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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index E > Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes

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Ralph Waldo Emerson
(25 May 1803 - 27 Apr 1882)

American essayist and philosopher whose transcendental philosophy combined strains of European Romanticism, Oriental supernaturalism, American optimism and practicality. Later he participated in national issues and delivered many antislavery speeches, even welcoming the beginning of Civil War.

Science Quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson (59 quotes)

'Tis a short sight to limit our faith in laws to those of gravity, of chemistry, of botany, and so forth. Those laws do not stop where our eyes lose them, but push the same geometry and chemistry up into the invisible plane of social and rational life, so that, look where we will, in a boy's game, or in the strifes of races, a perfect reaction, a perpetual judgment keeps watch and ward.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Worship', The Conduct of Life (1860) collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1866), Vol.2, 401.
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...sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Journal entry (23 Apr 1838), Ralph Waldo Emerson and Joel Porte (ed.), Emerson in His Journals (1960, 1982), 185.
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A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Self-Reliance', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 57.
Science quotes on:  |  Consistency (13)

A man should carry nature in his head.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Concord Walks'. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), Vol. 12, 176.
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All successful men have agreed to one thing,—they were causationists. They believed that things went not by luck, but by law; that there was not a weak or a cracked link in the chain that joins the first and last of things.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Power', The Conduct of Life (1860), collected in The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1870), 343.
Science quotes on:  |  Cause (117)

