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Who said: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.”
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Trying Quotes (144 quotes)

M.A. Rosanoff: Mr. Edison, please tell me what laboratory rules you want me to observe.
Edison: Hell! There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish somep’n.
In Martin André Rosanoff, 'Edison in His Laboratory', Harper’s Magazine (Sep 1932), 403.
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A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
In Mostly Harmless (1992), 135.
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A good deal of my research in physics has consisted in not setting out to solve some particular problem, but simply examining mathematical quantities of a kind that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way, regardless of any application that the work may have. It is simply a search for pretty mathematics. It may turn out later to have an application. Then one has good luck. At age 78.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21, 603. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 110.
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A person by study must try to disengage the subject from useless matter, and to seize on points capable of improvement. ... When subjects are viewed through the mists of prejudice, useful truths may escape.
In An Essay on Aërial Navigation, With Some Observations on Ships (1844), 80.
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According to Herr Cook's observation, the inhabitants of New Guinea have something they set light to which burns up almost like gunpowder. They also put it into hollow staves, and from a distance you could believe they are shooting. But it does not produce so much as a bang. Presumably they are trying to imitate the Europeans. They have failed to realize its real purpose.
Aphorism 27 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 48.
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Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
In Through the Looking-glass: And what Alice Found There (1875), 100.
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An inventor is simply a fellow who doesn’t take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates form college he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks once, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. It he succeeds once then he’s in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.
In 'How Can We Develop Inventors?' presented to the Annual meeting of the American Society of Society Engineers. Reprinted in Mechanical Engineering (Apr 1944). Collected in Prophet of Progress: Selections from the Speeches of Charles F. Kettering (1961), 108.
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Anyone who thinks science is trying to make human life easier or more pleasant is utterly mistaken.
In 'Quotation Marks', New York Times (11 Oct 1931), XX2.
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Armed with all the powers, enjoying all the wealth they owe to science, our societies are still trying to practice and to teach systems of values already destroyed at the roots by that very science. Man knows at last that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe, whence which he has emerged by chance. His duty, like his fate, is written nowhere.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 171.
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As to rocket ships flying between America and Europe, I believe it is worth seriously trying for. Thirty years ago persons who were developing flying were laughed at as mad, and that scorn hindered aviation. Now we heap similar ridicule upon stratoplane or rocket ships for trans-Atlantic flights.
Predicting high-altitude jet aircraft for routine long-distance travel. As quoted by Gobind Behari Lal, Universal Service Science Editor, as printed in 'Prof. Piccard Reaches U.S.', Syracuse Journal (13 Jan 1933), 4.
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Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be, and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty eyed: solemn because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty eyed because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare. If taunted he would probably mumble something about “Induction” and “Establishing the Laws of Nature”, but if anyone working in a laboratory professed to be trying to establish the Laws of Nature by induction, we should think he was overdue for leave.
From a Jayne Lecture (1968), 'Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought', printed in Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (1969), Vol. 75. Lecture republished as Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (2009), 11. Also included in Peter Medawar, Pluto’s Republic (1984), 80.
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Atoms have a nucleus, made of protons and neutrons bound together. Around this nucleus shells of electrons spin, and each shell is either full or trying to get full, to balance with the number of protons—to balance the number of positive and negative charges. An atom is like a human heart, you see.
The Lunatics (1988). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 323.
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Basic research is not the same as development. A crash program for the latter may be successful; but for the former it is like trying to make nine women pregnant at once in the hope of getting a baby in a month’s time.
In New Scientist, November 18, 1976.
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Business men are to be pitied who do not recognize the fact that the largest side of their secular business is benevolence. ... No man ever manages a legitimate business in this life without doing indirectly far more for other men than he is trying to do for himself.
Defining what makes a business legitimate. In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887), 44.
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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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Casting off the dark fog of verbal philosophy and vulgar medicine, which inculcate names alone ... I tried a series of experiments to explain more clearly many phenomena, particularly those of physiology. In order that I might subject as far as possible the reasonings of the Galenists and Peripatetics to sensory criteria, I began, after trying experiments, to write dialogues in which a Galenist adduced the better-known and stronger reasons and arguments; these a mechanist surgeon refuted by citing to the contrary the experiments I had tried, and a third, neutral interlocutor weighed the reasons advanced by both and provided an opportunity for further progress.
'Malpighi at Pisa 1656-1659', in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 1, 155-6.
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Chemistry and physics are experimental sciences; and those who are engaged in attempting to enlarge the boundaries of science by experiment are generally unwilling to publish speculations; for they have learned, by long experience, that it is unsafe to anticipate events. It is true, they must make certain theories and hypotheses. They must form some kind of mental picture of the relations between the phenomena which they are trying to investigate, else their experiments would be made at random, and without connection.
From 'Radium and Its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 52.
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Common-sense contents itself with the unreconciled contradiction, laughs when it can, and weeps when it must, and makes, in short, a practical compromise, without trying a theoretical solution.
From Essay, 'German Pessimism', a book review (of Der Modern Pessimismus by Edmund Pfleiderer) in Nation (7 Oct 1875), 21, No. 536, 233. Reprinted in Ralph Barton Perry (ed.), Collected Essays and Reviews by William James (1920), 17.
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Detest it as lewd intercourse, it can deprive you of all your leisure, your health, your rest, and the whole happiness of your life.
Having himself spent a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to prove Euclid’s postulate that parallel lines do not meet, Farkas discouraged his son János from any further attempt.
Letter (1820), to his son, János Bolyai. Translation as in Dirk Jan Struik, A concise history of mathematics (2nd Ed., 1948), 253.
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Do not try the parallels in that way: I know that way all along. I have measured that bottomless night, and all the light and all the joy of my life went out there.
Having himself spent a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to prove Euclid's postulate that parallel lines do not meet, Farkas discouraged his son János from any further attempt.
Letter (4 Apr 1820), to his son, János Bolyai. In J. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson, 'Farkas Wolfgang Bolyai' (Mar 2004), web article in MacTutor..
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Doctors can do almost anything nowadays, can't they, unless they kill you while they're trying to cure you.
Endless Night (2002), 117.
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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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Even today I still get letters from young students here and there who say, Why are you people trying to program intelligence? Why don’t you try to find a way to build a nervous system that will just spontaneously create it? Finally I decided that this was either a bad idea or else it would take thousands or millions of neurons to make it work and I couldn’t afford to try to build a machine like that.
As quoted in Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981), 57, 70.
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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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Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.
In David Chronenberg and Chris Rodley (ed.), Chronenberg on Chronenberg (1992), 7. As cited in Carl Royer, B Lee Cooper, The Spectacle of Isolation in Horror Films: Dark Parades (2013), 55.
