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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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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index V > Category: Vacuum

Vacuum Quotes (34 quotes)

... perhaps ‘our universe is simply one of those things that happen from time to time.’
[Speaking of the Universe as a vacuum fluctuation.]
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Natura abhorret vacuum.
This is a maxim that goes back to the Aristotelian philosophers of ancient Greece. It is well-know in English as “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Expressed in Latin, the phrase appears, for example, in Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-64), book 1, chap. 5. Collected in Francois Rabelais, Thomas Urquhart (trans.) and Peter Le Motteux (trans.), Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1900), Vol. 1, 38.
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Question: A hollow indiarubber ball full of air is suspended on one arm of a balance and weighed in air. The whole is then covered by the receiver of an air pump. Explain what will happen as the air in the receiver is exhausted.
Answer: The ball would expand and entirely fill the vessell, driving out all before it. The balance being of greater density than the rest would be the last to go, but in the end its inertia would be overcome and all would be expelled, and there would be a perfect vacuum. The ball would then burst, but you would not be aware of the fact on account of the loudness of a sound varying with the density of the place in which it is generated, and not on that in which it is heard.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 181, Question 21. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Vacuum voco locum omnem in quo corpora sine resistentia movetur.
Vacuum I call every place in which a body is able to move without resistance.
Original Latin from an unpublished line in a manuscript draft of additions and corrections to the second edition of the Principia held by Cambridge University Library, 'Definition II', MS Add 3965 sec 13 [53-94] Draft No. 3 Folio 422r. As quoted and cited in J.E. McGuire, Tradition and Innovation: Newton’s Metaphysics of Nature (1995, 2011), 139. English translation as given in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 210.
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A Frenchman who arrives in London, will find Philosophy, like every Thing else, very much chang’d there. He had left the World a plenum, and he now finds it a vacuum. At Paris the Universe is seen, compos’d of Vortices of subtile Matter; but nothing like it is seen in London. In France, ‘tis the Pressure of the Moon that causes the Tides; but in England ‘tis the Sea that gravitates towards the Moon; so what when you think that the Moon should make it flood with us, those Gentlemen fancy it should be Ebb, which, very unluckily, cannot be prov’d. For to be able to do this, ‘tis necessary the Moon and the Tides should have been enquir’d into, at the very instant of the Creation.
Letter XIV. 'On DesCartes and Sir Isaac Newton', in Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733), 109-110.
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A vacuum is repugnant to reason.
A commonly seen shortened version of a longer quote. From the original Latin: “Repugnare ut detur vacuum, sive in quo nulla plane sit res.” Subtitle of Article XVI in Principia Philospphiæ (1644), Pars Secunda, XVI, 41-42. Also collected in Œuvres de Descartes (1905), Vol. 8, 49. As translated by John Veitch: “That a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely no body is repugnant to reason,” in Meditations and Selections from the Principles of Philosophy (1853, 1913), 185. [Note: In the French edition, the subtitle was translated as, “Qu'il ne peut y avoir aucun vuide au sens que les Philosophes prenent ce mot,” which in English would be, “That there can be no vacuum in the sense that Philosophers take this word.” In Les Principes de la Philosophie (1651), Seconde Partie, Article XVI, 75.]
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Bodies, projected in our air, suffer no resistance but from the air. Withdraw the air, as is done in Mr. Boyle's vacuum, and the resistance ceases. For in this void a bit of fine down and a piece of solid gold descend with equal velocity.
In 'General Scholium' from The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729), Vol. 2, Book 3, 388.
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But we must here state that we should not see anything if there were a vacuum. But this would not be due to some nature hindering species, and resisting it, but because of the lack of a nature suitable for the multiplication of species; for species is a natural thing, and therefore needs a natural medium; but in a vacuum nature does not exist.
Opus Majus [1266-1268], Part V, distinction 9, chapter 2, trans. R. B. Burke, The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon (1928), Vol. 2, 485.

