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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index W > Category: Wonderful

Wonderful Quotes (59 quotes)

πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει.
Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man.
Sophocles
First line of a choral ode in Antigone, line 332, translated by R.C. Jebb (1891). This may not be the closest translation of ambiguous words. Walter Arnold Kaufmann suggests a closer meaning would be “Much is awesome, but nothing more awesome than man” in Tragedy and Philosophy (1992), 237. Alternate word translations could be terrors, danger, misfortune or distress. Hence the variation in other standard translations on this web page.
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A wonderful exhilaration comes from holding in the mind the deepest questions we can ask. Such questions animate all scientists. Many students of science were first attracted to the field as children by popular accounts of important unsolved problems. They have been waiting ever since to begin working on a mystery. [With co-author Arthur Zajonc]
In George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc, The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (2006), xii.
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A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
In A Tale of Two Cities, originally serialized in 31 weekly parts in All the Year Round. This quote is from Chapter III, which appeared in Vol. 1. No. 1 (30 Apr 1859).
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Alas, your dear friend and servant is totally blind. Henceforth this heaven, this universe, which by wonderful observations I had enlarged by a hundred and a thousand times beyond the conception of former ages, is shrunk for me into the narrow space which I myself fill in it. So it pleases God; it shall therefore please me also.
In Letter, as quoted in Sir Oliver Lodge, Pioneers of Science (1905), 133.
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At last have made wonderful discovery in valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.
Telegram (6 Nov 1922) sent to Lord Carnarvon. In The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen (1923, 1977), 90.
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Caves are wonderful places for lairs
For sabertooth tigers and bears
But “Try and eject us!”
Said Homo erectus,
“We need this place for our heirs!”
In sidebar to 'Evolving Toward Humans', History of Life (1989, 1991), 361.
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Chemically induced hallucinations, delusions and raptures may be frightening or wonderfully gratifying; in either case they are in the nature of confidence tricks played on one’s own nervous system.
In 'Return Trip to Nirvana', Sunday Telegraph (12 Mar 1961), as collected in Kaleidoscope: Essays from Drinkers of Infinity, and The Heel of Achilles and Later Pieces and Stories (1981), 80 (source cited on p.72, footnote).
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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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Dear Mr. Bell: … Sir Wm. Thomson … speaks with much enthusiasm of your achievement. What yesterday he would have declared impossible he has today seen realized, and he declares it the most wonderful thing he has seen in America. You speak of it as an embryo invention, but to him it seems already complete, and he declares that, before long, friends will whisper their secrets over the electric wire. Your undulating current he declares a great and happy conception.
Letter to Alexander Graham Bell (25 Jun 1876). Quoted in Alexander Graham Bell, The Bell Telephone: The Deposition of Alexander Graham Bell, in the Suit Brought by the United States to Annul the Bell Patents (1908), 101. Note: William Thomson is better known as Lord Kelvin.
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For me too, the periodic table was a passion. ... As a boy, I stood in front of the display for hours, thinking how wonderful it was that each of those metal foils and jars of gas had its own distinct personality.
[Referring to the periodic table display in the Science Museum, London, with element samples in bottles]
Letter to Oliver Sacks. Quoted in Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001), footnote, 203.
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From my father I learned to build things, to take them apart, and to fix mechanical and electrical equipment in general. I spent vast hours in a woodworking shop he maintained in the basement of our house, building gadgets, working both with my father and alone, often late into the night. … This play with building, fixing, and designing was my favorite activity throughout my childhood, and was a wonderful preparation for my later career as an experimentalist working on the frontiers of chemistry and physics.
From 'Richard E. Smalley: Biographical', collected in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1996 (1997).
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Glittering white, shining blue, raven black … the land looks like a fairytale. Pinnacle after pinnacle, peak after peak—crevassed, wild as any land on our globe, it lies, unseen and untrodden. It is a wonderful feeling to travel along it.
As quoted from South Pole expedition diary (13 Nov 1911) in Roland Huntford, Scott and Amundsen (1980), 438.
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Holding then to science with one hand—the left hand—we give the right hand to religion, and cry: ‘Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things, more wondrous than the shining worlds can tell.’ Obedient to the promise, religion does awaken faculties within us, does teach our eyes to the beholding of more wonderful things. Those great worlds blazing like suns die like feeble stars in the glory of the morning, in the presence of this new light. The soul knows that an infinite sea of love is all about it, throbbing through it, everlasting arms of affection lift it, and it bathes itself in the clear consciousness of a Father’s love.
