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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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Summit Quotes (25 quotes)

As he sat alone in a garden, he [Isaac Newton in 1666, age 24] fell into a speculation on the power of gravity; that as this power is not found sensibly diminished at the remotest distance from the centre of the earth to which we can rise, neither at the tops of the loftiest buildings, nor even on the summits of the highest mountains, it appeared to him reasonable to conclude that this power must extend much further than was usually thought: why not as high as the moon? said he to himself; and if so, her motion must be influenced by it; perhaps she is retained in her orbit thereby.
View of Newton's Philosophy (1728), preface. In William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 166. Pemberton's narrative is based on firsthand conversations with Newton himself.
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But now that I was finally here, standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care.
…...
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Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.
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I am nothing more than a single narrow gasping lung, floating over the mists and summits.
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I have been able to solve a few problems of mathematical physics on which the greatest mathematicians since Euler have struggled in vain … But the pride I might have held in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors. I am fain to compare myself with a wanderer on the mountains who, not knowing the path, climbs slowly and painfully upwards and often has to retrace his steps because he can go no further—then, whether by taking thought or from luck, discovers a new track that leads him on a little till at length when he reaches the summit he finds to his shame that there is a royal road by which he might have ascended, had he only the wits to find the right approach to it. In my works, I naturally said nothing about my mistake to the reader, but only described the made track by which he may now reach the same heights without difficulty.
(1891) As quoted in translation in Leo Koenigsberger and Frances A. Welby (trans.), Hermann von Helmholtz (1906), 180-181.
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I was in continual agony; I have never in my life been so tired as on the summit of Everest that day. I just sat and sat there, oblivious to everything....
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If you were going to risk all that, not just risk the hardship and the pain but risk your life. Put everything on line for a dream, for something that’s worth nothing, that can’t be proved to anybody. You just have the transient moment on a summit and when you come back down to the valley it goes. It is actually a completely illogical thing to do. It is not justifiable by any rational terms. That’s probably why you do it.
The Beckoning Silence
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It is difficult to conceive a grander mass of vegetation:—the straight shafts of the timber-trees shooting aloft, some naked and clean, with grey, pale, or brown bark; others literally clothed for yards with a continuous garment of epiphytes, one mass of blossoms, especially the white Orchids Caelogynes, which bloom in a profuse manner, whitening their trunks like snow. More bulky trunks were masses of interlacing climbers, Araliaceae, Leguminosae, Vines, and Menispermeae, Hydrangea, and Peppers, enclosing a hollow, once filled by the now strangled supporting tree, which has long ago decayed away. From the sides and summit of these, supple branches hung forth, either leafy or naked; the latter resembling cables flung from one tree to another, swinging in the breeze, their rocking motion increased by the weight of great bunches of ferns or Orchids, which were perched aloft in the loops. Perpetual moisture nourishes this dripping forest: and pendulous mosses and lichens are met with in profusion.
Himalayan Journals (1854), vol. 1, 110-1.
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Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is, I dunno. If The Eiffel Tower were now to represent the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; and anybody would perceive that the skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.
Declaiming Alfred Russel Wallace's 'anthropocentric' theory, that the universe was created specifically for the evolution of mankind. From 'Was the World Made for Man?' (1903) collected in What is Man?: and Other Philosophical Writings (1973), 106. Twain used the age of the earth accepted in his time; it is now estimated as 4,500 million years. Man’s origin is now estimated as 250,000 years.
For the complete essay, see Was The World Made For Man?.
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Man is the summit, the crown of nature's development, and must comprehend everything that has preceded him, even as the fruit includes within itself all the earlier developed parts of the plant. In a word, Man must represent the whole world in miniature.
In Lorenz Oken, trans. by Alfred Tulk, Elements of Physiophilosophy (1847), 2.
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Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hopes for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason allows us to discover it. I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.
Concluding remarks. The Descent of Man (1871), Vol. 2, 405.
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One will see a layer of smooth stones, popularly called fluitati [diluvium], and over these another layer of smaller pebbles, thirdly sand, and finally earth, and you will see this repeatedly … up to the summit of the Mountain. This clearly shows that the order has been caused by many floods, not just one.
In De' Corpi Marini che su Monti si Trovano (1721), 57, as translated by Ezio Vaccari.
