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Thought Quotes (953 quotes)


Πάντα ῥεῖ : all things are in flux. It is inevitable that you are indebted to the past. You are fed and formed by it. The old forest is decomposed for the composition of the new forest. The old animals have given their bodies to the earth to furnish through chemistry the forming race, and every individual is only a momentary fixation of what was yesterday another’s, is today his and will belong to a third to-morrow. So it is in thought.
In Lecture, second in a series given at Freeman Place Chapel, Boston (Mar 1859), 'Quotation and Originality', collected in Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1917), 200. The Greek expression, “panta rei” is a quote from Heraclitus.
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... I left Caen, where I was living, to go on a geologic excursion under the auspices of the School of Mines. The incidents of the travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go to some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Eudidean geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had time, as upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with a conversation already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to Caen, for convenience sake, I verified the result at my leisure.
Quoted in Sir Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (1990), 541. Science and Method (1908) 51-52, 392.
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...it would be a simple way of solving the goiter problem. And in addition to that it would be the biggest thing in a medical proposition to be carried out in the state of Michigan, and Michigan is a large place. And as I thought of the thing the more convinced I became that this oughtn't to be a personal thing, This ought to be something done by the Michigan State Medical Society as a body.
Recommending the addition of a trace of iodine to table salt.
Opening address to the Medical Department of the University of Michigan, Sep 1914. Quoted by Howard Markel in 'When it Rains it Pours' : Endemic Goiter, Iodized Salt, and David Murray Cowie, M.D. American Journal of Public Health, Feb 1987, vol.77, No.2, page 222.
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...learning chiefly in mathematical sciences can so swallow up and fix one's thought, as to possess it entirely for some time; but when that amusement is over, nature will return, and be where it was, being rather diverted than overcome by such speculations.
An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England (1850), 154
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...on opening the incubator I experienced one of those rare moments of intense emotion which reward the research worker for all his pains: at first glance I saw that the broth culture, which the night before had been very turbid was perfectly clear: all the bacteria had vanished... as for my agar spread it was devoid of all growth and what caused my emotion was that in a flash I understood: what causes my spots was in fact an invisible microbe, a filterable virus, but a virus parasitic on bacteria. Another thought came to me also, If this is true, the same thing will have probably occurred in the sick man. In his intestine, as in my test-tube, the dysentery bacilli will have dissolved away under the action of their parasite. He should now be cured.
In Allan Chase, Magic Shots: A Human and Scientific Account of the Long and Continuing Struggle to Eradicated Infectious Diseases by Vaccination (1982), 249-250. Also in Allan J. Tobin and Jennie Dusheck, Asking About Life (2005), 206.
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...reality is a system, completely ordered and fully intelligible, with which thought in its advance is more and more identifying itself. We may look at the growth of knowledge … as an attempt by our mind to return to union with things as they are in their ordered wholeness…. and if we take this view, our notion of truth is marked out for us. Truth is the approximation of thought to reality … Its measure is the distance thought has travelled … toward that intelligible system … The degree of truth of a particular proposition is to be judged in the first instance by its coherence with experience as a whole, ultimately by its coherence with that further whole, all comprehensive and fully articulated, in which thought can come to rest.
The Nature of Thought (1939), Vol II, 264. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 233
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...they have never affirm'd any thing, concerning the Cause, till the Trial was past: whereas, to do it before, is a most venomous thing in the making of Sciences; for whoever has fix'd on his Cause, before he experimented; can hardly avoid fitting his Experiment to his Observations, to his own Cause, which he had before imagin'd; rather than the Cause to the Truth of the Experiment itself.
Referring to experiments of the Aristotelian mode, whereby a preconceived truth would be illustrated merely to convince people of the validity of the original thought.
Thomas Sprat, Abraham Cowley, History of the Royal Society (1667, 1734), 108.
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...to many it is not knowledge but the quest for knowledge that gives greater interest to thought—to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.
Last sentences, Physics and Philosophy (1943, 2003), 217
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Alles Gescheite ist schon gedacht worden; man muss nur versuchen, es noch einmal zu denken.
Everything that is worth thinking has already been thought; one must only try to think it again.
As translated in William Francis Henry King (ed.), Classical and Foreign Quotations: A Polyglot Manual of Historical (1904), 234.
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Ath. There still remain three studies suitable for freemen. Calculation in arithmetic is one of them; the measurement of length, surface, and depth is the second; and the third has to do with the revolutions of the stars in reference to one another … there is in them something that is necessary and cannot be set aside, … if I am not mistaken, [something of] divine necessity; for as to the human necessities of which men often speak when they talk in this manner, nothing can be more ridiculous than such an application of the words.
Cle. And what necessities of knowledge are there, Stranger, which are divine and not human?
Ath. I conceive them to be those of which he who has no use nor any knowledge at all cannot be a god, or demi-god, or hero to mankind, or able to take any serious thought or charge of them.
Plato
In Republic, Bk. 7, in Jowett, Dialogues of Plato (1897, 2010), Vol. 4, 331.
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Boss: I just heard that light travels faster than sound. I'm wondering if I should shout when I speak, just so my lips appear to sync-up with my words.
Dilbert (thought): A little knowledge can be a ridiculous thing.
Dilbert comic strip (10 Sep 1992).
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Compounds formed by chemical attraction, possess new properties different from those of their component parts... chemists have long believed that the contrary took place in their combination. They thought, in fact, that the compounds possessed properties intermediate between those of their component parts; so that two bodies, very coloured, very sapid, or insapid, soluble or insoluble, fusible or infusible, fixed or volatile, assumed in chemical combination, a shade or colour, or taste, solubility or volatility, intermediate between, and in some sort composed of, the same properties which were considered in their principles. This is an illusion or error which modern chemistry is highly interested to overthrow.
Quoted in A General System of Chemical Knowledge (1804), Vol. I, trans. W. Nicholson, 102-3.
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Daher ist die Aufgabe nicht sowohl, zu sehen, was noch keiner gesehen hat, als bei dem, was jeder sieht, zu denken, was noch keiner gedacht hat.
The task is, not so much to see what no one has seen yet; but to think what nobody has thought yet, about that which everybody sees.
English translation as given in an Epigraph by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An Evaluation of Modern Biological Thought (1952), Vol. 1, (1949, 1952). Original German, at least as early as Schopenhauer and Frauenstädt (ed.), Second Edition of Parerga and Paralipomena (1862), Vol. 2, 116. Quoted in Julius Frauenstädt (ed.) Schopenhauer-Lexikon: Ein philosophisches Wörterbuch, nach Arthur Schopenhauers sämmtlichen Schriften und handschriftlichem Nachlass (1871), 180. This quote has been widely (apparently) incorrectly attributed to Erwin Schrödinger, for example, in Alan L. Mackay (ed.), A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 219. Mackay cites Bertalanffy, without page number. Did Schrodinger ever use Schopenhauer’s quote? If you know a primary source for Schrödinger, please contact Webmaster. Prior to this revision on 15 Jun 2015, the quote appeared on this site on the Schrödinger page. This was independently researched by this Webmaster. If you use it elsewhere, first request the credit line and link to include.
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Habet cerebrum sensus arcem; hie mentis est regimen.
The brain is the citadel of the senses; this guides the principle of thought.
Historia Naturalis. XI, 49, 2, 13. As cited and translated in J.K. Hoyt (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations: English, Latin, and Modern Foreign Languages (1896), 726. Also seen translated as “Men have the brains as a kind of citadel of the senses; here is what guides the thinking principle.”
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La pensée n’est qu’un éclair au milieu d’une longue nuit. Mais c’est cet éclair qui est tout.
Thought is only a gleam in the midst of a long night. But it is this gleam which is everything.
Concluding remark to La Valeur de la Science (1904), 276, translated by George Bruce Halsted, in The Value of Science (1907), 142. “Éclair” might also be translated as “flash” or “lightning,” which would better signify only an instantaneous existence in his context of geologic time.
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Ohne Phosphor, Kein Gedanke.
Without phosphorus there would be no thought.
From Lehre der Nahrungsmittel (1850), 115. (The title translates as Science of Food.) Some sources—incorrectly—attribute these words to Ludwig Büchner, who quoted it but credited it as Jakob “Moleschott’s well-known phrase” in Büchner’s Kraft und Stoff (1856), lxxv; later translated by the author from the 15th German edition in Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 217.
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Ohne Phosphor, Kein Gedanke.
Without phosphorus there would be no thought.
[This is wrongly attributed to Büchner.]
Bückner did not originate this quote, even though some sources state “Attributed.” It is included here to provide this correction. Büchner himself quotes it, but credits it as Jakob “Moleschott’s well-known phrase” in Kraft und Stoff (1856), lxxv; translated by the author from the 15th German edition in Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 217. Büchner states that it is from Jakob Moleschott’s book, Lehre der Nahrungsmittel. (That title translates as Science of Food and in the 1850 edition, the maxim in on p.115.) Büchner and Moleschott were contemporaries, and they held the same philosophic view of scientific materialism.
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Ratbert (as lab rat, to scientist): Doc, we have to talk. Every day you feed me over a hundred pounds of macaroni and cheese. At first I thought you were just being a good host. But lately I’ve been thinking it could be something far more sinister.
Scientist (thinking): Macaroni and cheese causes paranoia.
Dilbert cartoon strip (24 Jul 1990).
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Ron Hutcheson, a Knight-Ridder reporter: [Mr. President, what are your] personal views [about the theory of] intelligent design?
President George W. Bush: [Laughing. You're] doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past [days as governor of Texas]. ... Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught...”
Hutcheson: Both sides ought to be properly taught?
President: Yes ... so people can understand what the debate is about.
Hutcheson: So the answer accepts the validity of “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution?
President: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting—you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.
Hutcheson: So we've got to give these groups—...
President: [interrupting] Very interesting question, Hutch. [Laughter from other reporters]
From conversation with reporters at the White House (1 Aug 2005), as quoted by Matthew Cooper in 'Fanning the Controversy Over “Intelligent Design”', Time (3 Aug 2005). The Time writer stated, “The president has gone farther in questioning the widely-taught theories of evolution and natural selection than any president since Ronald Reagan, who advocated teaching creationism in public schools alongside evolution.” Just a few months later, in the nation's first case on that point, on 20 Dec 2005, “a federal judge [John E. Jones] ruled it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school district to present intelligent design as an alternative in high school biology courses, because it is a religious viewpoint,” as reported by Laurie Goodstein in 'Judge Rejects Teaching Intelligent Design', New York Times (21 Dec 2005). Goodstein also wrote “Judge Jones, a Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that intelligent design was not science,” and that “the evidence in the trial proved that intelligent design was 'creationism relabeled.' The Supreme Court has already ruled that creationism ... cannot be taught as science in a public school.”
