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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index T > Category: Task

Task Quotes (147 quotes)

Niels Bohr quote: What is that we human beings ultimately depend on? We depend on our words. We are suspended in language.

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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The Mighty Task is Done

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all the sea.

To north, the Redwood Empires gates;
To south, a happy playground waits,
In Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.

Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet Neer its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.

Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.

An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below lifes restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For Fate had meant it so.

Written upon completion of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, May 1937. In Allen Brown, Golden Gate: biography of a Bridge (1965), 229.
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Daher ist die Aufgabe nicht sowohl, zu sehen, was noch keiner gesehen hat, als bei dem, was jeder sieht, zu denken, was noch keiner gedacht hat.
The task is, not so much to see what no one has seen yet; but to think what nobody has thought yet, about that which everybody sees.
English translation as given in an Epigraph by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An Evaluation of Modern Biological Thought (1952), Vol. 1, (1949, 1952). Original German, at least as early as Schopenhauer and Frauenstädt (ed.), Second Edition of Parerga and Paralipomena (1862), Vol. 2, 116. Quoted in Julius Frauenstädt (ed.) Schopenhauer-Lexikon: Ein philosophisches Wörterbuch, nach Arthur Schopenhauers sämmtlichen Schriften und handschriftlichem Nachlass (1871), 180. This quote has been widely (apparently) incorrectly attributed to Erwin Schrödinger, for example, in Alan L. Mackay (ed.), A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 219. Mackay cites Bertalanffy, without page number. Did Schrodinger ever use Schopenhauer’s quote? If you know a primary source for Schrödinger, please contact Webmaster. Prior to this revision on 15 Jun 2015, the quote appeared on this site on the Schrödinger page. This was independently researched by this Webmaster. If you use it elsewhere, first request the credit line and link to include.
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Neue Phaenomena zu erklären, dieses macht meine Sorgen aus, und wie froh ist der Forscher, wenn er das so fleissig Gesuche findet, eine Ergötzung wobei das Herz lacht.
To explain new phenomena, that is my task; and how happy is the scientist when he finds what he so diligently sought, a pleasure that gladdens the heart.
Letter to Johan Gahn. Original German quote in Mary Elivira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 153, citing Nordenskiöld, Scheeles nachgelassene Briefe und Aufzeichnungen (1892), 151. Translation in Mary Elvira Weeks and Henry M. Leicester (ed.)The Discovery of the Elements (6th ed. 1956), 223.
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Ueber den Glauben lässt sich wissenschaftlich nicht rechten, denn die Wissenschaft und der Glaube schliessen sich aus. Nicht so, dass der eine die andere unmöglich machte oder umgekehrt, sondern so, dass, soweit die Wissenschaft reicht, kein Glaube existirt und der Glaube erst da anfangen darf, wo die Wissenschaft aufhört. Es lässt „sich nicht läugnen, dass, wenn diese Grenze eingehalten wird, der Glaube wirklich reale Objekte haben kann. Die Aufgabe der Wissenschaft ist es daher nicht, die Gegenstände des Glaubens anzugreifen, sondern nur die Grenzen zu stecken, welche die Erkenntniss erreichen kann, und innerhalb derselben das einheitliche Selbstbewusstsein zu begründen.
There is no scientific justification for faith, for science and faith are mutually exclusive. Not that one made the other impossible, or vice versa, but that, as far as science goes, there is no faith, and faith can only begin where science ends. It can not be denied that, if this limit is adhered to, faith can really have real objects. The task of science, therefore, is not to attack the objects of faith, but merely to set the limits which knowledge can attain and to establish within it the unified self-esteem.
Original German from 'Der Mensch' (1849), collected in Gesammelte abhandlungen zur wissenschaftlichen medicin (1856), 6. Webmaster used Google translate for the English version. This longer quote unites the shorter quotes from within it shown separately on the Rudolf Virchow quotations page, with alternative translations, which begin: “There can be no scientific dispute…”, “Belief has no place…”, and “The task of science…”.
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A complete survey of life on Earth may appear to be a daunting task. But compared with what has been dared and achieved in high-energy physics, molecular genetics, and other branches of “big science,” it is in the second or third rank.
In 'Edward O. Wilson: The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2, No. 1, 26.
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A Dr van’t Hoff of the veterinary college at Utrecht, appears to have no taste for exact chemical investigation. He finds it a less arduous task to mount Pegasus (evidently borrowed from the veterinary school) and to proclaim in his La Chemie dans l’espace how, during his bold fight to the top of the chemical Parnassus, the atoms appeared to him to have grouped themselves together throughout universal space. … I should have taken no notice of this matter had not Wislicenus oddly enough written a preface to the pamphlet, and not by way of a joke but in all seriousness recommended it a worthwhile performance.
'Signs of the Times', Journal fur Praktische Chemie, 15, 473. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe”; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
In Letter (4 Mar 1950), replying to a grieving father over the loss of a young son. In Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children (2002), 184.
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A man may fulfill the object of his existence by asking a question he cannot answer, and attempting a task he cannot achieve.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 121
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A noteworthy and often-remarked similarity exists between the facts and methods of geology and those of linguistic study. The science of language is, as it were, the geology of the most modern period, the Age of the Man, having for its task to construct the history of development of the earth and its inhabitants from the time when the proper geological record remains silent … The remains of ancient speech are like strata deposited in bygone ages, telling of the forms of life then existing, and of the circumstances which determined or affected them; while words are as rolled pebbles, relics of yet more ancient formations, or as fossils, whose grade indicates the progress of organic life, and whose resemblances and relations show the correspondence or sequence of the different strata; while, everywhere, extensive denudation has marred the completeness of the record, and rendered impossible a detailed exhibition of the whole course of development.
In Language and the Study of Language (1867), 47.
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After a tremendous task has been begun in our time, first by Copernicus and then by many very learned mathematicians, and when the assertion that the earth moves can no longer be considered something new, would it not be much better to pull the wagon to its goal by our joint efforts, now that we have got it underway, and gradually, with powerful voices, to shout down the common herd, which really does not weigh arguments very carefully?
Letter to Galileo (13 Oct 1597). In James Bruce Ross (ed.) and Mary Martin (ed., trans.), 'Comrades in the Pursuit of Truth', The Portable Renaissance Reader (1953, 1981), 599. As quoted and cited in Merry E. Wiesner, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (2013), 377.
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All men seek to be enlightened. Religion is but the most ancient and honorable way in which men have striven to make sense out of God's universe. Scientists seek the lawfulness of events. It is the task of Religion to fit man into this lawfulness.
Dune (1965), 406
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All men seek to be enlightened. Religion is but the most ancient and honorable way in which men have striven to make sense out of God's universe. Scientists seek the lawfulness of events. It is the task of Religion to fit man into this lawfulness.
Dune (1965), 406
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All men seek to be enlightened. Religion is but the most ancient and honorable way in which men have striven to make sense out of God's universe. Scientists seek the lawfulness of events. It is the task of Religion to fit man into this lawfulness.
