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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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Sail Quotes (36 quotes)

...those experiments be not only esteemed which have an immediate and present use, but those principally which are of most universal consequence for invention of other experiments, and those which give more light to the invention of causes; for the invention of the mariner's needle, which giveth the direction, is of no less benefit for navigation than the invention of the sails, which give the motion.
The Second 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), 200
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A sky without clouds is a meadow without flowers, a sea without sails.
(24 Jun 1852). In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: IV: May 1, 1852-February 27, 1853 (1906), 139.
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After an orange cloud—formed as a result of a dust storm over the Sahara and caught up by air currents—reached the Philippines and settled there with rain, I understood that we are all sailing in the same boat.
In Jack Hassard and Julie Weisberg , Environmental Science on the Net: The Global Thinking Project (1999), 40.
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Anatomy is the great ocean of intelligence upon which the true physician must sail. Bacteriology is but one little harbor.
In 'Advancement of Surgery', Journal of the American Medical Association (25 Feb 1893), 20, No. 8, 199.
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As soon as somebody demonstrates the art of flying, settlers from our species of man will not be lacking [on the moon and Jupiter]… Given ships or sails adapted to the breezes of heaven, there will be those who will not shrink from even that vast expanse.
(1610) As translated by Edward Rosen in Kepler’s Conversation with Galileo’s Sidereal Messenger (1965), 39.
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At Gabriel College there was a very holy object on the high altar of the Oratory, covered with a black velvet cloth... At the height of the invocation the Intercessor lifted the cloth to reveal in the dimness a glass dome inside which there was something too distant to see, until he pulled a string attached to a shutter above, letting a ray of sunlight through to strike the dome exactly. Then it became clear: a little thing like a weathervane, with four sails black on one side and white on the other, began to whirl around as the light struck it. It illustrated a moral lesson, the Intercessor explained, for the black of ignorance fled from the light, whereas the wisdom of white rushed to embrace it.
[Alluding to Crookes's radiometer.]
Northern Lights (2001), 149.
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Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world…
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
…...
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Fleets are not confined to the ocean, but now sail over the land. … All the power of the British Navy has not been able to prevent Zeppelins from reaching England and attacking London, the very heart of the British Empire. Navies do not protect against aerial attack. … Heavier-than-air flying machines of the aeroplane type have crossed right over the heads of armies, of million of men, armed with the most modern weapons of destruction, and have raided places in the rear. Armies do not protect against aerial war.
In 'Preparedness for Aerial Defense', Addresses Before the Eleventh Annual Convention of the Navy League of the United States, Washington, D.C., April 10-13, 1916 (1916), 70.
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His mind illumined the Past and the Future and wrought greatly for the present. By his genius distant lands converse and men sail unafraid upon the deep.
Epitaph
Inscription on the tomb of Reginald and Helen Fessenden in Bermuda. In Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 61, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make - leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone - we all dwell in a house of one room - the world with the firmament for its roof - and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.
John Muir
…...
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I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
…...
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I just looked up at a fine twinkling star and thought that a voyager whom I know, now many a days’ sail from this coast, might possibly be looking up at that same star with me. The stars are the apexes of what triangles!
In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: I: 1837-1846 (1906), 486.
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I think that the difference between pure and applied mathematics is social rather than scientific. A pure mathematician is paid for making mathematical discoveries. An applied mathematician is paid for the solution of given problems.
When Columbus set sail, he was like an applied mathematician, paid for the search of the solution of a concrete problem: find a way to India. His discovery of the New World was similar to the work of a pure mathematician.
In S.H. Lui, 'An Interview with Vladimir Arnol’d', Notices of the AMS (Apr 1997) 44, No. 4, 438. Reprinted from the Hong Kong Mathematics Society (Feb 1996).
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Infidels are intellectual discoverers. They sail the unknown seas and find new isles and continents in the infinite realms of thought. An Infidel is one who has found a new fact, who has an idea of his own, and who in the mental sky has seen another star. He is an intellectual capitalist, and for that reason excites the envy and hatred of the theological pauper.
In 'The Great Infidels', The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (1902), Vol. 3, 309.
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It is a strange feeling which comes over one as he stands in the centre of the tunnel, and knows that a mighty river is rolling on over his head, and that great ships with their thousands of tons burthen, sail over him. ... There is no single work of Art in London (with the exception of St. Paul's Cathedral) which excites so much curiosity and admiration among foreigners as the Tunnel. Great buildings are common to all parts of Europe, but the world has not such another Tunnel as this. There is something grand in the idea of walking under a broad river—making a pathway dry and secure beneath ships and navies!
[About visiting Brunel's Thames Tunnel, the first in the world under a navigable waterway.]
What I Saw in London: or, Men and Things in the Great Metropolis (1853), 168-169.
