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Who said: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index S > Category: Significance

Significance Quotes (113 quotes)

The classification of facts, the recognition of their sequence and relative significance is the function of science, and the habit of forming a judgment upon these facts unbiassed by personal feeling is characteristic of what may be termed the scientific frame of mind.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 8.
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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 casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A living organism must be studied from two distinct aspects. One of these is the causal-analytic aspect which is so fruitfully applicable to ontogeny. The other is the historical descriptive aspect which is unravelling lines of phylogeny with ever-increasing precision. Each of these aspects may make suggestions concerning the possible significance of events seen under the other, but does not explain or translate them into simpler terms.
'Embryology and Evolution', in G. R. de Beer (ed.), Evolution: Essays on Aspects of Evolutionary Biology presented to Professor E. S. Goodrich on his Seventieth Birthday (1938), 76-7.
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A multidisciplinary study group ... estimated that it would be 1980 before developments in artificial intelligence make it possible for machines alone to do much thinking or problem solving of military significance. That would leave, say, five years to develop man-computer symbiosis and 15 years to use it. The 15 may be 10 or 500, but those years should be intellectually the most creative and exciting in the history of mankind.
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
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A small bubble of air remained unabsorbed... if there is any part of the phlogisticated air [nitrogen] of our atmosphere which differs from the rest, and cannot be reduced to nitrous acid, we may safely conclude that it is not more than 1/120 part of the whole.
Cavendish did not realize the significance of the remaining small bubble. Not until a century later were the air’s Noble Gases appreciated.
'Experiments on Air', read 2 June 1785, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1785, 75, 382.
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Across the road from my cabin was a huge clear-cut—hundreds of acres of massive spruce stumps interspersed with tiny Douglas firs—products of what they call “Reforestation,” which I guess makes the spindly firs en masse a “Reforest,” which makes an individual spindly fir a “Refir,” which means you could say that Weyerhauser, who owns the joint, has Refir Madness, since they think that sawing down 200-foot-tall spruces and replacing them with puling 2-foot Refirs is no different from farming beans or corn or alfalfa. They even call the towering spires they wipe from the Earth's face forever a “crop”--as if they'd planted the virgin forest! But I'm just a fisherman and may be missing some deeper significance in their nomenclature and stranger treatment of primordial trees.
In David James Duncan, The River Why (1983), 71.
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All knowledge attains its ethical value and its human significance only by the human sense with which it is employed. Only a good man can be a great physician.
Inaugural address (1882), quoted in Johann Hermann Baas, Henry Ebenezer Handerson (trans.), Outlines of the History of Medicine and the Medical Profession (1889), 966.
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All revolutionary advances in science may consist less of sudden and dramatic revelations than a series of transformations, of which the revolutionary significance may not be seen (except afterwards, by historians) until the last great step. In many cases the full potentiality and force of a most radical step in such a sequence of transformations may not even be manifest to its author.
The Newtonian Revolution (1980), 162.
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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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As for the excellent little wretches who grow up in what they are taught, with never a scruple or a query, ... they signify nothing in the intellectual life of the race.
'Poet at the Breakfast-Table', The Atlantic Monthly (Oct 1872), 429.
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Attaching significance to invariants is an effort to recognize what, because of its form or colour or meaning or otherwise, is important or significant in what is only trivial or ephemeral. A simple instance of failing in this is provided by the poll-man at Cambridge, who learned perfectly how to factorize a²-b² but was floored because the examiner unkindly asked for the factors of p²–q².
In 'Recent Developments in Invariant Theory', The Mathematical Gazette (Dec 1926), 13, No. 185, 217. [Note: A poll-man is a student who takes the ordinary university degree, without honours. -Webmaster]
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But among all these many departments of research, these many branches of industry, new and old, which are being rapidly expanded, there is one dominating all others in importance—one which is of the greatest significance for the comfort and welfare, not t
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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But science and technology are only one of the avenues toward reality; others are equally needed to comprehend the full significance of our existence. Indeed, these other avenues are necessary for the prevention of thoughtless and inhuman abuses of the results of science.
In The Privilege of Being a Physicist (1989).
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Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.
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Does anyone believe that the difference between the Lebesgue and Riemann integrals can have physical significance, and that whether say, an airplane would or would not fly could depend on this difference? If such were claimed, I should not care to fly in that plane.
Paraphrased from American Mathematics Monthly (1998) 105, 640-50. Quoted in John De Pillis, 777 Mathematical Conversation Starters (2004), 136.
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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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Formal symbolic representation of qualitative entities is doomed to its rightful place of minor significance in a world where flowers and beautiful women abound.
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Haemoglobin is a very large molecule by ordinary standards, containing about ten thousand atoms, but the chances are that your haemoglobin and mine are identical, and significantly different from that of a pig or horse. You may be impressed by how much human beings differ from one another, but if you were to look into the fine details of the molecules of which they are constructed, you would be astonished by their similarity.
In Of Molecules and Men (1966, 2004), 6.
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Half the joy of life is in little things taken on the run… but let us keep our hearts young and our eyes open that nothing worth our while shall escape us. That nothing worth our while shall escape us. And everything is worth its while if we only grasp it and its significance.
Found quoted without source in The American Journal of Clinical Medicine (1907), 14, 150, and several other publications of that time period. Webmaster invites help pinpointing the primary text.
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Hardly a year passes that fails to find a new, oft-times exotic, research method or technique added to the armamentarium of political inquiry. Anyone who cannot negotiate Chi squares, assess randomization, statistical significance, and standard deviations
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Hitherto the principle of causality was universally accepted as an indispensable postulate of scientific research, but now we are told by some physicists that it must be thrown overboard. The fact that such an extraordinary opinion should be expressed in responsible scientific quarters is widely taken to be significant of the all-round unreliability of human knowledge. This indeed is a very serious situation.
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), 66.