An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Self-Reliance', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 61.
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As Arkwright and Whitney were the demi-gods of cotton, so prolific Time will yet bring an inventor to every plant. There is not a property in nature but a mind is born to seek and find it.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Fortune of the Republic (1878), 3.
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Astronomy is a cold, desert science, with all its pompous figures,—depends a little too much on the glass-grinder, too little on the mind. 'T is of no use to show us more planets and systems. We know already what matter is, and more or less of it does not signify.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Country Life'. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), Vol. 12, 166.
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Astronomy taught us our insignificance in Nature.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 'Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New England', Emerson's Complete Works: Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883), 317.
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Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. ... There is not a piece of science, but its flank may be turned to-morrow.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Circles', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 308.
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Conversation in society is found to be on a platform so low as to exclude science, the saint, and the poet.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works (1884), Vol. 7, 218.
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Drive out Nature with a fork, she comes running back.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson's translation of a much earlier saying, as given in 'Compensation', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 105. A note on p.399 shows the same sentiment in the original Latin by Horace in his Epistles, i, x, 24: “Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret,/Et mala perrumpet furtim fastidia victrix.” The first part of the couplet translates as above; the second part adds “And will burst through your foolish contempt, triumphant.” More examples, predating Emerson, are given in George Latimer Apperson and Martin H. Manser, The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology (1993, 2006), 158.
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Everything in nature contains all the powers of nature. Everything is made of one hidden stuff.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 94:24.
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Everything in nature goes by law, and not by luck.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 94:25.
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Everything in nature is bipolar, or has a positive and a negative pole.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From essay, 'Character', collected in Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works: Essays, Second Series (1884), Vol. 3, 96.
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He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essays, Second Series (1844).
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If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbour, tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Attributed to Emerson by Sarah S. B. Yule, in her book Borrowings (compiled 1889, published 1893). Mrs Yule was quoted in The Docket (Feb 1912), that she wrote this in her notebook of memorable statements during an Emerson address. The Docket thus disproved Elbert Hubbard's claim to its authorship.
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In science we have to consider two things: power and circumstance.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 189:44.
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Intellect is void of affection and sees an object as it stands in the light of science, cool and disengaged. The intellect goes out of the individual, floats over its own personality, and regards it as a fact, and not as I and mine.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Intellect', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 326.
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Invention breeds invention. No sooner is the electric telegraph devised than gutta-percha, the very material it requires, is found. The aeronaut is provided with gun-cotton, the very fuel he wants for his balloon.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works (1884), Vol. 7, 161.
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It is much better to learn the elements of geology, of botany, or ornithology and astronomy by word of mouth from a companion than dully from a book.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Concord Walks'. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), Vol. 12, 176.
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Let us make education brave and preventive. Politics is an afterwork, a poor patching. We are always a little late… We shall one day learn to supercede politics by education… We must begin higher up, namely in Education.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Culture (1860). Quoted in Bruce A. Kimball, The True Professional Ideal in America: A History (1996), 198.
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Life is girt all round with a zodiac of sciences, the contributions of men who have perished to add their point of light to our sky. ... These road-makers on every hand enrich us. We must extend the area of life and multiply our relations. We are as much gainers by finding a property in the old earth as by acquiring a new planet.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 247:34.
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Line in Nature is not found;
Unit and Universe are round.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Poem, 'Uriel', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Poems (), 14
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Magic and all that is ascribed to it is a deep presentiment of the powers of science. The shoes of swiftness, the sword of sharpness, the power of subduing the elements, of using the secret virtues of minerals, of understanding the voices of birds, are the obscure efforts of the mind in a right direction.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'History', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 34.
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Man carries the world in his head, the whole astronomy and chemistry suspended in a thought. Because the history of nature is charactered in his brain, therefore he is the prophet and discoverer of her secrets. Every known fact in natural science was divined by the presentiment of somebody, before it was actually verified.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essay, 'Nature', in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Riggs Ferguson (ed.) and Jean Ferguson Carr (ed.), The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume III, Essays: Second Series (1984), 106-107.
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Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of our science.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Works and Days', Emerson's Complete Works (1883), Vol. 7, 152.
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More than the diamond Koh-i-noor, which glitters among their crown jewels, they prize the dull pebble which is wiser than a man, whose poles turn themselves to the poles of the world, and whose axis is parallel to the axis of the world. Now, their toys are steam and galvanism.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
English Traits (1856), 47. The “dull pebble” refers to lodestone and its magnetic properties.
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Nature is an endless combination and repetition of very few laws. She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essays, Lectures and Orations (1851), 7.
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Nature may be as selfishly studied as trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism (with intent to show where aour spoons are gone); and anatomy and physiology become phrenology and palmistry.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essay, 'Nature', in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Riggs Ferguson (ed.) and Jean Ferguson Carr (ed.), The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume III, Essays: Second Series (1984), 13.
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No one can read the history of astronomy without perceiving that Copernicus, Newton, Laplace, are not new men, or a new kind of men, but that Thales, Anaximenes, Hipparchus, Empodocles, Aristorchus, Pythagorus, Oenipodes, had anticipated them.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In The Conduct of Life (1904), 18.
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Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Tryon Edwards (ed.), A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1891), 373.
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Science always goes abreast with the just elevation of the man, keeping step with religion and metaphysics; or, the state of science is an index of our self-knowledge.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 382:23.