…...
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How can he [Thomas Edison] call it a wonderful success when everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure?
In The New York Herald, (18 Dec 1879). As quoted and cited in Rob Kaplan (ed.), Science Says (2001), 200.
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I am told that the wall paintings which we had the happiness of admiring in all their beauty and freshness [in the chapel she discovered at Abu Simbel] are already much injured. Such is the fate of every Egyptian monument, great or small. The tourist carves it over with names and dates, and in some instances with caricatures. The student of Egyptology, by taking wet paper “squeezes” sponges away every vestige of the original colour. The “Collector” buys and carries off everything of value that he can, and the Arab steals it for him. The work of destruction, meanwhile goes on apace. The Museums of Berlin, of Turin, of Florence are rich in spoils which tell their lamentable tale. When science leads the way, is it wonderful that ignorance should follow?
Quoted in Margaret S. Drower, The Early Years, in T.G.H. James, (ed.), Excavating in Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society, 1882-1982 (1982), 10. As cited in Wendy M.K. Shaw, Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (2003), 37. Also quoted in Margaret S. Drower, Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology (1995), 57.
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I don’t play accurately—anyone can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for life.
In 'Sebatian Melmoth', The Writings of Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Phrases and Philosophies For the Use of the Young (1907), 87.
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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 feel that to be a director of a laboratory should not be, by definition, a permanent mission. People should have the courage to step down and go back to science. I believe you will never have a good director of a scientific laboratory unless that director knows he is prepared to become a scientist again. … I gave my contribution; I spent five years of my life to work hard for other people’s interest. … It’s time to go back to science again. I have some wonderful ideas, I feel I’m re-born.
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 202.
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I hardly know of a great physical truth whose universal reception has not been preceded by an epoch in which the most estimable persons have maintained that the phenomena investigated were directly dependent on the Divine Will, and that the attempt to investigate them was not only futile but blasphemous. And there is a wonderful tenacity of life about this sort of opposition to physical science. Crushed and maimed in every battle, it yet seems never to be slain; and after a hundred defeats it is at this day as rampant, though happily not so mischievous, as in the time of Galileo.
In Address (10 Feb 1860) to weekly evening meeting, 'On Species and Races, and their Origin', Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution: Vol. III: 1858-1862 (1862), 199.
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I have found a wonderful solution to Fermats’ Last Theorem—but my train is leaving.
Anonymous
Graffiti on wall of subway, New York. As quoted in William Reville, 'The Science of Writing a Good Joke', The Irish Times (5 Jun 2000).
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I learned a lot of different things from different schools. MIT is a very good place…. It has developed for itself a spirit, so that every member of the whole place thinks that it’s the most wonderful place in the world—it’s the center, somehow, of scientific and technological development in the United States, if not the world … and while you don’t get a good sense of proportion there, you do get an excellent sense of being with it and in it, and having motivation and desire to keep on…
From Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character (1985), 51.
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I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Verse of song made popular by Louis Armstrong, written by George Weiss and Bob Thiele
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I thought existing zoo programmes were really not doing animals justice. They all looked like oddities, like bizarre stage things, when, really, in their own environment, they are wonderful answers to very complex questions.
Explaining his motivation for his earliest groundbreaking Zoo Quest nature TV series featuring on location filming. From interview with Alice Roberts, 'Attenborough: My Life on Earth', The Biologist (Aug 2015), 62, No. 4, 15.
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I used to get so depressed about the environment. … But I feel much better since I joined my Environmental Grief Counseling Group, which is a wonderful New Age approach to gaining the personal serenity you need in a world of melting ice caps, shrinking rain forests, and toxic lakes.
In 'Stop Beaching, Think Positive', Mother Jones Magazine (Oct 1988), 14, No. 8, 8.
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If I’d been born in space, I would desire to visit the beautiful Earth more than to visit space. It’s a wonderful planet.
…...
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If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact or the description of one actual phenomenon to infer all the particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect, but the harmony which results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws which we have not detected, is still more wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as to the traveler, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form. Even when cleft or bored through, it is not comprehended in its entireness.