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For God’s sake, please give it up. Fear it no less than the sensual passion, because it, too, may take up all your time and deprive you of your health, peace of mind and happiness in life.
Having himself spent a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to prove Euclid's postulate that parallel lines do not meet, Farkas discouraged his son János from any further attempt.
Letter (1820) to his son, János Bolyai. Translation as in Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh, The Mathematical Experience (1981), 220. In Bill Swainson, Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 124.
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Fortunately somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether.
My Last Breath? (1984), 174.
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Governments are trying to achieve unanimity by stifling any scientist who disagrees. Einstein could not have got funding under the present system.
Quoted in Tom Harper, 'Scientists threatened for "climate denial",' The Telegraph (11 Mar 2007).
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Happy Birthday Mrs Chown! Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science—for to fill your heart with love is enough. Richard P. Feynman (the man you watched on BBC Horizon).
Note to the mother of Marcus Chown. Reproduced in Christopher Simon Sykes, No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman (1996), 161. Chown's mother, though usually disinterested in science, had given close attention to a 1981 BBC Horizon science documentary that profiled Feynman. This was Feynman’s own choice of a birthday message, although Chown (then a physics graduate student at Caltech) had anticipated that the scientist would have helped him interest his mother in scientific things. Marcus Chown was a radio astronomer at Caltech and is now a writer and broadcaster.
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How did Biot arrive at the partial differential equation? [the heat conduction equation] … Perhaps Laplace gave Biot the equation and left him to sink or swim for a few years in trying to derive it. That would have been merely an instance of the way great mathematicians since the very beginnings of mathematical research have effortlessly maintained their superiority over ordinary mortals.
The Tragicomical History of Thermodynamics, 1822-1854 (1980), 51.
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How insidious Nature is when one is trying to get at it experimentally.
Letter to Michele Besso (15 Feb 1915). As quoted in Albrecht Fösling, Albert Einstein (1998), 362.
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I always keep two legs going, with one trying to reach ahead.
Quoted in James Gleick, Genius: the Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1993), 93.
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I am trying to get the hang of this new fangled writing machine, but I am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first attempt I have ever made & yet I perceive I shall soon & easily acquire a fine facility in its use. … The machine has several virtues. I believe it will print faster than I can write. One may lean back in his chair & work it. It piles an awful stack of words on one page. It don't muss things or scatter ink blots around. Of course it saves paper.
Letter (9 Dec 1874). Quoted in B. Blivens, Jr., The Wonderful Writing Machine (1954), 61.
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I became expert at dissecting crayfish. At one point I had a crayfish claw mounted on an apparatus in such a way that I could operate the individual nerves. I could get the several-jointed claw to reach down and pick up a pencil and wave it around. I am not sure that what I was doing had much scientific value, although I did learn which nerve fiber had to be excited to inhibit the effects of another fiber so that the claw would open. And it did get me interested in robotic instrumentation, something that I have now returned to. I am trying to build better micromanipulators for surgery and the like.
In Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981).
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I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.
…...
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I cannot but be astonished that Sarsi should persist in trying to prove by means of witnesses something that I may see for myself at any time by means of experiment. Witnesses are examined in doutbful matters which are past and transient, not in those which are actual and present. A judge must seek by means of witnesses to determine whether Peter injured John last night, but not whether John was injured, since the judge can see that for himself.
'The Assayer' (1623), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 271.
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I could almost wish, at this point, that I were in the habit of expressing myself in theological terms, for if I were, I might be able to compress my entire thesis into a sentence. All knowledge of every variety (I might say) is in the mind of God—and the human intellect, even the best, in trying to pluck it forth can but “see through a glass, darkly.”
In Asimov on Physics (1976), 146. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 279.
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I do not … reject the use of statistics in medicine, but I condemn not trying to get beyond them and believing in statistics as the foundation of medical science. … Statistics … apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still [uncertain or] indeterminate. … There will always be some indeterminism … in all the sciences, and more in medicine than in any other. But man’s intellectual conquest consists in lessening and driving back indeterminism in proportion as he gains ground for determinism by the help of the experimental method..
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138-140.
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I have been arranging certain experiments in reference to the notion that Gravity itself may be practically and directly related by experiment to the other powers of matter and this morning proceeded to make them. It was almost with a feeling of awe that I went to work, for if the hope should prove well founded, how great and mighty and sublime in its hitherto unchangeable character is the force I am trying to deal with, and how large may be the new domain of knowledge that may be opened up to the mind of man.
In ‎Thomas Martin (ed.) Faraday’s Diary: Sept. 6, 1847 - Oct. 17, 1851 (1934), 156.
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I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this—never neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening. It may be—usually is, in fact—a false alarm that leads to nothing, but may on the other hand be the clue provided by fate to lead you to some important advance.
Lecture at Harvard University. Quoted in Joseph Sambrook, David W. Russell, Molecular Cloning (2001), Vol. 1, 153.
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I have never really had dreams to fulfil…. You just want to go on looking at these ecosystems and trying to understand them and they are all fascinating. To achieve a dream suggests snatching a prize from the top of a tree and running off with it, and that’s the end of it. It isn’t like that. … What you are trying to achieve is understanding and you don’t do that just by chasing dreams.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 52.
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I never could do anything with figures, never had any talent for mathematics, never accomplished anything in my efforts at that rugged study, and to-day the only mathematics I know is multiplication, and the minute I get away up in that, as soon as I reach nine times seven— [He lapsed into deep thought, trying to figure nine times seven. Mr. McKelway whispered the answer to him.] I’ve got it now. It’s eighty-four. Well, I can get that far all right with a little hesitation. After that I am uncertain, and I can’t manage a statistic.
Speech at the New York Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind (29 Mar 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 323.
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I resolved to obtain from myself [through automatic writing] what we were trying to obtain from them, namely a monologue spoken as rapidly as possible without any intervention on the part of the critical faculties, a monologue consequently unencumbered by the slightest inhibition and which was, as closely as possible akin to spoken thought. It had seemed to me, and still does … that the speed of thought does not necessarily defy language, nor even the fast-moving pen.
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I shall always feel respect for every one who has written a book, let it be what it may, for I had no idea of the trouble which trying to write common English could cost one—And alas there yet remains the worst part of all correcting the press.
Letter to W. D. Fox, 7 July 1837, referring to his Journal of Researches. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1837-1843 (1986), Vol. 2, 29.
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I spent most of a lifetime trying to be a mathematician—and what did I learn. What does it take to be one? I think I know the answer: you have to be born right, you must continually strive to become perfect, you must love mathematics more than anything else, you must work at it hard and without stop, and you must never give up.
In I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography (1985), 400.
