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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > George Bernard Shaw Quotes

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George Bernard Shaw
(26 Jul 1856 - 2 Nov 1950)

Irish playwright and novelist who wrote more than sixty plays, including Pygmalion (1912), the basis of the Lerner and Loewe's musical, My Fair Lady (1956). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

Science Quotes by George Bernard Shaw (81 quotes)

The Devil: Reformers … will thrust you first into religion, where you will sprinkle water on babies to save their souls from me ; then it will drive you from religion into science, where you will snatch the babies from the water sprinkling and inoculate them with disease to save them from catching it accidentally.
— George Bernard Shaw
In Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903), 135.
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A basis of physical science no more justifies dogmatism than a metaphysical basis does.
— George Bernard Shaw
Letter to E.C. Chapman (29 Jul 1891), Dan H. Laurence (ed.), Collected Letters (1965), Vol. 1, 303.
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A doctor’s reputation is made by the number of eminent men who die under his care.
— George Bernard Shaw
Statement (14 Sep 1950) at age 94 to his doctor. As quoted in Michael Holroyd, Bernard Shaw: The Lure of Fantasy: Vol. 3: 1918-1951 (1991).
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A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1903), 230.
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A learned man is an idler who kills time with study. Beware of his false knowledge: it is more dangerous than ignorance.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1905), 230.
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A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Preface on Doctors', The Doctor's Dilemma (1909, 1911), lxxxv.
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A man’s interest in the world is only the overflow from his interest in himself.
— George Bernard Shaw
From script for character Captain Shotover in play Heartbreak House. In Heartbreak House, Great Catherine, and Playlets of the War (1919), 78.
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Activity is the only road to knowledge.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1905), 230.
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All great truths begin as blasphemies.
— George Bernard Shaw
Spoken by the character the Grand Duchess in the play Annajanska, collected in Heartbreak House, Great Catherine, and Playlets of the War (1919), 262.
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All problems are finally scientific problems.
— George Bernard Shaw
Preface, The Doctor’s Dilemma (1911).
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Civilization is a disease produced by the practice of building societies with rotten material.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Civilization', in Man and Superman (1903), 241.
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Every fool believes what his teachers tell him, and calls his credulity science or morality as confidently as his father called it divine revelation.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1905), 230.
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Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
— George Bernard Shaw
As given in 'Quotable Quotes', Reader’s Digest (May 1933). It does not appear in a work written by Shaw. It may have been contributed to the magazine as a personal recollection, though that is not specified in that source.
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He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1903), 230.
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I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
— George Bernard Shaw
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?”
— George Bernard Shaw
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 prefer the man who calls his nonsense a mystery to him who who pretends it is a weighed, measured, analyzed fact.
— George Bernard Shaw
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 704.
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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.
— George Bernard Shaw
Letter to E.C. Chapman (29 Jul 1891), Dan H. Laurence (ed.), Collected Letters (1965), Vol. 1, 303.
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Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.
— George Bernard Shaw
From Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), 9.
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In 1906 I indulged my temper by hurling invectives at Neo-Darwinians in the following terms. “I really do not wish to be abusive [to Neo-Darwinians]; but when I think of these poor little dullards, with their precarious hold of just that corner of evolution that a blackbeetle can understand—with their retinue of twopenny-halfpenny Torquemadas wallowing in the infamies of the vivisector’s laboratory, and solemnly offering us as epoch-making discoveries their demonstrations that dogs get weaker and die if you give them no food; that intense pain makes mice sweat; and that if you cut off a dog’s leg the three-legged dog will have a four-legged puppy, I ask myself what spell has fallen on intelligent and humane men that they allow themselves to be imposed on by this rabble of dolts, blackguards, imposters, quacks, liars, and, worst of all, credulous conscientious fools.”
— George Bernard Shaw
In Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi
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In medical practice a man may die when, scientifically speaking, he ought to have lived. I have actually known a man to die of a disease from which he was, scientifically speaking, immune. But that does not affect the fundamental truth of science.