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If we look at the problems raised by Aristotle, we are astonished at his gift of observation. What wonderful eyes the Greeks had for many things! Only they committed the mistake of being overhasty, of passing straightway from the phenomenon to the explanation of it, and thereby produced certain theories that are quite inadequate. But this is the mistake of all times, and still made in our own day.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 195.
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Imaginary numbers are a fine and wonderful refuge of the divine spirit almost an amphibian between being and non-being. (1702)
[Alternate translation:] The Divine Spirit found a sublime outlet in that wonder of analysis, that portent of the ideal world, that amphibian between being and not-being, which we call the imaginary root of negative unity.
Quoted in Félix Klein, Elementary Mathematics From an Advanced Standpoint: Arithmetic, Algebra, Analysis (1924), 56. Alternate translation as quoted in Tobias Dantzig, Number, the Language of Science: a Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-Mathematician (1930), 204
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In the year 1692, James Bernoulli, discussing the logarithmic spiral [or equiangular spiral, ρ = αθ] … shows that it reproduces itself in its evolute, its involute, and its caustics of both reflection and refraction, and then adds: “But since this marvellous spiral, by such a singular and wonderful peculiarity, pleases me so much that I can scarce be satisfied with thinking about it, I have thought that it might not be inelegantly used for a symbolic representation of various matters. For since it always produces a spiral similar to itself, indeed precisely the same spiral, however it may be involved or evolved, or reflected or refracted, it may be taken as an emblem of a progeny always in all things like the parent, simillima filia matri. Or, if it is not forbidden to compare a theorem of eternal truth to the mysteries of our faith, it may be taken as an emblem of the eternal generation of the Son, who as an image of the Father, emanating from him, as light from light, remains ὁμοούσιος with him, howsoever overshadowed. Or, if you prefer, since our spira mirabilis remains, amid all changes, most persistently itself, and exactly the same as ever, it may be used as a symbol, either of fortitude and constancy in adversity, or, of the human body, which after all its changes, even after death, will be restored to its exact and perfect self, so that, indeed, if the fashion of Archimedes were allowed in these days, I should gladly have my tombstone bear this spiral, with the motto, ‘Though changed, I arise again exactly the same, Eadem numero mutata resurgo.’”
In 'The Uses of Mathesis', Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 32, 516-516. [The Latin phrase “simillima filia matri” roughly translates as “the daughter resembles the mother”. “Spira mirabilis” is Latin for “marvellous spiral”. The Greek word (?µ???s???) translates as “consubstantial”, meaning of the same substance or essence (used especially of the three persons of the Trinity in Christian theology). —Webmaster]
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Indeed, we need not look back half a century to times which many now living remember well, and see the wonderful advances in the sciences and arts which have been made within that period. Some of these have rendered the elements themselves subservient to the purposes of man, have harnessed them to the yoke of his labors and effected the great blessings of moderating his own, of accomplishing what was beyond his feeble force, and extending the comforts of life to a much enlarged circle, to those who had before known its necessaries only.
From paper 'Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Fix the Site of the University of Virginia' (Dec 1818), reprinted in Annual Report of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia for the Fiscal Year Ending May 31, 1879 (1879), 10. Collected in Commonwealth of Virginia, Annual Reports of Officers, Boards, and Institutions of the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the Year Ending September 30, 1879 (1879).
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Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. ... The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself....Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful—the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life. ... The universe has always been in motion and at this moment continues to be in motion. But will it still be in motion tomorrow? ... What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it and around it of evolution. ... Thus in all probability, between our modern earth and the ultimate earth, there stretches an immense period, characterized not by a slowing-down but a speeding up and by the definitive florescence of the forces of evolution along the line of the human shoot.
In The Phenomenon of Man (1975), pp 218, 220, 223, 227, 228, 277.
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It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these western woods ... Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time—and long before that—God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools.
John Muir
In 'The American Forests', Atlantic Monthly (Aug 1897), Vol. 80, 157.
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Many things cause terror and wonder, yet nothing
is more terrifying and wonderful than man.
Sophocles
First line of a choral ode in Antigone, line 332, as translated by M. Blake Tyrrell and Larry J. Bennett. One of several variations given in Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 3, (2010), 237.
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Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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Nature’s great and wonderful power is more demonstrated in the sea than on the land.
As quoted in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 186. Webmaster has not yet found another source with this wording. (Can you help?)