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I still take failure very seriously, but I've found that the only way I could overcome the feeling is to keep on working, and trying to benefit from failures or disappointments. There are always some lessons to be learned. So I keep on working.
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I think this case will be remembered because it is the first case of this sort since we stopped trying people in America for witchcraft, because here we have done our best to turn back the tide that has sought to force itself upon this modern world, of testing every fact in science by a religious dictum.
Final remarks to the Court after the jury verdict was read at the Scopes Monkey Trial Eighth day's proceedings (21 Jul 1925) in John Thomas Scopes, The World's Most Famous Court Trial: Tennessee Evolution Case: a Complete Stenographic Report of the Famous Court Test of the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act, at Dayton, July 10 to 21, 1925, Including Speeches and Arguments of Attorneys (1925), 316.
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I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
'Jack London Credo' quoted, without citing a source, in Irving Shepard (ed.), Jack London’s Tales of Adventure (1956), Introduction, vii. (Irving Shepard was London's literary executor.) This sentiment, expressed two months before his death, was quoted by journalist Ernest J. Hopkins in the San Francisco Bulletin (2 Dec 1916), Pt. 2, 1. No direct source in London's writings has been found, though he wrote “I would rather be ashes than dust&rdquo. as an inscription in an autograph book. Biographer Clarice Stasz cautions that although Hopkins had visited the ranch just weeks before London's death, the journalist's quote (as was not uncommon in his time) is not necessarily reliable, or may be his own invention. See this comment in 'Apocrypha' appended to Jack London, The Call Of The Wild (eBookEden.com).
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I'm not a wizard or a Frankenstein tampering with Nature. We are not creating life. We have merely done what many people try to do in all kinds of medicine—to help nature. We found nature could not put an egg and sperm together, so we did it. We do not see anything immoral in doing that in the interests of the mother. I cannot see anything immoral in trying to help the patient’s problem.
As quoted by thr Associated Press after the birth of Louise Brown, the first baby born by in vitro fertilization. Reprinted in, for example,'First test-tube baby born in England', Toledo Blade (27 Jul 1978), 1. As reported, the first sentence was given in its own quote marks, followed by “Dr. Steptoe said,” so the quote may not have been delivered as a single statement.
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If any layman were to ask a number of archaeologists to give, on the spur of the moment, a definition of archaeology, I suspect that such a person might find the answers rather confusing. He would, perhaps, sympathize with Socrates who, when he hoped to learn from the poets and artisans something about the arts they practised, was forced to go away with the conviction that, though they might themselves be able to accomplish something, they certainly could give no clear account to others of what they were trying to do.
Opening statement in lecture at Columbia University (8 Jan 1908), 'Archaeology'. Published by the Columbia University Press (1908).
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If that's how it all started, then we might as well face the fact that what's left out there is a great deal of shrapnel and a whole bunch of cinders (one of which is, fortunately, still hot enough and close enough to be good for tanning). Trying to find some sense and order in this mess may be as futile as trying to … reconstruct the economy of Iowa from a bowl of popcorn. [On searching for evidence of the Big Bang.]
From essay 'First Person Secular: Blocking the Gates to Heaven', Mother Jones Magazine (Jun 1986), 48. Collected in The Worst Years of our Lives: Irreverent Notes from a Decade of Greed (1995), 267.
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If you advertise to tell lies, it will ruin you, but if you advertise to tell the public the truth, and particularly to give information, it will bring you success. I learned early that to tell a man how best to use tires, and to make him want them, was far better than trying to tell him that your tire is the best in the world. If you believe that yours is, let your customer find it out.
As quoted by H.M. Davidson, in System: The Magazine of Business (Apr 1922), 41, 446.
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In attempting to discover how much blood passes from the veins into the arteries I made dissections of living animals, opened up arteries in them, and carried out various other investigations. I also considered the symmetry and size of the ventricles of the heart and of the vessels which enter and leave them (since Nature, who does nothing purposelessly, would not purposelessly have given these vessels such relatively large size). I also recalled the elegant and carefully contrived valves and fibres and other structural artistry of the heart; and many other points. I considered rather often and with care all this evidence, and took correspondingly long trying to assess how much blood was transmitted and in how short a time. I also noted that the juice of the ingested food could not supply this amount without our having the veins, on the one hand, completely emptied and the arteries, on the other hand, brought to bursting through excessive inthrust of blood, unless the blood somehow flowed back again from the arteries into the veins and returned to the right ventricle of the heart. In consequence, I began privately to consider that it had a movement, as it were, in a circle.
De Motu Cordis (1628), The Circulation of the Blood and Other Writings, trans. Kenneth j. Franklin (1957), Chapter 8, 57-8.
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In school we had a name for guys trying to get in touch with themselves.
Quoted, without source, in Des MacHale, Wit (1999, 2003), 36.
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In trying to evaluate Hopkins' unique contribution to biochemistry it may perhaps be said that he alone amongst his contemporaries succeeded in formulating the subject. Among others whose several achievements in their own fields may have surpassed his, no one has ever attempted to unify and correlate biochemical knowledge so as to form a comprehensible picture of the cell and its relation to life, reproduction and function.
'Sir F. G. Hopkins' Teaching and Scientific Influence'. In J. Needham and E. Baldwin (eds.), Hopkins and Biochemistry, 1861-1947 (1949), 36.
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Innovations, free thinking is blowing like a storm; those that stand in front of it, ignorant scholars like you, false scientists, perverse conservatives, obstinate goats, resisting mules are being crushed under the weight of these innovations. You are nothing but ants standing in front of the giants; nothing but chicks trying to challenge roaring volcanoes!
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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Investigators are commonly said to be engaged in a search for the truth. I think they themselves would usually state their aims less pretentiously. What the experimenter is really trying to do is to learn whether facts can be established which will be recognized as facts by others and which will support some theory that in imagination he has projected. But he must be ingenuously honest. He must face facts as they arise in the course of experimental procedure, whether they are favourable to his idea or not. In doing this he must be ready to surrender his theory at any time if the facts are adverse to it.
The Way of an Investigator: A Scientist's Experiences in Medical Research (1945), 34.
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It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. “The insect youth are on the wing.” Swarms of new-born flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity testify their joy and the exultation they feel in their lately discovered faculties … The whole winged insect tribe, it is probable, are equally intent upon their proper employments, and under every variety of constitution, gratified, and perhaps equally gratified, by the offices which the author of their nature has assigned to them.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of The Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 490-1.
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It is in our genes to understand the universe if we can, to keep trying even if we cannot, and to be enchanted by the act of learning all the way.
