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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Themselves Quotes (433 quotes)

... [I]nfectious disease is merely a disagreeable instance of a widely prevalent tendency of all living creatures to save themselves the bother of building, by their own efforts, the things they require. Whenever they find it possible to take advantage of the constructive labors of others, this is the path of least resistance. The plant does the work with its roots and its green leaves. The cow eats the plant. Man eats both of them; and bacteria (or investment bankers) eat the man. ...
Rats, Lice and History (1935).
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...for the animals, which we resemble and which would be our equals if we did not have reason, do not reflect upon the actions or the passions of their external or internal senses, and do not know what is color, odor or sound, or if there is any differences between these objects, to which they are moved rather than moving themselves there. This comes about by the force of the impression that the different objects make on their organs and on their senses, for they cannot discern if it is more appropriate to go and drink or eat or do something else, and they do not eat or drink or do anything else except when the presence of objects or the animal imagination [l'imagination brutalle], necessitates them and transports them to their objects, without their knowing what they do, whether good or bad; which would happen to us just as to them if we were destitute of reason, for they have no enlightenment except what they must have to take their nourishment and to serve us for the uses to which God has destined them.
[Arguing the uniqueness of man by regarding animals to be merely automatons.].
Les Préludes de l'Harmonie Universelle (1634), 135-139. In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 318.
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...I may perhaps venture a short word on the question much discussed in certain quarters, whether in the work of excavation it is a good thing to have cooperation between men and women ... Of a mixed dig ... I have seen something, and it is an experiment that I would be reluctant to try again. I would grant if need be that women are admirable fitted for the work, yet I would uphold that they should undertake it by themselves ... the work of an excavator on the dig and off it lays on those who share it a bond of closer daily intercourse than is conceivable ... between men and women, except in chance cases, I do not believe that such close and unavoidable companionship can ever be other than a source of irritation; at any rate, I believe that however it may affect women, the ordinary male at least cannot stand it ... A minor ... objection lies in one particular form of contraint ... moments will occur on the best regulated dig when you want to say just what you think without translation, which before the ladies, whatever their feelings about it, cannot be done.
Archaeological Excavation (1915), 63-64. In Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky Breaking Ground (2006), 557-558. By (), 163-164.
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I. Animals have an electricity peculiar to themselves to which the name animal electricity is given.
II. The organs in which animal electricity acts above all others, and by which it is distributed throughout the whole body, are the nerves, and the most important organ of secretion is the brain.
Thierische Elektricitäund Reizbarkeit. Ein Beytrag zu den neuesten Entdeckungen üdiese Gegenstä(1795), 329. Quoted and trans. in Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 180.
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Les Leucocytes Et L'esprit De Sacrifice. — Il semble, d'après les recherches de De Bruyne (Phagocytose, 1895) et de ceux qui le citent, que les leucocytes des Lamellibranches — probablement lorsqu'ils ont phagocyté, qu'ils se sont chargés de résidus et de déchets, qu'ils ont, en un mot, accompli leur rôle et bien fait leur devoir — sortent du corps de l'animal et vont mourir dans le milieu ambiant. Ils se sacrifient. Après avoir si bien servi l'organisme par leur activité, ils le servent encore par leur mort en faisant place aux cellules nouvelles, plus jeunes.
N'est-ce pas la parfaite image du désintéressement le plus noble, et n'y a-t-il point là un exemple et un modèle? Il faut s'en inspirer: comme eux, nous sommes les unités d'un grand corps social; comme eux, nous pouvons le servir et envisager la mort avec sérénité, en subordonnant notre conscience individuelle à la conscience collective.
(30 Jan 1896)
Leukocytes and The Spirit Of Sacrifice. - It seems, according to research by De Bruyne (Phagocytosis, 1885) and those who quote it, that leukocytes of Lamellibranches [bivalves] - likely when they have phagocytized [ingested bacteria], as they become residues and waste, they have, in short, performed their role well and done their duty - leave the body of the animal and will die in the environment. They sacrifice themselves. Having so well served the body by their activities, they still serve in their death by making room for new younger cells.
Isn't this the perfect image of the noblest selflessness, and thereby presents an example and a model? It should be inspiring: like them, we are the units of a great social body, like them, we can serve and contemplate death with equanimity, subordinating our individual consciousness to collective consciousness.
In Recueil d'Œuvres de Léo Errera: Botanique Générale (1908), 194. Google translation by Webmaster. Please give feedback if you can improve it.
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Question: Account for the delicate shades of colour sometimes seen on the inside of an oyster shell. State and explain the appearance presented when a beam of light falls upon a sheet of glass on which very fine equi-distant parallel lines have been scratched very close to one another.
Answer: The delicate shades are due to putrefaction; the colours always show best when the oyster has been a bad one. Hence they are considered a defect and are called chromatic aberration.
The scratches on the glass will arrange themselves in rings round the light, as any one may see at night in a tram car.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 182, Question 27. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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The Water-baby story character, Tom, asks: 'I heard, ma'am, that you were always making new beasts out of old.'
Mother Carey [Mother Nature] replies: 'So people fancy. But I am not going to trouble myself to make things, my little dear. I sit here and make them make themselves.'
[The author's indirect reference to evolution.]
The Water-babies (1886), 307.
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Thomasina: Every week I plot your equations dot for dot, x’s against y’s in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?
Septimus: We do.
Thomasina: Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?
Septimus: I do not know.
Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Scene 3, 37.
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[On the propulsive force of rockets] One part of fire takes up as much space as ten parts of air, and one part of air takes up the space of ten parts of water, and one part of water as much as ten parts of earth. Now powder is earth, consisting of the four elementary principles, and when the sulfur conducts the fire into the dryest part of the powder, fire, and air increase … the other elements also gird themselves for battle with each other and the rage of battle is changed by their heat and moisture into a strong wind.
In De La Pirotechnia (1540). From the 1943 English translation, as given in Willy Ley, Rockets: The Future of Travel Beyond the Stratosphere (1944), 64. Though Birinuccio provided the first insight into what propels a rocket, the “strong wind” blowing downward, he did not explain why that should cause the rocket to rise upward, as Issac Newton would do with his Third Law of Motion, nearly a century and a half later.
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[Question: Do you feel that scientists correct themselves as often as they should?]
More often than politicians, but not as often as they should.
Interview with Deborah Solomon, 'The Science of Second-Guessing', in New York Times Magazine (12 Dec 2004), 37.
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CALPURNIA: When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
CAESAR: Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Julius Caesar (1599), II, ii.
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A bird maintains itself in the air by imperceptible balancing, when near to the mountains or lofty ocean crags; it does this by means of the curves of the winds which as they strike against these projections, being forced to preserve their first impetus bend their straight course towards the sky with divers revolutions, at the beginning of which the birds come to a stop with their wings open, receiving underneath themselves the continual buffetings of the reflex courses of the winds.
'Flight', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938), Vol. 1, 471.
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A closer look at the course followed by developing theory reveals for a start that it is by no means as continuous as one might expect, but full of breaks and at least apparently not along the shortest logical path. Certain methods often afforded the most handsome results only the other day, and many might well have thought that the development of science to infinity would consist in no more than their constant application. Instead, on the contrary, they suddenly reveal themselves as exhausted and the attempt is made to find other quite disparate methods. In that event there may develop a struggle between the followers of the old methods and those of the newer ones. The former's point of view will be termed by their opponents as out-dated and outworn, while its holders in turn belittle the innovators as corrupters of true classical science.
In 'On the Development of the Methods of Theoretical Physics in Recent Times', Populäre Schriften, Essay 14. Address (22 Sep 1899) to the Meeting of Natural Scientists at Munich. Collected in Brian McGuinness (ed.), Ludwig Boltzmann: Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems, Selected Writings (1974), 79.
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A conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors.
…...
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A considerable number of persons are able to protect themselves against the outbreak of serious neurotic phenomena only through intense work.
From Observations on Ferenczi's paper on 'Sunday Neuroses' (1918). Quoted in Peter Bryan Warr, Work, Happiness, and Unhappiness (2007), 161.
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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 mind which has once imbibed a taste for scientific enquiry, and has learnt the habit of applying its principles readily to the cases which occur, has within itself an inexhaustable source of pure and exciting contemplations:— One would think that Shakespeare had such a mind in view when he describes a contemplative man as finding
    “Tongues in trees—books in running brooks—
    Sermons in stones—and good in everything.”
Accustomed to trace the operations of general causes and the exemplification of general laws, in circumstances where the uninformed and uninquiring eye, perceives neither novelty nor beauty, he walks in the midst of wonders; every object which falls in his way elucidates some principle, affords some instruction and impresses him with a sense of harmony and order. Nor is it a mere passive pleasure which is thus communicated. A thousand questions are continually arising in his mind, a thousand objects of enquiry presenting themselves, which keep his faculties in constant exercise, and his thoughts perpetually on the wing, so that lassitude is excluded from his life, and that craving after artificial excitement and dissipation of the mind, which leads so many into frivolous, unworthy, and destructive pursuits, is altogether eradicated from his bosom.
In Dionysius Lardner (ed.), Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Vol 1, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), 14-15.
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A number of years ago, when I was a freshly-appointed instructor, I met, for the first time, a certain eminent historian of science. At the time I could only regard him with tolerant condescension.
I was sorry of the man who, it seemed to me, was forced to hover about the edges of science. He was compelled to shiver endlessly in the outskirts, getting only feeble warmth from the distant sun of science- in-progress; while I, just beginning my research, was bathed in the heady liquid heat up at the very center of the glow.
In a lifetime of being wrong at many a point, I was never more wrong. It was I, not he, who was wandering in the periphery. It was he, not I, who lived in the blaze.
I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the “growing edge;” the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.
But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.
There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. “If I have seen further than other men,” said Isaac Newton, “it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
Adding A Dimension: Seventeen Essays on the History of Science (1964), Introduction.
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A short, broad man of tremendous vitality, the physical type of Hereward, the last of the English, and his brother-in-arms, Winter, Sylvester’s capacious head was ever lost in the highest cloud-lands of pure mathematics. Often in the dead of night he would get his favorite pupil, that he might communicate the very last product of his creative thought. Everything he saw suggested to him something new in the higher algebra. This transmutation of everything into new mathematics was a revelation to those who knew him intimately. They began to do it themselves. His ease and fertility of invention proved a constant encouragement, while his contempt for provincial stupidities, such as the American hieroglyphics for π and e, which have even found their way into Webster’s Dictionary, made each young worker apply to himself the strictest tests.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265.
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A taxonomy of abilities, like a taxonomy anywhere else in science, is apt to strike a certain type of impatient student as a gratuitous orgy of pedantry. Doubtless, compulsions to intellectual tidiness express themselves prematurely at times, and excessively at others, but a good descriptive taxonomy, as Darwin found in developing his theory, and as Newton found in the work of Kepler, is the mother of laws and theories.
From Intelligence: Its Structure, Growth and Action: Its Structure, Growth and Action (1987), 61.
