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Who said: “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.”
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Suppose Quotes (156 quotes)


The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified; and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest.
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 4.
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If the Indians hadn’t spent the $24. In 1626 Peter Minuit, first governor of New Netherland, purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for about $24. … Assume for simplicity a uniform rate of 7% from 1626 to the present, and suppose that the Indians had put their $24 at [compound] interest at that rate …. What would be the amount now, after 280 years? 24 x (1.07)280 = more than 4,042,000,000.
The latest tax assessment available at the time of writing gives the realty for the borough of Manhattan as $3,820,754,181. This is estimated to be 78% of the actual value, making the actual value a little more than $4,898,400,000.
The amount of the Indians’ money would therefore be more than the present assessed valuation but less than the actual valuation.
In A Scrap-book of Elementary Mathematics: Notes, Recreations, Essays (1908), 47-48.
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Primo enim paranda est Historia Naturalis et Experimentalis, suffidens et bona; quod fundamentum rei est: neque enim fingendum, aut excogitandum, sed inveniendum, quid natura faciat aut ferat.
For first of all we must prepare a Natural and Experimental History, sufficient and good; and this is the foundation of all; for we are not to imagine or suppose, but to discover, what nature does or may be made to do.
In Novum Organum, Book 2, Aphorism 10. As translated in Francis Bacon and James Spedding with ‎Robert Leslie Ellis (eds.), 'The New Organon', The Works of Francis Bacon: Translations of the Philosophical Works (1858), Vol. 4, 127. Also seen in epigraphs as a shorter quote, “Non fingendum, aut excogitandum, sed inveniendum, quid natura faciat aut ferat,” which can also be translated as “We have not to imagine or to think out, but to find out what Nature does or produces.”
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A ... hypothesis may be suggested, which supposes the word 'beginning' as applied by Moses in the first of the Book of Genesis, to express an undefined period of time which was antecedent to the last great change that affected the surface of the earth, and to the creation of its present animal and vegetable inhabitants; during which period a long series of operations and revolutions may have been going on, which, as they are wholly unconnected with the history of the human race, are passed over in silence by the sacred historian, whose only concern with them was largely to state, that the matter of the universe is not eternal and self-existent but was originally created by the power of the Almighty.
Vindiciae Geologicae (1820), 31-2.
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A plain, reasonable working man supposes, in the old way which is also the common-sense way, that if there are people who spend their lives in study, whom he feeds and keeps while they think for him—then no doubt these men are engaged in studying things men need to know; and he expects of science that it will solve for him the questions on which his welfare, and that of all men, depends. He expects science to tell him how he ought to live: how to treat his family, his neighbours and the men of other tribes, how to restrain his passions, what to believe in and what not to believe in, and much else. And what does our science say to him on these matters?
It triumphantly tells him: how many million miles it is from the earth to the sun; at what rate light travels through space; how many million vibrations of ether per second are caused by light, and how many vibrations of air by sound; it tells of the chemical components of the Milky Way, of a new element—helium—of micro-organisms and their excrements, of the points on the hand at which electricity collects, of X rays, and similar things.
“But I don't want any of those things,” says a plain and reasonable man—“I want to know how to live.”
In 'Modern Science', Essays and Letters (1903), 221-222.
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A smattering of everything is worth little. It is a fallacy to suppose that an encyclopaedic knowledge is desirable. The mind is made strong, not through much learning, but by the thorough possession of something.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 145.
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Absolute space, that is to say, the mark to which it would be necessary to refer the earth to know whether it really moves, has no objective existence…. The two propositions: “The earth turns round” and “it is more convenient to suppose the earth turns round” have the same meaning; there is nothing more in the one than in the other.
From La Science et l’Hypothèse (1908), 141, as translated by George Bruce Halsted in Science and Hypothesis (1905), 85-86. From the original French, “L’espace absolu, c’est-à-dire le repère auquel il faudrait rapporter la terre pour savoir si réellement elle tourne, n’a aucune existence objective. … Ces deux propositions: ‘la terre tourne’, et: ‘il est plus commode de supposer que la terre tourne’, ont un seul et même sens; il n’y a rien de plus dans l’une que dans l’autre.”
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All the work of the crystallographers serves only to demonstrate that there is only variety everywhere where they suppose uniformity … that in nature there is nothing absolute, nothing perfectly regular.
In Histoire Naturelle des Minéraux (1783-88), Vol. 3, 433.
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Anaximander son of Praxiades, of Miletus: he said that the principle and element is the Indefinite, not distinguishing air or water or anything else. … he was the first to discover a gnomon, and he set one up on the Sundials (?) in Sparta, according to Favorinus in his Universal History, to mark solstices and equinoxes; and he also constructed hour indicators. He was the first to draw an outline of earth and sea, but also constructed a [celestial] globe. Of his opinions he made a summary exposition, which I suppose Apollodorus the Athenian also encountered. Apollodorus says in his Chronicles that Anaximander was sixty-four years old in the year of the fifty-eighth Olympiad [547/6 B.C.], and that he died shortly afterwards (having been near his prime approximately during the time of Polycrates, tyrant of Samos).
Diogenes Laërtius II, 1-2. In G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1957), 99. The editors of this translation note that Anaximander may have introduced the gnomon into Greece, but he did not discover it—the Babylonians used it earlier, and the celestial sphere, and the twelve parts of the day.
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As children we all possess a natural, uninhibited curiosity, a hunger for explanation, which seems to die slowly as we age—suppressed, I suppose, by the high value we place on conformity and by the need not to appear ignorant.
It betokens a conviction that somehow science is innately incomprehensible. It precludes reaching deeper, thereby denying the profound truth that understanding enriches experience, that explanation vastly enhances the beauty of the natural world in the eye of the beholder.
In Toward the Habit of Truth (1990).
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As historians, we refuse to allow ourselves these vain speculations which turn on possibilities that, in order to be reduced to actuality, suppose an overturning of the Universe, in which our globe, like a speck of abandoned matter, escapes our vision and is no longer an object worthy of our regard. In order to fix our vision, it is necessary to take it such as it is, to observe well all parts of it, and by indications infer from the present to the past.
'Second Discours: Histoire et Theorie de la Terre', Histoire Naturelle, Ginerale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 1, 98-9. Trans. Phillip R. Sloan.
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As new areas of the world came into view through exploration, the number of identified species of animals and plants grew astronomically. By 1800 it had reached 70,000. Today more than 1.25 million different species, two-thirds animal and one-third plant, are known, and no biologist supposes that the count is complete.
In The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science: The Biological Sciences (1960), 654. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 320.
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Buffon, who, with all his theoretical ingenuity and extraordinary eloquence, I suspect had little actual information in the science on which he wrote so admirably For instance, he tells us that the cow sheds her horns every two years; a most palpable error. ... It is wonderful that Buffon who lived so much in the country at his noble seat should have fallen into such a blunder I suppose he has confounded the cow with the deer.
In The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1826), Vol. 3, 70, footnote.
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But in nothing are swifts more singular than in their early retreat. They retire, as to the main body of them, by the tenth of August, and sometimes a few days sooner: and every straggler invariably withdraws by the twentieth, while their congeners, all of them, stay till the beginning of October; many of them all through that month, and some occasionally to the beginning of November. This early retreat is mysterious and wonderful, since that time is often the sweetest season in the year. But, what is more extraordinary, they begin to retire still earlier in the most southerly parts of Andalusia, where they can be no ways influenced by any defect of heat; or, as one might suppose, defect of food. Are they regulated in their motions with us by failure of food, or by a propensity to moulting, or by a disposition to rest after so rapid a life, or by what? This is one of those incidents in natural history that not only baffles our searches, but almost eludes our guesses!
In Letter to Daines Barrington, (28 Sep 1774), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 278.
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Calculus required continuity, and continuity was supposed to require the infinitely little; but nobody could discover what the infinitely little might be.
In 'Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics The International Monthly (Jul 1901), 4, No. 1, 90.
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CARTESIAN, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito, ergo sum—whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito ergo cogito sum—'I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;' as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  46-47.
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Charles Darwin [is my personal favorite Fellow of the Royal Society]. I suppose as a physical scientist I ought to have chosen Newton. He would have won hands down in an IQ test, but if you ask who was the most attractive personality then Darwin is the one you'd wish to meet. Newton was solitary and reclusive, even vain and vindictive in his later years when he was president of the society.
From interview with Graham Lawton, 'One Minute with Martin Rees', in New Scientist (12 Dec 2009), 204, No. 2738.
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Combustible bodies do not reduce the metals by giving them phlogiston, as the Phlogistians suppose; nor buy uniting with, and separating their oxygen, as the Anti-phlogistians maintain.