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It is interesting to note how many fundamental terms which the social sciences are trying to adopt from physics have as a matter of historical fact originated in the social field. Take, for instance, the notion of cause. The Greek aitia or the Latin causa was originally a purely legal term. It was taken over into physics, developed there, and in the 18th century brought back as a foreign-born kind for the adoration of the social sciences. The same is true of the concept of law of nature. Originally a strict anthropomorphic conception, it was gradually depersonalized or dehumanized in the natural sciences and then taken over by the social sciences in an effort to eliminate final causes or purposes from the study of human affairs. It is therefore not anomalous to find similar transformations in the history of such fundamental concepts of statistics as average and probability. The concept of average was developed in the Rhodian laws as to the distribution of losses in maritime risks. After astronomers began to use it in correcting their observations, it spread to other physical sciences; and the prestige which it thus acquired has given it vogue in the social field. The term probability, as its etymology indicates, originates in practical and legal considerations of probing and proving.
The Statistical View of Nature (1936), 327-8.
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It is not always the truth that tells us where to look for new knowledge. We don’t search for the penny under the lamp post where the light is. We know we are more likely to find it out there in the darkness. My favorite way of expressing this notion to graduate students who are trying to do very hard experiments is to remind them that “God loves the noise as much as he does the signal.”
In 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 50.
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It is really laughable to see what different ideas are prominent in various naturalists’ minds, when they speak of “species”; in some, resemblance is everything and descent of little weight—in some, resemblance seems to go for nothing, and Creation the reigning idea—in some, descent is the key,—in some, sterility an unfailing test, with others it is not worth a farthing. It all comes, I believe, from trying to define the undefinable.
Letter to J. D. Hooker (24 Dec 1856). In Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1888), 446.
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It is scientists, not sceptics, who are most willing to consider explanations that conflict with their own. And far from quashing dissent, it is the scientists, not the sceptics, who do most to acknowledge gaps in their studies and point out the limitations of their data—which is where sceptics get much of the mud they fling at the scientists. By contrast, the [sceptics] are not trying to build a theory of anything. They have set the bar much lower, and are happy muddying the waters.
Editorial, Nature (28 Jul 2011), 475, 423-424.
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It is well to remember that most arguments in favor of not trying an experiment are too flimsily based.
Quoted in a lecture published in Experientia, Supplementum II (1955), 226.
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It’s like trying to describe what you feel when you’re standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it’s like.
As quoted on the nmspacemuseum.org website of the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
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I’m trying to assemble pieces of this great jigsaw puzzle of the origin of the solar system, to see if we can illuminate our own processes on the Earth more fundamentally.
In interview, Rushworth M. Kidder, 'Grounded in Space Science', Christian Science Monitor (22 Dec 1989).
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Journalism must find the facts, it must not prejudge things in terms of conservatism or liberalism or radicalism; it must not decide in advance that it is to be conformist or non-conformist; it cannot fly in the face of facts without courting ultimate disaster.
Journalism must focus the facts; facts are not important for their own sake; they are important only as a basis for action; journalism must focus the facts it finds upon the issues its readers face.
Journalism must filter the facts; it must with conscientious care separate the facts from admixtures of prejudice, passion, partisanship, and selfish interest; facts that are diluted, colored, or perverted are valueless as a basis for action.
Journalism must face the facts; it must learn that the energy spent in trying to find ways to get around, under, or over the facts is wasted energy; facts have a ruthless way of winning the day sooner or later.
Journalism must follow the facts; journalism must say of facts as Job said, of God: though they slay us, yet shall we trust them; if the facts threaten to upset a paper's cherished policy, it always pays the journalist to re-examine his policy; that way lies realism, and realism is the ultimate good.
From address as president of the Wisconsin local chapter of Theta Sigma Phi, at its first annual Matrix Table (9 Jan 1926). quoted in 'Journalism News and Notes', in Robert S. Crawford (ed.), The Wisconsin Alumni Magazine (Feb 1926), 27, No. 4, 101. If you know any other example of Glenn Frank speaking about his five themes on facts, please contact Webmaster.
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Just by studying mathematics we can hope to make a guess at the kind of mathematics that will come into the physics of the future ... If someone can hit on the right lines along which to make this development, it m may lead to a future advance in which people will first discover the equations and then, after examining them, gradually learn how to apply the ... My own belief is that this is a more likely line of progress than trying to guess at physical pictures.
'The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature', Scientific American, May 1963, 208, 47. In Steve Adams, Frontiers (2000), 57.
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Langmuir is the most convincing lecturer that I have ever heard. I have heard him talk to an audience of chemists when I knew they did not understand more than one-third of what he was saying; but they thought they did. It’s very easy to be swept off one's feet by Langmuir. You remember in [Kipling’s novel] Kim that the water jar was broken and Lurgan Sahib was trying to hypnotise Kim into seeing it whole again. Kim saved himself by saying the multiplication table [so] I have heard Langmuir lecture when I knew he was wrong, but I had to repeat to myself: “He is wrong; I know he is wrong; he is wrong”, or I should have believed like the others.
In 'How to Ripen Time', Journal of Physical Chemistry 1931, 35, 1917.
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Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God.
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1904, 1913), 332.
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Man studied birds for centuries, trying to learn how to make a machine to fly like them. He never did do the trick; his final success came when he broke away entirely and tried new methods.
Published under the name Don A. Stuart, 'Who Goes There?', Astounding Stories (Aug 1938). In Robert Silverberg, Ben Bova and Science Fiction Writers of America, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1973), Vol. 2, 62.
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Many Americans are trying to conserve energy as never before—they're now burning their morning toast on only one side.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 156.
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Many people think that conservation is just about saving fluffy animals—what they don’t realise is that we’re trying to prevent the human race from committing suicide … We have declared war on the biological world, the world that supports us … At the moment the human race is in the position of a man sawing off the tree branch he is sitting on.
As quoted in Douglass Botting, Gerald Durrell: The Authorized Biography (1999), 194.
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Men who do not know the truth of things try to reach certainty about them, so that, if they cannot satisfy their intellects by science, their wills at least may rest on conscience.
In The New Science (3rd ed., 1744), Book 1, Para. 137, as translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (1948), 56.
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Mr. Hobbes told me that the cause of his Lordship's [Francis Bacon's] death was trying an Experiment: viz. as he was taking the aire in a Coach with Dr. Witherborne (a Scotchman, Physitian to the King) towards High-gate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my Lord's thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow, as in Salt. They were resolved they would try the Experiment presently. They alighted out of the Coach and went into a poore woman's house at the bottom of Highgate hill, and bought a Hen, and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the body with Snow, and my Lord did help to doe it himselfe. The Snow so chilled him that he immediately fell so extremely ill, that he could not return to his Lodging.
