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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Usually Quotes (176 quotes)

...man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but usually manages to pick himself up, walk over or around it, and carry on.
…...
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Dilbert: Maybe I’m unlucky in love because I’m so knowledgeable about science that I intimidate people. Their intimidation becomes low self-esteem, then they reject me to protect their egos.
Dogbert: Occam’s Razor.
Dilbert: What is “Occam's Razor”?
Dogbert: A guy named Occam had a rule about the world. Basically he said that when there are multiple explanations for something the simplest explanation is usually correct. The simplest explanation for your poor love life is that you’re immensely unattractive.
Dilbert: Maybe Occam had another rule that specifically exempted this situation, but his house burned down with all his notes. Then he forgot.
Dogbert: Occam’s Razor.
Dilbert: I’m an idiot.
Dogbert: I don’t think we can rule it out at this point.
Dilbert comic strip (11 Jul 1993).
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Ihm in vollem Maaße das Schicksal werde, welches in jeder Erkenntniß, … allezeit der Wahrheit zu Theil ward, der nur ein kurzes Siegesfest beschieden ist, zwischen den beiden langen Zeiträumen, wo sie als parador verdammt und als trivial geringgeschätzt wird.
[It] has always fallen to the lot of truth in every branch of knowledge, … [that] to truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial. The author of truth also usually meets with the former fate.
Conclusion for Preface, written at Dresden in August 1818, first German edition, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 4 Bücher nebst einem Anhange der die Kritik der Kentischen Philosophie (1819), xvi. As translated by E.F.J. Payne in The World as Will and Representation (1958, 1969), Vol. 1, xvii. In the preface, Schopenhauer is writing his hope that what he has written in the book will be accepted by those it reaches. Notice the statement of three stages of truth: condemnation; acceptance; trivializing. It may be the source of a condensed quote attributed (wrongly?) to Schopenhauer—seen in this collection as the quote that begins, “All truth passes through three stages…”
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“Pieces” almost always appear 'as parts' in whole processes. ... To sever a “'part” from the organized whole in which it occurs—whether it itself be a subsidiary whole or an “element”—is a very real process usually involving alterations in that “part”. Modifications of a part frequently involve changes elsewhere in the whole itself. Nor is the nature of these alterations arbitrary, for they too are determined by whole-conditions.
From 'Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt, I', Psychol. Forsch. (1922), 1, 47-58. As translated in 'The General Theoretical Situation' (1922), collected in W. D. Ellis (ed.), A Source Book of Gestalt Psychology (1938, 1967), Vol. 2, 14.
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A fossil hunter needs sharp eyes and a keen search image, a mental template that subconsciously evaluates everything he sees in his search for telltale clues. A kind of mental radar works even if he isn’t concentrating hard. A fossil mollusk expert has a mollusk search image. A fossil antelope expert has an antelope search image. … Yet even when one has a good internal radar, the search is incredibly more difficult than it sounds. Not only are fossils often the same color as the rocks among which they are found, so they blend in with the background; they are also usually broken into odd-shaped fragments. … In our business, we don’t expect to find a whole skull lying on the surface staring up at us. The typical find is a small piece of petrified bone. The fossil hunter’s search therefore has to have an infinite number of dimensions, matching every conceivable angle of every shape of fragment of every bone on the human body.
Describing the skill of his co-worker, Kamoya Kimeu, who discovered the Turkana Boy, the most complete specimen of Homo erectus, on a slope covered with black lava pebbles.
Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992), 26.
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A man who is convinced of the truth of his religion is indeed never tolerant. At the least, he is to feel pity for the adherent of another religion but usually it does not stop there. The faithful adherent of a religion will try first of all to convince those that believe in another religion and usually he goes on to hatred if he is not successful. However, hatred then leads to persecution when the might of the majority is behind it.
…...
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A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words. A painting may embody an “idea,” but the idea is usually commonplace and unimportant. In poetry, ideas count for a good deal more; but, as Housman insisted, the importance of ideas in poetry is habitually exaggerated. … The poverty of ideas seems hardly to affect the beauty of the verbal pattern. A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 2012), 84-85.
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A statistician is one who has learned how to get valid evidence from statistics and how (usually) to avoid being misled by irrelevant facts. It’s too bad that we apply the same name to this kind of person that we use for those who only tabulate. It’s as if we had the same name for barbers and brain surgeons because they both work on the head.
In How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (1983), 1.
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Advocacy of leaf protein as a human food is based on the undisputed fact that forage crops (such as lucerne) give a greater yield of protein than other types of crops. Even with connventional food crops there is more protein in the leafy parts than in the seeds or tubs that are usually harvested.
Quoted in 'India Children to Eat Leaf Protein in a Diet Test', New York Times (16 Dec 1973), 46.
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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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Art is usually considered to be not of the highest quality if the desired object is exhibited in the midst of unnecessary lumber.
In Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Sciences (1938), 20. Bell is writing about the postulational method and the art of pruning a set of postulates to bare essentials without internal duplication.
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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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Basic research at universities comes in two varieties: research that requires big bucks and research that requires small bucks. Big bucks research is much like government research and in fact usually is government research but done for the government under contract. Like other government research, big bucks academic research is done to understand the nature and structure of the universe or to understand life, which really means that it is either for blowing up the world or extending life, whichever comes first. Again, that's the government's motivation. The universities' motivation for conducting big bucks research is to bring money in to support professors and graduate students and to wax the floors of ivy-covered buildings. While we think they are busy teaching and learning, these folks are mainly doing big bucks basic research for a living, all the while priding themselves on their terrific summer vacations and lack of a dress code.
Smalls bucks research is the sort of thing that requires paper and pencil, and maybe a blackboard, and is aimed primarily at increasing knowledge in areas of study that don't usually attract big bucks - that is, areas that don't extend life or end it, or both. History, political science, and romance languages are typically small bucks areas of basic research. The real purpose of small bucks research to the universities is to provide a means of deciding, by the quality of their small bucks research, which professors in these areas should get tenure.
Accidental Empires (1992), 78.
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Bearing in mind that it is from the vitality of the atmospheric particles that all the mischief arises, it appears that all that is requisite is to dress the wound with some material capable of killing these septic germs, provided that any substance can be found reliable for this purpose, yet not too potent as a caustic. In the course of the year 1864 I was much struck with an account of the remarkable effects produced by carbolic acid upon the sewage of the town of Carlisle, the admixture of a very small proportion not only preventing all odour from the lands irrigated with the refuse material, but, as it was stated, destroying the entozoa which usually infest cattle fed upon such pastures.
'On a New Method of Treating Compound Fracture, Abscesses, etc: With Observations on the Conditions of Supperation', Part 1, The Lancet (1867), 327.
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But shall gravity be therefore called an occult cause, and thrown out of philosophy, because the cause of gravity is occult and not yet discovered? Those who affirm this, should be careful not to fall into an absurdity that may overturn the foundations of all philosophy. For causes usually proceed in a continued chain from those that are more compounded to those that are more simple; when we are arrived at the most simple cause we can go no farther ... These most simple causes will you then call occult and reject them? Then you must reject those that immediately depend on them.
Mathematical Principles (1729), 27.
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By destroying the biological character of phenomena, the use of averages in physiology and medicine usually gives only apparent accuracy to the results. From our point of view, we may distinguish between several kinds of averages: physical averages, chemical averages and physiological and pathological averages. If, for instance, we observe the number of pulsations and the degree of blood pressure by means of the oscillations of a manometer throughout one day, and if we take the average of all our figures to get the true or average blood pressure and to learn the true or average number of pulsations, we shall simply have wrong numbers. In fact, the pulse decreases in number and intensity when we are fasting and increases during digestion or under different influences of movement and rest; all the biological characteristics of the phenomenon disappear in the average. Chemical averages are also often used. If we collect a man's urine during twenty-four hours and mix all this urine to analyze the average, we get an analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine, when fasting, is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, and who believed he could thus present an analysis of average European urine! Aside from physical and chemical, there are physiological averages, or what we might call average descriptions of phenomena, which are even more false. Let me assume that a physician collects a great many individual observations of a disease and that he makes an average description of symptoms observed in the individual cases; he will thus have a description that will never be matched in nature. So in physiology, we must never make average descriptions of experiments, because the true relations of phenomena disappear in the average; when dealing with complex and variable experiments, we must study their various circumstances, and then present our most perfect experiment as a type, which, however, still stands for true facts. In the cases just considered, averages must therefore be rejected, because they confuse, while aiming to unify, and distort while aiming to simplify. Averages are applicable only to reducing very slightly varying numerical data about clearly defined and absolutely simple cases.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-135.