Rejecting older theories of combustion.
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), iv. In Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie and Joy Dorothy Harvey, The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science (2000), 478.
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Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been fascinated by crazy science and such things as perpetual motion machines and logical paradoxes. I’ve always enjoyed keeping up with those ideas. I suppose I didn’t get into it seriously until I wrote my first book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I was influenced by the Dianetics movement, now called Scientology, which was then promoted by John Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction. I was astonished at how rapidly the thing had become a cult.
In Scot Morris, 'Interview: Martin Gardner', Omni, 4, No. 4 (Jan 1982), 68.
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Everyone makes for himself a clear idea of the motion of a point, that is to say, of the motion of a corpuscle which one supposes to be infinitely small, and which one reduces by thought in some way to a mathematical point.
Théorie Nouvelle de la Rotation des Corps (1834). As translated by Charles Thomas Whitley in Outlines of a New Theory of Rotatory Motion (1834), 1.
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Evolutionists sometimes take as haughty an attitude toward the next level up the conventional ladder of disciplines: the human sciences. They decry the supposed atheoretical particularism of their anthropological colleagues and argue that all would be well if only the students of humanity regarded their subject as yet another animal and therefore yielded explanatory control to evolutionary biologists.
From book review, 'The Ghost of Protagoras', The New York Review of Books (22 Jan 1981), 27, No. 21 & 22. Collected in An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas (1987, 2010), 64. The article reviewed two books: John Tyler Bonner, The Evolution of Culture and Peter J. Wilson, The Promising Primate.
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First, the chief character, who is supposed to be a professional astronomer, spends his time fund raising and doing calculations at his desk, rather than observing the sky. Second, the driving force of a scientific project is institutional self-aggrandizement rather than intellectual curiosity.
[About the state of affairs in academia.]
In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 535
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For nature is a perpetuall circulatory worker, generating fluids out of solids, and solids out of fluids, fixed things out of volatile, & volatile out of fixed, subtile out of gross, & gross out of subtile, Some things to ascend & make the upper terrestriall juices, Rivers and the Atmosphere; & by consequence others to descend for a Requitall to the former. And as the Earth, so perhaps may the Sun imbibe this spirit copiously to conserve his Shineing, & keep the Planets from recedeing further from him. And they that will, may also suppose, that this Spirit affords or carryes with it thither the solary fewell & materiall Principle of Light; And that the vast aethereall Spaces between us, & the stars are for a sufficient repository for this food of the Sunn and Planets.
Letter to Oldenburg (7 Dec 1675). In H. W. Turnbull (ed.), The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, 1661-1675 (1959), Vol. 1, 366.
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For that which can shewn only in a certain Light is questionable. Truth, ’tis suppos’d, may bear all Lights: and one of those principal Lights or natural Mediums, by which Things are to be view’d, in order to a thorow Recognition, is Ridicule it-self.
Also seen in short form: “Ridicule is the test of truth.”
In 'An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour', Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1723), Vol. 1, 61.
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For what is thought to be a ‘system’ is after all, just conventional, and I do not see how one is supposed to divide up the world objectively so that one can make statements about parts.
…...
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From this fountain (the free will of God) it is those laws, which we call the laws of nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experimental. He who is presumptuous enough to think that he can find the true principles of physics and the laws of natural things by the force alone of his own mind, and the internal light of his reason, must either suppose the world exists by necessity, and by the same necessity follows the law proposed; or if the order of Nature was established by the will of God, the [man] himself, a miserable reptile, can tell what was fittest to be done.
…...
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Half a century ago Oswald (1910) distinguished classicists and romanticists among the scientific investigators: the former being inclined to design schemes and to use consistently the deductions from working hypotheses; the latter being more fit for intuitive discoveries of functional relations between phenomena and therefore more able to open up new fields of study. Examples of both character types are Werner and Hutton. Werner was a real classicist. At the end of the eighteenth century he postulated the theory of “neptunism,” according to which all rocks including granites, were deposited in primeval seas. It was an artificial scheme, but, as a classification system, it worked quite satisfactorily at the time. Hutton, his contemporary and opponent, was more a romanticist. His concept of “plutonism” supposed continually recurrent circuits of matter, which like gigantic paddle wheels raise material from various depths of the earth and carry it off again. This is a very flexible system which opens the mind to accept the possible occurrence in the course of time of a great variety of interrelated plutonic and tectonic processes.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 456-7.
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How near one Species to the next is join'd,
The due Gradations please a thinking Mind;
and there are Creatures which no eye can see,
That for a Moment live and breathe like me:
Whom a small Fly in bulk as far exceeds,
As yon tall Cedar does the waving Reeds:
These we can reach—and may we not suppose
There still are Creatures more minute than those.
'The Enquiry'. In Poems Upon Several Occasions (1748), 198.
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However, if we consider that all the characteristics which have been cited are only differences in degree of structure, may we not suppose that this special condition of organization of man has been gradually acquired at the close of a long period of time, with the aid of circumstances which have proved favorable? What a subject for reflection for those who have the courage to enter into it!
In Recherches sur l'Organization des corps vivans (1802), as translated in Alpheus Spring Packard, Lamarck, the Founder of Evolution: His Life and Work (1901), 363. Packard's italics.
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Hubble's observations suggested that there was a time, called the big bang, when the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. Under such conditions all the laws of science, and therefore all ability to predict the future, would break down. If there were events earlier than this time, then they could not affect what happens at the present time. Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined. It should be emphasized that this beginning in time is very different from those that had been considered previously. In an unchanging universe a beginning in time is something that has to be imposed by some being outside the universe; there is no physical necessity for a beginning. One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 8-9.
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I grew up in Leicestershire, in Leicester, which is on the Jurassic, and it’s full of lovely fossils. Ammonites, belemnites, brachiopods—very beautiful. How did they get there, in the middle of the rocks, in the middle of England, and so on? And I had the collecting bug, which I still have, actually, which is the basis of so much of natural history, really, and so much of science. And so collecting all these things, and discovering what they were, and how they lived, and when they had lived, and all that, was abiding fascination to me from the age of I suppose about eight. And I still feel that way, actually.
Speaking about fossils that first inspired his love of natural history. In video by Royal Society of Biology, 'Sir David Attenborough, Biology: Changing the World Interview,' published on YouTube (13 Feb 2015).
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I have never understood why it should be considered derogatory to the Creator to suppose that he has a sense of humour.
Dean Inge
In 'Confessio Fidei', collected in Outspoken Essays: Second Series (1922), 24.
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I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
In Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), 298.
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I heard Professor Cannon lecture last night, going partly on your account. His subject was a physiological substitute for war—which is international sports and I suppose motorcycle races—to encourage the secretion of the adrenal glands!
Letter from James McKeen Cattell to his son, McKeen. In S. Benison, A. C. Barger and E. L. Wolfe, Walter B Cannon: The Life and Times of a Young Scientist (1987), 319.
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I never said a word against eminent men of science. What I complain of is a vague popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion and an uncommonly nasty one. When people talked about the fall of man, they knew they were talking about a mystery, a thing they didn’t understand. Now they talk about the survival of the fittest: they think they do understand it, whereas they have not merely no notion, they have an elaborately false notion of what the words mean.
In The Club of Queer Trades (1903, 1905), 241.
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I shall no doubt be blamed by certain scientists, and, I am afraid, by some philosophers, for having taken serious account of the alleged facts which are investigated by Psychical Researchers. I am wholly impenitent about this. The scientists in question seem to me to confuse the Author of Nature with the Editor of Nature; or at any rate to suppose that there can be no productions of the former which would not be accepted for publication by the latter. And I see no reason to believe this.
The Mind and its Place in Nature (1925), viii.
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I suppose I should be run after for a professorship if I had studied at Giessen, as it seems to be a settled point that no young man can be expected to know anything of chemistry unless he has studied with Liebig; while the truth is, that any one who goes there and does not afterwards correct the bad habits acquired there, in some other laboratory, is almost unfitted for doing things in Chemistry. No doubt Liebig is a remarkable man, who has done much for organic Chemistry, not to speak of his having quarreled with all the Chemists in Europe...
Letter to his brother, William Dwight Whitney (25 Apr 1846). In Edwin Tenney Brewster and Josiah Dwight Whitney, Life and Letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney (1909), 79-80.
