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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Why Quotes (491 quotes)

'Normal' science, in Kuhn's sense, exists. It is the activity of the non-revolutionary, or more precisely, the not-too-critical professional: of the science student who accepts the ruling dogma of the day... in my view the 'normal' scientist, as Kuhn describes him, is a person one ought to be sorry for... He has been taught in a dogmatic spirit: he is a victim of indoctrination... I can only say that I see a very great danger in it and in the possibility of its becoming normal... a danger to science and, indeed, to our civilization. And this shows why I regard Kuhn's emphasis on the existence of this kind of science as so important.
'Normal Science and its Dangers', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 52-3.
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'Why do you think it is...', I asked Dr. Cook ... 'that brain surgery, above all else—even rocket science—gets singled out as the most challenging of human feats, the one demanding the utmost of human intelligence?'
[Dr. Cook answered,] 'No margin for error.'
Lucky Man (2002), 208.
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...the scientific cast of mind examines the world critically, as if many alternative worlds might exist, as if other things might be here which are not. Then we are forced to ask why what we see is present and not something else. Why are the Sun and moon and the planets spheres? Why not pyramids, or cubes, or dodecahedra? Why not irregular, jumbly shapes? Why so symmetrical, worlds? If you spend any time spinning hypotheses, checking to see whether they make sense, whether they conform to what else we know. Thinking of tests you can pose to substantiate or deflate hypotheses, you will find yourself doing science.
…...
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Air Force Chief of Staff: Doctor, what do you think of our new creation, the … Corporation?
von Kármán: Why, General, I think that corporation has already had an effect on the whole industry.
Air Force Chief of Staff: I’m delighted. What effect is that?
von Kármán: Why, they’ve upset the salary schedule of the whole industry.
As quoted by William R. Sears in 'Some Recollections of Theodore von Kármán', Address to the Symposium in Memory of Theodore von Kármán, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, National Meeting (13-14 May 1964), Washington, D.C. Printed in Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (Mar 1965), 13>, No. 1, 181. These are likely not verbatim words of Karman, but as recollected by Sears, giving an example of von Kármán’s willingness to speak truth to power.
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Bernard: Oh, you’re going to zap me with penicillin and pesticides. Spare me that and I’ll spare you the bomb and aerosols. But don’t confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There’s no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God’s crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can’t think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars—big bangs, black holes—who [cares]? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves?
Chloe: Are you against penicillin, Bernard?
Bernard: Don’t feed the animals.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Act 2, Scene 5, 61.
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Man is the result of slow growth; that is why he occupies the position he does in animal life. What does a pup amount to that has gained its growth in a few days or weeks, beside a man who only attains it in as many years.
In Orison Swett Marden, 'Bell Telephone Talk: Hints on Success by Alexander G. Bell', How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (1901), 35.
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Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Pierre de Fermat: I just don’t have room here to give the full explanation.
Anonymous
[Note: Pierre de Fermat is famous for an enigmatic marginal note in his notebook, “I have discovered a truly remarkable proof which this margin is too small to contain.”]
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Question: If chimps are so much like us, why are they endangered while humans dominate the globe?
Goodall: Well, in some ways we're not successful at all. We're destroying our home. That's not a bit successful.
In Virginia Morell, 'The Discover Interview: Jane Goodall', Discover (Mar 2007), 28, No. 3, 52.
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Question: Explain why pipes burst in cold weather.
Answer: People who have not studied acoustics think that Thor bursts the pipes, but we know that is nothing of the kind for Professor Tyndall has burst the mythologies and has taught us that it is the natural behaviour of water (and bismuth) without which all fish would die and the earth be held in an iron grip. (1881)
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1881), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 186-7, Question 10. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.) Webmaster notes that “fish would die” may refer to being taught that water's greatest density is at 4°C, and sinks below a frozen surface, so bodies of water can remain liquid underneath, to the benefit of the fish. The student was likely taught that bismuth, like water, expands when it freezes.
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Question: Explain why, in order to cook food by boiling, at the top of a high mountain, you must employ a different method from that used at the sea level.
Answer: It is easy to cook food at the sea level by boiling it, but once you get above the sea level the only plan is to fry it in its own fat. It is, in fact, impossible to boil water above the sea level by any amount of heat. A different method, therefore, would have to be employed to boil food at the top of a high mountain, but what that method is has not yet been discovered. The future may reveal it to a daring experimentalist.
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), 178-9, Question 11. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: If you were to pour a pound of molten lead and a pound of molten iron, each at the temperature of its melting point, upon two blocks of ice, which would melt the most ice, and why?
Answer: This question relates to diathermancy. Iron is said to be a diathermanous body (from dia, through, and thermo, I heat), meaning that it gets heated through and through, and accordingly contains a large quantity of real heat. Lead is said to be an athermanous body (from a, privative, and thermo, I heat), meaning that it gets heated secretly or in a latent manner. Hence the answer to this question depends on which will get the best of it, the real heat of the iron or the latent heat of the lead. Probably the iron will smite furthest into the ice, as molten iron is white and glowing, while melted lead is dull.
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), 180-1, Question 14. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: On freezing water in a glass tube, the tube sometimes breaks. Why is this? An iceberg floats with 1,000,000 tons of ice above the water line. About how many tons are below the water line?
Answer: The water breaks the tube because of capallarity. The iceberg floats on the top because it is lighter, hence no tons are below the water line. Another reason is that an iceberg cannot exceed 1,000,000 tons in weight: hence if this much is above water, none is below. Ice is exceptional to all other bodies except bismuth. All other bodies have 1090 feet below the surface and 2 feet extra for every degree centigrade. If it were not for this, all fish would die, and the earth be held in an iron grip.
P.S.—When I say 1090 feet, I mean 1090 feet per second.
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), 179-80, Question 13. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: State what are the conditions favourable for the formation of dew. Describe an instrument for determining the dew point, and the method of using it.
Answer: This is easily proved from question 1. A body of gas as it ascends expands, cools, and deposits moisture; so if you walk up a hill the body of gas inside you expands, gives its heat to you, and deposits its moisture in the form of dew or common sweat. Hence these are the favourable conditions; and moreover it explains why you get warm by ascending a hill, in opposition to the well-known law of the Conservation of Energy.
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), 179, Question 12. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: What is the reason that the hammers which strike the strings of a pianoforte are made not to strike the middle of the strings? Why are the bass strings loaded with coils of wire?
Answer: Because the tint of the clang would be bad. Because to jockey them heavily.
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), 176, Question 3. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Question: Why do the inhabitants of cold climates eat fat? How would you find experimentally the relative quantities of heat given off when equal weights of sulphur, phosphorus, and carbon are thoroughly burned?
Answer: An inhabitant of cold climates (called Frigid Zoans) eats fat principally because he can't get no lean, also because he wants to rise is temperature. But if equal weights of sulphur phosphorus and carbon are burned in his neighbourhood he will give off eating quite so much. The relative quantities of eat given off will depend upon how much sulphur etc. is burnt and how near it is burned to him. If I knew these facts it would be an easy sum to find the answer.
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), 183, Question 32. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Sir Robert Chiltern: You think science cannot grapple with the problem of women?
Mrs. Cheveley: Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no future before it in this world.
In play, An Ideal Husband (1912, 2001), Act 1, 6.
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The Charms of Statistics.—It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once. An Average is but a solitary fact, whereas if a single other fact be added to it, an entire Normal Scheme, which nearly corresponds to the observed one, starts potentially into existence. Some people hate the very name of statistics, but I find them full of beauty and interest. Whenever they are not brutalised, but delicately handled by the higher methods, and are warily interpreted, their power of dealing with complicated phenomena is extraordinary. They are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the Science of man.
Natural Inheritance (1889), 62-3.
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Third Fisherman: Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
First Fisherman: Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones: I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale; a’ plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful: such whales have I heard on o’ the land, who never leave gaping till they’ve swallowed the whole parish, church, steeple, bells, and all.
In Pericles (1609), Act 2, Scene 1, line 29-38.
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Thomasina: Every week I plot your equations dot for dot, x’s against y’s in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?
Septimus: We do.
Thomasina: Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?
Septimus: I do not know.
Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Scene 3, 37.
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[In refutation of evolution] You know what, evolution is a myth. … Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?
From interview on TV show, Politically Incorrect (15 Oct 1998).
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[When asked “Dr. Einstein, why is it that when the mind of man has stretched so far as to discover the structure of the atom we have been unable to devise the political means to keep the atom from destroying us?”] That is simple, my friend. It is because politics is more difficult than physics.
Einstein’s answer to a conferee at a meeting at Princeton, N.J. (Jan 1946), as recalled by Greenville Clark in 'Letters to the Times', in New York Times (22 Apr 1955), 24.
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GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?
Henry IV, Part I (1597), III, i.
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A discovery in science, or a new theory, even when it appears most unitary and most all-embracing, deals with some immediate element of novelty or paradox within the framework of far vaster, unanalysed, unarticulated reserves of knowledge, experience, faith, and presupposition. Our progress is narrow; it takes a vast world unchallenged and for granted. This is one reason why, however great the novelty or scope of new discovery, we neither can, nor need, rebuild the house of the mind very rapidly. This is one reason why science, for all its revolutions, is conservative. This is why we will have to accept the fact that no one of us really will ever know very much. This is why we shall have to find comfort in the fact that, taken together, we know more and more.
Science and the Common Understanding (1954), 53-4.
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A graduate with a science degree asks: 'Why does it work?'
A graduate with an engineering degree asks: 'How does it work?'
A graduate with an accounting degree asks: 'How much will it cost?'
A graduate with an arts degree asks: 'Do you want fries with that?'
Anonymous
In Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Humor (2000), 83.
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A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral. The extermination of the passenger pigeon meant that mankind was just so much poorer; exactly as in the case of the destruction of the cathedral at Rheims. And to lose the chance to see frigate-birds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach—why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.
In A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open (1916), 316-317.
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A hundred years ago … an engineer, Herbert Spencer, was willing to expound every aspect of life, with an effect on his admiring readers which has not worn off today.
Things do not happen quite in this way nowadays. This, we are told, is an age of specialists. The pursuit of knowledge has become a profession. The time when a man could master several sciences is past. He must now, they say, put all his efforts into one subject. And presumably, he must get all his ideas from this one subject. The world, to be sure, needs men who will follow such a rule with enthusiasm. It needs the greatest numbers of the ablest technicians. But apart from them it also needs men who will converse and think and even work in more than one science and know how to combine or connect them. Such men, I believe, are still to be found today. They are still as glad to exchange ideas as they have been in the past. But we cannot say that our way of life is well-fitted to help them. Why is this?
In 'The Unification of Biology', New Scientist (11 Jan 1962), 13, No. 269, 72.
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A little science is something that they must have. I should like my nephews to know what air is, and water; why we breathe, and why wood burns; the nutritive elements essential to plant life, and the constituents of the soil. And it is no vague and imperfect knowledge from hearsay I would have them gain of these fundamental truths, on which depend agriculture and the industrial arts and our health itself; I would have them know these things thoroughly from their own observation and experience. Books here are insufficient, and can serve merely as aids to scientific experiment.