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To the Memory of Fourier
Fourier! with solemn and profound delight,
Joy born of awe, but kindling momently
To an intense and thrilling ecstacy,
I gaze upon thy glory and grow bright:
As if irradiate with beholden light;
As if the immortal that remains of thee
Attuned me to thy spirit’s harmony,
Breathing serene resolve and tranquil might.
Revealed appear thy silent thoughts of youth,
As if to consciousness, and all that view
Prophetic, of the heritage of truth
To thy majestic years of manhood due:
Darkness and error fleeing far away,
And the pure mind enthroned in perfect day.
In R. Graves, Life of W. R. Hamilton (1882), Vol. l, 696.
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Un jour, en l'année 1666, Newton, retiré à la campagne, et voyant tomber des fruits d’un arbre, à ce que m'a conté sa nièce, (Mme Conduit) se laissa aller à une méditation profonde sur la cause qui entraîne ainsi tous les corps dans une ligne qui, si elle était prolongée, passerait à peu près par le centre de la Terre.
One day in the year 1666 Newton had gone to the country, and seeing the fall of an apple, [as his niece (Mme Conduit) told me,] let himself be led into a deep meditation on the cause which thus draws every object along a line whose extension would pass almost through the center of the Earth.
Original French from Éléments de Philosophie de Newton, Part 1, Chap. 3, in Oeuvres Completes de Voltaire (1785), Vol. 31, 175. Translation as given in an epigraph in Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorn and John Archibald Wheeler, Gravitation (1970, 1973), 47. An alternate translation is: “One day in the year 1666, Newton went into the country, and seeing fruit fall from a tree (as his niece, Madame Conduit, has informed me), entered into a profound train of thought as to the causes which could lead to such a drawing together or attraction.” As given in Robert Chambers (ed.), The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar (1888), Vol. 2, 757. (Note: Voltaire originally published his Éléments in 1738, but Webmaster could not find the above quote in it.)
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Wer kann was Dummes, wer was Kluges denken, Das nicht die Vorwelt schon gedacht?
What is there, wise or foolish, one can think, That former ages have not thought before?
Words of Mephistopheles written in Faust, Pt. 2, Act 2. As quoted and translated by the editor in in William Francis Henry King (ed.), Classical and Foreign Quotations: A Polyglot Manual of Historical (1904), 234.
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CLAUDIO: Death is a fearful thing.
ISABELLA: And shamed life a hateful.
CLAUDIO: Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprisioned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worst than worst
Of those lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling—'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisionment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
Measure for Measure (1604), III, i.
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A general course in mathematics should be required of all officers for its practical value, but no less for its educational value in training the mind to logical forms of thought, in developing the sense of absolute truthfulness, together with a confidence in the accomplishment of definite results by definite means.
In 'Mathematics at West Point and Annapolis', United States Bureau of Education, Bulletin 1912, No. 2, 11.
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A bewildering assortment of (mostly microscopic) life-forms has been found thriving in what were once thought to be uninhabitable regions of our planet. These hardy creatures have turned up in deep, hot underground rocks, around scalding volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean, in the desiccated, super-cold Dry Valleys of Antarctica, in places of high acid, alkaline, and salt content, and below many meters of polar ice. ... Some deep-dwelling, heat-loving microbes, genetic studies suggest, are among the oldest species known, hinting that not only can life thrive indefinitely in what appear to us totally alien environments, it may actually originate in such places.
In Life Everywhere: the Maverick Science of Astrobiology (2002), xi.
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A cell has a history; its structure is inherited, it grows, divides, and, as in the embryo of higher animals, the products of division differentiate on complex lines. Living cells, moreover, transmit all that is involved in their complex heredity. I am far from maintaining that these fundamental properties may not depend upon organisation at levels above any chemical level; to understand them may even call for different methods of thought; I do not pretend to know. But if there be a hierarchy of levels we must recognise each one, and the physical and chemical level which, I would again say, may be the level of self-maintenance, must always have a place in any ultimate complete description.
'Some Aspects of Biochemistry', The Irish Journal of Medical Science (1932), 79, 346.
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A century ago, Darwin and his friends were thought to be dangerous atheists, but their heresy simply replaced a benevolent personal deity called God by a benevolent impersonal deity called Evolution. In their different ways Bishop Wilberforce and T.H. Huxley both believed in Fate.
From transcript of BBC radio Reith Lecture (12 Nov 1967), 'A Runaway World', on the bbc.co.uk website.
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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 distinguished Princeton physicist on the occasion of my asking how he thought Einstein would have reacted to Bell’s theorem. He said that Einstein would have gone home and thought about it hard for several weeks … He was sure that Einstein would have been very bothered by Bell’s theorem. Then he added: “Anybody who’s not bothered by Bell’s theorem has to have rocks in his head.”
In 'Is the Moon There When Nobody Looks? Reality and the Quantum Theory', Physics Today (Apr 1985), 38-47.
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A drop from the nose of Fleming, who had a cold, fell onto an agar plate where large yellow colonies of a contaminant had grown, and lysosyme was discovered. He made this important discovery because when he saw that the colonies of the contaminant were fading, his mind went straight to the right cause of the phenomenon he was observing—that the drop from his nose contained a lytic substance. And also immediately, he thought that this substance might be present in many secretions and tissues of the body. And he found this was so—the substance was in tears, saliva, leucocytes, skin, fingernails, mother's milk—thus very widely distributed in amounts and also in plants.
Personal recollections of Alexander Fleming by Lady Amelia Fleming. Quoted in Molecular Cloning (2001), Vol. 1, 153.
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A few days afterwards, I went to him [the same actuary referred to in another quote] and very gravely told him that I had discovered the law of human mortality in the Carlisle Table, of which he thought very highly. I told him that the law was involved in this circumstance. Take the table of the expectation of life, choose any age, take its expectation and make the nearest integer a new age, do the same with that, and so on; begin at what age you like, you are sure to end at the place where the age past is equal, or most nearly equal, to the expectation to come. “You don’t mean that this always happens?”—“Try it.” He did try, again and again; and found it as I said. “This is, indeed, a curious thing; this is a discovery!” I might have sent him about trumpeting the law of life: but I contented myself with informing him that the same thing would happen with any table whatsoever in which the first column goes up and the second goes down.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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A few of the results of my activities as a scientist have become embedded in the very texture of the science I tried to serve—this is the immortality that every scientist hopes for. I have enjoyed the privilege, as a university teacher, of being in a position to influence the thought of many hundreds of young people and in them and in their lives I shall continue to live vicariously for a while. All the things I care for will continue for they will be served by those who come after me. I find great pleasure in the thought that those who stand on my shoulders will see much farther than I did in my time. What more could any man want?
In 'The Meaning of Death,' in The Humanist Outlook edited by A. J. Ayer (1968) [See Gerald Holton and Sir Isaac Newton].
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A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?
The Two Cultures: The Rede Lecture (1959), 14-5.
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A good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which at times make it almost seem like a live teacher. … a perfect notation would be a substitute for thought.
In 'Introduction' by Bertrand Russell written for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), 17-18.
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A great book is a mine as well as a mint: it suggests and excites as much thought as it presents in finished form.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 182.
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A great department of thought must have its own inner life, however transcendent may be the importance of its relations to the outside. No department of science, least of all one requiring so high a degree of mental concentration as Mathematics, can be developed entirely, or even mainly, with a view to applications outside its own range. The increased complexity and specialisation of all branches of knowledge makes it true in the present, however it may have been in former times, that important advances in such a department as Mathematics can be expected only from men who are interested in the subject for its own sake, and who, whilst keeping an open mind for suggestions from outside, allow their thought to range freely in those lines of advance which are indicated by the present state of their subject, untrammelled by any preoccupation as to applications to other departments of science. Even with a view to applications, if Mathematics is to be adequately equipped for the purpose of coping with the intricate problems which will be presented to it in the future by Physics, Chemistry and other branches of physical science, many of these problems probably of a character which we cannot at present forecast, it is essential that Mathematics should be allowed to develop freely on its own lines.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 286.
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A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe”; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
In Letter (4 Mar 1950), replying to a grieving father over the loss of a young son. In Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children (2002), 184.
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A lot of prizes have been awarded for showing the universe is not as simple as we might have thought.
In A Brief History of Time, (1988, 1998), 80.
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A man’s value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows. We call him good or bad according to how he stands in this matter. It looks at first sight as if our estimate of a man depended entirely on his social qualities.
…...
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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 person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
…...
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A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once. The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. ... He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important. Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1995), 107.
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A schoolteacher or professor cannot educate individuals, he educates only species. A thought that deserves taking to heart.
Aphorism 5 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 129.
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A scientific invention consists of six (or some number) ideas, five of which are absurd but which, with the addition of the sixth and enough rearrangement of the combinations, results in something no one has thought of before.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 66.
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A set is a Many that allows itself to be thought of as a One.
Quoted in Carol Schumacher, Chapter Zero: Fundamental Notions of Abstract Mathematics (1996), 23.
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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 society made up of individuals who were capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. The pressure of ideas would simply drive it frantic.
Minority Report (1956, 2006 reprint), 10.
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A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.
In Steven D. Price, 1001 Smartest Things Ever Said (2005), 163.
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A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.
In Towne v. Eisner (1918), 245 U.S. 425. As quoted in Richard A. Posner (ed.), The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and Other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1992), 287.
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A young man once asked [Erasmus Darwin] in, as he thought, an offensive manner, whether he did not find stammering very inconvenient. He answered, 'No, Sir, it gives me time for reflection, and saves me from asking impertinent questions.'
C. Darwin, The Life of Erasmus Darwin (1887), 40.
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A … difference between most system-building in the social sciences and systems of thought and classification of the natural sciences is to be seen in their evolution. In the natural sciences both theories and descriptive systems grow by adaptation to the increasing knowledge and experience of the scientists. In the social sciences, systems often issue fully formed from the mind of one man. Then they may be much discussed if they attract attention, but progressive adaptive modification as a result of the concerted efforts of great numbers of men is rare.
The Study of Man (1941), 19-20.
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About 6 or 8 years ago My Ingenious friend Mr John Robinson having [contrived] conceived that a fire engine might be made without a Lever—by Inverting the Cylinder & placing it above the mouth of the pit proposed to me to make a model of it which was set about by having never Compleated & I [being] having at that time Ignorant little knoledge of the machine however I always thought the Machine Might be applied to [more] other as valuable purposes [than] as drawing Water.
Entry in notebook (1765). The bracketed words in square brackets were crossed out by Watt. in Eric Robinson and Douglas McKie (eds.), Partners in Science: Letters of James Watt and Joseph Black (1970), 434.