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A work of genius is something like the pie in the nursery song, in which the four and twenty blackbirds are baked. When the pie is opened, the birds begin to sing. Hereupon three fourths of the company run away in a fright; and then after a time, feeling ashamed, they would fain excuse themselves by declaring, the pie stank so, they could not sit near it. Those who stay behind, the men of taste and epicures, say one to another, We came here to eat. What business have birds, after they have been baked, to be alive and singing? This will never do. We must put a stop to so dangerous an innovation: for who will send a pie to an oven, if the birds come to life there? We must stand up to defend the rights of all the ovens in England. Let us have dead birds..dead birds for our money. So each sticks his fork into a bird, and hacks and mangles it a while, and then holds it up and cries, Who will dare assert that there is any music in this bird’s song?
Co-author with his brother Augustus William Hare Guesses At Truth, By Two Brothers: Second Edition: With Large Additions (1848), Second Series, 86. (The volume is introduced as “more than three fourths new.” This quote is identified as by Julius; Augustus had died in 1833.)
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Absorbed in the special investigation, I paid no heed to the edifice which was meanwhile unconsciously building itself up. Having however completed the comparison of the fossil species in Paris, I wanted, for the sake of an easy revision of the same, to make a list according to their succession in geological formations, with a view of determining the characteristics more exactly and bringing them by their enumeration into bolder relief. What was my joy and surprise to find that the simplest enumeration of the fossil fishes according to their geological succession was also a complete statement of the natural relations of the families among themselves; that one might therefore read the genetic development of the whole class in the history of creation, the representation of the genera and species in the several families being therein determined; in one word, that the genetic succession of the fishes corresponds perfectly with their zoological classification, and with just that classification proposed by me.
Quoted in Elizabeth Cary Agassiz (ed.), Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence (1885), Vol. I, 203-4.
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Active experimentation must force the apparent facts of nature into forms different to those in which they familiarly present themselves; and thus make them tell the truth about themselves, as torture may compel an unwilling witness to reveal what he has been concealing.
In Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), 32.
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After the planet becomes theirs, many millions of years will have to pass before a beetle particularly loved by God, at the end of its calculations will find written on a sheet of paper in letters of fire that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. The new kings of the world will live tranquilly for a long time, confining themselves to devouring each other and being parasites among each other on a cottage industry scale.
'Beetles' Other People’s Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
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After what has been premised, I think we may lay down the following Conclusions. First, It is plain Philosophers amuse themselves in vain, when they inquire for any natural efficient Cause, distinct from a Mind or Spirit. Secondly, Considering the whole Creation is the Workmanship of a wise and good Agent, it should seem to become Philosophers, to employ their Thoughts (contrary to what some hold) about the final Causes of Things: And I must confess, I see no reason, why pointing out the various Ends, to which natural Things are adapted and for which they were originally with unspeakable Wisdom contrived, should not be thought one good way of accounting for them, and altogether worthy a Philosopher.
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [first published 1710], (1734), 126-7.
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Alchymy, or Chymistry, is …
An Art which good men bate, and most men blame,
Which her admirers practice to their shame,
Whose plain Impostures, easie to perceive,
Not onely others, but themselves deceive.
In The Vanity of Arts and Sciences (1676), 312.
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All infections, of whatever type, with no exceptions, are products of parasitic beings; that is, by living organisms that enter in other living organisms, in which they find nourishment, that is, food that suits them, here they hatch, grow and reproduce themselves.
Quoted in English in Paolo Mazzarello, The Hidden Structure: A Scientific Biography of Camillo Golgi (1999), trans. and ed. Henry A. Buchtel and Aldo Hadiani, 19.
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All our knowledge derived from observation … is knowledge gotten at first hand. Hereby we see and know things as they are, or as they appear to us; we take the impressions of them on our minds from the original objects themselves which give a clearer and stronger conception of things.
In Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Allegories, Essays, and Poetical Fragments (1793), Vols 3-4, Vol 4, 72.
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All rivers, small or large, agree in one character; they like to lean a little on one side; they cannot bear to have their channels deepest in the middle, but will always, if they can, have one bank to sun themselves upon, and another to get cool under.
In 'Water', The True and the Beautiful in Nature, Art, Morals, and Religion (1872), 62.
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All that Eddington and Millikan achieve, when they attempt their preposterous reconciliation of science and theology, is to prove that they themselves, for all their technical skill, are scientists only by trade, not by conviction. They practice science diligently and to some effect, but only in the insensate way in which Blind Tom played the piano. … they can’t get rid of a congenital incredulity. Science, to them, remains a bit strange and shocking. They are somewhat in the position of a Christian clergyman who finds himself unable to purge himself of a suspicion that Jonah, after all, probably did not swallow the whale.
Minority Report (1956, 2006 reprint), 140.
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All that we can hope from these inspirations, which are the fruits of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they must be made in the second period of conscious work which follows the inspiration, and in which the results of the inspiration are verified and the consequences deduced.
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 62.
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Although the works of the Creator may be in themselves all equally perfect, the animal is, as I see it, the most complete work of nature, and man is her masterpiece.
'Histoire des Animaux', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 2, 2. Quoted in Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth -Century French Thought, ed. Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 437.
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Although we often hear that data speak for themselves, their voices can be soft and sly.
In Frederick Mosteller, Stephen E. Fienberg and Robert E. K. Rourke, Beginning Statistics with Data Analysis (1983), 234.
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Amoebas at the start Were not complex; They tore themselves apart And started Sex.
…...
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Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
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An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician find themselves in an anecdote, indeed an anecdote quite similar to many that you have no doubt already heard.
After some observations and rough calculations the engineer realizes the situation and starts laughing.
A few minutes later the physicist understands too and chuckles to himself happily, as he now has enough experimental evidence to publish a paper.
This leaves the mathematician somewhat perplexed, as he had observed right away that he was the subject of an anecdote, and deduced quite rapidly the presence of humor from similar anecdotes, but considers this anecdote to be too trivial a corollary to be significant, let alone funny.
Anonymous
In 'Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science' APS News (Jun 2003), 12 No. 6.
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An incidental remark from a German colleague illustrates the difference between Prussian ways and our own. He had apparently been studying the progress of our various crews on the river, and had been struck with the fact that though the masters in charge of the boats seemed to say and do very little, yet the boats went continually faster and faster, and when I mentioned Dr. Young’s book to him, he made the unexpected but suggestive reply: “Mathematics in Prussia! Ah, sir, they teach mathematics in Prussia as you teach your boys rowing in England: they are trained by men who have been trained by men who have themselves been trained for generations back.”
In John Perry (ed.), Discussion on the Teaching of Mathematics (1901), 43. The discussion took place on 14 Sep 1901 at the British Association at Glasgow, during a joint meeting of the mathematics and physics sections with the education section. The proceedings began with an address by John Perry. Langley related this anecdote during the Discussion which followed.
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And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5. Newton’s reference to “Nature does nothing in vain” recalls the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen as “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they can produce other organisms like themselves. This is their normal function, they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t do this, and it’s not plausible that this is the reason why they abound in the world. In other words, living organisms are very complicated aggregations of elementary parts, and by any reasonable theory of probability or thermodynamics highly improbable. That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude; the only thing which removes, or mitigates, this miracle is that they reproduce themselves. Therefore, if by any peculiar accident there should ever be one of them, from there on the rules of probability do not apply, and there will be many of them, at least if the milieu is reasonable. But a reasonable milieu is already a thermodynamically much less improbable thing. So, the operations of probability somehow leave a loophole at this point, and it is by the process of self-reproduction that they are pierced.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Are the worst enemies of society those who attack it or those who do not even give themselves the trouble of defending it?
From original French, “Les pires ennemis de la société sont-ils ceux qui l'attaquent ou ceux qui ne se donnent même pas la peine de la défendre?” in Psychologie du Socialisme (1898), 61. English in The Psychology of Socialism (1899), 52.
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As for the place of mathematics in relation to other sciences, mathematics can be seen as a big warehouse full of shelves. Mathematicians put things on the shelves and guarantee that they are true. They also explain how to use them and how to reconstruct them. Other sciences come and help themselves from the shelves; mathematicians are not concerned with what they do with what they have taken. This metaphor is rather coarse, but it reflects the situation well enough.
From interview with Marc Kirch, 'My First Fifty years at the Collège de France', collected in Helge Holden and Ragni Piene, The Abel Prize: 2003-2007 The First Five Years (2009), 15-29.
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As long as museums and universities send out expeditions to bring to light new forms of living and extinct animals and new data illustrating the interrelations of organisms and their environments, as long as anatomists desire a broad comparative basis human for anatomy, as long as even a few students feel a strong curiosity to learn about the course of evolution and relationships of animals, the old problems of taxonomy, phylogeny and evolution will gradually reassert themselves even in competition with brilliant and highly fruitful laboratory studies in cytology, genetics and physiological chemistry.
'Genetics Versus Paleontology', The American Naturalist, 1917, 51, 623.
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As regards railways, it is certain that nothing is so profitable, because nothing is so cheaply transported, as passenger traffic. Goods traffic, of whatsoever description, must be more or less costly. Every article conveyed by railway requires handling and conveyance beyond the limit of the railway stations; but passengers take care of themselves, and find their own way.
From 'Railway System and its Results' (Jan 1856) read to the Institution of Civil Engineers, reprinted in Samuel Smiles, Life of George Stephenson (1857), 520.
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As there is no study which may be so advantageously entered upon with a less stock of preparatory knowledge than mathematics, so there is none in which a greater number of uneducated men have raised themselves, by their own exertions, to distinction and eminence. … Many of the intellectual defects which, in such cases, are commonly placed to the account of mathematical studies, ought to be ascribed to the want of a liberal education in early youth.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 3, 183.
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Astronomy was thus the cradle of the natural sciences and the starting point of geometrical theories. The stars themselves gave rise to the concept of a ‘point’; triangles, quadrangles and other geometrical figures appeared in the constellations; the circle was realized by the disc of the sun and the moon. Thus in an essentially intuitive fashion the elements of geometrical thinking came into existence.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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At my urgent request the Curie laboratory, in which radium was discovered a short time ago, was shown to me. The Curies themselves were away travelling. It was a cross between a stable and a potato-cellar, and, if I had not seen the worktable with the chemical apparatus, I would have thought it a practical joke.
Wilhelm Ostwald on seeing the Curie's laboratory facilities.
In R. Reid, Marie Curie (1974), 95.
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At the end of the book [Zoonomia] he sums up his [Erasmus Darwin] views in the following sentences: “The world has been evolved, not created: it has arisen little by little from a small beginning, and has increased through the activity of the elemental forces embodied in itself, and so has rather grown than come into being at an almighty word.” “What a sublime idea of the infinite might of the great Architect, the Cause of all causes, the Father of all fathers, the Ens Entium! For if we would compare the Infinite, it would surely require a greater Infinite to cause the causes of effects than to produce the effects themselves.”
[This is a restatement, not a verbatim quote of the original words of Erasmus Darwin, who attributed the idea he summarized to David Hume.]