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A man who sets out to justify his existence and his activities has to distinguish two different questions. The first is whether the work which he does is worth doing; and the second is why he does it (whatever its value may be).
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 66.
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A Miracle is a Violation of the Laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable Experience has established these Laws, the Proof against a Miracle, from the very Nature of the Fact, is as entire as any Argument from Experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all Men must die; that Lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the Air; that Fire consumes Wood, and is extinguished by Water; unless it be, that these Events are found agreeable to the Laws of Nature, and there is required a Violation of these Laws, or in other Words, a Miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteem'd a Miracle, if it ever happen in the common Course of Nature... There must, therefore, be a uniform Experience against every miraculous Event, otherwise the Event would not merit that Appellation. And as a uniform Experience amounts to a Proof, there is here a direct and full Proof, from the Nature of the Fact, against the Existence of any Miracle; nor can such a Proof be destroy'd, or the Miracle render'd credible, but by an opposite Proof, which is superior.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 180-181.
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A physician’s subject of study is necessarily the patient, and his first field for observation is the hospital. But if clinical observation teaches him to know the form and course of diseases, it cannot suffice to make him understand their nature; to this end he must penetrate into the body to find which of the internal parts are injured in their functions. That is why dissection of cadavers and microscopic study of diseases were soon added to clinical observation. But to-day these various methods no longer suffice; we must push investigation further and, in analyzing the elementary phenomena of organic bodies, must compare normal with abnormal states. We showed elsewhere how incapable is anatomy alone to take account of vital phenenoma, and we saw that we must add study of all physico-chemical conditions which contribute necessary elements to normal or pathological manifestations of life. This simple suggestion already makes us feel that the laboratory of a physiologist-physician must be the most complicated of all laboratories, because he has to experiment with phenomena of life which are the most complex of all natural phenomena.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 140-141.
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A principle of induction would be a statement with the help of which we could put inductive inferences into a logically acceptable form. In the eyes of the upholders of inductive logic, a principle of induction is of supreme importance for scientific method: “... this principle”, says Reichenbach, “determines the truth of scientific theories. To eliminate it from science would mean nothing less than to deprive science of the power to decide the truth or falsity of its theories. Without it, clearly, science would no longer have the right to distinguish its theories from the fanciful and arbitrary creations of the poet’s mind.” Now this principle of induction cannot be a purely logical truth like a tautology or an analytic statement. Indeed, if there were such a thing as a purely logical principle of induction, there would be no problem of induction; for in this case, all inductive inferences would have to be regarded as purely logical or tautological transformations, just like inferences in inductive logic. Thus the principle of induction must be a synthetic statement; that is, a statement whose negation is not self-contradictory but logically possible. So the question arises why such a principle should be accepted at all, and how we can justify its acceptance on rational grounds.
…...
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A strict materialist believes that everything depends on the motion of matter. He knows the form of the laws of motion though he does not know all their consequences when applied to systems of unknown complexity.
Now one thing in which the materialist (fortified with dynamical knowledge) believes is that if every motion great & small were accurately reversed, and the world left to itself again, everything would happen backwards the fresh water would collect out of the sea and run up the rivers and finally fly up to the clouds in drops which would extract heat from the air and evaporate and afterwards in condensing would shoot out rays of light to the sun and so on. Of course all living things would regrede from the grave to the cradle and we should have a memory of the future but not of the past.
The reason why we do not expect anything of this kind to take place at any time is our experience of irreversible processes, all of one kind, and this leads to the doctrine of a beginning & an end instead of cyclical progression for ever.
Letter to Mark Pattison (7 Apr 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 360-1.
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Abstruse mathematical researches … are … often abused for having no obvious physical application. The fact is that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness. A new branch of mathematics, which has sprung up in the last twenty years, was denounced by the Astronomer Royal before the University of Cambridge as doomed to be forgotten, on account of its uselessness. Now it turns out that the reason why we cannot go further in our investigations of molecular action is that we do not know enough of this branch of mathematics.
In 'Conditions of Mental Development', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 115.
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According to astronomers, next week Wednesday will occur twice. They say such a thing happens only once every 60,000 years and although they don’t know why it occurs, they’re glad they have an extra day to figure it out.
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 105.
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According to the Boshongo people of central Africa, in the beginning, there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then some animals. The leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and finally, man. This creation myth, like many others, tries to answer the questions we all ask. Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Lecture (1987), 'The Origin of the Universe', collected in Black Holes And Baby Universes And Other Essays (1993), 99.
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After that cancellation [of the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas, after $2 billion had been spent on it], we physicists learned that we have to sing for our supper. ... The Cold War is over. You can't simply say “Russia!” to Congress, and they whip out their checkbook and say, “How much?” We have to tell the people why this atom-smasher is going to benefit their lives.
As quoted in Alan Boyle, 'Discovery of Doom? Collider Stirs Debate', article (8 Sep 2008) on a msnbc.com web page.
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After what has been premised, I think we may lay down the following Conclusions. First, It is plain Philosophers amuse themselves in vain, when they inquire for any natural efficient Cause, distinct from a Mind or Spirit. Secondly, Considering the whole Creation is the Workmanship of a wise and good Agent, it should seem to become Philosophers, to employ their Thoughts (contrary to what some hold) about the final Causes of Things: And I must confess, I see no reason, why pointing out the various Ends, to which natural Things are adapted and for which they were originally with unspeakable Wisdom contrived, should not be thought one good way of accounting for them, and altogether worthy a Philosopher.
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [first published 1710], (1734), 126-7.
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Again there is another great and powerful cause why the sciences have made but little progress; which is this. It is not possible to run a course aright when the goal itself has not been rightly placed.
Translation of Novum Organum, LXXXI. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 113.
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Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
In Through the Looking-glass: And what Alice Found There (1875), 100.
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All experimentation is criticism. If an experiment does not hold out the possibility of causing one to revise one’s views, it is hard to see why it should be done at all.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 94.
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All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive.
From 'What Do They Think', The Thing: Why I Am Catholic (1929), 78. In Collected Works (1990), Vol. 3, 191.
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All the more recent work on alkaptonuria has... strengthened the belief that the homogentisic acid excreted is derived from tyrosin, but why alkaptonuric individuals pass the benzene ring of their tyrosin unbroken and how and where the peculiar chemical change from tyrosin to homogentisic acid is brought about, remain unsolved problems.
'The Incidence of Alkaptonuria: A Study in Chemical Individuality', The Lancet, 1902, 2, 1616.
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Although the cooking of food presents some unsolved problems, the quick warming of cooked food and the thawing of frozen food both open up some attractive uses. ... There is no important reason why the the housewife of the future should not purchase completely frozen meals at the grocery store just as she buys quick frozen vegetables. With a quick heating, high-frequency unit in her kitchen, food preparation from a pre-cooked, frozen meal becomes a simple matter.
[Predicting home kitchen appliances could be developed from the radionic tube employed to jam enemy radar in World War II.]
In 'Physics of Today Become the Engineering of Tomorrow', Proceedings of the National Electronics Conference (1947), Vols. 1-2, 24-25. Note: by 1947 Ratheon was able to demonstrate a refrigerator-sized commercial microwave oven.
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Always listen to experts.They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why. Then do it.
In 'From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long', Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 256.
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An engineer passing a pond heard a frog say, “If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful princess.” He picked up the frog, looked at it, and put it in his pocket. The frog said, “Why didn’t you kiss me?” Replied the engineer, “Look, I’m an engineer. I don’t have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog is cool.”
Anonymous
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An engineer [is] one of those people who make things work without even understanding how they function. … Today I would add: one of those people who are unable to make anything work, but think they know why it doesn’t function!
In 'Sundays in a Quantum Engineer’s Life', collected in Reinhold A. Bertlmann, A. Zeilinger (eds.),Quantum (Un)speakables: From Bell to Quantum Information (2002), 199.
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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point… . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy’s in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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And so many think incorrectly that everything was created by the Creator in the beginning as it is seen, that not only the mountains, valleys, and waters, but also various types of minerals occurred together with the rest of the world, and therefore it is said that it is unnecessary to investigate the reasons why they differ in their internal properties and their locations. Such considerations are very dangerous for the growth of all the sciences, and hence for natural knowledge of the Earth, particularly the art of mining, though it is very easy for those clever people to be philosophers, having learnt by heart the three words 'God so created' and to give them in reply in place of all reasons.
About the Layers of the Earth and other Works on Geology (1757), trans. A. P. Lapov (1949), 55.
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And why does England thus persecute the votaries of her science? Why does she depress them to the level of her hewers of wood and her drawers of water? Is it because science flatters no courtier, mingles in no political strife? … Can we behold unmoved the science of England, the vital principle of her arts, struggling for existence, the meek and unarmed victim of political strife?
From his review of the book by Charles Babbage, Reflections on the Decline of Science in England(1830). In Quarterly Review, 1830, 43, 323-4.
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Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they can produce other organisms like themselves. This is their normal function, they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t do this, and it’s not plausible that this is the reason why they abound in the world. In other words, living organisms are very complicated aggregations of elementary parts, and by any reasonable theory of probability or thermodynamics highly improbable. That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude; the only thing which removes, or mitigates, this miracle is that they reproduce themselves. Therefore, if by any peculiar accident there should ever be one of them, from there on the rules of probability do not apply, and there will be many of them, at least if the milieu is reasonable. But a reasonable milieu is already a thermodynamically much less improbable thing. So, the operations of probability somehow leave a loophole at this point, and it is by the process of self-reproduction that they are pierced.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Archimedes said Eureka,
Cos in English he weren't too aversed in,
when he discovered that the volume of a body in the bath,
is equal to the stuff it is immersed in,
That is the law of displacement,
Thats why ships don't sink,
Its a shame he weren't around in 1912,
The Titanic would have made him think.
From lyrics of song Sod’s Law.
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As he sat alone in a garden, he [Isaac Newton in 1666, age 24] fell into a speculation on the power of gravity; that as this power is not found sensibly diminished at the remotest distance from the centre of the earth to which we can rise, neither at the tops of the loftiest buildings, nor even on the summits of the highest mountains, it appeared to him reasonable to conclude that this power must extend much further than was usually thought: why not as high as the moon? said he to himself; and if so, her motion must be influenced by it; perhaps she is retained in her orbit thereby.
View of Newton's Philosophy (1728), preface. In William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 166. Pemberton's narrative is based on firsthand conversations with Newton himself.
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As I stood behind the coffin of my little son the other day, with my mind bent on anything but disputation, the officiating minister read, as part of his duty, the words, 'If the dead rise not again, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' I cannot tell you how inexpressibly they shocked me. Paul had neither wife nor child, or he must have known that his alternative involved a blasphemy against all that well best and noblest in human nature. I could have laughed with scorn. What! Because I am face to face with irreparable loss, because I have given back to the source from whence it came, the cause of a great happiness, still retaining through all my life the blessings which have sprung and will spring from that cause, I am to renounce my manhood, and, howling, grovel in bestiality? Why, the very apes know better, and if you shoot their young, the poor brutes grieve their grief out and do not immediately seek distraction in a gorge.