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Many of the nobles and senators, although of great age, mounted more than once to the top of the highest church in Venice, in order to see sails and shipping … so far off that it was two hours before they were seen without my spy-glass …, for the effect of my instrument is such that it makes an object fifty miles off appear as large as if it were only five miles away. ... The Senate, knowing the way in which I had served it for seventeen years at Padua, ... ordered my election to the professorship for life.
Quoted in Will Durant, Ariel Duran, The Age of Reason Begins (1961), 604. From Charles Singer, Studies in the History and Method of Science (1917), Vol. 1, 228.
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Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
…...
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No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.
…...
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Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power—that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth’s surface— for instance, Illinois; and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space. And yet it has not, so far in the world’s history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few windmills, and pumps, and you have about all. … As yet, the wind is an untamed, and unharnessed force; and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of it.
Lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.
From the French, “Celui-là tissera des toiles, l’autre dans la forêt par l’éclair de sa hache couchera l’arbre. L’autre, encore, forgera des clous, et il en sera quelque part qui observeront les étoiles afin d’apprendre à gouverner. Et tous cependant ne seront qu’un. Créer le navire ce n’est point tisser les toiles, forger les clous, lire les astres, mais bien donner le goût de la mer qui est un, et à la lumière duquel il n’est plus rien qui soit contradictoire mais communauté dans l’amour.” In Citadelle (1948), Sect. 75, 687. An English edition was published as “Wisdom of the Sands.” The translation in the subject quote is given the website quoteinvestigator.com which discusses how it may have been paraphrased anonymously to yield the commonly seen quote as “If you want to build a ship, don’t recruit the men to gather the wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for vast and endless sea.”
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Since you are now studying geometry and trigonometry, I will give you a problem. A ship sails the ocean. It left Boston with a cargo of wool. It grosses 200 tons. It is bound for Le Havre. The mainmast is broken, the cabin boy is on deck, there are 12 passengers aboard, the wind is blowing East-North-East, the clock points to a quarter past three in the afternoon. It is the month of May. How old is the captain?
Letter (14 Aug 1853) to Louise Colet. As quote and cited in Robert A. Nowlan, Masters of Mathematics: The Problems They Solved, Why These Are Important, and What You Should Know about Them (2017), 271.
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The first drizzling shower is born...
[Then] the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town. ...
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood.
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.
Poem, 'A Description of a City Shower', first published in the Tatler, No. 238 (17 Oct 1710). Reprinted in Pope and Swift's Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1711, 1721), 225-227. Swift wrote at the time in London that the street surface open gutters (kennels) were the primary means for handling stormwater flows and disposing of every kind of human and animal waste. “Devoted” means overwhelmed. Smithfield was a market with butchers' shops and cattle and sheep pens. St. Sepulchre refers to a church in Holborn. The Holborn Conduit was taken down in 1746. Below Holborn Bridge ran the Fleet Ditch (a stagnant remnant of the former Fleet River after its water supply had been diverted). It was joined by a stream called Snow Hill. Notes printed with the poem collected in Jay Parini, The Wadsworth Anthology Of Poetry (2005), 723-724.
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The gentleman [Mr. Taber] from New York says [agricultural research] is all foolish. Yes; it was foolish when Burbank was experimenting with wild cactus. It was foolish when the Wright boys went down to Kitty Hawk and had a contraption there that they were going to fly like birds. It was foolish when Robert Fulton tried to put a boiler into a sail boat and steam it up the Hudson. It was foolish when one of my ancestors thought the world was round and discovered this country so that the gentleman from New York could become a Congressman. (Laughter.) ... Do not seek to stop progress; do not seek to put the hand of politics on these scientific men who are doing a great work. As the gentleman from Texas points out, it is not the discharge of these particular employees that is at stake, it is all the work of investigation, of research, of experimentation that has been going on for years that will be stopped and lost.
Speaking (28 Dec 1932) as a member of the 72nd Congress, early in the Great Depression, in opposition to an attempt to eliminate a small amount from the agricultural appropriation bill. As quoted in 'Mayor-Elect La Guardia on Research', Science (1933), New Series, 78, No. 2031, 511.
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The power of man to do work—one man-power—is, in its purely physical sense, now an insignificant accomplishment, and could only again justify his existence if other sources of power failed. … Curious persons in cloisteral seclusion are experimenting with new sources of energy, which, if ever harnessed, would make coal and oil as useless as oars and sails. If they fail in their quest, or are too late, so that coal and oil, everywhere sought for, are no longer found, and the only hope of men lay in their time-honoured traps to catch the sunlight, who doubts that galley-slaves and helots would reappear in the world once more?
Science and Life (1920), 6.