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I suppose that I tend to be optimistic about the future of physics. And nothing makes me more optimistic than the discovery of broken symmetries. In the seventh book of the Republic, Plato describes prisoners who are chained in a cave and can see only shadows that things outside cast on the cave wall. When released from the cave at first their eyes hurt, and for a while they think that the shadows they saw in the cave are more real than the objects they now see. But eventually their vision clears, and they can understand how beautiful the real world is. We are in such a cave, imprisoned by the limitations on the sorts of experiments we can do. In particular, we can study matter only at relatively low temperatures, where symmetries are likely to be spontaneously broken, so that nature does not appear very simple or unified. We have not been able to get out of this cave, but by looking long and hard at the shadows on the cave wall, we can at least make out the shapes of symmetries, which though broken, are exact principles governing all phenomena, expressions of the beauty of the world outside.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1989), 'Conceptual Foundations of the Unified Theory of Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.' Nobel Lectures: Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 556.
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I suppose that the first chemists seemed to be very hard-hearted and unpoetical persons when they scouted the glorious dream of the alchemists that there must be some process for turning base metals into gold. I suppose that the men who first said, in plain, cold assertion, there is no fountain of eternal youth, seemed to be the most cruel and cold-hearted adversaries of human happiness. I know that the economists who say that if we could transmute lead into gold, it would certainly do us no good and might do great harm, are still regarded as unworthy of belief. Do not the money articles of the newspapers yet ring with the doctrine that we are getting rich when we give cotton and wheat for gold rather than when we give cotton and wheat for iron?
'The Forgotten Man' (1883). In The Forgotten Man and Other Essays (1918), 468.
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I suppose the body to be just a statue or a machine made of earth.
The World and Other Writings (1633), trans. and ed. Stephen Gaukroger (1998), 99.
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I will insist particularly upon the following fact, which seems to me quite important and beyond the phenomena which one could expect to observe: The same [double sulfate of uranium and potassium] crystalline crusts, arranged the same way [as reported to the French academy on 24 Feb 1896] with respect to the photographic plates, in the same conditions and through the same screens, but sheltered from the excitation of incident rays and kept in darkness, still produce the same photographic images … [when kept from 26 Feb 1896] in the darkness of a bureau drawer. … I developed the photographic plates on the 1st of March, expecting to find the images very weak. Instead the silhouettes appeared with great intensity.
It is important to observe that it appears this phenomenon must not be attributed to the luminous radiation emitted by phosphorescence … One hypothesis which presents itself to the mind naturally enough would be to suppose that these rays, whose effects have a great similarity to the effects produced by the rays studied by M. Lenard and M. Röntgen, are invisible rays …
[Having eliminated phosphorescence as a cause, he has further revealed the effect of the as yet unknown radioactivity.]
Read at French Academy of Science (2 Mar 1896). In Comptes Rendus (1896), 122, 501. As translated by Carmen Giunta on the Classic Chemistry web site.
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I would not for a moment have you suppose that I am one of those idiots who scorns Science, merely because it is always twisting and turning, and sometimes shedding its skin, like the serpent that is [the doctors'] symbol.
From 'Can a Doctor Be a Humanist?' (1984). Collected in The Merry Heart: Reflections of Reading, Writing and the World of Books (1997), 98.
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If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
…...
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If we assume that there is only one enzyme present to act as an oxidizing agent, we must assume for it as many different degrees of activity as are required to explain the occurrence of the various colors known to mendelize (three in mice, yellow, brown, and black). If we assume that a different enzyme or group of enzymes is responsible for the production of each pigment we must suppose that in mice at least three such enzymes or groups of enzymes exist. To determine which of these conditions occurs in mice is not a problem for the biologist, but for the chemist. The biologist must confine his attention to determining the number of distinct agencies at work in pigment formation irrespective of their chemical nature. These agencies, because of their physiological behavior, the biologist chooses to call 'factors,' and attempts to learn what he can about their functions in the evolution of color varieties.
Experimental Studies of the Inheritance of Color in Mice (1913), 17-18.
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If we seek for the simplest arrangement, which would enable it [the eye] to receive and discriminate the impressions of the different parts of the spectrum, we may suppose three distinct sensations only to be excited by the rays of the three principal pure colours, falling on any given point of the retina, the red, the green, and the violet; while the rays occupying the intermediate spaces are capable of producing mixed sensations, the yellow those which belong to the red and green, and the blue those which belong to the green and violet.
'Chromatics', in Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1824), Vol. 3, 142.
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In a University we are especially bound to recognise not only the unity of science itself, but the communion of the workers in science. We are too apt to suppose that we are congregated here merely to be within reach of certain appliances of study, such as museums and laboratories, libraries and lecturers, so that each of us may study what he prefers. I suppose that when the bees crowd round the flowers it is for the sake of the honey that they do so, never thinking that it is the dust which they are carrying from flower to flower which is to render possible a more splendid array of flowers, and a busier crowd of bees, in the years to come. We cannot, therefore, do better than improve the shining hour in helping forward the cross-fertilization of the sciences.
'The Telephone', Nature, 15, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 743-4.
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In all speculations on the origin, or agents that have produced the changes on this globe, it is probable that we ought to keep within the boundaries of the probable effects resulting from the regular operations of the great laws of nature which our experience and observation have brought within the sphere of our knowledge. When we overleap those limits, and suppose a total change in nature's laws, we embark on the sea of uncertainty, where one conjecture is perhaps as probable as another; for none of them can have any support, or derive any authority from the practical facts wherewith our experience has brought us acquainted.
Observations on the Geology of the United States of America (1817), iv-v.
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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 1-2.
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In reality, I have sometimes thought that we do not go on sufficiently slowly in the removal of diseases, and that it would he better if we proceeded with less haste, and if more were often left, to Nature than is the practice now-a-days. It is a great mistake to suppose that Nature always stands in need of the assistance of Art. If that were the case, site would have made less provision for the safety of mankind than the preservation of the species demands; seeing that there is not the least proportion between the host of existing diseases and the powers possessed by man for their removal, even in those ages wherein the healing art was at the highest pitch, and most extensively cultivated.
As quoted by Gavin Milroy in 'On the Writings of Sydenham', The Lancet (14 Nov 1846), 524.
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In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), 255.
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It has been said that computing machines can only carry out the processes that they are instructed to do. This is certainly true in the sense that if they do something other than what they were instructed then they have just made some mistake. It is also true that the intention in constructing these machines in the first instance is to treat them as slaves, giving them only jobs which have been thought out in detail, jobs such that the user of the machine fully understands what in principle is going on all the time. Up till the present machines have only been used in this way. But is it necessary that they should always be used in such a manner? Let us suppose we have set up a machine with certain initial instruction tables, so constructed that these tables might on occasion, if good reason arose, modify those tables. One can imagine that after the machine had been operating for some time, the instructions would have altered out of all recognition, but nevertheless still be such that one would have to admit that the machine was still doing very worthwhile calculations. Possibly it might still be getting results of the type desired when the machine was first set up, but in a much more efficient manner. In such a case one would have to admit that the progress of the machine had not been foreseen when its original instructions were put in. It would be like a pupil who had learnt much from his master, but had added much more by his own work. When this happens I feel that one is obliged to regard the machine as showing intelligence.
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), 122-3.
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It is not impossible to suppose that in this case our luminary was taken in the act…
…...
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It is probably no exaggeration to suppose that in order to improve such an organ as the eye at all, it must be improved in ten different ways at once. And the improbability of any complex organ being produced and brought to perfection in any such way is an improbability of the same kind and degree as that of producing a poem or a mathematical demonstration by throwing letters at random on a table.
[Expressing his reservations about Darwin's proposed evolution of the eye by natural selection.]
Opening address to the Belfast Natural History Society, as given in the 'Belfast Northern Whig,' (19 Nov 1866). As cited by Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals & Plants Under Domestication (1868), 222.
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It is reasonable to suppose that if we could apply selection to the human race we could also produce modifications or variations of men.
From Paper (13 Nov 1883) presented to the National Academy of Sciences at New Haven, printed in ed in 'Upon the Formation of a Deaf variety of the Human Race', Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences (1884), 2, 179.
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It is told of Faraday that he refused to be called a physicist; he very much disliked the new name as being too special and particular and insisted on the old one, philosopher, in all its spacious generality: we may suppose that this was his way of saying that he had not over-ridden the limiting conditions of class only to submit to the limitation of a profession.
Commentary (Jun 1962), 33, 461-77. Cited by Sydney Ross in Nineteenth-Century Attitudes: Men of Science (1991), 11.
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It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it to be true.
In Sceptical Essays (1928), ii.
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It must ... be admitted that very simple relations ... exist between the volumes of gaseous substances and the numbers of simple or compound molecules which form them. The first hypothesis to present itself in this connection, and apparently even the only admissible one, is the supposition that the number of integral molecules in any gases is always the same for equal volumes, or always proportional to the volumes. Indeed, if we were to suppose that the number of molecules contained in a given volume were different for different gases, it would scarcely be possible to conceive that the law regulating the distance of molecules could give in all cases relations so simple as those which the facts just detailed compel us to acknowledge between the volume and the number of molecules.
'Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies, and the Proportions in which they enter into these Compounds', Journal de Physique, 1811, 73, 58-76. In Foundations of the Molecular Theory; Alembic Club Reprints, Number 4 (1923), 28-9.
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It sometimes strikes me that the whole of science is a piece of impudence; that nature can afford to ignore our impertinent interference. If our monkey mischief should ever reach the point of blowing up the earth by decomposing an atom, and even annihilated the sun himself, I cannot really suppose that the universe would turn a hair.
The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, ch. 14 (1929, rev 1970).
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It would appear that Deductive and Demonstrative Sciences are all, without exception, Inductive Sciences: that their evidence is that of experience, but that they are also, in virtue of the peculiar character of one indispensable portion of the general formulae according to which their inductions are made, Hypothetical Sciences. Their conclusions are true only upon certain suppositions, which are, or ought to be, approximations to the truth, but are seldom, if ever, exactly true; and to this hypothetical character is to be ascribed the peculiar certainty, which is supposed to be inherent in demonstration.
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 6, 1.
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It would be a mistake to suppose that a science consists entirely of strictly proved theses, and it would be unjust to require this. Only a disposition with a passion for authority will raise such a demand, someone with a craving to replace his religious catechism by another, though it is a scientific one. Science has only a few apodeictic propositions in its catechism: the rest are assertions promoted by it to some particular degree of probability. It is actually a sign of a scientific mode of thought to find satisfaction in these approximations to certainty and to be able to pursue constructive work further in spite of the absence of final confirmation.
In Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916-17).
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It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter.
In 'Classroom Without Walls', Explorations (May 1957), No. 7. Collected in Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan (eds.), Explorations in Communication, an Anthology (1960), 3.
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Just now nuclear physicists are writing a great deal about hypothetical particles called neutrinos supposed to account for certain peculiar facts observed in β-ray disintegration. We can perhaps best describe the neutrinos as little bits of spin-energy that have got detached. I am not much impressed by the neutrino theory. In an ordinary way I might say that I do not believe in neutrinos… But I have to reflect that a physicist may be an artist, and you never know where you are with artists. My old-fashioned kind of disbelief in neutrinos is scarcely enough. Dare I say that experimental physicists will not have sufficient ingenuity to make neutrinos? Whatever I may think, I am not going to be lured into a wager against the skill of experimenters under the impression that it is a wager against the truth of a theory. If they succeed in making neutrinos, perhaps even in developing industrial applications of them, I suppose I shall have to believe—though I may feel that they have not been playing quite fair.
From Tarner Lecture, 'Discovery or Manufacture?' (1938), in The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939, 2012), 112.
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Let no one suppose that the words doctor and patient can disguise from the parties the fact that they are employer and employee.
In 'Preface on Doctors', The Doctor's Dilemma (1909, 1911), lxxxi.
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Let us suppose that an ichthyologist is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into the water and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he proceeds in the usual manner of a scientist to systematise what it reveals. He arrives at two generalisations:
(1) No sea-creature is less than two inches long.
(2) All sea-creatures have gills.
These are both true of his catch, and he assumes tentatively that they will remain true however often he repeats it.
In applying this analogy, the catch stands for the body of knowledge which constitutes physical science, and the net for the sensory and intellectual equipment which we use in obtaining it. The casting of the net corresponds to observation; for knowledge which has not been or could not be obtained by observation is not admitted into physical science.
An onlooker may object that the first generalisation is wrong. “There are plenty of sea-creatures under two inches long, only your net is not adapted to catch them.” The icthyologist dismisses this objection contemptuously. “Anything uncatchable by my net is ipso facto outside the scope of icthyological knowledge. In short, what my net can't catch isn't fish.” Or—to translate the analogy—“If you are not simply guessing, you are claiming a knowledge of the physical universe discovered in some other way than by the methods of physical science, and admittedly unverifiable by such methods. You are a metaphysician. Bah!”
In 'Selective Subjectivism', The Philosophy of Physical Science (1938, 2012), 16.
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Let us suppose that we have laid on the table... [a] piece of glass... and let us homologize this glass to a whole order of plants or birds. Let us hit this glass a blow in such a manner as but to crack it up. The sectors circumscribed by cracks following the first blow may here be understood to represent families. Continuing, we may crack the glass into genera, species and subspecies to the point of finally having the upper right hand corner a piece about 4 inches square representing a sub-species.
Space, Time, Form: The Biological Synthesis (1962, issued 1964), 209.
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Let us suppose, that the Old and New worlds were formerly but one continent, and that, by a violent earthquake, the ancient Atalantis [sic] of Plato was sunk ... The sea would necessarily rush in from all quarters, and form what is now called the Atlantic ocean.
'Second Discours: Histoire et Théorie de la Terre', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. I, 96; Natural History, General and Particular (1785), Vol. I, trans. W. Smellie, 31.
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Let us then suppose the Mind to be, as we say, white Paper, void of all Characters, without any Ideas; How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless Fancy of Man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of Reason and Knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from Experience: In that, all our Knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives it self. Our Observation employ’d either about external, sensible Objects; or about the internal Operations of our Minds, perceived and reflected on by our selves, is that, which supplies our Understandings with all the materials of thinking.
In 'Of Ideas in general, and their Original', An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Book 2, Chap. 1, Sec. 2, 37.
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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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Mathematicians pretend to count by means of a system supposed to satisfy the so-called Peano axioms. In fact, the piano has only 88 keys; hence, anyone counting with these axioms is soon played out.
In Mathematics Made Difficult (1971). As quoted in Michael Stueben and Diane Sandford, Twenty Years Before the Blackboard (1998), 131.
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain that alone on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine would not, I suppose, have thus suffered, and if I had to live my life over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 51.
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My theory of electrical forces is that they are called into play in insulating media by slight electric displacements, which put certain small portions of the medium into a state of distortion which, being resisted by the elasticity of the medium, produces an electromotive force ... I suppose the elasticity of the sphere to react on the electrical matter surrounding it, and press it downwards.
From the determination by Kohlrausch and Weber of the numerical relation between the statical and magnetic effects of electricity, I have determined the elasticity of the medium in air, and assuming that it is the same with the luminiferous ether I have determined the velocity of propagation of transverse vibrations.
The result is
193088 miles per second
(deduced from electrical & magnetic experiments).
Fizeau has determined the velocity of light
= 193118 miles per second
by direct experiment.
This coincidence is not merely numerical. I worked out the formulae in the country, before seeing Webers [sic] number, which is in millimetres, and I think we have now strong reason to believe, whether my theory is a fact or not, that the luminiferous and the electromagnetic medium are one.
Letter to Michael Faraday (19 Oct 1861). In P. M. Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1990), Vol. 1, 1846-1862, 684-6.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence—don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.
From letter to Edith Rix with hints for studying (about Mar 1885), in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 241.
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Newton made a universe which lasted 300 years. Einstein has made a universe, which I suppose you want me to say will never stop, but I don't know how long it will last.
Speech (28 Oct 1930) at the Savoy Hotel, London in Einstein’s honor sponsored by a committee to help needy Jews in Eastern Europe. In Albert Einstein, Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931), 32.
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No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.
The Future of an Illusion (1927), in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1961), Vol. 21, 56.
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Nobody supposes that doctors are less virtuous than judges; but a judge whose salary and reputation depended on whether the verdict was for plaintiff or defendant, prosecutor or prisoner, would be as little trusted as a general in the pay of the enemy.
…...
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Nobody, I suppose, could devote many years to the study of chemical kinetics without being deeply conscious of the fascination of time and change: this is something that goes outside science into poetry; but science, subject to the rigid necessity of always seeking closer approximations to the truth, itself contains many poetical elements.
From Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1956), collected in Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), 474.
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Of … habitable worlds, such as the Earth, all which we may suppose to be of a terrestrial or terraqueous nature, and filled with beings of the human species, subject to mortality, it may not be amiss in this place to compute how many may he conceived within our finite view every clear Star-light night. … In all together then we may safely reckon 170,000,000, and yet be much within compass, exclusive Of the Comets which I judge to be by far the most numerous part of the creation.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 131-132.
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One of the most immediate consequences of the electrochemical theory is the necessity of regarding all chemical compounds as binary substances. It is necessary to discover in each of them the positive and negative constituents... No view was ever more fitted to retard the progress of organic chemistry. Where the theory of substitution and the theory of types assume similar molecules, in which some of the elements can be replaced by others without the edifice becoming modified either in form or outward behaviour, the electrochemical theory divides these same molecules, simply and solely, it may be said, in order to find in them two opposite groups, which it then supposes to be combined with each other in virtue of their mutual electrical activity... I have tried to show that in organic chemistry there exist types which are capable, without destruction, of undergoing the most singular transformations according to the nature of the elements.
