return him safely,” the safe part sounded pretty good. But they were using hydrogen, and the only thing I knew about hydrogen was that they used it with the Hindenburg, and that didn’t work out too good.
Interview (30 Sep 2004) with Morley Safer at luncheon after official reopening of Rocket Park. As quoted in Corey Kilgannon, 'The Rocket Park Reopens, And Cronkite Reminisces', New York Times (1 Oct 2004), B6.
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While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice.
'Spectroscopy, Molecular Orbitals, and Chemical Bonding', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1966). In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972), 159.
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While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established, and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous applications of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice. It is here that the science of measurement shows its importance—where the quantitative results are more to be desired than qualitative work. An eminent physicist has remarked that the future truths of Physical Science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.
University of Chicago, Annual Register 1894-1895 (1894), 150. Michelson also incorporated these lines in his address, 'Some of the Objects and Methods of Physical Science', at the opening of the Physics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory at the University of Kansas, reprinted in The Electrical Engineer (1 Jan 1896), 21, No. 400, 9.
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Why had we come to the moon?
The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem. What is this spirit in man that urges him for ever to depart from happiness and security, to toil, to place himself in danger, to risk an even a reasonable certainty of death? It dawned upon me that there in the moon as a thing I ought always to have known, that man is not made to go about safe and comfortable and well fed and amused. ... against his interest, against his happiness, he is constantly being driven to do unreasonable things. Some force not himself impels him, and he must go.
The First Men in the Moon (1901)
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Young men, have confidence in those powerful and safe methods, of which we do not yet know all the secrets. And, whatever your career may be, do not let yourselves become tainted by a deprecating and barren skepticism … Live … until the time comes when you have the immense happiness of thinking that you have contributed in some way to the progress and to the good of humanity.
Acceptance speech (27 Dec 1892) when awarded a 70th birthday commemorative medal by the Academy of Sciences in the great theatre of the Sorbonne, as translated in René Vallery-Radot and Mrs R.L. Devonshire (trans.), The Life of Pasteur (1902), Vol. 2, 297-298. Pasteur addressed an audience that included “deep masses of students” and “boys from the lycées.”
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[In childhood, to overcome fear, the] need took me back again and again to a sycamore tree rising from the earth at the edge of a ravine. It was a big, old tree that had grown out over the ravine, so that when you climbed it, you looked straight down fifty feet or more. Every time I climbed that tree, I forced myself to climb to the last possible safe limb and then look down. Every time I did it, I told myself I’d never do it again. But I kept going back because it scared me and I had to know I could overcome that.
In John Glenn and Nick Taylor, John Glenn: A Memoir (2000), 16.
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[Society's rights to employ the scopolamine (“truth serum”) drug supersede those of a criminal.] It therefore stands to reason, that where there is a safe and humane method existing to evoke the truth from the consciousness of a suspect society is entitled to have that truth.
Quoted from presentation at the first annual meeting of the Eastern Society of Anesthetists at the Hotel McAlpin, as reported in '“Truth Serum” Test Proves Its Power', New York Times (22 Oct 1924), 14.
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[Theodore Roosevelt] was a naturalist on the broadest grounds, uniting much technical knowledge with knowledge of the daily lives and habits of all forms of wild life. He probably knew tenfold more natural history than all the presidents who had preceded him, and, I think one is safe in saying, more human history also.
In 'Theodore Roosevelt', Natural History (Jan 1919), 19, No.1, 5.
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[The] erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardised citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.
The American Mercury (24 Apr 1924).
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[Very doubtful attribution.] The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.
This likely misquote is included here to caution: do NOT blindly accept it. Webmaster has so far been unable to find any primary source for this viral alleged quote. It is often seen, but never with a citation. Or worse, with a citation to another source which fails to give a citation at all. ApostateAbe, 'Stop this Ruth Benedict misquote', Reddit (c.Dec 2017) directly challenges the quote: “Ruth Benedict never said it, not in any of her published writings. It seems to be merely myth. It is never specifically cited, nor does it make historical sense.” So, if you know an authentic primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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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 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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