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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index S > Category: Surprise

Surprise Quotes (36 quotes)

A chess problem is genuine mathematics, but it is in some way “trivial” mathematics. However, ingenious and intricate, however original and surprising the moves, there is something essential lacking. Chess problems are unimportant. The best mathematics is serious as well as beautiful—“important” if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and “serious” expresses what I mean much better.
'A Mathematician's Apology', in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2029.
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All sorts of computer errors are now turning up. You'd be surprised to know the number of doctors who claim they are treating pregnant men.
Anonymous
Official of the Quebec Health Insurance Board, on Use of Computers in Quebec Province's Comprehensive Medical-care system. F. 19, 4:5. In Barbara Bennett and Linda Amster, Who Said What (and When, and Where, and How) in 1971: December-June, 1971 (1972), Vol. 1, 38. (Later sources cite Isaac Asimov.)
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Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion. Remember he is face to face with his enemy all the time.
In Notes on Nursing: What it is, and What it is Not (1860), 53.
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Astrophysicists have the formidable privilege of having the largest view of the Universe; particle detectors and large telescopes are today used to study distant stars, and throughout space and time, from the infinitely large to the infinitely small, the Universe never ceases to surprise us by revealing its structures little by little.
In Black Holes (1992), xv.
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Everything is like a purse—there may be money in it, and we can generally say by the feel of it whether there is or is not. Sometimes, however, we must turn it inside out before we can be quite sure whether there is anything in it or no. When I have turned a proposition inside out, put it to stand on its head, and shaken it, I have often been surprised to find how much came out of it.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 222.
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Genuine religion has its root deep down in the heart of humanity and in the reality of things. It is not surprising that by our methods we fail to grasp it: the actions of the Deity make no appeal to any special sense, only a universal appeal; and our methods are, as we know, incompetent to detect complete uniformity. There is a principle of Relativity here, and unless we encounter flaw or jar or change, nothing in us responds; we are deaf and blind therefore to the Immanent Grandeur, unless we have insight enough to recognise in the woven fabric of existence, flowing steadily from the loom in an infinite progress towards perfection, the ever-growing garment of a transcendent God.
Continuity: The Presidential Address to the British Association (1913), 92-93.
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He adhered, with a severity most unusual in Indians resident in England, to the religious observances of his caste; but his religion was a matter of observance and not of intellectual conviction, and I remember well his telling me (much to my surprise) that all religions seemed to him more or less equally true.
In obituary notice by G.H. Hardy in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (2) (1921), 19, xl—lviii. Reprinted in G.H. Hardy, P.V. Seshu Aiyar and B.M. Wilson (eds.) Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxxi.
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I am always surprised when a young man tells me he wants to work at cosmology. I think of cosmology as something that happens to one, not something one can choose.
In Presidential Address (8 Feb 1963), Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (Mar 1963), 4, 185.
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I am very sorry, Pyrophilus, that to the many (elsewhere enumerated) difficulties which you may meet with, and must therefore surmount, in the serious and effectual prosecution of experimental philosophy I must add one discouragement more, which will perhaps is much surprise as dishearten you; and it is, that besides that you will find (as we elsewhere mention) many of the experiments published by authors, or related to you by the persons you converse with, false and unsuccessful (besides this, I say), you will meet with several observations and experiments which, though communicated for true by candid authors or undistrusted eye-witnesses, or perhaps recommended by your own experience, may, upon further trial, disappoint your expectation, either not at all succeeding constantly, or at least varying much from what you expected.
Opening paragraph of The First Essay Concerning the Unsuccessfulness of Experiments (1673), collected in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle in Six Volumes to Which is Prefixed the Life of the Author (1772), Vol. 1, 318-319.
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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I never know whether to be more surprised at Darwin himself for making so much of natural selection, or at his opponents for making so little of it.
Selections from His Notebook. Reprinted in Memories and Portraits, Memoirs of Himself and Selections from His Notebook (1924, 2003), 184.
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If you are surprised at the number of our maladies, count our cooks.
In Noble Words and Noble Deeds (1877), 239.
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If you ask the fish whether they’d rather have an oil spill or a season of fishing, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d vote for another blowout.
