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Brain Quotes (113 quotes)

I. Animals have an electricity peculiar to themselves to which the name animal electricity is given.
II. The organs in which animal electricity acts above all others, and by which it is distributed throughout the whole body, are the nerves, and the most important organ of secretion is the brain.
Thierische Elektricitäund Reizbarkeit. Ein Beytrag zu den neuesten Entdeckungen üdiese Gegenstä(1795), 329. Quoted and trans. in Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 180.
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Mientras nuestro cerebro sea un arcano, el universo reflejo de su estructura también será un misterio.
As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain will also be a mystery.
In Charlas de Café: pensamientos, anécdotas y confidencias (1920,1967), 276. (Café Chats: Thoughts, Anecdotes and Confidences). As translated in Roger Carpenter and Benjamin Redd, Neurophysiology: A Conceptual Approach (2012), 5th ed., 16.
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MACBETH: Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
DOCTOR: Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.
MACBETH: Throw physic to the dogs; I'll none of it.
Macbeth (1606), V, iii.
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A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
In An Essay on Criticism (1711), 14.
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Ah, the architecture of this world. Amoebas may not have backbones, brains, automobiles, plastic, television, Valium or any other of the blessings of a technologically advanced civilization; but their architecture is two billion years ahead of its time.
In The Center of Life: A Natural History of the Cell (1977), 15-16.
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All the inventions that the world contains,
Were not by reason first found out, nor brains;
But pass for theirs who had the luck to light
Upon them by mistake or oversight.
Under 'Butler's Poems: Miscellaneous Thoughts', in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper(1810), Vol. 8, 227.
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American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.
From transcript of interview on TV show, The O'Reilly Factor (15 Nov 2007).
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An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head.
"Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), 54.
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An immune system of enormous complexity is present in all vertebrate animals. When we place a population of lymphocytes from such an animal in appropriate tissue culture fluid, and when we add an antigen, the lymphocytes will produce specific antibody molecules, in the absense of any nerve cells. I find it astonishing that the immune system embodies a degree of complexity which suggests some more or less superficial though striking analogies with human language, and that this cognitive system has evolved and functions without assistance of the brain.
'The Generative Grammar of the Immune System', Nobel Lecture, 8 Dec 1984. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1981-1990 (1993), 223.
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And if incision of the temple is made on the left, spasm seizes the parts on the right, while if the incision is on the right, spasm seizes the parts on the left.
On Wounds in the Head, in Hippocrates, trans. E. T. Withington (1927), Vol. 3, 33.
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And men ought to know that from nothing else but thence [from the brain] come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear, and know what are foul and hat are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what unsavory... And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us... All these things we endure from the brain, when it is not healthy... In these ways I am of the opinion that the brain exercises the greatest power in the man. This is the interpreter to us of those things which emanate from the air, when it [the brain] happens to be in a sound state.
The Genuine Works of Hippocrates, trans. Francis Adams (1886), Vol. 2, 344-5.
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And still they gazed and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.
The Deserted Village: A Poem (1809), 11.
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As followers of natural science we know nothing of any relation between thoughts and the brain, except as a gross correlation in time and space.
Man on his Nature (1942), 290.
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Because intelligence is our own most distinctive feature, we may incline to ascribe superior intelligence to the basic primate plan, or to the basic plan of the mammals in general, but this point requires some careful consideration. There is no question at all that most mammals of today are more intelligent than most reptiles of today. I am not going to try to define intelligence or to argue with those who deny thought or consciousness to any animal except man. It seems both common and scientific sense to admit that ability to learn, modification of action according to the situation, and other observable elements of behavior in animals reflect their degrees of intelligence and permit us, if only roughly, to compare these degrees. In spite of all difficulties and all the qualifications with which the expert (quite properly) hedges his conclusions, it also seems sensible to conclude that by and large an animal is likely to be more intelligent if it has a larger brain at a given body size and especially if its brain shows greater development of those areas and structures best developed in our own brains. After all, we know we are intelligent, even though we wish we were more so.
In The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 78.
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Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his power and strength
But for his intellectual length.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason 'A priori'
As well as 'A posteriori'.
No problem bothered him a bit
He made both head and tail of it.
So wise was he, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong
It passed a few ideas along.
If something slipped his forward mind
'Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.
As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
Thus he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.
Oh, gaze upon this model beast
Defunct ten million years at least.
'The Dinosaur: A Poem' (1912). In E. H. Colbert (ed.), The Dinosaur Book (1951), 78.
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BRAIN, n. An apparatus with which we think that we think. That which distinguishes the man who is content to be something from the man who wishes to do something. A man of great wealth, or one who has been pitchforked into high station, has commonly such a headful of brain that his neighbors cannot keep their hats on. In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, brain is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  41.
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But since the brain, as well as the cerebellum, is composed of many parts, variously figured, it is possible, that nature, which never works in vain, has destined those parts to various uses, so that the various faculties of the mind seem to require different portions of the cerebrum and cerebellum for their production.