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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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For those [observations] that I made in Leipzig in my youth and up to my 21st year, I usually call childish and of doubtful value. Those that I took later until my 28th year [i.e., until 1574] I call juvenile and fairly serviceable. The third group, however, which I made at Uraniborg during approximately the last 21 years with the greatest care and with very accurate instruments at a more mature age, until I was fifty years of age, those I call the observations of my manhood, completely valid and absolutely certain, and this is my opinion of them.
In H. Raeder, E. and B. Stromgren (eds. and trans.), Tycho Brahe’s Description of his Instruments and Scientific Work: as given in Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica, Wandesburgi 1598 (1946), 110.
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Geologists have usually had recourse for the explanation of these changes to the supposition of sundry violent and extraordinary catastrophes, cataclysms, or general revolutions having occurred in the physical state of the earth's surface.
As the idea imparted by the term Cataclysm, Catastrophe, or Revolution, is extremely vague, and may comprehend any thing you choose to imagine, it answers for the time very well as an explanation; that is, it stops further inquiry. But it also has had the disadvantage of effectually stopping the advance of science, by involving it in obscurity and confusion.
Considerations on Volcanoes (1825), iv.
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Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed ; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.
In Discours de la Méthode (1637), Part 1. English version as given in John Veitch (trans.), The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 3. Also seen translated as “Of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed: everyone thinks he is so well supplied with it that even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect never desire more of it than they already have,” or “Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.” From the original French, “Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée; car chacun pense en être si bien pourvu, que ceux même qui sont les plus difficiles à contenter en toute autre chose n'ont point coutume d'en désirer plus qu'ils en ont.”
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Great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind. Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.
In 'The Growth of the Steam-Engine', The Popular Science Monthly (Nov 1877), 17.
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Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics, in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such, and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future; the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.
Another Roadside Attraction (1990), 127.
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He will also find that the high and independent spirit, which usually dwells in the breast of those who are deeply versed in scientific pursuits, is ill adapted for administrative appointments; and that even if successful, he must hear many things he disapproves, and raise no voice against them.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes, (1830), 38.
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Historical science is not worse, more restricted, or less capable of achieving firm conclusions because experiment, prediction, and subsumption under invariant laws of nature do not represent its usual working methods. The sciences of history use a different mode of explanation, rooted in the comparative and observational richness in our data. We cannot see a past event directly, but science is usually based on inference, not unvarnished observation (you don’t see electrons, gravity, or black holes either).
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I believe that life can go on forever. It takes a million years to evolve a new species, ten million for a new genus, one hundred million for a class, a billion for a phylum—and that’s usually as far as your imagination goes. In a billion years, it seems, intelligent life might be as different from humans as humans are from insects. But what would happen in another ten billion years? It’s utterly impossible to conceive of ourselves changing as drastically as that, over and over again. All you can say is, on that kind of time scale the material form that life would take is completely open. To change from a human being to a cloud may seem a big order, but it’s the kind of change you’d expect over billions of years.
Quoted in Omni (1986), 8, 38.
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I found the best ideas usually came, not when one was actively striving for them, but when one was in a more relaxed state… I used to take long solitary walks on Sundays, during which I tended to review the current situation in a leisurely way. Such occasions often proved fruitful, even though (or perhaps, because) the primary purpose of the walk was relaxation and not research.
'Methods in Theoretical Physics', From A Life of Physics: Evening Lectures at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy. A Special Supplement of the IAEA Bulletin (1968), 24.
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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I have a true aversion to teaching. The perennial business of a professor of mathematics is only to teach the ABC of his science; most of the few pupils who go a step further, and usually to keep the metaphor, remain in the process of gathering information, become only Halbwisser [one who has superficial knowledge of the subject], for the rarer talents do not want to have themselves educated by lecture courses, but train themselves. And with this thankless work the professor loses his precious time.
Letter to Heinrich Olbers (26 Oct 1802). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 414.
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I have 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 love to read the dedications of old books written in monarchies–for they invariably honor some (usually insignificant) knight or duke with fulsome words of sycophantic insincerity, praising him as the light of the universe (in hopes, no doubt, for a few ducats to support future work); this old practice makes me feel like such an honest and upright man, by comparison, when I put a positive spin, perhaps ever so slightly exaggerated, on a grant proposal.
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I really enjoy good murder mystery writers, usually women, frequently English, because they have a sense of what the human soul is about and why people do dark and terrible things. I also read quite a lot in the area of particle physics and quantum mechanics, because this is theology. This is about the nature of being. This is what life is all about. I try to read as widely as I possibly can.
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I require a term to express those bodies which can pass to the electrodes, or, as they are usually called, the poles. Substances are frequently spoken of as being electro-negative, or electro-positive, according as they go under the supposed influence of a direct attraction to the positive or negative pole. But these terms are much too significant for the use to which I should have to put them; for though the meanings are perhaps right, they are only hypothetical, and may be wrong; and then, through a very imperceptible, but still very dangerous, because continual, influence, they do great injury to science, by contracting and limiting the habitual view of those engaged in pursuing it. I propose to distinguish these bodies by calling those anions which go to the anode of the decomposing body; and those passing to the cathode, cations; and when I have occasion to speak of these together, I shall call them ions.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1834, 124, 79.
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I was suffering from a sharp attack of intermittent fever, and every day during the cold and succeeding hot fits had to lie down for several hours, during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me. One day something brought to my recollection Malthus's 'Principles of Population', which I had read about twelve years before. I thought of his clear exposition of 'the positive checks to increase'—disease, accidents, war, and famine—which keep down the population of savage races to so much lower an average than that of more civilized peoples. It then occurred to me that these causes or their equivalents are continually acting in the case of animals also; and as animals usually breed much more rapidly than does mankind, the destruction every year from these causes must be enormous in order to keep down the numbers of each species, since they evidently do not increase regularly from year to year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been densely crowded with those that breed most quickly. Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live? The answer was clearly, that on the whole the best fitted live. From the effects of disease the most healthy escaped; from enemies, the strongest, swiftest, or the most cunning; from famine, the best hunters or those with the best digestion; and so on. Then it suddenly flashed upon me that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain—that is, the fittest would survive.
[The phrase 'survival of the fittest,' suggested by the writings of Thomas Robert Malthus, was expressed in those words by Herbert Spencer in 1865. Wallace saw the term in correspondence from Charles Darwin the following year, 1866. However, Wallace did not publish anything on his use of the expression until very much later, and his recollection is likely flawed.]
My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions (1905), Vol. 1, 361-362, or in reprint (2004), 190.
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I will now direct the attention of scientists to a previously unnoticed cause which brings about the metamorphosis and decomposition phenomena which are usually called decay, putrefaction, rotting, fermentation and moldering. This cause is the ability possessed by a body engaged in decomposition or combination, i.e. in chemical action, to give rise in a body in contact with it the same ability to undergo the same change which it experiences itself.
Annalen der Pharmacie 1839, 30, 262. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
…...
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If we view mathematical speculations with reference to their use, it appears that they should be divided into two classes. To the first belong those which furnish some marked advantage either to common life or to some art, and the value of such is usually determined by the magnitude of this advantage. The other class embraces those speculations which, though offering no direct advantage, are nevertheless valuable in that they extend the boundaries of analysis and increase our resources and skill. Now since many investigations, from which great advantage may be expected, must be abandoned solely because of the imperfection of analysis, no small value should be assigned to those speculations which promise to enlarge the field of anaylsis.
In Novi Comm. Petr., Vol. 4, Preface.
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In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 22.
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In departing from any settled opinion or belief, the variation, the change, the break with custom may come gradually; and the way is usually prepared; but the final break is made, as a rule, by some one individual, … who sees with his own eyes, and with an instinct or genius for truth, escapes from the routine in which his fellows live. But he often pays dearly for his boldness.
In The Harveian Oration, delivered before the Royal College of Physicians of London (18 Oct 1906). Printed in 'The Growth of Truth, as Illustrated in the Discovery of the Circulation of Blood', The Lancet (27 Oct 1906), Vol. 2, Pt. 2, 1114.
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In my opinion progress in science is usually made by dropping assumptions.
As quoted from first-hand conversation by Paul Davies, in About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution (1995, 1996), 199.
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In nature hybrid species are usually sterile, but in science the reverse is often true. Hybrid subjects are often astonishingly fertile, whereas if a scientific discipline remains too pure it usually wilts.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 150.
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In place of infinity we usually put some really big number, like 15.
Perhaps referring to the programmer’s hexadecimal counting scheme which has 16 digits (0-9 followed by digits A-F), useful in binary context as a power of 2.
Anonymous
Attributed to a Computer Science Professor on various web pages. Webmaster has found no print source for this wording and comments, but its originality makes it worthy of inclusion here. Webmaster comments: perhaps one of those infinite number of monkeys typed it! Please make contact if you know a primary print source.
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In the days when geology was young, now some two hundred years ago, it found a careful foster-mother in theology, who watched over its early growth with anxious solicitude, and stored its receptive mind with the most beautiful stories, which the young science never tired of transforming into curious fancies of its own, which it usually styled “theories of the earth.”