As quoted by Mark Bittman in 'What's Worse Than an Oil Spill?', New York Times (20 Apr 2011), A23.
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In all matters of opinion and science ... the difference between men is ... oftener found to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance. An explication of the terms commonly ends the controversy, and the disputants are surprised to find that they had been quarrelling, while at bottom they agreed in their judgement.
Dissertation IV, 'Of the Standard of Taste', Four Dissertations (1757), 204.
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In the whole of geophysics there is probably hardly another law of such clarity and reliability as this—that there are two preferential levels for the world’s surface which occur in alternation side by side and are represented by the continents and the ocean floors, respectively. It is therefore very surprising that scarcely anyone has tried to explain this law.
In The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966), 37.
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It is a natural inquiry to ask—To what most nearly are these new phenomena [the newly-born science of radioactivity and the spontaneous disintegration of elements] correlated? Is it possible to give, by the help of an analogy to familiar phenomena, any correct idea of the nature of this new phenomenon “Radioactivity”? The answer may surprise those who hold to the adage that there is nothing new under the sun. Frankly, it is not possible, because in these latest developments science has broken fundamentally new ground, and has delved one distinct step further down into the foundations of knowledge.
In The Interpretation of Radium: Being the Substance of Six Free Popular Lectures Delivered at the University of Glasgow (1909, 1912), 2. The original lectures of early 1908, were greatly edited, rearranged and supplemented by the author for the book form.
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It is not surprising that science has made comparatively little advance among us, but that … it should have made so much.
In Letter (3 Feb 1873) to the Committee of Arrangements, in Proceedings of the Farewell Banquet to Professor Tyndall (4 Feb 1873), 19. Reprinted as 'On the Importance of the Cultivation of Science', The Popular Science Monthly (1873), Vol. 2, 646.
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It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.
In Adventures of a Mathematician (1976), Prologue, 5. Also used as epigraph in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), 11.
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It may well be doubted whether, in all the range of science, there is any field so fascinating to the explorer—so rich in hidden treasures—so fruitful in delightful surprises—as that of Pure Mathematics. The charm lies chiefly, I think, in the absolute certainty of its results; for that is what, beyond all mental treasures, the human intellect craves for. Let us only be sure of something! More light, more light!
Written without pseudonym as Charles L. Dodgson. Opening remarks in Introduction to A New Theory of Parallels (1888, 1890), xv.
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Like other departments of philosophy, medicine began with an age of wonder. The accidents of disease and the features of death aroused surprise and stimulated interest, and a beginning was made when man first asked in astonishment, Why should these things be?
In 'The Evolution of Internal Medicine', Modern Medicine: Its Theory and Practice, (1907), Vol. 1, xvi.
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Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
War as I Knew It (1947, 1995) 357.
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Part of the charm in solving a differential equation is in the feeling that we are getting something for nothing. So little information appears to go into the solution that there is a sense of surprise over the extensive results that are derived.
Co-author with Jules Alphonse Larrivee, Mathematics and Computers (1957), 40.
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Surely something is wanting in our conception of the universe. We know positive and negative electricity, north and south magnetism, and why not some extra terrestrial matter related to terrestrial matter, as the source is to the sink. ... Worlds may have formed of this stuff, with element and compounds possessing identical properties with out own, indistinguishable from them until they are brought into each other's vicinity. ... Astronomy, the oldest and most juvenile of the sciences, may still have some surprises in store. Many anti-matter be commended to its care! ... Do dreams ever come true?
[Purely whimsical prediction long before the 1932 discovery of the positron, the antiparticle of the electron.]
'Potential Matter—A Holiday Dream', Letter to the Editor, Nature (18 Aug 1898), 58, 367. Quoted in Edward Robert Harrison, Cosmology: the Science of the Universe (2000), 433.
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Surprisingly, history is much more difficult than chemistry.
Louis Hammett Symposium (31 Aug 1983), Advances in Physical Organic Chemistry (1985), 21, 2.
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The discovery which has been pointed to by theory is always one of profound interest and importance, but it is usually the close and crown of a long and fruitful period, whereas the discovery which comes as a puzzle and surprise usually marks a fresh epoch and opens a new chapter in science.