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Human judgment is notoriously fallible and perhaps seldom more so than in facile decisions that a character has no adaptive significance because we do not know the use of it.
The Major Features of Evolution (1953), 166.
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Hypothesis is the most important mental technique of the investigator, and its main function is to suggest new experiments or new observations. Indeed, most experiments and many observations are carried out with the deliberate object of testing an hypothesis. Another function is to help one see the significance of an object or event that otherwise would mean nothing. For instance, a mind prepared by the hypothesis of evolution would make many more significant observations on a field excursion than one not so prepared. Hypotheses should be used as tools to uncover new facts rather than as ends in themselves.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1953), 46.
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I believe it to be of particular importance that the scientist have an articulate and adequate social philosophy, even more important than the average man should have a philosophy. For there are certain aspects of the relation between science and society that the scientist can appreciate better than anyone else, and if he does not insist on this significance no one else will, with the result that the relation of science to society will become warped, to the detriment of everybody.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950), 287.
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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 fancy you give me credit for being a more systematic sort of cove than I really am in the matter of limits of significance. What would actually happen would be that I should make out Pt (normal) and say to myself that would be about 50:1; pretty good but as it may not be normal we'd best not be too certain, or 100:1; even allowing that it may not be normal it seems good enough and whether one would be content with that or would require further work would depend on the importance of the conclusion and the difficulty of obtaining suitable experience.
Letter to E. S. Pearson, 18 May 1929. E. S. Pearson, '"Student" as Statistician', Biometrika, 1939, 30, 244.
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I have presented the periodic table as a kind of travel guide to an imaginary country, of which the elements are the various regions. This kingdom has a geography: the elements lie in particular juxtaposition to one another, and they are used to produce goods, much as a prairie produces wheat and a lake produces fish. It also has a history. Indeed, it has three kinds of history: the elements were discovered much as the lands of the world were discovered; the kingdom was mapped, just as the world was mapped, and the relative positions of the elements came to take on a great significance; and the elements have their own cosmic history, which can be traced back to the stars.
In The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into the Land of the Chemical Elements (1995), Preface, viii.
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If one in twenty does not seem high enough odds, we may, if we prefer it, draw the line at one in fifty (the 2 per cent. point), or one in a hundred (the 1 per cent. point). Personally, the writer prefers to set a low standard of significance at the 5 per cent. point, and ignore entirely all results which fail to reach this level. A scientific fact should be regarded as experimentally established only if a properly designed experiment rarely fails to give this level of significance.
'The Arrangement of Field Experiments', The Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture, 1926, 33, 504.
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If you ask ... the man in the street ... the human significance of mathematics, the answer of the world will be, that mathematics has given mankind a metrical and computatory art essential to the effective conduct of daily life, that mathematics admits of countless applications in engineering and the natural sciences, and finally that mathematics is a most excellent instrumentality for giving mental discipline... [A mathematician will add] that mathematics is the exact science, the science of exact thought or of rigorous thinking.
Address (28 Mar 1912), Michigan School Masters' Club, Ann Arbor, 'The Humanization of the Teaching of Mathematics. Printed in Science (26 Apr 1912). Collected in The Human Worth of Rigorous Thinking: Essays and Addresses (1916), 65-66.
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If, as I have reason to believe, I have disintegrated the nucleus of the atom, this is of greater significance than the war.
[Apology to the international anti-submarine committee for being absent from several meetings during World War I.]
(Jun 1919). Quoted in D. Wilson, Rutherford: Simple Genius (1983), 405, as cited in Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais, Brian Pippard, Twentieth Century Physics (1995), Vol. 1, 113.
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In a sense, genetics grew up as an orphan. In the beginning botanists and zoologists were often indifferent and sometimes hostile toward it. 'Genetics deals only with superficial characters', it was often said. Biochemists likewise paid it little heed in its early days. They, especially medical biochemists, knew of Garrod's inborn errors of metabolism and no doubt appreciated them in the biochemical sense and as diseases; but the biological world was inadequately prepared to appreciate fully the significance of his investigations and his thinking. Geneticists, it should be said, tended to be preoccupied mainly with the mechanisms by which genetic material is transmitted from one generation to, the next.
'Genes and chemical reactions In Neurospora', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1958. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962 (1964), 598.
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In early times, when the knowledge of nature was small, little attempt was made to divide science into parts, and men of science did not specialize. Aristotle was a master of all science known in his day, and wrote indifferently treatises on physics or animals. As increasing knowledge made it impossible for any one man to grasp all scientific subjects, lines of division were drawn for convenience of study and of teaching. Besides the broad distinction into physical and biological science, minute subdivisions arose, and, at a certain stage of development, much attention was, given to methods of classification, and much emphasis laid on the results, which were thought to have a significance beyond that of the mere convenience of mankind.
But we have reached the stage when the different streams of knowledge, followed by the different sciences, are coalescing, and the artificial barriers raised by calling those sciences by different names are breaking down. Geology uses the methods and data of physics, chemistry and biology; no one can say whether the science of radioactivity is to be classed as chemistry or physics, or whether sociology is properly grouped with biology or economics. Indeed, it is often just where this coalescence of two subjects occurs, when some connecting channel between them is opened suddenly, that the most striking advances in knowledge take place. The accumulated experience of one department of science, and the special methods which have been developed to deal with its problems, become suddenly available in the domain of another department, and many questions insoluble before may find answers in the new light cast upon them. Such considerations show us that science is in reality one, though we may agree to look on it now from one side and now from another as we approach it from the standpoint of physics, physiology or psychology.
In article 'Science', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), 402.
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In our day grand generalizations have been reached. The theory of the origin of species is but one of them. Another, of still wider grasp and more radical significance, is the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy, the ultimate philosophical issues of which are as yet but dimly seem-that doctrine which “binds nature fast in fate” to an extent not hitherto recognized, exacting from every antecedent its equivalent consequent, and bringing vital as well as physical phenomena under the dominion of that law of causal connexion which, so far as the human understanding has yet pierced, asserts itself everywhere in nature.