I am accustomed, as a professional mathematician, to living in a sort of vacuum, surrounded by people who declare with an odd sort of pride that they are mathematically illiterate.
As quoted, without citation, in Peter G. Casazza 'A Mathematician’s Survival Guide', pdf document linked from his homepage at math.missouri.edu (undated, but 2011 or earlier, indicated by an “accessed on” date elsewhere.) Collected in Peter Casazza, Steven G. Krantz and Randi D. Ruden (eds.) I, Mathematician (2005), 31.
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I felt more determined than ever to become a physician, and thus place a strong barrier between me and all ordinary marriage. I must have something to engross my thoughts, some object in life which will fill this vacuum, and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart.
Entry from her early journal, stated in Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (1895), 28.
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I had at one time a very bad fever of which I almost died. In my fever I had a long consistent delirium. I dreamt that I was in Hell, and that Hell is a place full of all those happenings that are improbable but not impossible. The effects of this are curious. Some of the damned, when they first arrive below, imagine that they will beguile the tedium of eternity by games of cards. But they find this impossible, because, whenever a pack is shuffled, it comes out in perfect order, beginning with the Ace of Spades and ending with the King of Hearts. There is a special department of Hell for students of probability. In this department there are many typewriters and many monkeys. Every time that a monkey walks on a typewriter, it types by chance one of Shakespeare's sonnets. There is another place of torment for physicists. In this there are kettles and fires, but when the kettles are put on the fires, the water in them freezes. There are also stuffy rooms. But experience has taught the physicists never to open a window because, when they do, all the air rushes out and leaves the room a vacuum.
'The Metaphysician's Nightmare', Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories (1954), 38-9.
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I had gone on a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I had entered the Green [of Glasgow] by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street—had passed the old washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection water if I used a jet, as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an outlet could be got at the depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and air. ... I had not walked further than the Golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.
[In Robert Hart's words, a recollection of the description of Watt's moment of inspiration, in May 1765, for improving Thomas Newcomen's steam engine.]
In Robert Hart, 'Reminiscences of James Watt' (read 2 Nov 1857), Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1859), Vol. 1, 1. Note that these are not the verbatim words of James Watt, but are only a recollection of them by Robert Hart, who is quoting as best he can from memory of a conversation he and his brother had with James Watt that took place over 43 years previously. In his Reminiscences, Hart explains, “I have accordingly thrown together the following brief narrative:— As these meetings took place forty-three years since, many observations that were made at the time may have escaped me at present; yet, when the same subjects are touched on, I have as distinct recollection of his treatment of them as if it were yesterday.”
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If it were possible to have a life absolutely free from every feeling of sin, what a terrifying vacuum it would be!
In The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950 (1961), 175.
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In the infancy of physical science, it was hoped that some discovery might be made that would enable us to emancipate ourselves from the bondage of gravity, and, at least, pay a visit to our neighbour the moon. The poor attempts of the aeronaut have shewn the hopelessness of the enterprise. The success of his achievement depends on the buoyant power of the atmosphere, but the atmosphere extends only a few miles above the earth, and its action cannot reach beyond its own limits. The only machine, independent of the atmosphere, we can conceive of, would be one on the principle of the rocket. The rocket rises in the air, not from the resistance offered by the atmosphere to its fiery stream, but from the internal reaction. The velocity would, indeed, be greater in a vacuum than in the atmosphere, and could we dispense with the comfort of breathing air, we might, with such a machine, transcend the boundaries of our globe, and visit other orbs.
God's Glory in the Heavens (1862, 3rd Ed. 1867) 3-4.
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It has today occurred to me that an amplifier using semiconductors rather than vacuum is in principle possible.
Laboratory notebook (29 Dec 1939).
In Michael Dudley Sturge , Statistical and Thermal Physics (2003), 251.
