(1920-1992) b. Petrovichi, Russia.
(With reference to a correspondent)
The young specialist in English Lit, …lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern “knowledge” is that it is wrong.
… My answer to him was, “… when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”
Isaac Asimov,The Relativity of Wrong, Kensington Books, New York, 1996, p 226. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1920-1992) b. Petrovichi, Russia.
At two-tenths the speed of light, dust and atoms might not do significant damage even in a voyage of 40 years, but the faster you go, the worse it is–space begins to become abrasive. When you begin to approach the speed of light, hydrogen atoms become cosmic-ray particles, and they will fry the crew. …So 60,000 kilometers per second may be the practical speed limit for space travel.
Isaac Asimov, Sail On! Sail On! In The Relativity of Wrong, Kensington Books, New York, 1996, p 220. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1561-1626) b. London, England
For it is esteemed a kind of dishonour unto learning to descend to inquiry or meditation upon matters mechanical, except they be such as may be thought secrets, rarities, and special subtilities, which humour of vain supercilious arrogancy is justly derided in Plato… But the truth is, they be not the highest instances that give the securest information; as may well be expressed in the tale… of the philosopher, that while he gazed upwards to the stars fell into the water; for if he had looked down he might have seen the stars in the water, but looking aloft he could not see the water in the stars. So it cometh often to pass, that mean and small things discover great, better than great can discover the small.
Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, J.M. Dent and Son, London, England, 1973, pp 71-72. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes the middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy (science); for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and disgested. Therefore, from a closer and purer league between these two faculties, the experimental and the rational (such as has never been made), much may be hoped.
Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Liberal Arts Press, Inc., New York, p 93. (5) Available from Amazon.com
(1842-?1914) b. Meggs Co., Ohio
An inventor is a person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, Dover Publications, NY, 1958, p 70. (3) Available from Amazon.com
(1857-1911) b. France
On his intelligence scale
The scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of the intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.
Quoted in Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton and Co., Ltd, NY, 1996, p 181. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1844-1906) b Vienna, Austria
The most ordinary things are to philosophy a source of insoluble puzzles. With infinite ingenuity it constructs a concept of space or time and then finds it absolutely impossible that there be objects in this space or that processes occur during this time… the source of this kind of logic lies in excessive confidence in the so-called laws of thought.
Ludwig Boltzmann. Populaere Schriften Essay 19, Ludwig Boltzmann, Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems, B. McGuinness (ed) Reidel, Dordrecht, 1974, p 64. (7)
To go straight to the deepest depth, I went for Hegel; what unclear thoughtless flow of words I was to find there! My unlucky star led me from Hegel to Schopenhauer … Even in Kant there were many things that I could grasp so little that given his general acuity of mind I almost suspected that he was pulling the reader’s leg or was even an imposter.
D. Flamm. Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 14: 257 (1983). (7)
(1867-1934) b. Warsaw, Poland (nï¿½e Maria Sklodowska)
Humanity needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit.
Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.
Eve Curie (translated by Vincent Sheean), Madame Curie, Pocket books, Simon and Schuster, New york, 1946, pp 352-253. (7) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
Churchill, Winston, Spencer
(1874-1965) b. Malborough, England
Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. … These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with.They are perfectly harmless and perfectly useless. … I always rested on the following argument… We look up to the sky and see the sun. Our eyes are dazzled and our senses record the fact. So here is this great sun standing apparently on no better foundation than our physical senses. But happily there is a method, apart altogether from our physical senses, of testing the reality of the sun. It is by mathematics. By means of prolonged processes of mathematics, entirely separate from the senses, astronomers are able to calculate when an eclipse will occur. They predict by pure reason that a black spot will pass across the sun on a certain day. You go and look, and your sense of sight immediately tells you that their calculations are vindicated. So here you have the evidence of the senses reinforced by the entirely separate evidence of a vast independent process of mathematical reasoning. We have taken what is called in military map-making “a cross bearing.” … When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations, were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say, “no.” They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating-machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage. When it is persisted that we should have to be told about the calculations and use our ears for that purpose, I reply that the mathematical process has a reality and virtue in itself, and that once discovered it constitutes a new and independent factor. I am also at this point accustomed to reaffirm with emphasis my conviction that the sun is real, and also that it is hot–in fact hot as Hell, and that if the metaphysicians doubt it they should go there and see.
Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life, Fontana, London, 1972, pp 123-124. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
Churchill, Winston S.
…man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but usually manages to pick himself up, walk over or around it, and carry on.
Quoted in: Irving Klotz, Bending perception, a book review, Nature, 1996, Volume 379, p 412 (1).
(1916-) b. Northampton, England
When the war finally came to an end, I was at a loss as to what to do… I took stock of my qualifications. A not-very-good degree, redeemed somewhat by my achievements at the Admiralty. A knowledge of certain restricted parts of magnetism and hydrodynamics, neither of them subjects for which I felt the least bit of enthusiasm. No published papers at all… Only gradually did I realize that this lack of qualification could be an advantage. By the time most scientists have reached age thirty they are trapped by their own expertise. They have invested so much effort in one particular field that it is often extremely difficult, at that time in their careers, to make a radical change. I, on the other hand, knew nothing, except for a basic training in somewhat old-fashioned physics and mathematics and an ability to turn my hand to new things… Since I essentially knew nothing, I had an almost completely free choice…
Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit, Basic Books, New York, 1988, pp 15-16. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Some fishes become extinct, but Herrings go on forever. Herrings spawn at all times and places and nothing will induce them to change their ways. They have no fish control. Herrings congregate in schools, where they learn nothing at all. They move in vast numbers in May and October. Herrings subsist upon Copepods and Copepods subsist upon Diatoms and Diatoms just float around and reproduce. Young Herrings or Sperling or Whitebait are rather cute. They have serrated abdomens. The skull of the Common or Coney Island Herring is triangular, but he would be just the same anyway. (The nervous system of the Herring is fairly simple. When the Herring runs into something the stimulus is flashed to the forebrain, with or without results.)
Will Cuppy, How to Become Extinct, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984, p. 13. (1) Available from Amazon.com
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree.
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, John Murray, London, 1859. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
Davy, Sir Humphrey
Nothing tends so much to the advancement of knowledge as the application of a new instrument. The native intellectual powers of men in different times are not so much the causes of the different success of their labours, as the peculiar nature of the means and artificial resources in their possession.
Thomas Hager, Force of Nature, Simon ans Schuster, New York, 1995, p 86. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1930-) b. Chicago, Illinois
“I know perfectly well that at this moment the whole universe is listening to us,” Jean Giraudoux wrote in The Madwoman of Chaillot, “and that every word we say echoes to the remotest star.” That poetic paranoia is a perfect description of what the Sun, as a gravitational lens, could do for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Frank Drake and Dava Sobel, Is Anyone Out There? Dell Publishing, New York, 1994, p.232. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(On the anthropogenic increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration)
The essential fact which emerges … is that the three smallest and most active reservoirs ( of carbon in the global carbon cycle), the atmosphere, the plants and the soil, are all of roughly the same size. This means that large human disturbance of any one of these reservoirs will have large effects on all three. We cannot hope either to understand or to manage the carbon in the atmosphere unless we understand and manage the trees and the soil too.
Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia, Penguin Books, London, New York, 1993, pp 132-133. Newer edition available from Amazon.com
The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York.
Freeman Dyson Infinite in All Directions, Harper and Row, New York, 1988, p 135. Available from Amazon.com
Eddington, Sir Arthur
(1882-1944) b. England
For the truth of the conclusions of physical science, observation is the supreme Court of Appeal. It does not follow that every item which we confidently accept as physical knowledge has actually been certified by the Court; our confidence is that it would be certified by the Court if it were submitted. But it does follow that every item of physical knowledge is of a form which might be submitted to the Court. It must be such that we can specify (although it may be impracticable to carry out) an observational procedure which would decide whether it is true or not. Clearly a statement cannot be tested by observation unless it is an assertion about the results of observation. Every item of physical knowledge must therefore be an assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure.
Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, The University of Michigan Press, 1958, pp 9-10. Available from Amazon.com
Eddington, Sir Arthur
(1882-1944) b. England
Let us suppose that an ichthyologist is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into the water and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he proceeds in the usual manner of a scientist to systematise what it reveals. He arrives at two generalisations:
(1) No sea-creature is less than two inches long.