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The ridge of the Lammer-muir hills... consists of primary micaceous schistus, and extends from St Abb's head westward... The sea-coast affords a transverse section of this alpine tract at its eastern extremity, and exhibits the change from the primary to the secondary strata... Dr HUTTON wished particularly to examine the latter of these, and on this occasion Sir JAMES HALL and I had the pleasure to accompany him. We sailed in a boat from Dunglass ... We made for a high rocky point or head-land, the SICCAR ... On landing at this point, we found that we actually trode [sic] on the primeval rock... It is here a micaceous schistus, in beds nearly vertical, highly indurated, and stretching from S.E. to N. W. The surface of this rock... has thin covering of red horizontal sandstone laid over it, ... Here, therefore, the immediate contact of the two rocks is not only visible, but is curiously dissected and laid open by the action of the waves... On us who saw these phenomena for the first time, the impression will not easily be forgotten. The palpable evidence presented to us, of one of the most extraordinary and important facts in the natural history of the earth, gave a reality and substance to those theoretical speculations, which, however probable had never till now been directly authenticated by the testimony of the senses... What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep? ... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much farther reason may sometimes go than imagination can venture to follow.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 71-3.
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The world is like a vast sea: mankind like a vessel sailing on its tempestuous bosom. … [T]he sciences serve us for oars.
From concluding paragraph, 'Letters from a Chinese Philosopher', LXXXIII, first published in journal The Public Ledger collected in The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith (1762, 1809), 41.
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They had neither compass, nor astronomical instruments, nor any of the appliances of our time for finding their position at sea; they could only sail by the sun, moon, and stars, and it seems incomprehensible how for days and weeks, when these were invisible, they were able to find their course through fog and bad weather; but they found it, and in the open craft of the Norwegian Vikings, with their square sails, fared north and west over the whole ocean, from Novaya Zemlya and Spitsbergen to Greenland, Baffin Bay, Newfoundland, and North America.
In northern mists: Arctic exploration in early times - Volume 1 - Page 248 https://books.google.com/books?id=I1ugAAAAMAAJ Fridtjof Nansen - 1911
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They [the Haida] are a doomed race. Wars, smallpox, gross immorality, a change from old ways to new ways their fate is the common fate of the American, whether he sails the sea in the North, gallops over the plain in the West, or sleeps in his hammock in the forests of Brazil.
From Lecture on the Haida Indian Nation, delivered at the Field Columbian Museum (6 Nov 1897). Reproduced in 'A Cruise among Haida and Tlingit Villages About Dixon’s Entrance', Popular Science Monthly (Jun 1898), 164.
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Those who are enamoured of practice without science, are like the pilot who embarks in a ship without rudder or compass and who is never certain where he is going.
From original Italian: “Quelli che s'innamorano della pratica senza la diligenza, ovvero scienza, per dir meglio,sono come i nocchieri, che entrano in mare sopra nave senza timone o bussola, che mai hanno certezza dove si vadano,” in Trattato Della Pittura (Treatise on Painting) (1817), Part 2, 69. Translated in Anthony Lejeune, The Concise Dictionary of Foreign Quotations (2001), 234.
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To study the phenomenon of disease without books is to sail uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.
Address for the Dedication of the New Building of the Boston Medical Library (12 Jan 1901). Printed as 'Books and Men', The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (17 Jan 1901), 144, No. 3, 60.
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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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We must somehow keep the dreams of space exploration alive, for in the long run they will prove to be of far more importance to the human race than the attainment of material benefits. Like Darwin, we have set sail upon an ocean: the cosmic sea of the Universe. There can be no turning back. To do so could well prove to be a guarantee of extinction. When a nation, or a race or a planet turns its back on the future, to concentrate on the present, it cannot see what lies ahead. It can neither plan nor prepare for the future, and thus discards the vital opportunity for determining its evolutionary heritage and perhaps its survival.
…...
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We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.
Address at Rice University in Houston (12 Sep 1962). On website of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We plant the ship, which will cross the sea.
We plant the mast to carry the sails;
We plant the planks to withstand the gales—
The keel, the keelson, and beam and knee;
We plant the ship when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We plant the houses for you and me.
We plant the rafters, the shingles, the floors,
We plant the studding, the lath, the doors,
The beams and siding, all parts that be;
We plant the house when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?
A thousand things that we daily see;
We plant the spire that out-towers the crag,
We plant the staff for our country's flag,
We plant the shade, from the hot sun free;
We plant all these when we plant the tree.
(Feb 1890) In The Poems of Henry Abbey (1895), 262.
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What sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense.
In Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans and Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote (1992), 172, but without definitive source. Webmaster has not found any 19th-century book with such a quotation. Contact webmaster if you can help identify if this is a valid quote or merely a joke.
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Ye daring ones! Ye venturers and adventurers, and whoever of you have embarked with cunning sails on unexplored seas! Ye enjoyers of enigmas! Solve unto me the enigma that I then beheld, interpret for me the vision of the loneliest one. ... O my brethren, I heard a laughter which was no human laughter.
…...
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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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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
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Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
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Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
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Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
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Benjamin Franklin
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Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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Isaac Newton



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