A Dissertation on the Functions of the Nervous System (1784), trans. and ed. Thomas Laycock (1851), 446.
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Consider a cow. A cow doesn’t have the problem-solving skill of a chimpanzee, which has discovered how to get termites out of the ground by putting a stick into a hole. Evolution has developed the brain’s ability to solve puzzles, and at the same time has produced in our brain a pleasure of solving problems.
In John Tierney, 'For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics', New York Times (20 Oct 2009), D2.
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Data isn't information. ... Information, unlike data, is useful. While there’s a gulf between data and information, there’s a wide ocean between information and knowledge. What turns the gears in our brains isn't information, but ideas, inventions, and inspiration. Knowledge—not information—implies understanding. And beyond knowledge lies what we should be seeking: wisdom.
In High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian (2000), 185-186.
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Each nerve cell receives connections from other nerve cells at six sites called synapses. But here is an astonishing fact—there are about one million billion connections in the cortical sheet. If you were to count them, one connection (or synapse) per second, you would finish counting some thirty-two million years after you began. Another way of getting a feeling for the numbers of connections in this extraordinary structure is to consider that a large match-head's worth of your brain contains about a billion connections. Notice that I only mention counting connections. If we consider how connections might be variously combined, the number would be hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros. (There are about ten followed by eighty zero's worth of positively charged particles in the whole known universe!)
Bright and Brilliant Fire, On the Matters of the Mind (1992), 17.
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Facts to [Herbert] Hoover's brain are as water to a sponge; they are absorbed into every tiny interstice.
Quoted in David Hinshaw, Herbert Hoover: American Quaker (1950), 30.
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For in disease the most voluntary or most special movements, faculties, etc., suffer first and most, that is in an order the exact opposite of evolution. Therefore I call this the principle of Dissolution.
'On the Anatomical and Physiological Localisation of Movements in the Brain' (1875), Preface. In James Taylor (ed.), Selected Writings of John Hughlings Jackson, Vol. 1 (1931), 38.
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For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.
Co-author with American science writer Roger Amos Lewin (1946), Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal about the Emergence of our Species and its Possible Future (1977), 249.
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For, every time a certain portion is destroyed, be it of the brain or of the spinal cord, a function is compelled to cease suddenly, and before the time known beforehand when it would stop naturally, it is certain that this function depends upon the area destroyed. It is in this way that I have recognized that the prime motive power of respiration has its seat in that part of the medulla oblongata that gives rise to the nerves of the eighth pair [vagi]; and it is by this method that up to a certain point it will be possible to discover the use of certain parts of the brain.
Expériences sur le Principe de la Vie, Notamment sur celui des Mouvements du Coeur, et sur le Siege de ce Principe (1812), 148-149. Translated in Edwin Clarke and L. S. Jacyna, Nineteenth Century Origins of Neuroscientific Concepts (1987), 247.
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Have you tried neuroxing papers? It.'s a very easy and cheap process. You hold the page in front of your eyes and you let it go through there into the brain. It’s much better than xeroxing.
Quoted in L. Wolpert and A. Richards (eds.), A Passion for Science (1988), 104.

Heart and Brain are the two lords of life. In the metaphors of ordinary speech and in the stricter language of science, we use these terms to indicate two central powers, from which all motives radiate, to which all influences converge.
From 'The Principles of Success in Literature', The Fortnightly (1865), 1, 66.
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Here I am: My brain is open.
[As an itinerant scholar, this was greeting he often gave, ready to collaborate, upon arrival at the home of any mathematician colleague.]
Quoted by Béla Bollobás, 'The Life and Work of Paul Erdos", in Shiing-Shen Chern and Friedrich Hirzebruch, Wolf Prize in Mathematics (2000), 293.
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His [Erwin Schrödinger's] private life seemed strange to bourgeois people like ourselves. But all this does not matter. He was a most lovable person, independent, amusing, temperamental, kind and generous, and he had a most perfect and efficient brain.
Max Born
In My Life, Recollections of a Nobel Laureate (1978), 270. Quoted by Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1992), 6.
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I am delighted that I have found a new reaction to demonstrate even to the blind the structure of the interstitial stroma of the cerebral cortex. I let the silver nitrate react with pieces of brain hardened in potassium dichromate. I have already obtained magnificent results and hope to do even better in the future.
Letter to Nicolo Manfredi, 16 Feb 1873. Archive source. Quoted in Paolo Mazzarello, The Hidden Structure: A Scientific Biography of Camillo Golgi, trans. and ed. Henry A. Buchtel and Aldo Badiani (1999), 63.
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I bet the human brain is a kludge
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 383.
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I can say, if I like, that social insects behave like the working parts of an immense central nervous system: the termite colony is an enormous brain on millions of legs; the individual termite is a mobile neurone.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 224. Note: Spelling “neurone&rdwuo; [sic].