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Neutrinos, they are very small
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed—you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.
In poem 'Cosmic Gall', The New Yorker (17 Dec 1960). Collected in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (1964), 5. Note: In fact, about 1014 neutrinos from the Sun and 103 neutrinos in cosmic rays pass through our bodies each second. Neutrinos are now known to have a very small amount of mass, and they do interact (through the weak force).
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Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring constructive mind.
(Sep 1937). In Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman (ed.), Albert Einstein, the Human Side by (1979).
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Our ultimate end must be precisely what Dr. Pauling says, peace based on agreement, upon understanding, on universally agreed and enforced law. I think this is a wonderful idea, but peace based on force buys us the necessary time, and in this time we can work for better understanding, for closer collaboration.
From debate (20 Feb 1958) between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller on WQED-TV, San Francisco. Transcript published as Fallout and Disarmament: The Pauling-Teller Debate (1958). Reprinted in 'Fallout and Disarmament: A Debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller', Daedalus (Spring 1958), 87, No. 2, 160.
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Some may claim that is it unscientific to speak of the operations of nature as “miracles.” But the point of the title lies in the paradox of finding so many wonderful things ... subservient to the rule of law.
In Nature’s Miracles: Familiar Talks on Science (1899), Vol. 1, Introduction, v.
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Some of my youthful readers are developing wonderful imaginations. This pleases me. Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams—day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-machinery whizzing—are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.
Opening paragraph of preface, 'To My Readers', The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), 13.
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The fertilized germ of one of the higher animals … is perhaps the most wonderful object in nature… . On the doctrine of reversion [atavism] … the germ becomes a far more marvelous object, for, besides the visible changes which it undergoes, we must believe that it is crowded with invisible characters … separated by hundreds or even thousands of generations from the present time: and these characters, like those written on paper with invisible ink, lie ready to be evolved whenever the organization is disturbed by certain known or unknown conditions.
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The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorisms 39, 41-44. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 55.
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The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
…...
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The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.
In 'The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences', Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics (Feb 1960), 13, No. 1, 14. Collected in Eugene Paul Wigner, A.S. Wightman (ed.), Jagdish Mehra (ed.), The Collected Works of Eugene Paul Wigner (1955), Vol. 6, 537.
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The most wonderful mystery of life may well be the means by which it created so much diversity from so little physical matter. The biosphere, all organisms combined, makes up only about one part in ten billion of the earth's mass. … Yet life has divided into millions of species, the fundamental units, each playing a unique role in relation to the whole.
In 'The Most Fundamental Unit', The Diversity of Life (1992), 35.
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The persons who have been employed on these problems of applying the properties of matter and the laws of motion to the explanation of the phenomena of the world, and who have brought to them the high and admirable qualities which such an office requires, have justly excited in a very eminent degree the admiration which mankind feels for great intellectual powers. Their names occupy a distinguished place in literary history; and probably there are no scientific reputations of the last century higher, and none more merited, than those earned by great mathematicians who have laboured with such wonderful success in unfolding the mechanism of the heavens; such for instance as D ’Alembert, Clairaut, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace.
In Astronomy and General Physics (1833), Bk. 3, chap. 4, 327.
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The wonderful arrangement and harmony of the cosmos would only originate in the plan of an almighty omniscient being. This is and remains my greatest comprehension.
…...
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The wonderful structure of the animal system will probably never permit us to look upon it as a merely physical apparatus, yet the demands of science require that the evidently magnified principles of vitality should be reduced to their natural spheres, or if truth requires, wholly subverted in favor of those more cognizable by the human understanding. The spirit of the age will not tolerate in the devotee of science a quiet indifference. ...
In 'An Inquiry, Analogical and Experimental, into the Different Electrical conditions of Arterial and Venous Blood', New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal (1853-4), 10, 584-602 & 738-757. As cited in George B. Roth, 'Dr. John Gorrie—Inventor of Artificial Ice and Mechanical Refrigeration', The Scientific Monthly (May 1936) 42 No. 5, 464-469.
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The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have.
…...
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The world is so full of wonderful things we should all, if we were taught how to appreciate it, be far richer than kings.
In Growing Young (1989), 120.
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The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so fragile. Everybody, all of us down there, not only in Israel, have to keep it clean and good.