Dune (1965), 406
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An experiment is an observation that can be repeated, isolated and varied. The more frequently you can repeat an observation, the more likely are you to see clearly what is there and to describe accurately what you have seen. The more strictly you can isolate an observation, the easier does your task of observation become, and the less danger is there of your being led astray by irrelevant circumstances, or of placing emphasis on the wrong point. The more widely you can vary an observation, the more clearly will the uniformity of experience stand out, and the better is your chance of discovering laws.
In A Text-Book of Psychology (1909), 20.
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An infinity of these tiny animals defoliate our plants, our trees, our fruits... they attack our houses, our fabrics, our furniture, our clothing, our furs ... He who in studying all the different species of insects that are injurious to us, would seek means of preventing them from harming us, would seek to cause them to perish, proposes for his goal important tasks indeed.
In J. B. Gough, 'Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur', in Charles Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 11, 332.
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As regards the co-ordination of all ordinary properties of matter, Rutherford’s model of the atom puts before us a task reminiscent of the old dream of philosophers: to reduce the interpretation of the laws of nature to the consideration of pure numbers.
In Faraday Lecture (1930), Journal of the Chemical Society (Feb 1932), 349. As quoted and cited in Chen Ning Yang, Elementary Particles (1961), 7.
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Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourself a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles.
…...
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Before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned—the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted—nature's answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of the theorist, who finds himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics. Of course, this does not mean that the experimenter does not also engage in theoretical deliberations. The foremost classical example of a major achievement produced by such a division of labor is the creation of spectrum analysis by the joint efforts of Robert Bunsen, the experimenter, and Gustav Kirchoff, the theorist. Since then, spectrum analysis has been continually developing and bearing ever richer fruit.
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Before I flew I was already aware of how small and vulnerable our planet is; but only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind’s most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations.
In Jack Hassard and Julie Weisberg , Environmental Science on the Net: The Global Thinking Project (1999), 40.
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Both biological and cultural diversity are now severely threatened and working for their preservation is a critical task.
The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventure in the Simple and Compex (1994), 374-375.
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But by far the greatest obstacle to the progress of science and to the undertaking of new tasks and provinces therein is found in this—that men despair and think things impossible.
Translation of Novum Organum, CIX. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 140-141.
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But we shall not satisfy ourselves simply with improving steam and explosive engines or inventing new batteries; we have something much better to work for, a greater task to fulfill. We have to evolve means for obtaining energy from stores which are forev
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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By the 18th century science had been so successful in laying bare the laws of nature that many thought there was nothing left to discover. Immutable laws prescribed the motion of every particle in the universe, exactly and forever: the task of the scientist was to elucidate the implications of those laws for any particular phenomenon of interest. Chaos gave way to a clockwork world. But the world moved on ...Today even our clocks are not made of clockwork. ... With the advent of quantum mechanics, the clockwork world has become a lottery. Fundamental events, such as the decay of a radioactive atom, are held to be determined by chance, not law.
Does God Play Dice?: The New Mathematics of Chaos (2002). xi.
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Consider the very roots of our ability to discern truth. Above all (or perhaps I should say “underneath all”), common sense is what we depend on—that crazily elusive, ubiquitous faculty we all have to some degree or other. … If we apply common sense to itself over and over again, we wind up building a skyscraper. The ground floor of the structure is the ordinary common sense we all have, and the rules for building news floors are implicit in the ground floor itself. However, working it all out is a gigantic task, and the result is a structure that transcends mere common sense.
In Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985), 93–94.
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During my pre-college years I went on many trips with my father into the oil fields to visit their operations. … I puttered around the machine, electronics, and automobile shops while he carried on his business. Both of my parents are inveterate do-it-yourselfers, almost no task being beneath their dignity or beyond their ingenuity. Having picked up a keen interest in electronics from my father, I used to fix radios and later television sets for fun and spending money. I built my own hi-fi set and enjoyed helping friends with their amateur radio transmitters, but lost interest as soon as they worked.
Remarks on how his high school interests foreshadowed his career as a radio astronomer. From autobiography in Stig Lundqvist (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Physics 1971-1980 (1992).
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During the first half of the present century we had an Alexander von Humboldt, who was able to scan the scientific knowledge of his time in its details, and to bring it within one vast generalization. At the present juncture, it is obviously very doubtful whether this task could be accomplished in a similar way, even by a mind with gifts so peculiarly suited for the purpose as Humboldt's was, and if all his time and work were devoted to the purpose.
In Hermann von Helmholtz and Edmund Atkinson (trans.), 'The Aim and Progress of Physical Science', Popular Scientific Lectures on Scientific Subjects (1873), 363.
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Each part of the project had a specific task. These tasks were carefully allocated and supervised so that the sum of their parts would result in the accomplishment of our over-all mission.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 414.
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Earlier this week … scientists announced the completion of a task that once seemed unimaginable; and that is, the deciphering of the entire DNA sequence of the human genetic code. This amazing accomplishment is likely to affect the 21st century as profoundly as the invention of the computer or the splitting of the atom affected the 20th century. I believe that the 21st century will be the century of life sciences, and nothing makes that point more clearly than this momentous discovery. It will revolutionize medicine as we know it today.
Senate Session, Congressional Record (29 Jun 2000) Vol. 146, No 85, S6050.
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Engineering is more closely akin to the arts than perhaps any other of the professions; first, because it requires the maximum of natural aptitude and of liking for the work in order to offset other factors; second, because it demands, like the arts, an almost selfless consecration to the job; and, third, because out of the hundreds who faithfully devote themselves to the task, only a few are destined to receive any significant reward—in either money or fame.
As coauthor with Frank W. Skinner, and Harold E. Wessman, 'Foreward', Vocational Guidance in Engineering Lines (1933), vi.
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Etna presents us not merely with an image of the power of subterranean heat, but a record also of the vast period of time during which that power has been exerted. A majestic mountain has been produced by volcanic action, yet the time of which the volcanic forms the register, however vast, is found by the geologist to be of inconsiderable amount, even in the modern annals of the earth's history. In like manner, the Falls of Niagara teach us not merely to appreciate the power of moving water, but furnish us at the same time with data for estimating the enormous lapse of ages during which that force has operated. A deep and long ravine has been excavated, and the river has required ages to accomplish the task, yet the same region affords evidence that the sum of these ages is as nothing, and as the work of yesterday, when compared to the antecedent periods, of which there are monuments in the same district.
Travels in North America (1845), Vol. 1, 28-9.
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Every creature has its own food, and an appropriate alchemist with the task of dividing it ... The alchemist takes the food and changes it into a tincture which he sends through the body to become blood and flesh. This alchemist dwells in the stomach where he cooks and works. The man eats a piece of meat, in which is both bad and good. When the meat reaches the stomach, there is the alchemist who divides it. What does not belong to health he casts away to a special place, and sends the good wherever it is needed. That is the Creator's decree... That is the virtue and power of the alchemist in man.
Volumen Medicinae Paramirum (c. 1520), in Paracelsus: Essential Readings, edited by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1990), 50-1.
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Facts alone, no matter how numerous or verifiable, do not automatically arrange themselves into an intelligible, or truthful, picture of the world. It is the task of the human mind to invent a theoretical framework to account for them.
In Francis Bello, Lawrence Lessing and George A.W. Boehm, Great American Scientists (1960, 1961), 116.