— George Bernard Shaw
B.B. character in The Doctor's Dilemma, Act 3 (First produced in 1906). In The Doctor's Dilemma: With a Preface on Doctors (1911), 70.
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In the arts of life main invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine. … There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons.
— George Bernard Shaw
Play, Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903)
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It is the inefficiency and sham of … our schools … that save us from being dashed on the rocks of false doctrine instead of drifting down the midstream of mere ignorance.
— George Bernard Shaw
Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), xii-xiii.
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Let no one suppose that the words doctor and patient can disguise from the parties the fact that they are employer and employee.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Preface on Doctors', The Doctor's Dilemma (1909, 1911), lxxxi.
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Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
— George Bernard Shaw
As referenced to a private conversation with Professor henderson and quoted in Edwin Björkman, 'The Serious Bernard Shaw', The American Review of Reviews (1911), 43, 425.
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Life levels all men: death reveals the eminent.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Fame', in Man and Superman (1903), 240.
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Make it compulsory for a doctor using a brass plate to have inscribed on it, in addition to the letters indicating his qualifications, the words “Remember that I too am mortal.”
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Preface on Doctors', The Doctor’s Dilemma (1909, 1911), xci.
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Men are wise in proportion, not to their experience, but to their capacity for experience.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Experience', in Man and Superman (1903), 239.
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Napoleon and other great men were makers of empires, but these eight men whom I am about to mention were makers of universes and their hands were not stained with the blood of their fellow men. I go back 2,500 years and how many can I count in that period? I can count them on the fingers of my two hands. Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton and Einstein—and I still have two fingers left vacant.
— George Bernard Shaw
Speech (28 Oct 1930) at the Savoy Hotel, London in Einstein’s honor sponsored by a committee to help needy Jews in Eastern Europe. In Albert Einstein, Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931), 31.
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Newton made a universe which lasted 300 years. Einstein has made a universe, which I suppose you want me to say will never stop, but I don't know how long it will last.
— George Bernard Shaw
Speech (28 Oct 1930) at the Savoy Hotel, London in Einstein’s honor sponsored by a committee to help needy Jews in Eastern Europe. In Albert Einstein, Cosmic Religion: With Other Opinions and Aphorisms (1931), 32.
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No man can be a pure specialist without being in the strict sense an idiot.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1905), 230.
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No man fully capable of his own language ever masters another.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists' (1903), The Works of Bernard Shaw (1930), Vol. 10, 219.
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No question is so difficult to answer as that which the answer is obvious.
— George Bernard Shaw
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Nobody supposes that doctors are less virtuous than judges; but a judge whose salary and reputation depended on whether the verdict was for plaintiff or defendant, prosecutor or prisoner, would be as little trusted as a general in the pay of the enemy.
— George Bernard Shaw
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One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who havn’t and don’t.
— George Bernard Shaw
Character Proteus, in The Apple Cart (1929), Act 1. Collected in The Collected Works of Bernard Shaw (1930), Vol. 17, 212. Note: Apostrophes in the last words were not used in the text.
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One touch of Darwin makes the whole world kin.
— George Bernard Shaw
A section title, in Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxiv.
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Our popular lecturers on physics present us with chains of deductions so highly polished that it is a luxury to let them slip from end to end through our fingers. But they leave nothing behind but a vague memory of the sensation they afforded.
— George Bernard Shaw
Said by the fictional character Lydia in Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886, 1906), 88.
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People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.
— George Bernard Shaw
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People exaggerate the value of things they haven’t got: everybody worships truth and unselfishness because they have no experience with them.
— George Bernard Shaw
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Science becomes dangerous only when it imagines that it has reached its goal.
— George Bernard Shaw
In Preface to the play, The Doctor’s Dilemma (1911), xc.
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Science can explain why and how books are written; but it cannot account for the process being accompanied by consciousness.
— George Bernard Shaw
Letter to E.C. Chapman (29 Jul 1891), Dan H. Laurence (ed.), Collected Letters (1965), Vol. 1, 303.