John Aubrey, Brief Lives (1680), edited by Oliver Lawson Dick (1949), 16.
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Mr. Hobbes told me that the cause of his Lordship’s [Francis Bacon s] death was trying an experiment: viz., as he was taking the air in a coach with Dr. Witherborne, a Scotchman, physician to the King, towards Highgate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my Lord’s thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow as in salt. They were resolved they would try the experiment presently. They alighted out of the coach and went into a poor woman s house at the bottom of Highgate Hill and bought a hen and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the body with snow, and my Lord did help to do it himself The snow so chilled him that he immediately fell so extremely ill that he could not return to his lodgings.
In Brief Lives (late 17th century), as excerpted in The Retrospective Review (1821), 292.
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My mother, my dad and I left Cuba when I was two [January, 1959]. Castro had taken control by then, and life for many ordinary people had become very difficult. My dad had worked [as a personal bodyguard for the wife of Cuban president Batista], so he was a marked man. We moved to Miami, which is about as close to Cuba as you can get without being there. It’s a Cuba-centric society. I think a lot of Cubans moved to the US thinking everything would be perfect. Personally, I have to say that those early years were not particularly happy. A lot of people didn’t want us around, and I can remember seeing signs that said: “No children. No pets. No Cubans.” Things were not made easier by the fact that Dad had begun working for the US government. At the time he couldn’t really tell us what he was doing, because it was some sort of top-secret operation. He just said he wanted to fight against what was happening back at home. [Estefan’s father was one of the many Cuban exiles taking part in the ill-fated, anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow dictator Fidel Castro.] One night, Dad disappered. I think he was so worried about telling my mother he was going that he just left her a note. There were rumours something was happening back home, but we didn’t really know where Dad had gone. It was a scary time for many Cubans. A lot of men were involved—lots of families were left without sons and fathers. By the time we found out what my dad had been doing, the attempted coup had taken place, on April 17, 1961. Intitially he’d been training in Central America, but after the coup attempt he was captured and spent the next wo years as a political prisoner in Cuba. That was probably the worst time for my mother and me. Not knowing what was going to happen to Dad. I was only a kid, but I had worked out where my dad was. My mother was trying to keep it a secret, so she used to tell me Dad was on a farm. Of course, I thought that she didn’t know what had really happened to him, so I used to keep up the pretence that Dad really was working on a farm. We used to do this whole pretending thing every day, trying to protect each other. Those two years had a terrible effect on my mother. She was very nervous, just going from church to church. Always carrying her rosary beads, praying her little heart out. She had her religion, and I had my music. Music was in our family. My mother was a singer, and on my father’s side there was a violinist and a pianist. My grandmother was a poet.
…...
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No one has ever done this before, … What we are trying to do here is to create a stem cell line without injuring an embryo. Our cells can go on to become a healthy, kicking baby.
…...
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No theory of physics that deals only with physics will ever explain physics. I believe that as we go on trying to understand the universe, we are at the same time trying to understand man.
In The Intellectual Digest (June 1973), as quoted and cited in Mark Chandos, 'Philosophical Essay: Story Theory", Kosmoautikon: Exodus From Sapiens (2015).
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Richard P. Feynman quote: One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the l
One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the law. … In other words we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 158.
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Our ideas … are for the most part like bad sixpences and we spend our lives in trying to pass them on one another.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 216.
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Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means at our disposal. In this way quantum theory reminds us, as Bohr has put it, of the old wisdom that when searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators. It is understandable that in our scientific relation to nature our own activity becomes very important when we have to deal with parts of nature into which we can penetrate only by using the most elaborate tools.
The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory (1958). In Steve Adams, Frontiers (2000), 13.
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Pauli … asked me to tell him what was happening in America. I told him that Mrs. Wu is trying to measure whether parity is conserved. He answered me: “Mrs. Wu is wasting her time. I would bet you a large sum that parity is conserved.” When this letter came I already knew that parity is violated. I could have sent a telegram to Pauli that the bet was accepted. But I wrote him a letter. He said: “I could never let it out that this is possible. I am glad that we did not actually do the bet because I can risk to lose my reputation, but I cannot risk losing my capital.”
In Discussion after paper presented by Chien-Shiung Wu to the International Conference on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries, Erice, Sicily (27 Jul-4 Aug 1994), 'Parity Violation' collected in Harvey B. Newman, Thomas Ypsilantis (eds.), History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1996), 381.
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Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics (1938), 33.
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Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. Music and art are, to an extent, also attempts to solve or at least express the mystery. But to my mind the more we progress with either the more we are brought into harmony with all nature itself. And that is one of the great services of science to the individual.
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), Epilogue, 217.
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Science doesn’t purvey absolute truth. Science is a mechanism, a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature. It’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe, and seeing whether they match.
'Isaac Asimov Speaks' with Bill Moyers in The Humanist (Jan/Feb 1989), 49. Reprinted in Carl Howard Freedman (ed.), Conversations with Isaac Asimov (2005), 143-144. Bill Moyers asked “What’s real knowledge?” Asimov replied, “Well, we can’t be absolutely certain.” He continued answering as in the quote above.
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Since the measuring device has been constructed by the observer … we have to remember that what we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal.
Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958), 78.
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Some men said the atomic bomb should never have been built; researchers should have stopped working when they had realized that the bomb was feasible. Enrico did not think this would have been a sensible solution. It is no good trying to stop knowledge from going forward. Whatever Nature has in store for mankind, unpleasant as it may be, men must accept, for ignorance is never better than knowledge.
Note: Although attributed as his viewpoint to Enrico Fermi, it is probably not a direct quote by him.
This is the viewpoint of Enrico Fermi, as written in her own words by his wife, Laura Fermi, in Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi (1954), 244. The last sentence is also seen on its own, contracted as: “It is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better that knowledge.” Webmaster has therefore flags each of these wordings as “not a direct quote”, with this cautionary note. If you know a primary source of the quote in this wording, please contact Webmaster.
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Space exploration is risky. It’s hard. And actually, let me say here that I feel like we need to take on more risk than we have been in space exploration. The public doesn’t like risk, and they hate failure. But failures happen. They shouldn’t happen for stupid reasons. But if they happen when you were trying something risky, you learn. That teaches you something. At least it should. And you try harder next time.
On the failure of the Cosmos-1 solar sail (Jun 2005).
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Speaking about symmetry, look out our window, and you may see a cardinal attacking its reflection in the window. The cardinal is the only bird we have who often does this. If it has a nest nearby, the cardinal thinks there is another cardinal trying to invade its territory. It never realizes it is attacking its own reflection. Cardinals don’t know much about mirror symmetry!