'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast', (19 Aug 1874). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 1801.
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It has become a cheap intellectual pastime to contrast the infinitesimal pettiness of man with the vastnesses of the stellar universes. Yet all such comparisons are illicit. We cannot compare existence and meaning; they are disparate. The characteristic life of a man is itself the meaning of vast stretches of existences, and without it the latter have no value or significance. There is no common measure of physical existence and conscious experience because the latter is the only measure there is of the former. The significance of being, though not its existence, is the emotion it stirs, the thought it sustains.
Philosophy and Civilization (1931), reprinted in David Sidorsky (ed.), John Dewey: The Essential Writings (1977), 7.
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It has been recognized that hydrogen bonds restrain protein molecules to their native configurations, and I believe that as the methods of structural chemistry are further applied to physiological problems it will be found that the significance of the hydrogen bond for physiology is greater than that of any other single structural feature.
Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals (1939), 265.
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It is evident that certain genes which either initially or ultimately have beneficial effects may at the same time produce characters of a non-adaptive type, which will therefore be established with them. Such characters may sometimes serve most easily to distinguish different races or species; indeed, they may be the only ones ordinarily available, when the advantages with which they are associated are of a physiological nature. Further, it may happen that the chain of reactions which a gene sets going is of advantage, while the end-product to which this gives rise, say a character in a juvenile or the adult stage, is of no adaptive significance.
Mendelism and Evolution (1931), 78-9.
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Its immediate significance was as a currency, for it closed the triangle linking spirits, slaves, and sugar. Rum could be used to buy slaves, with which to produce sugar, the leftovers of which could be made into rum to buy more slaves, and so on and on.
In A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2005, 2009), 110.
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Its [science’s] aim is simply to establish the facts. It has no more interest in the moral significance of those facts than it has in the moral significance of a streptococcus.
From American Mercury (Sep 1927). Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 331.
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It’s hard to explain to people what the significance of an invention is, so it’s hard to get funding. The first thing they say is that it can’t be done. Then they say, “You didn't do it right.” Then, when you’ve done it, they finally say, “Well, it was obvious anyway.”
http://www.thetech.org/nmot/detail.cfm?id=95&st=awardDate&qt=1997&kiosk=Off
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Laughter that occurs during tickling of the axillary region and the soles of the feet, as well as the laughter that occurs when seeing comical things or when hearing comical things, has no practical diagnostic significance.
As quoted in Fred Rosner, The Medical Legacy of Moses Maimonides (1998), 55.
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Laws, in their most general signification, are the necessary relations arising from the nature of things. In this sense all beings have their laws: the Deity His laws, the material world its laws, the intelligences superior to man their laws, the beasts their laws, man his laws.
The Spirit of the Laws (1748), Vol. 1, book 1, 1.
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Mathematics, as much as music or any other art, is one of the means by which we rise to a complete self-consciousness. The significance of mathematics resides precisely in the fact that it is an art; by informing us of the nature of our own minds it informs us of much that depends on our minds.
In Aspects of Science: Second Series (1926), 94.
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Modern cytological work involves an intricacy of detail, the significance of which can be appreciated by the specialist alone; but Miss Stevens had a share in a discovery of importance, and her work will be remembered for this, when the minutiae of detailed investigations that she carried out have become incorporated in the general body of the subject.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 468.
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Mr. Bertrand Russell tells us that it can be shown that a mathematical web of some kind can be woven about any universe containing several objects. If this be so, then the fact that our universe lends itself to mathematical treatment is not a fact of any great philosophical significance.
In The Limitations of Science (1933), 229. [Notice that there are no quotation marks in the narrative statement by Sullivan. Therefore, Webmaster believes they are not necessarily, and likely not, the verbatim words from Russell. The first sentence is more likely to be Sullivan expressing in his own words an idea from Russell, and most likely the second sentence is Sullivan’s comment on that idea. (Be cautioned that quotation marks, perhaps spurious, have appeared when re-stated in later publications by other authors.) Webmaster has so far been unable to identify a primary source for these words in a text by Russell. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.]
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My eureka moment was in the dead of night, the early hours of the morning, on a cold, cold night, and my feet were so cold, they were aching. But when the result poured out of the charts, you just forget all that. You realize instantly how significant this is—what it is you’ve really landed on—and it’s great!
[About her discovery of the first pulsar radio signals.]
From BBC TV program, Journeys in Time and Space: Invisible Universe (28 Feb 2001).
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Nature is a vast tablet, inscribed with signs, each of which has its own significancy, and becomes poetry in the mind when read; and geology is simply the key by which myriads of these signs, hitherto indecipherable, can be unlocked and perused, and thus a new province added to the poetical domain.
Lecture Third, collected in Popular Geology: A Series of Lectures Read Before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, with Descriptive Sketches from a Geologist's Portfolio (1859), 131.
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No one must think that Newton’s great creation can be overthrown in any real sense by this [Theory of Relativity] or by any other theory. His clear and wide ideas will for ever retain their significance as the foundation on which our modern conceptions of physics have been built.
In 'Time, Space, and Gravitation', The Times (28 Nov 1919). Excerpted in David E. Rowe and Robert J. Schulmann, Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (2007), 104.