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About eight days ago I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary, gains it; it is the same with phosphorus; this increase of weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed during combustion and combines with the vapors. This discovery, which I have established by experiments, that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion and calcination; and I am persuaded that the increase in weight of metallic calxes is due to the same cause... This discovery seems to me one of the most interesting that has been made since Stahl and since it is difficult not to disclose something inadvertently in conversation with friends that could lead to the truth I have thought it necessary to make the present deposit to the Secretary of the Academy to await the time I make my experiments public.
Sealed note deposited with the Secretary of the French Academy 1 Nov 1772. Oeuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance, Fasc. II. 1770-75 (1957), 389-90. Adapted from translation by A. N. Meldrum, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Science (1930), 3.
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Act as if you are going to live for ever and cast your plans way ahead. You must feel responsible without time limitations, and the consideration of whether you may or may not be around to see the results should never enter your thoughts.
In Theodore Rockwell, The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made A Difference (2002), 342.
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After that, I thought about what a proposition generally needs in order to be true and certain because, since I had just found one that I knew was such, I thought I should also know what this certainty consists in. Having noticed that there is nothing at all in the proposition “I think, therefore I am” [cogito ergo sum] which convinces me that I speak the truth, apart from the fact that I see very clearly that one has to exist in order to think, I judged that I could adopt as a general rule that those things we conceive very clearly and distinctly are all true. The only outstanding difficulty is in recognizing which ones we conceive distinctly.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 4, 25.
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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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Alexander the king of the Macedonians, began like a wretch to learn geometry, that he might know how little the earth was, whereof he had possessed very little. Thus, I say, like a wretch for this, because he was to understand that he did bear a false surname. For who can be great in so small a thing? Those things that were delivered were subtile, and to be learned by diligent attention: not which that mad man could perceive, who sent his thoughts beyond the ocean sea. Teach me, saith he, easy things. To whom his master said: These things be the same, and alike difficult unto all. Think thou that the nature of things saith this. These things whereof thou complainest, they are the same unto all: more easy things can be given unto none; but whosoever will, shall make those things more easy unto himself. How? With uprightness of mind.
In Thomas Lodge (trans.), 'Epistle 91', The Workes of Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Both Morrall and Naturall (1614), 383. Also in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 135.
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Algebra reverses the relative importance of the factors in ordinary language. It is essentially a written language, and it endeavors to exemplify in its written structures the patterns which it is its purpose to convey. The pattern of the marks on paper is a particular instance of the pattern to be conveyed to thought. The algebraic method is our best approach to the expression of necessity, by reason of its reduction of accident to the ghost-like character of the real variable.
In Science and Philosophy (1948), 116.
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All admit that the mountains of the globe are situated mostly along the border regions of the continents (taking these regions as 300 to 1000 miles or more in width), and that over these same areas the sedimentary deposits have, as a general thing, their greatest thickness. At first thought, it would seem almost incredible that the upliftings of mountains, whatever their mode of origin, should have taken place just where the earth’s crust, through these sedimentary accumulations, was the thickest, and where, therefore, there was the greatest weight to be lifted. … Earthquakes show that even now, in this last of the geological ages, the same border regions of the continents, although daily thickening from the sediments borne to the ocean by rivers, are the areas of the greatest and most frequent movements of the earth’s crust. (1866)
[Thus, the facts were known long ago; the explanation by tectonic activity came many decades later.]
In 'Observations on the Origin of Some of the Earth's Features', The American Journal of Science (Sep 1866), Second Series, 42, No. 125, 210-211.
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All great discoveries are made by men whose feelings run ahead of their thinking.
'Sermons. III. Coming to the Truth'. In Anna L. Ward, A Dictionary of Quotations in Prose from American and Foreign Authors (1889), 585, No. 1190
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All of us are interested in our roots. Generally this interest is latent in youth, and grows with age. Until I reached fifty I thought that history of science was a refuge for old scientists whose creative juices had dried up. Now of course I know that I was wrong! As we grow older, we become more interested in the past, in family history, local history, etc. Astronomy is, or was when I started in it, almost a family.
In Organizations and Strategies in Astronomy (2002), Vol. 3, 206.
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All the fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no closer to answer the question, “What are light quanta?” Of course today every rascal thinks he knows the answer, but he is deluding himself.
(1951). Quoted in Raymond W. Lam, Seasonal Affective Disorder and Beyond (1998), 1.
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All the modern higher mathematics is based on a calculus of operations, on laws of thought. All mathematics, from the first, was so in reality; but the evolvers of the modern higher calculus have known that it is so. Therefore elementary teachers who, at the present day, persist in thinking about algebra and arithmetic as dealing with laws of number, and about geometry as dealing with laws of surface and solid content, are doing the best that in them lies to put their pupils on the wrong track for reaching in the future any true understanding of the higher algebras. Algebras deal not with laws of number, but with such laws of the human thinking machinery as have been discovered in the course of investigations on numbers. Plane geometry deals with such laws of thought as were discovered by men intent on finding out how to measure surface; and solid geometry with such additional laws of thought as were discovered when men began to extend geometry into three dimensions.
In Lectures on the Logic of Arithmetic (1903), Preface, 18-19.
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All the properties that we designate as activity of the soul, are only the functions of the cerebral substance, and to express ourselves in a coarser way, thought is just about to the brain what bile is to the liver and urine to the kidney. It is absurd to admit an independent soul who uses the cerebellum as an instrument with which he would work as he pleases.
Carl Vogt
As quoted in William Vogt, La Vie d'un Homme, Carl Vogt (1896), 48. Translated by Webmaster, from the original French, “Toutes les propriétés que nous designons sous le nom d’activité de l’âme, ne sont que les fonctions de la substance cérébrale, et pour nous exprimer d’ une façon plus grossière, la pensée est à peu près au cerveau ce que la bile est au foie et l’urine au rein. Il est absurde d’ admettre une âme indépendante qui se serve du cervelet comme d’un instrument avec lequelle travaillerait comme il lui plait.”
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All thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of a rabbit, rabbits.
In Lecture (1870) at Harvard University, 'The Natural History of Intellect', collected in Natural History of Intellect: And Other Papers (1893), 50.
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Although I was four years at the University [of Wisconsin], I did not take the regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new world, mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany and and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and should have stayed longer.
[Enrolled in Feb 1861, left in 1863 without completing a degree, and began his first botanical foot journey.]
John Muir
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 286.
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Although Lewis Carroll thought of The Hunting of the Snark as a nonsense ballad for children, it is hard to imagine—in fact one shudders to imagine—a child of today reading and enjoying it.
In 'Introduction', The Annotated Snark (1962), 11.
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Alvarez seemed to care less about the way the picture in the puzzle would look, when everything fit together, than about the fun of looking for pieces that fit. He loved nothing more than doing something that everybody else thought impossible. His designs were clever, and usually exploited some little-known principle that everyone else had forgotten.
As quoted in Walter Sullivan, 'Luis W. Alvarez, Nobel Physicist Who Explored Atom, Dies at 77: Obituary', New York Times (2 Sep 1988).
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Always be suspicious of conclusions that reinforce uncritical hope and follow comforting traditions of Western thought.
From The Flamingo's Smile (1987), 401.
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An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God.
Quoted in Clifford A. Pickover, A Passion for Mathematics (2005), 1; but with no footnote to primary source.
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An old saying is “A penny for your thoughts.” The offer is not high enough: some thoughts would not be confessed for a million dollars.
In Sinner Sermons: A Selection of the Best Paragraphs of E. W. Howe (1926), 49.
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And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.
'Residence at Cambridge', The Prelude, or, Growth of a Poet's Mind: An Autobiographical Poem (1850), Book 3, 57-58.
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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point… . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy’s in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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And this grey spirit yearning in desire, To follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
From poem, 'Ulysses', collected in The Complete Poetical Works of Tennyson (1909), Vol. 2, 89.
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And what a science Natural History will be, when we are in our graves, when all the laws of change are thought one of the most important parts of Natural History.
From Letter (1856) to J.D. Hooker, collected in in Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1896), 439. [Darwin was contemplating natural history as the synthesis of evolution (change) and forces of the environment.]
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And yet I think that the Full House model does teach us to treasure variety for its own sake–for tough reasons of evolutionary theory and nature’s ontology, and not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative– and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, of ten unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellence–where McDonald’s drives out the local diner, and the mega-Stop & Shop eliminates the corner Mom and Pop–an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to stem the tide and preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation itself.
…...
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Another characteristic of mathematical thought is that it can have no success where it cannot generalize.
In Eberhard Zeidler, Applied Functional Analysis: main principles and their applications (1995), 282.
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Anthropology has reached that point of development where the careful investigation of facts shakes our firm belief in the far-reaching theories that have been built up. The complexity of each phenomenon dawns on our minds, and makes us desirous of proceeding more cautiously. Heretofore we have seen the features common to all human thought. Now we begin to see their differences. We recognize that these are no less important than their similarities, and the value of detailed studies becomes apparent. Our aim has not changed, but our method must change. We are still searching for the laws that govern the growth of human culture, of human thought; but we recognize the fact that before we seek for what is common to all culture, we must analyze each culture by careful and exact methods, as the geologist analyzes the succession and order of deposits, as the biologist examines the forms of living matter. We see that the growth of human culture manifests itself in the growth of each special culture. Thus we have come to understand that before we can build up the theory of the growth of all human culture, we must know the growth of cultures that we find here and there among the most primitive tribes of the Arctic, of the deserts of Australia, and of the impenetrable forests of South America; and the progress of the civilization of antiquity and of our own times. We must, so far as we can, reconstruct the actual history of mankind, before we can hope to discover the laws underlying that history.
The Jesup North Pacific Expedition: Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History (1898), Vol. 1, 4.
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Anything at all that can be the object of scientific thought becomes dependent on the axiomatic method, and thereby indirectly on mathematics, as soon as it is ripe for the formation of a theory. By pushing ahead to ever deeper layers of axioms … we become ever more conscious of the unity of our knowledge. In the sign of the axiomatic method, mathematics is summoned to a leading role in science.
Address (11 Sep 1917), 'Axiomatisches Denken' delivered before the Swiss Mathematical Society in Zürich. Translated by Ewald as 'Axiomatic Thought', (1918), in William Bragg Ewald, From Kant to Hilbert (1996), Vol. 2, 1115.
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As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
From The Art of Living, Day by Day 91972), 77. Frequently misattributed to Henry David Thoreau.
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As followers of natural science we know nothing of any relation between thoughts and the brain, except as a gross correlation in time and space.
Man on his Nature (1942), 290.