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Few scientists acquainted with the chemistry of biological systems at the molecular level can avoid being inspired. Evolution has produced chemical compounds exquisitely organized to accomplish the most complicated and delicate of tasks. Many organic chemists viewing crystal structures of enzyme systems or nucleic acids and knowing the marvels of specificity of the immune systems must dream of designing and synthesizing simpler organic compounds that imitate working features of these naturally occurring compounds.
In 'The Design of Molecular Hosts, Guests, and Their Complexes', Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1987. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1981-1990 (1992), 419.
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For if medicine is really to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. It must point out the hindrances that impede the normal social functioning of vital processes, and effect their removal.
In Die einheitsrebungen in der wissenschaftlichen medicin (1849), 48. As quoted and citefd in Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power (2004), 323.
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High technology has done us one great service: It has retaught us the delight of performing simple and primordial tasks—chopping wood, building a fire, drawing water from a spring.
In 'Science and Technology', A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis in Deserto) (1989), 91.
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Humanity certainly needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without the slightest doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organised society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.
In Eve Curie, Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie (1938, 2007), 344.
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I had always looked upon the search for the absolute as the noblest and most worth while task of science.
'A Scientific Autobiography' (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 46.
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I picture the vast realm of the sciences as an immense landscape scattered with patches of dark and light. The goal towards which we must work is either to extend the boundaries of the patches of light, or to increase their number. One of these tasks falls to the creative genius; the other requires a sort of sagacity combined with perfectionism.
Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature and Other Philosophical Works (1753/4), ed. D. Adams (1999), Section XIV, 42.
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I should like to compare this rearrangement which the proteins undergo in the animal or vegetable organism to the making up of a railroad train. In their passage through the body parts of the whole may be left behind, and here and there new parts added on. In order to understand fully the change we must remember that the proteins are composed of Bausteine united in very different ways. Some of them contain Bausteine of many kinds. The multiplicity of the proteins is determined by many causes, first through the differences in the nature of the constituent Bausteine; and secondly, through differences in the arrangement of them. The number of Bausteine which may take part in the formation of the proteins is about as large as the number of letters in the alphabet. When we consider that through the combination of letters an infinitely large number of thoughts may be expressed, we can understand how vast a number of the properties of the organism may be recorded in the small space which is occupied by the protein molecules. It enables us to understand how it is possible for the proteins of the sex-cells to contain, to a certain extent, a complete description of the species and even of the individual. We may also comprehend how great and important the task is to determine the structure of the proteins, and why the biochemist has devoted himself with so much industry to their analysis.
'The Chemical Composition of the Cell', The Harvey Lectures (1911), 7, 45.
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I think that the event which, more than anything else, led me to the search for ways of making more powerful radio telescopes, was the recognition, in 1952, that the intense source in the constellation of Cygnus was a distant galaxy—1000 million light years away. This discovery showed that some galaxies were capable of producing radio emission about a million times more intense than that from our own Galaxy or the Andromeda nebula, and the mechanisms responsible were quite unknown. ... [T]he possibilities were so exciting even in 1952 that my colleagues and I set about the task of designing instruments capable of extending the observations to weaker and weaker sources, and of exploring their internal structure.
From Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1974). In Stig Lundqvist (ed.), Nobel Lectures, Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 187.
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I work for perfection, for perfection's sake. I don't care what the external reasons are. And it's much more like a ballerina on opening night. You've done what you've got to do. When you go out, the purpose is to turn a perfect turn. You are not thinking about the future of the company, you are not thinking about your future, you're not thinking about the critics, it is you and the perfect turn.
[Describing his task of repairing the Hubble Space Telescope.]
Interview (22 May 1997). On Academy of Achievement website.
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If any person thinks the examination of the rest of the animal kingdom an unworthy task, he must hold in like disesteem the study of man. For no one can look at the primordia of the human frame—blood, flesh, bones, vessels, and the like—without much repugnance. Moreover, in every inquiry, the examination of material elements and instruments is not to be regarded as final, but as ancillary to the conception of the total form. Thus, the true object of architecture is not bricks, mortar or timber, but the house; and so the principal object of natural philosophy is not the material elements, but their composition, and the totality of the form to which they are subservient, and independently of which they have no existence.
Aristotle
On Parts of Animals, Book 1, Chap 5, 645a, 26-36. In W. Ogle (trans.), Aristotle on the Parts of Animals (1882), 17. Alternate translations: “primodia” = “elements”; “Moreover ... Thus” = “Moreover, when anyone of the parts or structures, be it which it may, is under discussion, it must not be supposed that it is its material composition to which attention is being directed or which is the object of the discussion, but rather the total form. Similarly”; “form ... subservient, and” = “totality of the substance.” See alternate translation in Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 1004.
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If it were customary to send daughters to school like sons, and if they were then taught the natural sciences, they would learn as thoroughly and understand the subtleties of all the arts and sciences as well as sons. And by chance there happen to be such women, for, as I touched on before, just as women have more delicate bodies than men, weaker and less able to perform many tasks, so do they have minds that are freer and sharper whenever they apply themselves.
The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), part 1, section 27. Trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (1982), 63.
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If the task of scientific methodology is to piece together an account of what scientists actually do, then the testimony of biologists should be heard with specially close attention. Biologists work very close to the frontier between bewilderment and understanding.
Biology is complex, messy and richly various, like real life; it travels faster nowadays than physics or chemistry (which is just as well, since it has so much farther to go), and it travels nearer to the ground. It should therefore give us a specially direct and immediate insight into science in the making.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 1.
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If we put together all that we have learned from anthropology and ethnography about primitive men and primitive society, we perceive that the first task of life is to live. Men begin with acts, not with thoughts.
Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores and Morals (1907), 2.
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If you walk along the street you will encounter a number of scientific problems. Of these, about 80 per cent are insoluble, while 19½ per cent are trivial. There is then perhaps half a per cent where skill, persistence, courage, creativity and originality can make a difference. It is always the task of the academic to swim in that half a per cent, asking the questions through which some progress can be made.
'The Making of a Scientist', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, June 1983, 406.
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In a class I was taking there was one boy who was much older than the rest. He clearly had no motive to work. I told him that, if he could produce for me, accurately to scale, drawings of the pieces of wood required to make a desk like the one he was sitting at, I would try to persuade the Headmaster to let him do woodwork during the mathematics hours—in the course of which, no doubt, he would learn something about measurement and numbers. Next day, he turned up with this task completed to perfection. This I have often found with pupils; it is not so much that they cannot do the work, as that they see no purpose in it.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 52.
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In my work on Fossil Bones, I set myself the task of recognizing to which animals the fossilized remains which fill the surface strata of the earth belong. ... As a new sort of antiquarian, I had to learn to restore these memorials to past upheavals and, at the same time, to decipher their meaning. I had to collect and put together in their original order the fragments which made up these animals, to reconstruct the ancient creatures to which these fragments belonged, to create them once more with their proportions and characteristics, and finally to compare them to those alive today on the surface of the earth. This was an almost unknown art, which assumed a science hardly touched upon up until now, that of the laws which govern the coexistence of forms of the various parts in organic beings.
Discours sur les révolutions du globe, (Discourse on the Revolutions of the Surface of the Globe), originally the introduction to Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles des quadrupèdes (1812). Translated by Ian Johnston from the 1825 edition. Online at Vancouver Island University website.