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Of the nucleosides from deoxyribonucleic acids, all that was known with any certainty [in the 1940s] was that they were 2-deoxy-­D-ribosides of the bases adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine and it was assumed that they were structurally analogous to the ribonucleosides. The chemistry of the nucleotides—the phosphates of the nucleosides—was in a correspondingly primitive state. It may well be asked why the chemistry of these groups of compounds was not further advanced, particularly since we recognize today that they occupy a central place in the history of the living cell. True, their full significance was for a long time unrecognized and emerged only slowly as biochemical research got into its stride but I think a more important reason is to be found in the physical properties of compounds of the nucleotide group. As water-soluble polar compounds with no proper melting points they were extremely difficult to handle by the classic techniques of organic chemistry, and were accordingly very discouraging substances to early workers. It is surely no accident that the major advances in the field have coincided with the appearance of new experimental techniques such as paper and ion-exchange chromatography, paper electrophoresis, and countercurrent distribution, peculiarly appropriate to the compounds of this group.
In 'Synthesis in the Study of Nucleotides', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1957. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964), 524.
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Of what significance is one’s one existence, one is basically unaware. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life? The bitter and the sweet come from outside. The hard from within, from one’s own efforts. For the most part I do what my own nature drives me to do. It is embarrassing to earn such respect and love for it.
…...
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One reason which has led the organic chemist to avert his mind from the problems of Biochemistry is the obsession that the really significant happenings in the animal body are concerned in the main with substances of such high molecular weight and consequent vagueness of molecular structure as to make their reactions impossible of study by his available and accurate methods. There remains, I find, pretty widely spread, the feeling—due to earlier biological teaching—that, apart from substances which are obviously excreta, all the simpler products which can be found in cells or tissues are as a class mere objects, already too remote from the fundamental biochemical events to have much significance. So far from this being the case, recent progress points in the clearest way to the fact that the molecules with which a most important and significant part of the chemical dynamics of living tissues is concerned are of a comparatively simple character.
In 'The Dynamic Side of Biochemistry', Address (11 Sep 1913) in Report on the 83rd Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1914), 657-8.
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Only a few years ago, it was generally supposed that by crossing two somewhat different species or varieties a mongrel might be produced which might, or more likely might not, surpass its parents. The fact that crossing was only the first step and that selection from the numerous variations secured in the second and a few succeeding generations was the real work of new plant creation had never been appreciated; and to-day its significance is not fully understood either by breeders or even by many scientific investigators along these very lines.
From Paper read at the Annual Meeting of the American Breeders’ Association, at Columbia, Mo. (5-8 January 1909). In 'Another Mode of Species Forming', Popular Science Monthly (Sep 1909), 75, 264-265.
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Our exploration of the planets represents a triumph of imagination and will for the human race. The events of the last twenty years are perhaps too recent for us to adequately appreciate their proper historical significance.
We can, however, appraise the scientific significance of these voyages of exploration: They have been nothing less than revolutionary both in providing a new picture of the nature of the solar system, its likely origin and evolution, and in giving us a new perspective on our own planet Earth.
NASA
NASA Advisory Committee, report of Solar System Exploration Committee, Planetary Exploration Through Year 2000: A Core Program (1983).
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Our most successful theories in physics are those that explicitly leave room for the unknown, while confining this room sufficiently to make the theory empirically disprovable. It does not matter whether this room is created by allowing for arbitrary forces as Newtonian dynamics does, or by allowing for arbitrary equations of state for matter, as General Relativity does, or for arbitrary motions of charges and dipoles, as Maxwell's electrodynamics does. To exclude the unknown wholly as a “unified field theory” or a “world equation” purports to do is pointless and of no scientific significance.
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Positive, objective knowledge is public property. It can be transmitted directly from one person to another, it can be pooled, and it can be passed on from one generation to the next. Consequently, knowledge accumulates through the ages, each generation adding its contribution. Values are quite different. By values, I mean the standards by which we judge the significance of life. The meaning of good and evil, of joy and sorrow, of beauty, justice, success-all these are purely private convictions, and they constitute our store of wisdom. They are peculiar to the individual, and no methods exist by which universal agreement can be obtained. Therefore, wisdom cannot be readily transmitted from person to person, and there is no great accumulation through the ages. Each man starts from scratch and acquires his own wisdom from his own experience. About all that can be done in the way of communication is to expose others to vicarious experience in the hope of a favorable response.
The Nature of Science and other Lectures (1954), 7.
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Science is a speculative enterprise. The validity of a new idea and the significance of a new experimental finding are to be measured by the consequences—consequences in terms of other ideas and other experiments. Thus conceived, science is not a quest for certainty; it is rather a quest which is successful only to the degree that it is continuous.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 25-26.
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Scientific inquiry would thus he conceived of as analogous to terrestrial exploration, whose product—geography—yields results of continually smaller significance which fill in ever more minute gaps in our information. In such a view, later investigations yield findings of ever smaller importance, with each successive accretion making a relatively smaller contribution to what has already come to hand. The advance of science leads, step by diminished step, toward a fixed and final view of things.
In The Limits Of Science (1984, Rev. 1999), 67.
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The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 1.
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The automatic computing engine now being designed at N. P. L. [National Physics Laboratory] is atypical large scale electronic digital computing machine. In a single lecture it will not be possible to give much technical detail of this machine, and most of what I shall say will apply equally to any other machine of this type now being planned. From the point of view of the mathematician the property of being digital should be of greater interest than that of being electronic. That it is electronic is certainly important because these machines owe their high speed to this, and without the speed it is doubtful if financial support for their construction would be forthcoming. But this is virtually all that there is to be said on that subject. That the machine is digital however has more subtle significance. It means firstly that numbers are represented by sequences of digits which can be as long as one wishes. One can therefore work to any desired degree of accuracy. This accuracy is not obtained by more careful machining of parts, control of temperature variations, and such means, but by a slight increase in the amount of equipment in the machine.
Lecture to the London Mathematical Society, 20 February 1947. Quoted in B. E. Carpenter and R. W. Doran (eds.), A. M. Turing's Ace Report of 1946 and Other Papers (1986), 106.
