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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > Harlow Shapley Quotes

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Harlow Shapley
(2 Nov 1885 - 20 Oct 1972)

American astronomer.


Science Quotes by Harlow Shapley (11 quotes)

A slave world is not worth preserving. Better be lifeless like the cold moon, or primitively vegetal like desolate Mars, than be a planet populated by social robots.
— Harlow Shapley
From speech (Oct 1947), 'Peace or Pieces: or Who Amends the Golden Rule'. As reprinted in Henry Goddard Leach (ed.), The American-Scandinavian Review (1950), 37-38, 34. As quoted in 'Dr. Harlow Shapley Dies at 86; Dean of American Astronomers', New York Times (21 Oct 1972), 69.
Science quotes on:  |  Better (486)  |  Cold (112)  |  Lifeless (14)  |  Mars (44)  |  Moon (237)  |  Planet (356)  |  Populate (4)  |  Preserve (83)  |  Preserving (18)  |  Primitive (75)  |  Robot (13)  |  Slave (37)  |  Social (252)  |  Vegetal (2)  |  World (1774)  |  Worth (169)

Even if only one in a hundred of the ten billion suitable planets has actually got life well under way, there would be more than 100 million such planets. No, it is presumptuous to think that we are alone.
— Harlow Shapley
In The View From a Distant Star: Man's Future in the Universe (1964), 64.
Science quotes on:  |  Alone (311)  |  Billion (95)  |  Hundred (229)  |  Life (1795)  |  Million (114)  |  More (2559)  |  Planet (356)  |  Presumption (15)  |  Think (1086)  |  Way (1217)

I think it would be a very rash presumption to think that nowhere else in the cosmos has nature repeated the strange experiment which she has performed on earth—that the whole purpose of creation has been staked on this one planet alone. It is probable that dotted through the cosmos there are other suns which provide the energy for life to attendant planets. It is apparent, however, that planets with just the right conditions of temperature, oxygen, water and atmosphere necessary for life are found rarely.
But uncommon as a habitable planet may be, non-terrestrial life exists, has existed and will continue to exist. In the absence of information, we can only surmise that the chance that it surpasses our own is as good as that it falls below our level.
— Harlow Shapley
As quoted by H. Gordon Garbedian in 'Ten Great Riddles That Call For Solution by Scientists', New York Times (5 Oct 1930), XX4. Garbedian gave no citation to a source for Shapley’s words. However, part of this quote is very similar to that of Sir Arthur Eddington: “It would indeed be rash to assume that nowhere else has Nature repeated the strange experiment which she has performed on the earth,” from 'Man’s Place in the Universe', Harper’s Magazine (Oct 1928), 157 573.
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If God did create the world by a word, the word would have been hydrogen.
— Harlow Shapley
Attributed, without source, in Johns S. Rigden, Hydrogen: The Essential Element (2003), 6. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
Science quotes on:  |  Create (235)  |  Creation (327)  |  God (757)  |  Hydrogen (75)  |  Word (619)  |  World (1774)

If this book were to be dedicated to its first and chief encouragement is should probably salute starlight, insects, the galaxies, and the fossil plants and animals.
— Harlow Shapley
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958 Rev. Ed. 1964), Foreword.
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In this physical world there is no real chaos; all is in fact orderly; all is ordered by the physical principles. Chaos is but unperceived order- it is a word indicating the limitations of the human mind and the paucity of observational facts. The words “chaos,” “accidental,” “chance,” “unpredictable," are conveniences behind which we hide our ignorance.
— Harlow Shapley
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958 Rev. Ed. 1964), Foreword.
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It seems to me that the evidence ... is opposed to the view that the spirals are individual galaxies comparable with our own. In fact, there appears as yet no reason for modifying the tentative hypothesis that the spirals are not composed of typical stars at all, but are truly nebulous objects.
[Contradicting the view of Heber Curtis during the Shapley-Curtis debate on 26 Apr 1920 to the National Academy of Sciences.]
— Harlow Shapley
In Aleksandr Sergeevich Sharov and Igor Dmitrievich Novikov, Edwin Hubble: The Discoverer of the Big Bang Universe (1993), 27.
Science quotes on:  |  Academy (35)  |  All (4108)  |  Appearance (140)  |  Comparison (102)  |  Composition (84)  |  Debate (38)  |  Evidence (248)  |  Fact (1210)  |  Galaxies (29)  |  Hypothesis (296)  |  Individual (404)  |  Modification (55)  |  Nebula (16)  |  Object (422)  |  Opposition (48)  |  Reason (744)  |  Science (3879)  |  Spiral (18)  |  Star (427)  |  Stars (304)  |  Tentative (16)  |  Truly (116)  |  Typical (13)  |  View (488)

The freely roaming dinosaurs, I like to remember, had no plumbing.
— Harlow Shapley
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958), 24.
Science quotes on:  |  Dinosaur (26)  |  Plumbing (5)  |  Remember (179)  |  Roam (3)

The Pole moves from day to day. Perhaps if commander Byrd did not strike the exact spot with his flag the Pole will find the flag.
— Harlow Shapley
In 'Quotation Marks', New York Times (15 Dec 1929), XX4. Byrd made the first flight over the South Pole on 29 Nov 1929 and dropped a small American flag.
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We are disappointed if the cold-blooded scientist assures us that Man cannot exist on Mars. … We do resent a restraint on our imagination. We should like to believe in marvelous men on Venus.
— Harlow Shapley
From Harlow Shapley and Cecilia H. Payne, eds., The Universe of Stars: Radio Talks from the Harvard Observatory (1926, Rev. Ed., 1929). As quoted and cited in Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television (2009), 42 & 287.
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When I use the phrase “Cosmic Facts,” the reader is asked not to assume too rigid a meaning for the word “facts”; what is considered factual today is tomorrow recognized as capable of further refinement.
— Harlow Shapley
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958 Rev. Ed. 1964), Foreword.
Science quotes on:  |  Ask (411)  |  Capable (168)  |  Consider (416)  |  Cosmic (72)  |  Fact (1210)  |  Facts (553)  |  Further (6)  |  Meaning (233)  |  Phrase (61)  |  Recognize (125)  |  Refinement (17)  |  Rigid (24)  |  Today (314)  |  Tomorrow (60)  |  Use (766)  |  Word (619)



Quotes by others about Harlow Shapley (2)

Picture yourself during the early 1920's inside the dome of the [Mount Wilson Observatory]. … [Milton] Humason is showing [Harlow] Shapley stars he had found in the Andromeda Nebula that appeared and disappeared on photographs of that object. The famous astronomer very patiently explains that these objects could not be stars because the Nebula was a nearby gaseous cloud within our own Milky Way system. Shapley takes his handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the identifying marks off the back of the photographic plate.
Of course, Hubble came along in 1924 and showed that it was just these Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda Nebula which proved it was a separate galaxy system.
In Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies (1998), 168. Arp writes that this was “a piece of real history which I happen to know because it was told to me by one of the participants. It dramatically illustrate the critical role of discordant evidence.”
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In a sense Shapley’s telling me that space was transparent, which I shouldn’t have believed, illustrates a fundamental problem in science, believing what people tell you. Go and find it out for yourself. That same error has persisted in my life and in many other people’s. Authorities are not always authorities on everything; they often cling to their own mistakes.
Oral History Transcript of interview with Dr. Jesse Greenstein by Paul Wright (31 Jul 1974), on website of American Institute of Physics.
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See also:
  • 2 Nov - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Shapley's birth.
  • Harlow Shapley: Biography of an Astronomer: The Man Who Measured the Universe, by Doug West. - book suggestion.

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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