Letter to Charles Kingsley (23 Sep 1860). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1903), Vol. 1, 318.
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As kids we started smoking because we thought it was smart. Why don't we stop smoking for the same reason?
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 85.
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Ask why God made the GEM so small,
And why so huge the granite?
Because God meant, mankind should set
That higher value on it.
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Bias has to be taught. If you hear your parents downgrading women or people of different backgrounds, why, you are going to do that.
…...
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Bottom trawling is a ghastly process that brings untold damage to sea beds that support ocean life. It’s akin to using a bulldozer to catch a butterfly, destroying a whole ecosystem for the sake of a few pounds of protein. We wouldn’t do this on land, so why do it in the oceans?
In 'Can We Stop Killing Our Oceans Now, Please?', Huffington Post (14 Aug 2013).
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But beyond the bright searchlights of science,
Out of sight of the windows of sense,
Old riddles still bid us defiance,
Old questions of Why and of Whence.
from Recent Development of Physical Science (p. 10)
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But how is it that they [astrologers] have never been able to explain why, in the life of twins, in their actions, in their experiences, their professions, their accomplishments, their positions—in all the other circumstances of human life, and even in death itself, there is often found such a diversity that in those respects many strangers show more resemblance to them than they show to one another, even though the smallest possible interval separated their births and though they were conceived at the same moment, by a single act of intercourse.
De Civitate Dei (The City of God) [413-426], Book V, chapter I, trans. H. Bettenson (1972),180-181.
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But in my opinion we can now be assured sufficiently that no animals, however small they may be, take their origin in putrefaction, but exclusively in procreation… For seeing that animals, from the largest down to the little despised animal, the flea, have animalcules in their semen, seeing also that some of the vessels of the lungs of horses and cows consist of rings and that these rings can occur on the flea's veins, why cannot we come to the conclusion that as well as the male sperm of that large animal the horse and similar animals, and of all manner of little animals, the flea included, is furnished with animalcules (and other intestines, for I have often been astonished when I beheld the numerous vessels in a flea), why, I say should not the male sperm of the smallest animals, smaller than a flea may even the very smallest animalcules have the perfection that we find in a flea.
Letter to Robert Hooke, 12 Nov 1680. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 3, 329.
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But when great and ingenious artists behold their so inept performances, not undeservedly do they ridicule the blindness of such men; since sane judgment abhors nothing so much as a picture perpetrated with no technical knowledge, although with plenty of care and diligence. Now the sole reason why painters of this sort are not aware of their own error is that they have not learnt Geometry, without which no one can either be or become an absolute artist; but the blame for this should be laid upon their masters, who are themselves ignorant of this art.
In The Art of Measurement (1525). As quoted in Albrecht Dürer and R.T. Nichol (trans.), 'Preface', Of the Just Shaping of Letters (1965), Book 3, 1-2.
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But why, it has been asked, did you go there [the Antarctic]? Of what use to civilization can this lifeless continent be? ... [Earlier] expeditions contributed something to the accumulating knowledge of the Antarctic ... that helps us thrust back further the physical and spiritual shadows enfolding our terrestrial existence. Is it not true that one of the strongest and most continuously sustained impulses working in civilization is that which leads to discovery? As long as any part of the world remains obscure, the curiosity of man must draw him there, as the lodestone draws the mariner's needle, until he comprehends its secret.
In 'Hoover Presents Special Medal to Byrd...', New York Times (21 Jun 1930), 1.
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But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask; why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
…...
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Charlie Holloway (human): “What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even made us in the first place.”
David (AI robot): “Why do you think your people made me?”
Charlie Holloway (human): “We made you because we could.”
David (AI robot): “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?”
Charlie Holloway (human): “I guess it’s good you can’t be disappointed.”
Prometheus (2012)
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Chemistry has been termed by the physicist as the messy part of physics, but that is no reason why the physicists should be permitted to make a mess of chemistry when they invade it.
Attributed. As quoted in American Journal of Physics (1946),14 248. Also in Robert L. Weber, More Random Walks in Science: An Anthology (1982), 64, without citation. Contact Webmaster if you know any primary source.
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Chief Seattle, of the Indians that inhabited the Seattle area, wrote a wonderful paper that has to do with putting oneself in tune with the universe. He said, “Why should I lament the disappearance of my people! All things end, and the white man will find this out also.” And this goes for the universe. One can be at peace with that. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t participate in efforts to correct the situation. But underlying the effort to change must be an “at peace.” To win a dog sled race is great. To lose is okay too.
…...
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Carl Sagan quote A Subject Called Chemistry
Wellington College. CC by-NC 2.0 (source)
Chlorine is a deadly poison gas employed on European battlefields in World War I. Sodium is a corrosive metal which burns upon contact with water. Together they make a placid and unpoisonous material, table salt. Why each of these substances has the properties it does is a subject called chemistry.
In Broca's Brain: The Romance of Science (1979), 18, footnote.
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Computers and rocket ships are examples of invention, not of understanding. … All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It’s an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no “why” in those examples. We don’t understand why electricity travels. We don’t know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 22.
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Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist, nor what sort of form they may have; there are many reasons why knowledge on this subject is not possible, owing to the lack of evidence and the shortness of human life.
Protagoras, fr. 1, quoted in E. Hussey, The Pre-Socratics (1972), 109.
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Correct is to recognize what diseases are and whence they come; which are long and which are short; which are mortal and which are not; which are in the process of changing into others; which are increasing and which are diminishing; which are major and which are minor; to treat the diseases that can be treated, but to recognize the ones that cannot be, and to know why they cannot be; by treating patients with the former, to give them the benefit of treatment as far as it is possible.
Diseases, in Hippocrates, trans. P. Potter (1988), Vol. 5, 113.
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Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before. Some day, I doubt not, we shall arrive at an understanding of the evolution of the aesthetic faculty; but all the understanding in the world will neither increase nor diminish the force of the intuition that this is beautiful and that is ugly.
'Evolution and Ethics' (1893). In Collected Essays (1894), Vol. 9, 80.
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Creation science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage—good teaching—than a bill forcing our honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?.
In 'The Verdict on Creationism' The Sketical Inquirer (Winter 1987/88), 12, 186.
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Daylight savings time—why are they saving it, and where do they keep it?
Anonymous
Seen, for example, collected in Stephen Motway, Jokes, Quotes, and Other Assorted Things (2010), 327.
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Did Newton, dreaming in his orchard there
Beside the dreaming Witham, see the moon
Burn like a huge gold apple in the boughs
And wonder why should moons not fall like fruit?
In Watchers of the Sky (1922), 193-194.
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Do not enter upon research unless you can not help it. Ask yourself the “why” of every statement that is made and think out your own answer. If through your thoughtful work you get a worthwhile idea, it will get you. The force of the conviction will compel you to forsake all and seek the relief of your mind in research work.
From Cameron Prize Lecture (1928), delivered before the University of Edinburgh. As quoted in J.B. Collip 'Frederick Grant Banting, Discoverer of Insulin', The Scientific Monthly (May 1941), 52, No. 5, 473.
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Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.
Spoken by character, Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet (1887), Chap. 5. Collected in Works of Arthur Conan Doyle (1902), Vol. 11, 68-69.
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Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.
In a personal notebook (1945-46). Discussed in Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2005), 201, as possibly being a very brief paraphrase of a verse by Robert Frost from 'The Wall' (1914) (See Robert Frost quotations page on this site). Elsewhere, it has been suggested to be a summary paraphrase of a much longer passage in G.K. Chesterton, The Thing (1929). (See G.K. Chesterton quotations on this site.) Meanwhile, many collections of quotations incorrectly attribute the short quote as worded above directly to either Robert Frost or G.K. Chesterton.
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Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.
from her lecture notes
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Einstein uses his concept of God more often than a Catholic priest. Once I asked him:
'Tomorrow is Sunday. Do you want me to come to you, so we can work?'
'Why not?'
'Because I thought perhaps you would like to rest on Sunday.'
Einstein settled the question by saying with a loud laugh: 'God does not rest on Sunday either.'
Quest: The Evolution of a Scientist (1941), 247.
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Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
A Brief History of Time (1998), 190.
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Even today I still get letters from young students here and there who say, Why are you people trying to program intelligence? Why don’t you try to find a way to build a nervous system that will just spontaneously create it? Finally I decided that this was either a bad idea or else it would take thousands or millions of neurons to make it work and I couldn’t afford to try to build a machine like that.
As quoted in Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981), 57, 70.
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Every discovery in science is a tacit criticism of things as they are. That is why the wise man is invariably called a fool.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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Every species of plant and animal is determined by a pool of germ plasm that has been most carefully selected over a period of hundreds of millions of years. We can understand now why it is that mutations in these carefully selected organisms almost invariably are detrimental.The situation can be suggested by a statement by Dr. J.B.S. Haldane: “My clock is not keeping perfect time. It is conceivable that it will run better if I shoot a bullet through it; but it is much more probable that it will stop altogether.” Professor George Beadle, in this connection, has asked: “What is the chance that a typographical error would improve Hamlet?”
In No More War! (1958), Chap. 4, 53.
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Evolution pays and that is why there is evolution
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-Book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 183.
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Faced with a new mutation in an organism, or a fundamental change in its living conditions, the biologist is frequently in no position whatever to predict its future prospects. He has to wait and see. For instance, the hairy mammoth seems to have been an admirable animal, intelligent and well-accoutered. Now that it is extinct, we try to understand why it failed. I doubt that any biologist thinks he could have predicted that failure. Fitness and survival are by nature estimates of past performance.
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do, but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.
Scribbled by Einstein on a letter received during a visit to England (1933) from a man who suggested that gravity meant that as the world rotated people were sometimes upside down, horizontal, or at 'left angles' and that perhaps, this disorientation explained why people do foolish things like falling in love.
In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (editors.), Einstein: The Human Side (1981), 56.
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FAUSTUS: How many heavens or spheres are there?
MEPHASTOPHILIS: Nine: the seven planets, the firmament, and the empyreal heaven.
FAUSTUS: But is there not coelum igneum, et crystallinum?
MEPH.: No Faustus, they be but fables.
FAUSTUS: Resolve me then in this one question: Why are not conjunctions, oppositions, aspects, eclipses all at one time, but in some years we have more, in some less?
MEPH.: Per inaequalem motum respectu totius.
FAUSTUS: Well, I am answered. Now tell me who made the world.
MEPH.: I will not.
FAUSTUS: Sweet Mephastophilis, tell me.
MEPH.: Move me not, Faustus.
FAUSTUS: Villain, have I not bound thee to tell me any thing?
MEPH.: Ay, that is not against our kingdom.
This is. Thou are damn'd, think thou of hell.
FAUSTUS: Think, Faustus, upon God that made the world!
MEPH.: Remember this.
Doctor Faustus: A 1604-Version Edition, edited by Michael Keefer (1991), Act II, Scene iii, lines 60-77, 43-4.