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I consider the differences between man and animals in propensities, feelings, and intellectual faculties, to be the result of the same cause as that which we assign for the variations in other functions, viz. difference of organization; and that the superiority of man in rational endowments is not greater than the more exquisite, complicated, and perfectly developed structure of his brain, and particularly of his ample cerebral hemispheres, to which the rest of the animal kingdom offers no parallel, nor even any near approximation, is sufficient to account for.
Lectures on Physiology, Zoology, and the Natural History of Man (1819), 237.
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I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.
Quoted by Cleveland Moffitt, 'A Talk With Tesla', Atlanta Constitution (7 Jun 1896)
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I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition. ... We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.
In Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self (1991), 241.
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I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it's a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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I took this view of the subject. The medulla spinalis has a central division, and also a distinction into anterior and posterior fasciculi, corresponding with the anterior and posterior portions of the brain. Further we can trace down the crura of the cerebrum into the anterior fasciculus of the spinal marrow, and the crura of the cerebellum into the posterior fasciculus. I thought that here I might have an opportunity of touching the cerebellum, as it were, through the posterior portion of the spinal marrow, and the cerebrum by the anterior portion. To this end I made experiments which, though they were not conclusive, encouraged me in the view I had taken. I found that injury done to the anterior portion of the spinal marrow, convulsed the animal more certainly than injury done to the posterior portion; but I found it difficult to make the experiment without injuring both portions.
Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain (1811), 21-22.
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I would be the last to deny that the greatest scientific pioneers belonged to an aristocracy of the spirit and were exceptionally intelligent, something that we as modest investigators will never attain, no matter how much we exert ourselves. Nevertheless … I continue to believe that there is always room for anyone with average intelligence … to utilize his energy and … any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain, and that even the least gifted may, like the poorest land that has been well-cultivated and fertilized, produce an abundant harvest..
From Preface to the second edition, Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), xv.
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I'm not saying … I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world.
From interview on MTV (1994).
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If materialism is true, it seems to me that we cannot know that it is true. If my opinions are the result of the chemical processes going on in my brain, they are determined by the laws of chemistry, not those of logic.
The Inequality of Man (1932), 162.
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If our intention had been merely to bring back a handful of soil and rocks from the lunar gravel pit and then forget the whole thing, we would certainly be history's biggest fools. But that is not our intention now—it never will be. What we are seeking in tomorrow's [Apollo 11] trip is indeed that key to our future on earth. We are expanding the mind of man. We are extending this God-given brain and these God-given hands to their outermost limits and in so doing all mankind will benefit. All mankind will reap the harvest…. What we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down upon the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man.
Banquet speech on the eve of the Apollo 11 launch, Royal Oaks Country Club, Titusville (15 Jul 1969). In "Of a Fire on the Moon", Life (29 Aug 1969), 67, No. 9, 34.
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If the brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn't.
Quoted by George E. Pugh, The Biological Origin of Human Values (1978), 154. In a footnote, the author writes that this quote comes his own father, around 1938. The quote is also widely seen attributed to Lyall Watson (born 1939), for example, by Larry Chang in Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing (2006), 539.
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If the human mind were simple enough to understand, we'd be too simple to understand it.
Pat Bahn
Bahn's conundrum to cognitive theory
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If the world goes crazy for a lovely fossil, that's fine with me. But if that fossil releases some kind of mysterious brain ray that makes people say crazy things and write lazy articles, a serious swarm of flies ends up in my ointment.
Criticism of excessive media hype about a fossil discovery, from blog 'The Loom' (19 May 2009) on Discover magazine website.
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If there is no God, we are just molecules in motion, and we have no sense and no mind; we are just random firings of chemical in the brain. If our minds are composed only of physical matter, then our thoughts are, as Doug Wilson wittily quipped in his debate with atheist Dan Barker, just “brain gas.”
God Does Exist (2005), 45.
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In Man the brain presents an ascensive step in development, higher and more strongly marked than that by which the preceding subclass was distinguished from the one below it. Not only do the cerebral hemispheres overlap the olfactory lobes and cerebellum, but they extend in advance of the one, and further back than the other. Their posterior development is so marked, that anatomists have assigned to that part the character of a third lobe; it is peculiar to the genus Homo, and equally peculiar is the 'posterior horn of the lateral ventricle,' and the 'hippocampus minor,' which characterize the hind lobe of each hemisphere. The superficial grey matter of the cerebrum, through the number and depth of the convolutions, attains its maximum of extent in Man. Peculiar mental powers are associated with this highest form of brain, and their consequences wonderfully illustrate the value of the cerebral character; according to my estimate of which, I am led to regard the genus Homo, as not merely a representative of a distinct order, but of a distinct subclass of the Mammalia, for which I propose a name of 'ARCHENCEPHALA.'
'On the Characters, Principles of Division, and Primary Groups of the Class MAMMALIA' (1857), Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1858), 2, 19-20.
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In order to form for one's self a just notion of the operations which result in the production of thought, it is necessary to conceive of the brain as a peculiar organ, specially designed for the production thereof, just as the stomach is designed to effect digestion, the liver to filter the bile, the parotids and the maxillary and sublingual glands to prepare the salivary juices.