In August Weismann, John Arthur Thomson (trans.), Margaret R. Thomson (trans.) The Evolution Theory (1904), Vol. 1, 17-18. The verbatim form of the quote from Zoonomia, in context, can be seen on the webpage here for Erasmus Darwin. Later authors have quoted from Weismann's translated book, and given the reworded passage as a direct quote by Erasmus Darwin. Webmaster has found a verbatim form in Zoonomia (1794), but has been unable to find the wording used by Weismann in any primary source by Erasmus Darwin. The rewording is perhaps due to the translation of the quote into German for Weismann's original book, Vorträge über Descendenztheorie (1902) followed by another translation for the English edition.
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At the planet’s very heart lies a solid rocky core, at least five times larger than Earth, seething with the appalling heat generated by the inexorable contraction of the stupendous mass of material pressing down to its centre. For more than four billion years Jupiter’s immense gravitational power has been squeezing the planet slowly, relentlessly, steadily, converting gravitational energy into heat, raising the temperature of that rocky core to thirty thousand degrees, spawning the heat flow that warms the planet from within. That hot, rocky core is the original protoplanet seed from the solar system’s primeval time, the nucleus around which those awesome layers of hydrogen and helium and ammonia, methane, sulphur compounds and water have wrapped themselves.
Ben Bova
Jupiter
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Attainment and science, retainment and art—the two couples keep to themselves, but when they do meet, nothing else in the world matters.
In Time and Ebb (1947) in Nine Stories(1947), 102.
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Available energy is energy which we can direct into any desired channel. Dissipated energy is energy which we cannot lay hold of and direct at pleasure, such as the energy of the confused agitation of molecules which we call heat. Now, confusion, like the correlative term order, is not a property of material things in themselves, but only in relation to the mind which perceives them. A memorandum-book does not, provided it is neatly written, appear confused to an illiterate person, or to the owner who understands it thoroughly, but to any other person able to read it appears to be inextricably confused. Similarly the notion of dissipated energy could not occur to a being who could not turn any of the energies of nature to his own account, or to one who could trace the motion of every molecule and seize it at the right moment. It is only to a being in the intermediate stage, who can lay hold of some forms of energy while others elude his grasp, that energy appears to be passing inevitably from the available to the dissipated state.
'Diffusion', Encyclopaedia Britannica (1878). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 646.
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Basic research at universities comes in two varieties: research that requires big bucks and research that requires small bucks. Big bucks research is much like government research and in fact usually is government research but done for the government under contract. Like other government research, big bucks academic research is done to understand the nature and structure of the universe or to understand life, which really means that it is either for blowing up the world or extending life, whichever comes first. Again, that's the government's motivation. The universities' motivation for conducting big bucks research is to bring money in to support professors and graduate students and to wax the floors of ivy-covered buildings. While we think they are busy teaching and learning, these folks are mainly doing big bucks basic research for a living, all the while priding themselves on their terrific summer vacations and lack of a dress code.
Smalls bucks research is the sort of thing that requires paper and pencil, and maybe a blackboard, and is aimed primarily at increasing knowledge in areas of study that don't usually attract big bucks - that is, areas that don't extend life or end it, or both. History, political science, and romance languages are typically small bucks areas of basic research. The real purpose of small bucks research to the universities is to provide a means of deciding, by the quality of their small bucks research, which professors in these areas should get tenure.
Accidental Empires (1992), 78.
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Beasts have not the high advantages which we possess; but they have some which we have not. They have not our hopes, but then they have not our fears; they are subject like us to death, but it is without being aware of it; most of them are better able to preserve themselves than we are, and make a less bad use of their passions.
In Edwin Davies, Other Men's Minds, Or, Seven Thousand Choice Extracts (1800), 55.
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But what exceeds all wonders, I have discovered four new planets and observed their proper and particular motions, different among themselves and from the motions of all the other stars; and these new planets move about another very large star [Jupiter] like Venus and Mercury, and perchance the other known planets, move about the Sun. As soon as this tract, which I shall send to all the philosophers and mathematicians as an announcement, is finished, I shall send a copy to the Most Serene Grand Duke, together with an excellent spyglass, so that he can verify all these truths.
Letter to the Tuscan Court, 30 Jan 1610. Quoted in Albert van Heiden (ed.), Siderius Nuncius or The Sidereal Messenger (1989), 18.
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But when great and ingenious artists behold their so inept performances, not undeservedly do they ridicule the blindness of such men; since sane judgment abhors nothing so much as a picture perpetrated with no technical knowledge, although with plenty of care and diligence. Now the sole reason why painters of this sort are not aware of their own error is that they have not learnt Geometry, without which no one can either be or become an absolute artist; but the blame for this should be laid upon their masters, who are themselves ignorant of this art.
In The Art of Measurement (1525). As quoted in Albrecht Dürer and R.T. Nichol (trans.), 'Preface', Of the Just Shaping of Letters (1965), Book 3, 1-2.
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By these pleasures it is permitted to relax the mind with play, in turmoils of the mind, or when our labors are light, or in great tension, or as a method of passing the time. A reliable witness is Cicero, when he says (De Oratore, 2): 'men who are accustomed to hard daily toil, when by reason of the weather they are kept from their work, betake themselves to playing with a ball, or with knucklebones or with dice, or they may also contrive for themselves some new game at their leisure.'
The Book of Games of Chance (1663), final sentences, trans. Sydney Henry Gould. In Oysten Ore, The Gambling Scholar (1953), 241.
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Chemistry is an art that has furnished the world with a great number of useful facts, and has thereby contributed to the improvement of many arts; but these facts lie scattered in many different books, involved in obscure terms, mixed with many falsehoods, and joined to a great deal of false philosophy; so that it is not great wonder that chemistry has not been so much studied as might have been expected with regard to so useful a branch of knowledge, and that many professors are themselves but very superficially acquainted with it. But it was particularly to be expected, that, since it has been taught in universities, the difficulties in this study should have been in some measure removed, that the art should have been put into form, and a system of it attempted—the scattered facts collected and arranged in a proper order. But this has not yet been done; chemistry has not yet been taught but upon a very narrow plan. The teachers of it have still confined themselves to the purposes of pharmacy and medicine, and that comprehends a small branch of chemistry; and even that, by being a single branch, could not by itself be tolerably explained.
John Thomson, An Account of the Life, Lectures and Writings of William Cullen, M.D. (1832), Vol. 1, 40.
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Chemistry is the study of material transformations. Yet a knowledge of the rate, or time dependence, of chemical change is of critical importance for the successful synthesis of new materials and for the utilization of the energy generated by a reaction. During the past century it has become clear that all macroscopic chemical processes consist of many elementary chemical reactions that are themselves simply a series of encounters between atomic or molecular species. In order to understand the time dependence of chemical reactions, chemical kineticists have traditionally focused on sorting out all of the elementary chemical reactions involved in a macroscopic chemical process and determining their respective rates.
'Molecular Beam Studies of Elementary Chemical Processes', Nobel Lecture, 8 Dec 1986. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1981-1990 (1992), 320.
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Concerned to reconstruct past ideas, historians must approach the generation that held them as the anthropologist approaches an alien culture. They must, that is, be prepared at the start to find that natives speak a different language and map experience into different categories from those they themselves bring from home. And they must take as their object the discovery of those categories and the assimilation of the corresponding language.
'Revisiting Planck', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1984), 14, 246.
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Concerning alchemy it is more difficult to discover the actual state of things, in that the historians who specialise in this field seem sometimes to be under the wrath of God themselves; for, like those who write of the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy or on Spanish politics, they seem to become tinctured with the kind of lunacy they set out to describe.
The Origins of Modern Science (1949), 115.
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Considerable obstacles generally present themselves to the beginner, in studying the elements of Solid Geometry, from the practice which has hitherto uniformly prevailed in this country, of never submitting to the eye of the student, the figures on whose properties he is reasoning, but of drawing perspective representations of them upon a plane. ...I hope that I shall never be obliged to have recourse to a perspective drawing of any figure whose parts are not in the same plane.
Quoted in Adrian Rice, 'What Makes a Great Mathematics Teacher?' The American Mathematical Monthly, (June-July 1999), 540.
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Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.
In The Conquest of Happiness (3rd Ed. 1930), 131.
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Don’t think of organ donations as giving up part of yourself to keep a total stranger alive. It’s really a total stranger giving up almost all of themselves to keep part of you alive.
Anonymous
…...
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Education is not a matter of getting facts and sowing them within brains, but that it is an attitude of mind that you teach children to find out for themselves
Interview with David Barrett, 'Attenborough: Children Don’t Know Enough About Nature', Daily Telegraph (17 Apr 2011).
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Educators may bring upon themselves unnecessary travail by taking a tactless and unjustifiable position about the relation between scientific and religious narratives. … The point is that profound but contradictory ideas may exist side by side, if they are constructed from different materials and methods and have different purposes. Each tells us something important about where we stand in the universe, and it is foolish to insist that they must despise each other.
In The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995), 107.
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Effects vary with the conditions which bring them to pass, but laws do not vary. Physiological and pathological states are ruled by the same forces; they differ only because of the special conditions under which the vital laws manifest themselves.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957),10.
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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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Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.
Poem, 'Euclid Alone Has Looked on Beauty Bare", collected in Wallace Warner Douglas and Hallett Darius Smith (eds.), The Critical Reader: Poems, Stories, Essays (1949), 110.
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Euler calculated without any apparent effort, just as men breathe, as eagles sustain themselves in the air.
In Oeuvres, t. 2 (1854), 138.
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Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
From paper 'Science, Philosophy and Religion', prepared for initial meeting of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York City (9-11 Sep 1940). Collected in Albert Einstein: In His Own Words (2000), 212.
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Every civilization [in the universe] must go through this [a nuclear crisis]. Those that don’t make it destroy themselves. Those that do make it end up cavorting all over the universe.
…...
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Every man has some forte something he can do better than he can do anything else. Many men, however, never find the job they are best fitted for. And often this is because they do not think enough. Too many men drift lazily into any job, suited or unsuited for them; and when they don’t get along well they blame everybody and everything except themselves.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 10.
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Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and longing are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves to us.
…...
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Evolution is a blind giant who rolls a snowball down a hill. The ball is made of flakes—circumstances. They contribute to the mass without knowing it. They adhere without intention, and without foreseeing what is to result. When they see the result they marvel at the monster ball and wonder how the contriving of it came to be originally thought out and planned. Whereas there was no such planning, there was only a law: the ball once started, all the circumstances that happened to lie in its path would help to build it, in spite of themselves.
'The Secret History of Eddypus', in Mark Twain and David Ketterer (ed.), Tales of Wonder (2003), 222-23.
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Experiments on ornamental plants undertaken in previous years had proven that, as a rule, hybrids do not represent the form exactly intermediate between the parental strains. Although the intermediate form of some of the more striking traits, such as those relating to shape and size of leaves, pubescence of individual parts, and so forth, is indeed nearly always seen, in other cases one of the two parental traits is so preponderant that it is difficult or quite impossible, to detect the other in the hybrid. The same is true for Pisum hybrids. Each of the seven hybrid traits either resembles so closely one of the two parental traits that the other escapes detection, or is so similar to it that no certain distinction can be made. This is of great importance to the definition and classification of the forms in which the offspring of hybrids appear. In the following discussion those traits that pass into hybrid association entirely or almost entirely unchanged, thus themselves representing the traits of the hybrid, are termed dominating and those that become latent in the association, recessive. The word 'recessive' was chosen because the traits so designated recede or disappear entirely in the hybrids, but reappear unchanged in their progeny, as will be demonstrated later.