(2) All sea-creatures have gills.
These are both true of his catch, and he assumes tentatively that they will remain true however often he repeats it.
In applying this analogy, the catch stands for the body of knowledge which constitutes physical science, and the net for the sensory and intellectual equipment which we use in obtaining it. The casting of the net corresponds to observation; for knowledge which has not been or could not be obtained by observation is not admitted into physical science.
An onlooker may object that the first generalisation is wrong. “There are plenty of sea-creatures under two inches long, only your net is not adapted to catch them.” The icthyologist dismisses this objection contemptuously. “Anything uncatchable by my net is ipso facto outside the scope of icthyological knowledge. In short, “what my net can’t catch isn’t fish.” Or–to translate the analogy–“If you are not simply guessing, you are claiming a knowledge of the physical universe discovered in some other way than by the methods of physical science, and admittedly unverifiable by such methods. You are a metaphysician. Bah!”
Sir Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, The University of Michigan Press, 1958, p 16. Available from Amazon.com
(1879-1955) b. Germany
(To a student)
Dear Miss —
I have read about sixteen pages of your manuscript … I suffered exactly the same treatment at the hands of my teachers who disliked me for my independence and passed over me when they wanted assistants … keep your manuscript for your sons and daughters, in order that they may derive consolation from it and not give a damn for what their teachers tell them or think of them. … There is too much education altogether.
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It, The Wisdom Library, New York, 1949, pp 21-22. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
When I was still a rather precocious young man, I already realized most vividly the futility of the hopes and aspirations that most men pursue throughout their lives.
Well-being and happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig.
Quoted in C.P. Snow, Variety of Men, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, U.K. 1969, p 77. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Feynman, Richard P.
(1918-1988) b. Far Rockaway, New York
What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school… It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don’t understand it. You see my physics students don’t understand it… That is because I don’t understand it. Nobody does.
Richard P. Feynman, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Penguin Books, London, 1990, p 9. (1) Different edition available from Amazon.com
(1911-) b. Switzerland
Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it.
Rollo May, The Cry for Myth, Norton, New York, p 57. (4) ;Available from Amazon.com
In 1963, when I assigned the name “quark” to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been “kwork.” Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word “quark” in the phrase “Three quarks for Muster Mark.” Since “quark” (meaning, for one thing, the cry of a gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with “Mark,” as well as “bark” and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as “kwork.” But the book represents the dreams of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the “portmanteau words” in Through the Looking Glass. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry “Three quarks for Muster Mark” might be “Three quarts for Mister Mark,” in which case the pronunciation “kwork” would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.
Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar, W.H. Freeman, New York, 1994, pp 180-181. (1)
Hawking, Stephen W.
(1942-) b. Oxford, England
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?
Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, Bantam, NY, 1988, p 174. Available from Amazon.com
Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, Bantam, NY, 1988, p 157. Available from Amazon.com
Ingram, Jay W.
I once read that if the folds in the cerebral cortex were smoothed out it would cover a card table. That seemed quite unbelievable but it did make me wonder just how big the cortex would be if you ironed it out. I thought it might just about cover a family-sized pizza: not bad, but no card-table. I was astonished to realize that nobody seems to know the answer. A quick search yielded the following estimates for the smoothed out dimensions of the cerebral cortex of the human brain.
An article in Bioscience in November 1987 by Julie Ann Miller claimed the cortex was a “quarter-metre square.” That is napkin-sized, about ten inches by ten inches. Scientific American magazine in September 1992 upped the ante considerably with an estimated of 1 1/2 square metres; thats a square of brain forty inches on each side, getting close to the card-table estimate. A psychologist at the University of Toronto figured it would cover the floor of his living room (I haven’t seen his living room), but the prize winning estimate so far is from the British magazine New Scientist‘s poster of the brain published in 1993 which claimed that the cerebral cortex, if flattened out, would cover a tennis court. How can there be such disagreement? How can so many experts not know how big the cortex is? I don’t know, but I’m on the hunt for an expert who will say the cortex, when fully spread out, will cover a football field. A Canadian football field.
Jay Ingram, The Burning House, Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, U.K., 1995 p 11.