In British Association Address to Workingmen, 'Geology and Deluges', published in Nature (1984), 50, 505-510. Also printed in Popular Science Monthly (Dec 1894), 46 245.
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In the history of scientific development the personal aspects of the process are usually omitted or played down to emphasize that the thing discovered is independent of the discoverer and that the result can be checked. But, as Einstein has pointed out, scientific concepts are 'created in the minds of men,' and in some way the nonprofessional aspects of life and mind are inevitably related to the professional.
American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics Newsletter (Fall 2004).
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In the mathematical investigations I have usually employed such methods as present themselves naturally to a physicist. The pure mathematician will complain, and (it must be confessed) sometimes with justice, of deficient rigour. But to this question there are two sides. For, however important it may be to maintain a uniformly high standard in pure mathematics, the physicist may occasionally do well to rest content with arguments which are fairly satisfactory and conclusive from his point of view. To his mind, exercised in a different order of ideas, the more severe procedure of the pure mathematician may appear not more but less demonstrative. And further, in many cases of difficulty to insist upon the highest standard would mean the exclusion of the subject altogether in view of the space that would be required.
In Preface to second edition, The Theory of Sound (1894), Vol. 1, vii.
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In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge... to his mother in Lincolnshire & whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (wch brought an apple from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but that this power must extend much farther than was usually thought. Why not as high as the moon said he to himself & if so that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition but being absent from books & taking the common estimate in use among Geographers & our seamen before Norwood had measured the earth, that 60 English miles were contained in one degree of latitude on the surface of the Earth his computation did not agree with his theory & inclined him then to entertain a notion that together with the force of gravity there might be a mixture of that force wch the moon would have if it was carried along in a vortex.
[The earliest account of Newton, gravity and an apple.]
Memorandum of a conversation with Newton in August 1726. Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 154.
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In this country all a man need to do is to attain a little eminence and immediately he begins to talk. Usually his eminence is financial, and the greater this eminence the more he talks and the further his voice reaches. I don't blame the rich people for talking; many of them don’t know what else to do with themselves. The fault is with these who listen. If no one would listen no harm would he done. But the American people are willing to listen to any one who has attained prominence. The main fact is that we've heard a man's name a great many times; that makes us ready to accept whatever he says. … We listen to the one who talks the most and loudest.
As quoted in 'Electricity Will Keep The World From Freezing Up', New York Times (12 Nov 1911), SM4.
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Inasmuch as science represents one way of dealing with the world, it does tend to separate its practitioners from the rest. Being a scientist resembles membership of a religious order and a scientist usually finds that he has more in common with a colleague on the other side of the world than with his next-door neighbor.
In A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991).
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Indeed, nothing more beautifully simplifying has ever happened in the history of science than the whole series of discoveries culminating about 1914 which finally brought practically universal acceptance to the theory that the material world contains but two fundamental entities, namely, positive and negative electrons, exactly alike in charge, but differing widely in mass, the positive electron—now usually called a proton—being 1850 times heavier than the negative, now usually called simply the electron.
Time, Matter and Values (1932), 46. Cited in Karl Raimund Popper and William Warren Bartley (ed.), Quantum Theory and theSchism in Physics (1992), 37.
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Induction. The mental operation by which from a number of individual instances, we arrive at a general law. The process, according to Hamilton, is only logically valid when all the instances included in the law are enumerated. This being seldom, if ever, possible, the conclusion of an Induction is usually liable to more or less uncertainty, and Induction is therefore incapable of giving us necessary (general) truths.
Stated as narrative, not a direct quote, by his biographer W.H.S. Monck in 'Glossary of Philosophical Terms', appended in Sir William Hamilton (1881), 181.
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Intelligence is a valuable thing, but it is not usually the key to survival. Sheer fecundity ... usually counts. The intelligent gorilla doesn't do as well as the less intelligent but more-fecund rat, which doesn't do as well as the still-less-intelligent but still-more-fecund cockroach, which doesn't do as well as the minimally-intelligent but maximally-fecund bacterium.
'Fifty Million Big Brothers'. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Nov 1978), 55, No. 5, 93.
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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 has been said by a distinguished philosopher that England is “usually the last to enter into the general movement of the European mind.” The author of the remark probably meant to assert that a man or a system may have become famous on the continent, while we are almost ignorant of the name of the man and the claims of his system. Perhaps, however, a wider range might be given to the assertion. An exploded theory or a disadvantageous practice, like a rebel or a patriot in distress, seeks refuge on our shores to spend its last days in comfort if not in splendour.
Opening from essay, 'Elementary Geometry', included in The Conflict of Studies and Other Essays (1873), 136.
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It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find him writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 61 (Hardy's opening lines after Snow's foreward).
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It is curious to observe with what different degrees of architectonic skill Providence has endowed birds of the same genus, and so nearly correspondent in their general mode of life! for while the swallow and the house-martin discover the greatest address in raising and securely fixing crusts or shells of loam as cunabula for their young, the bank-martin terebrates a round and regular hole in the sand or earth, which is serpentine, horizontal, and about two feet deep. At the inner end of this burrow does this bird deposit, in a good degree of safety, her rude nest, consisting of fine grasses and feathers, usually goose-feathers, very inartificially laid together.
In Letter to Daines Barrington, (26 Feb 1774), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 176.
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It is fashionable nowadays to talk about the endless riches of the sea. The ocean is regarded as a sort of bargain basement, but I don’t agree with that estimate. People don’t realize that water in the liquid state is very rare in the universe. Away from earth it is usually a gas. This moisture is a blessed treasure, and it is our basic duty, if we don’t want to commit suicide, to preserve it.
As quoted by Nancy Hicks in 'Cousteau’s Philosophy of the Sea Helps Him Get Another Medal', New York Times (25 Oct 1970), 54.
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It is not easy to imagine how little interested a scientist usually is in the work of any other, with the possible exception of the teacher who backs him or the student who honors him.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 195.
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It is notorious that the same discovery is frequently made simultaneously and quite independently, by different persons. Thus, to speak of only a few cases in late years, the discoveries of photography, of electric telegraphy, and of the planet Neptune through theoretical calculations, have all their rival claimants. It would seem, that discoveries are usually made when the time is ripe for them—that is to say, when the ideas from which they naturally flow are fermenting in the minds of many men.
Hereditary Genius (1869), 192.
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It is sometimes helpful to differentiate between the God of Miracles and the God of Order. When scientists use the word God, they usually mean the God of Order. …The God of Miracles intervenes in our affairs, performs miracles, destroys wicked cities, smites enemy armies, drowns the Pharaoh's troops, and avenges the pure and noble. …This is not to say that miracles cannot happen, only that they are outside what is commonly called science.
In 'Conclusion', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 330-331.
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It is usually not recognized that for every injurious or parasitic microbe there are dozens of beneficial ones. Without the latter, there would be no bread to eat nor wine to drink, no fertile soils and no potable waters, no clothing and no sanitation. One can visualize no form of higher life without the existence of the microbes. They are the universal scavengers. They keep in constant circulation the chemical elements which are so essential to the continuation of plant and animal life.
In My Life With the Microbes (1954), 4.
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It is well known that theoretical physicists cannot handle experimental equipment; it breaks whenever they touch it. Pauli was such a good theoretical physicist that something usually broke in the lab whenever he merely stepped across the threshold. A mysterious event that did not seem at first to be connected with Pauli's presence once occurred in Professor J. Franck's laboratory in Göttingen. Early one afternoon, without apparent cause, a complicated apparatus for the study of atomic phenomena collapsed. Franck wrote humorously about this to Pauli at his Zürich address and, after some delay, received an answer in an envelope with a Danish stamp. Pauli wrote that he had gone to visit Bohr and at the time of the mishap in Franck's laboratory his train was stopped for a few minutes at the Göttingen railroad station. You may believe this anecdote or not, but there are many other observations concerning the reality of the Pauli Effect!
From Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory (1966), 64. Note the so-called Pauli Effect is merely anecdotal to provide humor about supposed parapsychology phenomena in coincidences involving Pauli; it should not be confused with scientifically significant Pauli Exclusion Principle.
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It need scarcely be pointed out that with such a mechanism complete isolation of portion of a species should result relatively rapidly in specific differentiation, and one that is not necessarily adaptive. The effective inter­group competition leading to adaptive advance may be between species rather than races. Such isolation is doubtless usually geographic in character at the outset but may be clinched by the development of hybrid sterility. The usual difference of the chromosome complements of related species puts the importance of chromosome aberration as an evolutionary process beyond question, but, as I see it, this importance is not in the character differences which they bring (slight in balanced types), but rather in leading to the sterility of hybrids and thus making permanent the isolation of two groups.