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As he sat alone in a garden, he [Isaac Newton in 1666, age 24] fell into a speculation on the power of gravity; that as this power is not found sensibly diminished at the remotest distance from the centre of the earth to which we can rise, neither at the tops of the loftiest buildings, nor even on the summits of the highest mountains, it appeared to him reasonable to conclude that this power must extend much further than was usually thought: why not as high as the moon? said he to himself; and if so, her motion must be influenced by it; perhaps she is retained in her orbit thereby.
View of Newton's Philosophy (1728), preface. In William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 166. Pemberton's narrative is based on firsthand conversations with Newton himself.
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As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind—every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.
Seen on the Internet, but Webmaster believes the wording is not verbatim, but is a shortened, rewording of the longer quote at launch time. seen elsewhere on this page. The earliest example of the shortened quote found by Webmaster is as an epigraph in Philip Kaplan, Big Wings: The Largest Aeroplanes Ever Built (2006), 92.
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As I strayed into the study of an eminent physicist, I observed hanging against the wall, framed like a choice engraving, several dingy, ribbon-like strips of, I knew not what... My curiosity was at once aroused. What were they? ... They might be shreds of mummy-wraps or bits of friable bark-cloth from the Pacific, ... [or] remnants from a grandmother’s wedding dress... They were none of these... He explained that they were carefully-prepared photographs of portions of the Solar Spectrum. I stood and mused, absorbed in the varying yet significant intensities of light and shade, bordered by mystic letters and symbolic numbers. As I mused, the pale legend began to glow with life. Every line became luminous with meaning. Every shadow was suffused with light shining from behind, suggesting some mighty achievement of knowledge; of knowledge growing more daring in proportion to the remoteness of the object known; of knowledge becoming more positive in its answers, as the questions which were asked seemed unanswerable. No Runic legend, no Babylonish arrowhead, no Egyptian hieroglyph, no Moabite stone, could present a history like this, or suggest thoughts of such weighty import or so stimulate and exalt the imagination.
The Sciences of Nature Versus the Science of Man: A Plea for the Science of Man (1871), 7-9.
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As kids we started smoking because we thought it was smart. Why don't we stop smoking for the same reason?
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 85.
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As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.
…...
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As the component parts of all new machines may be said to be old[,] it is a nice discriminating judgment, which discovers that a particular arrangement will produce a new and desired effect. ... Therefore, the mechanic should sit down among levers, screws, wedges, wheels, etc. like a poet among the letters of the alphabet, considering them as the exhibition of his thoughts; in which a new arrangement transmits a new idea to the world.
A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation (1796), preface, x.
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As to writing another book on geometry [to replace Euclid] the middle ages would have as soon thought of composing another New Testament.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather, Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?
In The Symbiotic Universe: Life and Mind in the Cosmos (1988), 27.
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Astronomy was not studied by Kepler, Galileo, or Newton for the practical applications which might result from it, but to enlarge the bounds of knowledge, to furnish new objects of thought and contemplation in regard to the universe of which we form a part; yet how remarkable the influence which this science, apparently so far removed from the sphere of our material interests, has exerted on the destinies of the world!
In 'Report of the Secretary', Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1859 (1860), 15.
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At first he who invented any art that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to its recreation, the inventors of the latter were always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility.
Aristotle
Metaphysics, 981b, 13-20. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1553.
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At least once per year, some group of scientists will become very excited and announce that:
•The universe is even bigger than they thought!
•There are even more subatomic particles than they thought!
•Whatever they announced last year about global warming is wrong.
From newspaper column '25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years' (Oct 1998), collected in Dave Barry Turns Fifty (2010), 183.
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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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Be not afeard.
The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest (1611), III, ii.
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Because intelligence is our own most distinctive feature, we may incline to ascribe superior intelligence to the basic primate plan, or to the basic plan of the mammals in general, but this point requires some careful consideration. There is no question at all that most mammals of today are more intelligent than most reptiles of today. I am not going to try to define intelligence or to argue with those who deny thought or consciousness to any animal except man. It seems both common and scientific sense to admit that ability to learn, modification of action according to the situation, and other observable elements of behavior in animals reflect their degrees of intelligence and permit us, if only roughly, to compare these degrees. In spite of all difficulties and all the qualifications with which the expert (quite properly) hedges his conclusions, it also seems sensible to conclude that by and large an animal is likely to be more intelligent if it has a larger brain at a given body size and especially if its brain shows greater development of those areas and structures best developed in our own brains. After all, we know we are intelligent, even though we wish we were more so.
In The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 78.
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Before any great scientific principle receives distinct enunciation by individuals, it dwells more or less clearly in the general scientific mind. The intellectual plateau is already high, and our discoverers are those who, like peaks above the plateau, rise a little above the general level of thought at the time.
In 'Faraday as a Discoverer', The American Journal of Science (Jul 1868), 2nd series, 46, No. 136, 194.
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Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his power and strength
But for his intellectual length.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason 'A priori'
As well as 'A posteriori'.
No problem bothered him a bit
He made both head and tail of it.
So wise was he, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong
It passed a few ideas along.
If something slipped his forward mind
'Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.
As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
Thus he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.
Oh, gaze upon this model beast
Defunct ten million years at least.
'The Dinosaur: A Poem' (1912). In E. H. Colbert (ed.), The Dinosaur Book (1951), 78.
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Being also in accord with Goethe that discoveries are made by the age and not by the individual, I should consider the instances to be exceedingly rare of men who can be said to be living before their age, and to be the repository of knowledge quite foreign to the thought of the time. The rule is that a number of persons are employed at a particular piece of work, but one being a few steps in advance of the others is able to crown the edifice with his name, or, having the ability to generalise already known facts, may become in time to be regarded as their originator. Therefore it is that one name is remembered whilst those of coequals have long been buried in obscurity.
In Historical Notes on Bright's Disease, Addison's Disease, and Hodgkin's Disease', Guy's Hospital Reports (1877), 22, 259-260.
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Besides accustoming the student to demand, complete proof, and to know when he has not obtained it, mathematical studies are of immense benefit to his education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellencies of mathematical discipline, that the mathematician is never satisfied with à peu près. He requires the exact truth. Hardly any of the non-mathematical sciences, except chemistry, has this advantage. One of the commonest modes of loose thought, and sources of error both in opinion and in practice, is to overlook the importance of quantities. Mathematicians and chemists are taught by the whole course of their studies, that the most fundamental difference of quality depends on some very slight difference in proportional quantity; and that from the qualities of the influencing elements, without careful attention to their quantities, false expectation would constantly be formed as to the very nature and essential character of the result produced.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611. [The French phrase, à peu près means “approximately”. —Webmaster]
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Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow,
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head; and thou all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o'th' world,
Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once
That makes ingrateful man.
King Lear (1605-61, III, ii.
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Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows on the world, “lighthouses,” (as a poet said), “erected in the sea of time.”
In Authors League Bulletin (1979). As city in Charles Francis (ed.), Wisdom Well Said (2009), 48.
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Both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, and to the latter the goal of every thought process. To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.
Lecture, 'Religion and Natural Science' (1937) In Max Planck and Frank Gaynor (trans.), Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1949), 184.
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But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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But nothing of a nature foreign to the duties of my profession [clergyman] engaged my attention while I was at Leeds so much as the, prosecution of my experiments relating to electricity, and especially the doctrine of air. The last I was led into a consequence of inhabiting a house adjoining to a public brewery, where first amused myself with making experiments on fixed air [carbon dioxide] which found ready made in the process of fermentation. When I removed from that house, I was under the necessity making the fixed air for myself; and one experiment leading to another, as I have distinctly and faithfully noted in my various publications on the subject, I by degrees contrived a convenient apparatus for the purpose, but of the cheapest kind. When I began these experiments I knew very little of chemistry, and had in a manner no idea on the subject before I attended a course of chymical lectures delivered in the Academy at Warrington by Dr. Turner of Liverpool. But I have often thought that upon the whole, this circumstance was no disadvantage to me; as in this situation I was led to devise an apparatus and processes of my own, adapted to my peculiar views. Whereas, if I had been previously accustomed to the usual chemical processes, I should not have so easily thought of any other; and without new modes of operation I should hardly have discovered anything materially new.
Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, in the Year 1795 (1806), Vol. 1, 61-2.
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But science is the collection of nature's answers; the humanities the collection of men's thoughts.
In Science and the Humanities: The Rickman Godlee Lecture Delivered At University College London 25 October 1956 (1956), 12.
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But when science, passing beyond its own limits, assumes to take the place of theology, and sets up its own conception of the order of Nature as a sufficient account of its cause, it is invading a province of thought to which it has no claim, and not unreasonably provokes the hostility of its best friends.
Presidential Address (14 Aug 1872) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Brighton, reprinted in The Journal of the Society of Arts (16 Aug 1872), 20, No. 1030, 799, penultimate sentence.
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But without effort [God] sets in motion all things by mind and thought.
Quoted in Arthur Fairbanks (ed. And trans.), The First Philosophers of Greece (1898), 69, fragment 3.
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But, indeed, the science of logic and the whole framework of philosophical thought men have kept since the days of Plato and Aristotle, has no more essential permanence as a final expression of the human mind, than the Scottish Longer Catechism.
A Modern Utopia (1904, 2006), 14.
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By the 18th century science had been so successful in laying bare the laws of nature that many thought there was nothing left to discover. Immutable laws prescribed the motion of every particle in the universe, exactly and forever: the task of the scientist was to elucidate the implications of those laws for any particular phenomenon of interest. Chaos gave way to a clockwork world. But the world moved on ...Today even our clocks are not made of clockwork. ... With the advent of quantum mechanics, the clockwork world has become a lottery. Fundamental events, such as the decay of a radioactive atom, are held to be determined by chance, not law.
Does God Play Dice?: The New Mathematics of Chaos (2002). xi.
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Can a society in which thought and technique are scientific persist for a long period, as, for example, ancient Egypt persisted, or does it necessarily contain within itself forces which must bring either decay or explosion?
The Impact of Science on Society (1951, 1985), 109.
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Chaos theory is a new theory invented by scientists panicked by the thought that the public were beginning to understand the old ones.
John Mitchinson and John Lloyd, If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren't There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times (2009), 273.
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Chemical research conducts to the knowledge of philosophical truth, and forms the mind to philosophical enlargement and accuracy of thought, more happily than almost any other species of investigation in which the human intellect can be employed.
Quote following title page of Samuel Parkes, A Chemical Catechism With Notes, Illustrations and Experiments (8th ed. 1818).
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Common sense … may be thought of as a series of concepts and conceptual schemes which have proved highly satisfactory for the practical uses of mankind. Some of those concepts and conceptual schemes were carried over into science with only a little pruning and whittling and for a long time proved useful. As the recent revolutions in physics indicate, however, many errors can be made by failure to examine carefully just how common sense ideas should be defined in terms of what the experimenter plans to do.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 32-33.