'Experiments on Plant Hybrids' (1865). In Curt Stern and Eva R. Sherwood (eds.), The Origin of Genetics: A Mendel Source Book (1966), 9.
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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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Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome.
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (1983, 1994), Chap. 19.
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Facts do not “speak for themselves”; they are read in the light of a theory. Creative thought, in science as much as in the arts, is the motor of changing opinion.
In Perspectives in Biological Medicine (1985).
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Facts may belong to the past history of mankind, to the social statistics of our great cities, to the atmosphere of the most distant stars, to the digestive organs of a worm, or to the life of a scarcely visible bacillus. It is not the facts themselves which form science, but the method in which they are dealt with.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 15.
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Thomas Robert Malthus quote Famine … the most dreadful resource of nature.
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Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), 140, and in new enlarged edition (1803), 350.
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First... a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.
'Pragmatism's Conception of Truth', in Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking, Popular Lectures on Philosophy (1907), 198.
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For a long time it has been known that the first systems of representations with which men have pictured to themselves the world and themselves were of religious origin. There is no religion that is not a cosmology at the same time that it is a speculation upon divine things. If philosophy and the sciences were born of religion, it is because religion began by taking the place of the sciences and philosophy.
The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), trans. J. W. Swain (2nd edition 1976), 9.
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For example, there are numbers of chemists who occupy themselves exclusively with the study of dyestuffs. They discover facts that are useful to scientific chemistry; but they do not rank as genuine scientific men. The genuine scientific chemist cares just as much to learn about erbium—the extreme rarity of which renders it commercially unimportant—as he does about iron. He is more eager to learn about erbium if the knowledge of it would do more to complete his conception of the Periodic Law, which expresses the mutual relations of the elements.
From 'Lessons from the History of Science: The Scientific Attitude' (c.1896), in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 20.
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For the time of making Observations none can ever be amiss; there being no season, nor indeed hardly any place where in some Natural Thing or other does not present it self worthy of Remark: yea there are some things that require Observation all the Year round, as Springs, Rivers, &c. Nor is there any Season amiss for the gathering Natural Things. Bodies of one kind or other presenting themselves at all times, and in Winter as well as Summer.
In Brief Instructions for Making Observations in all Parts of the World (1696), 10-11.
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For the saving the long progression of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every case, the mind should provide itself several stages; that is to say, intermediate principles, which it might have recourse to in the examining those positions that come in its way. These, though they are not self-evident principles, yet, if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and serve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending upon them, by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. … And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms through all the whole train of intermediate propositions. Certain theorems that they have settled to themselves upon sure demonstration, serve to resolve to them multitudes of propositions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that tie them to first self-evident principles.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 21.
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For they are not given to idleness, nor go in a proud habit, or plush and velvet garments, often showing their rings upon their fingers, or wearing swords with silver hilts by their sides, or fine and gay gloves upon their hands, but diligently follow their labours, sweating whole days and nights by their furnaces. They do not spend their time abroad for recreation, but take delight in their laboratory. They wear leather garments with a pouch, and an apron wherewith they wipe their hands. They put their fingers amongst coals, into clay, and filth, not into gold rings. They are sooty and black like smiths and colliers, and do not pride themselves upon clean and beautiful faces.
As translated in Paracelsus and Arthur Edward Waite (ed.), The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus (1894, 1976), Vol. 1, 167.
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For we may remark generally of our mathematical researches, that these auxiliary quantities, these long and difficult calculations into which we are often drawn, are almost always proofs that we have not in the beginning considered the objects themselves so thoroughly and directly as their nature requires, since all is abridged and simplified, as soon as we place ourselves in a right point of view.
In Théorie Nouvelle de la Rotation des Corps (1834). As translated by Charles Thomas Whitley in Outlines of a New Theory of Rotatory Motion (1834), 4.
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Furthermore, it’s equally evident that what goes on is actually one degree better than self-reproduction, for organisms appear to have gotten more elaborate in the course of time. Today's organisms are phylogenetically descended from others which were vastly simpler than they are, so much simpler, in fact, that it’s inconceivable, how any kind of description of the latter, complex organism could have existed in the earlier one. It’s not easy to imagine in what sense a gene, which is probably a low order affair, can contain a description of the human being which will come from it. But in this case you can say that since the gene has its effect only within another human organism, it probably need not contain a complete description of what is to happen, but only a few cues for a few alternatives. However, this is not so in phylogenetic evolution. That starts from simple entities, surrounded by an unliving amorphous milieu, and produce, something more complicated. Evidently, these organisms have the ability to produce something more complicated than themselves.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Galaxies themselves cannot close the Universe.
…...
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Genetics is to biology what atomic theory is to physics. Its principle is clear: that inheritance is based on particles and not on fluids. Instead of the essence of each parent mixing, with each child the blend of those who made him, information is passed on as a series of units. The bodies of successive generations transport them through time, so that a long-lost character may emerge in a distant descendant. The genes themselves may be older than the species that bear them.
Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated (1999), 115.
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Genetics seems to be everything to those who have convinced themselves they have arisen from worthy ancestors.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 104.
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Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn have, greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
[He was imitating: 'So, naturalists observe, a flea Has smaller fleas that on him prey; And these have smaller still to bite 'em; And so proceed ad infinitum.' Poetry, a Rhapsody, by Jonathan Swift.]
A Budget of Paradoxes (1915), first published 1872, Vol. 2, 191.
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Had there not been in zoology men who devoted themselves to such seemingly unimportant studies as the differentiation of the species of mosquitoes, we should not have been able to place on a firm foundation the aetiology of malaria and yellow fever.
From address, 'A Medical Retrospect'. Published in Yale Medical Journal (Oct 1910), 17, No. 2, 65.
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Happily, facts have become so multiplied, that Geology is daily emerging from that state when an hypothesis, provided it were brilliant and ingenious, was sure of advocates and temporary success, when when it sinned against the laws of physics and the facts themselves.
In Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iv.
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He saw virus particles shaped like snakes, in negative images. They were white cobras tangled among themselves, like the hair of Medusa. They were the face of nature herself, the obscene goddess revealed naked. This life form thing was breathtakingly beautiful. As he stared at it, he found himself being pulled out of the human world into a world where moral boundaries blur and finally dissolve completely. He was lost in wonder and admiration, even though he knew that he was the prey.
The Hot Zone
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He who studies it [Nature] has continually the exquisite pleasure of discerning or half discerning and divining laws; regularities glimmer through an appearance of confusion, analogies between phenomena of a different order suggest themselves and set the imagination in motion; the mind is haunted with the sense of a vast unity not yet discoverable or nameable. There is food for contemplation which never runs short; you are gazing at an object which is always growing clearer, and yet always, in the very act of growing clearer, presenting new mysteries.
From 'Natural History', Macmillan's Magazine (1875), 31, 366.
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Here I shall present, without using Analysis [mathematics], the principles and general results of the Théorie, applying them to the most important questions of life, which are indeed, for the most part, only problems in probability. One may even say, strictly speaking, that almost all our knowledge is only probable; and in the small number of things that we are able to know with certainty, in the mathematical sciences themselves, the principal means of arriving at the truth—induction and analogy—are based on probabilities, so that the whole system of human knowledge is tied up with the theory set out in this essay.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 1.
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How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics? ... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority. ... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 117-118.
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However much we may enlarge our ideas of the time which has elapsed since the Niagara first began to drain the waters of the upper lakes, we have seen that this period was one only of a series, all belonging to the present zoological epoch; or that in which the living testaceous fauna, whether freshwater or marine, had already come into being. If such events can take place while the zoology of the earth remains almost stationary and unaltered, what ages may not be comprehended in those successive tertiary periods during which the Flora and Fauna of the globe have been almost entirely changed. Yet how subordinate a place in the long calendar of geological chronology do the successive tertiary periods themselves occupy! How much more enormous a duration must we assign to many antecedent revolutions of the earth and its inhabitants! No analogy can be found in the natural world to the immense scale of these divisions of past time, unless we contemplate the celestial spaces which have been measured by the astronomer.
Travels in North America (1845), Vol. 1, 51-2.
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However, the small probability of a similar encounter [of the earth with a comet], can become very great in adding up over a huge sequence of centuries. It is easy to picture to oneself the effects of this impact upon the Earth. The axis and the motion of rotation changed; the seas abandoning their old position to throw themselves toward the new equator; a large part of men and animals drowned in this universal deluge, or destroyed by the violent tremor imparted to the terrestrial globe.
Exposition du Système du Monde, 2nd edition (1799), 208, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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Hypothesis is the most important mental technique of the investigator, and its main function is to suggest new experiments or new observations. Indeed, most experiments and many observations are carried out with the deliberate object of testing an hypothesis. Another function is to help one see the significance of an object or event that otherwise would mean nothing. For instance, a mind prepared by the hypothesis of evolution would make many more significant observations on a field excursion than one not so prepared. Hypotheses should be used as tools to uncover new facts rather than as ends in themselves.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1953), 46.
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I also require much time to ponder over the matters themselves, and particularly the principles of mechanics (as the very words: force, time, space, motion indicate) can occupy one severely enough; likewise, in mathematics, the meaning of imaginary quantities, of the infinitesimally small and infinitely large and similar matters.
In Davis Baird, R.I.G. Hughes and Alfred Nordmann, Heinrich Hertz: Classical Physicist, Modern Philosopher (1998), 159.
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I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts.
Speech to the Savage Club (6 Jul 1907). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 389.
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I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.
…...
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I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves when have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand.
In 'Oyster Bed', Gift From the Sea (1955), 77.
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I do not conceive of any manifestation of culture, of science, of art, as purposes in themselves. I think the purpose of science and culture is man.
In G. Barry Golson (ed.) The Playboy Interview (1981), 254.
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I don't really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.
In The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), 75.
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I don’t think there is one unique real universe. ... Even the laws of physics themselves may be somewhat observer dependent.
…...
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I find myself now preaching about the golden age of manned spaceflight, because something went on there, within us, that we’re missing. When we went to the Moon, it was not only just standing on a new plateau for all mankind. We changed the way everybody in the world thought of themselves, you know. It was a change that went on inside of us. And we’re losing that.
From interview with Ron Stone (24 May 1999) for NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project on NASA website.
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I have a true aversion to teaching. The perennial business of a professor of mathematics is only to teach the ABC of his science; most of the few pupils who go a step further, and usually to keep the metaphor, remain in the process of gathering information, become only Halbwisser [one who has superficial knowledge of the subject], for the rarer talents do not want to have themselves educated by lecture courses, but train themselves. And with this thankless work the professor loses his precious time.
Letter to Heinrich Olbers (26 Oct 1802). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 414.