How far do the observations of actual species and their subdivisions conform to this picture? This is naturally too large a subject for more than a few suggestions.
That evolution involves non-adaptive differentiation to a large extent at the subspecies and even the species level is indicated by the kinds of differences by which such groups are actually distinguished by systematics. It is only at the subfamily and family levels that clear-cut adaptive differences become the rule. The principal evolutionary mechanism in the origin of species must thus be an essentially nonadaptive one.
In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics: Ithaca, New York, 1932 (1932) Vol. 1, 363-364.
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It seems to me that every phenomenon, every fact, itself is the really interesting object. Whoever explains it, or connects it with other events, usually only amuses himself or makes sport of us, as, for instance, the naturalist or historian. But a single action or event is interesting, not because it is explainable, but because it is true.
Quoted in translated from Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten in Franz Boas, 'The Study of Geography', Science Supplement (11 Feb 1881), 9, No. 210, 139.
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It usually develops that after much laborious and frustrating effort the investigator of environmental physiology succeeds in proving that the animal in question can actually exist where it lives. It is always somewhat discouraging for an investigator to realize that his efforts can be made to appear so trite, but this statement does not belittle the ecological physiologist. If his data assist the understanding of the ways in which an animal manages to live where it does, he makes an important contribution to the study of distribution, for the present is necessarily a key to the past.”
From 'The role of physiology in the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates', collected in C.L. Hubbs (ed.), Zoogeography: Publ. 51 (1958), 84.
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It usually takes me from five to seven years to perfect a thing. Some things I have been working on for twenty-five years—and some of them are still unsolved. My average would be about seven years. The incandescent light was the hardest one of all: it took many years not only of concentrated thought but also of world-wide research. The storage battery took eight years. It took even longer to perfect the phonograph.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 86.
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I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
Seventh stanza of poem 'On Turning 70'. The poem is printed in Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, Annual Report 2004 (2005), no page number.
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Later is usually too late.
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 245.
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Lawyers have to make a living and can only do so by inducing people to believe that a straight line is crooked. This accounts for their penchant for politics, where they can usually find everything crooked enough to delight their hearts.
As quoted in Harry Black, Canada and the Nobel Prize: Biographies, Portraits and Fascinating Facts (2002), 19.
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Man has generally been preoccupied with obtaining as much “production” from the landscape as possible, by developing and maintaining early successional types of ecosystems, usually monocultures. But, of course, man does not live by food and fiber alone; he also needs a balanced CO2-O2 atmosphere, the climactic buffer provided by oceans and masses of vegetation, and clean (that is, unproductive) water for cultural and industrial uses. Many essential life-cycle resources, not to mention recreational and esthetic needs, are best provided man by the less 'productive' landscapes. In other words, the landscape is not just a supply depot but is also the oikos—the home—in which we must live.
'The Strategy of Ecosystem Development. An Understanding of Ecological Succession Provides a Basis for Resolving Man's Conflict with Nature', Science (1969), 164, 266.
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Man, whose organization is regarded as the highest, departs from the vertebrate archetype; and it is because the study of anatomy is usually commenced from, and often confined to, his structure, that a knowledge of the archetype has been so long hidden from anatomists.
'The Lexington Papers', The Quarterly Review (1851), 89, 450-1.
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Melvin [Calvin]’s marvellous technique for delivering a scientific lecture was unique. His mind must have roamed constantly, especially in planning lectures. His remarkable memory enabled him to formulate a lecture or manuscript with no breaks in the sequence of his thoughts. His lectures usually began hesitatingly, as if he had little idea of how to begin or what to say. This completely disarmed his audiences, who would try to guess what he might have to say. Soon enough, however, his ideas would coalesce, to be delivered like an approaching freight train, reaching a crescendo of information at breakneck speed and leaving his rapt audience nearly overwhelmed.
Co-author with Andrew A. Benson, 'Melvin Calvin', Biographical Memoirs of the US National Academy of Science.
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Microbiology is usually regarded as having no relevance to the feelings and aspirations of the man of flesh and bone. Yet, never in my professional life do I find myself far removed from the man of flesh and bone. It is not only because microbes are ubiquitous in our environment, and therefore must be studied for the sake of human welfare. More interesting, and far more important in the long run, is the fact that microbes exhibit profound resemblances to man. They resemble him in their physical makeup, in their properties, in their responses to various stimuli; they also display associations with other living things which have perplexing and illuminating analogies with human societies.
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Most classifications, whether of inanimate objects or of organisms, are hierarchical. There are “higher” and “lower” categories, there are higher and lower ranks. What is usually overlooked is that the use of the term “hierarchy” is ambiguous, and that two fundamentally different kinds of arrangements have been designated as hierarchical. A hierarchy can be either exclusive or inclusive. Military ranks from private, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, up to general are a typical example of an exclusive hierarchy. A lower rank is not a subdivision of a higher rank; thus, lieutenants are not a subdivision of captains. The scala naturae, which so strongly dominated thinking from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, is another good illustration of an exclusive hierarchy. Each level of perfection was considered an advance (or degradation) from the next lower (or higher) level in the hierarchy, but did not include it.
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 205-6.
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Most of his [Euler’s] memoirs are contained in the transactions of the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, and in those of the Academy at Berlin. From 1728 to 1783 a large portion of the Petropolitan transactions were filled by his writings. He had engaged to furnish the Petersburg Academy with memoirs in sufficient number to enrich its acts for twenty years—a promise more than fulfilled, for down to 1818 [Euler died in 1793] the volumes usually contained one or more papers of his. It has been said that an edition of Euler’s complete works would fill 16,000 quarto pages.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 263-264.
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Most of the crackpot papers which are submitted to The Physical Review are rejected, not because it is impossible to understand them, but because it is possible. Those which are impossible to understand are usually published. When the great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer himself it will be only half-understood; to everybody else it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.
In 'Innovation in Physics', Scientific American (Sep 1958), 199. Collected in From Eros to Gaia (1993).
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My main point today is that usually one gets what one expects, but very rarely in the way one expected it. (1970)
Draft (22 May 1970) of speech he hoped to give upon his retirement. In Susan Hough, Richter's Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man (2007), 309.
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My method consists in allowing the mind to play freely for a very brief period, until a couple or so of ideas have passed through it, and then, while the traces or echoes of those ideas are still lingering in the brain, to turn the attention upon them with a sudden and complete awakening; to arrest, to scrutinise them, and to record their exact appearance... The general impression they have left upon me is like that which many of us have experienced when the basement of our house happens to be under thorough sanitary repairs, and we realise for the first time the complex system of drains and gas and water pipes, flues, bell-wires, and so forth, upon which our comfort depends, but which are usually hidden out of sight, and with whose existence, so long as they acted well, we had never troubled ourselves.
Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883),185-6.
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My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful, but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.
As quoted by Freeman Dyson in Obituary for Hermann Weyl in Nature (10 Mar 1956). In James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), Vol. 3, 1831.
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My work has always tried to unite the true with the beautiful and when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.
In Obituary by Freeman J. Dyson, 'Prof. Hermann Weyl, For. Mem. R.S.', Nature (10 Mar 1956), 177, 458. Dyson notes that this was told to him personally, by Weyl who was “half joking”.
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Natural powers, principally those of steam and falling water, are subsidized and taken into human employment Spinning-machines, power-looms, and all the mechanical devices, acting, among other operatives, in the factories and work-shops, are but so many laborers. They are usually denominated labor-saving machines, but it would be more just to call them labor-doing machines. They are made to be active agents; to have motion, and to produce effect; and though without intelligence, they are guided by laws of science, which are exact and perfect, and they produce results, therefore, in general, more accurate than the human hand is capable of producing.
Speech in Senate (12 Mar 1838). In The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster (1903), Vol. 8, 177.
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Nature, … in order to carry out the marvelous operations [that occur] in animals and plants has been pleased to construct their organized bodies with a very large number of machines, which are of necessity made up of extremely minute parts so shaped and situated as to form a marvelous organ, the structure and composition of which are usually invisible to the naked eye without the aid of a microscope. … Just as Nature deserves praise and admiration for making machines so small, so too the physician who observes them to the best of his ability is worthy of praise, not blame, for he must also correct and repair these machines as well as he can every time they get out of order.
'Reply to Doctor Sbaraglia' in Opera Posthuma (1697), in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 1, 568.
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Nature. As the word is now commonly used it excludes nature's most interesting productions—the works of man. Nature is usually taken to mean mountains, rivers, clouds and undomesticated animals and plants. I am not indifferent to this half of nature, but it interests me much less than the other half.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 220.
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New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.
In 'The Epistle Dedicatory', Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), second unnumbered page.