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Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.
In Orison Swett Marden, 'Bell Telephone Talk: Hints on Success by Alexander G. Bell', How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (1901), 34.
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Consciousness… does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as “chain” or “train” do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A “river” or a “stream” are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.
Source of the expression “stream of consciousness”.
The Principles of Psychology (1890), Vol. 1, 239.
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Conservation and rural-life policies are really two sides of the same policy; and down at the bottom this policy rests upon the fundamental law that neither man nor nation can prosper unless, in dealing with the present, thought is steadily given for the future.
'Rural Life' (originally published in The Outlook, 27 Aug 1910). In The Works of Theodore Roosevelt. Vol. 16: American Problems (1926), 146.
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Considered in its entirety, psychoanalysis won’t do. It is an end product, moreover, like a dinosaur or a zeppelin, no better theory can ever be erected on its ruins, which will remain for ever one of the saddest and strangest of all landmarks in the history of twentieth century thought.
From 'Further Comments on Psychoanalysis', The Hope of Progress: A Scientist Looks at Problems in Philosophy, Literature and Science (1973), 69.
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Coy Nature, (which remain'd, though aged grown,
A beauteous virgin still, enjoy'd by none,
Nor seen unveil'd by anyone),
When Harvey's violent passion she did see,
Began to tremble and to flee;
Took sanctuary, like Daphne, in a tree:
There Daphne’s Lover stopped, and thought it much
The very leaves of her to touch:
But Harvey, our Apollo, stopp’d not so;
Into the Bark and Root he after her did go!
'Ode Upon Dr Harvey' (1663). In The British Poets: Including Translations in One Hundred Volumes (1822), Vol. 13, 245.
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Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. A merely well informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth. What we should aim at producing is men who possess both culture and expert knowledge in some special direction.
Opening sentences of Chapter 1,'The Aims of Education', in Aims of Education and Other Essays (1917), 1.
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Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live. We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
In 'A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace' (8 Feb 1996). Published on Electronic Frontier Foundation website. Reproduced in Lawrence Lessig, Code: Version 2.0) (2008), 303.
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Daniel Bernoulli used to tell two little adventures, which he said had given him more pleasure than all the other honours he had received. Travelling with a learned stranger, who, being pleased with his conversation, asked his name; “I am Daniel Bernoulli,” answered he with great modesty; “and I,” said the stranger (who thought he meant to laugh at him) “am Isaac Newton.” Another time, having to dine with the celebrated Koenig, the mathematician, who boasted, with some degree of self-complacency, of a difficult problem he had solved with much trouble, Bernoulli went on doing the honours of his table, and when they went to drink coffee he presented Koenig with a solution of the problem more elegant than his own.
In A Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 1, 226.
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Definition of Mathematics.—It has now become apparent that the traditional field of mathematics in the province of discrete and continuous number can only be separated from the general abstract theory of classes and relations by a wavering and indeterminate line. Of course a discussion as to the mere application of a word easily degenerates into the most fruitless logomachy. It is open to any one to use any word in any sense. But on the assumption that “mathematics” is to denote a science well marked out by its subject matter and its methods from other topics of thought, and that at least it is to include all topics habitually assigned to it, there is now no option but to employ “mathematics” in the general sense of the “science concerned with the logical deduction of consequences from the general premisses of all reasoning.”
In article 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911, 11th ed.), Vol. 17, 880. In the 2006 DVD edition of the encyclopedia, the definition of mathematics is given as “The science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects.” [Premiss is a variant form of “premise”. —Webmaster]
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Descartes' immortal conclusion cogito ergo sum was recently subjected to destruction testing by a group of graduate researchers at Princeton led by Professors Montjuic and Lauterbrunnen, and now reads, in the Shorter Harvard Orthodoxy:
(a) I think, therefore I am; or
(b) Perhaps I thought, therefore I was; but
(c) These days, I tend to leave that side of things to my wife.
Tom Holt
Ye Gods! (1992), 223.
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Edwin Grant Conklin quote: Dictators seek to control men’s thoughts as well as their bodies and so they attempt to dictate scien
Dictators seek to control men’s thoughts as well as their bodies and so they attempt to dictate science, education and religion. But dictated education is usually propaganda, dictated history is often mythology, dictated science is pseudo-science.
From Address as retiring president before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Indianapolis (27 Dec 1937). Published in 'Science and Ethics', Science (31 Dec 1937), 86, No. 2244, 601.
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Dirac politely refused Robert’s [Robert Oppenheimer] two proffered books: reading books, the Cambridge theoretician announced gravely, “interfered with thought.”
Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist (1987), 87.
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Dirichlet was not satisfied to study Gauss’ Disquisitiones arithmetical once or several times, but continued throughout life to keep in close touch with the wealth of deep mathematical thoughts which it contains by perusing it again and again. For this reason the book was never placed on the shelf but had an abiding place on the table at which he worked. … Dirichlet was the first one, who not only fully understood this work, but made it also accessible to others.
In Dirichlet, Werke, Bd. 2, 315. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 159.
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Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.
Attributed. For example in I.J. Good, The Scientist Speculates (1963), 15. However, this seems to be a variant of a much earlier quote by Arthur Schopenhauer: “The task is, not so much to see what no one has seen yet; but to think what nobody has thought yet, about that which everybody sees.” See the Arthur Schopenhauer Quotes web page on this site for the original German and citation.
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Disease may … be thought of as the negation of the normal.
In Disease and its Causes (1913), 10.
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Dissent is the mark of freedom, as originality is the mark of independence of mind. … No one can be a scientist … if he does not have independence of observation and of thought.
Lecture, 'The Sense of Human Dignity', at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (19 Mar 1953), printed in Science and Human Values (1959), 79.
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Does it seem all but incredible to you that intelligence should travel for two thousand miles, along those slender copper lines, far down in the all but fathomless Atlantic; never before penetrated … save when some foundering vessel has plunged with her hapless company to the eternal silence and darkness of the abyss? Does it seem … but a miracle … that the thoughts of living men … should burn over the cold, green bones of men and women, whose hearts, once as warm as ours, burst as the eternal gulfs closed and roared over them centuries ago?
A tribute to the Atlantic telegraph cable by Edward Everett, one of the topics included in his inauguration address at the Washington University of St. Louis (22 Apr 1857). In Orations and Speeches on Various Occasions: Volume 3 (1870), 509-511.
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Doubly galling was the fact that at the same time my roommate was taking a history course … filled with excitement over a class discussion. … I was busy with Ampere’s law. We never had any fascinating class discussions about this law. No one, teacher or student, ever asked me what I thought about it.
In Understanding the Universe: An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the Nature of Scientific Research (2013), ix.
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Doubtless it is true that while consciousness is occupied in the scientific interpretation of a thing, which is now and again “a thing of beauty,” it is not occupied in the aesthetic appreciation of it. But it is no less true that the same consciousness may at another time be so wholly possessed by the aesthetic appreciation as to exclude all thought of the scientific interpretation. The inability of a man of science to take the poetic view simply shows his mental limitation; as the mental limitation of a poet is shown by his inability to take the scientific view. The broader mind can take both.
In An Autobiography (1904), Vol. 1, 485.
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During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true
In Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (ed.), A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 2.
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Edward [Teller] isn’t the cloistered kind of scientist. He gets his ideas in conversation and develops them by trying them out on people. We were coming back from Europe on the Ile de France and I was standing in the ship’s nightclub when he came up and said, 'Freddie, I think I have an idea.’ It was something he’d just thought of about magnetohydrodynamics. I was a bachelor then and I’d located several good-looking girls on the ship, but I knew what I had to do, so I disappeared and started working on the calculations. I’d get something finished and start prowling on the deck again when Edward would turn up out of the night and we’d walk the deck together while he talked and I was the brick wall he was bouncing these things off of. By the end of the trip we had a paper. He’d had the ideas, and I’d done some solving of equations. But he insisted that we sign in alphabetical order, which put my name first.
As quoted in Robert Coughlan, 'Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession', Life (6 Sep 1954), 61-62.
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Einstein has not ... given the lie to Kant’s deep thoughts on the idealization of space and time; he has, on the contrary, made a large step towards its accomplishment.
…...
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Einstein uses his concept of God more often than a Catholic priest. Once I asked him:
'Tomorrow is Sunday. Do you want me to come to you, so we can work?'
'Why not?'
'Because I thought perhaps you would like to rest on Sunday.'
Einstein settled the question by saying with a loud laugh: 'God does not rest on Sunday either.'
Quest: The Evolution of a Scientist (1941), 247.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where's it going to end?
Spoken by Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967), Act 2, 51
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Even happiness itself may become habitual. There is a habit of looking at the bright side of things, and also of looking at the dark side. Dr. Johnson has said that the habit of looking at the best side of a thing is worth more to a man than a thousand pounds a year. And we possess the power, to a great extent, of so exercising the will as to direct the thoughts upon objects calculated to yield happiness and improvement rather than their opposites.
In Self-help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (1859, 1861), 405-406.
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Every good thought you think is contributing its share to the ultimate result of your life.
…...
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Every hour a scientist spends trying to raise funds is an hour lost from important thought and research.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 287.
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Every lecture should state one main point and repeat it over and over, like a theme with variations. An audience is like a herd of cows, moving slowly in the direction they are being driven towards. If we make one point, we have a good chance that the audience will take the right direction; if we make several points, then the cows will scatter all over the field. The audience will lose interest and everyone will go back to the thoughts they interrupted in order to come to our lecture.
In 'Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 196.
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Every mathematician worthy of the name has experienced, if only rarely, the state of lucid exaltation in which one thought succeeds another as if miraculously… this feeling may last for hours at a time, even for days. Once you have experienced it, you are eager to repeat it but unable to do it at will, unless perhaps by dogged work….
In The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician (1992), 91.
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Every natural scientist who thinks with any degree of consistency at all will, I think, come to the view that all those capacities that we understand by the phrase psychic activities (Seelenthiitigkeiten) are but functions of the brain substance; or, to express myself a bit crudely here, that thoughts stand in the same relation to the brain as gall does to the liver or urine to the kidneys. To assume a soul that makes use of the brain as an instrument with which it can work as it pleases is pure nonsense; we would then be forced to assume a special soul for every function of the body as well.
Carl Vogt
In Physiologische Briefe für Gelbildete aIle Stünde (1845-1847), 3 parts, 206. as translated in Frederick Gregory, Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth Century Germany (1977), 64.
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Every progress that a church makes in the construction of its dogmas leads to a further taming of the free spirit; every new dogma … narrows the circle of free thought. … Science, on the other hand, liberates with every step of its development, it opens up new paths to thought … In other words, it allows the individual to be truly free.