In István Hargittai, 'A Great Communicator of Mathematics and Other Games: A Conversation with Martin Gardner', The Mathematical Intelligencer. (1997), 194(4), 36-40. Quoted in István and Magdolna Hargittai, In Our Own Image (2000), 9.
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Speaking of libraries: A big open-stack academic or public library is no small pleasure to work in. You’re, say, trying to do a piece on something in Nevada, and you go down to C Floor, deep in the earth, and out to what a miner would call a remote working face. You find 10995.497S just where the card catalog and the online computer thought it would be, but that is only the initial nick. The book you knew about has led you to others you did not know about. To the ceiling the shelves are loaded with books about Nevada. You pull them down, one at a time, and sit on the floor and look them over until you are sitting on a pile five feet high, at which point you are late home for dinner and you get up and walk away. It’s an incomparable boon to research, all that; but it is also a reason why there are almost no large open-stack libraries left in the world.
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Students who have attended my [medical] lectures may remember that I try not only to teach them what we know, but also to realise how little this is: in every direction we seem to travel but a very short way before we are brought to a stop; our eyes are opened to see that our path is beset with doubts, and that even our best-made knowledge comes but too soon to an end.
In Notes on the Composition of Scientific Papers (1904), 3.
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Surely the mitochondrion that first entered another cell was not thinking about the future benefits of cooperation and integration; it was merely trying to make its own living in a tough Darwinian world
Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1990), 310.
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That’s the whole problem with science. You’ve got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder.
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The animals of the Burgess Shale are holy objects–in the unconventional sense that this word conveys in some cultures. We do not place them on pedestals and worship from afar. We climb mountains and dynamite hillsides to find them. We quarry them, split them, carve them, draw them, and dissect them, struggling to wrest their secrets. We vilify and curse them for their damnable intransigence. They are grubby little creatures of a sea floor 530 million years old, but we greet them with awe because they are the Old Ones, and they are trying to tell us something.
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The anxious precision of modern mathematics is necessary for accuracy, … it is necessary for research. It makes for clearness of thought and for fertility in trying new combinations of ideas. When the initial statements are vague and slipshod, at every subsequent stage of thought, common sense has to step in to limit applications and to explain meanings. Now in creative thought common sense is a bad master. Its sole criterion for judgment is that the new ideas shall look like the old ones, in other words it can only act by suppressing originality.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 157.
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The biggest danger we face is overfishing. We have too many boats out there. We literally could fish out our oceans, some scientists believe, in the next 40, 50, 60 years. We are trending in that direction. … Every year, for the first time in history, we catch fewer and fewer fish with more and more sophisticated boats going out trying to find them.
From transcript of PBS TV interview by Tavis Smiley (28 Mar 2011).
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The bird which is drawn to the water by its need of finding there the prey on which it lives, separates the digits of its feet in trying to strike the water and move about on the surface. The skin which unites these digits at their base acquires the habit of being stretched by these continually repeated separations of the digits; thus in course of time there are formed large webs which unite the digits of ducks, geese, etc., as we actually find them. In the same way efforts to swim, that is to push against the water so as to move about in it, have stretched the membranes between the digits of frogs, sea-tortoises, the otter, beaver, etc.
On the other hand, a bird which is accustomed to perch on trees and which springs from individuals all of whom had acquired this habit, necessarily has longer digits on its feet and differently shaped from those of the aquatic animals that I have just named. Its claws in time become lengthened, sharpened and curved into hooks, to clasp the branches on which the animal so often rests.
We find in the same way that the bird of the water-side which does not like swimming and yet is in need of going to the water's edge to secure its prey, is continually liable to sink into the mud. Now this bird tries to act in such a way that its body should not be immersed in the liquid, and hence makes its best efforts to stretch and lengthen its legs. The long-established habit acquired by this bird and all its race of continually stretching and lengthening its legs, results in the individuals of this race becoming raised as though on stilts, and gradually obtaining long, bare legs, denuded of feathers up to the thighs and often higher still.
Philosophie Zoologique (1809), Vol. 1, 249-50, trans. Hugh Elliot (1914), 119-20.
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The chances for favorable serendipity are increased if one studies an animal that is not one of the common laboratory species. Atypical animals, or preparations, force one to use non-standard approaches and non-standard techniques, and even to think nonstandard ideas. My own preference is to seek out species which show some extreme of adaptation. Such organisms often force one to abandon standard methods and standard points of view. Almost inevitably they lead one to ask new questions, and most importantly in trying to comprehend their special and often unusual adaptations one often serendipitously stumbles upon new insights.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 234.
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The great object, in trying to understand history, political, religious, literary, or scientific, is to get behind men, and to grasp ideas.
In Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (1904), 99.
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The greatest enemy, however, to true arithmetic work is found in so-called practical or illustrative problems, which are freely given to our pupils, of a degree of difficulty and complexity altogether unsuited to their age and mental development. … I am, myself, no bad mathematician, and all the reasoning powers with which nature endowed me have long been as fully developed as they are ever likely to be; but I have, not infrequently, been puzzled, and at times foiled, by the subtle logical difficulty running through one of these problems, given to my own children. The head-master of one of our Boston high schools confessed to me that he had sometimes been unable to unravel one of these tangled skeins, in trying to help his own daughter through her evening’s work. During this summer, Dr. Fairbairn, the distinguished head of one of the colleges of Oxford, England, told me that not only had he himself encountered a similar difficulty, in the case of his own children, but that, on one occasion, having as his guest one of the first mathematicians of England, the two together had been completely puzzled by one of these arithmetical conundrums.
Address before the Grammar-School Section of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association (25 Nov 1887), 'The Teaching of Arithmetic in the Boston Schools', printed The Academy (Jan 1888). Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 253.
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The human mind delights in finding pattern–so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.
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The long-range trend toward federal regulation, which found its beginnings in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Act of 1890, which was quickened by a large number of measures in the Progressive era, and which has found its consummation in our time, was thus at first the response of a predominantly individualistic public to the uncontrolled and starkly original collectivism of big business. In America the growth of the national state and its regulative power has never been accepted with complacency by any large part of the middle-class public, which has not relaxed its suspicion of authority, and which even now gives repeated evidence of its intense dislike of statism. In our time this growth has been possible only under the stress of great national emergencies, domestic or military, and even then only in the face of continuous resistance from a substantial part of the public. In the Progressive era it was possible only because of widespread and urgent fear of business consolidation and private business authority. Since it has become common in recent years for ideologists of the extreme right to portray the growth of statism as the result of a sinister conspiracy of collectivists inspired by foreign ideologies, it is perhaps worth emphasizing that the first important steps toward the modern organization of society were taken by arch-individualists—the tycoons of the Gilded Age—and that the primitive beginning of modern statism was largely the work of men who were trying to save what they could of the eminently native Yankee values of individualism and enterprise.