Rapports du Physique et du Moral de l'Homme (1805), 2nd edition, Vol. 1, 152-3. Translated in Robert M. Young, Mind, Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century (1970), 20.
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In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside. Our Planck is one of them, and that is why we love him.
Address at Physical Society, Berlin (1918), for Max Planck’s 60th birthday, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 1.
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Indeed, while Nature is wonderfully inventive of new structures, her conservatism in holding on to old ones is still more remarkable. In the ascending line of development she tries an experiment once exceedingly thorough, and then the question is solved for all time. For she always takes time enough to try the experiment exhaustively. It took ages to find how to build a spinal column or brain, but when the experiment was finished she had reason to be, and was, satisfied.
In The Whence and Whither of Man; a Brief History of his Origin and Development through Conformity to Environment; being the Morse Lectures of 1895. (1896), 173. The Morse lectureship was founded by Prof. Samuel F.B. Morse in 1865 at Union Theological Seminary, the lectures to deal with “the relation of the Bible to any of the sciences.”
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Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read music. For instance, the scientific article may say, 'The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one- half in a period of two weeks.' Now what does that mean?
It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat—and also in mine, and yours—is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.
So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week's potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced. To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out—there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.
'What do You Care What Other People Think?' Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988), 244.
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It has been said that he who was the first to abuse his fellow-man instead of knocking out his brains without a word, laid thereby the basis of civilisation.
'On affections of Speech from the Disease of the Brain' (1878). In James Taylor (ed.), Selected Writings of John Hughlings Jackson, Vol. 2 (1932), 179.
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It is because of his brain that [modern man] has risen above the animals. Guess which animals he has risen above.
The Great Bustard and Other People (1944), 30.
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It is distinctly proved, by this series of observations, that the reflex function exists in the medulla independently of the brain; in the medulla oblongata independently of the medulla spinalis; and in the spinal marrow of the anterior extremities, of the posterior extremities, and of the tail, independently of that of each other of these parts, respectively. There is still a more interesting and satisfactory mode of performing the experiment: it is to divide the spinal marrow between the nerves of the superior and inferior extremities. We have then two modes of animal life : the first being the assemblage of the voluntary and respiratory powers with those of the reflex function and irritability; the second, the two latter powers only: the first are those which obtain in the perfect animal, the second those which animate the foetus. The phenomena are precisely what might have been anticipated. If the spinal marrow be now destroyed, the irritability alone remains,—all the other phenomena having ceased.
'On the Reflex Function of the Medulla Oblongata and Medulla Spinalis,' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1833, 123, 650.
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It is easy to make out three areas where scientists will be concentrating their efforts in the coming decades. One is in physics, where leading theorists are striving, with the help of experimentalists, to devise a single mathematical theory that embraces all the basic phenomena of matter and energy. The other two are in biology. Biologists—and the rest of us too—would like to know how the brain works and how a single cell, the fertilized egg cell, develops into an entire organism
Article 'The View From Mars', in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Research Facilities of the Future (1994), 735, 37.
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It is strongly suspected that a NEWTON or SHAKESPEARE excels other mortals only by a more ample development of the anterior cerebral lobes, by having an extra inch of brain in the right place.
Lectures on Physiology, Zoology, and the Natural History of Man (1819), 110.
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It seems a miracle that young children easily learn the language of any environment into which they were born. The generative approach to grammar, pioneered by Chomsky, argues that this is only explicable if certain deep, universal features of this competence are innate characteristics of the human brain. Biologically speaking, this hypothesis of an inheritable capability to learn any language means that it must somehow be encoded in the DNA of our chromosomes. Should this hypothesis one day be verified, then lingusitics would become a branch of biology.
'The Generative Grammar of the Immune System', Nobel Lecture, 8 Dec 1984. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1981-1990 (1993), 223.
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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.
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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Man has two conditions of existence in the body. Hardly two creatures can be less alike than an infant and a man. The whole fetal state is a preparation for birth ... The human brain, in its earlier stage, resembles that of a fish: as it is developed, it resembles more the cerebral mass of a reptile; in its increase, it is like that of a bird, and slowly, and only after birth, does it assume the proper form and consistence of the human encephalon.
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Men make their own history, but not just as they please. They do not choose the circumstances for themselves, but have to work upon circumstances as they find them, have to fashion the material handed down by the past. The legacy of the dead generations weighs like an alp upon the brains of the living.
Karl Marx
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852).
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Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant, in some cases using custom as a test, in others perceiving them from their utility. It is the same thing which makes us mad or delirious, inspires us with dread or fear, whether by night or by day, brings sleeplessness, inopportune mistakes, aimless anxieties, absent-mindedness, and acts that are contrary to habit. These things that we suffer all come from the brain, when it is not healthy, but becomes abnormally hot, cold, moist, or dry, or suffers any other unnatural affection to which it was not accustomed. Madness comes from its moistness.