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I have before mentioned mathematics, wherein algebra gives new helps and views to the understanding. If I propose these it is not to make every man a thorough mathematician or deep algebraist; but yet I think the study of them is of infinite use even to grown men; first by experimentally convincing them, that to make anyone reason well, it is not enough to have parts wherewith he is satisfied, and that serve him well enough in his ordinary course. A man in those studies will see, that however good he may think his understanding, yet in many things, and those very visible, it may fail him. This would take off that presumption that most men have of themselves in this part; and they would not be so apt to think their minds wanted no helps to enlarge them, that there could be nothing added to the acuteness and penetration of their understanding.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have known silence: the cold earthy silence at the bottom of a newly dug well; the implacable stony silence of a deep cave; the hot, drugged midday silence when everything is hypnotised and stilled into silence by the eye of the sun;… I have heard summer cicadas cry so that the sound seems stitched into your bones. I have heard tree frogs in an orchestration as complicated as Bach singing in a forest lit by a million emerald fireflies. I have heard the Keas calling over grey glaciers that groaned to themselves like old people as they inched their way to the sea. I have heard the hoarse street vendor cries of the mating Fur seals as they sang to their sleek golden wives, the crisp staccato admonishment of the Rattlesnake, the cobweb squeak of the Bat and the belling roar of the Red deer knee-deep in purple heather.
Letter to Lee McGeorge (31 Jul 1978). Collected in Letters of Note: Volume 2: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence (2016), 76.
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I have lived much of my life among molecules. They are good company. I tell my students to try to know molecules, so well that when they have some question involving molecules, they can ask themselves, What would I do if I were that molecule? I tell them, Try to feel like a molecule; and if you work hard, who knows? Some day you may get to feel like a big molecule!
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves–this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts–possessions, outward success, luxury–have always seemed to me contemptible.
In 'What I Believe,' Forum and Century (1930).
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I have often noticed that when people come to understand a mathematical proposition in some other way than that of the ordinary demonstration, they promptly say, “Oh, I see. That’s how it must be.” This is a sign that they explain it to themselves from within their own system.
Lichtenberg: A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions: Reconstructed From: Reconstructed From His Aphorisms and Reflections (1959), 291.
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I have spent some months in England, have seen an awful lot and learned little. England is not a land of science, there is only a widely practised dilettantism, the chemists are ashamed to call themselves chemists because the pharmacists, who are despised, have assumed this name.
Liebig to Berzelius, 26 Nov 1837. Quoted in J. Carriere (ed.), Berzelius und Liebig.; ihre Briefe (1898), 134. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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I have the vagary of taking a lively interest in mathematical subjects only where I may anticipate ingenious association of ideas and results recommending themselves by elegance or generality.
Letter to Heinrich Schumacher (17 Sep 1808). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 416.
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I hold every man a debtor to his profession; from the which as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves, by way of amends, to be a help and ornament thereunto. This is performed, in some degree, by the honest and liberal practice of a profession; where men shall carry a respect not to descend into any course that is corrupt and unworthy thereof, and preserve themselves free from the abuses wherewith the same profession is noted to be infected: but much more is this performed, if a man be able to visit and strengthen the roots and foundation of the science itself; thereby not only gracing it in reputation and dignity, but also amplifying it in profession and substance.
Opening sentences of Preface, Maxims of Law (1596), in The Works of Francis Bacon: Law tracts. Maxims of the Law (1803), Vol. 4, 10.
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I myself consider that gravity is merely a certain natural inclination with which parts are imbued by the architect of all things for gathering themselves together into a unity and completeness by assembling into the form of a globe. It is easy to believe that the Sun, Moon and other luminaries among the wandering stars have this tendency also, so that by its agency they retain the rounded shape in which they reveal themselves, but nevertheless go round their orbits in various ways. If then the Earth also performs other motions, as for example the one about the centre, they must necessarily be like those which are similarly apparent in many external bodies in which we find an annual orbit.
'Book One. Chapter IX. Whether several motions can be attributed to the Earth, and on the centre of the universe', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 46.
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I prefer the spagyric chemical physicians, for they do not consort with loafers or go about gorgeous in satins, silks and velvets, gold rings on their fingers, silver daggers hanging at their sides and white gloves on their hands, but they tend their work at the fire patiently day and night. They do not go promenading, but seek their recreation in the laboratory, wear plain learthern dress and aprons of hide upon which to wipe their hands, thrust their fingers amongst the coals, into dirt and rubbish and not into golden rings. They are sooty and dirty like the smiths and charcoal burners, and hence make little show, make not many words and gossip with their patients, do not highly praise their own remedies, for they well know that the work must praise the master, not the master praise his work. They well know that words and chatter do not help the sick nor cure them... Therefore they let such things alone and busy themselves with working with their fires and learning the steps of alchemy. These are distillation, solution, putrefaction, extraction, calcination, reverberation, sublimination, fixation, separation, reduction, coagulation, tinction, etc.
Quoted in R. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 150. [Spagyric is a form of herbalism based on alchemic procedures of preparation.]
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I publish this Essay in its present imperfect state, in order to prevent the furacious attempts of the prowling plagiary, and the insidious pretender to chymistry, from arrogating to themselves, and assuming my invention, in plundering silence: for there are those, who, if they can not be chymical, never fail by stratagem, and mechanical means, to deprive industry of the fruits, and fame of her labours.
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), vii-viii.
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I shall devote all my efforts to bring light into the immense obscurity that today reigns in Analysis. It so lacks any plan or system, that one is really astonished that so many people devote themselves to it—and, still worse, it is absolutely devoid of any rigour.
In Oeuvres (1826), Vol. 2, 263. As translated and cited in Ernst Hairer and Gerhard Wanner Analysis by Its History (2008), 188. From the original French, “Je consacrerai toutes mes forces à répandre de la lumière sur l’immense obscurité qui règne aujourd’hui dans l’Analyse. Elle est tellement dépourvue de tout plan et de tout système, qu’on s’étonne seulement qu’il y ait tant de gens qui s’y livrent—et ce qui pis est, elle manque absolument de rigueur.”
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I specifically paused to show that, if there were such machines with the organs and shape of a monkey or of some other non-rational animal, we would have no way of discovering that they are not the same as these animals. But if there were machines that resembled our bodies and if they imitated our actions as much as is morally possible, we would always have two very certain means for recognizing that, none the less, they are not genuinely human. The first is that they would never be able to use speech, or other signs composed by themselves, as we do to express our thoughts to others. For one could easily conceive of a machine that is made in such a way that it utters words, and even that it would utter some words in response to physical actions that cause a change in its organs—for example, if someone touched it in a particular place, it would ask what one wishes to say to it, or if it were touched somewhere else, it would cry out that it was being hurt, and so on. But it could not arrange words in different ways to reply to the meaning of everything that is said in its presence, as even the most unintelligent human beings can do. The second means is that, even if they did many things as well as or, possibly, better than anyone of us, they would infallibly fail in others. Thus one would discover that they did not act on the basis of knowledge, but merely as a result of the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument that can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need a specific disposition for every particular action.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 5, 40.
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I suspect that the most important effect of World War II on physical science lay in the change in the attitude of people to science. The politicians and the public were convinced that science was useful and were in no position to argue about the details. A professor of physics might be more sinister than he was in the 1930s, but he was no longer an old fool with a beard in a comic-strip. The scientists or at any rate the physicists, had changed their attitude. They not only believed in the interest of science for themselves, they had acquired also a belief that the tax-payer should and would pay for it and would, in some unspecified length of run, benefit by it.
'The Effect of World War II on the Development of Knowledge in the Physical Sciences', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 1975, Series A, 342, 532.
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I tell them if they will occupy themselves with the study of mathematics they will find in it the best remedy against the lusts of the flesh.
The Magic Mountain (1924, 1965), 417.
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I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions, and into actions which bring results.
Letter to Mary Clarke (1844), quoted in Sir Edward Tyas Cook in The Life of Florence Nightingale (1914), 94.
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I was aware of Darwin's views fourteen years before I adopted them and I have done so solely and entirely from an independent study of the plants themselves.
Letter to W.H. Harvey (c. 1860), in L. Huxley, Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1918), Vol. 1, 520. As cited in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1972), 490, footnote 3.
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I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this al-jabr [algebra] and the continued concentration upon it, because of obstacles in the vagaries of Time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when Time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.
A. P. Youschkevitch and B. A. Rosenfeld, 'Al-Khayyami', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol. 7, 324.
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I will not now discuss the Controversie betwixt some of the Modern Atomists, and the Cartesians; the former of whom think, that betwixt the Earth and the Stars, and betwixt these themselves there are vast Tracts of Space that are empty, save where the beams of Light do pass through them; and the later of whom tell us, that the Intervals betwixt the Stars and Planets (among which the Earth may perhaps be reckon'd) are perfectly fill'd, but by a Matter far subtiler than our Air, which some call Celestial, and others Æther. I shall not, I say, engage in this controversie, but thus much seems evident, That If there be such a Celestial Matter, it must ' make up far the Greatest part of the Universe known to us. For the Interstellar part of the world (If I may so stile it) bears so very great a proportion to the Globes, and their Atmospheres too, (If other Stars have any as well as the Earth,) that It Is almost incomparably Greater in respect of them, than all our Atmosphere is in respect of the Clouds, not to make the comparison between the Sea and the Fishes that swim in it.
A Continuation of New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring and Weight of the Air, and their Effects (1669), 127.
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Ideas, like ghosts (according to the common notion of a ghost), must be spoken to a little before they will explain themselves.
From Dealings With the Firm of Dombey and Son (1846), Vol. 1, 184.
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If a hundred or a thousand people, all of the same age, of the same constitution and habits, were suddenly seized by the same illness, and one half of them were to place themselves under the care of doctors, such as they are in our time, whilst the other half entrusted themselves to Nature and to their own discretion, I have not the slightest doubt that there would be more cases of death amongst the former, and more cases of recovery among the latter.
…...
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If a man devotes himself to the promotion of science, he is firstly opposed, and then he is informed that his ground is already occupied. At first men will allow no value to what we tell them, and then they behave as if they knew it all themselves.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 199.
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If any layman were to ask a number of archaeologists to give, on the spur of the moment, a definition of archaeology, I suspect that such a person might find the answers rather confusing. He would, perhaps, sympathize with Socrates who, when he hoped to learn from the poets and artisans something about the arts they practised, was forced to go away with the conviction that, though they might themselves be able to accomplish something, they certainly could give no clear account to others of what they were trying to do.
Opening statement in lecture at Columbia University (8 Jan 1908), 'Archaeology'. Published by the Columbia University Press (1908).
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If atoms do, by chance, happen to combine themselves into so many shapes, why have they never combined together to form a house or a slipper? By the same token, why do we not believe that if innumerable letters of the Greek alphabet were poured all over the market-place they would eventually happen to form the text of the Iliad?
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Book 2, Chapter 12, 'Apology for Raymond Sebond', trans. M. A. Screech (1991), 612.