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In physics we deal with states of affairs much simpler than those of psychology and yet we again and again learn that our task is not to investigate the essence of things—we do not at all know what this would mean&mash;but to develop those concepts that allow us to speak with each other about the events of nature in a fruitful manner.
Letter to H.P.E. Hansen (20 Jul 1935), Niels Bohr Archive. In Jan Faye, Henry J. Folse, Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy (1994), 83.
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In the secondary schools mathematics should be a part of general culture and not contributory to technical training of any kind; it should cultivate space intuition, logical thinking, the power to rephrase in clear language thoughts recognized as correct, and ethical and esthetic effects; so treated, mathematics is a quite indispensable factor of general education in so far as the latter shows its traces in the comprehension of the development of civilization and the ability to participate in the further tasks of civilization.
The purposes of instruction in mathematics in secondary schools formulated by the German Society for the Advancement of Instruction. From Unterrichtsblätter fur Mathematik und Naturwissenschaft (1904), 128. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 72-73.
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Is it absurd to imagine that our social behavior, from amoeba to man, is also planned and dictated, from stored Information, by the cells? And that the time has come for men to be entrusted with the task, through heroic efforts, of bringing life to other worlds?
From Nobel Prize Lecture (Dec 1974), 'The Coming Age of the Cell'. Collected in Jan Lindsten (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1971-1980 (1992).
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It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
In Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
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It is not so difficult a task as to plant new truths, as to root out old errors
Lacon: Many Things in Few Words (1820-22, 1866), 276.
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It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It would be an easy task to show that the characteristics in the organization of man, on account of which the human species and races are grouped as a distinct family, are all results of former changes of occupation, and of acquired habits, which have come to be distinctive of individuals of his kind. When, compelled by circumstances, the most highly developed apes accustomed themselves to walking erect, they gained the ascendant over the other animals. The absolute advantage they enjoyed, and the new requirements imposed on them, made them change their mode of life, which resulted in the gradual modification of their organization, and in their acquiring many new qualities, and among them the wonderful power of speech.
Quoted in Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel The Evolution of Man (1897), Vol. 1, 70.
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Mankind lies groaning, half-crushed beneath the weight of its own progress. Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods.
The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. by R. Ashley Audra and Cloudesley Brereton (1935), 275.
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My task was to show the psychologists that it is possible to apply physiological knowledge to the phenomena of psychical life.
'Reflexes of the Brain', Selected Works (1935), 335-6.
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My view, the skeptical one, holds that we may be as far away from an understanding of elementary particles as Newton's successors were from quantum mechanics. Like them, we have two tremendous tasks ahead of us. One is to study and explore the mathematics of the existing theories. The existing quantum field-theories may or may not be correct, but they certainly conceal mathematical depths which will take the genius of an Euler or a Hamilton to plumb. Our second task is to press on with the exploration of the wide range of physical phenomena of which the existing theories take no account. This means pressing on with experiments in the fashionable area of particle physics. Outstanding among the areas of physics which have been left out of recent theories of elementary particles are gravitation and cosmology
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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No other theory known to science [other than superstring theory] uses such powerful mathematics at such a fundamental level. …because any unified field theory first must absorb the Riemannian geometry of Einstein’s theory and the Lie groups coming from quantum field theory… The new mathematics, which is responsible for the merger of these two theories, is topology, and it is responsible for accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of abolishing the infinities of a quantum theory of gravity.
In 'Conclusion', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 326.
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No school subject so readily furnishes tasks whose purpose can be made so clear, so immediate and so appealing to the sober second-thought of the immature learner as the right sort of elementary school mathematics.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 8. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 50.
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Nothing in physics seems so hopeful to as the idea that it is possible for a theory to have a high degree of symmetry was hidden from us in everyday life. The physicist's task is to find this deeper symmetry.
In American Scientist (1977) (as cited in The Atlantic (1984), 254, 81.) As an epigraph in Crystal and Dragon: The Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness (1993), 139.
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Observation is simple, indefatigable, industrious, upright, without any preconceived opinion. Experiment is artificial, impatient, busy, digressive; passionate, unreliable. We see every day one experiment after another, the second outweighing the impression gained from the first, both, often enough, carried out by men who are neither much distinguished for their spirit, nor for carrying with them the truth of personality and self denial. Nothing is easier than to make a series of so-called interesting experiments. Nature can only in some way be forced, and in her distress, she will give her suffering answer. Nothing is more difficult than to explain it, nothing is more difficult than a valid physiological experiment. We consider as the first task of current physiology to point at it and comprehend it.
Inaugural lecture as docent of physiology at the University of Bonn (19 Oct) 1824. Published in Johannes Muller, Zur vergleichenden Physiologie des Gesichtssinnes des Menschen und der Thiere (1826), 20.
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Of all obstacles to a thoroughly penetrating account of existence, none looms up more dismayingly than “time.” Explain time? Not without explaining existence. Explain existence? Not without explaining time. To uncover the deep and hidden connection between time and existence, to close on itself our quartet of questions, is a task for the future.
In article, 'Hermann Weyl and the Unity of Knowledge', American Scientist (Jul-Aug 1986), 74, 372. In the online pdf on the website weylmann.com, p. 26.
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Old King Coal was a merry old soul:
“I’ll move the world,” quoth he;
“My England’s high, and rich, and great,
But greater she shall be !”
And he call’d for the pick, and he call’d for the spade,
And he call’d for his miners bold;
“ And it’s dig,” he said, “in the deep, deep earth;
You’ll find my treasures better worth
Than mines of Indian gold!”

Old King Coal was a merry old soul,
Yet not content was he;
And he said, “I’ve found what I’ve desired,
Though ’tis but one of three.”
And he call’d for water, he call’d for fire,
For smiths and workmen true:
“Come, build me engines great and strong ;
We’ll have,” quoth he, “a change ere long;
We’ll try what Steam can do.”

Old King Coal was a merry old soul:
“’Tis fairly done,” quoth he,
When he saw the myriad wheels at work
O’er all the land and sea.
They spared the bones and strength of men,
They hammer’d, wove, and spun;
There was nought too great, too mean, or small,
The giant Steam had power for all;—
His task was never done.
From song, 'Old King Coal' (1846), collected in The Poetical Works of Charles Mackay: Now for the First Time Collected Complete in One Volume (1876), 565. To the melody of 'Old King Cole'.
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On our planet, all objects are subject to continual and inevitable changes which arise from the essential order of things. These changes take place at a variable rate according to the nature, condition, or situation of the objects involved, but are nevertheless accomplished within a certain period of time. Time is insignificant and never a difficulty for Nature. It is always at her disposal and represents an unlimited power with which she accomplishes her greatest and smallest tasks.
Hydrogéologie (1802), trans. A. V. Carozzi (1964), 61.
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One should guard against inculcating a young man with the idea that success is the aim of life, for a successful man normally receives from his peers an incomparably greater portion than the services he has been able to render them deserve. The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving. The most important motive for study at school, at the university, and in life is the pleasure of working and thereby obtaining results which will serve the community. The most important task for our educators is to awaken and encourage these psychological forces in a young man {or woman}. Such a basis alone can lead to the joy of possessing one of the most precious assets in the world - knowledge or artistic skill.