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The automatic computing engine now being designed at N.P.L. [National Physics Laboratory] is atypical large scale electronic digital computing machine. In a single lecture it will not be possible to give much technical detail of this machine, and most of what I shall say will apply equally to any other machine of this type now being planned. From the point of view of the mathematician the property of being digital should be of greater interest than that of being electronic. That it is electronic is certainly important because these machines owe their high speed to this, and without the speed it is doubtful if financial support for their construction would be forthcoming. But this is virtually all that there is to be said on that subject. That the machine is digital however has more subtle significance. It means firstly that numbers are represented by sequences of digits which can be as long as one wishes. One can therefore work to any desired degree of accuracy. This accuracy is not obtained by more careful machining of parts, control of temperature variations, and such means, but by a slight increase in the amount of equipment in the machine.
Lecture to the London Mathematical Society, 20 February 1947. Quoted in B. E. Carpenter and R. W. Doran (eds.), A. M. Turing's Ace Report of 1946 and Other Papers (1986), 106.
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The chemical differences among various species and genera of animals and plants are certainly as significant for the history of their origins as the differences in form. If we could define clearly the differences in molecular constitution and functions of different kinds of organisms, there would be possible a more illuminating and deeper understanding of question of the evolutionary reactions of organisms than could ever be expected from morphological considerations.
'Uber das Vorkommen von Haemoglobin in den Muskeln der Mollusken und die Verbreitung desselben in den lebenden Organismen', Pflügers Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie des Menschen und der Tiere, 1871, 4, 318-9. Trans. Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 270.
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The Commissioner of Patents may be likened to a wine merchant. He has in his office the wine of human progress of every kind and quality—wine, one may say, produced from the fermentation of the facts of the world through the yeast of human effort. Sometimes the yeast is “wild” and sometimes the “must” is poor, and while it all lies there shining with its due measure of the sparkle of divine effort, it is but occasionally that one finds a wine whose bouquet is the result of a pure culture on the true fruit of knowledge. But it is this true, pure wine of discovery that is alone of lasting significance.
In Some Chemical Problems of Today (1911), 108.
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The common perception of science as a rational activity, in which one confronts the evidence of fact with an open mind, could not be more false. Facts assume significance only within a pre-existing intellectual structure, which may be based as much on intuition and prejudice as on reason.
In The Guardian, September 28, 1989.
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The complexity of contemporary biology has led to an extreme specialization, which has inevitably been followed by a breakdown in communication between disciplines. Partly as a result of this, the members of each specialty tend to feel that their own work is fundamental and that the work of other groups, although sometimes technically ingenious, is trivial or at best only peripheral to an understanding of truly basic problems and issues. There is a familiar resolution to this problem but it is sometimes difficulty to accept emotionally. This is the idea that there are a number of levels of biological integration and that each level offers problems and insights that are unique to it; further, that each level finds its explanations of mechanism in the levels below, and its significances in the levels above it.
From 'Interaction of physiology and behavior under natural conditions', collected in R.I. Bowman (ed.), The Galapagos (1966), 39.
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The cosmogonist has finished his task when he has described to the best of his ability the inevitable sequence of changes which constitute the history of the material universe. But the picture which he draws opens questions of the widest interest not only to science, but also to humanity. What is the significance of the vast processes it portrays? What is the meaning, if any there be which is intelligible to us, of the vast accumulations of matter which appear, on our present interpretations of space and time, to have been created only in order that they may destroy themselves.
In Astronomy and Cosmogony (1961).
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The doctrine of foods is of great ethical and political significance. Food becomes blood, blood becomes heart and brain, thoughts and mind stuff. Human fare is the foundation of human culture and thought. Would you improve a nation? Give it, instead of declamations against sin, better food. Man is what he eats [Der Mensch ist, was er isst].
Advertisement to Moleschott, Lehre der Nahrungsmittel: Für das Volk (1850).
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The energy of a covalent bond is largely the energy of resonance of two electrons between two atoms. The examination of the form of the resonance integral shows that the resonance energy increases in magnitude with increase in the overlapping of the two atomic orbitals involved in the formation of the bond, the word ‘overlapping” signifying the extent to which regions in space in which the two orbital wave functions have large values coincide... Consequently it is expected that of two orbitals in an atom the one which can overlap more with an orbital of another atom will form the stronger bond with that atom, and, moreover, the bond formed by a given orbital will tend to lie in that direction in which the orbital is concentrated.
Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals (1939), 76.
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The engineer is concerned to travel from the abstract to the concrete. He begins with an idea and ends with an object. He journeys from theory to practice. The scientist’s job is the precise opposite. He explores nature with his telescopes or microscopes, or much more sophisticated techniques, and feeds into a computer what he finds or sees in an attempt to define mathematically its significance and relationships. He travels from the real to the symbolic, from the concrete to the abstract. The scientist and the engineer are the mirror image of each other.
In The Development of Design (1981), 19-20.
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The evidence from both approaches, statistical and experimental, does not appear sufficiently significant to me to warrant forsaking the pleasure of smoking. As a matter of fact, if the investigations had been pointed toward some material that I thoroughly dislike, such as parsnips, I still would not feel that evidence of the type presented constituted a reasonable excuse for eliminating the things from my diet. I will still continue to smoke, and if the tobacco companies cease manufacturing their product, I will revert to sweet fern and grape leaves.
Introduction in Eric Northrup, Science Looks at Smoking (1957), 34.
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The extensive literature addressed to the definition or characterization of science is filled with inconsistent points of view and demonstrates that an adequate definition is not easy to attain. Part of the difficulty arises from the fact that the meaning of science is not fixed, but is dynamic. As science has evolved, so has its meaning. It takes on a new meaning and significance with successive ages.
Opening statement on 'The Meaning of “Science”', in Scientific Method: Optimizing Applied Research Decisions (1962), 1.