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If it were always necessary to reduce everything to intuitive knowledge, demonstration would often be insufferably prolix. This is why mathematicians have had the cleverness to divide the difficulties and to demonstrate separately the intervening propositions. And there is art also in this; for as the mediate truths (which are called lemmas, since they appear to be a digression) may be assigned in many ways, it is well, in order to aid the understanding and memory, to choose of them those which greatly shorten the process, and appear memorable and worthy in themselves of being demonstrated. But there is another obstacle, viz.: that it is not easy to demonstrate all the axioms, and to reduce demonstrations wholly to intuitive knowledge. And if we had chosen to wait for that, perhaps we should not yet have the science of geometry.
In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz and Alfred Gideon Langley (trans.), New Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1896), 413-414.
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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 structure that serves as a template (the gene or virus molecule) consists of, say, two parts, which are themselves complementary In structure, then each of these parts can serve as the mould for the production of a replica of the other part, and the complex of two complementary parts thus can serve as the mould for the production of duplicates of itself.
Molecular Architecture and the Processses of Life (1948), 10.
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If there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather.
In The First Three Minutes (1977), 154-155.
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If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self interest.
From speech (3 Oct 1977) announcing he was donating his papers to Ohio State University. As quoted on the OSU website.
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If we justify war, it is because all peoples always justify the traits of which they find themselves possessed, not because war will bear an objective examination of its merits.
In 'The Diversity of Cultures', Patterns of Culture (1934, 2005), 31.
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If we were capable of following the progress of increase of the number of the parts of the most perfect animal, as they first formed in succession, from the very first to its state of full perfection, we should probably be able to compare it with some one of the incomplete animals themselves, of every order of animals in the Creation, being at no stage different from some of the inferior orders; or, in other words, if we were to take a series of animals, from the more imperfect to the perfect, we should probably find an imperfect animal, corresponding with some stage of the most perfect.
R. Owen (ed.), John Hunter's Observations on Animal Development (1841), 14.
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If you could see what I almost daily see in my practice … persons … in the very last stages of wretched existence, emaciated to a skeleton, with both tables of the skull almost completely perforated in many places, half the nose gone, with rotten jaws, ulerated throats, breaths most pestiferous more intolerable than poisonous upas, limbs racked with the pains of the Inquisition, minds as imbecile as the puling babe, a grievous burden to themselves and a disgusting spectacle to others, you would exclaim as I have often done, 'O! the lamentable want of science that dictates the abuse (use) of that noxious drug calomel!'
[Calomel is the mercury compound, Hg2Cl2.]
Quoted in Wooster Beach, A Treatise on Anatomy, Physiology, and Health (1848), 177.
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Imagination is a contagious disease. It cannot be measured by the yard, or weighed by the pound, and then delivered to the students by members of the faculty. It can only be communicated by a faculty whose members themselves wear their learning with imagination.
In 'Universities and Their Function', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 139.
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Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.
In The Roving Mind (1983), 26.
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In 1906 I indulged my temper by hurling invectives at Neo-Darwinians in the following terms. “I really do not wish to be abusive [to Neo-Darwinians]; but when I think of these poor little dullards, with their precarious hold of just that corner of evolution that a blackbeetle can understand—with their retinue of twopenny-halfpenny Torquemadas wallowing in the infamies of the vivisector’s laboratory, and solemnly offering us as epoch-making discoveries their demonstrations that dogs get weaker and die if you give them no food; that intense pain makes mice sweat; and that if you cut off a dog’s leg the three-legged dog will have a four-legged puppy, I ask myself what spell has fallen on intelligent and humane men that they allow themselves to be imposed on by this rabble of dolts, blackguards, imposters, quacks, liars, and, worst of all, credulous conscientious fools.”
In Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi
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In a Dublin hospital, many years ago, it was noticed that the death-rate was markedly higher in the ground-floor wards than it was in the wards upstairs. This fact was commented on in an official report, and marked down as requiring investigation. Then it was discovered that, when new patients came in, the porter of the hospital was in the habit of putting them upstairs if they could walk by themselves, and downstairs if they could not.
From 'Figures Can Lie', Science Digest (Sep 1951), 30, No. 3, 53. (As condensed from The Listener). Excerpted in Meta Riley Emberger and Marian Ross Hall, Scientific Writing (1955), 407.
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In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us,—some of them,—and are eager to give us a sign and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them, like battalions of infantry, in coat and jacket of one cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination,—not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets, all alike.
In essay 'Books', collected in Society and Solitude (1870, 1871), 171
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In a sense cosmology contains all subjects because it is the story of everything, including biology, psychology and human history. In that single sense it can be said to contain an explanation also of time's arrow. But this is not what is meant by those who advocate the cosmological explanation of irreversibility. They imply that in some way the time arrow of cosmology imposes its sense on the thermodynamic arrow. I wish to disagree with this view. The explanation assumes that the universe is expanding. While this is current orthodoxy, there is no certainty about it. The red-shifts might be due to quite different causes. For example, when light passes through the expanding clouds of gas it will be red-shifted. A large number of such clouds might one day be invoked to explain these red shifts. It seems an odd procedure to attempt to 'explain' everyday occurrences, such as the diffusion of milk into coffee, by means of theories of the universe which are themselves less firmly established than the phenomena to be explained. Most people believe in explaining one set of things in terms of others about which they are more certain, and the explanation of normal irreversible phenomena in terms of the cosmological expansion is not in this category.
'Thermodynamics, Cosmology) and the Physical Constants', in J. T. Fraser (ed.), The Study of Time III (1973), 117-8.
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In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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In all our academies we attempt far too much. ... In earlier times lectures were delivered upon chemistry and botany as branches of medicine, and the medical student learned enough of them. Now, however, chemistry and botany are become sciences of themselves, incapable of comprehension by a hasty survey, and each demanding the study of a whole life, yet we expect the medical student to understand them. He who is prudent, accordingly declines all distracting claims upon his time, and limits himself to a single branch and becomes expert in one thing.
Quoted in Johann Hermann Baas, Henry Ebenezer Handerson (trans.), Outlines of the History of Medicine and the Medical Profession (1889), 842-843.
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In ancient days two aviators procured to themselves wings. Daedalus flew safely through the middle air and was duly honored on his landing. Icarus soared upwards to the sun till the wax melted which bound his wings and his flight ended in fiasco. In weighing their achievements, there is something to be said for Icarus. The classical authorities tell us that he was only “doing a stunt,” but I prefer to think of him as the man who brought to light a serious constructional defect in the flying machines of his day.
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In defining an element let us not take an external boundary, Let us say, e.g., the smallest ponderable quantity of yttrium is an assemblage of ultimate atoms almost infinitely more like each other than they are to the atoms of any other approximating element. It does not necessarily follow that the atoms shall all be absolutely alike among themselves. The atomic weight which we ascribe to yttrium, therefore, merely represents a mean value around which the actual weights of the individual atoms of the “element” range within certain limits. But if my conjecture is tenable, could we separate atom from atom, we should find them varying within narrow limits on each side of the mean.
Address to Annual General Meeting of the Chemical Society (28 Mar 1888), printed in Journal of the Chemical Society (1888), 491.
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In experimenting on the arc, my aim was not so much to add to the large number of isolated facts that had already been discovered, as to form some idea of the bearing of these upon one another, and thus to arrive at a clear conception of what takes place in each part of the arc and carbons at every moment. The attempt to correlate all the known phenomena, and to bind them together into one consistent whole, led to the deduction of new facts, which, when duly tested by experiment, became parts of the growing body, and, themselves, opened up fresh questions, to be answered in their turn by experiment.
In The Electric Arc (1902), Preface, iii. Ayrton described the growth of her published work on the electric arc, from a series of articles in The Electrician in 1895-6, to the full book, which “has attained to its present proportions almost with the growth of an organic body.”
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In general I would be cautious against … plays of fancy and would not make way for their reception into scientific astronomy, which must have quite a different character. Laplace’s cosmogenic hypotheses belong in that class. Indeed, I do not deny that I sometimes amuse myself in a similar manner, only I would never publish the stuff. My thoughts about the inhabitants of celestial bodies, for example, belong in that category. For my part, I am (contrary to the usual opinion) convinced … that the larger the cosmic body, the smaller are the inhabitants and other products. For example, on the sun trees, which in the same ratio would be larger than ours, as the sun exceeds the earth in magnitude, would not be able to exist, for on account of the much greater weight on the surface of the sun, all branches would break themselves off, in so far as the materials are not of a sort entirely heterogeneous with those on earth.
Letter to Heinrich Schumacher (7 Nov 1847). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 411.
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In its earliest development knowledge is self-sown. Impressions force themselves upon men’s senses whether they will or not, and often against their will. The amount of interest in which these impressions awaken is determined by the coarser pains and pleasures which they carry in their train or by mere curiosity; and reason deals with the materials supplied to it as far as that interest carries it, and no further. Such common knowledge is rather brought than sought; and such ratiocination is little more than the working of a blind intellectual instinct. It is only when the mind passes beyond this condition that it begins to evolve science. When simple curiosity passes into the love of knowledge as such, and the gratification of the æsthetic sense of the beauty of completeness and accuracy seems more desirable that the easy indolence of ignorance; when the finding out of the causes of things becomes a source of joy, and he is accounted happy who is successful in the search, common knowledge passes into what our forefathers called natural history, whence there is but a step to that which used to be termed natural philosophy, and now passes by the name of physical science.
In this final state of knowledge the phenomena of nature are regarded as one continuous series of causes and effects; and the ultimate object of science is to trace out that series, from the term which is nearest to us, to that which is at the farthest limit accessible to our means of investigation.
The course of nature as it is, as it has been, and as it will be, is the object of scientific inquiry; whatever lies beyond, above, or below this is outside science. But the philosopher need not despair at the limitation on his field of labor; in relation to the human mind Nature is boundless; and, though nowhere inaccessible, she is everywhere unfathomable.
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2-3. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789-790.
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In like manner, the loadstone has from nature its two poles, a northern and a southern; fixed, definite points in the stone, which are the primary termini of the movements and effects, and the limits and regulators of the several actions and properties. It is to be understood, however, that not from a mathematical point does the force of the stone emanate, but from the parts themselves; and all these parts in the whole—while they belong to the whole—the nearer they are to the poles of the stone the stronger virtues do they acquire and pour out on other bodies. These poles look toward the poles of the earth, and move toward them, and are subject to them. The magnetic poles may be found in very loadstone, whether strong and powerful (male, as the term was in antiquity) or faint, weak, and female; whether its shape is due to design or to chance, and whether it be long, or flat, or four-square, or three-cornered or polished; whether it be rough, broken-off, or unpolished: the loadstone ever has and ever shows its poles.
On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies and on the Great Magnet the Earth: A New Physiology, Demonstrated with many Arguments and Experiments (1600), trans. P. Fleury Mottelay (1893), 23.
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In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality. The mathematician finds his own monastic niche and happiness in pursuits that are disconnected from external affairs. Some practice it as if using a drug. Chess sometimes plays a similar role. In their unhappiness over the events of this world, some immerse themselves in a kind of self-sufficiency in mathematics. (Some have engaged in it for this reason alone.)