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No Geologist worth anything is permanently bound to a desk or laboratory, but the charming notion that true science can only be based on unbiased observation of nature in the raw is mythology. Creative work, in geology and anywhere else, is interaction and synthesis: half-baked ideas from a bar room, rocks in the field, chains of thought from lonely walks, numbers squeezed from rocks in a laboratory, numbers from a calculator riveted to a desk, fancy equipment usually malfunctioning on expensive ships, cheap equipment in the human cranium, arguments before a road cut.
An Urchin in the Storm (1988), 98.
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No one believes an hypothesis except its originator but everyone believes an experiment except the experimenter. Most people are ready to believe something based on experiment but the experimenter knows the many little things that could have gone wrong in the experiment. For this reason the discoverer of a new fact seldom feels quite so confident of it as others do. On the other hand other people are usually critical of an hypothesis, whereas the originator identifies himself with it and is liable to become devoted to it.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 47.
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No one can take from us the joy of the first becoming aware of something, the so-called discovery. But if we also demand the honor, it can be utterly spoiled for us, for we are usually not the first. What does discovery mean, and who can say that he has discovered this or that? After all it’s pure idiocy to brag about priority; for it’s simply unconscious conceit, not to admit frankly that one is a plagiarist.
Epigraph to Lancelot Law Whyte, The Unconscious before Freud (1960).
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Now of the difficulties bound up with the public in which we doctors work, I hesitate to speak in a mixed audience. Common sense in matters medical is rare, and is usually in inverse ratio to the degree of education.
'Teaching and Thinking' (1894). In Aequanimitas with Other Addresses to Medical Students, Nurses and Practitioners of Medicine (1904), 131.
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Nowadays the field naturalist—who is usually at all points superior to the mere closet naturalist—follows a profession as full of hazard and interest as that of the explorer or of the big-game hunter in the remote wilderness.
African Game Trails (1910), 414-415.
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One of the many useful properties of giant nerve fibres is that samples of protoplasm or axoplasm as it is usually called can be obtained by squeezing out the contents from a cut end … As in many other cells there is a high concentration of potassium ions and relatively low concentration of sodium and chloride ions. This is the reverse of the situation in the animals’ blood or in sea water, where sodium and chloride are the dominant ions and potassium is relatively dilute.
The Conduction of the Nervous Impulse (1964), 27.
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Our knowledge of stars and interstellar matter must be based primarily on the electromagnetic radiation which reaches us. Nature has thoughtfully provided us with a universe in which radiant energy of almost all wave lengths travels in straight lines over enormous distances with usually rather negligible absorption.
In 'Flying Telescopes', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 191.
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Palaeontology is the Aladdin’s lamp of the most deserted and lifeless regions of the earth; it touches the rocks and there spring forth in orderly succession the monarchs of the past and the ancient river streams and savannahs wherein they flourished. The rocks usually hide their story in the most difficult and inaccessible places.
In On the Trail of Ancient Man (1926), x.
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People are usually not very good in checking formal correctness of proofs, but they are quite good at detecting potential weaknesses or flaws in proofs.
In 'On Proof and Progress in Mathematics', For the Learning of Mathematics (Feb 1995), 15, No. 1, 33. Reprinted from Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (1994), 30, No. 2, 170.
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People are usually surprised to discover that I hate the phrase “constitutional rights.” I hate the phrase because it is terribly misleading. Most of the people who say it or hear it have the impression that the Constitution “grants” them their rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strictly speaking it is the Bill of Rights that enumerates our rights, but none of our founding documents bestow anything on you at all [...] The government can burn the Constitution and shred the Bill of Rights, but those actions wouldn’t have the slightest effect on the rights you’ve always had.
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People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
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People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.
In Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 84.
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Physicists are, as a general rule, highbrows. They think and talk in long, Latin words, and when they write anything down they usually include at least one partial differential and three Greek letters.
In 'A Newsman Looks at Physicists', Physics Today (May 1948), 1, No. 1, 15.
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Progress is made by trial and failure; the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes; yet they are usually left unchronicled. The reason is that the investigator feels that even though he has failed in achieving an expected result, some other more fortunate experimenter may succeed, and it is unwise to discourage his attempts.
From 'Radium and its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 110, No. 655, 52.
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Question: Why are Professors like the Mafia?
Answer: Because they usually only kill their own.
Anonymous
As given in William Reville, 'The Science of Writing a Good Joke', The Irish Times (5 Jun 2000).
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Results rarely specify their causes unambiguously. If we have no direct evidence of fossils or human chronicles, if we are forced to infer a process only from its modern results, then we are usually stymied or reduced to speculation about probabilities. For many roads lead to almost any Rome.
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Science can be thought of as a large pool of knowledge, fed by a steady flow from the tap of basic research. Every now and then the water is dipped out and put to use, but one never knows which part of the water will be needed. This confuses the funding situation for basic science, because usually no specific piece of scientific work can be justified in advance; one cannot know which is going to be decisive. Yet history shows that keeping water flowing into the pool is a very worthwhile enterprise.
In 'Technology Development', Science (1983), 220, 576-580. As quoted and cited in H. Charles Romesburg, Best Research Practices (2009), 213.
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Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can’t talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.
'How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later,' introduction, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (1986).
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Science is a human activity, and the best way to understand it is to understand the individual human beings who practise it. Science is an art form and not a philosophical method. The great advances in science usually result from new tools rather than from new doctrines. ... Every time we introduce a new tool, it always leads to new and unexpected discoveries, because Nature's imagination is richer than ours.
Concluding remark from 'The Scientist As Rebel' American Mathemtical Monthly (1996), 103, 805. Reprinted in The Scientist as Rebel (2006), 17-18, identified as originally written for a lecture (1992), then published as an essay in the New York Review.
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Science is the art of the appropriate approximation. While the flat earth model is usually spoken of with derision it is still widely used. Flat maps, either in atlases or road maps, use the flat earth model as an approximation to the more complicated shape.
In 'On the Nature of Science', Physics in Canada (Jan/Feb 2007), 63, No. 1, 13.
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Science recognizes no personal powers in the universe responsive to the prayers and needs of men. Belief in mysterious powers which constitutes, according to our definition, the conceptual aspect of religion is usually an animistic belief in personal powers. Science in effect denies the existence of spiritual beings which religion affirms.
Religion in Human Affairs (1929), 470.
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Science robs men of wisdom and usually converts them into phantom beings loaded up with facts.
In Miguel de Unamuno and John Ernest Crawford Flitch (trans.), 'Arbitrary Reflections Upon Europeanization', Essays and Soliloquies, (1925), 55.
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Sciences usually advances by a succession of small steps, through a fog in which even the most keen-sighted explorer can seldom see more than a few paces ahead. Occasionally the fog lifts, an eminence is gained, and a wider stretch of territory can be surveyed—sometimes with startling results. A whole science may then seem to undergo a kaleidoscopic rearrangement, fragments of knowledge sometimes being found to fit together in a hitherto unsuspected manner. Sometimes the shock of readjustment may spread to other sciences; sometimes it may divert the whole current of human thought.
Opening paragraph, Physics and Philosophy (1943), 217, 1.
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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Significant inventions are not mere accidents. The erroneous view [that they are] is widely held, and it is one that the scientific and technical community, unfortunately, has done little to dispel. Happenstance usually plays a part, to be sure, but there is much more to invention than the popular notion of a bolt out of the blue. Knowledge in depth and in breadth are virtual prerequisites. Unless the mind is thoroughly charged beforehand, the proverbial spark of genius, if it should manifest itself, probably will find nothing to ignite.
Speech, at award of Perkin Medal. As quoted in 'Introduction', Royston M. Roberts, Serendipity (1989), x.
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Some of the worst tyrannies of our day genuinely are ‘vowed’ to the service of mankind, yet can function only by pitting neighbor against neighbor. The all-seeing eye of a totalitarian regime is usually the watchful eye of the next-door neighbor. In a Communist state love of neighbor may be classed as counter-revolutionary.
In 'Brotherhood', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 91.
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Subtlety is not a proof of wisdom. Fools and even madmen are at times extraordinarily subtle. One can add that subtlety rarely combines with genius, which is usually ingenuous, or with greatness of character, which is always frank.
(1827). In Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, John Bayley (ed.), Pushkin on Literature (1986), 211.
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That a free, or at least an unsaturated acid usually exists in the stomachs of animals, and is in some manner connected with the important process of digestion, seems to have been the general opinion of physiologists till the time of SPALLANZANI. This illustrious philosopher concluded, from his numerous experiments, that the gastric fluids, when in a perfectly natural state, are neither acid nor alkaline. Even SPALLANZANI, however, admitted that the contents of the stomach are very generally acid; and this accords not only with my own observation, but with that, I believe, of almost every individual who has made any experiments on the subject. ... The object of the present communication is to show, that the acid in question is the muriatic [hydrochloric] acid, and that the salts usually met with in the stomach, are the alkaline muriates.
'On the Nature of the Acid and Saline Matters Usually Existing in the Stomachs of Animals', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1824), 114, 45-6.