Translated from the original German, “Jeder Fortschritt, den eine Kirche in dem Aufbau ihrer Dogmen macht, führt zu einer weiter gehenden Bändigung des freien Geistes; jedes neue Dogma … verengt den Kreis des freien Denkens. … Die Naturwissenschaft umgekehrt befreit mit jedem Schritte ihrer Entwicklung, sie eröffnet dem Gedanken neue Bahnen … Sie gestattet, mit anderen Worten, dem Einzelnen in vollem Masse wahr zu sein.” In Speech to the 24th meeting of the German Naturalists and Physicians at Rostock 'Ueber die Aufgaben der Naturwissenschaften in dem neuen nationalen Leben Deutschlands', (On the tasks of the natural sciences in the new national life of Germany), published in Chemisches Zentralblatt (11 Oct 1871), No. 41, 654-655. English version by Webmaster using Google translate.
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Every so often, you have to unlearn what you thought you already knew, and replace it by something more subtle.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 44.
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Every subject in Davy’s mind has the principle of Vitality. Living thoughts spring up like Turf under his feet.
Quoted in Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (1847), 329.
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Every variety of philosophical and theological opinion was represented there [The Metaphysical Society], and expressed itself with entire openness; most of my colleagues were -ists of one sort or another; and, however kind and friendly they might be, I, the man without a rag of a label to cover himself with, could not fail to have some of the uneasy feelings which must have beset the historical fox when, after leaving the trap in which his tail remained, he presented himself to his normally elongated companions. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of “agnostic” .
'Agnosticism' (1889). In Collected Essays (1894), Vol. 5, 239.
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Everyone makes for himself a clear idea of the motion of a point, that is to say, of the motion of a corpuscle which one supposes to be infinitely small, and which one reduces by thought in some way to a mathematical point.
Théorie Nouvelle de la Rotation des Corps (1834). As translated by Charles Thomas Whitley in Outlines of a New Theory of Rotatory Motion (1834), 1.
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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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Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism.
In Orthodoxy (1918, 2008), 25.
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Exercise in the most rigorous thinking that is possible will of its own accord strengthen the sense of truth and right, for each advance in the ability to distinguish between correct and false thoughts, each habit making for rigour in thought development will increase in the sound pupil the ability and the wish to ascertain what is right in life and to defend it.
In Anleitung zum mathematischen Unterricht in den höheren Schulen (1906), 28.
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Experimental science can be thought of as an … extension of common sense.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 32.
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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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Fear of something is at the root of hate for others and hate within will eventually destroy the hater. Keep your thoughts free from hate, and you will have no fear from those who hate you. ...
David, though small, was filled with truth, right thinking and good will for others. Goliath represents one who let fear into his heart, and it stayed there long enough to grow into hate for others.
In Alvin D. Smith, George Washington Carver: Man of God (1954), 43. Cited in Linda O. McMurry, George Washington Carver, Scientist and Symbol (1982), 107. Smith's book is about his recollections of G.W. Carver's Sunday School classes at Tuskegee, some 40 years earlier. Webmaster, who has not yet been able to see the original book, cautions this quote may be the gist of Carver's words, rather than a verbatim quote.
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Finally, since I thought that we could have all the same thoughts, while asleep, as we have while we are awake, although none of them is true at that time, I decided to pretend that nothing that ever entered my mind was any more true than the illusions of my dreams. But I noticed, immediately afterwards, that while I thus wished to think that everything was false, it was necessarily the case that I, who was thinking this, was something. When I noticed that this truth “I think, therefore I am” was so firm and certain that all the most extravagant assumptions of the sceptics were unable to shake it, I judged that I could accept it without scruple as the first principle of the philosophy for which I was searching. Then, when I was examining what I was, I realized that I could pretend that I had no body, and that there was no world nor any place in which I was present, but I could not pretend in the same way that I did not exist. On the contrary, from the very fact that I was thinking of doubting the truth of other things, it followed very evidently and very certainly that I existed; whereas if I merely ceased to think, even if all the rest of what I had ever imagined were true, I would have no reason to believe that I existed. I knew from this that I was a substance, the whole essence or nature of which was to think and which, in order to exist, has no need of any place and does not depend on anything material. Thus this self—that is, the soul by which I am what I am—is completely distinct from the body and is even easier to know than it, and even if the body did not exist the soul would still be everything that it is.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 4, 24-5.
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First, In showing in how to avoid attempting impossibilities. Second, In securing us from important mistakes in attempting what is, in itself possible, by means either inadequate or actually opposed to the end in view. Thirdly, In enabling us to accomplish our ends in the easiest, shortest, most economical, and most effectual manner. Fourth, In inducing us to attempt, and enabling us to accomplish, object which, but for such knowledge, we should never have thought of understanding.
On the ways that a knowledge of the order of nature can be of use.
Quoted in Robert Routledge, Discoveries and Inventions of the 19th Century (1890), 665.
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For a scientist must indeed be freely imaginative and yet skeptical, creative and yet a critic. There is a sense in which he must be free, but another in which his thought must be very preceisely regimented; there is poetry in science, but also a lot of bookkeeping.
The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 63.
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For my confirmation, I didn't get a watch and my first pair of long pants, like most Lutheran boys. I got a telescope. My mother thought it would make the best gift.
Quoted in 'Reach For The Stars', Time (17 Feb 1958), 71, 22.
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For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things (which is the chief point) , and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to reconsider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture. So I thought my nature had a kind of familiarity and relationship with Truth.
From 'Progress of philosophical speculations. Preface to intended treatise De Interpretatione Naturæ (1603), in Francis Bacon and James Spedding (ed.), Works of Francis Bacon (1868), Vol. 3, 85.
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For the rest of my life I will reflect on what light is.
(1917). Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 69.
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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 twenty pages perhaps, he read slowly, carefully, dutifully, with pauses for self-examination and working out examples. Then, just as it was working up and the pauses should have been more scrupulous than ever, a kind of swoon and ecstasy would fall on him, and he read ravening on, sitting up till dawn to finish the book, as though it were a novel. After that his passion was stayed; the book went back to the Library and he was done with mathematics till the next bout. Not much remained with him after these orgies, but something remained: a sensation in the mind, a worshiping acknowledgment of something isolated and unassailable, or a remembered mental joy at the rightness of thoughts coming together to a conclusion, accurate thoughts, thoughts in just intonation, coming together like unaccompanied voices coming to a close.
In Mr. Fortune’s Maggot (1927), 161.
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For what is thought to be a ‘system’ is after all, just conventional, and I do not see how one is supposed to divide up the world objectively so that one can make statements about parts.
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For, in mathematics or symbolic logic, reason can crank out the answer from the symboled equations—even a calculating machine can often do so—but it cannot alone set up the equations. Imagination resides in the words which define and connect the symbols—subtract them from the most aridly rigorous mathematical treatise and all meaning vanishes. Was it Eddington who said that we once thought if we understood 1 we understood 2, for 1 and 1 are 2, but we have since found we must learn a good deal more about “and”?
In 'The Biological Basis of Imagination', American Thought: 1947 (1947), 81.
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Formal thought, consciously recognized as such, is the means of all exact knowledge; and a correct understanding of the main formal sciences, Logic and Mathematics, is the proper and only safe foundation for a scientific education.
In Number and its Algebra (1896), 134.
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Forty years ago the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead thought it self-evident that you would get a good government if you took power out of the hands of the acquisitive and gave it to the learned and the cultivated. At present, a child in kindergarten knows better than that.
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 40-41.
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Furious activity is no substitute for analytical thought.
Quoted in New Scientist (1972), 55, 429.
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Gel’fand amazed me by talking of mathematics as though it were poetry. He once said about a long paper bristling with formulas that it contained the vague beginnings of an idea which could only hint at and which he had never managed to bring out more clearly. I had always thought of mathematics as being much more straightforward: a formula is a formula, and an algebra is an algebra, but Gel’fand found hedgehogs lurking in the rows of his spectral sequences!
In '1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize', Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Mar 1991), 38, No. 3, 186. This is from her acceptance of the 1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize.
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Geometric writings are not rare in which one would seek in vain for an idea at all novel, for a result which sooner or later might be of service, for anything in fact which might be destined to survive in the science; and one finds instead treatises on trivial problems or investigations on special forms which have absolutely no use, no importance, which have their origin not in the science itself but in the caprice of the author; or one finds applications of known methods which have already been made thousands of times; or generalizations from known results which are so easily made that the knowledge of the latter suffices to give at once the former. Now such work is not merely useless; it is actually harmful because it produces a real incumbrance in the science and an embarrassment for the more serious investigators; and because often it crowds out certain lines of thought which might well have deserved to be studied.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 43. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 443.
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Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith. Banish me from Eden when you will, but first let me eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Epigraph, title page of The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll (1902), Vol. 3. Since it is not printed with a citation, Webmaster believes it is attributable to the author of the book.
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Given any domain of thought in which the fundamental objective is a knowledge that transcends mere induction or mere empiricism, it seems quite inevitable that its processes should be made to conform closely to the pattern of a system free of ambiguous terms, symbols, operations, deductions; a system whose implications and assumptions are unique and consistent; a system whose logic confounds not the necessary with the sufficient where these are distinct; a system whose materials are abstract elements interpretable as reality or unreality in any forms whatsoever provided only that these forms mirror a thought that is pure. To such a system is universally given the name MATHEMATICS.
In 'Mathematics', National Mathematics Magazine (Nov 1937), 12, No. 2, 62.
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Google can aggregate all web and paper-based information, and they can build fantastic search engines, but that will not directly lead to truth or wisdom. For that we will continue to need education, training in critical thought, and good editors who can help us winnow the fact from the fiction.
From post 're:The Pursuit of Knowledge, from Genesis to Google' to the 'Interesting People' List (6 Jan 2005) maintained by David J. Farber, now archived at interesting-people.org website.
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GOOSE, n. A bird that supplies quills for writing. These, by some occult process of nature, are penetrated and suffused with various degrees of the bird's intellectual energies and emotional character, so that when inked and drawn mechanically across paper by a person called an "author," there results a very fair and accurate transcript of the fowl's thought and feeling. The difference in geese, as discovered by this ingenious method, is considerable: many are found to have only trivial and insignificant powers, but some are seen to be very great geese indeed.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  119-120.
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Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force—that thoughts rule the world.
In James Elliot Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works: Letters and Social Aims (1883), Vol. 8, 217.
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Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thoughts in clear form.
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Great steps in human progress are made by things that don't work the way philosophy thought they should. If things always worked the way they should, you could write the history of the world from now on. But they don't, and it is those deviations from the normal that make human progress.