Traité de Chemie Appliquée aux Arts, Vol. I (1828), 53. Trans. J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, Vol. 4, 366.
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Perhaps the most impressive illustration of all is to suppose that you could label the molecules in a tumbler of water. ... threw it anywhere you please on the earth, and went away from the earth for a few million years while all the water on the earth, the oceans, rivers, lakes and clouds had had time to mix up perfectly. Now supposing that perfect mixing had taken place, you come back to earth and draw a similar tumbler of water from the nearest tap, how many of those marked molecules would you expect to find in it? Well, the answer is 2000. There are 2000 times more molecules in a tumbler of water than there are tumblers of water in the whole earth.
In Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 99-100.
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Science is not illusion. But it would be an illusion to suppose that we could get anywhere else what it cannot give us.
…...
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Science is often regarded as the most objective and truth-directed of human enterprises, and since direct observation is supposed to be the favored route to factuality, many people equate respectable science with visual scrutiny–just the facts ma’am, and palpably before my eyes. But science is a battery of observational and inferential methods, all directed to the testing of propositions that can, in principle, be definitely proven false ... At all scales, from smallest to largest, quickest to slowest, many well-documented conclusions of science lie beyond the strictly limited domain of direct observation. No one has ever seen an electron or a black hole, the events of a picosecond or a geological eon.
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Scientists are supposed to live in ivory towers. Their darkrooms and their vibration-proof benches are supposed to isolate their activities from the disturbances of common life. What they tell us is supposed to be for the ages, not for the next election. But the reality may be otherwise.
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Since many cases are known in which the specificities of antigens and enzymes appear to bear a direct relation to gene specificities, it seems reasonable to suppose that the gene’s primary and possibly sole function is in directing the final configurations of protein molecules.
Assuming that each specific protein of the organism has its unique configuration copied from that of a gene, it follows that every enzyme whose specificity depends on a protein should be subject to modification or inactivation through gene mutation. This would, of course, mean that the reaction normally catalyzed by the enzyme in question would either have its rate or products modified or be blocked entirely.
Such a view does not mean that genes directly “make” proteins. Regardless of precisely how proteins are synthesized, and from what component parts, these parts must themselves be synthesized by reactions which are enzymatically catalyzed and which in turn depend on the functioning of many genes. Thus in the synthesis of a single protein molecule, probably at least several hundred different genes contribute. But the final molecule corresponds to only one of them and this is the gene we visualize as being in primary control.
In 'Genetics and Metabolism in Neurospora', Physiological Reviews, 1945, 25, 660.
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Some people say they cannot understand a million million. Those people cannot understand that twice two makes four. That is the way I put it to people who talk to me about the incomprehensibility of such large numbers. I say finitude is incomprehensible, the infinite in the universe is comprehensible. Now apply a little logic to this. Is the negation of infinitude incomprehensible? What would you think of a universe in which you could travel one, ten, or a thousand miles, or even to California, and then find it comes to an end? Can you suppose an end of matter or an end of space? The idea is incomprehensible. Even if you were to go millions and millions of miles the idea of coming to an end is incomprehensible. You can understand one thousand per second as easily as you can understand one per second. You can go from one to ten, and then times ten and then to a thousand without taxing your understanding, and then you can go on to a thousand million and a million million. You can all understand it.
In 'The Wave Theory of Light' (1884), Popular Lectures and Addresses (1891), Vol. 1, 322.
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Statistics are far from being the barren array of figures ingeniously and laboriously combined into columns and tables, which many persons are apt to suppose them. They constitute rather the ledger of a nation, in which, like the merchant in his books, the citizen can read, at one view, all of the results of a year or of a period of years, as compared with other periods, and deduce the profit or the loss which has been made, in morals, education, wealth or power.
Statistical View of the United States: A Compendium of the Seventh Census (1854), 9.
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Suppose a number of equal waves of water to move upon the surface of a stagnant lake, with a certain constant velocity, and to enter a narrow channel leading out of the lake. Suppose then another similar cause to have excited another equal series of waves, which arrive at the same time, with the first. Neither series of waves will destroy the other, but their effects will be combined: if they enter the channel in such a manner that the elevations of one series coincide with those of the other, they must together produce a series of greater joint elevations; but if the elevations of one series are so situated as to correspond to the depressions of the other, they must exactly fill up those depressions. And the surface of the water must remain smooth; at least I can discover no alternative, either from theory or from experiment.
A Reply to the Animadversions of the Edinburgh Reviewers on Some Papers Published in the Philosophical Transactions (1804), 17-8.
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Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief and he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor for convincing and converting other people to his view.
In When Prophecy Fails (1956), 3.
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Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game of chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight?
Yet, it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well the highest stakes are paid with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated—without haste, but without remorse.
Address to the South London Working Men’s College. 'A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It', in David Masson, (ed.), Macmillan’s Magazine (Mar 1868), 17, 369. Also in 'A Liberal Education and Where to Find it' (1868). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 82.
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Suppose physics soon succeeds, as Stephen Hawking and a few other physicists hope and believe, in reducing physics to a single equation or a small set of equations that will “explain” all of nature’s fundamental laws. We can then ask the unanswerable question, "Why this set of equations?”
In Introduction, The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995 (1996), xvii.
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Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know—and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know—even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction—than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.
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Suppose that you are in love with a lady on Neptune and that she returns the sentiment. It will be some consolation for the melancholy separation if you can say to yourself at some possibly pre-arranged moment, “She is thinking of me now.” Unfortunately a difficulty has arisen because we have had to abolish Now. There is no absolute Now, but only the various relative Nows, differing according to their reckoning of different observers and covering the whole neutral wedge which at the distance of Neptune is about eight hours thick. She will have to think of you continuously for eight hours on end in order to circumvent the ambiguity “Now.”
In The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 49.
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Suppose the results of a line of study are negative. It might save a lot of otherwise wasted money to know a thing won’t work. But how do you accurately evaluate negative results? ... The power plant in [the recently developed streamline trains] is a Diesel engine of a type which was tried out many [around 25] years ago and found to be a failure. … We didn’t know how to build them. The principle upon which it operated was sound. [Since then much has been] learned in metallurgy [and] the accuracy with which parts can be manufactured
When this type of engine was given another chance it was an immediate success [because now] an accuracy of a quarter of a tenth of a thousandth of an inch [prevents high-pressure oil leaks]. … If we had taken the results of past experience without questioning the reason for the first failure, we would never have had the present light-weight, high-speed Diesel engine which appears to be the spark that will revitalize the railroad business.
'Industrial Prospecting', an address to the Founder Societies of Engineers (20 May 1935). In National Research Council, Reprint and Circular Series of the National Research Council (1933), No. 107, 2-3.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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Suppose there is something which a person cannot understand. He happens to notice the similarity of this something to some other thing which he understands quite well. By comparing them he may come to understand the thing which he could not understand up to that moment. If his understanding turns out to be appropriate and nobody else has ever come to such an understanding, he can claim that his thinking was really creative.
Creativity and Intuition: A Physicist Looks at East and West (1973), 114.
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Suppose we divide the space into little volume elements. If we have black and white molecules, how many ways could we distribute them among the volume elements so that white is on one side and black is on the other? On the other hand, how many ways could we distribute them with no restriction on which goes where? Clearly, there are many more ways to arrange them in the latter case. We measure “disorder” by the number of ways that the insides can be arranged, so that from the outside it looks the same. The logarithm of that number of ways is the entropy. The number of ways in the separated case is less, so the entropy is less, or the “disorder” is less.
In 'Order And Entropy', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964), 46-7.
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Suppose we loosely define a religion as any discipline whose foundations rest on an element of faith, irrespective of any element of reason which may be present. Quantum mechanics for example would be a religion under this definition. But mathematics would hold the unique position of being the only branch of theology possessing a rigorous demonstration of the fact that it should be so classified.
Concluding remark in 'Consistency and Completeness—A Résumé', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1956), 63, No.5, 305.
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Suppose we take a quantity of heat and change it into work. In doing so, we haven’t destroyed the heat, we have only transferred it to another place or perhaps changed it into another energy form.
From 'In the Game of Energy and Thermodynamics You Can’t Even Break Even', Smithsonian (Aug 1970), 1, No. 5, 6.