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Standing now in diffused light, with the wind at my back, I experience suddenly a feeling of completeness–not a feeling of having achieved something or of being stronger than everyone who was ever here before, not a feeling of having arrived at the ultimate point, not a feeling of supremacy. Just a breath of happiness deep inside my mind and my breast. The summit seemed suddenly to me to be a refuge, and I had not expected to find any refuge up here. Looking at the steep, sharp ridges below us, I have the impression that to have come later would have been too late. Everything we now say to one another, we only say out of embarrassment. I don’t think anymore. As I pull the tape recorder, trancelike, from my rucksack, and switch it on wanting to record a few appropriate phrases, tears again well into my eyes. “Now we are on the summit of Everest,” I begin, “it is so cold that we cannot take photographs…” I cannot go on, I am immediately shaken with sobs. I can neither talk nor think, feeling only how this momentous experience changes everything. To reach only a few meters below the summit would have required the same amount of effort, the same anxiety and burden of sorrow, but a feeling like this, an eruption of feeling, is only possible on the summit itself.
In Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate (1979), 180.
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The enthusiasm of Sylvester for his own work, which manifests itself here as always, indicates one of his characteristic qualities: a high degree of subjectivity in his productions and publications. Sylvester was so fully possessed by the matter which for the time being engaged his attention, that it appeared to him and was designated by him as the summit of all that is important, remarkable and full of future promise. It would excite his phantasy and power of imagination in even a greater measure than his power of reflection, so much so that he could never marshal the ability to master his subject-matter, much less to present it in an orderly manner.
Considering that he was also somewhat of a poet, it will be easier to overlook the poetic flights which pervade his writing, often bombastic, sometimes furnishing apt illustrations; more damaging is the complete lack of form and orderliness of his publications and their sketchlike character, … which must be accredited at least as much to lack of objectivity as to a superfluity of ideas. Again, the text is permeated with associated emotional expressions, bizarre utterances and paradoxes and is everywhere accompanied by notes, which constitute an essential part of Sylvester’s method of presentation, embodying relations, whether proximate or remote, which momentarily suggested themselves. These notes, full of inspiration and occasional flashes of genius, are the more stimulating owing to their incompleteness. But none of his works manifest a desire to penetrate the subject from all sides and to allow it to mature; each mere surmise, conceptions which arose during publication, immature thoughts and even errors were ushered into publicity at the moment of their inception, with utmost carelessness, and always with complete unfamiliarity of the literature of the subject. Nowhere is there the least trace of self-criticism. No one can be expected to read the treatises entire, for in the form in which they are available they fail to give a clear view of the matter under contemplation.
Sylvester’s was not a harmoniously gifted or well-balanced mind, but rather an instinctively active and creative mind, free from egotism. His reasoning moved in generalizations, was frequently influenced by analysis and at times was guided even by mystical numerical relations. His reasoning consists less frequently of pure intelligible conclusions than of inductions, or rather conjectures incited by individual observations and verifications. In this he was guided by an algebraic sense, developed through long occupation with processes of forms, and this led him luckily to general fundamental truths which in some instances remain veiled. His lack of system is here offset by the advantage of freedom from purely mechanical logical activity.
The exponents of his essential characteristics are an intuitive talent and a faculty of invention to which we owe a series of ideas of lasting value and bearing the germs of fruitful methods. To no one more fittingly than to Sylvester can be applied one of the mottos of the Philosophic Magazine:
“Admiratio generat quaestionem, quaestio investigationem investigatio inventionem.”
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), 50, 155-160. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 176-178.
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The Himalayas are the crowning achievement of the Indo-Australian plate. India in the Oligocene crashed head on into Tibet, hit so hard that it not only folded and buckled the plate boundaries but also plowed into the newly created Tibetan plateau and drove the Himalayas five and a half miles into the sky. The mountains are in some trouble. India has not stopped pushing them, and they are still going up. Their height and volume are already so great they are beginning to melt in their own self-generated radioactive heat. When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in a warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as 20,000 feet below the sea floor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth.
If by some fiat, I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence; this is the one I would choose: the summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone.
Annals of the Former World
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The last few meters up to the summit no longer seem so hard. On reaching the top, I sit down and let my legs dangle into space. I don’t have to climb anymore. I pull my camera from my rucksack and, in my down mittens, fumble a long time with the batteries before I have it working properly. Then I film Peter. Now, after the hours of torment, which indeed I didn’t recognize as torment, now, when the monotonous motion of plodding upwards is at an end, and I have nothing more to do than breathe, a great peace floods my whole being. I breathe like someone who has run the race of his life and knows that he may now rest forever. I keep looking all around, because the first time I didn’t see anything of the panorama I had expected from Everest, neither indeed did I notice how the wind was continually chasing snow across the summit. In my state of spiritual abstraction, I no longer belong to myself and to my eyesight. I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung, floating over the mists and the summits.