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The faith of scientists in the power and truth of mathematics is so implicit that their work has gradually become less and less observation, and more and more calculation. The promiscuous collection and tabulation of data have given way to a process of assigning possible meanings, merely supposed real entities, to mathematical terms, working out the logical results, and then staging certain crucial experiments to check the hypothesis against the actual empirical results. But the facts which are accepted by virtue of these tests are not actually observed at all. With the advance of mathematical technique in physics, the tangible results of experiment have become less and less spectacular; on the other hand, their significance has grown in inverse proportion. The men in the laboratory have departed so far from the old forms of experimentation—typified by Galileo's weights and Franklin's kite—that they cannot be said to observe the actual objects of their curiosity at all; instead, they are watching index needles, revolving drums, and sensitive plates. No psychology of 'association' of sense-experiences can relate these data to the objects they signify, for in most cases the objects have never been experienced. Observation has become almost entirely indirect; and readings take the place of genuine witness.
Philosophy in a New Key; A Study in Inverse the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942), 19-20.
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The following lesson is of great and important significance, worthy of committing to memory, namely, in arranging the composition of medications one should pay careful attention and direct one’s willpower, because many times antagonistic medicines become mixed in which are useless and inappropriate for their intended use.
As quoted in Fred Rosner, The Medical Legacy of Moses Maimonides (1998), 51.
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The fundamental biological variant is DNA. That is why Mendel's definition of the gene as the unvarying bearer of hereditary traits, its chemical identification by Avery (confirmed by Hershey), and the elucidation by Watson and Crick of the structural basis of its replicative invariance, are without any doubt the most important discoveries ever made in biology. To this must be added the theory of natural selection, whose certainty and full significance were established only by those later theories.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 104.
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The general statement that the mental faculties are class concepts, belonging to descriptive psychology, relieves us of the necessity of discussing them and their significance at the present stage of our inquiry.
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The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.
…...
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The instinctive tendency of the scientific man is toward the existential substrate that appears when use and purpose—cosmic significance, artistic value, social utility, personal preference—have been removed. He responds positively to the bare “what” of things; he responds negatively to any further demand for interest or appreciation.
In Systemic Psychology: Prolegomena (1929), 32-33.
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The laws of Coexistence;—the adaptation of structure to function; and to a certain extent the elucidation of natural affinities may be legitimately founded upon the examination of fully developed species;—But to obtain an insight into the laws of development,—the signification or bedeutung, of the parts of an animal body demands a patient examination of the successive stages of their development, in every group of Animals.
'Lecture Four, 9 May 1837', The Hunterian Lectures in Comparative Anatomy, May-June 1837, ed. Phillip Reid Sloan (1992), 191.
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The main purpose of a significance test is to inhibit the natural enthusiasm of the investigator.
Selected Quantitative Techniques (1954), 331-332. Co-author with American physicist turned psychologist and statistician, Robert R. Bush (1920-71). Quoted in Eugene B. Zechmeister and Emil J. Posavac, Data Analysis and Interpretation in the Behavioral Sciences (2003), 390.
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The major gift of science to the world is a mighty increase of power. Did science then create that power? Not a bit of it! Science discovered that power in the universe and set it free. Science found out the conditions, fulfilling which, the endless dynamic forces of the cosmos are liberated. Electricity is none of man’s making, but man has learned how to fulfill the conditions that release it. Atomic energy is a force that man did not create, but that some day man may liberate. Man by himself is still a puny animal; a gorilla is much the stronger. Man's significance lies in another realm—he knows how to fulfill conditions so that universal power not his own is set free. The whole universe as man now sees it is essentially a vast system of power waiting to be released.
In 'When Prayer Means Power', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 78-79.
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The Mean Value Theorem is the midwife of calculus—not very important or glamorous by itself, but often helping to deliver other theorems that are of major significance.
With co-author D. Varberg in Calculus with Analytic Geometry (1984), 191.
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The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things.
From edited version of a speech, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (15 Apr 1992), as reprinted from the Independent newspaper in Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (2004), 84.
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The native hospital in Tunis was the focal point of my research. Often, when going to the hospital, I had to step over the bodies of typhus patients who were awaiting admission to the hospital and had fallen exhausted at the door. We had observed a certain phenomenon at the hospital, of which no one recognized the significance, and which drew my attention. In those days typhus patients were accommodated in the open medical wards. Before reaching the door of the wards they spread contagion. They transmitted the disease to the families that sheltered them, and doctors visiting them were also infected. The administrative staff admitting the patients, the personnel responsible for taking their clothes and linen, and the laundry staff were also contaminated. In spite of this, once admitted to the general ward the typhus patient did not contaminate any of the other patients, the nurses or the doctors. I took this observation as my guide. I asked myself what happened between the entrance to the hospital and the wards. This is what happened: the typhus patient was stripped of his clothes and linen, shaved and washed. The contagious agent was therefore something attached to his skin and clothing, something which soap and water could remove. It could only be the louse. It was the louse.
'Investigations on Typhus', Nobel lecture, 1928. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 181.
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The present theory of relativity is based on a division of physical reality into a metric field (gravitation) on the one hand and into an electromagnetic field and matter on the other hand. In reality space will probably be of a uniform character and the present theory will be valid only as a limiting case. For large densities of field and of matter, the field equations and even the field variables which enter into them will have no real significance. One may not therefore assume the validity of the equations for very high density of field and matter, and one may not conclude that the 'beginning of the expansion' must mean a singularity in the mathematical sense. All we have to realise is that the equations may not be continued over such regions.
In O. Nathan and H. Norden (eds.), Einstein on Peace (1960), 640.
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The process that I want to call scientific is a process that involves the continual apprehension of meaning, the constant appraisal of significance accompanied by a running act of checking to be sure that I am doing what I want to do, and of judging correctness or incorrectness. This checking and judging and accepting, that together constitute understanding, are done by me and can be done for me by no one else. They are as private as my toothache, and without them science is dead.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950), 50.