James Reston, Galileo, A Life, HarperCollins, NY, 1994, p 461. (1) Available from Amazon.com
The weapons laboratory of Los Alamos stands as a reminder that our very power as pattern finders can work against us, that it is possible to discern enought of the universe’s underlying order to tap energy so powerful that it can destroy its discoverers or slowly poison them with its waste.
George Johnson Fire in the Mind, Vintage Books, New York, 1996, p 326. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Johnson, Samuel, Dr.
(1709-1784) b. Lichfield, England
Swallows certainly sleep all winter. A number of them conglobulate together, by flying round and round, and then all in a heap throw themselves under water, and lye in the bed of a river.
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 3rd Edn., Malone, London, 1799 (Abridged Edn., The New American Library, NY, 1968, p 192.) Available from Amazon.com
Life emerged, I suggest, not simple, but complex and whole, and has remained complex and whole ever sinceï¿½not because of a mysterious ï¿½lan vital, but thanks to the simple, profound transformation of dead molecules into an organization by which each molecule’s formation is catalyzed by some other molecule in the organization. The secret of life, the wellspring of reproduction, is not to be found in the beauty of Watson-Crick pairing, but in the achievement of collective catalytic closure. So, in another sense, lifeï¿½complex, whole, emergentï¿½is simple after all, a natural outgrowth of the world in which we live.
Stuart Kauffman At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1995, pp 47-48. Available from Amazon.com
If biologists have ignored self-organization, it is not because self-ordering is not pervasive and profound. It is because we biologists have yet to understand how to think about systems governed simultaneously by two sources of order, Yet who seeing the snowflake, who seeing simple lipid molecules cast adrift in water forming themselves into cell-like hollow lipid vesicles, who seeing the potential for the crystallization of life in swarms of reacting molecules, who seeing the stunning order for free in networks linking tens upon tens of thousands of variables, can fail to entertain a central thought: if ever we are to attain a final theory in biology, we will surely, surely have to understand the commingling of self-organization and selection. We will have to see that we are the natural expressions of a deeper order. Ultimately, we will discover in our creation myth that we are expected after all.
Stuart Kauffman At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1995, p 112. Available from Amazon.com
Pick up a pinecone and count the spiral rows of scales. You may find eight spirals winding up to the left and 13 spirals winding up to the right, or 13 left and 21 right spirals, or other pairs of numbers. The striking fact is that these pairs of numbers are adjacent numbers in the famous Fibonacci series: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21… Here, each term is the sum of the previous two terms. The phenomenon is well known and called phyllotaxis. Many are the efforts of biologists to understand why pinecones, sunflowers, and many other plants exhibit this remarkable pattern. Organisms do the strangest things, but all these odd things need not reflect selection or historical accident. Some of the best efforts to understand phyllotaxis appeal to a form of self-organization. Paul Green, at Stanford, has argued persuasively that the Fibonacci series is just what one would expects as the simplest self-repeating pattern that can be generated by the particular growth processes in the growing tips of the tissues that form sunflowers, pinecones, and so forth. Like a snowflake and its sixfold symmetry, the pinecone and its phyllotaxis may be part of order for free
Stuart Kauffman At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1995, p 151. (1) Available from Amazon.com
It is often stated that of all the theories proposed in this century, the silliest is quantum theory. In fact, some say that the only thing that quantum theory has going for it is that it is unquestionably correct.
Michio Kaku Hyperspace, Oxford University Press, 1995, p 263. (1)Available from Amazon.com
There are many examples of old, incorrect theories that stubbornly persisted, sustained only by the prestige of foolish but well-connected scientists. … Many of these theories have been killed off only when some decisive experiment exposed their incorrectness. .. Thus the yeoman work in any science, and especially physics, is done by the experimentalist, who must keep the theoreticians honest.
Michio Kaku Hyperspace, Oxford University Press, 1995, p 263. (1) Available from Amazon.com
There is a central myth about British science and economic growth, and it goes like this: science breeds wealth, Britain is in economic decline, therefore Britain has not done enough science. Actually, it is easy to show that a key cause of Britain’s economic decline has been that the government has funded too much science…
Post-war British science policy illustrates the folly of wasting money on research. The government decided, as it surveyed the ruins of war-torn Europe in 1945, that the future lay in computers, nuclear power and jet aircraft, so successive administrations poured money into these projects–to vast technical success. The world’s first commercial mainframe computer was British, sold by Ferrranti in 1951; the world’s first commercial jet aircraft was British, the Comet, in service in 1952; the first nuclear power station was British, Calder Hall, commissioned in 1956; and the world’s first and only supersonic commercial jet aircraft was Anglo-French, Concorde, in service in 1976.