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The Qualities then that are in Bodies rightly considered, are of Three sorts.
First, the Bulk, Figure, Number, Situation, and Motion, or Rest of their solid Parts; those are in them, whether we perceive them or no; and when they are of that size, that we can discover them, we have by these an Idea of the thing, as it is in it self, as is plain in artificial things. These I call primary Qualities.
Secondly, The Power that is in any Body, by Reason of its insensible primary Qualities, to operate after a peculiar manner on any of our Senses, and thereby produce in us the different Ideas of several Colours, Sounds, Smells, Tastes, etc. These are usually called sensible Qualities.
Thirdly, The Power that is in any Body, by Reason of the particular Constitution of its primary Qualities, to make such a change in the Bulk, Figure, Texture, and Motion of another Body, as to make it operate on our Senses, differently from what it did before. Thus the Sun has a Power to make Wax white, and Fire to make Lead fluid. These are usually called Powers.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 23, 140-1.
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The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque. The consciousness of this extraordinary state of affairs would be unbearable but for one great consoling thought: it is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose ambitions lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large section of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealistic outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is usually decried as a particularly materialistic country.
From Mein Weltbild, as translated by Alan Harris (trans.), 'Some Notes on my American Impressions', The World as I See It (1956, 1993), 37-38.
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The discovery which has been pointed to by theory is always one of profound interest and importance, but it is usually the close and crown of a long and fruitful period, whereas the discovery which comes as a puzzle and surprise usually marks a fresh epoch and opens a new chapter in science.
Becquerel Memorial Lecture, Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (1912), 101(2), 2005. Quoted by Simon Flexnor in 'The Scientific Career for Women', a commencement address at Bryn Mawr College (2 Jun 1921), The Scientific Monthly (Aug 1921), 13, 98.
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The first acquaintance which most people have with mathematics is through arithmetic. That two and two make four is usually taken as the type of a simple mathematical proposition which everyone will have heard of. … The first noticeable fact about arithmetic is that it applies to everything, to tastes and to sounds, to apples and to angels, to the ideas of the mind and to the bones of the body.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 9.
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The fundamental idea of these pylons, or great archways, is based on a method of construction peculiar to me, of which the principle consists in giving to the edges of the pyramid a curve of such a nature that this pyramid shall be capable of resisting the force of the wind without necessitating the junction of the edges by diagonals as is usually done.
Writing of his tower after its completion in 1889. As quoted (translated) in 'Eiffel’s Monument His Famous Tower', New York Times (6 Jan 1924), X8.
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The game of status seeking, organized around committees, is played in roughly the same fashion in Africa and in America and in the Soviet Union. Perhaps the aptitude for this game is a part of our genetic inheritance, like the aptitude for speech and for music. The game has had profound consequences for science. In science, as in the quest for a village water supply, big projects bring enhanced status; small projects do not. In the competition for status, big projects usually win, whether or not they are scientifically justified. As the committees of academic professionals compete for power and influence, big science becomes more and more preponderant over small science. The large and fashionable squeezes out the small and unfashionable. The space shuttle squeezes out the modest and scientifically more useful expendable launcher. The Great Observatory squeezes out the Explorer. The centralized adduction system squeezes out the village well. Fortunately, the American academic system is pluralistic and chaotic enough that first-rate small science can still be done in spite of the committees. In odd corners, in out-of the-way universities, and in obscure industrial laboratories, our Fulanis are still at work.
From a Danz lecture at University of Washington, 'Six Cautionary Tales for Scientists' (1988), collected in From Eros to Gaia (1992), Vol. 5, 19.
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The general mental qualification necessary for scientific advancement is that which is usually denominated “common sense,” though added to this, imagination, induction, and trained logic, either of common language or of mathematics, are important adjuncts.
From presidential address (24 Nov 1877) to the Philosophical Society of Washington. As cited by L.A. Bauer in his retiring president address (5 Dec 1908), 'The Instruments and Methods of Research', published in Philosophical Society of Washington Bulletin, 15, 103. Reprinted in William Crookes (ed.) The Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science (30 Jul 1909), 59.
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The great mathematician, like the great poet or naturalist or great administrator, is born. My contention shall be that where the mathematic endowment is found, there will usually be found associated with it, as essential implications in it, other endowments in generous measure, and that the appeal of the science is to the whole mind, direct no doubt to the central powers of thought, but indirectly through sympathy of all, rousing, enlarging, developing, emancipating all, so that the faculties of will, of intellect and feeling learn to respond, each in its appropriate order and degree, like the parts of an orchestra to the “urge and ardor” of its leader and lord.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 22.
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The history of acceptance of new theories frequently shows the following steps: At first the new idea is treated as pure nonsense, not worth looking at. Then comes a time when a multitude of contradictory objections are raised, such as: the new theory is too fancy, or merely a new terminology; it is not fruitful, or simply wrong. Finally a state is reached when everyone seems to claim that he had always followed this theory. This usually marks the last state before general acceptance.
In 'Field Theory and the Phase Space', collected in Melvin Herman Marx, Psychological Theory: Contemporary Readings (1951), 299.
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The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’
…...
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The history of this paper suggests that highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society, which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matters of uncertain value. Perhaps one may go further and say that a young author who believes himself capable of great things would usually do well to secure the favourable recognition of the scientific world by work whose scope is limited and whose value is easily judged, before embarking upon higher flights.
'On the Physics of Media that are Composed of Free and Perfectly Elastic Molecules in a State of Motion', Philosophical Transactions (1892), 183, 560.
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The main thing that induces me to question the safeness of the vulgar methodus medendi in many cases is the consideration of the nature of those Helps they usually employ, and some of which are honoured with the title of Generous Remedies. These helps are Bleeding, Vomiting, Purging, Sweating, and Spitting, of which I briefly observe in General, that they are sure to weaken or discompose when they are imployed, but do not certainly cure afterwards.
RSMS 199, Folio 177v. Michael Hunter identfies as passages or a suppressed work, Considerations and Doubts Touching the Vulgar Method of Physick. Quoted In Barbara Kaplan (ed.), Divulging of Useful Truths in Physick: The Medical Agenda of Robert Boyle (1993), 138.
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The maintenance of biological diversity requires special measures that extend far beyond the establishment of nature reserves. Several reasons for this stand out. Existing reserves have been selected according to a number of criteria, including the desire to protect nature, scenery, and watersheds, and to promote cultural values and recreational opportunities. The actual requirements of individual species, populations, and communities have seldom been known, nor has the available information always been employed in site selection and planning for nature reserves. The use of lands surrounding nature reserves has typically been inimical to conservation, since it has usually involved heavy use of pesticides, industrial development, and the presence of human settlements in which fire, hunting, and firewood gathering feature as elements of the local economy.
The Fragmented Forest: Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation of Biotic Diversity (1984), xii.
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The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair.
Mostly Harmless
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The mark of a true doctor is usually illegible.
Anonymous
In Eugene E. Brussell, Webster's New World Dictionary of Quotable Definitions (2006), 151
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The mathematical conception is, from its very nature, abstract; indeed its abstractness is usually of a higher order than the abstractness of the logician.
In 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (1883), Vol. 15, 636.
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The Mathematics are usually considered as being the very antipodes of Poesy. Yet Mathesis and Poesy are of the closest kindred, for they are both works of imagination. Poetry is a creation, a making, a fiction; and the Mathematics have been called, by an admirer of them, the sublimest and the most stupendous of fictions. It is true, they are not only μάθησις learning, but ποίησις, a creation.
From a review of William Rowan Hamilton’s, Lectures on Quaternions (1853), in 'The Imagination in Mathematics', The North American Review (Jul 1857), 85, No. 176, 229. Also in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 189. The original text has “Poetry is a creation…” but the latter text gives “Poesy is a creation…”.
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The origin of a science is usually to be sought for not in any systematic treatise, but in the investigation and solution of some particular problem. This is especially the case in the ordinary history of the great improvements in any department of mathematical science. Some problem, mathematical or physical, is proposed, which is found to be insoluble by known methods. This condition of insolubility may arise from one of two causes: Either there exists no machinery powerful enough to effect the required reduction, or the workmen are not sufficiently expert to employ their tools in the performance of an entirely new piece of work. The problem proposed is, however, finally solved, and in its solution some new principle, or new application of old principles, is necessarily introduced. If a principle is brought to light it is soon found that in its application it is not necessarily limited to the particular question which occasioned its discovery, and it is then stated in an abstract form and applied to problems of gradually increasing generality.
Other principles, similar in their nature, are added, and the original principle itself receives such modifications and extensions as are from time to time deemed necessary. The same is true of new applications of old principles; the application is first thought to be merely confined to a particular problem, but it is soon recognized that this problem is but one, and generally a very simple one, out of a large class, to which the same process of investigation and solution are applicable. The result in both of these cases is the same. A time comes when these several problems, solutions, and principles are grouped together and found to produce an entirely new and consistent method; a nomenclature and uniform system of notation is adopted, and the principles of the new method become entitled to rank as a distinct science.