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Science corrects the old creeds, sweeps away, with every new perception, our infantile catechisms, and necessitates a faith commensurate with the grander orbits and universal laws which it discloses yet it does not surprise the moral sentiment that was older and awaited expectant these larger insights.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hialmer Day Gould and Edward Louis Hessenmueller, Best Thoughts of Best Thinkers (1904), 330.
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Science does not know its debt to imagination.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 'Letters and Social Aims: Poetry and Imagination', Prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1880), Vol. 3, 199.
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Science finds it methods.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Journal excerpt in 'Notes', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 380.
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Science surpasses the old miracles of mythology.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Progress of Culture', an address read to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, 18 July 1867. In Emerson's Complete Works (1883), Vol. 8, 197.
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Science was false by being unpoetical. It assumed to explain a reptile or a mollusk, and isolated it—which is hunting for life in graveyards. Reptile or mollusk or man or angel only exists in system, in relation.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 'Letters and Social Aims: Poetry and Imagination', Prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1880), Vol. 3, 199.
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Science, Nature,—O, I've yearned to open some page.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 'Mary Moody Emerson', Emerson's Complete Works: Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883), 401.
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So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the Chancellors of God.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Self-Reliance', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 89.
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Something is wanting to science until it has been humanised.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 399:18.
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The astronomers said, ‘Give us matter and a little motion and we will construct the universe. It is not enough that we should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one shove to launch the mass and generate the harmony of the centrifugal and centripetal forces.’ ... There is no end to the consequences of the act. That famous aboriginal push propagates itself through all the balls of the system, and through every atom of every ball.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From essay, 'Nature', collected in Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works: Essays, Second Series (1884), Vol. 3, 176-177.
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The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'History', collected in Essays (1838, 1876), First Series, Essay 1, 11.
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The dice of God are always loaded.
[A fragment from a lost play of Sophocles, “Ever the dice of Zeus fall well.”]
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
A colloquial translation, presumably ironic, from the original Greek phrase (preceding it), as given in 'Compensation', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 102. The more literal translation of the original Greek is discussed in the added Notes section by Joseph Slater in The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: First Series, Essays (1979), 234. Fragment translation from Paul Shorey, 'The Influence of Classics on American Literature', The Chautauquan (1906), 43, 129.
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The field cannot be well seen from within the field. The astronomer must have his diameter of the earth's orbit as a base to fix the parallax of any other star
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 427:37.
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The first steps in Agriculture, Astronomy, Zoology, (those first steps which the farmer, the hunter, and the sailor take,) teach that nature's dice are always loaded; that in her heaps and rubbish are concealed sure and useful results.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Nature (1849), 36.
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The forest is my loyal friend
A Delphic shrine to me.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Waldeinsamkeit', Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1876), Vol. 4, 157.
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The Good Spirit never cared for the colleges, and though all men and boys were now drilled in Greek, Latin, and Mathematics, it had quite left these shells high on the beach, and was creating and feeding other matters [science] at other ends of the world.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1870), 553.
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The idiot, the Indian, the child and unschooled farmer’s boy stand nearer to the light by which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Concluding sentence in 'History', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 41.
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The law of nature is alternation for evermore. Each electrical state superinduces the opposite.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Self-Reliance (1888, 1991), 111.
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The laws of light and of heat translate each other;—so do the laws of sound and colour; and so galvanism, electricity and magnetism are varied forms of this selfsame energy.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In 'Letters and Social Aims: Poetry and Imagination', Prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1880), Vol. 3, 198.
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The lessons of science should be experimental also. The sight of a planet through a telescope is worth all the course on astronomy; the shock of the electric spark in the elbow outvalues all theories; the taste of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano, are better than volumes of chemistry.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1870), 552.
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The poet alone knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation, and animation, for he does not stop at these facts, but employs them as signs. He knows why the plain, or meadow of space, was strown with these flowers we call suns, and moons, and stars; why the deep is adorned with animals, with men, and gods; for, in every word he speaks he rides on them as the horses of thought.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essay, 'The Poet', in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Riggs Ferguson (ed.) and Jean Ferguson Carr (ed.), The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume III, Essays: Second Series (1984), 104.
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The Religion that is afraid of science dishonours God and commits suicide. It acknowledges that it is not equal to the whole of truth, that it legislates, tyrannizes over a village of God's empires but is not the immutable universal law. Every influx of atheism, of skepticism is thus made useful as a mercury pill assaulting and removing a diseased religion and making way for truth.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
(4 Mar 1831). In William H. Gilman (ed.) The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Vol III, 1826-1832 (1963), 239.
Science quotes on:  |  Science And Religion (153)

The sciences, even the best,—mathematics and astronomy,—are like sportsmen, who seize whatever prey offers, even without being able to make any use of it.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson's Complete Works (1883),62.
Science quotes on:  |  Astronomy (103)  |  Mathematics (355)  |  Science (850)

The solar system has no anxiety about its reputation.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Lily Splane, Quantum Consciousness (2004),307
Science quotes on:  |  Solar System (22)

The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
From 'Compensation', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 102.
Science quotes on:  |  Balance (23)  |  Equation (45)  |  Itself (6)  |  Look (30)  |  Mathematical (9)  |  Multiplication Table (4)  |  Turn (21)  |  Will (21)  |  World (206)

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Fortune of the Republic (1878), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Plant (93)

[W]e pity our fathers for dying before steam and galvanism, sulphuric ether and ocean telegraphs, photograph and spectrograph arrived, as cheated out of their human estate.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
'Works and Days', Emerson's Complete Works (1883), 152.
Science quotes on:  |  Invention (167)  |  Photography (5)  |  Spectroscopy (9)  |  Spectrum (17)  |  Steam Engine (21)  |  Telegraph (25)


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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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