In Adventures of a Mathematician (1976), 120.
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In order that an inventory of plants may be begun and a classification of them correctly established, we must try to discover criteria of some sort for distinguishing what are called “species”. After a long and considerable investigation, no surer criterion for determining species had occurred to me than distinguishing features that perpetuate themselves in propagation from seed. Thus, no matter what variations occur in the individuals or the species, if they spring from the seed of one and the same plant, they are accidental variations and not such as to distinguish a species. For these variations do not perpetuate themselves in subsequent seeding. Thus, for example, we do not regard caryophylli with full or multiple blossoms as a species distinct from caryophylli with single blossoms, because the former owe their origin to the seed of the latter and if the former are sown from their own seed, they once more produce single-blossom caryophylli. But variations that never have as their source seed from one and the same species may finally be regarded as distinct species. Or, if you make a comparison between any two plants, plants which never spring from each other's seed and never, when their seed is sown, are transmuted one into the other, these plants finally are distinct species. For it is just as in animals: a difference in sex is not enough to prove a difference of species, because each sex is derived from the same seed as far as species is concerned and not infrequently from the same parents; no matter how many and how striking may be the accidental differences between them; no other proof that bull and cow, man and woman belong to the same species is required than the fact that both very frequently spring from the same parents or the same mother. Likewise in the case of plants, there is no surer index of identity of species than that of origin from the seed of one and the same plant, whether it is a matter of individuals or species. For animals that differ in species preserve their distinct species permanently; one species never springs from the seed of another nor vice versa.
John Ray
Historia Plantarum (1686), Vol. 1, 40. Trans. Edmund Silk. Quoted in Barbara G. Beddall, 'Historical Notes on Avian Classification', Systematic Zoology (1957), 6, 133-4.
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In our search after the Knowledge of Substances, our want of Ideas, that are suitable to such a way of proceeding, obliges us to a quite different method. We advance not here, as in the other (where our abstract Ideas are real as well as nominal Essences) by contemplating our Ideas, and considering their Relations and Correspondencies; that helps us very little, for the Reasons, and in another place we have at large set down. By which, I think it is evident, that Substances afford Matter of very little general Knowledge; and the bare Contemplation of their abstract Ideas, will carry us but a very little way in the search of Truth and Certainty. What then are we to do for the improvement of our Knowledge in Substantial beings? Here we are to take a quite contrary Course, the want of Ideas of their real essences sends us from our own Thoughts, to the Things themselves, as they exist.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 9, 644.
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In school we had a name for guys trying to get in touch with themselves.
Quoted, without source, in Des MacHale, Wit (1999, 2003), 36.
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In the 1860s, Pasteur not only applied his germ theory to create “Pasteurization,” rescuing France’s wine and vinegar industries, but also found both the cause and cure of silkworm disease, saving growers millions of dollars. When Napoleon asked the scientist why he had not legitimately profited by his findings, Pasteur replied: “In France scientists would consider they lowered themselves by doing so.”
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 190.
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In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and repossession, and suffer his reason and feelings to determine for themselves; and that he will put on, or rather that he will not put off, the true character of man, and generously enlarge his view beyond the present day.
In Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America (1792), 15.
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In the mathematical investigations I have usually employed such methods as present themselves naturally to a physicist. The pure mathematician will complain, and (it must be confessed) sometimes with justice, of deficient rigour. But to this question there are two sides. For, however important it may be to maintain a uniformly high standard in pure mathematics, the physicist may occasionally do well to rest content with arguments which are fairly satisfactory and conclusive from his point of view. To his mind, exercised in a different order of ideas, the more severe procedure of the pure mathematician may appear not more but less demonstrative. And further, in many cases of difficulty to insist upon the highest standard would mean the exclusion of the subject altogether in view of the space that would be required.
In Preface to second edition, The Theory of Sound (1894), Vol. 1, vii.
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In the same sense that our judicial system presumes us to be innocent until proven guilty, a medical care system may work best if it starts with the presumption that most people are healthy. Left to themselves, computers may try to do it in the opposite way, taking it as given that some sort of direct, continual, professional intervention is required all the time, in order to maintain the health of each citizen, and we will end up spending all our money on nothing but this.
In 'Aspects of Biomedical Science Policy', The New England Journal of Medicine (12 Oct 1972), 4. Also published as Occasional Paper of the Institute of Medicine.
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In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment. [Modern paraphrase; Darwin never wrote with these words.]
This is NOT AN AUTHENTIC Darwin quote. It is just a modern paraphrase, commonly seen in books and on the web. It is included here so that this caution can be attached to it.
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In this country all a man need to do is to attain a little eminence and immediately he begins to talk. Usually his eminence is financial, and the greater this eminence the more he talks and the further his voice reaches. I don't blame the rich people for talking; many of them don’t know what else to do with themselves. The fault is with these who listen. If no one would listen no harm would he done. But the American people are willing to listen to any one who has attained prominence. The main fact is that we've heard a man's name a great many times; that makes us ready to accept whatever he says. … We listen to the one who talks the most and loudest.
As quoted in 'Electricity Will Keep The World From Freezing Up', New York Times (12 Nov 1911), SM4.
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Louis Agassiz quote: In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themse
In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themselves, push their spectators to search for new evidence. The mind’s activity that is maintained by the debates about these works, is probably the source of the greatest joys given to man to experience on Earth.
La théorie des glaciers et ses progrès les plus récents. Bibl. universelle de Geneve, (3), Vol. 41, p. 139. Trans. Karin Verrecchia.
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Increasingly, our leaders must deal with dangers that threaten the entire world, where an understanding of those dangers and the possible solutions depends on a good grasp of science. The ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, questions of diet and heredity. All require scientific literacy. Can Americans choose the proper leaders and support the proper programs if they themselves are scientifically illiterate? The whole premise of democracy is that it is safe to leave important questions to the court of public opinion—but is it safe to leave them to the court of public ignorance?
In Los Angeles Times (31 Mar 1989).
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Indeed, we need not look back half a century to times which many now living remember well, and see the wonderful advances in the sciences and arts which have been made within that period. Some of these have rendered the elements themselves subservient to the purposes of man, have harnessed them to the yoke of his labors and effected the great blessings of moderating his own, of accomplishing what was beyond his feeble force, and extending the comforts of life to a much enlarged circle, to those who had before known its necessaries only.
From paper 'Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Fix the Site of the University of Virginia' (Dec 1818), reprinted in Annual Report of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia for the Fiscal Year Ending May 31, 1879 (1879), 10. Collected in Commonwealth of Virginia, Annual Reports of Officers, Boards, and Institutions of the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the Year Ending September 30, 1879 (1879).
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Inheritance by itself leads to no change, and variation leads to no permanent change, unless the variations themselves are heritable. Thus it is not inheritance and variation which bring about evolution, but the inheritance of variation.
In 'Variation Due to Change in the Individual Gene', The American Naturalist (Jan-Feb 1922), 56, No. 642, 35.
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Investigators are commonly said to be engaged in a search for the truth. I think they themselves would usually state their aims less pretentiously. What the experimenter is really trying to do is to learn whether facts can be established which will be recognized as facts by others and which will support some theory that in imagination he has projected. But he must be ingenuously honest. He must face facts as they arise in the course of experimental procedure, whether they are favourable to his idea or not. In doing this he must be ready to surrender his theory at any time if the facts are adverse to it.
The Way of an Investigator: A Scientist's Experiences in Medical Research (1945), 34.
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Isolated facts and experiments have in themselves no value, however great their number may be. They only become valuable in a theoretical or practical point of view when they make us acquainted with the law of a series of uniformly recurring phenomena, or, it may be, only give a negative result showing an incompleteness in our knowledge of such a law, till then held to be perfect.
'The Aim and Progress of Physical Science' (1869). Trans. E. Atkinson, Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects (1873), 369.
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression. St. Vincent De Paul cautioned his disciples to deport themselves so that the poor “will forgive them the bread you give them.”
In 'The Awakening of Asia', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 12.
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It is a wrong business when the younger cultivators of science put out of sight and deprecate what their predecessors have done; but obviously that is the tendency of Huxley and his friends … It is very true that Huxley was bitter against the Bishop of Oxford, but I was not present at the debate. Perhaps the Bishop was not prudent to venture into a field where no eloquence can supersede the need for precise knowledge. The young naturalists declared themselves in favour of Darwin’s views which tendency I saw already at Leeds two years ago. I am sorry for it, for I reckon Darwin’s book to be an utterly unphilosophical one.
Letter to James D, Forbes (24 Jul 1860). Trinity College Cambridge, Whewell Manuscripts.
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It is certainly true that all physical phenomena are subject to strictly mathematical conditions, and mathematical processes are unassailable in themselves. The trouble arises from the data employed. Most phenomena are so highly complex that one can never be quite sure that he is dealing with all the factors until the experiment proves it. So that experiment is rather the criterion of mathematical conclusions and must lead the way.
In Matter, Ether, Motion (1894), 89.
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It is clear, then, that though there may be countless instances of the perishing of unmoved movers, and though many things that move themselves perish and are succeeded by others that come into being, and though one thing that is unmoved moves one thing while another moves another, nevertheless there is something that comprehends them all, and that as something apart from each one of them, and this it is that is the cause of the fact that some things are and others are not and of the continuous process of change; and this causes the motion of the other movers, while they are the causes of the motion of other things. Motion, then, being eternal, the first mover, if there is but one, will be eternal also; if there are more than one, there will be a plurality of such eternal movers.
Aristotle
Physics, 258b, 32-259a, 8. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 432.
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It is curious to observe how differently these great men [Plato and Bacon] estimated the value of every kind of knowledge. Take Arithmetic for example. Plato, after speaking slightly of the convenience of being able to reckon and compute in the ordinary transactions of life, passes to what he considers as a far more important advantage. The study of the properties of numbers, he tells us, habituates the mind to the contemplation of pure truth, and raises us above the material universe. He would have his disciples apply themselves to this study, not that they may be able to buy or sell, not that they may qualify themselves to be shop-keepers or travelling merchants, but that they may learn to withdraw their minds from the ever-shifting spectacle of this visible and tangible world, and to fix them on the immutable essences of things.
Bacon, on the other hand, valued this branch of knowledge only on account of its uses with reference to that visible and tangible world which Plato so much despised. He speaks with scorn of the mystical arithmetic of the later Platonists, and laments the propensity of mankind to employ, on mere matters of curiosity, powers the whole exertion of which is required for purposes of solid advantage. He advises arithmeticians to leave these trifles, and employ themselves in framing convenient expressions which may be of use in physical researches.
In 'Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1837). Collected in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (1857), Vol. 1, 394.
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It is easy for men to give advice, but difficult for one’s self to follow; we have an example in physicians: for their patients they order a strict regime, for themselves, on going to bed, they do all that they have forbidden to others.
Philemon
'The Sicilian.' In Gustave Jules Witkowski, The Evil that Has Been Said of Doctors (1889), 4-5
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It is most interesting to observe into how small a field the whole of the mysteries of nature thus ultimately resolve themselves. The inorganic has one final comprehensive law, GRAVITATION. The organic, the other great department of mundane things, rests in like manner on one law, and that is,—DEVELOPMENT. Nor may even these be after all twain, but only branches of one still more comprehensive law, the expression of that unity which man's wit can scarcely separate from Deity itself.