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It was found after many troublesome experiments that when the vacuum within the lamp globe was good, and the contact between the carbon and the conductor which supported it sufficient, there was no blackening of the globes, and no appreciable wasting away of the carbons. Thus was swept away a pernicious error, which, like a misleading finger post proclaiming “No road this way,” tended to bar progress along a good thoroughfare. It only remained to perfect the details of the lamp, to find the best material from which to form the carbon, and to fix this material in the lamp in the best manner. These points, I think, I have now satisfactorily settled, and you see the result in the lamp before me on the table.
In Lecture (20 Oct 1880) at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, as quoted in United States Courts of Appeals Reports: Cases Adjudged in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals (1894), Vol. 11, 419-420.
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I’m particularly adept at making mistakes—it’s a necessity as an engineer. Each iteration of the vacuum came about because of a mistake I needed to fix.
In 'My Favorite Mistake', Newsweek (29 May 2011). About developing his revolutionary Dyson vacuum cleaner.
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Many have argued that a vacuum does not exist, others claim it exists only with difficulty in spite of the repugnance of nature; I know of no one who claims it easily exists without any resistance from nature.
Letter to Michelangelo Ricci (11 Jun 1644). Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 27
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Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.
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Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.
Early Spring, 52. Excerpt in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890,2005), 112.
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Nature abhors a vacuum.
The English translation of the long-known maxim, “Natura abhorret vacuum.” The phrase in English appears, for example, in Robert Boyle, A Free Inquiry into the Vulgar Notion of Nature, collected in The Philosophical Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq (1725), Vol. 2, 138. The concept was known long before Boyle. It was expressed, though not as briefly, by Aristotelian philosophers of ancient Greece.
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Once the hatch was opened, I turned the lock handle and bright rays of sunlight burst through it. I opened the hatch and dust from the station flew in like little sparklets, looking like tiny snowflakes on a frosty day. Space, like a giant vacuum cleaner, began to suck everything out. Flying out together with the dust were some little washers and nuts that dad got stuck somewhere; a pencil flew by.
My first impression when I opened the hatch was of a huge Earth and of the sense of unreality concerning everything that was going on. Space is very beautiful. There was the dark velvet of the sky, the blue halo of the Earth and fast-moving lakes, rivers, fields and clouds clusters. It was dead silence all around, nothing whatever to indicate the velocity of the flight… no wind whistling in your ears, no pressure on you. The panorama was very serene and majestic.
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Sound … cannot travel across what we call a vacuum. … Light and our eyes that see it deal with the doings of the whole universe; sound belongs to the world only. I may talk of the universe of light, but I can only talk of the world of sound.
In The World of Sound (1921), 10.
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The aether: Invented by Isaac Newton, reinvented by James Clerk Maxwell. This is the stuff that fills up the empty space of the universe. Discredited and discarded by Einstein, the aether is now making a Nixonian comeback. It’s really the vacuum, but burdened by theoretical, ghostly particles.
In Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question (1993, 2006), xiii.
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The continued destruction of mangrove swamps in poor countries to provide shrimp for people living in rich countries is simply the market operating in a vacuum untroubled by ethics.
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat (2008), 300.
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The stories of Whitney’s love for experimenting are legion. At one time he received a letter asking if insects could live in a vacuum. Whitney took the letter to one of the members of his staff and asked the man if he cared to run an experiment on the subject. The man replied that there was no point in it, since it was well established that life could not exist without a supply of oxygen. Whitney, who was an inveterate student of wild life, replied that on his farm he had seen turtles bury themselves in mud each fall, and, although the mud was covered with ice and snow for months, emerge again in the spring. The man exclaimed, “Oh, you mean hibernation!” Whitney answered, “I don't know what I mean, but I want to know if bugs can live in a vacuum.”
He proceeded down the hall and broached the subject to another member of the staff. Faced with the same lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter further, Whitney tried another illustration. “I've been told that you can freeze a goldfish solidly in a cake of ice, where he certainly can't get much oxygen, and can keep him there for a month or two. But if you thaw him out carefully he seems none the worse for his experience.” The second scientist replied, “Oh, you mean suspended animation.” Whitney once again explained that his interest was not in the terms but in finding an answer to the question.