…...
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Our ultimate task is to find interpretative procedures that will uncover each bias and discredit its claims to universality. When this is done the eighteenth century can be formally closed and a new era that has been here a long time can be officially recognised. The individual human being, stripped of his humanity, is of no use as a conceptual base from which to make a picture of human society. No human exists except steeped in the culture of his time and place. The falsely abstracted individual has been sadly misleading to Western political thought. But now we can start again at a point where major streams of thought converge, at the other end, at the making of culture. Cultural analysis sees the whole tapestry as a whole, the picture and the weaving process, before attending to the individual threads.
As co-author with Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption (1979, 2002), 41-42.
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Science is not a sacred cow—but there are a large number of would-be sacred cowherds busily devoting quantities of time, energy and effort to the task of making it one, so they can be sacred cowherds.
From 'Introduction', to Prologue to Analog (1962).
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Science is a capital or fund perpetually reinvested; it accumulates, rolls up, is carried forward by every new man. Every man of science has all the science before him to go upon, to set himself up in business with. What an enormous sum Darwin availed himself of and reinvested! Not so in literature; to every poet, to every artist, it is still the first day of creation, so far as the essentials of his task are concerned. Literature is not so much a fund to be reinvested as it is a crop to be ever new-grown.
Indoor Studies, vol. 12, Collected Works, Houghton (1913).
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Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.
In Education For a New World (1946), 4.
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Scientific physiology has the task of determining the functions of the animal body and deriving them as a necessary consequence from its elementary conditions.
Lehrbuch der Physiologie des Menschens (1852), Vol 1, 1. Trans. Paul F. Cranefield, 'The Organic Physics of 1847 and the Biophysics of Today', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (1957), 12, 410.
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Scientists alone can establish the objectives of their research, but society, in extending support to science, must take account of its own needs. As a layman, I can suggest only with diffidence what some of the major tasks might be on your scientific agenda, but … First, I would suggest the question of the conservation and development of our natural resources. In a recent speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, I proposed a world-wide program to protect land and water, forests and wildlife, to combat exhaustion and erosion, to stop the contamination of water and air by industrial as well as nuclear pollution, and to provide for the steady renewal and expansion of the natural bases of life.
From Address to the Centennial Convocation of the National Academy of Sciences (22 Oct 1963), 'A Century of Scientific Conquest'. Online at The American Presidency Project.
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Since the examination of consistency is a task that cannot be avoided, it appears necessary to axiomatize logic itself and to prove that number theory and set theory are only parts of logic. This method was prepared long ago (not least by Frege’s profound investigations); it has been most successfully explained by the acute mathematician and logician Russell. One could regard the completion of this magnificent Russellian enterprise of the axiomatization of logic as the crowning achievement of the work of axiomatization as a whole.
Address (11 Sep 1917), 'Axiomatisches Denken' delivered before the Swiss Mathematical Society in Zürich. Translated by Ewald as 'Axiomatic Thought', (1918), in William Bragg Ewald, From Kant to Hilbert (1996), Vol. 2, 1113.
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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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Technology means the systematic application of scientific or other organized knowledge to practical tasks.
In 'The Imperatives of Technology', The New Industrial State (1967), Chap. 2, 12.
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That no generally applicable law of the formulation and development of hybrids has yet been successfully formulated can hardly astonish anyone who is acquainted with the extent of the task and who can appreciate the difficulties with which experiments of this kind have to contend.
'Experiments on Plant Hybrids' (1865). In Curt Stern and Eva R. Sherwood (eds.), The Origin of Genetics: A Mendel Source Book (1966), 2.
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The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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The central task of science is to arrive, stage by stage, at a clearer comprehension of nature, but this does not mean, as it is sometimes claimed to mean, a search for mastery over nature.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 153.
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The competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids clever tricks like the plague.
…...
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The cosmogonist has finished his task when he has described to the best of his ability the inevitable sequence of changes which constitute the history of the material universe. But the picture which he draws opens questions of the widest interest not only to science, but also to humanity. What is the significance of the vast processes it portrays? What is the meaning, if any there be which is intelligible to us, of the vast accumulations of matter which appear, on our present interpretations of space and time, to have been created only in order that they may destroy themselves.
In Astronomy and Cosmogony (1961).
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The development of an organism … may be considered as the execution of a 'developmental program' present in the fertilized egg. … A central task of developmental biology is to discover the underlying algorithm from the course of development.
Aristid Lindenmayer and Grzegorz Rozenberg, Automata, Languages, Development (1976), v.
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The digestive canal is in its task a complete chemical factory. The raw material passes through a long series of institutions in which it is subjected to certain mechanical and, mainly, chemical processing, and then, through innumerable side-streets, it is brought into the depot of the body. Aside from this basic series of institutions, along which the raw material moves, there is a series of lateral chemical manufactories, which prepare certain reagents for the appropriate processing of the raw material.
Speech to the Society of Russian Physicians (Dec 1874). as translated in Daniel P. Todes, Pavlov’s Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise (2002), 155.
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The discovery in 1846 of the planet Neptune was a dramatic and spectacular achievement of mathematical astronomy. The very existence of this new member of the solar system, and its exact location, were demonstrated with pencil and paper; there was left to observers only the routine task of pointing their telescopes at the spot the mathematicians had marked.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), 'Commentary on John Couch Adams', The World of Mathematics (1956), 820.
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The discovery of the famous original [Rosetta Stone] enabled Napoleon’s experts to begin the reading of Egypt’s ancient literature. In like manner the seismologists, using the difficult but manageable Greek of modern physics, are beginning the task of making earthquakes tell the nature of the earth’s interior and translating into significant speech the hieroglyphics written by the seismograph.
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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 fascination of any search after truth lies not in the attainment, which at best is found to be very relative, but in the pursuit, where all the powers of the mind and character are brought into play and are absorbed by the task. One feels oneself in contact with something that is infinite and one finds joy that is beyond expression in sounding the abyss of science and the secrets of the infinite mind.
In Isabel Fothergill Smith, The Stone Lady: a Memoir of Florence Bascom (1981). Cited in Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society (992), Vols. 11-12, 39.
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The Fundamental Regulator Paradox … The task of a regulator is to eliminate variation, but this variation is the ultimate source of information about the quality of its work. Therefore, the better the job a regulator does the less information it gets about how to improve.
In Gerald M. Weinberg and Daniela Weinberg, The Design of Stable Systems (1979), 250. As quoted in John R. Wilson, Evaluation of Human Work (2005), 220.
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The future of Thought, and therefore of History, lies in the hands of the physicists, and … the future historian must seek his education in the world of mathematical physics. A new generation must be brought up to think by new methods, and if our historical departments in the Universities cannot enter this next phase, the physical departments will have to assume this task alone.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1920), 283.
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The History of Evolution is the real source of light in the investigation of organic bodies. It is applicable at every step, and all our ideas of the correlation of organic bodies will be swayed by our knowledge of the history of evolution. To carry the proof of it into all branches of research would be an almost endless task. (1828)
Quoted as an epigraph to Chap. 3, in Ernst Haeckel, The Evolution of Man, (1886), Vol 1, 48.