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Great thinkers build their edifices with subtle consistency. We do our intellectual forebears an enormous disservice when we dismember their visions and scan their systems in order to extract a few disembodied ‘gems’–thoughts or claims still accepted as true. These disarticulated pieces then become the entire legacy of our ancestors, and we lose the beauty and coherence of older systems that might enlighten us by their unfamiliarity–and their consequent challenge in our fallible (and complacent) modern world.
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Had you or I been born at the Bay of Soldania, possibly our Thoughts, and Notions, had not exceeded those brutish ones of the Hotentots that inhabit there: And had the Virginia King Apochancana, been educated in England, he had, perhaps been as knowing a Divine, and as good a Mathematician as any in it. The difference between him, and a more improved English-man, lying barely in this, That the exercise of his Facilities was bounded within the Ways, Modes, and Notions of his own Country, and never directed to any other or farther Enquiries.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book I, Chapter 4, Section 12, 92.
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Happy is he who bears a god within himself, an ideal of beauty, and obeys him: an ideal of art, an ideal of the virtues of the Gospel. These are the living springs of great thoughts and great actions. All are illuminated by reflections of the sublime.
Speech (27 Apr 1882) on his reception into the Académie Française, as translated in Maurice Benjamin Strauss, Familiar Medical Quotations (1968), 490.
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Happy the men who made the first essay,
And to celestial regions found the way!
No earthly vices clogg’d their purer souls,
That they could soar so high as touch the poles:
Sublime their thoughts and from pollution clear,
Bacchus and Venus held no revels there;
From vain ambition free; no love of war
Possess’d their minds, nor wranglings at the bar;
No glaring grandeur captivates their eyes,
For such see greater glory in the skies:
Thus these to heaven attain.
In Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed., trans.), Beautiful Thoughts From Latin Authors, with English Translations (1864),
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Has Matter more than Motion? Has it Thought,
Judgment, and Genius? Is it deeply learn’d
In Mathematics? Has it fram’d such Laws,
Which, but to guess, a Newton made immortal?—
If so, how each sage Atom laughs at me,
Who think a Clod inferior to a Man!
The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742, 1750), Night 9, 279.
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He plucks the pearls that stud the deep Admiring Beauty’s lap to fill;
He breaks the stubborn Marble’s sleep,
Rocks disappear before his skill:
With thoughts that swell his glowing soul
He bids the ore illume the page,
And, proudly scorning Time’s control,
Commences with an unborn age.
Written for the Mechanics Celebration (1824). In 'Art—An Ode', as quoted and cited in Alpheus Cary, An Address Delivered Before the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (October 7th, 1824) (1824), 49.
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He plucks the pearls that stud the deep Admiring Beauty’s lap to fill;
He breaks the stubborn Marble’s sleep,
Rocks disappear before his skill:
With thoughts that swell his glowing soul
He bids the ore illume the page,
And, proudly scorning Time’s control,
Commences with an unborn age.
Written for the Mechanics Celebration (1824). In 'Art—An Ode', as quoted and cited in Alpheus Cary, An Address Delivered Before the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (October 7th, 1824) (1824), 49.
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He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
“A fact so dread.” he faintly said,
“Extinguishes all hope!”
In Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), 319.
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He thought the formula for water was H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O (H-to-O).
Anonymous
In Lowell D. Streiker, An Encyclopedia of Humor (1998), 173.
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He who finds a thought that lets us even a little deeper into the eternal mystery of nature has been granted great peace.
…...
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He … thought the moon was made of green cheese.
From the original French, in Gargantua et Pantagruel, Book 1, (1534) as translated by Thomas Urquhart, Master François Rabelais: Five Books of the Lives, Heroic Deeds, and Sayings of Gargantua and His Son Pantagruel (1653, 1904), Vol 1, Book 1, Chap 11, 40.
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Here arises a puzzle that has disturbed scientists of all periods. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things?
From 'Geometry and Experience', an expanded form of an Address by Albert Einstein to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (27 Jan 1921). In Albert Einstein, translated by G. B. Jeffery and W. Perrett, Sidelights on Relativity (1923).
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His [J.J. Sylvester’s] lectures were generally the result of his thought for the preceding day or two, and often were suggested by ideas that came to him while talking. The one great advantage that this method had for his students was that everything was fresh, and we saw, as it were, the very genesis of his ideas. One could not help being inspired by such teaching.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 267-268.
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History, as it lies at the root of all science, is also the first distinct product of man’s spiritual nature, his earliest expression of what may be called thought.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 154:24.
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How did I discover saccharin? Well, it was partly by accident and partly by study. I had worked a long time on the compound radicals and substitution products of coal tar... One evening I was so interested in my laboratory that I forgot about my supper till quite late, and then rushed off for a meal without stopping to wash my hands. I sat down, broke a piece of bread, and put it to my lips. It tasted unspeakably sweet. I did not ask why it was so, probably because I thought it was some cake or sweetmeat. I rinsed my mouth with water, and dried my moustache with my napkin, when, to my surprise the napkin tasted sweeter than the bread. Then I was puzzled. I again raised my goblet, and, as fortune would have it, applied my mouth where my fingers had touched it before. The water seemed syrup. It flashed on me that I was the cause of the singular universal sweetness, and I accordingly tasted the end of my thumb, and found it surpassed any confectionery I had ever eaten. I saw the whole thing at once. I had discovered some coal tar substance which out-sugared sugar. I dropped my dinner, and ran back to the laboratory. There, in my excitement, I tasted the contents of every beaker and evaporating dish on the table.
Interview with American Analyst. Reprinted in Pacific Record of Medicine and Surgery (1886), 1, No. 3, 78.
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How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly of tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought … [The Phenomenon of Man] is written in an all but totally unintelligible style, and this is construed as prima-facie evidence of profundity.
Medawar’s book review of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin first appeared as 'Critical Notice' in the journal Mind (1961), 70, No. 277, 105. The book review was reprinted in The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967).
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How to start on my adventure—how to become a forester—was not so simple. There were no schools of Forestry in America. … Whoever turned his mind toward Forestry in those days thought little about the forest itself and more about its influences, and about its influence on rainfall first of all. So I took a course in meteorology, which has to do with weather and climate. and another in botany, which has to do with the vegetable kingdom—trees are unquestionably vegetable. And another in geology, for forests grow out of the earth. Also I took a course in astronomy, for it is the sun which makes trees grow. All of which is as it should be, because science underlies the forester’s knowledge of the woods. So far I was headed right. But as for Forestry itself, there wasn’t even a suspicion of it at Yale. The time for teaching Forestry as a profession was years away.
In Breaking New Ground (1947, 1998), 3.
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However closely we may associate thought with the physical machinery of the brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as soon as we consider the fundamental property of thought—that it may be correct or incorrect. …that involves recognising a domain of the other type of law—laws which ought to be kept, but may be broken.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 57-58.
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Human nature is not nearly as bad as it has been thought to be.
Toward a Psychology of Being (1962, 1999), 5.
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Humans ... would not exist but for the wreckage of spent stars. So you're made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?
In Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 222.
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I accepted the Copernican position several years ago and discovered from thence the causes of many natural effects which are doubtless inexplicable by the current theories. I have written up many reasons and refutations on the subject, but I have not dared until now to bring them into the open, being warned by the fortunes of Copernicus himself, our master, who procured for himself immortal fame among a few but stepped down among the great crowd (for this is how foolish people are to be numbered), only to be derided and dishonoured. I would dare publish my thoughts if there were many like you; but since there are not, I shall forbear.
Letter to Johannes Kepler, 4 Aug 1597. Quoted in G. de Santillana, Crime of Galileo (1955), 11.
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I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follow[s] from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.
Letter to E.B. Aveling (13 Oct 1880).
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I am absolutely convinced that no wealth in the world can help humanity forward, even in the hands of the most devoted worker. The example of great and pure individuals is the only thing that can lead us to noble thoughts and deeds. Money only appeals to selfishness and irresistibly invites abuse. Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus or Ghandi armed with the moneybags of Carnegie?
…...
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I am convinced that an important stage of human thought will have been reached when the physiological and the psychological, the objective and the subjective, are actually united, when the tormenting conflicts or contradictions between my consciousness and my body will have been factually resolved or discarded.
Physiology of the Higher Nervous Activity (1932), 93-4.
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I am credited with being one of the hardest workers and perhaps I am, if thought is the equivalent of labour, for I have devoted to it almost all of my waking hours. But if work is interpreted to be a definite performance in a specified time according to
http://web.archive.org/web/20070109161311/http://www.knowprose.com/node/12961
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I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
From poem, 'Song of the Open Road', Leaves of Grass (1881), 123.
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I am merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.
Attributed. Could be a boiled down version of a longer quote that includes: “God wanted us to … share in his own thoughts.” (Included here; it begins “Those laws [of nature] are…”) This capsulized version is widely seen linked with Kepler’s name, but never with a citation, for example, in Thomas Winthrop Coit, Inaugural Address Delivered in the Chapel of Morrison College (Nov 1835), 32. As far as Webmaster can determine, historians of science have not found any primary source in which Kepler himself expresses this idea in exactly these words. In a 2001 discussion group post, Ted Davis reported: “I know Kepler pretty well and have searched for it. I’ve also asked Owen Gingerich, who knows Kepler as well as anyone alive, and he can’t confirm it either.”
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I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this usefull invention [smallpox inoculation] into fashion in England, and I should not fail to write to some of our Doctors very particularly about it, if I knew anyone of 'em that I thought had Virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of Revenue for the good of Mankind, but that Distemper is too beneficial to them not to expose to all their Resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it.
Letter to Sarah Chiswell (1 Apr 1717). In Robert Halsband (ed.), The Complete Letters of the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1965), Vol. 1, 339.
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I am the thought you are now thinking.
From 'On Self-Referential Sentences' Scientific American (Jan 1981), 244, 28. Collected in Metamagical Themas (1985), 11.
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I asked Fermi whether he was not impressed by the agreement between our calculated numbers and his measured numbers. He replied, “How many arbitrary parameters did you use for your calculations?" I thought for a moment about our cut-off procedures and said, “Four." He said, “I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, with four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” With that, the conversation was over.
As given in 'A Meeting with Enrico Fermi', Nature (22 Jan 2004), 427, 297. As quoted in Steven A. Frank, Dynamics of Cancer: Incidence, Inheritance, and Evolution (2007), 87. Von Neumann meant nobody need be impressed when a complex model fits a data set well, because if manipulated with enough flexible parameters, any data set can be fitted to an incorrect model, even one that plots a curve on a graph shaped like an elephant!
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I begin my work at about nine or ten o'clock in the evening and continue until four or five in the morning. Night is a more quiet time to work. It aids thought.
In Orison Swett Marden, 'Bell Telephone Talk: Hints on Success by Alexander G. Bell', How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (1901), 31.