…...
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The pursuit of science has often been compared to the scaling of mountains, high and not so high. But who amongst us can hope, even in imagination, to scale the Everest and reach its summit when the sky is blue and the air is still, and in the stillness of the air survey the entire Himalayan range in the dazzling white of the snow stretching to infinity? None of us can hope for a comparable vision of nature and of the universe around us. But there is nothing mean or lowly in standing in the valley below and awaiting the sun to rise over Kinchinjunga.
Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science (1987), 26.
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The sciences are monuments devoted to the public good; each citizen owes to them a tribute proportional to his talents. While the great men, carried to the summit of the edifice, draw and put up the higher floors, the ordinary artists scattered in the lower floors, or hidden in the obscurity of the foundations, must only seek to improve what cleverer hands have created.
From Mémoires présentés par divers Savants à l'Académie des Sciences (1776), Introduction, 4. As translated in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840: From the Calculus and Mechanics to Mathematical Analysis and Mathematical Physics (1990), Vol. 1, 533.
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The sediments of the past are many miles in collective thickness: yet the feeble silt of the rivers built them all from base to summit.
John Joly
Lecture at the Royal Dublin Society, 6 Feb 1914. Published in Science Progress, Vol. 9, 37. Republished in The Birth-Time of the World and Other Scientific Essays, (1915), 4.
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There are no summits without abysses.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Sara Appleton-Weber (trans.), The Human Phenomenon (1999, 2003), 206. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.
Karl Marx
Preface to the French Edition, Das Capital (1872). In Karl Marx, Capital: The Process of Capitalist Production, translated from the 3rd German edition by S. Moore and E. Aveling (1967), 21.
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Those who know physicists and mountaineers know the traits they have in common: a “dream-and-drive” spirit, a bulldog tenacity of purpose, and an openness to try any route to the summit.
In obituary 'Albert Einstein', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 51, (1980), 98-99.
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To the east was our giant neighbor Makalu, unexplored and unclimbed, and even on top of Everest the mountaineering instinct was sufficient strong to cause me to spend some moments conjecturing as to whether a route up that mountain might not exist. Far away across the clouds the great bulk of Kangchenjunga loomed on the horizon. To the west, Cho Oyu, our old adversary from 1952, dominated the scene and we could see the great unexplored ranges of Nepal stretching off into the distance. The most important photograph, I felt, was a shot down the north ridge, showing the North Col and the old route that had been made famous by the struggles of those great climbers of the 1920s and 1930s. I had little hope of the results being particularly successful, as I had a lot of difficulty in holding the camera steady in my clumsy gloves, but I felt that they would at least serve as a record. After some ten minutes of this, I realized that I was becoming rather clumsy-fingered and slow-moving, so I quickly replaced my oxygen set and experience once more the stimulating effect of even a few liters of oxygen. Meanwhile, Tenzing had made a little hole in the snow and in it he placed small articles of food – a bar of chocolate, a packet of biscuits and a handful of lollies. Small offerings, indeed, but at least a token gifts to the gods that all devoted Buddhists believe have their home on this lofty summit. While we were together on the South Col two days before, Hunt had given me a small crucifix that he had asked me to take to the top. I, too, made a hole in the snow and placed the crucifix beside Tenzing’s gifts.
As quoted in Whit Burnett, The Spirit of Adventure: The Challenge (1955), 349.
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When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as twenty thousand feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.
Annals of the Former World
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You see, if the height of the mercury [barometer] column is less on the top of a mountain than at the foot of it (as I have many reasons for believing, although everyone who has so far written about it is of the contrary opinion), it follows that the weight of the air must be the sole cause of the phenomenon, and not that abhorrence of a vacuum, since it is obvious that at the foot of the mountain there is more air to have weight than at the summit, and we cannot possibly say that the air at the foot of the mountain has a greater aversion to empty space than at the top.
In letter to brother-in-law Perier (Nov 1647) as given in Daniel Webster Hering, Physics: the Science of the Forces of Nature (1922), 114. As also stated by Hering, Perier conducted an experiment on 19 Sep 1648 comparing readings on two barometers, one at the foot, and another at the top of 4,000-ft Puy-de-Dôme neighboring mountain.
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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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