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The individual on his own is stable only so long as he is possessed of self-esteem. The maintenance of self-esteem is a continuous task which taxes all of the individual’s powers and inner resources. We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day. When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride—the explosive substitute for self-esteem. All social disturbances and upheavals have their roots in crises of individual self-esteem, and the great endeavor in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride.
In The Passionate State of Mind (1955), 18
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The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worshiHe sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.
In 'Concerning Individual Freedom', The Ordeal of Change (1963, 1990), 100.
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The known is finite, the unknown infinite; spiritually we find ourselves on a tiny island in the middle of a boundless ocean of the inexplicable. It is our task, from generation to generation, to drain a small amount of additional land.
As given in Herbert and W. Roesky and Klaud Möckel, translated from the original German by T.N. Mitchell and W.E. Russey, Chemical Curiosities: Spectacular Experiments and Inspired Quotes (1996), 212. It is a restatement of an original quote from concluding remarks to a chapter by Thomas Huxley, 'On the Reception of the ‘Origin of Species’', the last chapter in Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 1, 557. Webmaster suggests, the original Huxley quote was translated for the original German text, and when that was translated for the English edition, the quote morphed into into the form above.
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The next great task of science is to create a religion for humanity.
Quoted in Julian Huxley, Essays of a Biologist (1928), 235.
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The oil industry is a stunning example of how science, technology, and mass production can divert an entire group of companies from their main task. ... No oil company gets as excited about the customers in its own backyard as about the oil in the Sahara Desert. ... But the truth is, it seems to me, that the industry begins with the needs of the customer for its products. From that primal position its definition moves steadily back stream to areas of progressively lesser importance until it finally comes to rest at the search for oil.
In 'Marketing Myopia' originally published in Harvard Business Review (). Reprinted in Harvard Business Review Classics: Marketing Myopia (2008), 66-71.
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The physicist is like someone who’s watching people playing chess and, after watching a few games, he may have worked out what the moves in the game are. But understanding the rules is just a trivial preliminary on the long route from being a novice to being a grand master. So even if we understand all the laws of physics, then exploring their consequences in the everyday world where complex structures can exist is a far more daunting task, and that’s an inexhaustible one I'm sure.
In Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 37.
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The position of the anthropologist of to-day resembles in some sort the position of classical scholars at the revival of learning. To these men the rediscovery of ancient literature came like a revelation, disclosing to their wondering eyes a splendid vision of the antique world, such as the cloistered of the Middle Ages never dreamed of under the gloomy shadow of the minster and within the sound of its solemn bells. To us moderns a still wider vista is vouchsafed, a greater panorama is unrolled by the study which aims at bringing home to us the faith and the practice, the hopes and the ideals, not of two highly gifted races only, but of all mankind, and thus at enabling us to follow the long march, the slow and toilsome ascent, of humanity from savagery to civilization. And as the scholar of the Renaissance found not merely fresh food for thought but a new field of labour in the dusty and faded manuscripts of Greece and Rome, so in the mass of materials that is steadily pouring in from many sides—from buried cities of remotest antiquity as well as from the rudest savages of the desert and the jungle—we of to-day must recognise a new province of knowledge which will task the energies of generations of students to master.
'Author’s Introduction' (1900). In Dr Theodor H. Gaster (ed.), The New Golden Bough (1959), xxv-xxvi.
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The primes are the raw material out of which we have to build arithmetic, and Euclid’s theorem assures us that we have plenty of material for the task.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 99.
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The progress of science requires more than new data; it needs novel frameworks and contexts. And where do these fundamentally new views of the world arise? They are not simply discovered by pure observation; they require new modes of thought. And where can we find them, if old modes do not even include the right metaphors? The nature of true genius must lie in the elusive capacity to construct these new modes from apparent darkness. The basic chanciness and unpredictability of science must also reside in the inherent difficulty of such a task.
…...
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The purpose of science is to develop, without prejudice or preconception of any kind, a knowledge of the facts, the laws, and the processes of nature. The even more important task of religion, on the other hand, is to develop the consciences, the ideals, and the aspirations of mankind.
'A Joint Statement Upon the Relations of Science and Religion' formulated by Millikan (1923), signed by forty-five leaders of religion, science and human affairs. Reproduced in Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors (May 1923), 9, No. 5, 47. Included in Science and Life (1924), 86. (Note the context in time: the contemporary social climate by 1925 led to the Butler Act banning the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools and the resulting trial of John Scopes.)
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The question is not whether “big is ugly,” “small is beautiful,” or technology is “appropriate.” It is whether technologists will be ready for the demanding, often frustrating task of working with critical laypeople to develop what is needed or whether th
Technology Review (Feb 1980).
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The reformer [of the body of law] who would seek to improve such a system in any material degree, mistakes his vocation. That task had better be left to time and experience. He will often find it impossible to know what to eradicate and what to spare, and in plucking up the tares, the wheat may sometimes be destroyed. “The pound of flesh” may be removed, indeed, but with it will come, gushing forth, the blood of life.
From biographical preface by T. Bigelow to Austin Abbott (ed.), Official Report of the Trial of Henry Ward Beecher (1875), Vol. 1, xii.
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The responsibility for maintaining the composition of the blood in respect to other constituents devolves largely upon the kidneys. It is no exaggeration to say that the composition of the blood is determined not by what the mouth ingests but by what the kidneys keep; they are the master chemists of our internal environment, which, so to speak, they synthesize in reverse. When, among other duties, they excrete the ashes of our body fires, or remove from the blood the infinite variety of foreign substances which are constantly being absorbed from our indiscriminate gastrointestinal tracts, these excretory operations are incidental to the major task of keeping our internal environment in an ideal, balanced state. Our glands, our muscles, our bones, our tendons, even our brains, are called upon to do only one kind of physiological work, while our kidneys are called upon to perform an innumerable variety of operations. Bones can break, muscles can atrophy, glands can loaf, even the brain can go to sleep, without immediately endangering our survival, but when the kidneys fail to manufacture the proper kind of blood neither bone, muscle, gland nor brain can carry on.
'The Evolution of the Kidney', Lectures on the Kidney (1943), 3.
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The scientist’s task is to find ways to try to disprove things that seem to make sense.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 230.
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The stakes are immense, the task colossal, the time is short. But we may hope–we must hope–that man’s own creation, man’s own genius, will not destroy him. Scholars, indeed all men, must move forward in the faith of that philosopher who held that there is no problem the human reason can propound which the human reason cannot reason out.
From 'Is Einstein Right?', in William Allison Shimer (ed.), The American Scholar (1946), 15, 476. Reprinted in American Thought 1947 (1947), 196. Gauss is commenting on an article by Einstein about the challenges following the creation of the atomic bomb, 'The Real Problem Is in the Hearts of Men', New York Times Magazine (23 Jun 1946), SM4.
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The task allotted to me is to state what is fact and what is fancy in our researches into immunity. We have reached the stage when we marshal our facts and court-martial our fictions.
At opening session of the Pathology Section of the British Medical Association Annual Meeting, Oxford (1904). Quoted as recollected by D.J. Hamilton in 'Obituary: The Late Prof. William Bulloch', The British Medical Journal (15 Mar 1941), 1, No. 4184, 422.
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The task of a university is to weld together imagination and experience.
In 'Universities and Their Function', Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 140.