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Finally, I aim at giving denominations to things, as agreeable to truth as possible. I am not ignorant that words, like money, possess an ideal value, and that great danger of confusion may be apprehended from a change of names; in the mean time it cannot be denied that chemistry, like the other sciences, was formerly filled with improper names. In different branches of knowledge, we see those matters long since reformed: why then should chemistry, which examines the real nature of things, still adopt vague names, which suggest false ideas, and favour strongly of ignorance and imposition? Besides, there is little doubt but that many corrections may be made without any inconvenience.
Physical and Chemical Essays (1784), Vol. I, xxxvii.
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For if as scientists we seek simplicity, then obviously we try the simplest surviving theory first, and retreat from it only when it proves false. Not this course, but any other, requires explanation. If you want to go somewhere quickly, and several alternate routes are equally likely to be open, no one asks why you take the shortest. The simplest theory is to be chosen not because it is the most likely to be true but because it is scientifically the most rewarding among equally likely alternatives. We aim at simplicity and hope for truth.
Problems and Projects (1972), 352.
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For if there is any truth in the dynamical theory of gases the different molecules in a gas at uniform temperature are moving with very different velocities. Put such a gas into a vessel with two compartments [A and B] and make a small hole in the wall about the right size to let one molecule through. Provide a lid or stopper for this hole and appoint a doorkeeper, very intelligent and exceedingly quick, with microscopic eyes but still an essentially finite being.
Whenever he sees a molecule of great velocity coming against the door from A into B he is to let it through, but if the molecule happens to be going slow he is to keep the door shut. He is also to let slow molecules pass from B to A but not fast ones ... In this way the temperature of B may be raised and that of A lowered without any expenditure of work, but only by the intelligent action of a mere guiding agent (like a pointsman on a railway with perfectly acting switches who should send the express along one line and the goods along another).
I do not see why even intelligence might not be dispensed with and the thing be made self-acting.
Moral The 2nd law of Thermodynamics has the same degree of truth as the statement that if you throw a tumblerful of water into the sea you cannot get the same tumblerful of water out again.
Letter to John William Strutt (6 Dec 1870). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 582-3.
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For some months the astronomer Halley and other friends of Newton had been discussing the problem in the following precise form: what is the path of a body attracted by a force directed toward a fixed point, the force varying in intensity as the inverse of the distance? Newton answered instantly, “An ellipse.” “How do you know?” he was asked. “Why, I have calculated it.” Thus originated the imperishable Principia, which Newton later wrote out for Halley. It contained a complete treatise on motion.
In The Handmaiden of the Sciences (1937), 37.
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For undemocratic reasons and for motives not of State, they arrive at their conclusions—largely inarticulate. Being void of self-expression they confide their views to none; but sometimes in a smoking room, one learns why things were done.
…...
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For, dear me, why abandon a belief
Merely because it ceases to be true.
Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt
It will turn true again, for so it goes.
Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favour.
'The Black Cottage'. In Edward Connery Latham (ed.), The Poetry of Robert Frost (1971), 77.
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Formerly one sought the feeling of the grandeur of man by pointing to his divine origin: this has now become a forbidden way, for at its portal stands the ape, together with other gruesome beasts, grinning knowingly as if to say: no further in this direction! One therefore now tries the opposite direction: the way mankind is going shall serve as proof of his grandeur and kinship with God. Alas this, too, is vain! At the end of this way stands the funeral urn of the last man and gravedigger (with the inscription “nihil humani a me alienum puto”). However high mankind may have evolved—and perhaps at the end it will stand even lower than at the beginning!— it cannot pass over into a higher order, as little as the ant and the earwig can at the end of its “earthly course” rise up to kinship with God and eternal life. The becoming drags the has-been along behind it: why should an exception to this eternal spectacle be made on behalf of some little star or for any little species upon it! Away with such sentimentalities!
Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality (1881), trans. R. J. Hollingdale (1982), 32.
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Gentlemen, now you will see that now you see nothing. And why you see nothing you will see presently.
Quoted in R. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 164.
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Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection of the mind of God. That men are able to participate in it is one of the reasons why man is an image of God.
As quoted in Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 524, citing Letter (9 or 10 April 1599) to Herwart von Hohenburg.
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Given angel’s wings, where might you fly?
In what sweet heaven might you find your love?
Unwilling to be bound, where might you move,
Lost between the wonder and the why?...
…...
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God in His wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why.
'The Fly' (1942), Good Intentions (1943), 220.
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Good people are seldom fully recognised during their lifetimes, and here, there are serious problems of corruption. One day it will be realised that my findings should have been acknowledged.
It was difficult, but she always smiled when asked why she went on when recognition eluded her in her own country.
Quoted in obituary by Anthony Tucker, 'Alice Stewart', The Guardian newspaper (28 Jun 2002).
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Gravity tells us why an apple doesn’t go to heaven.
Anonymous
In Cecil Hunt, The Best Howlers (1957).
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Have you ever watched an eagle held captive in a zoo, fat and plump and full of food and safe from danger too?
Then have you seen another wheeling high up in the sky, thin and hard and battle-scarred, but free to soar and fly?
Well, which have you pitied the caged one or his brother? Though safe and warm from foe or storm, the captive, not the other!
There’s something of the eagle in climbers, don’t you see; a secret thing, perhaps the soul, that clamors to be free.
It’s a different sort of freedom from the kind we often mean, not free to work and eat and sleep and live in peace serene.
But freedom like a wild thing to leap and soar and strive, to struggle with the icy blast, to really be alive.
That’s why we climb the mountain’s peak from which the cloud-veils flow, to stand and watch the eagle fly, and soar, and wheel... below...
…...
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He [Lord Bacon] appears to have been utterly ignorant of the discoveries which had just been made by Kepler’s calculations … he does not say a word about Napier’s Logarithms, which had been published only nine years before and reprinted more than once in the interval. He complained that no considerable advance had been made in Geometry beyond Euclid, without taking any notice of what had been done by Archimedes and Apollonius. He saw the importance of determining accurately the specific gravities of different substances, and himself attempted to form a table of them by a rude process of his own, without knowing of the more scientific though still imperfect methods previously employed by Archimedes, Ghetaldus and Porta. He speaks of the εὕρηκα of Archimedes in a manner which implies that he did not clearly appreciate either the problem to be solved or the principles upon which the solution depended. In reviewing the progress of Mechanics, he makes no mention either of Archimedes, or Stevinus, Galileo, Guldinus, or Ghetaldus. He makes no allusion to the theory of Equilibrium. He observes that a ball of one pound weight will fall nearly as fast through the air as a ball of two, without alluding to the theory of acceleration of falling bodies, which had been made known by Galileo more than thirty years before. He proposed an inquiry with regard to the lever,—namely, whether in a balance with arms of different length but equal weight the distance from the fulcrum has any effect upon the inclination—though the theory of the lever was as well understood in his own time as it is now. … He speaks of the poles of the earth as fixed, in a manner which seems to imply that he was not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes; and in another place, of the north pole being above and the south pole below, as a reason why in our hemisphere the north winds predominate over the south.
From Spedding’s 'Preface' to De Interpretations Naturae Proœmium, in The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 3, 511-512. [Note: the Greek word “εὕρηκα” is “Eureka” —Webmaster.]
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How did I discover saccharin? Well, it was partly by accident and partly by study. I had worked a long time on the compound radicals and substitution products of coal tar... One evening I was so interested in my laboratory that I forgot about my supper till quite late, and then rushed off for a meal without stopping to wash my hands. I sat down, broke a piece of bread, and put it to my lips. It tasted unspeakably sweet. I did not ask why it was so, probably because I thought it was some cake or sweetmeat. I rinsed my mouth with water, and dried my moustache with my napkin, when, to my surprise the napkin tasted sweeter than the bread. Then I was puzzled. I again raised my goblet, and, as fortune would have it, applied my mouth where my fingers had touched it before. The water seemed syrup. It flashed on me that I was the cause of the singular universal sweetness, and I accordingly tasted the end of my thumb, and found it surpassed any confectionery I had ever eaten. I saw the whole thing at once. I had discovered some coal tar substance which out-sugared sugar. I dropped my dinner, and ran back to the laboratory. There, in my excitement, I tasted the contents of every beaker and evaporating dish on the table.
Interview with American Analyst. Reprinted in Pacific Record of Medicine and Surgery (1886), 1, No. 3, 78.
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How many and how curious problems concern the commonest of the sea-snails creeping over the wet sea-weed! In how many points of view may its history be considered! There are its origin and development, the mystery of its generation, the phenomena of its growth, all concerning each apparently insignificant individual; there is the history of the species, the value of its distinctive marks, the features which link it with the higher and lower creatures, the reason why it takes its stand where we place it in the scale of creation, the course of its distribution, the causes of its diffusion, its antiquity or novelty, the mystery (deepest of mysteries) of its first appearance, the changes of the outline of continents and of oceans which have taken place since its advent, and their influence on its own wanderings.
On the Natural History of European Seas. In George Wilson and Archibald Geikie, Memoir of Edward Forbes F.R.S. (1861), 547-8.
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Hubble's observations suggested that there was a time, called the big bang, when the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. Under such conditions all the laws of science, and therefore all ability to predict the future, would break down. If there were events earlier than this time, then they could not affect what happens at the present time. Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined. It should be emphasized that this beginning in time is very different from those that had been considered previously. In an unchanging universe a beginning in time is something that has to be imposed by some being outside the universe; there is no physical necessity for a beginning. One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 8-9.
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Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.
As quoted, without citation, by Kurt W. Beyer, 'Grace Murray Hopper', in Joseph J. Thomas, Leadership Embodied: The Secrets to Success of the Most Effective Navy and Marine Corps Leaders (2005), 160.
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I am born into an environment–I know not whence I came nor whither I go nor who I am. This is my situation as yours, every single one of you. The fact that everyone always was in this same situation, and always will be, tells me nothing. Our burning question as to the whence and whither–all we can ourselves observe about it is the present environment. That is why we are eager to find out about it as much as we can. That is science, learning, knowledge; it is the true source of every spiritual endeavour of man. We try to find out as much as we can about the spatial and temporal surroundings of the place in which we find ourselves put by birth.
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I can no more explain why I like “natural history” than why I like California canned peaches; nor why I do not care for that enormous brand of natural history which deals with invertebrates any more than why I do not care for brandied peaches. All I can say is that almost as soon as I began to read at all I began to like to read about the natural history of beasts and birds and the more formidable or interesting reptiles and fishes.
In 'My Life as a Naturalist', American Museum Journal (May 1918), 18, 321. As cited in Maurice Garland Fulton (ed.) Roosevelt's Writings: Selections from the Writings of Theodore Roosevelt (1920), 247.
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I can’t understand why men make all this fuss about Everest—it’s only a mountain.
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I decided that life rationally considered seemed pointless and futile, but it is still interesting in a variety of ways, including the study of science. So why not carry on, following the path of scientific hedonism? Besides, I did not have the courage for the more rational procedure of suicide.
Life of a Scientist (1989), 24.
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I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I became man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
'I Died as a Mineral', in Arthur John Arberry, Classical Persian Literature (1994), 241.