Yet these technical advances crippled us economically, because they were so uncommercial. The nuclear generation of electricity, for example, had lost 2.1 billion pounds by 1975 (2.1 billion pounds was a lot then); Concord had lost us, alone, 2.3 billion pounds by 1976; the Comet crashed and America now dominates computers. Had these vast sums of money not been wasted on research, we would now be a significantly richer country.
Terence Kealey Wasting Billions, the Scientific Way, The Sunday Times, October 13, 1996. (1)
Quoted in: K. Eric Drexler Engines of Creation: the Coming Era of Nanotechnology, Bantam, New York, 1987, p 231. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1898-1963) b. Ireland
There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. for magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious–such as digging up and mutilating the dead.
If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. In the same spirit, Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself… The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician…
No doubt those who really founded modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power; in every mixed movement the efficacy comes from the good elements not from the bad. But the presence of bad elements in not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes. It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth; but I think it would be true to say that it was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour. Its triumphs may have been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.
Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man, Collins, Fount Paperback, 1978, p. 46. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Leakey, Richard and Roger Lewin
It has taken biologists some 230 years to identify and describe three quarters of a million insects; if there are indeed at least thirty million, as Erwin (Terry Erwin, the Smithsonian Institute) estimates, then, working as they have in the past, insect taxonomists have ten thousand years of employment ahead of them. Ghilean Prance, director of the Botanical Gardens in Kew, estimates that a complete list of plants in the Americas would occupy taxonomists for four centuries, again working at historical rates.
Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, 1995, The Sixth Extinction, Anchor, New York, pp 122-123. Available from Amazon.com
Without offering any data on all that occurs between conception and the age of kindergarten, they announce on the basis of what they have got out of a few thousand questionnaires that they are measuring the hereditary mental endowment of human beings. Obviously, this is not a conclusion obtained by research. It is a conclusion planted by the will to believe. It is, I think, for the most part unconsciously planted … If the impression takes root that these tests really measure intelligence, that they constitute a sort of last judgment on the child’s capacity, that they reveal “scientifically” his predestined ability, then it would be a thousand times better if all the intelligence testers and all their questionnaires were sunk in the Sargasso Sea.
In the course of a debate with Lewis Terman: quoted in Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton and Co., Ltd, NY, 1996, p 181. (1)
(99 B.C.-55 B.C.) b. Rome
(On the temperature of water in wells)
The reason why the water in wells becomes colder in summer is that the earth is then rarefied by the heat, and releases into the air all the heat-particles it happens to have. So, the more the earth is drained of heat, the colder becomes the moisture that is concealed in the ground. On the other hand, when all the earth condenses and contracts and congeals with the cold, then, of course, as it contracts, it squeezes out into the wells whatever heat it holds.
Lucretius On the nature of things (De Rerum Natura), Sphere Books, London, 1969, p. 233. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
Mencken, H(enry) L(ouis)
(1880-1956) b. Baltimore, MD
The value the world sets upon motives is often grossly unjust and inaccurate. Consider, for example, two of them: mere insatiable curiosity and the desire to do good. The latter is put high above the former, and yet it is the former that moves one of the most useful men the human race has yet produced: the scientific investigator. What actually urges him on is not some brummagem idea of Service, but a boundless, almost pathological thirst to penetrate the unknown, to uncover the secret, to find out what has not been found out before. His prototype is not the liberator releasing slaves, the good Samaritan lifting up the fallen, but a dog sniffing tremendously at an infinite series of rat-holes.
Mencken, H.L., Reprinted in A Mencken Crestomathy, Vintage Books, New York, 1982, p. 12, first printed in the Smart Set, Aug. 1919, pp 60-61. (1)
Michelson, Albert, Abraham
(1852-1931) b. Germany
The most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplemented in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.