In A Treatise on Projections (1880), Introduction, xi. Published as United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, Treasury Department Document, No. 61.
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The problems of analyzing war operations are … rather nearer, in general, to many problems, say of biology or of economics, than to most problems of physics, where usually a great deal of numerical data are ascertainable about relatively simple phenomena.
In report at the British Association Annual Meeting, Dundee (30 Aug 1947), published in 'Operational Research in War and Peace', The Advancement of Science (1948), 17, 320-332. Collected in P.M.S. Blackett, Studies of War: Nuclear and Conventional (1962), 177.
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The progress of science depends less than is usually believed on the efforts and performance of the individual genius ... many important discoveries have been made by men of ordinary talents, simply because chance had made them, at the proper time and in the proper place and circumstances, recipients of a body of doctrines, facts and techniques that rendered almost inevitable the recognition of an important phenomenon. It is surprising that some historian has not taken malicious pleasure in writing an anthology of 'one discovery' scientists. Many exciting facts have been discovered as a result of loose thinking and unimaginative experimentation, and described in wrappings of empty words. One great discovery does not betoken a great scientist; science now and then selects insignificant standard bearers to display its banners.
Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1986), 368
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The progression of physical science is much more connected with your prosperity than is usually imagined. You owe to experimental philosophy some of the most important and peculiar of your advantages. It is not by foreign conquests chiefly that you are become great, but by a conquest of nature in your own country.
From an introductory lecture to a course on electro-chemical science in 1809, quoted in 'Extracts' in J. Davy (ed.), The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy (1839-40), Vol. 8, 358.
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The science of systematics has long been affected by profound philosophical preconceptions, which have been all the more influential for being usually covert, even subconscious.
The Major Features of Evolution (1953), 340.
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The seed is the fetus, in other words, a true plant with its parts (that is, its leaves, of which there are usually two, its stalk or stem, and its bud) completely fashioned.
'On the Developmental Process', in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 2, 845.
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The so-called science of psychology is now in chaos, with no sign that order is soon to be restored. It is hard to find two of its professors who agree, and when the phenomenon is encountered it usually turns out that one of them is not a psychologist at all, but simply a teacher of psychology. … Not even anthropology offers a larger assortment of conflicting theories, or a more gaudy band of steaming and blood-sweating professors.
From book review (of Psychology: A Simplification) in American Mercury (Jul 1927), 582-583. Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 317.
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The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. ... It was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York.
[The year-round growth of green grass in the Mediterranean climate meant that hay was not needed by the Romans. North of the Alps, hay maintained horses and oxen and thus their motive power, and productivity.]
In 'Quick is Beautiful', Infinite in All Directions: Gifford Lectures Given at Aberdeen, Scotland (1988, 2004), 135.
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The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York. ... Great inventions like hay and printing, whatever their immediate social costs may be, result in a permanent expansion of our horizons, a lasting acquisition of new territory for human bodies and minds to cultivate.
Infinite In All Directions (1988, 2004), 135. The book is a revised version of a series of the Gifford Lectures under the title 'In Praise of Diversity', given at Aberdeen, Scotland.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The tragedy of deforestation in Amazonia as well as elsewhere in the tropics is that its costs, in... economic, social, cultural, and aesthetic terms, far outweigh its benefits. In many cases, destruction of the region’s rainforests is motivated by short-term gains rather than the long-term productive capacity of the land. And, as a result, deforestation usually leaves behind landscapes that are economically as well as ecologically impoverished.
From Anthony Bennett Anderson (ed.), Alternatives to Deforestation: Steps Toward Sustainable Use of the Amazon Rain Forest (1990), xi. As cited in Lykke E. Andersen (ed.), The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth in the Brazilian Amazon (2002), 2.
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The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
…...
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The “seriousness” of a mathematical theorem lies, not in its practical consequences, which are usually negligible, but in the significance of the mathematical ideas which it connects.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 89.
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There are few enough people with sufficient independence to see the weaknesses and follies of their contemporaries and remain themselves untouched by them. And these isolated few usually soon lose their zeal for putting things to rights when they have come face to face with human obduracy. Only to a tiny minority is it given to fascinate their generation by subtle humour and grace and to hold the mirror up to it by the impersonal agency of art. To-day I salute with sincere emotion the supreme master of this method, who has delighted–and educated–us all.
…...
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There is something sublime in the secrecy in which the really great deeds of the mathematician are done. No popular applause follows the act; neither contemporary nor succeeding generations of the people understand it. The geometer must be tried by his peers, and those who truly deserve the title of geometer or analyst have usually been unable to find so many as twelve living peers to form a jury. Archimedes so far outstripped his competitors in the race, that more than a thousand years elapsed before any man appeared, able to sit in judgment on his work, and to say how far he had really gone. And in judging of those men whose names are worthy of being mentioned in connection with his,—Galileo, Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton, and the mathematicians created by Leibnitz and Newton’s calculus,—we are forced to depend upon their testimony of one another. They are too far above our reach for us to judge of them.
In 'Imagination in Mathematics', North American Review, 86, 223.
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There’s always wan encouragin’ thing about th’ sad scientific facts that come out ivrv week in th’ pa-apers. They’re usually not thrue.
In 'On the Descent of Man', Mr. Dooley on Making a Will (1919), 90.
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Those of us who were familiar with the state of inorganic chemistry in universities twenty to thirty years ago will recall that at that time it was widely regarded as a dull and uninteresting part of the undergraduate course. Usually, it was taught almost entirely in the early years of the course and then chiefly as a collection of largely unconnected facts. On the whole, students concluded that, apart from some relationships dependent upon the Periodic table, there was no system in inorganic chemistry comparable with that to be found in organic chemistry, and none of the rigour and logic which characterised physical chemistry. It was widely believed that the opportunities for research in inorganic chemistry were few, and that in any case the problems were dull and uninspiring; as a result, relatively few people specialized in the subject... So long as inorganic chemistry is regarded as, in years gone by, as consisting simply of the preparations and analysis of elements and compounds, its lack of appeal is only to be expected. The stage is now past and for the purpose of our discussion we shall define inorganic chemistry today as the integrated study of the formation, composition, structure and reactions of the chemical elements and compounds, excepting most of those of carbon.
Inaugural Lecture delivered at University College, London (1 Mar 1956). In The Renaissance of Inorganic Chemistry (1956), 4-5.
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Those who admire modern civilization usually identify it with the steam engine and the electric telegraph.
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Civilization', in Man and Superman (1903), 241.
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Those who reject biological evolution do so, usually, not out of reason, but out of unjustified vanity.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 86.
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Those who say "a penny for your thoughts" are usually being overgenerous.
Aphorism as given by the fictional character Dezhnev Senior, in Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987), 229.
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True majorities, in a TV-dominated and anti-intellectual age, may need sound bites and flashing lights–and I am not against supplying such lures if they draw children into even a transient concern with science. But every classroom has one [Oliver] Sacks, one [Eric] Korn, or one [Jonathan] Miller, usually a lonely child with a passionate curiosity about nature, and a zeal that overcomes pressures for conformity. Do not the one in fifty deserve their institutions as well–magic places, like cabinet museums, that can spark the rare flames of genius?
…...
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Truly grand and powerful theories … do not and cannot rest upon single observations. Evolution is an inference from thousands of independent sources, the only conceptual structure that can make unified sense of all this disparate information. The failure of a particular claim usually records a local error, not the bankruptcy of a central theory … If I mistakenly identify your father’s brother as your own dad, you don’t become genealogically rootless and created de novo. You still have a father; we just haven’t located him properly.
Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History (1998), 155.
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Trust your hunches. They're usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.
In How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life (1987), 110.
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Truth scarce ever yet carried it by Vote any where at its first appearance: New Opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other Reason, but because they are not already common.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), The Epistle Dedicatory, 4.
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Unavoidably, physics is usually expensive, and too many physicists find themselves with outdated or incomplete apparatus. The average factory worker in the United States has his productivity supported by a capital investment of $25,000 in machines and equipment. If physicists engaged in small science were as well supported as the average factory worker, they would share a total of ¾ billion dollars of depreciated equipment. I seriously doubt that they are that well supported.
In 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 50.
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Usually mathematicians have to shoot somebody to get this much publicity.
On the attention he received after finding the flaw in Intel’s Pentium chip in 1994. In Peter Baker, 'Hello, Mr. Chips: Va. Teacher Who Found Intel's Flaw', Washington Post (16 Dec 1994), A1.