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I do not want to write beyond this point, because those days when I studied relentlessly are nostalgic to me; and on the other hand, I am sad when I think how I have become increasingly preoccupied with matters other than study.
Explaining in his autobiography why he went no further in recording his life therein than 1934, when he published his paper describing his great discovery.
The Traveler.
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I don't see why religion and science can't cooperate. What's wrong with using a computer to count our blessings?
In Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans and Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote (2003), 108.
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I don’t need hobbies. I mean, why should I run after a ball on a field after I have kicked papers around from nine to five?
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 197.
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I don’t understand why people insist on pitting concepts of evolution and creation against each other. Why can’t they see that spiritualism and science are one? That bodies evolve and souls evolve and the universe is a fluid package that marries them both in a wonderful package called a human being.
The Art of Racing in the Rain. Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 43
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I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery, but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.
As quoted in John Noble Wilford, 'Sizing up the Cosmos: An Astronomers Quest', New York Times (12 Mar 1991), C10.
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I fully expect that NASA will send me back to the Moon as they treated Senator [John] Glenn, and if they don’t do otherwise, why, then I’ll have to do it myself.
About looking forward to the day he turned 77. In interview with Associated Press, as quoted in Peter Bond, 'Obituary: Charles Conrad Jnr', The Independent (10 Jul 1999).
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I had a dislike for [mathematics], and ... was hopelessly short in algebra. ... [One extraordinary teacher of mathematics] got the whole year's course into me in exactly six [after-school] lessons of half an hour each. And how? More accurately, why? Simply because he was an algebra fanatic—because he believed that algebra was not only a science of the utmost importance, but also one of the greatest fascination. ... [H]e convinced me in twenty minutes that ignorance of algebra was as calamitous, socially and intellectually, as ignorance of table manners—That acquiring its elements was as necessary as washing behind the ears. So I fell upon the book and gulped it voraciously. ... To this day I comprehend the binomial theorem.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261-262.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I had a feeling once about Mathematics—that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me—the Byss and Abyss. I saw—as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show—a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.
In Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait (1954), 38.
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I had this experience at the age of eight. My parents gave me a microscope. I don’t recall why, but no matter. I then found my own little world, completely wild and unconstrained, no plastic, no teacher, no books, no anything predictable. At first I did not know the names of the water-drop denizens or what they were doing. But neither did the pioneer microscopists. Like them, I graduated to looking at butterfly scales and other miscellaneous objects. I never thought of what I was doing in such a way, but it was pure science. As true as could be of any child so engaged, I was kin to Leeuwenhoek, who said that his work “was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more that most other men.”
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 143-144.
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I have always been very fond of mathematics—for one short period, I even toyed with the possibility of abandoning chemistry in its favour. I enjoyed immensely both its conceptual and formal beauties, and the precision and elegance of its relationships and transformations. Why then did I not succumb to its charms? … because by and large, mathematics lacks the sensuous elements which play so large a role in my attraction to chemistry.I love crystals, the beauty of their forms and formation; liquids, dormant, distilling, sloshing! The fumes, the odors—good or bad, the rainbow of colors; the gleaming vessels of every size, shape and purpose.
In Arthur Clay Cope Address, Chicago (28 Aug 1973). In O. T. Benfey and P. J. T. Morris (eds.), Robert Burns Woodward. Architect and Artist in the World of Molecules (2001), 427.
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I have always felt that astronomical hypotheses should not be regarded as articles of faith, but should only serve as a framework for astronomical calculations, so that it does not matter whether they were right or wrong, as long as the phenomena can be characterized precisely. For who could possibly be certain as to whether the uneven movement of the sun, if we follow the hypotheses of Ptolemy, can be explained by assuming an epicycle or eccentricity. Both assumptions are plausible. That’s why I would consider it quite desirable for you to tell something about that in the preface. In this way you would appease the Aristotelians and the theologians, whose opposition you dread.
From surviving fragment of a Letter (20 Apr 1541) answering a query from Copernicus as to whether he should publish his book (De Revolutionibus). From the German in Leopold Friedrich Prowe, Nicolaus Coppernicus (1883), Vol. 1, Part 2, 521-522. Translated from Prowe by Webmaster using web resources. Original German: “Hypothesen nicht als Glaubens-Artikel zu betrachten seien, sondern nur als Grundlage für die astronomischen Rechnungen zu dienen hätten, so dass es nicht darauf ankomme, ob sie richtig oder falsch seien, wofern sich nur die Erscheinungen dadurch genau bestimmen liessen. »Denn wer dürfte uns wohl darüber sichere Auskunft geben, ob die ungleiche Bewegung der Sonne, wenn wir den Hypothesen des Ptolemaeus folgen, durch Annahme eines Epicykels oder der Ekcentricität zu erklären sei. Beide Annahmen sind gestattet. Daher würde ich—so schliesst Osiander—es für recht wünschenswerth erachten, wenn Du hierüber in der Vorrede etwas beibrächtest. Auf diese Weise würdest Du die Aristoteliker und die Theologen milder stimmen, von denen Du befürchtest, dass sie heftigen Widerspruch kundthun werden.«” Compare Latin text, from Johannes Kepler, 'Apologia Tychonia', Astronomi Opera Omnia (1858), Vol. 1, 246: “De hypothesibus ego sic sensi semper, non esse articulos fidei, sed fundamenta calculi ita ut, etiamsi falsae sint, modo motuum φαινομενα exacte exhibeant, nihil referat; quis enim nos certiores reddet, an Solis inaequalis motus nomine epicycli an nomine eccentricitatis contingat, si Ptolemaei hypotheses sequamur, cum id possit utrumque. Quare plausibile fore videretur, si hac de re in praefatione nonnihil attingeres. Sic enim placidiores redderes peripatheticos et theologos, quos contradicturos metuis.”
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I have clearly recorded this: for one can learn good lessons also from what has been tried but clearly has not succeeded, when it is clear why it has not succeeded.
On Joints, 47. Trans. R. W. Sharples.
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I have indeed lived and worked to my taste either in art or science. What more could a man desire? Knowledge has always been my goal. There is much that I shall leave behind undone…but something at least I was privileged to leave for the world to use, if it so intends…As the Latin poet said I will leave the table of the living like a guest who has eaten his fill. Yes, if I had another life to spend, I certainly would not waste it. But that cannot be, so why complain?
Letter to R. C. Craw, quoted in Tuatara (1984) Vol. 27 (1): 5-7
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I have never understood why it should be considered derogatory to the Creator to suppose that he has a sense of humour.
Dean Inge
In 'Confessio Fidei', collected in Outspoken Essays: Second Series (1922), 24.
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I have tried to show why I believe that the biologist is the most romantic figure on earth at the present day. At first sight he seems to be just a poor little scrubby underpaid man, groping blindly amid the mazes of the ultra-microscopic, engaging in bitter and lifelong quarrels over the nephridia of flatworms, waking perhaps one morning to find that someone whose name he has never heard has demolished by a few crucial experiments the work which he had hoped would render him immortal.
Daedalus or Science and the Future (1924), 77.
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I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), 6. Often seen attributed to John F. Kennedy or Bobby Kennedy who restated this quote as “Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
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I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
The Serpent. Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 121
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I read them. Not to grade them. No, I read them to see how I am doing. Where am I failing? What don’t they understand? Why do they give wrong answers? Why do they have some point of view that I don’t think is right? Where am I failing? Where do I need to build up.
In The Essential Deming.
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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 see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone.
In Origin of Species (1860), 417.
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I see no good reason why the views given this volume [The Origin of Species] should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, “as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.”
The Origin of Species (1909), 520.
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I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals. Again, I see no reason why the belief that we are insignificant or fortuitous should lessen our faith.
Letter to her father, Ellis Franklin, undated, perhaps summer 1940 while she was an undergraduate at Cambridge. Excerpted in Brenda Maddox, The Dark Lady of DNA (2002), 61.
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I see with much pleasure that you are working on a large work on the integral Calculus [ ... ] The reconciliation of the methods which you are planning to make, serves to clarify them mutually, and what they have in common contains very often their true metaphysics; this is why that metaphysics is almost the last thing that one discovers. The spirit arrives at the results as if by instinct; it is only on reflecting upon the route that it and others have followed that it succeeds in generalising the methods and in discovering its metaphysics.
Letter to S. F. Lacroix, 1792. Quoted in S. F. Lacroix, Traité du calcul differentiel et du calcul integral (1797), Vol. 1, xxiv, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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I should like to compare this rearrangement which the proteins undergo in the animal or vegetable organism to the making up of a railroad train. In their passage through the body parts of the whole may be left behind, and here and there new parts added on. In order to understand fully the change we must remember that the proteins are composed of Bausteine united in very different ways. Some of them contain Bausteine of many kinds. The multiplicity of the proteins is determined by many causes, first through the differences in the nature of the constituent Bausteine; and secondly, through differences in the arrangement of them. The number of Bausteine which may take part in the formation of the proteins is about as large as the number of letters in the alphabet. When we consider that through the combination of letters an infinitely large number of thoughts may be expressed, we can understand how vast a number of the properties of the organism may be recorded in the small space which is occupied by the protein molecules. It enables us to understand how it is possible for the proteins of the sex-cells to contain, to a certain extent, a complete description of the species and even of the individual. We may also comprehend how great and important the task is to determine the structure of the proteins, and why the biochemist has devoted himself with so much industry to their analysis.
'The Chemical Composition of the Cell', The Harvey Lectures (1911), 7, 45.
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I thank you for your Expt on the Hedge Hog; but why do you ask me such a question, by way of solving it. I think your solution is just; but why think, why not try the Expt.
[Often seen, without context, briefly as: But why think, why not try the experiment?']
Letter to Edward Jenner (2 Aug 1775). In A. J. Harding Rains (ed.), Letters From the Past: From John Hunter to Edward Jenner (1976), 9.
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I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was 'It won the fight!'
Quoted in George Wald, 'The Origin of Optical Activity', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (1957), 60, 352-68.
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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 wish people would more generally bring back the seeds of pleasing foreign plants and introduce them broadcast, sowing them by our waysides and in our fields, or in whatever situation is most likely to suit them. It is true, this would puzzle botanists, but there is no reason why botanists should not be puzzled. A botanist is a person whose aim is to uproot, kill and exterminate every plant that is at all remarkable for rarity or any special virtue, and the rarer it is the more bitterly he will hunt it down.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 281.
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I wish they would use English instead of Greek words. When I want to know why a leaf is green, they tell me it is coloured by “chlorophyll,” which at first sounds very instructive; but if they would only say plainly that a leaf is coloured green by a thing which is called “green leaf,” we should see more precisely how far we had got.
The word “chlorophyll” is formed from the Greek words for “green” “leaf.” In The Queen of the Air: a Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm (1869, 1889), 51.
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I wondher why ye can always read a doctor's bill an’ ye niver can read his purscription.
'Drugs', Mr. Dooley Says (1910). In The Speaker: A Quarterly Magazine (1913), Vol. 8, 147.