The Sacred Disease, in Hippocrates, trans. W. H. S. Jones (1923), Vol. 2, 175.
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MIND, n. A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  217.
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Nature has provided two great gifts: life and then the diversity of living things, jellyfish and humans, worms and crocodiles. I don't undervalue the investigation of commonalities but can't avoid the conclusion that diversity has been relatively neglected, especially as concerns the brain.
Theodore H. Bullock', in Larry R. Squire (ed.), The History of Science in Autobiography (1996), Vol. I, 144. The History of Science in Autobiography (1996), Vol. I, 144.
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One can truly say that the irresistible progress of natural science since the time of Galileo has made its first halt before the study of the higher parts of the brain, the organ of the most complicated relations of the animal to the external world. And it seems, and not without reason, that now is the really critical moment for natural science; for the brain, in its highest complexity—the human brain—which created and creates natural science, itself becomes the object of this science.
Natural Science and Brain (1909), 120.
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One most necessary function of the brain is to exert an inhibitory power over the nerve centres that lie below it, just as man exercises a beneficial control over his fellow animals of a lower order of dignity; and the increased irregular activity of the lower centres surely betokens a degeneration: it is like the turbulent, aimless action of a democracy without a head.
The Physiology and Pathology of Mind (1868), 94.
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Our brains seem to be organised to make random comparisons of the contents of our memories. Daydreaming allows the process to go into free fall. Suddenly, there is a new idea, born with intense excitement. We cannot organise this process but we can distort or even defeat it.
[Commenting that creativity is not a method that can be learnt and taught.]
Quoted in Andrew Jack, "An Acute Talent for Innovation", Financial Times (1 Feb 2009).
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Persons possessing great intellect and a capacity for excelling in the creative arts and also in the sciences are generally likely to have heavier brains than the ordinary individual. Arguing from this we might expect to find a corresponding lightness in the brain of the criminal, but this is not always the case ... Many criminals show not a single anomaly in their physical or mental make-up, while many persons with marked evidences of morphological aberration have never exhibited the criminal tendency.
Every attempt to prove crime to be due to a constitution peculiar only to criminals has failed signally. It is because most criminals are drawn from the ranks of the low, the degraded, the outcast, that investigators were ever deceived into attempting to set up a 'type' of criminal. The social conditions which foster the great majority of crimes are more needful of study and improvement.
From study of known normal brains we have learned that there is a certain range of variation. No two brains are exactly alike, and the greatest source of error in the assertions of Benedict and Lombroso has been the finding of this or that variation in a criminal’s brains, and maintaining such to be characteristic of the 'criminal constitution,' unmindful of the fact that like variations of structure may and do exist in the brains of normal, moral persons.
Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia (28 Dec 1904), as quoted in 'Americans of Future Will Have Best Brains', New York Times (29 Dec 1904), 6.
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Pressure, no doubt, has always been a most important factor in the metamorphism of rocks; but there is, I think, at present some danger in over-estimating this, and representing a partial statement of truth as the whole truth. Geology, like many human beings, suffered from convulsions in its infancy; now, in its later years, I apprehend an attack of pressure on the brain.
'The Foundation-Stones of the Earth's Crust', Nature, 1888, 39, 93.
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Psychology is physiology above the collar button.
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Research is four things: brains with which to think, eyes with which to see, machines with which to measure, and fourth, money.
Quoted in obituary, 'Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Dead; Research Isolated Vitamin C''. Walter Sullivan, New York Times (25 Oct 1986), 9.
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Scientific truth is universal, because it is only discovered by the human brain and not made by it, as art is.
In On Aggression (2002), 279.
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Segregationalists will even argue that God was the first segregationalist. 'Red birds and blue birds don't fly together,' they contend. ...They turn to some pseudo-scientific writing and argue that the Negro's brain is smaller than the white man's brain. They do not know, or they refuse to know that the idea of an inferior or superior race has been refuted by the best evidence of the science of anthropology. Great anthropologists, like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Melville J. Herskovits, agree that, although there may be inferior and superior individuals within all races, there is no superior or inferior race. And segregationalists refuse to acknowledge that there are four types of blood, and these four types are found within every racial group.
'Love in Action', Strength To Love (1963, 1981), 45-46.
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Sexual instinct—as emotion, idea, and impulse—is a function of the cerebral cortex. Thus far no definite region of the cortex has been proved to be exclusively the seat of sexual sensations and impulses.
Psychopathia Sexualis: With Special Reference to Contrary Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Legal Study (1886), trans. Charles Gilbert Chaddock (1892), 24.
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Such pretensions to nicety in experiments of this nature, are truly laughable! They will be telling us some day of the WEIGHT of the MOON, even to drams, scruples and grains—nay, to the very fraction of a grain!—I wish there were infallible experiments to ascertain the quantum of brains each man possesses, and every man's integrity and candour:—This is a desideratum in science which is most of all wanted.
The Death Warrant of the French Theory of Chemistry (1804), 217.