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The mathematics of cooperation of men and tools is interesting. Separated men trying their individual experiments contribute in proportion to their numbers and their work may be called mathematically additive. The effect of a single piece of apparatus given to one man is also additive only, but when a group of men are cooperating, as distinct from merely operating, their work raises with some higher power of the number than the first power. It approaches the square for two men and the cube for three. Two men cooperating with two different pieces of apparatus, say a special furnace and a pyrometer or a hydraulic press and new chemical substances, are more powerful than their arithmetical sum. These facts doubtless assist as assets of a research laboratory.
Quoted from a speech delivered at the fiftieth anniversary of granting of M.I.T's charter, in Guy Suits, 'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 352.
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The Moon and its phases gave man his first calendar. Trying to match that calendar with the seasons helped give him mathematics. The usefulness of the calendar helped give rise to the thought of beneficent gods. And with all that the Moon is beautiful, too.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 164.
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The moon is a very nice place. When we landed, we were 20 minutes behind. Because time on the Moon was so precious, what I remember most is trying to catch up.
As quoted in 'NASA Mourns the Passing of Astronaut John Young' (6 Jan 2018) on nasa.gov website.
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The people of Sydney who can speak of my work [on flying-machine models] without a smile are very scarce; it is doubtless the same with American workers. I know that success is dead sure to come, and therefore do not waste time and words in trying to convince unbelievers.
As quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 231.
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The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Reason', in Man and Superman (1903), 238. Also seen misquoted (?) as “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
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The trouble about always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do it without destroying the health of the mind.
In 'The Health of the Mind', Illustrated London News (10 Aug 1929), collected in Selected Essays (1955), 22.
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The way of pure research is opposed to all the copy-book maxims concerning the virtues of industry and a fixed purpose, and the evils of guessing, but it is damned useful when it comes off. It is the diametrical opposite of Edison’s reputed method of trying every conceivable expedient until he hit the right one. It requires, not diligence, but experience, information, and a good nose for the essence of a problem.
Letter to Paul de Kruif (3 Aug 1933), as quoted in Nathan Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History 1900-1939 (1981), 409.
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The work I have done has, already, been adequately rewarded and recognized. Imagination reaches out repeatedly trying to achieve some higher level of understanding, until suddenly I find myself momentarily alone before one new corner of nature’s pattern of beauty and true majesty revealed. That was my reward.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1965).
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There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.
In Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954), 16.
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There is no one central problem in philosophy, but countless little problems. Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.
From conversation with Rush Rhees (1930) as given by Rush Rhees in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections (1981), 96.
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There is no point in trying to teach a thief to steal.
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 198.
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There must be some bond of union between mass and the chemical elements; and as the mass of a substance is ultimately expressed (although not absolutely, but only relatively) in the atom, a functional dependence should exist and be discoverable between the individual properties of the elements and their atomic weights. But nothing, from mushrooms to a scientific dependence can be discovered without looking and trying. So I began to look about and write down the elements with their atomic weights and typical properties, analogous elements and like atomic weights on separate cards, and soon this convinced me that the properties of the elements are in periodic dependence upon their atomic weights; and although I had my doubts about some obscure points, yet I have never doubted the universality of this law, because it could not possibly be the result of chance.
Principles of Chemistry (1905), Vol. 2, 18.
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They are a fairly aggressive conservation organization that was started to protect the great whales particularly, but in general all marine life around the world. So those are the people I’m trying to attach my name to.
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They were very different men. Or boys. Someone said they were both like curious children—Einstein the merry boy, Rutherford the boisterous one. They were looking and working in different directions—Einstein looking outward, rather dreamily trying to discover where we came from, and Rutherford drilling deep to discover what we were.
A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford (2007), 66.
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This universe whose chief miracle is that it exists,… [is] a great garden in which life is trying to obtain a foothold.
In The Philosopher’s Stone (1969), 232.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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Those who understand the steam engine and the electric telegraph spend their lives in trying to replace them with something better.
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Civilization', in Man and Superman (1903), 241.
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To the average mathematician who merely wants to know his work is securely based, the most appealing choice is to avoid difficulties by means of Hilbert's program. Here one regards mathematics as a formal game and one is only concerned with the question of consistency ... . The Realist position is probably the one which most mathematicians would prefer to take. It is not until he becomes aware of some of the difficulties in set theory that he would even begin to question it. If these difficulties particularly upset him, he will rush to the shelter of Formalism, while his normal position will be somewhere between the two, trying to enjoy the best of two worlds.
In Axiomatic Set Theory (1971), 9-15. In Thomas Tymoczko, New Directions in the Philosophy of Mathematics: an Anthology (), 11-12.
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To try to make a model of an atom by studying its spectrum is like trying to make a model of a grand piano by listening to the noise it makes when thrown downstairs.
Anonymous
In Oliver Lodge in Atoms and Rays (1924), 74.
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To wage war with Marchand or anyone else again will benefit nobody and bring little profit to science. You consume yourself in this way, you ruin your liver and eventually your nerves with Morrison pills. Imagine the year 1900 when we have disintegrated into carbonic acid, ammonia and water and our bone substance is perhaps once more a constituent of the bones of the dog who defiles our graves. Who will then worry his head as to whether we have lived in peace or anger, who then will know about your scientific disputes and of your sacrifice of health and peace of mind for science? Nobody. But your good ideas and the discoveries you have made, cleansed of all that is extraneous to the subject, will still be known and appreciated for many years to come. But why am I trying to advise the lion to eat sugar.
Letter from Wohler to Liebig (9 Mar 1843). In A. W. Hofmann (ed.), Aus Justus Liebigs und Friedrich Wohlers Briefwechsel (1888), Vol. 1, 224. Trans. Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 205.
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Trying to determine the structure of a protein by UV spectroscopy was like trying to determine the structure of a piano by listening to the sound it made while being dropped down a flight of stairs.
…...
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We can continue to try and clean up the gutters all over the world and spend all of our resources looking at just the dirty spots and trying to make them clean. Or we can lift our eyes up and look into the skies and move forward in an evolutionary way.
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We have to keep trying things we’re not sure we can pull off. If we just do the things we know we can do... you don’t grow as much. You gotta take those chances on making those big mistakes.
…...
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We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to pursue the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another. There was a great deal of solemn talk that this was the end of the great wars of the century.
At the first atomic bomb test (16 Jul 1945), in Len Giovanitti and Fred Freed, The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965), 197
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We need to look, I suppose, for some good PR people to help us get our messages across in an honest and open and sensible way, without causing the sort of furore, the sort of polarisation that has occurred because of the people who are trying to deny it, and trying to deny it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them.