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Science is always simple and profound. It is only the half truths that are dangerous.
— George Bernard Shaw
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Science is always wrong; … Science can never solve one problem without creating ten more problems.
— George Bernard Shaw
Speech at the Einstein Dinner, Savoy Hotel, London (28 Oct 1930). Reproduced in George Bernard Shaw and Warren Sylvester Smith (ed.), The Religious Speeches of George Bernard Shaw (1963), 83. This is part of a longer quote, comparing science and religion, which begins, “We call the one side…,” which can be found elsewhere on the page of George Bernard Shaw Quotations on this website.
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Success covers a multitude of blunders.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The educated man is a greater nuisance than the uneducated one.
— George Bernard Shaw
Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), xii.
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The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The greatest problem of communication is the illusion that it has been achieved.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The man who listens to Reason is lost: Reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Reason', in Man and Superman (1903), 238.
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The many who believe they are the wiser for reading accounts of experiments deceive themselves. It is as impossible to learn science from hearsay as to gain wisdom from proverbs.
— George Bernard Shaw
Said by the fictional character Lydia in Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886, 1906), 87-88.
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The most revolutionary invention of the XIX century was the artificial sterilization of marriage.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Marriage, Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903), 231.
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The most tragic thing in the world is a sick doctor.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The one lesson that comes out of all our theorizing and experimenting is that there is only one really scientific progressive method; and that is the method of trial and error.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
— George Bernard Shaw
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The power that produced Man when the monkey was not up to the mark, can produce a higher creature than Man if Man does not come up to the mark. What it means is that if Man is to be saved, Man must save himself. There seems no compelling reason why he should be saved. He is by no means an ideal creature. At his present best many of his ways are so unpleasant that they are unmentionable in polite society, and so painful that he is compelled to pretend that pain is often a good. Nature holds no brief for the human experiment: it must stand or fall by its results. If Man will not serve, Nature will try another experiment.
— George Bernard Shaw
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), xvii.
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The pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo's demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci’s simple remark that the earth is a moon of the sun, Newton’s theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy's invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post.
— George Bernard Shaw
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), viii.
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The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Reason', in Man and Superman (1903), 238. Also seen misquoted (?) as “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
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There is at bottom only one genuinely scientific treatment for all diseases, and that is to stimulate the phagocytes.
— George Bernard Shaw
The Doctor’s Dilemma: A Tragedy (1913), 112.
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There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
— George Bernard Shaw
…...
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There is nothing on earth, intended for innocent people, so horrible as a school. It is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison for example, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'School', Misalliance: A Debate in One Sitting (1914, 1957), 24.
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Those who admire modern civilization usually identify it with the steam engine and the electric telegraph.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Civilization', in Man and Superman (1903), 241.
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Those who understand the steam engine and the electric telegraph spend their lives in trying to replace them with something better.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Civilization', in Man and Superman (1903), 241.
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To a mathematician the eleventh means only a single unit: to the bushman who cannot count further than his ten fingers it is an incalculable myriad.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Greatness', in Man and Superman (1903), 236.
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To master science thoroughly, I suppose one must take one’s gloves off.
— George Bernard Shaw
Said by the fictional character Lydia in Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886, 1906), 87.
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Tyndall declared that he saw in Matter the promise and potency of all forms of life, and with his Irish graphic lucidity made a picture of a world of magnetic atoms, each atom with a positive and a negative pole, arranging itself by attraction and repulsion in orderly crystalline structure. Such a picture is dangerously fascinating to thinkers oppressed by the bloody disorders of the living world. Craving for purer subjects of thought, they find in the contemplation of crystals and magnets a happiness more dramatic and less childish than the happiness found by mathematicians in abstract numbers, because they see in the crystals beauty and movement without the corrupting appetites of fleshly vitality.
— George Bernard Shaw
In Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi-lxii.
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Very nice sort of place, Oxford, I should think, for people that like that sort of place. They teach you to be a gentleman there. In the polytechnic they teach you to be an engineer or such like. See?