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Suppose you had a small electrical fire and... a structural engineer [looked] at your home’s wiring [and] reports that the wiring is “shot” and there is a 50% chance that your house would burn down in the next few years unless you replace all the wiring. The job will cost $20,000... so you get an independent assessment. The next engineer agrees with the first warning. You can either continue to shop for additional evaluations until you find the one engineer in 1,000 that is willing to give you the answer you want, “Your family is not in danger” or you can change the wiring.
[Comparing the urgency of action on climate change to a problem with electrical wiring in a house.]
From press conference at National Press Club (17 Sep 2008), 'Basic Research: Fueling America's Future'. Quoted on the Science Coalition website.
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Suppose you were given a watch, a tube to sight with and a string, and then asked to determine the distance to the nearest star. Or you were asked the chemical composition, pressure or temperature of the Sun. A hundred or more years ago, these questions seemed impossible. Now astronomers are answering them all the time, and they believe their answers. Why? Because there are many parallel ways and tests, and they all give the same answers.
As quoted in John Noble Wilford, 'Sizing up the Cosmos: An Astronomers Quest', New York Times (12 Mar 1991), C10.
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Suppose [an] imaginary physicist, the student of Niels Bohr, is shown an experiment in which a virus particle enters a bacterial cell and 20 minutes later the bacterial cell is lysed and 100 virus particles are liberated. He will say: “How come, one particle has become 100 particles of the same kind in 20 minutes? That is very interesting. Let us find out how it happens! How does the particle get in to the bacterium? How does it multiply? Does it multiply like a bacterium, growing and dividing, or does it multiply by an entirely different mechanism ? Does it have to be inside the bacterium to do this multiplying, or can we squash the bacterium and have the multiplication go on as before? Is this multiplying a trick of organic chemistry which the organic chemists have not yet discovered ? Let us find out. This is so simple a phenomenon that the answers cannot be hard to find. In a few months we will know. All we have to do is to study how conditions will influence the multiplication. We will do a few experiments at different temperatures, in different media, with different viruses, and we will know. Perhaps we may have to break into the bacteria at intermediate stages between infection and lysis. Anyhow, the experiments only take a few hours each, so the whole problem can not take long to solve.”
[Eight years later] he has not got anywhere in solving the problem he set out to solve. But [he may say to you] “Well, I made a slight mistake. I could not do it in a few months. Perhaps it will take a few decades, and perhaps it will take the help of a few dozen other people. But listen to what I have found, perhaps you will be interested to join me.”
From 'Experiments with Bacterial Viruses (Bacteriophages)', Harvey Lecture (1946), 41, 161-162. As cited in Robert Olby, The Path of the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA (1974, 1994), 237.
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Supposing is good, but finding out is better.
Mark Twain in Eruption: hitherto unpublished pages about men and events (1940), 324. In Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips (1948), 232.
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Taking a very gloomy view of the future of the human race, let us suppose that it can only expect to survive for two thousand millions years longer, a period about equal to the past age of the earth. Then, regarded as a being destined to live for three-score years and ten, humanity although it has been born in a house seventy years old, is itself only three days old. But only in the last few minutes has it become conscious that the whole world does not centre round its cradle and its trappings, and only in the last few ticks of the clock has any adequate conception of the size of the external world dawned upon it. For our clock does not tick seconds, but years; its minutes are the lives of men.
EOS: Or the Wider Aspects of Cosmology (1928), 12-3.
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That our being should consist of two fundamental elements [physical and psychical] offers I suppose no greater inherent improbability than that it should rest on one only.
The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1947), Foreword to 1947 Edition, xx.
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The biologist can push it back to the original protist, and the chemist can push it back to the crystal, but none of them touch the real question of why or how the thing began at all. The astronomer goes back untold million of years and ends in gas and emptiness, and then the mathematician sweeps the whole cosmos into unreality and leaves one with mind as the only thing of which we have any immediate apprehension. Cogito ergo sum, ergo omnia esse videntur. All this bother, and we are no further than Descartes. Have you noticed that the astronomers and mathematicians are much the most cheerful people of the lot? I suppose that perpetually contemplating things on so vast a scale makes them feel either that it doesn’t matter a hoot anyway, or that anything so large and elaborate must have some sense in it somewhere.
As co-author with Robert Eustace, The Documents in the Case (1930), 72.
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The dispute between evolutionists and creation scientists offers textbook writers and teachers a wonderful opportunity to provide students with insights into the philosophy and methods of science. … What students really need to know is … how scientists judge the merit of a theory. Suppose students were taught the criteria of scientific theory evaluation and then were asked to apply these criteria … to the two theories in question. Wouldn’t such a task qualify as authentic science education? … I suspect that when these two theories are put side by side, and students are given the freedom to judge their merit as science, creation theory will fail ignominiously (although natural selection is far from faultless). … It is not only bad science to allow disputes over theory to go unexamined, but also bad education.
In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999), 168.
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The Epicureans, according to whom animals had no creation, doe suppose that by mutation of one into another, they were first made; for they are the substantial part of the world; like as Anaxagoras and Euripides affirme in these tearmes: nothing dieth, but in changing as they doe one for another they show sundry formes.
Plutarch
Fom Morals, translated by Philemon Holland, The Philosophie, Commonlie Called, the Moral Written by the Learned Philosopher Plutarch of Chæronea (1603), 846. As cited in Harris Hawthorne Wilder, History of the Human Body (1909), 26.
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The familiar idea of a god who is omniscient: someone who knows everything … does not immediately ring alarm bells in our brains; it is plausible that such a being could exist. Yet, when it is probed more closely one can show that omniscience of this sort creates a logical paradox and must, by the standards of human reason, therefore be judged impossible or be qualified in some way. To see this consider this test statement:
This statement is not known to be true by anyone.
Now consider the plight of our hypothetical Omniscient Being (“Big O”). Suppose first that this statement is true and Big O does not know it. Then Big O would not be omniscient. So, instead, suppose our statement is false. This means that someone must know the statement to be true; hence it must be true. So regardless of whether we assume at the outset that this statement is true or false, we are forced to conclude that it must be true! And therefore, since the statement is true, nobody (including Big O) can know that it is true. This shows that there must always be true statements that no being can know to be true. Hence there cannot be an Omniscient Being who knows all truths. Nor, by the same argument, could we or our future successors, ever attain such a state of omniscience. All that can be known is all that can be known, not all that is true.
In Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits (1999), 11.
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The first successes were such that one might suppose all the difficulties of science overcome in advance, and believe that the mathematician, without being longer occupied in the elaboration of pure mathematics, could turn his thoughts exclusively to the study of natural laws.
From Preface to Traité de calcul différentiel et de calcul intégral (1864-70), i. Quoted in address to the section of Algebra and Analysis, International Congress of Arts and Sciences, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), 'On the Development of Mathematical Analysis and its Relation to Certain Other Sciences,' as translated by M.W. Haskell in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (May 1905), 11, 408.
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The Foundation of Empire is Art & Science. Remove them, or Degrade them, & the Empire is No More. Empire follows Art, & not Vice Versa as Englishmen suppose.
Marginal note (c. 1808) written in his copy of The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1798), at foot of first page of table of contents. As given in William Blake, Edwin John Ellis (ed.) and William Butler Yeats (ed.), The Works of William Blake (1893), Vol. 2, 319.
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The game of chess has always fascinated mathematicians, and there is reason to suppose that the possession of great powers of playing that game is in many features very much like the possession of great mathematical ability. There are the different pieces to learn, the pawns, the knights, the bishops, the castles, and the queen and king. The board possesses certain possible combinations of squares, as in rows, diagonals, etc. The pieces are subject to certain rules by which their motions are governed, and there are other rules governing the players. … One has only to increase the number of pieces, to enlarge the field of the board, and to produce new rules which are to govern either the pieces or the player, to have a pretty good idea of what mathematics consists.
In Book review, 'What is Mathematics?', Bulletin American Mathematical Society (May 1912), 18, 386-387.
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The human understanding is moved by those things most which strike and enter the mind simultaneously and suddenly, and so fill the imagination; and then it feigns and supposes all other things to be somehow, though it cannot see how, similar to those few things by which it is surrounded.
Translation of Novum Organum, XLVII. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 80.
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The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist. Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being (except in name) utterly rejected.
From Aphorism 45, Novum Organum, Book I (1620). Collected in James Spedding (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1858), Vol. 4, 55.
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The lives of scientists, considered as Lives, almost always make dull reading. For one thing, the careers of the famous and the merely ordinary fall into much the same pattern, give or take an honorary degree or two, or (in European countries) an honorific order. It could be hardly otherwise. Academics can only seldom lead lives that are spacious or exciting in a worldly sense. They need laboratories or libraries and the company of other academics. Their work is in no way made deeper or more cogent by privation, distress or worldly buffetings. Their private lives may be unhappy, strangely mixed up or comic, but not in ways that tell us anything special about the nature or direction of their work. Academics lie outside the devastation area of the literary convention according to which the lives of artists and men of letters are intrinsically interesting, a source of cultural insight in themselves. If a scientist were to cut his ear off, no one would take it as evidence of a heightened sensibility; if a historian were to fail (as Ruskin did) to consummate his marriage, we should not suppose that our understanding of historical scholarship had somehow been enriched.