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Take the living human brain endowed with mind and thought. …. The physicist brings his tools and commences systematic exploration. All that he discovers is a collection of atoms and electrons and fields of force arranged in space and time, apparently similar to those found in inorganic objects. He may trace other physical characteristics, energy, temperature, entropy. None of these is identical with thought. … How can this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine? … The Victorian physicist felt that he knew just what he was talking about when he used such terms as matter and atoms. … But now we realize that science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the atom. The physical atom is, like everything else in physics, a schedule of pointer readings.
From a Gifford Lecture, University of Edinburgh (1927), published in 'Pointer Readings: Limits of Physical Knowledge', The Nature of the Physical World (1929), 258-259.
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Taking advantage of the method, found by me, of the black staining of the elements of the brain, staining obtained by the prolonged immersion of the pieces, previously hardened with potassium or ammonium bichromate, in a 0.50 or 1.0% solution of silver nitrate, I happened to discover some facts concerning the structure of the cerebral gray matter that I believe merit immediate communication.
'On the Structure of the Gray Matter of the Brain', Gazetta Medica Italiana, 2 Aug 1873. Trans. Maurizio Santini (ed.), Golgi Centennial Symposium: Perspectives in Neurobiology (1975), 647.
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That special substance according to whose mass and degree of development all the creatures of this world take rank in the scale of creation, is not bone, but brain.
The Foot-prints of the Creator: Or, The Asterolepis of Stromness (1850, 1859), 160.
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The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.
Attributed. In Peter McDonald Slop, Oxford Dictionary of Medical Quotations (2004), 37.
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The brain is an island in an osmotically homogeneous sea.
From a lecture. Quoted in 'The Best Hope of All', Time (3 May 1963)
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The brain is the most complicated kilo of matter in the universe.
Perspectives (1966). In Memory (1999), 15.

The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head-mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one.
Man on His Nature (1940), 225.
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The brain of man, like that of all animals is double, being parted down its centre by a thin membrane. For this reason pain is not always felt in the same part of the head, but sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, and occasionally all over.
The Sacred Disease, in Hippocrates, trans. W. H. S. Jones (1923), Vol. 2, 153.
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The brain seems a thoroughfare for nerve-action passing its way to the motor animal. It has been remarked that Life's aim is an act not a thought. To-day the dictum must be modified to admit that, often, to refrain from an act is no less an act than to commit one, because inhibition is coequally with excitation a nervous activity.
The Brain and its Mechanism (1933), 10.
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The cerebrum I consider as the grand organ by which the mind is united to the body. Into it all the nerves from the external organs of the senses enter; and from it all the nerves which are agents of the will pass out.
Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain (1811), 27.
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The experimental investigation by which Ampere established the law of the mechanical action between electric currents is one of the most brilliant achievements in science. The whole theory and experiment, seems as if it had leaped, full grown and full armed, from the brain of the 'Newton of Electricity'. It is perfect in form, and unassailable in accuracy, and it is summed up in a formula from which all the phenomena may be deduced, and which must always remain the cardinal formula of electro-dynamics.
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 162.
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The fate of the physiology of the brain is independent of the truth and falsity of my assertions relative to the laws of the organization of the nervous system, in general, and of the brain in particular, just as the knowledge of the functions of a sense is independent of the knowledge of the structure of its apparatus.
Critical Review of Some Anatomical- Physiological Works; With an Explanation of a New Philosophy of the Moral Qualities and Intellectual Faculties (1835), 237-8.

The injurious agent in cigarettes comes principally from the burning paper wrapper. The substance thereby formed is called “acrolein.” It has a violent action on the nerve centers, producing degeneration of the cells of the brain, which is quite rapid among boys. Unlike most narcotics, this degeneration is permanent and uncontrollable. I employ no person who smokes cigarettes.
[From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison, Orange, N.J., April 26, 1914.]
Quoted in Henry Ford, The Case Against the Little White Slaver (1914), Vol. 1, 5.
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The key to SETI is to guess the type of communication that an alien society would use. The best guesses so far have been that they would use radio waves, and that they would choose a frequency based on 'universal' knowledge—for instance, the 1420 MHz hydrogen frequency. But these are assumptions formulated by the human brain. Who knows what sort of logic a superadvanced nonhuman life form might use? ... Just 150 years ago, an eyeblink in history, radio waves themselves were inconceivable, and we were thinking of lighting fires to signal the Martians.
Quoted on PBS web page related to Nova TV program episode on 'Origins: Do Aliens Exist in the Milky Way'.
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The most extensive computation known has been conducted over the last billion years on a planet-wide scale: it is the evolution of life. The power of this computation is illustrated by the complexity and beauty of its crowning achievement, the human brain.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 415.
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The relative importance of the white and gray matter is often misunderstood. Were it not for the manifold connection of the nerve cells in the cortex by the tens of millions of fibres which make up the under-estimated white matter, such a brain would be useless as a telephone or telegraph station with all the interconnecting wires destroyed.
Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia (28 Dec 1904), as quoted in 'Americans of Future Will Have Best Brains', New York Times (29 Dec 1904), 6.
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The responsibility for maintaining the composition of the blood in respect to other constituents devolves largely upon the kidneys. It is no exaggeration to say that the composition of the blood is determined not by what the mouth ingests but by what the kidneys keep; they are the master chemists of our internal environment, which, so to speak, they synthesize in reverse. When, among other duties, they excrete the ashes of our body fires, or remove from the blood the infinite variety of foreign substances which are constantly being absorbed from our indiscriminate gastrointestinal tracts, these excretory operations are incidental to the major task of keeping our internal environment in an ideal, balanced state. Our glands, our muscles, our bones, our tendons, even our brains, are called upon to do only one kind of physiological work, while our kidneys are called upon to perform an innumerable variety of operations. Bones can break, muscles can atrophy, glands can loaf, even the brain can go to sleep, without immediately endangering our survival, but when the kidneys fail to manufacture the proper kind of blood neither bone, muscle, gland nor brain can carry on.
'The Evolution of the Kidney', Lectures on the Kidney (1943), 3.
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The role of inhibition in the working of the central nervous system has proved to be more and more extensive and more and more fundamental as experiment has advanced in examining it. Reflex inhibition can no longer be regarded merely as a factor specially developed for dealing with the antagonism of opponent muscles acting at various hinge-joints. Its role as a coordinative factor comprises that, and goes beyond that. In the working of the central nervous machinery inhibition seems as ubiquitous and as frequent as is excitation itself. The whole quantitative grading of the operations of the spinal cord and brain appears to rest upon mutual interaction between the two central processes 'excitation' and 'inhibition', the one no less important than the other. For example, no operation can be more important as a basis of coordination for a motor act than adjustment of the quantity of contraction, e.g. of the number of motor units employed and the intensity of their individual tetanic activity. This now appears as the outcome of nice co-adjustment of excitation and inhibition upon each of all the individual units which cooperate in the act.
Inhibition as a Coordinative Factor', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1932). Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 288.
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The self-same atoms which, chaotically dispersed, made the nebula, now, jammed and temporarily caught in peculiar positions, form our brains; and the 'evolution' of brains, if understood, would be simply the account of how the atoms came to be so caught and jammed.
Principles of Psychology (1918), 146.
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The spark of a genius exists in the brain of the truly creative man from the hour of his birth. True genius is always inborn and never cultivated, let alone learned.
Mein Kampf (1925-26), American Edition (1943), 212-13. In William Lawrence Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1990), 110.
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The truth is, the Science of Nature has been already too long made only a work of the Brain and the Fancy: It is now high time that it should return to the plainness and soundness of Observations on material and obvious things.
Micrographia (1665). In Extracts from Micrographia (1906), 10.
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The White medullary Substance of the Brain is also the immediate Instrument, by which Ideas are presented to the Mind: Or, in other Words, whatever Changes are made in this Substance, corresponding Changes are made in our Ideas; and vice versa.
Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749), part 1, 8.
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The wreath of cigarette smoke which curls about the head of the growing lad holds his brain in an iron grip which prevents it from growing and his mind from developing just as surely as the iron shoe does the foot of the Chinese girl.
Quoted in Henry Ford, The Case Against the Little White Slaver (1914), Vol. 1, 20.
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Then I had shown, in the same place, what the structure of the nerves and muscles of the human body would have to be in order for the animal spirits in the body to have the power to move its members, as one sees when heads, soon after they have been cut off, still move and bite the ground even though they are no longer alive; what changes must be made in the brain to cause waking, sleep and dreams; how light, sounds, odours, tastes, warmth and all the other qualities of external objects can impress different ideas on it through the senses; how hunger, thirst, and the other internal passions can also send their ideas there; what part of the brain should be taken as 'the common sense', where these ideas are received; what should be taken as the memory, which stores the ideas, and as the imagination, which can vary them in different ways and compose new ones and, by the same means, distribute the animal spirits to the muscles, cause the limbs of the body to move in as many different ways as our own bodies can move without the will directing them, depending on the objects that are present to the senses and the internal passions in the body. This will not seem strange to those who know how many different automata or moving machines can be devised by human ingenuity, by using only very few pieces in comparison with the larger number of bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins and all the other parts in the body of every animal. They will think of this body like a machine which, having been made by the hand of God, is incomparably better structured than any machine that could be invented by human beings, and contains many more admirable movements.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 5, 39-40.
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There are only two sorts of doctors: those who practice with their brains, and those who practice with their tongues.
In Aequanimitas, and Other Papers That Have Stood the Test of Time (1963), 74.
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There cannot always be fresh fields of conquest by the knife; there must be portions of the human frame that will ever remain sacred from its intrusions, at least in the surgeon's hands. That we have already, if not quite, reached these final limits, there can be little question. The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will be forever shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.
Quoted in C. Cerf and V. Navasky (eds.), I Wish I hadn't Said That: The Experts Speak and Get it Wrong! (2000), 31.