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The question of a possible physiological significance, in the resemblance between the action of choline esters and the effects of certain divisions of the involuntary nervous system, is one of great interest, but one for the discussion of which little evidence is available. Acetyl-choline is, of all the substances examined, the one whose action is most suggestive in this direction. The fact that its action surpasses even that of adrenaline, both in intensity and evanescence, when considered in conjunction with the fact that each of these two bases reproduces those effects of involuntary nerves which are absent from the action of the other, so that the two actions are in many directions at once complementary and antagonistic, gives plenty of scope for speculation.
In 'The Action of Certain Esters and Ethers of Choline, and Their Relation to Muscarine', The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 1914-15, 6, 188.
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The result is that a generation of physicists is growing up who have never exercised any particular degree of individual initiative, who have had no opportunity to experience its satisfactions or its possibilities, and who regard cooperative work in large teams as the normal thing. It is a natural corollary for them to feel that the objectives of these large teams must be something of large social significance.
In 'Science and Freedom: Reflections of a Physicist', Isis, 1947, 37, 130.
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The role of biology today, like the role of every other science, is simply to describe, and when it explains it does not mean that it arrives at finality; it only means that some descriptions are so charged with significance that they expose the relationship of cause and effect.
As quoted in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 37. Webmaster so far has not found the primary source (can you help?)
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The saying often quoted from Lord Kelvin… that “where you cannot measure your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory,” as applied in mental and social science, is misleading and pernicious. This is another way of saying that these sciences are not science in the sense of physical science and cannot attempt to be such without forfeiting their proper nature and function. Insistence on a concretely quantitative economics means the use of statistics of physical magnitudes, whose economic meaning and significance is uncertain and dubious. (Even wheat is approximately homogeneous only if measured in economic terms.) And a similar statement would even apply more to other social sciences. In this field, the Kelvin dictum very largely means in practice, “if you cannot measure, measure anyhow!”
'What is Truth' in Economics? (1956), 166.
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The scientific method is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live. It means that scientific method provides a working pattern of the way in which and the conditions under which experiences are used to lead ever onward and outward. … Consequently, whatever the level of experience, we have no choice but either to operate in accord with the pattern it provides or else to neglect the place of intelligence in the development and control of a living and moving experience.
In Experience And Education (1938), 88.
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The significance of a fact is relative to [the general body of scientific] knowledge. To say that a fact is significant in science, is to say that it helps to establish or refute some general law; for science, though it starts from observation of the particular, is not concerned essentially with the particular, but with the general. A fact, in science, is not a mere fact, but an instance. In this the scientist differs from the artist, who, if he deigns to notice facts at all, is likely to notice them in all their particularity.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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The significance of man is that he is insignificant and is aware of it.
In Progress and Power: Three Lectures, April 1935 (1936), 101.
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The Theory of Relativity confers an absolute meaning on a magnitude which in classical theory has only a relative significance: the velocity of light. The velocity of light is to the Theory of Relativity as the elementary quantum of action is to the Quantum Theory: it is its absolute core.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 47.
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The “seriousness” of a mathematical theorem lies, not in its practical consequences, which are usually negligible, but in the significance of the mathematical ideas which it connects.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 89.
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There is always the danger in scientific work that some word or phrase will be used by different authors to express so many ideas and surmises that, unless redefined, it loses all real significance.
'Valence and Tautomerism', Journal of the American Chemical Society (1913), 35, 1448.
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There is no art so difficult as the art of observation: it requires a skillful, sober spirit and a well-trained experience, which can only be acquired by practice; for he is not an observer who only sees the thing before him with his eyes, but he who sees of what parts the thing consists, and in what connexion the parts stand to the whole. One person overlooks half from inattention; another relates more than he sees while he confounds it with that which he figures to himself; another sees the parts of the whole, but he throws things together that ought to be separated. ... When the observer has ascertained the foundation of a phenomenon, and he is able to associate its conditions, he then proves while he endeavours to produce the phenomena at his will, the correctness of his observations by experiment. To make a series of experiments is often to decompose an opinion into its individual parts, and to prove it by a sensible phenomenon. The naturalist makes experiments in order to exhibit a phenomenon in all its different parts. When he is able to show of a series of phenomena, that they are all operations of the same cause, he arrives at a simple expression of their significance, which, in this case, is called a Law of Nature. We speak of a simple property as a Law of Nature when it serves for the explanation of one or more natural phenomena.
'The Study of the Natural Sciences: An Introductory Lecture to the Course of Experimental Chemistry in the University of Munich, for the Winter Session of 1852-53,' as translated and republished in The Medical Times and Gazette (22 Jan 1853), N.S. Vol. 6, 82.
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These days at ten o’clock at night a most alarming wonder has manifested itself in the skies. The firmament was rent asunder and through this gap one could distinguish chariots and armies, riders with yellow, white, red and black standards, though to do battle against each other. This awesome and unusual vision continued from ten at night till about two of the morning, and was witnessed with alarm and dismay by many honest and trustworthy people. The significance thereof is known but to God Almighty, Who may graciously prevent the shedding of innocent blood.
Anonymous
'Frightful Apparition in the Sky at Vienna. From Vienna, the 11th day of August 1590'. As quoted in George Tennyson Matthews (ed.) News and Rumor in Renaissance Europe: The Fugger Newsletters (1959), 188. A handwritten collection of news reports (1568-1604) by the powerful banking and merchant house of Fugger in Ausburg.
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This interpretation of the atomic number [as the number of orbital electrons] may be said to signify an important step toward the solution of the boldest dreams of natural science, namely to build up an understanding of the regularities of nature upon the consideration of pure number.
Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (1934), 103-104Cited in Gerald James Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein (1985), 74.
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This is only one step in a much larger project. I discovered (no, not me: my team) the function of sugar nucleotides in cell metabolism. I want others to understood this, but it is not easy to explain: this is not a very noteworthy deed, and we hardly know even a little.