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I would picture myself as a virus, or as a cancer cell, for example, and try to sense what it would be like to be either. I would also imagine myself as the immune system, and I would try to reconstruct what I would do as an immune system engaged in combating a virus or cancer cell. When I had played through a series of such scenarios on a particular problem and had acquired new insights, I would design laboratory experiments accordingly… Based upon the results of the experiment, I would then know what question to ask next… When I observed phenomena in the laboratory that I did not understand, I would also ask questions as if interrogating myself: “Why would I do that if I were a virus or a cancer cell, or the immune system?” Before long, this internal dialogue became second nature to me; I found that my mind worked this way all the time.
In Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983), 7, footnote b, as quoted and cited in Roger Frantz, Two Minds: Intuition and Analysis in the History of Economic Thought (2006), 7.
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I'm not smart. I try to observe. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton was the one who asked 'why.'
Quoted in New York Post (24 Jun 1965). In Alfred J. Kolatch, Great Jewish Quotations (1996), 38-39.
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If a small animal and a lighted candle be placed in a closed flask, so that no air can enter, in a short time the candle will go out, nor will the animal long survive. ... The animal is not suffocated by the smoke of the candle. ... The reason why the animal can live some time after the candle has gone out seems to be that the flame needs a continuous rapid and full supply of nitro-aereal particles. ... For animals, a less aereal spirit is sufficient. ... The movements of the lungs help not a little towards sucking in aereal particles which may remain in said flask and towards transferring them to the blood of the animal.
Remarking (a hundred years before Priestley identified oxygen) that a component of the air is taken into the blood.
Quoted in William Stirling, Some Apostles of Physiology (1902), 45.
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If atoms do, by chance, happen to combine themselves into so many shapes, why have they never combined together to form a house or a slipper? By the same token, why do we not believe that if innumerable letters of the Greek alphabet were poured all over the market-place they would eventually happen to form the text of the Iliad?
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Book 2, Chapter 12, 'Apology for Raymond Sebond', trans. M. A. Screech (1991), 612.
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If God did not intend for us to eat animals, why did he make them taste so good?
Anonymous
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If it is good to teach students about the chemical industry then why is it not good to assign ethical qualities to substances along with their physical and chemical ones? We might for instance say that CS [gas] is a bad chemical because it can only ever be used by a few people with something to protect against many people with nothing to lose. Terylene or indigotin are neutral chemicals. Under capitalism their production is an exploitive process, under socialism they are used for the common good. Penicillin is a good chemical.
Quoted in T. Pateman (ed.), Countercourse (1972), 215.
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If it were always necessary to reduce everything to intuitive knowledge, demonstration would often be insufferably prolix. This is why mathematicians have had the cleverness to divide the difficulties and to demonstrate separately the intervening propositions. And there is art also in this; for as the mediate truths (which are called lemmas, since they appear to be a digression) may be assigned in many ways, it is well, in order to aid the understanding and memory, to choose of them those which greatly shorten the process, and appear memorable and worthy in themselves of being demonstrated. But there is another obstacle, viz.: that it is not easy to demonstrate all the axioms, and to reduce demonstrations wholly to intuitive knowledge. And if we had chosen to wait for that, perhaps we should not yet have the science of geometry.
In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz and Alfred Gideon Langley (trans.), New Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1896), 413-414.
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If it were possible for a metaphysician to be a golfer, he might perhaps occasionally notice that his ball, instead of moving forward in a vertical plane (like the generality of projectiles, such as brickbats and cricket balls), skewed away gradually to the right. If he did notice it, his methods would naturally lead him to content himself with his caddies’s remark-“ye heeled that yin,” or “Ye jist sliced it.” … But a scientific man is not to be put off with such flimsy verbiage as that. He must know more. What is “Heeling”, what is “slicing”, and why would either operation (if it could be thoroughly carried out) send a ball as if to cover point, thence to long slip, and finally behind back-stop? These, as Falstaff said, are “questions to be asked.”
In 'The Unwritten Chapter on Golf, Nature (1887), 36, 502.
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If Louis Pasteur were to come out of his grave because he heard that the cure for cancer still had not been found, NIH would tell him, “Of course we'll give you assistance. Now write up exactly what you will be doing during the three years of your grant.” Pasteur would say, “Thank you very much,” and would go back to his grave. Why? Because research means going into the unknown. If you know what you are going to do in science, then you are stupid! This is like telling Michelangelo or Renoir that he must tell you in advance how many reds and how many blues he will buy, and exactly how he will put those colors together.
Interview for Saturday Evening Post (Jan/Feb 1981), 30.
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If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
Anonymous
Usually seen without any source. Although sometimes attributed to George Carlin or Stephen Wright, Webmaster has, so far, identified no primary source. Can you help?
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If the Humours of the Eye by old Age decay, so as by shrinking to make the Cornea and Coat of the Crystalline Humour grow flatter than before, the Light will not be refracted enough, and for want of a sufficient Refraction will not converge to the bottom of the Eye but to some place beyond it, and by consequence paint in the bottom of the Eye a confused Picture, and according to the Indistinctuess of this Picture the Object will appear confused. This is the reason of the decay of sight in old Men, and shews why their Sight is mended by Spectacles. For those Convex glasses supply the defect of plumpness in the Eye, and by increasing the Refraction make the rays converge sooner, so as to convene distinctly at the bottom of the Eye if the Glass have a due degree of convexity. And the contrary happens in short-sighted Men whose Eyes are too plump. For the Refraction being now too great, the Rays converge and convene in the Eyes before they come at the bottom; and therefore the Picture made in the bottom and the Vision caused thereby will not be distinct, unless the Object be brought so near the Eye as that the place where the converging Rays convene may be removed to the bottom, or that the plumpness of the Eye be taken off and the Refractions diminished by a Concave-glass of a due degree of Concavity, or lastly that by Age the Eye grow flatter till it come to a due Figure: For short-sighted Men see remote Objects best in Old Age, and therefore they are accounted to have the most lasting Eyes.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Axiom VII, 10-11.
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If there be an order in which the human race has mastered its various kinds of knowledge, there will arise in every child an aptitude to acquire these kinds of knowledge in the same order. So that even were the order intrinsically indifferent, it would facilitate education to lead the individual mind through the steps traversed by the general mind. But the order is not intrinsically indifferent; and hence the fundamental reason why education should be a repetition of civilization in little.
Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical (1861), 76.
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If there were some solitary or feral man, the passions of the soul would be sufficient for him; by them he would be conformed to things in order that he might have knowledge of them. But because man is naturally political and social, there is need for one man to make his conceptions known to others, which is done with speech. So significant speech was needed if men were to live together. Which is why those of different tongues do not easily live together.
Sententia super libri Perihermeneias (Commentary on Aristotle’s On Interpretation) [1270-1271], Book I, lesson 2, number 2, trans. R. McInerny, quoted in R. McInerny (ed.) Thomas Aquinas, Selected Writings (1998), 460.
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If this “critical openminded attitude” … is wanted, the question at once arises, Is it science that should be studied in order to achieve it? Why not study law? A judge has to do everything that a scientist is exhorted to do in the way of withholding judgment until all the facts are in, and then judging impartially on the merits of the case as well as he can. … Why not a course in Sherlock Holmes? The detectives, or at least the detective-story writers, join with the scientists in excoriating “dogmatic prejudice, lying, falsification of facts, and data, and willful fallacious reasoning.”
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 191.
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If three simple questions and one well chosen laboratory test lead to an unambiguous diagnosis, why harry the patient with more?
Anonymous
Editorial, 'Clinical decision by numbers'. Lancet (1975) 1, 1077.
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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If we do discover a complete unified theory, it should be in time understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.
A Brief History of Time (1988), 191.
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If you do not agree with the prevalent point of view, be ready to explain why.
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If you had come to me a hundred years ago, do you think I should have dreamed of the telephone? Why, even now I cannot understand it! I use it every day, I transact half my correspondence by means of it, but I don’t understand it. Thnk of that little stretched disk of iron at the end of a wire repeating in your ear not only sounds, but words—not only words, but all the most delicate and elusive inflections and nuances of tone which separate one human voice from another! Is not that something of a miracle?
Quoted in Harold Begbie in Pall Mall magazine (Jan 1903). In Albert Shaw, The American Monthly Review of Reviews (1903), 27, 232.
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If you take a plunge into the sea, you unconsciously close your pores against the cold. If you go out on a cold day, you consciously put on an overcoat. Science can give you reason why you should not make & put on an overcoat without knowing it just as you shut your pores.
Letter to E.C. Chapman (29 Jul 1891), Dan H. Laurence (ed.), Collected Letters (1965), Vol. 1, 303.
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If you were going to risk all that, not just risk the hardship and the pain but risk your life. Put everything on line for a dream, for something that’s worth nothing, that can’t be proved to anybody. You just have the transient moment on a summit and when you come back down to the valley it goes. It is actually a completely illogical thing to do. It is not justifiable by any rational terms. That’s probably why you do it.
The Beckoning Silence
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Imagine that … the world is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. … If we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules…. However, we might not be able to understand why a particular move is made in the game, merely because it is too complicated and our minds are limited…. We must limit ourselves to the more basic question of the rules of the game.
If we know the rules, we consider that we “understand” the world.
In 'Basic Physics', The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964, 2013), Vol. 1, 2-1.
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In 1684 Dr Halley came to visit him at Cambridge, after they had been some time together, the Dr asked him what he thought the Curve would be that would be described by the Planets supposing the force of attraction towards the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it. Sr Isaac replied immediately that it would be an Ellipsis, the Doctor struck with joy & amazement asked him how he knew it, why saith he I have calculated it, whereupon Dr Halley asked him for his calculation without any farther delay. Sr Isaac looked among his papers but could not find it, but he promised him to renew it, & then to send it him.
[Recollecting Newton's account of the meeting after which Halley prompted Newton to write The Principia. When asking Newton this question, Halley was aware, without revealing it to Newton that Robert Hooke had made this hypothesis of plantary motion a decade earlier.]
Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 403.
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In Institutions of a lower grade [secondary schools], it [geology] receives far less attention than its merits deserve. Why should not a science, whose facts possess a thrilling interest; whose reasonings are admirably adapted for mental discipline, and often severely tax the strongest powers; and whose results are, many of them, as grand and ennobling as those of Astronomy itself; … why should not such a science be thought as essential in education as the kindred branches of Chemistry and Astronomy?
In 'Preface', Elementary Geology (1840, 1841), vi.
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In mathematics, if a pattern occurs, we can go on to ask, Why does it occur? What does it signify? And we can find answers to these questions. In fact, for every pattern that appears, a mathematician feels he ought to know why it appears.
in Prelude to mathematics (1955), 23.
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In particular, and most importantly, this is the reason why the scientific worldview contains of itself no ethical values, no esthetical values, not a word about our own ultimate scope or destination, and no God, if you please. Whence came I and whither go I?
…...
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In terms of doing things I take a fairly scientific approach to why things happen and how they happen. I don't know if there's a god or not, but I think religious principles are quite valid.