'J.B.S: A Johnsonian Scientist', New York Review of Books (10 Oct 1968), reprinted in Pluto's Republic (1982), and inThe Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 86.
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The moment philosophy supposes it can find a final and comprehensive solution, it ceases to be inquiry and becomes either apologetics or propaganda.
Logic (1938), 42.
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The more the subject is examined the more complex must we suppose the constitution of matter in order to explain the remarkable effects observed.
In Radio-activity (1905), 1.
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The only objections that have occurred to me are, 1st that you have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly. … And 2nd, it is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variation should occur at all. However, I must read the book two or three times more before I presume to begin picking holes.
Comments after reading Darwin's book, Origin of Species.]
Letter to Charles Darwin (23 Nov 1859). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 214.
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The Requisites of a good Hypothesis are:
That It be Intelligible.
That It neither Assume nor Suppose anything Impossible, unintelligible, or demonstrably False.
That It be consistent with Itself.
That It be lit and sufficient to Explicate the Phaenomena, especially the chief.
That It be, at least, consistent, with the rest of the Phaenomena It particularly relates to, and do not contradict any other known Phaenomena of nature, or manifest Physical Truth.
The Qualities and Conditions of an Excellent Hypothesis are:
That It be not Precarious, but have sufficient Grounds In the nature of the Thing Itself or at least be well recommended by some Auxiliary Proofs.
That It be the Simplest of all the good ones we are able to frame, at least containing nothing that is superfluous or Impertinent.
That It be the only Hypothesis that can Explicate the Phaenomena; or at least, that do’s Explicate them so well.
That it enable a skilful Naturailst to foretell future Phaenomena by the Congruity or Incongruity to it; and especially the event of such Experlm’ts as are aptly devis’d to examine It, as Things that ought, or ought not, to be consequent to It.
Boyle Papers, 37. Quoted In Barbara Kaplan (ed.), Divulging of Useful Truths in Physick:The Medical Agenda of Robert Boyle (1993), 50.
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The surest way to health, say what they will,
Is never to suppose we shall be ill;
Most of the ills which we poor mortals know
From doctors and imagination flow.
In 'Night: An Epistle to Robert Lloyd', Poems of Charles Churchill (1822), Vol. 1, 98.
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The tastes and pursuits of manhood will bear on them the traces of the earlier impressions of our education. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that some portion of the neglect of science in England, may be attributed to the system of education we pursue.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 3.
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The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. The surest way to end them is to establish beyond question what should be the purpose and method of a philosophical enquiry. And this is by no means so difficult a task as the history of philosophy would lead one to suppose. For if there are any questions which science leaves it to philosophy to answer, a straightforward process of elimination must lead to their discovery.
Language, Truth and Logic (1960), 33.
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The whole art of making experiments in chemistry is founded on the principle: we must always suppose an exact equality or equation between the principles of the body examined and those of the products of its analysis.
From Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (1789), 140. Translation as given in James Riddick Partington, A Short History of Chemistry (1960), 124. This is an alternate translation of part of the same passage on this page that begins “We may lay it down as an incontestible axiom…”
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There is another approach to the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFO origins. This assessment depends on a large number of factors about which we know little, and a few about which we know literally nothing. I want to make some crude numerical estimate of the probability that we are frequently visited by extraterrestrial beings.
Now, there is a range of hypotheses that can be examined in such a way. Let me give a simple example: Consider the Santa Claus hypothesis, which maintains that, in a period of eight hours or so on December 24-25 of each year, an outsized elf visits one hundred million homes in the United States. This is an interesting and widely discussed hypothesis. Some strong emotions ride on it, and it is argued that at least it does no harm.
We can do some calculations. Suppose that the elf in question spends one second per house. This isn't quite the usual picture—“Ho, Ho, Ho,” and so on—but imagine that he is terribly efficient and very speedy; that would explain why nobody ever sees him very much-only one second per house, after all. With a hundred million houses he has to spend three years just filling stockings. I have assumed he spends no time at all in going from house to house. Even with relativistic reindeer, the time spent in a hundred million houses is three years and not eight hours. This is an example of hypothesis-testing independent of reindeer propulsion mechanisms or debates on the origins of elves. We examine the hypothesis itself, making very straightforward assumptions, and derive a result inconsistent with the hypothesis by many orders of magnitude. We would then suggest that the hypothesis is untenable.
We can make a similar examination, but with greater uncertainty, of the extraterrestrial hypothesis that holds that a wide range of UFOs viewed on the planet Earth are space vehicles from planets of other stars.
The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), 200.
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There is, I think, no more wonderful and illuminating spectacle than that of an osmotic growth,—a crude lump of brute inanimate matter germinating before our very eyes, putting forth bud and stem and root and branch and leaf and fruit, with no stimulus from germ or seed, without even the presence of organic matter. For these mineral growths are not mere crystallizations as many suppose … They imitate the forms, the colour, the texture, and even the microscopical structure of organic growth so closely as to deceive the very elect.
In the Preface of his translation of Stéphane Leduc, The Mechanism of Life (1911), vii-viii.
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This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 658.
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Those intervening ideas, which serve to show the agreement of any two others, are called proofs; and where the agreement or disagreement is by this means plainly and clearly perceived, it is called demonstration; it being shown to the understanding, and the mind made to see that it is so. A quickness in the mind to find out these intermediate ideas, (that shall discover the agreement or disagreement of any other) and to apply them right, is, I suppose, that which is called sagacity.
In An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Bk. 6, chaps. 2, 3.
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To expect that the intricacies of science will be pierced by a careless glance, or the eminences of fame ascended without labour, is to expect a peculiar privilege, a power denied to the rest of mankind; but to suppose that the maze is inscrutable to diligence, or the heights inaccessible to perseverance, is to submit tamely to the tyranny of fancy, and enchain the mind in voluntary shackles.
'The Need For General Knowledge,' Rambler No. 137 (9 Jul 1751). In Samuel Johnson, Donald Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson (1984), 223.
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To master science thoroughly, I suppose one must take one’s gloves off.
Said by the fictional character Lydia in Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886, 1906), 87.
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To suppose that so perfect a system as that of Euclid’s Elements was produced by one man, without any preceding model or materials, would be to suppose that Euclid was more than man. We ascribe to him as much as the weakness of human understanding will permit, if we suppose that the inventions in geometry, which had been made in a tract of preceding ages, were by him not only carried much further, but digested into so admirable a system, that his work obscured all that went before it, and made them be forgot and lost.
In Essay on the Powers of the Human Mind (1812), Vol. 2, 368.
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To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859, 1882), 143-144.
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Vagueness is very much more important in the theory of knowledge than you would judge it to be from the writings of most people. Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise, and everything precise is so remote from everything that we normally think, that you cannot for a moment suppose that is what we really mean when we say what we think.
In The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918, 1919), 2.
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We all remember the fairy tales of science in our infancy, which played with the supposition that large animals could jump in the proportion of small ones. If an elephant were as strong as a grasshopper, he could (I suppose) spring clean out of the Zoological Gardens and alight trumpeting upon Primrose Hill. If a whale could leap from the water like a trout, perhaps men might look up and see one soaring above Yarmouth like the winged island of Laputa.
In Manalive (1912), 26.
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We are not to suppose, that there is any violent exertion of power, such as is required in order to produce a great event in little time; in nature, we find no deficiency in respect of time, nor any limitation with regard to power. But time is not made to flow in vain; nor does there ever appear the exertion of superfluous power, or the manifestation of design, not calculated in wisdom to effect some general end.
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, 1, 294.
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We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to pursue the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another. There was a great deal of solemn talk that this was the end of the great wars of the century.
At the first atomic bomb test (16 Jul 1945), in Len Giovanitti and Fred Freed, The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965), 197
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We may lay it down as an incontestible axiom, that, in all the operations of art and nature, nothing is created; an equal quantity of matter exists both before and after the experiment; the quality and quantity of the elements remain precisely the same; and nothing takes place beyond changes and modifications in the combination of these elements. Upon this principle the whole art of performing chemical experiments depends: We must always suppose an exact equality between the elements of the body examined and those of the products of its analysis.
Elements of Chemistry trans. Robert. Kerr, (1790, 5th Ed. 1802), Vol. 1, 226.