On BBC website, 'Climate change scientists losing “PR war”' (11 Feb 2010).
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We really try to have only one new particle per paper.
As quoted (without citation) in Robert L. Weber, More Random Walks in Science (1982), 80.
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We were trying. In spite of several failures, we felt we were getting close. It’s difficult to translate the optimism of the Brigham staff and hospital. The administration really backed us.
Concerning the early years trying to solve the problem of rejection of a transplanted kidney. As quoted by Alvin Powell in 'A Transplant Makes History', Harvard Gazette (22 Sep 2011). The writer of the articles stated: “Through those dark years, he and his colleagues pressed on, inspired by the dying patients who volunteered for surgery in hopes that, even if they didn’t make it, enough could be learned that success would come one day.”
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Were we in danger of stopping [the experiment] when we liked the answer? I realized then, as I have often said since, that nature does not “know” what experiment a scientist is trying to do. “God loves the noise as much as the signal.”
In Confessions of a Technophile (1994), 45, with embedded quote by Branscomb cited in footnote as from 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 49.
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What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what’s going on.
In Christian Science Monitor (21 July 1971). As cited in Michael C. Thomsett, Linda Rose Thomsett, A Speaker's Treasury of Quotations: Maxims, Witticisms and Quips for Speeches and Presentations (2009), 102.
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When asked what it was like to set about proving something, the mathematician likened proving a theorem to seeing the peak of a mountain and trying to climb to the top. One establishes a base camp and begins scaling the mountain’s sheer face, encountering obstacles at every turn, often retracing one’s steps and struggling every foot of the journey. Finally when the top is reached, one stands examining the peak, taking in the view of the surrounding countryside and then noting the automobile road up the other side!
Space-filler in The Two-Year College Mathematics Journal (Nov 1980), 11, No. 5, 295.
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You believe in the God who plays dice, and I in complete law and order in a world that objectively exists, and which I, in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. … Even the great initial success of the quantum theory does not make me believe in the fundamental dice-game, although I am well aware that our younger colleagues interpret this as a consequence of senility. No doubt the day will come when we will see whose instinctive attitude was the correct one.
Letter to Max Born (7 Sep 1944). In Born-Einstein Letters, 146. Einstein Archives 8-207. In Albert Einstein, Alice Calaprice, Freeman Dyson, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2011), 393-394. Often seen paraphrased as “I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos.” Also see a related quote about God playing dice on the Stephen W. Hawking Quotes page of this website.
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Your life is your spiritual path. It’s what’s right in front of you. You can’t live anyone else’s life. The task is to live yours and stop trying to copy one you think looks better.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 245
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Your mind works very simply: you are either trying to find out what are God’s laws in order to follow them; or you are trying to outsmart Him.
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[Vestiges begins] from principles which are at variance with all sober inductive truth. The sober facts of geology shuffled, so as to play a rogue’s game; phrenology (that sinkhole of human folly and prating coxcombry); spontaneous generation; transmutation of species; and I know not what; all to be swallowed, without tasting and trying, like so much horse-physic!! Gross credulity and rank infidelity joined in unlawful marriage, and breeding a deformed progeny of unnatural conclusions!
Letter to Charles Lyell (9 Apr 1845). In John Willis Clark and Thomas McKenny Hughes (eds.), The Life and Letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick (1890), Vol. 2, 83.
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[Great scientists] are men of bold ideas, but highly critical of their own ideas: they try to find whether their ideas are right by trying first to find whether they are not perhaps wrong. They work with bold conjectures and severe attempts at refuting their own conjectures.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 118-119.
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[In research on bacteria metabolism] we have indeed much the same position as an observer trying to gain an idea of the life of a household by careful scrutiny of the persons and material arriving or leaving the house; we keep accurate records of the foods and commodities left at the door and patiently examine the contents of the dust-bin and endeavour to deduce from such data the events occurring within the closed doors.
Bacterial Metabolism (1930), Preface. In 'Obituary Notice: Marjory Stephenson, 1885–1948', Biochemistry Journal (1950), 46:4, 380.
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[It was] a lot of fun and we were so absorbed trying to do a good job that we didn’t think of the dangers. Until later on when people were saying, “You were sitting on top of all that hydrogen and oxygen.” Those tanks were right outside, the control room’s right there. I mean now, like up at Plum Brook, the control room for B-2 is like half a mile away. We were fifty feet away.
Recalling his experience with rocket engine tests using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, while working as an engineer at the Propulsion Systems Laboratory. From Interview (1 Sep 2009), for the NASA Glenn History Collection, Oral History Collection, Cleveland, Ohio. As quoted an cited in Robert S. Arrighi, Pursuit of Power: NASA’s Propulsion and Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 (2012), 91.
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[J.J.] Sylvester’s methods! He had none. “Three lectures will be delivered on a New Universal Algebra,” he would say; then, “The course must be extended to twelve.” It did last all the rest of that year. The following year the course was to be Substitutions-Théorie, by Netto. We all got the text. He lectured about three times, following the text closely and stopping sharp at the end of the hour. Then he began to think about matrices again. “I must give one lecture a week on those,” he said. He could not confine himself to the hour, nor to the one lecture a week. Two weeks were passed, and Netto was forgotten entirely and never mentioned again. Statements like the following were not unfrequent in his lectures: “I haven’t proved this, but I am as sure as I can be of anything that it must be so. From this it will follow, etc.” At the next lecture it turned out that what he was so sure of was false. Never mind, he kept on forever guessing and trying, and presently a wonderful discovery followed, then another and another. Afterward he would go back and work it all over again, and surprise us with all sorts of side lights. He then made another leap in the dark, more treasures were discovered, and so on forever.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265-266.
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[Joseph Rotblat] was a towering figure in the search for peace in the world, who dedicated his life to trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and ultimately to rid the world of war itself.
Speaking as president of the Pugwash Conferences. As quoted in Associated Press syndicated to newspapers, for example in, 'Joseph Rotblat, Scientist Against Nuclear Arms, Dies', Sun Journal (2 Sep 2005), A5.
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[Locating, from scratch, the gene related to a disease is like] trying to find a burned-out light bulb in a house located somewhere between the East and West coasts without knowing the state, much less the town or street the house is on.
Quoted in Philip Elmer-Dewitt, et al.,'The Genetic Revolution', Time magazine (17 Jan 1994), 46-53.
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[Trying to manipulate the salmon's natural migration is like] trying to replace Beethoven with Yanni.
As quoted in column by Sally Mauk, 'Sally Mauk: Author, angler, activist Duncan decries management of salmon', in Missoulian (29 Apr 2011).
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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