PBS interview with David Frost (Nov 1995). In Lisa Rogak (ed.) The Impatient Optimist - Bill Gates in his Words (2012), 107.
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In the 1860s, Pasteur not only applied his germ theory to create “Pasteurization,” rescuing France’s wine and vinegar industries, but also found both the cause and cure of silkworm disease, saving growers millions of dollars. When Napoleon asked the scientist why he had not legitimately profited by his findings, Pasteur replied: “In France scientists would consider they lowered themselves by doing so.”
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 190.
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In the modern world, science and society often interact in a perverse way. We live in a technological society, and technology causes political problems. The politicians and the public expect science to provide answers to the problems. Scientific experts are paid and encouraged to provide answers. The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know.” The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.
Frederick S. Pardee Distinguished Lecture (Oct 2005), Boston University. Collected in 'Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society', A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007), 43-44.
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In the present state of our knowledge, it would be useless to attempt to speculate on the remote cause of the electrical energy, or the reason why different bodies, after being brought into contact, should be found differently electrified; its relation to chemical affinity is, however, sufficiently evident. May it not be identical with it, and an essential property of matter?
Bakerian Lecture, 'On Some Chemical Agencies of Electricity', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1807, 97, 39.
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In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside. Our Planck is one of them, and that is why we love him.
Address at Physical Society, Berlin (1918), for Max Planck’s 60th birthday, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 1.
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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 great celestial creation, the catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident in life with us, and in all probability such final and general Doomsdays may be as frequent there, as even Birthdays or mortality with us upon the earth. This idea has something so cheerful in it, that I know I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers; and that men endowed with sense and reason should neglect a science they are naturally so much interested in, and so capable of enlarging their understanding, as next to a demonstration must convince them of their immortality, and reconcile them to all those little difficulties incident to human nature, without the least anxiety. All this the vast apparent provision in the starry mansions seem to promise: What ought we then not to do, to preserve our natural birthright to it and to merit such inheritance, which alas we think created all to gratify alone a race of vain-glorious gigantic beings, while they are confined to this world, chained like so many atoms to a grain of sand.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 132.
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Is it in Time to hide Eternity?
And why not in an Atom on the Shore,
To cover Ocean? or a Mote, the Sun?
The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742, 1750), Night 6, 127. [A mote means a speck - Webmaster]
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It follows from the supreme perfection of God, that in creating the universe has chosen the best possible plan, in which there is the greatest variety together with the greatest order; the best arranged ground, place, time; the most results produced in the most simple ways; the most of power, knowledge, happiness and goodness the creatures that the universe could permit. For since all the possibles in I understanding of God laid claim to existence in proportion to their perfections, the actual world, as the resultant of all these claims, must be the most perfect possible. And without this it would not be possible to give a reason why things have turned out so rather than otherwise.
The Principles of Nature and Grace (1714), The Philosophical Works of Leibnitz (1890), ed. G. M. Duncan, 213-4.
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It goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging, this majestic roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving, how express and admirable, in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god—the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
Hamlet (1601), II, ii.
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It has always irked me as improper that there are still so many people for whom the sky is no more than a mass of random points of light. I do not see why we should recognize a house, a tree, or a flower here below and not, for example, the red Arcturus up there in the heavens as it hangs from its constellation Bootes, like a basket hanging from a balloon.
As quoted in J. L. Locher, Escher: With a Complete Catalogue of the Graphic Works (1982), 113.
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It has often been said, and certainly not without justification, that the man of science is a poor philosopher. Why then should it not be the right thing for the physicist to let the philosopher do the philosophising? Such might indeed be the right thing to do a time when the physicist believes he has at his disposal a rigid system of fundamental laws which are so well that waves of doubt can't reach them; but it cannot be right at a time when the very foundations of physics itself have become problematic as they are now … when experience forces us to seek a newer and more solid foundation.
‘Physics and Reality’, Franklin Institute Journal (Mar 1936). Collected in Out of My Later Years (1950), 58.
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It is curious to reflect on how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.
It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. He'll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.
Address at a meeting of the Berkeley Lyceum, New York (23 Nov 1900). Mark Twain's Speeches (2006), 69-70.
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It is imperative in the design process to have a full and complete understanding of how failure is being obviated in order to achieve success. Without fully appreciating how close to failing a new design is, its own designer may not fully understand how and why a design works. A new design may prove to be successful because it has a sufficiently large factor of safety (which, of course, has often rightly been called a “factor of ignorance”), but a design's true factor of safety can never be known if the ultimate failure mode is unknown. Thus the design that succeeds (ie, does not fail) can actually provide less reliable information about how or how not to extrapolate from that design than one that fails. It is this observation that has long motivated reflective designers to study failures even more assiduously than successes.
In Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering (1994), 31. books.google.comHenry Petroski - 1994
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It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
In Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 105. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 19.
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It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atom bomb, and then puts its hands over its eye and says, 'My God what have I done?
The Stalin in Soul (1973). Quoted in Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations (2005), 322.
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It is structure that we look for whenever we try to understand anything. All science is built upon this search; we investigate how the cell is built of reticular material, cytoplasm, chromosomes; how crystals aggregate; how atoms are fastened together; how electrons constitute a chemical bond between atoms. We like to understand, and to explain, observed facts in terms of structure. A chemist who understands why a diamond has certain properties, or why nylon or hemoglobin have other properties, because of the different ways their atoms are arranged, may ask questions that a geologist would not think of formulating, unless he had been similarly trained in this way of thinking about the world.
‘The Place of Chemistry In the Integration of the Sciences’, Main Currents in Modern Thought (1950), 7, 110.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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It is we, we alone, who have dreamed up the causes, the one-thing-after-another, the one-thing-reciprocating-another, the relativity, the constraint, the numbers, the laws, the freedom, the ‘reason why,’ the purpose. ... We are creating myths.
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It is with our entire past ... that we desire, will and act ... from this survival of the past it follows that consciousness cannot go through the same state twice. The circumstances may still be the same, but they will act no longer on the same person ... that is why our duration is irreversible.
Creative Evolution (1911), trans. Arthur Mitchell, 6.
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It is, I believe, justifiable to make the generalization that anything an organic chemist can synthesize can be made without him. All he does is increase the probability that given reactions will “go”. So it is quite reasonable to assume that given sufficient time and proper conditions, nucleotides, amino acids, proteins, and nucleic acids will arise by reactions that, though less probable, are as inevitable as those by which the organic chemist fulfills his predictions. So why not self-duplicating virus-like systems capable of further evolution?
The Place of Genetics in Modern Biology (1959),18.
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It might interest you that when we made the experiments that we did not read the literature well enough—and you know how that happens. On the other hand, one would think that other people would have told us about it. For instance, we had a colloquium at the time in Berlin at which all the important papers were discussed. Nobody discussed Bohr’s paper. Why not? The reason is that fifty years ago one was so convinced that nobody would, with the state of knowledge we had at that time, understand spectral line emission, so that if somebody published a paper about it, one assumed “probably it is not right.” So we did not know it.
Explaining how his experiment with Gustav Hertz produced results, without them knowing that it proved Niels Bohr’s theory of the atom and its energy levels. From an interview quoted by Gerald Holton in 'On the Recent Past of Physics', American Journal of Physics (1961), 29, 805. As cited in William H. Cropper, Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking (2001), 251.
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It was obvious—to me at any rate—that the answer was to why an enzyme is able to speed up a chemical reaction by as much as 10 million times. It had to do this by lowering the energy of activation—the energy of forming the activated complex. It could do this by forming strong bonds with the activated complex, but only weak bonds with the reactants or products.
Quoted In Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 284.
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I’m convinced that the best solutions are often the ones that are counterintuitive—that challenge conventional thinking—and end in breakthroughs. It is always easier to do things the same old way … why change? To fight this, keep your dissatisfaction index high and break with tradition. Don’t be too quick to accept the way things are being done. Question whether there’s a better way. Very often you will find that once you make this break from the usual way - and incidentally, this is probably the hardest thing to do—and start on a new track your horizon of new thoughts immediately broadens. New ideas flow in like water. Always keep your interests broad - don’t let your mind be stunted by a limited view.
1988
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Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Bob, why are you resisting me?” I said, “I’m not resisting You!” He said, “You gonna follow Me?” I said, “I’ve never thought about that before!” He said, “When you’re not following Me, you’re resisting Me.”
Bob Dylan
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 156
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Just as in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, an individual comes into being, so to speak, grows, remains in being, declines and passes on, will it not be the same for entire species? If our faith did not teach us that animals left the Creator's hands just as they now appear and, if it were permitted to entertain the slightest doubt as to their beginning and their end, may not a philosopher, left to his own conjectures, suspect that, from time immemorial, animal life had its own constituent elements, scattered and intermingled with the general body of matter, and that it happened when these constituent elements came together because it was possible for them to do so; that the embryo formed from these elements went through innumerable arrangements and developments, successively acquiring movement, feeling, ideas, thought, reflection, consciousness, feelings, emotions, signs, gestures, sounds, articulate sounds, language, laws, arts and sciences; that millions of years passed between each of these developments, and there may be other developments or kinds of growth still to come of which we know nothing; that a stationary point either has been or will be reached; that the embryo either is, or will be, moving away from this point through a process of everlasting decay, during which its faculties will leave it in the same way as they arrived; that it will disappear for ever from nature-or rather, that it will continue to exist there, but in a form and with faculties very different from those it displays at this present point in time? Religion saves us from many deviations, and a good deal of work. Had religion not enlightened us on the origin of the world and the universal system of being, what a multitude of different hypotheses we would have been tempted to take as nature's secret! Since these hypotheses are all equally wrong, they would all have seemed almost equally plausible. The question of why anything exists is the most awkward that philosophy can raise- and Revelation alone provides the answer.
Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature and Other Philosophical Works (1753/4), ed. D. Adams (1999), Section LVIII, 75-6.
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Knowing how hard it is to collect a fact, you understand why most people want to have some fun analyzing it.
Quoted in Fortune (May 1960), as cited in Maxine Block, Anna Herthe Rothe and Marjorie Dent Candee, Current Biography Yearbook 1963 (1964), 161.
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Knowing what we now know about living systems—how they replicate and how they mutate—we are beginning to know how to control their evolutionary futures. To a considerable extent we now do that with the plants we cultivate and the animals we domesticate. This is, in fact, a standard application of genetics today. We could even go further, for there is no reason why we cannot in the same way direct our own evolutionary futures. I wish to emphasize, however—and emphatically—that whether we should do this and, if so, how, are not questions science alone can answer. They are for society as a whole to think about. Scientists can say what the consequences might be, but they are not justified in going further except as responsible members of society.
The Place of Genetics in Modern Biology (1959), 20.
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Let me arrest thy thoughts; wonder with me, why plowing, building, ruling and the rest, or most of those arts, whence our lives are blest, by cursed Cain’s race invented be, and blest Seth vexed us with Astronomy.
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Let Nature do your bottling and your pickling and preserving. For all Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist her. With the least inclination to be well, we should not be sick. Men have discovered—or think they have discovered—the salutariness of a few wild things only, and not of all nature. Why, “nature” is but another name for health, and the seasons are but different states of health. Some men think that they are not well in spring, or summer, or autumn, or winter; it is only because they are not well in them.