Quoted by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield in The Arrow of Time, Flamingo, London 1991, p 67. Available from Amazon.com
Mill, John Stuart
The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having an independent existence of its own. And if no real entity answering to the name could be found, men did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it was something peculiarly abstruse and mysterious.
Quoted in Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton and Co., Ltd, NY, 1996, p 181. (1)
Biology occupies a position among the sciences at once marginal and central. Marginal because–the living world constituting but a tiny and very “special” part of the universe–it does not seem likely that the study of living beings will ever uncover general laws applicable outside the biosphere. But if the ultimate aim of the whole of science is indeed, as I believe, to clarify man’s relationship to the universe, then biology must be accorded a central position…
Jacques Monod Chance and Necessity Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1971, p xi. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1642-1727) b. Woolsthorpe, England
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
On how he made discoveries
By always thinking unto them. I keep the subject constantly before me and wait till the first dawnings open little by little into the full light.
E.N. da C. Andrade, Sir Isaac Newton, His Life and Work, Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1950, p. 35. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
(1822-1892) b. Dôle, France
Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.
René Dubos, Pasteur and Modern Science, Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1960, p. 145. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Chance favors the prepared mind.
Quoted in H. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, Prindle, Wever and Schmidt, Boston, 1988. (2) Available from Amazon.com
(1901-1994) b. Portland, Oregon
I recognize that many physicists are smarter than I am–most of them theoretical physicists. A lot of smart people have gone into theoretical physics, therefore the field is extremely competitive. I console myself with the thought that although they may be smarter and may be deeper thinkers than I am, I have broader interests than they have.
Linus Pauling, The Meaning of Life, Edited by David Friend and the editors of Life, Little Brown, New York, 1990, p. 69. (6)
Polanyi, John C.
(1929-) b. Berlin, Germany
(Concerning the allocation of research funds) It is folly to use as one’s guide in the selection of fundamental science the criterion of utility. Not because (scientists)… despise utility. But because. .. useful outcomes are best identified after the making of discoveries, rather than before.
John C. Polanyi. Excerpt from the keynote address to the Canadian Society for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Toronto June 2, 1996.
Polanyi, John C.
Faced with the admitted difficulty of managing the creative process, we are doubling our efforts to do so. Is this because science has failed to deliver, having given us nothing more than nuclear power, penicillin, space travel, genetic engineering, transistors, and superconductors? Or is it because governments everywhere regard as a reproach activities they cannot advantageously control? They felt that way about the marketplace for goods, but trillions of wasted dollars later, they have come to recognize the efficiency of this self-regulating system. Not so, however, with the marketplace for ideas.
John C. Polanyi In Martin Moskovits (Ed.), Science and Society, the John C. Polanyi Nobel Lareates Lectures, Anansi Press, Concord, Ontario, 1995, p 8. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Educators may bring upon themselves unnecessary travail by taking a tactless and unjustifiable position about the relation between scientific and religious narratives. We see this, of course, in the conflict concerning creation science. Some educators representing, as they think, the conscience of science act much like those legislators who in 1925 prohibited by law the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. In that case, anti-evolutionists were fearful that a scientific idea would undermine religious belief. Today, pro-evolutionists are fearful that a religious idea will undermine scientific belief. The former had insufficient confidence in religion; the latter insufficient confidence in science. The point is that profound but contradictory ideas may exist side by side, if they are constructed from different materials and methods and have different purposes. Each tells us something important about where we stand in the universe, and it is foolish to insist that they must despise each other.
Neil Postman, The End of Education, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1995, p 107. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(19??-) b. New York, USA
“The scientific method,” Thomas Henry Huxley once wrote, “is nothing but the normal working of the human mind.” That is to say, when the mind is working; that is to say further, when it is engaged in corrrecting its mistakes.
Taking this point of view, we may conclude that science is not physics, biology, or chemistry–is not even a “subject”–but a moral imperative drawn from a larger narrative whose purpose is to give perspective, balance, and humility to learning.
Neil Postman, The End of Education, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995, p 68. Available from Amazon.com
Russell, Bertrand, Arthur, William
(1872-1970) b. England
Every living thing is a sort of imperialist, seeking to transform as much as possible of its environment into itself… When we compare the (present) human population of the globe with… that of former times, we see that “chemical imperialism” has been… the main end to which human intelligence has been devoted.
Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Philosophy, Meridian Books, Cleveland and New York, 1960, pp 31-32. (1) Newer edition available from Amazon.com
Russell, Bertrand, Arthur, William
Almost everything that distinguishes the modern world from earlier centuries is attibutable to science, which achieved its most spectacular triumphs in the seventeenth century.
Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Allen and Unwin, London, 1979, p 512. (6) Available from Amazon.com
Snow, C(harles) P(ercy)
(1905-1980) b. Leicester, England
…Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect–it was this work for which, sixteen years later he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special theory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time and matter into one fundamental unity.
This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist’s. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
It is pretty safe to say that, so long as physics lasts, no one will again hack out three major breakthroughs in one year.
C.P. Snow, Variety of Men, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, U.K. 1969, pp 85-86. (1) Available from Amazon.com
(1893-1984) b. Hungary
Basic research may seem very expensive. I am a well-paid scientist. My hourly wage is equal to that of a plumber, but sometimes my research remains barren of results for weeks, months or years and my conscience begins to bother me for wasting the taxpayer’s money. But in reviewing my life’s work, I have to think that the expense was not wasted. Basic research, to which we owe everything, is relatively very cheap when compared with other outlays of modern society. The other day I made a rough calculation which led me to the conclusion that if one were to add up all the money ever spent by man on basic research, one would find it to be just about equal to the money spent by the Pentagon this past year.
Albert Szent-Györgyi, The Crazy Ape, Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1971, p 72. (6) Available from Amazon.com
Our nervous system developed for one sole purpose, to maintain our lives and satisfy our needs. All our reflexes serve this purpose. this makes us utterly egotistic. With rare exceptions people are really interested in one thing only: themselves. Everybody, by necessity, is the center of his own universe.
When the human brain took its final shape, say, 100,000 years ago, problems and solutions must have been exceedingly simple. There were no long-range problems and man had to grab any immediate advantage. The world has changed but we are still willing to sell more distant vital interests for some minor immediate gains. Our military industrial complex, which endangers the future of mankind, to a great extent owes its stability to the fact that so may people depend on it for their living.
This holds true for all of us, including myself. When I received the Nobel Prize, the only big lump sum of money I have ever seen, I had to do something with it. The easiest way to drop this hot potato was to invest it, to buy shares. I knew World War II was coming and I was afraid that if I had shares which rise in case of war, I would wish for war. So I asked my agent to buy shares which go down in the event of war. This he did. I lost my money and saved my soul.
Albert Szent-Györgyi, The Crazy Ape, Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1971, p 72. (6) Available from Amazon.com
Turing, Alan, Mathison
(1912-1954) b. London, England
(1943, New York: the Bell Labs Cafeteria) His high pitched voice already stood out above the general murmur of well-behaved junior executives grooming themselves for promotion within the Bell corporation. Then he was suddenly heard to say: “No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.”
Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing the Enigma of Intelligence, Unwin Hyman, London, 1983, p 251. (1)
Twain, Mark (Clemens, Samuel, Langhorne)
(1835-1910) b. Florida, Missouri
Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal… In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away for two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh–not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.
Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, A Fawcett Crest Book, Greenwich, Conn., 1962, pp 180-181. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Quoted by Charles Hard Townes In Martin Moskovits (Ed.), Science and Society, the John C. Polanyi Nobel Lareates Lectures, Anansi Press, Concord, Ontario, 1995, p 8. (1) Available from Amazon.com
Quoted by Charles Hard Townes In Martin Moskovits (Ed.), Science and Society, the John C. Polanyi Nobel Lareates Lectures, Anansi Press, Concord, Ontario, 1995, p 8. (1) Available from Amazon.com
The number in parenthesis following a quotation identifies the contributor in the following numbered list.
(1) The Editor
(3) Bruce Miller ([email protected])
(4) Cited by Neil Postman in The End of Education, Alfred Knopf, NY, 1995, p 10.
(5) Dr. John Hetherington, Department of Psychology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-6502, USA, “[email protected].”
(6) Cited by Thomas Hager in Force of Nature, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1995.
(7) Cited by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield in The Arrow of Time, Flamingo, London 1991
Compiled and edited by Alfred Burdett