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The task of asking nonliving matter to speak and the responsibility for interpreting its reply is that of physics.
Time: the Familiar Stranger (1987)
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The task of physiological psychology remains the same in the analysis of ideas that it was in the investigation of sensations: to act as mediator between the neighbouring sciences of physiology and psychology.
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The task of science is both to extend the range of our experience and to reduce it to order.
From Introductory Survey (1929) in Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (1934), 1.
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The task of science is to stake out the limits of the knowable, and to center consciousness within them.
As found in Bernard E. Farber, A Teacher’s Treasury of Quotations (1985), 264. This is probably a loose translation of the original German: “Die Aufgabe der Wissenschaftquote”..., See the more literal translation on this page, also beginning “The task of science…,” for full citation. Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for the shorter translation in these words—can you help?
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The task of science, therefore, is not to attack the objects of faith, but to establish the limits beyond which knowledge cannot go and found a unified self-consciousness within these limits.
Translation of the original German: Die Aufgabe der Wissenschaft ist es daher nicht, die Gegenstände des Glaubens anzugreifen, sondern nur die Grenzen zu stecken, welche die Erkenntniss erreichen kann, und innerhalb derselben das einheitliche Selbstbewusstsein zu begründen., from 'Der Mensch' (1849), collected in Gesammelte abhandlungen zur wissenschaftlichen medicin (1856), 6. As translated in Lelland J. Rather (ed., trans.), 'On Man', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays (1958), 83-84.
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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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There may be a golden ignorance. If Professor Bell had known how difficult a task he was attempting, he would never have given us the telephone.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 178.
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There was positive, clear-cut, unquestioned direction of the project at all levels. Authority was invariably delegated with responsibility, and this delegation was absolute and without reservation. Only in this way could the many apparently autonomous organizations working on the many apparently independent tasks be pulled together to achieve our final objective.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 415.
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Therefore on long pondering this uncertainty of mathematical traditions on the deduction of the motions of the system of the spheres, I began to feel disgusted that no more certain theory of the motions of the mechanisms of the universe, which has been established for us by the best and most systematic craftsman of all, was agreed by the philosophers, who otherwise theorised so minutely with most careful attention to the details of this system. I therefore set myself the task of reading again the books of all philosophers which were available to me, to search out whether anyone had ever believed that the motions of the spheres of the, universe were other than was supposed by those who professed mathematics in the schools.
'To His Holiness Pope Paul III', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 25.
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There’s a touch of the priesthood in the academic world, a sense that a scholar should not be distracted by the mundane tasks of day-to-day living. I used to have great stretches of time to work. Now I have research thoughts while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sure it’s impossible to write down ideas while reading “Curious George” to a two-year-old. On the other hand, as my husband was leaving graduate school for his first job, his thesis advisor told him, “You may wonder how a professor gets any research done when one has to teach, advise students, serve on committees, referee papers, write letters of recommendation, interview prospective faculty. Well, I take long showers.”
In 'In Her Own Words: Six Mathematicians Comment on Their Lives and Careers: Susan Landau', Notices of the AMS (Sep 1991), 38, No. 7, 704.
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This long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.
A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923), 80.
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To keep pace with the growth of mathematics, one would have to read about fifteen papers a day, most of them packed with technical details and of considerable length. No one dreams of attempting this task.
In 'The Extent of Mathematics', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 11.
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To make [morality] a living force and bring it to clear consciousness is perhaps the foremost task of education.
In a letter to a minister in Brooklyn, N.Y. (20 Nov 1950), second paragraph, as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (eds.), Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979, 1981), 95.
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To mean understandings, it is sufficient honour to be numbered amongst the lowest labourers of learning; but different abilities must find different tasks. To hew stone, would have been unworthy of Palladio; and to have rambled in search of shells and flowers, had but ill suited with the capacity of Newton.
From 'Numb. 83, Tuesday, January 1, 1750', The Rambler (1756), Vol. 2, 154. (Italian architect Palladio, 1509-80, is widely considered the most influential in the history of Western architecture.)
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To my knowledge there are no written accounts of Fermi’s contributions to the [first atomic bomb] testing problems, nor would it be easy to reconstruct them in detail. This, however, was one of those occasions in which Fermi’s dominion over all physics, one of his most startling characteristics, came into its own. The problems involved in the Trinity test ranged from hydrodynamics to nuclear physics, from optics to thermodynamics, from geophysics to nuclear chemistry. Often they were closely interrelated, and to solve one’it was necessary to understand all the others. Even though the purpose was grim and terrifying, it was one of the greatest physics experiments of all time. Fermi completely immersed himself in the task. At the time of the test he was one of the very few persons (or perhaps the only one) who understood all the technical ramifications.
In Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 145
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To present a scientific subject in an attractive and stimulating manner is an artistic task, similar to that of a novelist or even a dramatic writer. The same holds for writing textbooks.
Max Born
My Life & My Views (1968), 48.
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To prove to an indignant questioner on the spur of the moment that the work I do was useful seemed a thankless task and I gave it up. I turned to him with a smile and finished, 'To tell you the truth we don't do it because it is useful but because it's amusing.' The answer was thought of and given in a moment: it came from deep down in my soul, and the results were as admirable from my point of view as unexpected. My audience was clearly on my side. Prolonged and hearty applause greeted my confession. My questioner retired shaking his head over my wickedness and the newspapers next day, with obvious approval, came out with headlines 'Scientist Does It Because It's Amusing!' And if that is not the best reason why a scientist should do his work, I want to know what is. Would it be any good to ask a mother what practical use her baby is? That, as I say, was the first evening I ever spent in the United States and from that moment I felt at home. I realised that all talk about science purely for its practical and wealth-producing results is as idle in this country as in England. Practical results will follow right enough. No real knowledge is sterile. The most useless investigation may prove to have the most startling practical importance: Wireless telegraphy might not yet have come if Clerk Maxwell had been drawn away from his obviously 'useless' equations to do something of more practical importance. Large branches of chemistry would have remained obscure had Willard Gibbs not spent his time at mathematical calculations which only about two men of his generation could understand. With this faith in the ultimate usefulness of all real knowledge a man may proceed to devote himself to a study of first causes without apology, and without hope of immediate return.
A.V. Hill
Quoted in Larry R. Squire (ed.), The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography (1996), Vol. I, 351.
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To the Victorian scientist, science was the pursuit of truth about Nature. In imagination, each new truth discovered could be ticked off on a list kept perhaps in a celestial planning office, so reducing by one the total number of truths to be discovered. But the practising scientist now knows that he is dealing with a living, growing thing. His task is never done.
Opening remark in article 'Musical Acoustics Today', New Scientist (1 Nov 1962), 16 No. 311, 256.
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Visualize yourself confronted with the task of killing, one after the other, a cabbage, a fly, a fish, a lizard, a guinea pig, a cat, a dog, a monkey and a baby chimpanzee. In the unlikely case that you should experience no greater inhibitions in killing the chimpanzee than in destroying the cabbage or the fly, my advice to you is to commit suicide at your earliest possible convenience, because you are a weird monstrosity and a public danger.
'The Enmity Between Generations and Its Probable Ethological Causes'. In Richard I. Evans, Konrad Lorenz: The Man and his Ideas (1975), 227.