Finally Whitney returned to his own laboratory and set to work. He placed a fly and a cockroach in a bell jar and removed the air. The two insects promptly keeled over. After approximately two hours, however, when he gradually admitted air again, the cockroach waved its feelers and staggered to its feet. Before long, both the cockroach and the fly were back in action.
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357-358.
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The vacuum-apparatus requires that its manipulators constantly handle considerable amounts of mercury. Mercury is a strong poison, particularly dangerous because of its liquid form and noticeable volatility even at room temperature. Its poisonous character has been rather lost sight of during the present generation. My co-workers and myself found from personal experience-confirmed on many sides when published—that protracted stay in an atmosphere charged with only 1/100 of the amount of mercury required for its saturation, sufficed to induce chronic mercury poisoning. This first reveals itself as an affection of the nerves, causing headaches, numbness, mental lassitude, depression, and loss of memory; such are very disturbing to one engaged in intellectual occupations.
Hydrides of Boron and Silicon (1933), 203.
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The work of Planck and Einstein proved that light behaved as particles in some ways and that the ether therefore was not needed for light to travel through a vacuum. When this was done, the ether was no longer useful and it was dropped with a glad cry. The ether has never been required since. It does not exist now; in fact, it never existed.
In Asimov on Physics (1976), 85. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 212.
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Theoretical and experimental physicists are now studying nothing at all—the vacuum. But that nothingness contains all of being.
The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1982), 279.
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There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.
Jason Merchey, Values of the Wise (2004), 31.
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Tiny ferryboats they were, each laden with its little electric charge, unloading their etheric cargo at the opposite electrode and retracing their journeyings, or caught by a cohesive force, building up little bridges, or trees with quaint and beautiful patterns.
Describing the flow of electrons between electrodes in a vacuum tube.
Father of Radio: the Autobiography of Lee De Forest (1950), 119. In Rodney P. Carlisle, Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries (2004), 391.
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We can trace the development of a nervous system, and correlate with it the parallel phenomena of sensation and thought. We see with undoubting certainty that they go hand in hand. But we try to soar in a vacuum the moment we seek to comprehend the connexion between them … Man the object is separated by an impassable gulf from man the subject.
In 'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast' (19 Aug 1874), in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 194-195.
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We have made many glass vessels... with tubes two cubits long. These were filled with mercury, the open end was closed with the finger, and the tubes were then inverted in a vessel where there was mercury. We saw that an empty space was formed and that nothing happened in the vessel where this space was formed ... I claim that the force which keeps the mercury from falling is external and that the force comes from outside the tube. On the surface of the mercury which is in the bowl rests the weight of a column of fifty miles of air. Is it a surprise that into the vessel, in which the mercury has no inclination and no repugnance, not even the slightest, to being there, it should enter and should rise in a column high enough to make equilibrium with the weight of the external air which forces it up?
Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 27-28.
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You see, if the height of the mercury [barometer] column is less on the top of a mountain than at the foot of it (as I have many reasons for believing, although everyone who has so far written about it is of the contrary opinion), it follows that the weight of the air must be the sole cause of the phenomenon, and not that abhorrence of a vacuum, since it is obvious that at the foot of the mountain there is more air to have weight than at the summit, and we cannot possibly say that the air at the foot of the mountain has a greater aversion to empty space than at the top.
In letter to brother-in-law Perier (Nov 1647) as given in Daniel Webster Hering, Physics: the Science of the Forces of Nature (1922), 114. As also stated by Hering, Perier conducted an experiment on 19 Sep 1648 comparing readings on two barometers, one at the foot, and another at the top of 4,000-ft Puy-de-Dôme neighboring mountain.
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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 -
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- 80 -
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- 60 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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