[replying when asked about the significance of his Nobel prize-winning achievement.]
As quoted in John H. Exto, Crucible of Science: The Story of the Cori Laboratory (2013), 52.
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To be anthropocentric is to remain unaware of the limits of human nature, the significance of biological processes underlying human behavior, and the deeper meaning of long-term genetic evolution.
Tanner Lecture on Human Values, University of Michigan, 'Comparative Social Theory' (30 Mar 1979).
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Two lights for guidance. The first, our little glowing atom of community, with all that it signifies. The second, the cold light of the stars, symbol of the hypercosmical reality, with its crystal ecstasy. Strange that in this light, in which even the dearest love is frostily asserted, and even the possible defeat of our half-waking world is contemplated without remission of praise, the human crisis does not lose but gains significance. Strange, that it seems more, not less, urgent to play some part in this struggle, this brief effort of animalcules striving to win for their race some increase of lucidity before the ultimate darkness.
…...
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Under the... new hypothesis [of Continental Drift] certain geological concepts come to acquire a new significance amounting in a few cases to a complete inversion of principles, and the inquirer will find it necessary to re-orient his ideas. For the first time he will get glimpses... of a pulsating restless earth, all parts of which are in greater or less degree of movement in respect to the axis of rotation, having been so, moreover, throughout geological time. He will have to leave behind him—perhaps reluctantly—the dumbfounding spectacle of the present continental masses, firmly anchored to a plastic foundation yet remaining fixed in space; set thousands of kilometres apart, it may be, yet behaving in almost identical fashion from epoch to epoch and stage to stage like soldiers, at drill; widely stretched in some quarters at various times and astoundingly compressed in others, yet retaining their general shapes, positions and orientations; remote from one another through history, yet showing in their fossil remains common or allied forms of terrestrial life; possessed during certain epochs of climates that may have ranged from glacial to torrid or pluvial to arid, though contrary to meteorological principles when their existing geographical positions are considered -to mention but a few such paradoxes!
Our Wandering Continents: An Hypothesis of Continental Drifting (1937), 3.
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We can hardly overestimate the significance of the fact that the scientific and religious propensities were one before they became two different activities. Their fundamental unity precedes their separateness.
Epigraph, without citation, in Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2008), 108.
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We speak of it [astrology] as an extinct science; yet let but an eclipse of the sun happen, or a comet visit the evening sky, and in a moment we all believe in astrology. In vain do you tell the gazers on such spectacles that a solar eclipse is only the moon acting for the time as a candle-extinguisher to the sun, and give them bits of smoked glass to look through, and draw diagrams on the blackboard to explain it all. They listen composedly, and seem convinced, but in their secret hearts they are saying—“What though you can see it through a glass darkly, and draw it on a blackboard, does that show that it has no moral significance? You can draw a gallows or a guillotine, or write the Ten Commandments on a blackboard, but does that deprive them of meaning?” And so with the comet. No man will believe that the splendid stranger is hurrying through the sky solely on a momentous errand of his own. No! he is plainly signalling, with that flashing sword of his, something of importance to men,—something at all events that, if we could make it out, would be found of huge concern to us.
From 'Introductory Lecture on Technology for 1858-59', published as The Progress of the Telegraph (1859), 19-20.
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What a splendid perspective contact with a profoundly different civilization might provide! In a cosmic setting vast and old beyond ordinary human understanding we are a little lonely, and we ponder the ultimate significance, if any, of our tiny but exquisite blue planet, the Earth… In the deepest sense the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for ourselves.
…...
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What is art
But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
When, graduating up in a spiral line
Of still expanding and ascending gyres,
It pushed toward the intense significance
Of all things, hungry for the Infinite?
From poem, 'Aurora Leigh' (1856), Book 4. In Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Harriet Waters Preston (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works of Mrs. Browning (1900), 323.
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What the use of P [the significance level] implies, therefore, is that a hypothesis that may be true may be rejected because it has not predicted observable results that have not occurred.
Theory of Probability (1939), 316.
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When we survey our lives and endeavours we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings. We see that our whole nature resembles that of the social animals. We eat food that others have grown, wear clothes that others have made, live in houses that others have built. The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created. Without language our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals; we have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.
…...
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You can be a thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics, poetry, conscience, or decency. For “Natural Selection” has no moral significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose, no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals could bear to live.
Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi-lxii.
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[A significant invention] must be startling, unexpected. It must come to a world that is not prepared for it.
Speaking at a shareholders' meeting (1975) as quoted by Victor K. McElheny, in Insisting On The Impossible: The Life Of Edwin Land (1999), 403-404.
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[Decoding the human genome sequence] is the most significant undertaking that we have mounted so far in an organized way in all of science. I believe that reading our blueprints, cataloguing our own instruction book, will be judged by history as more significant than even splitting the atom or going to the moon.
Interview (23 May 1998), 'Cracking the Code to Life', Academy of Achievement web site.
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[Experimental Physicist] Phys. I know that it is often a help to represent pressure and volume as height and width on paper; and so geometry may have applications to the theory of gases. But is it not going rather far to say that geometry can deal directly with these things and is not necessarily concerned with lengths in space?
[Mathematician] Math. No. Geometry is nowadays largely analytical, so that in form as well as in effect, it deals with variables of an unknown nature. …It is literally true that I do not want to know the significance of the variables x, y, z, t that I am discussing. …
Phys. Yours is a strange subject. You told us at the beginning that you are not concerned as to whether your propositions are true, and now you tell us you do not even care to know what you are talking about.
Math. That is an excellent description of Pure Mathematics, which has already been given by an eminent mathematician [Bertrand Russell].
In Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory (1920, 1921), 14.
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[T]he rapt philosopher, and he who contemplates a work of art, inhabit a world with an intense and peculiar significance of its own; that significance is unrelated to the significance of life.
In Art (1913), 26.
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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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- 100 -
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
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
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
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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