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman’s irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.
Address at The Physical Society, Berlin (1918) for Max Planck’s 60th birthday, 'Principles of Research', collected in Essays in Science (1934) 2.
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I believed that, instead of the multiplicity of rules that comprise logic, I would have enough in the following four, as long as I made a firm and steadfast resolution never to fail to observe them.
The first was never to accept anything as true if I did not know clearly that it was so; that is, carefully to avoid prejudice and jumping to conclusions, and to include nothing in my judgments apart from whatever appeared so clearly and distinctly to my mind that I had no opportunity to cast doubt upon it.
The second was to subdivide each on the problems I was about to examine: into as many parts as would be possible and necessary to resolve them better.
The third was to guide my thoughts in an orderly way by beginning, as if by steps, to knowledge of the most complex, and even by assuming an order of the most complex, and even by assuming an order among objects in! cases where there is no natural order among them.
And the final rule was: in all cases, to make such comprehensive enumerations and such general review that I was certain not to omit anything.
The long chains of inferences, all of them simple and easy, that geometers normally use to construct their most difficult demonstrations had given me an opportunity to think that all the things that can fall within the scope of human knowledge follow from each other in a similar way, and as long as one avoids accepting something as true which is not so, and as long as one always observes the order required to deduce them from each other, there cannot be anything so remote that it cannot be reached nor anything so hidden that it cannot be uncovered.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 2, 16.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own–a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.
From 'What I Believe: Living Philosophies XIII', Forum and Century (Oct 1930), 84, No. 4, 194. Article in full, reprinted in Edward H. Cotton (ed.), Has Science Discovered God? A Symposium of Modern Scientific Opinion (1931), 97.
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I despair of persuading people to drop the familiar and comforting tactic of dichotomy. Perhaps, instead, we might expand the framework of debates by seeking other dichotomies more appropriate than, or simply different from, the conventional divisions. All dichotomies are simplifications, but the rendition of a conflict along differing axes of several orthogonal dichotomies might provide an amplitude of proper intellectual space without forcing us to forgo our most comforting tool of thought.
…...
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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 do not maintain that the chief value of the study of arithmetic consists in the lessons of morality that arise from this study. I claim only that, to be impressed from day to day, that there is something that is right as an answer to the questions with which one is able to grapple, and that there is a wrong answer—that there are ways in which the right answer can be established as right, that these ways automatically reject error and slovenliness, and that the learner is able himself to manipulate these ways and to arrive at the establishment of the true as opposed to the untrue, this relentless hewing to the line and stopping at the line, must color distinctly the thought life of the pupil with more than a tinge of morality. … To be neighborly with truth, to feel one’s self somewhat facile in ways of recognizing and establishing what is right, what is correct, to find the wrong persistently and unfailingly rejected as of no value, to feel that one can apply these ways for himself, that one can think and work independently, have a real, a positive, and a purifying effect upon moral character. They are the quiet, steady undertones of the work that always appeal to the learner for the sanction of his best judgment, and these are the really significant matters in school work. It is not the noise and bluster, not even the dramatics or the polemics from the teacher’s desk, that abide longest and leave the deepest and stablest imprint upon character. It is these still, small voices that speak unmistakably for the right and against the wrong and the erroneous that really form human character. When the school subjects are arranged on the basis of the degree to which they contribute to the moral upbuilding of human character good arithmetic will be well up the list.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 18. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 69.
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I do not remember having felt, as a boy, any passion for mathematics, and such notions as I may have had of the career of a mathematician were far from noble. I thought of mathematics in terms of examinations and scholarships: I wanted to beat other boys, and this seemed to be the way in which I could do so most decisively.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 144.
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I do not think that G. H. Hardy was talking nonsense when he insisted that the mathematician was discovering rather than creating, nor was it wholly nonsense for Kepler to exult that he was thinking God's thoughts after him. The world for me is a necessary system, and in the degree to which the thinker can surrender his thought to that system and follow it, he is in a sense participating in that which is timeless or eternal.
'Reply to Lewis Edwin Hahn', The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard (1980), 901.
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I felt more determined than ever to become a physician, and thus place a strong barrier between me and all ordinary marriage. I must have something to engross my thoughts, some object in life which will fill this vacuum, and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart.
Entry from her early journal, stated in Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (1895), 28.
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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 got a four year scholarship to Harvard, and while I was there they wanted to groom me for work in the Star Wars program designing weapons ignited by hydrogen bombs. I didn't want to do that. I thought about how many scientists had died in World War II.
Quoted in Nina L. Diamond, Voices of Truth (2000), 326.
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I had anger but never hate. Before the war, I was too busy studying to hate. After the war, I thought. What’s the use?To hate would be to reduce myself.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 253
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I had no more conception of what it meant to be a forester than the man in the moon. ... But at least a forester worked in the woods and with the woods - and I loved the woods and everything about them.
Gifford's thoughts, when upon entering Yale (1885) his father asked 'How would you like to be a forester?'
Breaking New Ground (1998), 2.
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I had observed that there were different lines exhibited in the spectra of different metals when ignited in the voltaic arc; and if I had had any reasonable amount of wit I ought to have seen the converse, viz., that by ignition different bodies show in their spectral lines the materials of which they are formed. If that thought had occured to my mind, I should have discovered the spectroscope before Kirchoff; but it didn’t.
Address, in 'Report to the Chemical Society's Jubilee', Nature (26 Mar 1891), 43, 493. Words as in original text, occured and Kirchoff are sic.
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I had this experience at the age of eight. My parents gave me a microscope. I don’t recall why, but no matter. I then found my own little world, completely wild and unconstrained, no plastic, no teacher, no books, no anything predictable. At first I did not know the names of the water-drop denizens or what they were doing. But neither did the pioneer microscopists. Like them, I graduated to looking at butterfly scales and other miscellaneous objects. I never thought of what I was doing in such a way, but it was pure science. As true as could be of any child so engaged, I was kin to Leeuwenhoek, who said that his work “was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more that most other men.”
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 143-144.
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I had … during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed by my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones.
In The Autobiography of Charles Darwin with original omissions restored, edited by Nora Barlow (1958).
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I have always considered my work a joint effort. I was fortunate to have worked on great ideas and with very intelligent people. I may have developed a few equations no one had thought of before but that was nothing unusual—everybody did that.
In interview with Laurel M. Sheppard, 'An Interview with Mary Ross: First Native American Woman Engineer Aerospace Pioneer Returns to her Native American Roots', on website of Lash Publications.
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I have been able to solve a few problems of mathematical physics on which the greatest mathematicians since Euler have struggled in vain … But the pride I might have held in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors. I am fain to compare myself with a wanderer on the mountains who, not knowing the path, climbs slowly and painfully upwards and often has to retrace his steps because he can go no further—then, whether by taking thought or from luck, discovers a new track that leads him on a little till at length when he reaches the summit he finds to his shame that there is a royal road by which he might have ascended, had he only the wits to find the right approach to it. In my works, I naturally said nothing about my mistake to the reader, but only described the made track by which he may now reach the same heights without difficulty.
(1891) As quoted in translation in Leo Koenigsberger and Frances A. Welby (trans.), Hermann von Helmholtz (1906), 180-181.
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I have been driven to assume for some time, especially in relation to the gases, a sort of conducting power for magnetism. Mere space is Zero. One substance being made to occupy a given portion of space will cause more lines of force to pass through that space than before, and another substance will cause less to pass. The former I now call Paramagnetic & the latter are the diamagnetic. The former need not of necessity assume a polarity of particles such as iron has with magnetic, and the latter do not assume any such polarity either direct or reverse. I do not say more to you just now because my own thoughts are only in the act of formation, but this I may say: that the atmosphere has an extraordinary magnetic constitution, & I hope & expect to find in it the cause of the annual & diurnal variations, but keep this to yourself until I have time to see what harvest will spring from my growing ideas.
Letter to William Whewell, 22 Aug 1850. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 589.
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I have had a fairly long life, above all a very happy one, and I think that I shall be remembered with some regrets and perhaps leave some reputation behind me. What more could I ask? The events in which I am involved will probably save me from the troubles of old age. I shall die in full possession of my faculties, and that is another advantage that I should count among those that I have enjoyed. If I have any distressing thoughts, it is of not having done more for my family; to be unable to give either to them or to you any token of my affection and my gratitude is to be poor indeed.
Letter to Augez de Villiers, undated. Quoted in D. McKie, Antoine Lavoisier: Scientist, Economist, Social Reformer (1952), 303.
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I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the thread that tied them together.
In William Hazlitt (ed.), The Works of Michael de Montaigne: His Essays, Letters, and Journey Through Germany and Italy (1849), 515. Alternate translation: “I have gathered a posy [posie] of other men's flowers and nothing but the thread which binds them is my own,” as epigraph to article 'A Country Walk With the Poets', The Victoria Magazine (May 1874), 23, 1. No citations given. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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I have long since come to see that no one deserves either praise or blame for the ideas that come to him, but only for the actions resulting therefrom. Ideas and beliefs are certainly not voluntary acts. They come to us—we hardly know how or whence, and once they have got possession of us we can not reject or change them at will. It is for the common good that the promulgation of ideas should be free—uninfluenced by either praise or blame, reward or punishment. But the actions which result from our ideas may properly be so treated, because it is only by patient thought and work, that new ideas, if good and true, become adopted and utilized; while, if untrue or if not adequately presented to the world, they are rejected or forgotten.
In 'The Origin of the Theory of Natural Selection', Popular Science Monthly (1909), 74, 400.
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I have never had any student or pupil under me to aid me with assistance; but have always prepared and made my experiments with my own hands, working & thinking at the same time. I do not think I could work in company, or think aloud, or explain my thoughts at the time. Sometimes I and my assistant have been in the Laboratory for hours & days together, he preparing some lecture apparatus or cleaning up, & scarcely a word has passed between us; — all this being a consequence of the solitary & isolated system of investigation; in contradistinction to that pursued by a Professor with his aids & pupils as in your Universities.
Letter to C. Ransteed, 16 Dec 1857. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 888.
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I have never thought that you could obtain the extremely clumpy, heterogeneous universe we have today, strongly affected by plasma processes, from the smooth, homogeneous one of the Big Bang, dominated by gravitation.
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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I have often thought that an interesting essay might be written on the influence of race on the selection of mathematical methods. methods. The Semitic races had a special genius for arithmetic and algebra, but as far as I know have never produced a single geometrician of any eminence. The Greeks on the other hand adopted a geometrical procedure wherever it was possible, and they even treated arithmetic as a branch of geometry by means of the device of representing numbers by lines.
In A History of the Study of Mathematics at Cambridge (1889), 123
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