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We did not design our organization to operate in perpetuity. Consequently, our people were able to devote themselves exclusively to the task at hand, and had no reason to engage in independent empire-building.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 415.
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We must protect each other against the attacks of those self-appointed watchdogs of patriotism now abroad in the land who irresponsibly pin red labels on anyone whom they wish to destroy. ... [Academic professionals are the only person competant to differentiate between honest independents and the Communists.] This is our responsibility. It is not a pleasant task. But if it is left to outsiders, the distinction is not likely to be made and those independent critics of social institutions among us who are one of the glories of a true university could be silenced.
As quoted by William L. Laurence in 'Professors Urged to Guard Freedom', New York Times (19 Sep 1952), 17.
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We praise the eighteenth century for concerning itself chiefly with analysis. The task remaining to the nineteenth is to discover the false syntheses which prevail, and to analyse their contents anew.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 198.
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What certainty can there be in a Philosophy which consists in as many Hypotheses as there are Phaenomena to be explained. To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. 'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing.
Quoted in Richard S. Westfall, The Life of Isaac Newton (1994), 256.
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What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school… It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don’t understand it. You see my physics students don’t understand it… That is because I don’t understand it. Nobody does.
From Lecture, the first in the first series of Alix G. Mauntner Lectures, trascribed and editted by Ralph Leighton, 'Introduction', QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985, 1988), 9.
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What I then got hold of, something frightful and dangerous, a problem with horns but not necessarily a bull, in any case a new problem—today I should say that it was the problem of science itself, science considered for the first time as problematic, as questionable. But the book in which my youthful courage and suspicion found an outlet—what an impossible book had to result from a task so uncongenial to youth! Constructed from a lot of immature, overgreen personal experiences, all of them close to the limits of communication, presented in the context of art—for the problem of science cannot be recognized in the context of science—a book perhaps for artists who also have an analytic and retrospective penchant (in other words, an exceptional type of artist for whom one might have to look far and wide and really would not care to look) …
In The Birth of Tragedy (1872). Collected in Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann (trans.), The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner (1967), 18.
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What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement.
Essay, 'The Study of Mathematics' (1902), collected in Philosophical Essays (1910), 73-74. Also collected in Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays (1919), 60.
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What is that we human beings ultimately depend on? We depend on our words. We are suspended in language. Our task is to communicate experience and ideas to others.
Quoted in Aage Petersen, 'The Philosophy of Niels Bohr', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1963, 19, 10.
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When a man of science speaks of his “data,” he knows very well in practice what he means. Certain experiments have been conducted, and have yielded certain observed results, which have been recorded. But when we try to define a “datum” theoretically, the task is not altogether easy. A datum, obviously, must be a fact known by perception. But it is very difficult to arrive at a fact in which there is no element of inference, and yet it would seem improper to call something a “datum” if it involved inferences as well as observation. This constitutes a problem. …
In The Analysis of Matter (1954).
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When asked … [about] an underlying quantum world, Bohr would answer, “There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about Nature.”
As quoted in Aage Petersen, 'The Philosophy of Niels Bohr', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1963, 19, 12. Note: Bohr's remark, although in quotation marks, should not be regarded as a direct quote in these exact words. It is a generalised statement in Petersen’s words to represent Bohr’s viewpoint. This is explained in a footnote in Michael Frayn, The Human Touch (2007), 431 based on an article by N. David Mermin in Physics Today (Feb 2004).
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When every fact, every present or past phenomenon of that universe, every phase of present or past life therein, has been examined, classified, and co-ordinated with the rest, then the mission of science will be completed. What is this but saying that the task of science can never end till man ceases to be, till history is no longer made, and development itself ceases?
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 15.
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Who are we? The answer to this question is not only one of the tasks but the task of science.
…...
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Why can the chemist not take the requisite numbers of atoms and simply put them together? The answer is that the chemist never has atoms at his disposal, and if he had, the direct combination of the appropriate numbers of atoms would lead only to a Brobdingnagian potpourri of different kinds of molecules, having a vast array of different structures. What the chemist has at hand always consists of substances, themselves made up of molecules, containing defined numbers of atoms in ordered arrangements. Consequently, in order to synthesize anyone substance, his task is that of combining, modifying, transforming, and tailoring known substances, until the total effect of his manipulations is the conversion of one or more forms of matter into another.
In 'Art and Science in the Synthesis of Organic Compounds: Retrospect and Prospect', in Maeve O'Connor (ed.), Pointers and Pathways in Research (1963), 28.
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With crystals we are in a situation similar to an attempt to investigate an optical grating merely from the spectra it produces... But a knowledge of the positions and intensities of the spectra does not suffice for the determination of the structure. The phases with which the diffracted waves vibrate relative to one another enter in an essential way. To determine a crystal structure on the atomic scale, one must know the phase differences between the different interference spots on the photographic plate, and this task may certainly prove to be rather difficult.
Physikalische Zeitschrift (1913), 14. Translated in Walter Moore, Schrödinger. Life and Thought (1989), 73.
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Your life is your spiritual path. It’s what’s right in front of you. You can’t live anyone else’s life. The task is to live yours and stop trying to copy one you think looks better.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 245
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Zoological taxonomists in general are inclined to be practical workers rather than philosophers, if only because they face such an unending task that they are not encouraged to sit back and philosophize.
In 'Illogicality in Criticism', Systematic Zoology (Dec 1969), 18, No. 4, 470.
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[A]s you know, scientific education is fabulously neglected … This is an evil that is inherited, passed on from generation to generation. The majority of educated persons are not interested in science, and are not aware that scientific knowledge forms part of the idealistic background of human life. Many believe—in their complete ignorance of what science really is—that it has mainly the ancillary task of inventing new machinery, or helping to invent it, for improving our conditions of life. They are prepared to leave this task to the specialists, as they leave the repairing of their pipes to the plumber. If persons with this outlook decide upon the curriculum of our children, the result is necessarily such as I have just described it.
Opening remarks of the second of four public lectures for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at University College, Dublin (Feb 1950), The Practical Achievements of Science Tending to Obliterate its True Import', collected in Science and Humanism: Physics in Our Time (1951). Reprinted in 'Nature and the Greeks' and 'Science and Humanism' (1996), 113.
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[Magic] enables man to carry out with confidence his important tasks, to maintain his poise and his mental integrity in fits of anger, in the throes of hate, of unrequited love, of despair and anxiety. The function of magic is to ritualize man's optimism, to enhance his faith in the victory of hope over fear. Magic expresses the greater value for man of confidence over doubt, of steadfastness over vacillation, of optimism over pessimism.
Magic, Science and Religion (1925), 90.
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[The aim of science is] to explain what so far has taken to be an explicans, such as a law of nature. The task of empirical science constantly renews itself. We may go on forever, proceeding to explanations of a higher and higher universality…
"The Aim of Science', Ratio 1 (1958), 26. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 238
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[The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task. ... We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946),
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~~[Misattributed]~~ … the task is … not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
This quote has been widely (apparently) incorrectly attributed to Erwin Schrödinger, for example, in Alan L. Mackay (ed.), A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 219. For an earlier authentic statement of this quote, see the Arthur Schopenhauer Quotes page on this website. Also see Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.
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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 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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