(23 Aug 1853). In Henry David Thoreau and Bradford Torrey (ed.), The Writings of Henry Thoreau: Journal: V: March 5-November 30, 1853 (1906), 395.
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Let us now declare the means whereby our understanding can rise to knowledge without fear of error. There are two such means: intuition and deduction. By intuition I mean not the varying testimony of the senses, nor the deductive judgment of imagination naturally extravagant, but the conception of an attentive mind so distinct and so clear that no doubt remains to it with regard to that which it comprehends; or, what amounts to the same thing, the self-evidencing conception of a sound and attentive mind, a conception which springs from the light of reason alone, and is more certain, because more simple, than deduction itself. …
It may perhaps be asked why to intuition we add this other mode of knowing, by deduction, that is to say, the process which, from something of which we have certain knowledge, draws consequences which necessarily follow therefrom. But we are obliged to admit this second step; for there are a great many things which, without being evident of themselves, nevertheless bear the marks of certainty if only they are deduced from true and incontestable principles by a continuous and uninterrupted movement of thought, with distinct intuition of each thing; just as we know that the last link of a long chain holds to the first, although we can not take in with one glance of the eye the intermediate links, provided that, after having run over them in succession, we can recall them all, each as being joined to its fellows, from the first up to the last. Thus we distinguish intuition from deduction, inasmuch as in the latter case there is conceived a certain progress or succession, while it is not so in the former; … whence it follows that primary propositions, derived immediately from principles, may be said to be known, according to the way we view them, now by intuition, now by deduction; although the principles themselves can be known only by intuition, the remote consequences only by deduction.
In Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Philosophy of Descartes. [Torrey] (1892), 64-65.
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Lies are crafted to match the hopes and desires and the fears of the intended listener… truth, on the other hand, is what it is, neither what you want it to be, nor what you are afraid it will be. So that is why lies are always more believable than the truth.
In 'Why We Believe Lies' (2011), on web site geoffreylandis.com.
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Like other departments of philosophy, medicine began with an age of wonder. The accidents of disease and the features of death aroused surprise and stimulated interest, and a beginning was made when man first asked in astonishment, Why should these things be?
In 'The Evolution of Internal Medicine', Modern Medicine: Its Theory and Practice, (1907), Vol. 1, xvi.
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Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of men. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Someday science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world. Not only shall we be able to cruise in space, but I’ll be hanged if I see any reason why some future generation shouldn’t walk off like a beetle with the world on its back, or give it another rotary motion so that every zone should receive in turn its due portion of heat and light.
Letter to his brother, Charles Francis Adams Jr., London, (11 Apr 1862). In J. C. Levenson, E. Samuels, C. Vandersee and V. Hopkins Winner (eds.), The Letters of Henry Adams: 1858-1868 (1982), Vol. 1, 290.
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Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. That is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast on nature.
Lecture, 'The Creative Mind' (26 Feb 1953) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Printed in Science and Human Values (1959), 18.
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Many inventions are not suitable for the people at large because of their carelessness. Before a thing can be marketed to the masses, it must be made practically fool-proof. Its operation must be made extremely simple. That is one reason, I think, why the phonograph has been so universally adopted. Even a child can operate it. … Another reason is that people are far more willing to pay for being amused than for anything else.
As quoted from an interview by B.C. Forbes in The American Magazine (Jan 1921), 86.
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Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
…...
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Men think epilepsy divine, mere because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.
As given in Carl SaganCosmos (1985), 145.
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Metaphorical language is a species of natural language which we construct out of arbitrary but concrete words. That is why it is so pleasing.
Aphorism 78 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 56.
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Moreover, within the hollows of the earth,
When from one quarter the wind builds up, lunges,
Muscles the deep caves with its headstrong power,
The earth leans hard where the force of wind has pressed it;
Then above ground, the higher the house is built,
The nearer it rises to the sky, the worse
Will it lean that way and jut out perilously,
The beams wrenched loose and hanging ready to fall.
And to think, men can't believe that for this world
Some time of death and ruin lies in wait,
Yet they see so great a mass of earth collapse!
And the winds pause for breath—that's lucky, for else
No force could rein things galloping to destruction.
But since they pause for breath, to rally their force,
Come building up and then fall driven back,
More often the earth will threaten ruin than
Perform it. The earth will lean and then sway back,
Its wavering mass restored to the right poise.
That explains why all houses reel, top floor
Most then the middle, and ground floor hardly at all.
On the Nature of Things, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (1995), Book 6, lines 558-77, 216.
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Most kids can't understand why a country that makes atomic bombs would ban fireworks.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 24.
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Most students treat knowledge as a liquid to be swallowed rather than as a solid to be chewed, and then wonder why it provides so little nourishment.
Seen around the web, but without citation. Webmaster has so far been unable to authenticate. Please contact Webmaster if you know the primary source.
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Mother: He’s been depressed. All of a sudden, he can’t do anything.
Doctor: Why are you depressed, Alvy?
Mother: Tell Dr. Flicker. It’s something he read.
Doctor: Something he read, huh?
Alvy: The universe is expanding.
Doctor: The universe is expanding?
Alvy: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!
Mother: What is that your business? He stopped doing his homework.
Alvy: What’s the point?
With co-author Marshall Brickman, Annie Hall (1973).
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Mr. Hobbes told me that the cause of his Lordship's [Francis Bacon's] death was trying an Experiment: viz. as he was taking the aire in a Coach with Dr. Witherborne (a Scotchman, Physitian to the King) towards High-gate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my Lord's thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow, as in Salt. They were resolved they would try the Experiment presently. They alighted out of the Coach and went into a poore woman's house at the bottom of Highgate hill, and bought a Hen, and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the body with Snow, and my Lord did help to doe it himselfe. The Snow so chilled him that he immediately fell so extremely ill, that he could not return to his Lodging.
John Aubrey, Brief Lives (1680), edited by Oliver Lawson Dick (1949), 16.
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Mr. Hobbes told me that the cause of his Lordship’s [Francis Bacon s] death was trying an experiment: viz., as he was taking the air in a coach with Dr. Witherborne, a Scotchman, physician to the King, towards Highgate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my Lord’s thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow as in salt. They were resolved they would try the experiment presently. They alighted out of the coach and went into a poor woman s house at the bottom of Highgate Hill and bought a hen and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the body with snow, and my Lord did help to do it himself The snow so chilled him that he immediately fell so extremely ill that he could not return to his lodgings.
In Brief Lives (late 17th century), as excerpted in The Retrospective Review (1821), 292.
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Mssr. Fermat—what have you done?
Your simple conjecture has everyone
Churning out proofs,
Which are nothing but goofs!
Could it be that your statement’s an erudite spoof?
A marginal hoax
That you’ve played on us folks?
But then you’re really not known for your practical jokes.
Or is it then true
That you knew what to do
When n was an integer greater than two?
Oh then why can’t we find
That same proof…are we blind?
You must be reproved, for I’m losing my mind.
In 'Fermat's Last Theorem', Mathematics Magazine (Apr 1986), 59, No. 2, 76.
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My children have often asked me why I never received a Nobel Prize. I used to tell them it was because the Nobel committee couldn’t make up its mind which of my projects to recognize.
As quoted by Malcolm W. Browne, in '3 American Physicists Get Nobel for Landmark Work', New York Times (20 Oct 1988), B12. (Lederman was a co-winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physics.)
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My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.
In the Washington Post, April 15, 1988.
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My grandfather opened the first chapter of his story, A Smile of the Walrus, with an old nursery rhyme, “Did you ever see a walrus smile all these many years? Why yes I’ve seen a walrus smile, but it was hidden by his tears.” As we open this new chapter in the battle against climate change, I fear that if we do not take action, then the smiles of our children, like the walrus, will be hidden by the tears they shed as they pay the consequences of our inaction, our apathy and our greed.
In 'What do the Arctic, a Thermostat and COP15 Have in Common?', Huffington Post (18 Mar 2010).
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My greatest hope for a future without another Deepwater Horizon disaster lies in our schools, living rooms and community centers, not in boardrooms, political chambers and big industry. If this happens again, we won’t have the luxury of the unknown to shield us from answering “Why?”
In 'Gulf Dispatch: Time to Tap Power of Teens', CNN Blog (23 Jul 2010).
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My head lies at least a foot closer to my heart than is the case with other men: that is why I am so reasonable.
Aphorism 2 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 31.
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My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain that alone on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine would not, I suppose, have thus suffered, and if I had to live my life over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 51.
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My [algebraic] methods are really methods of working and thinking; this is why they have crept in everywhere anonymously.
Letter to H. Hasse (1931). As quoted in Israel Kleiner, A History of Abstract Algebra (2007), 100. The author used the quote to remark on Noether’s widespread influence, either directly or indirectly, for the introduction of algebra (her specialty) or its terminology into a variety of mathematical fields in the twentieth century.
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Nature crying out and speaking to country people in these words: Clown, wherefore dost thou behold the heavens? Why dost thou seek after the stars? When thou art now werry with short sleep, the nights are troublesome to thee. So I scatter little stars in the grass, and I shew them in the evening when thy labour is ended, and thou art miraculously allured to look upon them when thous passest by: Dost thou not see how a light like fire is covered when she closeth her wings, and she carrieth both night and day with her.
In Thomas Moffett, 'Glow-Worms', The Theater of Insects.
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Nature in her unfathomable designs had mixed us of clay and flame, of brain and mind, that the two things hang indubitably together and determine each other’s being but how or why, no mortal may ever know.
Principles of Psychology (1918), 200.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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NEWTONIAN, adj. Pertaining to a philosophy of the universe, invented by Newton, who discovered that an apple will fall to the ground, but was unable to say why. His successors and disciples have advanced so far as to be able to say when.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  228.
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No generalizing beyond the data, no theory. No theory, no insight. And if no insight, why do research.
'Developing Theory About the Development of Theory,' in Ken G. Smith and Michael A. Hitt, Great Minds in Management: the Theory of Process Development (2005), 361.
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Nobody … took me seriously. They wondered why in the world I wanted to be a chemist when no women were doing that. The world was not waiting for me.
Quoted in interview by Mary Ellen Avery (1997).
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Now I feel as if I should succeed in doing something in mathematics, although I cannot see why it is so very important… The knowledge doesn’t make life any sweeter or happier, does it?
In Letter (29 May 1898), at age almost 18, to Mrs. Lawrence Hutton, excerpted in The Story of My Life: With her Letters (1887-1901) (1903, 1921), 242.
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Now it came to me: … the independence of the gravitational acceleration from the nature of the falling substance, may be expressed as follows: In a gravitational field (of small spatial extension) things behave as they do in a space free of gravitation. … This happened in 1908. Why were another seven years required for the construction of the general theory of relativity? The main reason lies in the fact that it is not so easy to free oneself from the idea that coordinates must have an immediate metrical meaning.
In Paul Arthur Schilpp, 'Autobiographical Notes', Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949), 65-67.
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