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We must in imagination sweep off the drifted matter that clogs the surface of the ground; we must suppose all the covering of moss and heath and wood to be torn away from the sides of the mountains, and the green mantle that lies near their feet to be lifted up; we may then see the muscular integuments, and sinews, and bones of our mother Earth, and so judge of the part played by each of them during those old convulsive movements whereby her limbs were contorted and drawn up into their present posture.
Letter 2 to William Wordsworth. Quoted in the appendix to W. Wordsworth, A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Direction for the Tourist, with Mr Wordsworth's Description of the Scenery of the County and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District (1842), 15.
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We need to look, I suppose, for some good PR people to help us get our messages across in an honest and open and sensible way, without causing the sort of furore, the sort of polarisation that has occurred because of the people who are trying to deny it, and trying to deny it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them.
On BBC website, 'Climate change scientists losing “PR war”' (11 Feb 2010).
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We suppose ... that the constituent molecules of any simple gas whatever (i.e., the molecules which are at such a distance from each other that they cannot exercise their mutual action) are not formed of a solitary elementary molecule, but are made up of a certain number of these molecules united by attraction to form a single one.
'Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies, and the Proportions in which they enter into these Compounds', Journal de Physique, 1811, 73, 58-76. In Foundations of the Molecular Theory: Alembic Club Reprints, Number 4 (1923), 31.
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Were I disposed to consider the comparative merit of each of them [facts or theories in medical practice], I should derive most of the evils of medicine from supposed facts, and ascribe all the remedies which have been uniformly and extensively useful, to such theories as are true. Facts are combined and rendered useful only by means of theories, and the more disposed men are to reason, the more minute and extensive they become in their observations.
Quoted in John Edmonds Stock, Memoirs of the life of Thomas Beddoes (1810), 401.
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What can you conceive more silly and extravagant than to suppose a man racking his brains, and studying night and day how to fly? ... wearying himself with climbing upon every ascent, ... bruising himself with continual falls, and at last breaking his neck? And all this, from an imagination that it would be glorious to have the eyes of people looking up at him, and mighty happy to eat, and drink, and sleep, at the top of the highest trees in the kingdom.
In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1732), 168. This was written before Montgolfier brothers, pioneer balloonists, were born.
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What is wanted in architecture, as in so many things, is a man. ... One suggestion might be made—no profession in England has done its duty until it has furnished a victim. ... Even our boasted navy never achieved a great victory until we shot an admiral. Suppose an architect were hanged? Terror has its inspiration, as well as competition.
Tancred: Or, The New Crusade (1907), 112.
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Whatever opinions we may adopt as to the physical constitution of comets, we must admit that they serve some grand and important purpose in the economy of the universe; for we cannot suppose that the Almighty has created such an immense number of bodies, and set them in rapid motion according to established laws, without an end worthy of his perfections, and, on the whole, beneficial to the inhabitants of the system through which they move.
In The Sidereal Heavens and Other Subjects Connected with Astronomy: As Illustrative of the Character of the Deity, and of an Infinity of Worlds (1871), 353.
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Who ever thought up the word “Mammogram?” Every time I hear it, I think I’m supposed to put my breast in an envelope and send it to someone.
Jan King
…...
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Why are atoms so small? ... Many examples have been devised to bring this fact home to an audience, none of them more impressive than the one used by Lord Kelvin: Suppose that you could mark the molecules in a glass of water, then pour the contents of the glass into the ocean and stir the latter thoroughly so as to distribute the marked molecules uniformly throughout the seven seas; if you then took a glass of water anywhere out of the ocean, you would find in it about a hundred of your marked molecules.
What is life?: the Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (1944). Collected in What is Life? with Mind And Matter & Autobiographical Sketches (1967, 1992), 6-7.
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With respect to those who may ask why Nature does not produce new beings? We may enquire of them in turn, upon what foundation they suppose this fact? What it is that authorizes them to believe this sterility in Nature? Know they if, in the various combinations which she is every instant forming, Nature be not occupied in producing new beings, without the cognizance of these observers? Who has informed them that this Nature is not actually assembling, in her immense elaboratory, the elements suitable to bring to light, generations entirely new, that will have nothing in common with those of the species at present existing? What absurdity then, or what want of just inference would there be, to imagine that the man, the horse, the fish, the bird will be no more? Are these animals so indispensably requisite to Nature, that without them she cannot continue her eternal course? Does not all change around us? Do we not ourselves change? ... Nature contains no one constant form.
The System of Nature (1770), trans. Samuel Wilkinson (1820), Vol. 1, 94-95.
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You’re aware the boy failed my grade school math class, I take it? And not that many years later he’s teaching college. Now I ask you: Is that the sorriest indictment of the American educational system you ever heard? [pauses to light cigarette.] No aptitude at all for long division, but never mind. It’s him they ask to split the atom. How he talked his way into the Nobel prize is beyond me. But then, I suppose it’s like the man says, it’s not what you know...
Karl Arbeiter (former teacher of Albert Einstein)
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[1.] And first I suppose that there is diffused through all places an aethereal substance capable of contraction & dilatation, strongly elastick, & in a word, much like air in all respects, but far more subtile.
2. I suppose this aether pervades all gross bodies, but yet so as to stand rarer in their pores then in free spaces, & so much ye rarer as their pores are less ...
3. I suppose ye rarer aether within bodies & ye denser without them, not to be terminated in a mathematical superficies, but to grow gradually into one another.
Letter to Robert Boyle (28 Feb 1678/9). In H. W. Turnbull (ed.), The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, 1676-1687 (1960), Vol. 2, 289.
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[Certain students] suppose that because science has penetrated the structure of the atom it can solve all the problems of the universe. ... They are known in every ... college as the most insufferable, cocksure know-it-alls. If you want to talk to them about poetry, they are likely to reply that the "emotive response" to poetry is only a conditioned reflex .... If they go on to be professional scientists, their sharp corners are rubbed down, but they undergo no fundamental change. They most decidedly are not set apart from the others by their intellectual integrity and faith, and their patient humility in front of the facts of nature.... They are uneducated, in the fullest sense of the word, and they certainly are no advertisement for the claims of science teachers.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 18-19.
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[Davy's] March of Glory, which he has run for the last six weeks—within which time by the aid and application of his own great discovery, of the identity of electricity and chemical attractions, he has placed all the elements and all their inanimate combinations in the power of man; having decomposed both the Alkalies, and three of the Earths, discovered as the base of the Alkalies a new metal... Davy supposes there is only one power in the world of the senses; which in particles acts as chemical attractions, in specific masses as electricity, & on matter in general, as planetary Gravitation... when this has been proved, it will then only remain to resolve this into some Law of vital Intellect—and all human knowledge will be Science and Metaphysics the only Science.
In November 1807 Davy gave his famous Second Bakerian Lecture at the Royal Society, in which he used Voltaic batteries to “decompose, isolate and name” several new chemical elements, notably sodium and potassium.
Letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, 24 November 1807. In Earl Leslie Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1956), Vol. 3, 38.
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[S]uppose you make a hole in an ordinary evacuated electric light bulb and allow the air molecules to pass in at the rate of 1,000,000 a second, the bulb will become full of air in approximately 100,000,000 years.
In Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 99.
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[The word] genius is derived from gignere, gigno; I bring forth, I produce; it always supposes invention, and this quality, is the only one which belongs to all the different kinds of genius.
From the original French, “Celui de génie dérive de gignere, gigno; j’enfante, je produis; il suppose toujours invention: & cette qualité est la seule qui appartienne à tous les génies différents,” in 'Du Génie', L’Esprit (1758), Discourse 4, 476. English version from Claude Adrien Helvétius and William Mudford (trans.), 'Of Genius', De l’Esprit or, Essays on the Mind and its several Faculties (1759), Essay 4, Chap. 1, 241.
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~~[Orphan]~~ The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?
Appears in various online sources attributed to David Attenborough, but always with no citation. No primary source, so far, found by Webmaster.Perhaps it comes from one of the so many interviews and documentaries he has done for TV and radio. For now, Webmaster regards it as an orphan quote that needs a primary source. Or it might not be a quote of his, and best attributed to Anonymous. Can you help identify the primary source?
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“Of course they answer to their names?” the Gnat remarked carelessly.
“I never knew then to do it,” [said Alice.]
“What’s the use of them having names,” said the Gnat, “if they won’t answer to them?”
“No use to them,” said Alice; “but it’s useful to the people that name them, I suppose.”
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871, 1897), 55.
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“She can’t do Subtraction.” said the White Queen. “Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife—what's the answer to that?”
“I suppose-” Alice was beginning, but the Red Queen answered for her.
“Bread-and-butter, of course.”
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871, 1897), 189-190.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 60 -
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