( Israeli Air Force Colonel)
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The world looks so different after learning science. For example, trees are made of air, primarily. When they are burned, they go back to air, and in the flaming heat is released the flaming heat of the sun which was bound in to convert the air into tree, and in the ash is the small remnant of the part which did not come from air, that came from the solid earth, instead. These are beautiful things, and the content of science is wonderfully full of them. They are very inspiring, and they can be used to inspire others.
From address (1966) at the 14th Annual Convention of the National Science Teachers Association, New York City, printed in 'What is science?', The Physics Teacher (1969), 7, No. 6, 320.
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There are many strange and wonderful things, but nothing more strangely wonderful than man.
Sophocles
First line of a choral ode in Antigone, line 332, as translated by Ian Johnson. One of several variations given in Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 3, (2010), 237.
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This is true of all science. Successes were largely due to forgetting completely about what one ultimately wanted, or whether one wanted anything ultimately; in refusing to investigate things which profit, and in relying solely on guidance by criteria of intellectual elegance. … And I think it extremely instructive to watch the role of science in everyday life, and to note how in this area the principle of laissez faire has led to strange and wonderful results.
Address (Jun 1954) to Princeton Graduate Alumni, 'The Role of Mathematics in the Science and in Society', in Collected Works: Vol. 6: Theory of Games, Astrophysics, Hydrodynamics and Meteorology (1961), Vol. 6, 489. As quoted in Armand Borel, 'On the Place of Mathematics in Culture', in Armand Borel: Œvres: Collected Papers (1983), Vol. 4, 422.
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This new integral of Lebesgue is proving itself a wonderful tool. I might compare it with a modern Krupp gun, so easily does it penetrate barriers which were impregnable.
In 'Current Tendencies of Mathematical Research', Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Oct 1916), 23, 7. Previously given as an address read at the Quarter Centennial of the University of Chicago, before a conference of the mathematical, physical and astronomical departments.
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Thought-economy is most highly developed in mathematics, that science which has reached the highest formal development, and on which natural science so frequently calls for assistance. Strange as it may seem, the strength of mathematics lies in the avoidance of all unnecessary thoughts, in the utmost economy of thought-operations. The symbols of order, which we call numbers, form already a system of wonderful simplicity and economy. When in the multiplication of a number with several digits we employ the multiplication table and thus make use of previously accomplished results rather than to repeat them each time, when by the use of tables of logarithms we avoid new numerical calculations by replacing them by others long since performed, when we employ determinants instead of carrying through from the beginning the solution of a system of equations, when we decompose new integral expressions into others that are familiar,—we see in all this but a faint reflection of the intellectual activity of a Lagrange or Cauchy, who with the keen discernment of a military commander marshalls a whole troop of completed operations in the execution of a new one.
In Populär-wissenschafliche Vorlesungen (1903), 224-225.
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We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
…...
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[Fritz Haber's] greatness lies in his scientific ideas and in the depth of his searching. The thought, the plan, and the process are more important to him than the completion. The creative process gives him more pleasure than the yield, the finished piece. Success is immaterial. “Doing it was wonderful.” His work is nearly always uneconomical, with the wastefulness of the rich.
In Richard Willstätter, Arthur Stoll (ed. of the original German) and Lilli S. Hornig (trans.), From My Life: The Memoirs of Richard Willstätter (1958), 268.
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[J.J.] Sylvester’s methods! He had none. “Three lectures will be delivered on a New Universal Algebra,” he would say; then, “The course must be extended to twelve.” It did last all the rest of that year. The following year the course was to be Substitutions-Théorie, by Netto. We all got the text. He lectured about three times, following the text closely and stopping sharp at the end of the hour. Then he began to think about matrices again. “I must give one lecture a week on those,” he said. He could not confine himself to the hour, nor to the one lecture a week. Two weeks were passed, and Netto was forgotten entirely and never mentioned again. Statements like the following were not unfrequent in his lectures: “I haven’t proved this, but I am as sure as I can be of anything that it must be so. From this it will follow, etc.” At the next lecture it turned out that what he was so sure of was false. Never mind, he kept on forever guessing and trying, and presently a wonderful discovery followed, then another and another. Afterward he would go back and work it all over again, and surprise us with all sorts of side lights. He then made another leap in the dark, more treasures were discovered, and so on forever.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265-266.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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