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We academic scientists move within a certain sphere, we can go on being useless up to a point, in the confidence that sooner or later some use will be found for our studies. The mathematician, of course, prides himself on being totally useless, but usually turns out to be the most useful of the lot. He finds the solution but he is not interested in what the problem is: sooner or later, someone will find the problem to which his solution is the answer.
'Concluding Remarks', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A, A Discussion of New Materials, 1964, 282, 152-3.
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We have usually no knowledge that any one factor will exert its effects independently of all others that can be varied, or that its effects are particularly simply related to variations in these other factors.
The Design of Experiments (6th Ed., 1951), 92.
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We make a lot of mistakes in the environmental space. … We don’t do a good-enough job of asking, “What are the fundamentals of telling a good story?” And that is not statistics, it’s usually not science, or at least complex science. It’s people stories. … It’s got to have adventure, it’s got to be funny, it’s got to pull my heart strings, it’s got to have conflict, setting, character. It’s a story. And if it doesn’t have those things, it can be the best-meaning story in the world, and nobody’s going to buy it.
From interview with Dan Conover, 'A Conversation with Philippe Cousteau Jr.', Charleston City Paper (27 Jul 2012).
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We must be part not only of the human community, but of the whole community; we must acknowledge some sort of oneness not only with our neighbors, our countrymen and our civilization but also some respect for the natural as well as for the man-made community. Ours is not only “one world” in the sense usually implied by that term. It is also “one earth”. Without some acknowledgement of that fact, men can no more live successfully than they can if they refuse to admit the political and economic interdependency of the various sections of the civilized world. It is not a sentimental but a grimly literal fact that unless we share this terrestrial globe with creatures other than ourselves, we shall not be able to live on it for long.
The Voice of the Desert (1956), 194-5.
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We should admit in theory what is already very largely a case in practice, that the main currency of scientific information is the secondary sources in the forms of abstracts, reports, tables, &c., and that the primary sources are only for detailed reference by very few people. It is possible that the fate of most scientific papers will be not to be read by anyone who uses them, but with luck they will furnish an item, a number, some facts or data to such reports which may, but usually will not, lead to the original paper being consulted. This is very sad but it is the inevitable consequence of the growth of science. The number of papers that can be consulted is absolutely limited, no more time can be spent in looking up papers, by and large, than in the past. As the number of papers increase the chance of any one paper being looked at is correspondingly diminished. This of course is only an average, some papers may be looked at by thousands of people and may become a regular and fixed part of science but most will perish unseen.
'The Supply of Information to the Scientist: Some Problems of the Present Day', The Journal of Documentation, 1957, 13, 195.
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We should first look at the evidence that DNA itself is not the direct template that orders amino acid sequences. Instead, the genetic information of DNA is transferred to another class of molecules which then serve as the protein templates. These intermediate templates are molecules of ribonucleic acid (RNA), large polymeric molecules chemically very similar to DNA. Their relation to DNA and protein is usually summarized by the central dogma, a How scheme for genetic information first proposed some twenty years ago.
In Molecular Biology of the Gene (1965), 281-282.
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We talk about our high standard of living in this country. What we have is a high standard of work. Usually the peaks of civilization have been periods when a large proportion of the population had time to live. I don’t think we’re doing this today. I think the people who could live are still spending their time and supplementary resources on making a living.
As quoted in Frances Glennon, 'Student and Teacher of Human Ways', Life (14 Sep 1959), 147.
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What makes the theory of relativity so acceptable to physicists in spite of its going against the principle of simplicity is its great mathematical beauty. This is a quality which cannot be defined, any more than beauty in art can be defined, but which people who study mathematics usually have no difficulty in appreciating. … The restricted theory changed our ideas of space and time in a way that may be summarised by stating that the group of transformations to which the space-time continuum is subject must be changed from the Galilean group to the Lorentz group.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 123.
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What we usually consider as impossible are simply engineering problems…there’s no law of physics preventing them.
…...
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When adults first become conscious of something new, they usually either attack or try to escape from it ... Attack includes such mild forms as ridicule, and escape includes merely putting out of mind.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 65.
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When first I applied my mind to Mathematics I read straight away most of what is usually given by the mathematical writers, and I paid special attention to Arithmetic and Geometry because they were said to be the simplest and so to speak the way to all the rest. But in neither case did I then meet with authors who fully satisfied me. I did indeed learn in their works many propositions about numbers which I found on calculation to be true. As to figures, they in a sense exhibited to my eyes a great number of truths and drew conclusions from certain consequences. But they did not seem to make it sufficiently plain to the mind itself why these things are so, and how they discovered them. Consequently I was not surprised that many people, even of talent and scholarship, should, after glancing at these sciences, have either given them up as being empty and childish or, taking them to be very difficult and intricate, been deterred at the very outset from learning them. … But when I afterwards bethought myself how it could be that the earliest pioneers of Philosophy in bygone ages refused to admit to the study of wisdom any one who was not versed in Mathematics … I was confirmed in my suspicion that they had knowledge of a species of Mathematics very different from that which passes current in our time.
In Elizabeth S. Haldane (trans.) and G.R.T. Ross (trans.), 'Rules for the Direction of the Mind', The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911, 1973), Vol. 1, Rule 4, 11.
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When the chemist makes gloves, he usually cannot help making them in pairs for both hands.
'The Origin of Life: A Chemist’s Fantasy', Science Progress (1912), 7, 318.
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When two plants, constantly different in one or several traits, are crossed, the traits they have in common are transmitted unchanged to the hybrids and their progeny, as numerous experiments have proven; a pair of differing traits, on the other hand, are united in the hybrid to form a new trait, which usually is subject to changes in the hybrids' progeny.
'Experiments on Plant Hybrids' (1865). In Curt Stern and Eva R. Sherwood (eds.), The Origin of Genetics: A Mendel Source Book (1966), 5.
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When we ask advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.
From the original French, “Demander un conseil, c’est presque toujours chercher un complice”, in Actes de l'Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts de Bordeaux (1872), 479. Often seen misattributed to Saul Bellow.
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With the growth of knowledge our ideas must from time to time be organised afresh. The change takes place usually in accordance with new maxims as they arise, but it always remains provisional.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 186.
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Working is thinking, hence it is not always easy to give an exact accounting of one’s time. Usually I work about four to six hours a day. I am not a very diligent man.
In Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931), 105.
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You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity. When you get it right, it is obvious that it is right—at least if you have any experience—because usually what happens is that more comes out than goes in. … The inexperienced, the crackpots, and people like that, make guesses that are simple, but you can immediately see that they are wrong, so that does not count. Others, the inexperienced students, make guesses that are very complicated, and it sort of looks as if it is all right, but I know it is not true because the truth always turns out to be simpler than you thought.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 171.
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[In 18th-century Britain] engineers for the most began as simple workmen, skilful and ambitious but usually illiterate and self-taught. They were either millwrights like Bramah, mechanics like Murdoch and George Stephenson, or smiths like Newcomen and Maudslay.
In Science in History (1969), Vol. 2, 591.
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[Reporting after the now infamous 22 Jun 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River:] Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. “Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown,” Cleveland's citizens joke grimly. “He decays”... The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.” It is also—literally—-a fire hazard.
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As reported in Time magazine (1 Aug 1969).
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[There] are cases where there is no dishonesty involved but where people are tricked into false results by a lack of understanding about what human beings can do to themselves in the way of being led astray by subjective effects, wishful thinking or threshold interactions. These are examples of pathological science. These are things that attracted a great deal of attention. Usually hundreds of papers have been published upon them. Sometimes they have lasted for fifteen or twenty years and then they gradually die away.
[Coining the term “pathological science” for the self-deceiving application of science to a phenomenon that doesn't exist.]
From a Colloquium at The Knolls Research Laboratory (18 Dec 1953). Transcribed and edited by R. N. Hall. In General Electric Laboratories, Report No. 68-C-035 (April 1968).
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[To] explain the phenomena of the mineral kingdom ... systems are usually reduced to two classes, according as they refer to the origin of terrestrial bodies to FIRE or to WATER; and ... their followers have of late been distinguished by the fanciful names of Vulcanists and Neptunists. To the former of these Dr HUTTON belongs much more than to the latter; though, as he employs the agency both of fire and water in his system, he cannot, in strict propriety, be arranged with either.
Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802) collected in The Works of John Playfair (1822), Vol. 1, 21
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… the embryological record, as it is usually presented to us, is both imperfect and misleading. It may be compared to an ancient manuscript, with many of the sheets lost, others displaced, and with spurious passages interpolated by a later hand. … Like the scholar with his manuscript, the embryologist has by a process of careful and critical examination to determine where the gaps are present, to detect the later insertions, and to place in order what has been misplaced.
A Treatise on Comparative Embryology (1885), Vol. 1, 3-4.
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“Science for its own sake” usually means nothing more than science for the sake of the people who happen to be pursuing it.
In 'Standpoints in Scientific Medicine', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays (1958), 42.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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