Becquerel Memorial Lecture, Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1912), 101(2), 2005. Quoted by Simon Flexnor in 'The Scientific Career for Women', a commencement address at Bryn Mawr College (2 Jun 1921), The Scientific Monthly (Aug 1921), 13, 98.
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The job of theorists, especially in biology, is to suggest new experiments. A good theory makes not only predictions, but surprising predictions that then turn out to be true. (If its predictions appear obvious to experimentalists, why would they need a theory?)
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 142.
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The surprising thing about this paper is that a man who could write it would.
A Mathematician's Miscellany (1953). In Béla Bollobás, Littlewood's Miscellany (1986), 59.
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There are almost unlimited possibilities for making discoveries and to uncover the unknown. It is in the nature of the discovery that it can not be planned or programmed. On the contrary it consists of surprises and appears many times in the most unexpected places.
Nobel Banquet speech (10 Dec 1982). In Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1982 (1983)
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There has come about a general public awareness that America is not automatically, and effortlessly, and unquestionably the leader of the world in science and technology. This comes as no surprise to those of us who have watched and tried to warn against the steady deterioration in the teaching of science and mathematics in the schools for the past quarter century. It comes as no surprise to those who have known of dozens of cases of scientists who have been hounded out of jobs by silly disloyalty charges, and kept out of all professional employment by widespread blacklisting practices.
Banquet speech at American Physical Society, St. Louis, Missouri. (29 Nov 1957). In "Time to Stop Baiting Scientists", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Feb 1958), 80.
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This is the element that distinguishes applied science from basic. Surprise is what makes the difference. When you are organized to apply knowledge, set up targets, produce a usable product, you require a high degree of certainty from the outset. All the facts on which you base protocols must be reasonably hard facts with unambiguous meaning. The challenge is to plan the work and organize the workers so that it will come out precisely as predicted. For this, you need centralized authority, elaborately detailed time schedules, and some sort of reward system based on speed and perfection. But most of all you need the intelligible basic facts to begin with, and these must come from basic research. There is no other source. In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn't likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.
The Planning of Science, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, (1974) .
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To learn is to incur surprise—I mean really learning, not just refreshing our memory or adding a new fact. And to invent is to bestow surprise—I mean really inventing, not just innovating what others have done.
In How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines (2006), 217.
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Wheeler’s First Moral Principle: Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!
In E.F. Taylor and J.A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (1992), 20.
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When I entered the field of space physics in 1956, I recall that I fell in with the crowd believing, for example, that electric fields could not exist in the highly conducting plasma of space. It was three years later that I was shamed by S. Chandrasekhar into investigating Alfvén's work objectively. My degree of shock and surprise in finding Alfvén right and his critics wrong can hardly be described. I learned that a cosmic ray acceleration mechanism basically identical to the famous mechanism suggested by Fermi in 1949 had [previously] been put forth by Alfvén.
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988), 195.
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When I was living with the Indians, my hostess, a fine looking woman, who wore numberless bracelets, and rings in her ears and on her fingers, and painted her face like a brilliant sunset, one day gave away a very fine horse. I was surprised, for I knew there had been no family talk on the subject, so I asked: “Will your husband like to have you give the horse away?” Her eyes danced, and, breaking into a peal of laughter, she hastened to tell the story to the other women gathered in the tent, and I became the target of many merry eyes. I tried to explain how a white woman would act, but laughter and contempt met my explanation of the white man’s hold upon his wife’s property.
Speech on 'The Legal Conditions of Indian Women', delivered to Evening Session (Thur 29 Mar 1888), collected in Report of the International Council of Women: Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C., U.S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888 (1888), Vol. 1, 240.
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Whenever a new scientific concept comes into prominence, it sends shock waves of surprise to the scholars contributing to that field.
In The Gene: A Critical History (1966), 77.
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You would be surprised at the number of academics who say things like ‘I didn’t realise what a sponge was until I saw a programme of yours’.
Interview with David Barrett, 'Attenborough: Children Don’t Know Enough About Nature', Daily Telegraph (17 Apr 2011).
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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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