— George Bernard Shaw
Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903), Act 2, 50.
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We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.
— George Bernard Shaw
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We call the one side [of humanity] religion, and we call the other science. Religion is always right. ... Science is always wrong; it is the very artifice of men. Science can never solve one problem without raising ten more problems.
— George Bernard Shaw
Speech at the Einstein Dinner, Savoy Hotel, London (28 Oct 1930). Reproduced in George Bernard Shaw and Warren Sylvester Smith (ed.), The Religious Speeches of George Bernard Shaw (1963), 83.
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We do not cease to play because we grow old.
We grow old because we cease to play.
— George Bernard Shaw
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We learn from experience that men never learn anything from experience.
— George Bernard Shaw
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What is the use of straining after an amiable view of things, when a cynical view is most likely to be the true one?
— George Bernard Shaw
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What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.
— George Bernard Shaw
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When a man teaches something he does not know to somebody else who has no aptitude for it, and gives him a certificate of proficiency, the latter has completed the education of a gentleman.
— George Bernard Shaw
'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1903), 229-230.
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When I was young I observed that nine out of every ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work.
— George Bernard Shaw
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When men die of disease they are said to die from natural causes. When they recover (and mostly they do) the doctor gets the credit of curing them.
— George Bernard Shaw
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When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that exalted, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.
— George Bernard Shaw
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Where there is no knowledge ignorance calls itself science.
— George Bernard Shaw
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Stray Sayings', in Man and Superman (1903), 242.
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You can be a thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics, poetry, conscience, or decency. For “Natural Selection” has no moral significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose, no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals could bear to live.
— George Bernard Shaw
Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi-lxii.
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You propound a complicated arithmetical problem: say cubing a number containing four digits. Give me a slate and half an hour’s time, and I can produce a wrong answer.
— George Bernard Shaw
Cashel Byron's Profession (1886, 1901), xxiii.
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[Albert Einstein] is not challenging the fact of science; he is challenging the action of science. Not only is he challenging the action of science, but the action of science has surrendered to his challenge.
— George Bernard Shaw
Giving a toast to “the greatest of our contemporaries” to a thousand guests at a public dinner, given in Einstein's honor by the Ortoze Society at the Savoy Hotel, London (28 Oct 1930). 'Shaw and Einstein Speeches', New York Times (29 Oct 1930), 12. The Ortoze Society worked for the welfare of Jews in Eastern Europe.
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[Reply to a lady enquiring: “Have we lost faith?”] Certainly not, but we have only transferred it from God to the General Medical Council.
— George Bernard Shaw
Invited to contribute to a series of article in a Manchester paper in reply to an enquiry [Have we lost faith?] the question, Shaws’s reply was the single sentence. In The Collected Works of Bernard Shaw (1930), Vol.22, 1.
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Quotes by others about George Bernard Shaw (3)

[I] browsed far outside science in my reading and attended public lectures - Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, Huxley, and Shaw being my favorite speakers. (The last, in a meeting at King's College, converted me to vegetarianism - for most of two years!).
Autobiography collected in Gardner Lindzey (ed.), A History of Psychology in Autobiography (1973), Vol. 6, 64.
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Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.
Anonymous
Widely seen misattributed (?) to George Bernard Shaw, but always without source citation. There seems to be no primary source for Shaw having written the idea using the above wording. However, there are other, documented, quotes about alcohol on the George Bernard Shaw Quotations page, which express a similar theme.
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If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
Anonymous
Often seen misattributed (?) to George Bernard Shaw, but there appears to be no source in the writings of Shaw. However, the theme "laid end to end, they would not" has long been used humorously in various incarnations. For example, “If all the arguments in the world were placed end to end, they would not reach any conclusion”, as used by Tom Sims in 'Tom Sims Says', Brownwood Bulletin (18 Jul 1925), 4. The subject quote was attributed to Shaw by George Soule in 'Bridges to the Unknown', in The Saturday Review of Literature (20 May 1933), 9, No. 44, 601. See discussion on the quoteinvestigator.com website.
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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