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), 360.
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It is often more convenient to possess the ashes of great men than to possess the men themselves during their lifetime.
Commenting on the return of Descartes’ remains to France. Quoted, without citation, in Eric Temple Bell Men of Mathematics (1937), 52.
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It is one of the signs of the times that modern chemists hold themselves bound and consider themselves in a position to give an explanation for everything, and when their knowledge fails them to make sure of supernatural explanations. Such a treatment of scientific subjects, not many degrees removed from a belief in witches and spirit-rapping, even Wislicenus considers permissible.
In H. Kolbe, 'Sign of the Times', Journal für Praktische Chemie (1877), 15, 473. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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It is the destiny of the sciences, which must necessarily be in the hands of a few, that the utility of their progress should be invisible to the greater part of mankind, especially if those sciences are associated with unobtrusive pursuits. Let a greater facility in using our navigable waters and opening new lines of communication but once exist, simply because at present we know vastly better how to level the ground and construct locks and flood-gates—what does it amount to? The workmen have had their labors lightened, but they themselves have not the least idea of the skill of the geometer who directed them; they have been put in motion nearly as the body is by a soul of which it knows nothing; the rest of the world has even less perception of the genius which presided over the enterprise, and enjoys the success it has attained only with a species of ingratitude.
As quoted in Joseph Henry, 'Report of the Secretary', Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1859 (1860), 16-17. Webmaster has not yet been able to locate a primary source for this quote.
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It must be admitted that science has its castes. The man whose chief apparatus is the differential equation looks down upon one who uses a galvanometer, and he in turn upon those who putter about with sticky and smelly things in test tubes. But all of these, and most biologists too, join together in their contempt for the pariah who, not through a glass darkly, but with keen unaided vision, observes the massing of a thundercloud on the horizon, the petal as it unfolds, or the swarming of a hive of bees. And yet sometimes I think that our laboratories are but little earthworks which men build about themselves, and whose puny tops too often conceal from view the Olympian heights; that we who work in these laboratories are but skilled artisans compared with the man who is able to observe, and to draw accurate deductions from the world about him.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 170- 1.
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It seems to me farther, that these Particles have not only a Vis inertiae, accompanied with such passive Laws of Motion as naturally result from that Force, but also that they are moved by certain active Principles, such as that of Gravity, and that which causes Fermentation, and the Cohesion of Bodies. These Principles I consider, not as occult Qualities, supposed to result from the specifick Forms of Things, but as general Laws of Nature, by which the Things themselves are form'd; their Truth appearing to us by Phaenomena, though their Causes be not yet discover'd. For these are manifest Qualities, and their Causes only are occult.
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 376-377.
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It seems to me that the physical constitution of the valley, on which I am reporting, must cast doubt in the minds of those who may have accepted the assumptions of any of the geologic systems hitherto proposed; and that those who delight in science would do better to enrich themselves with empirical facts than take upon themselves the burden of defending and applying general hypotheses.
Della valle vulcanico-marina di Roncà nel Territorio Veronese (1778), trans. Ezio Vaccari, vii-viii.
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It seems to me that there is a good deal of ballyhoo about scientific method. I venture to think that the people who talk most about it are the people who do least about it. Scientific method is what working scientists do, not what other people or even they themselves may say about it. No working scientist, when he plans an experiment in the laboratory, asks himself whether he is being properly scientific, nor is he interested in whatever method he may be using as method.
…...
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It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.
[Recalling in 1936 the discovery of the nucleus in 1909, when some alpha particles were observed instead of travelling through a very thin gold foil were seen to rebound backward, as if striking something much more massive than the particles themselves.]
Quoted in Abraham Pais, Inward Bound (1986), 189, from E. N. da C. Andrade, Rutherford and the nature of the atom, (1964) 111.
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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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It’s very dangerous to invent something in our times; ostentatious men of the other world, who are hostile to innovations, roam about angrily. To live in peace, one has to stay away from innovations and new ideas. Innovations, like trees, attract the most destructive lightnings to themselves.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise–even in their own field.
In The Roving Mind (1983), 116.
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Laws of Nature are God’s thoughts thinking themselves out in the orbs and the tides.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 232:7.
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Let him who so wishes take pleasure in boring us with all the wonders of nature: let one spend his life observing insects, another counting the tiny bones in the hearing membrane of certain fish, even in measuring, if you will, how far a flea can jump, not to mention so many other wretched objects of study; for myself, who am curious only about philosophy, who am sorry only not to be able to extend its horizons, active nature will always be my sole point of view; I love to see it from afar, in its breadth and its entirety, and not in specifics or in little details, which, although to some extent necessary in all the sciences, are generally the mark of little genius among those who devote themselves to them.
'L'Homme Plante', in Oeuvres Philosophiques de La Mettrie (1796), Vol. 2, 70-1. Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, edited by Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 377.
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Let us now declare the means whereby our understanding can rise to knowledge without fear of error. There are two such means: intuition and deduction. By intuition I mean not the varying testimony of the senses, nor the deductive judgment of imagination naturally extravagant, but the conception of an attentive mind so distinct and so clear that no doubt remains to it with regard to that which it comprehends; or, what amounts to the same thing, the self-evidencing conception of a sound and attentive mind, a conception which springs from the light of reason alone, and is more certain, because more simple, than deduction itself. …
It may perhaps be asked why to intuition we add this other mode of knowing, by deduction, that is to say, the process which, from something of which we have certain knowledge, draws consequences which necessarily follow therefrom. But we are obliged to admit this second step; for there are a great many things which, without being evident of themselves, nevertheless bear the marks of certainty if only they are deduced from true and incontestable principles by a continuous and uninterrupted movement of thought, with distinct intuition of each thing; just as we know that the last link of a long chain holds to the first, although we can not take in with one glance of the eye the intermediate links, provided that, after having run over them in succession, we can recall them all, each as being joined to its fellows, from the first up to the last. Thus we distinguish intuition from deduction, inasmuch as in the latter case there is conceived a certain progress or succession, while it is not so in the former; … whence it follows that primary propositions, derived immediately from principles, may be said to be known, according to the way we view them, now by intuition, now by deduction; although the principles themselves can be known only by intuition, the remote consequences only by deduction.
In Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Philosophy of Descartes. [Torrey] (1892), 64-65.
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Let us only imagine that birds had studied their own development and that it was they in turn who investigated the structure of the adult mammal and of man. Wouldn’t their physiological textbooks teach the following? “Those four and two-legged animals bear many resemblances to embryos, for their cranial bones are separated, and they have no beak, just as we do in the first live or six days of incubation; their extremities are all very much alike, as ours are for about the same period; there is not a single true feather on their body, rather only thin feather-shafts, so that we, as fledglings in the nest, are more advanced than they shall ever be … And these mammals that cannot find their own food for such a long time after their birth, that can never rise freely from the earth, want to consider themselves more highly organized than we?”
Über Entwicklungsgeschichte der Thiere: Beobachtung und Reflexion (1828), 203. Trans. Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), 54.
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Liebig was not a teacher in the ordinary sense of the word. Scientifically productive himself in an unusual degree, and rich in chemical ideas, he imparted the latter to his advanced pupils, to be put by them to experimental proof; he thus brought his pupils gradually to think for themselves, besides showing and explaining to them the methods by which chemical problems might be solved experimentally.
As quoted in G. H. Getman, The Life of Ira Remsen (1980), 18-19.
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Look for knowledge not in books but in things themselves.
Non ex libris solum,sed ex rebus ipsis scientiam quaeritis.
In De Magnete, Magnetisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure, On the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies, and the Great Magnet Earth (1600). As translated in John Daintith, Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists (2009), 291. A more literal translation is “Not only in books but in things themselves look for knowledge,” as translated by P. Fleury Mottelay (1893) in De Magnete (1958), xlix. Original Latin in De Magnete (1600), Praefatio, unpaginated second page of preface.
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Magic is a faculty of wonderful virtue, full of most high mysteries, containing the most profound contemplation of most secret things, together with the nature, power, quality, substance and virtues thereof, as also the knowledge of whole Nature, and it doth instruct us concerning the differing and agreement of things amongst themselves, whence it produceth its wonderful effects, by uniting the virtues of things through the application of them one to the other.
In De Occulta Philosophia (1533), Vol. 1. Translation by J.F. (1651) reprinted as The Philosophy of Natural Magic (1913), 38-39.
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Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. … Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty,
(1907) As quoted in 'Closing In', Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities (1921), Vol. 2, 147.
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Many animals even now spring out of the soil,
Coalescing from the rains and the heat of the sun.
Small wonder, then, if more and bigger creatures,
Full-formed, arose from the new young earth and sky.
The breed, for instance, of the dappled birds
Shucked off their eggshells in the springtime, as
Crickets in summer will slip their slight cocoons
All by themselves, and search for food and life.
Earth gave you, then, the first of mortal kinds,
For all the fields were soaked with warmth and moisture.
On the Nature of Things, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (1995), Book 5, lines 794-803, 181.
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Many scientists are atheists or agnostics who want to believe that the natural world they study is all there is, and being only human, they try to persuade themselves that science gives them grounds for that belief. It’s an honorable belief, but it isn’t a research finding.
In 'Oppressed by Evolution', Discover (Mar 1998), 83. Cited in Eugenie Carol Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism: an Introduction (2005), 67.
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Mark all Mathematical heads which be wholly and only bent on these sciences, how solitary they be themselves, how unfit to live with others, how unapt to serve the world. (c.1550)
The Scholemaster (1570), Book 1.
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Mathematicians may flatter themselves that they possess new ideas which mere human language is as yet unable to express. Let them make the effort to express these ideas in appropriate words without the aid of symbols, and if they succeed they will not only lay us laymen under a lasting obligation, but, we venture to say, they will find themselves very much enlightened during the process, and will even be doubtful whether the ideas as expressed in symbols had ever quite found their way out of the equations into their minds.
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Mathematics is much more than a language for dealing with the physical world. It is a source of models and abstractions which will enable us to obtain amazing new insights into the way in which nature operates. Indeed, the beauty and elegance of the physical laws themselves are only apparent when expressed in the appropriate mathematical framework.
In Principles of Electrodynamics (1972, 1987), 105.
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Mathematics is often considered a difficult and mysterious science, because of the numerous symbols which it employs. Of course, nothing is more incomprehensible than a symbolism which we do not understand. … But this is not because they are difficult in themselves. On the contrary they have invariably been introduced to make things easy. … [T]he symbolism is invariably an immense simplification. It … represents an analysis of the ideas of the subject and an almost pictorial representation of their relations to each other.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59-60.
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Mathematics is perfectly free in its development and is subject only to the obvious consideration, that its concepts must be free from contradictions in themselves, as well as definitely and orderly related by means of definitions to the previously existing and established concepts.
In Grundlagen einer allgemeinen Manigfaltigkeitslehre (1883), Sect. 8.
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