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There must be a marsh in the brains of these men or there would not be so many frogs of wrong ideas gathered in their heads.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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This is the most exciting part of being human. It is using our brains in the highest way. Otherwise we are just healthy animals
Quoted in Alix Kerr, 'What It Took: Intuition, Goo,' Life (25 Jan 1963), 54, No. 4, 86.
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To preserve my brains I want food and this is now my first consideration. Any sympathetic letter from you will be helpful to me here to get a scholarship…
Letter to G.H. Hardy (27 Feb 1913). Excerpt in obituary notice by G.H. Hardy in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (2) (1921), 19, xl—lviii. Reprinted in G.H. Hardy, P.V. Seshu Aiyar and B.M. Wilson (eds.) Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxvii.
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We are having wool pulled over our eyes if we let ourselves be convinced that scientists, taken as a group, are anything special in the way of brains. They are very ordinary professional men, and all they know is their own trade, just like all other professional men. There are some geniuses among them, just as there are mental giants in any other field of endeavor.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 23-24.
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We are in the presence of a recruiting drive systematically and deliberately undertaken by American business, by American universities, and to a lesser extent, American government, often initiated by talent scouts specially sent over here to buy British brains and preempt them for service of the U.S.A. ... I look forward earnestly to the day when some reform of the American system of school education enables them to produce their own scientists so that, in an aimiable free trade of talent, there may be adequate interchange between our country and theirs, and not a one-way traffic.
Speaking as Britain's Minister of Science in the House of Lords (27 Feb 1963). In 'The Manhunters: British Minister Blames American Recruiters for Emigration of Scientists', Science Magazine (8 Mar 1963), 893. See also the reply from the leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson, by using the link below.
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We have in the spinal cord the antetype (Vorbild) and the foundation for the entire structure of the brain.
Handbuch der Anatonne des Menschen nnt besonderer Riicksicht auf Physiologie und praktische Medicin (1851), Vol. 2, 682. Trans. Edwin Clarke and L. S. Jacyna, Nineteenth Century Origins of Neuroscentific Concepts (1987), 52.

We must avoid the impression that the qualification for election is that the prostate is larger than the brain.
Speaking on the age of election of fellows at the Australian Academy of Science, 1980.
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What can you conceive more silly and extravagant than to suppose a man racking his brains, and studying night and day how to fly? ... wearying himself with climbing upon every ascent, ... bruising himself with continual falls, and at last breaking his neck? And all this, from an imagination that it would be glorious to have the eyes of people looking up at him, and mighty happy to eat, and drink, and sleep, at the top of the highest trees in the kingdom.
In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1732), 168. This was written before Montgolfier brothers, pioneer balloonists, were born.
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While our behavior is still significantly controlled by our genetic inheritance, we have, through our brains, a much richer opportunity to blaze new behavioral and cultural pathways on short timescales.
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977, 1986), 3.
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Whoever would not remain in complete ignorance of the resources which cause him to act; whoever would seize, at a single philosophical glance, the nature of man and animals, and their relations to external objects; whoever would establish, on the intellectual and moral functions, a solid doctrine of mental diseases, of the general and governing influence of the brain in the states of health and disease, should know, that it is indispensable, that the study of the organization of the brain should march side by side with that of its functions.
On the Organ of the Moral Qualities and Intellectual Faculties, and the Plurality of the Cerebral Organs (1835), 45-6.

[An audience conditioned by a lifetime of television-watching is so corrupted that] their standards have been systematically lowered over the years. These guys sit in front of their sets and the gamma rays eat the white cells of their brains out!
Spoken by character Isaac Davis (played by Woody Allen) in the movie, Manhattan (1979). Quoted in Eighteen Woody Allen Films Analyzed (2000), 63. Woody Allen directed the movie, which he co-wrote with Marshall Brickman.
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[Science has shown you that] 'you,' your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. as Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: 'You're nothing but a pack of neurons.'
The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul (1994), 3.
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[The octopus has] an amazing skin, because there are up to 20 million of these chromatophore pigment cells and to control 20 million of anything is going to take a lot of processing power. ... These animals have extraordinarily large, complicated brains to make all this work. ... And what does this mean about the universe and other intelligent life? The building blocks are potentially there and complexity will arise. Evolution is the force that's pushing that. I would expect, personally, a lot of diversity and a lot of complicated structures. It may not look like us, but my personal view is that there is intelligent life out there.
From transcript of PBS TV program Nova episode 'Origins: Where are the Aliens?' (2004).
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[T]here are some common animal behaviors that seem to favor the development of intelligence, behaviors that might lead to brainy beasts on many worlds. Social interaction is one of them. If you're an animal that hangs out with others, then there's clearly an advantage in being smart enough to work out the intentions of the guy sitting next to you (before he takes your mate or your meal). And if you're clever enough to outwit the other members of your social circle, you'll probably have enhanced opportunity to breed..., thus passing on your superior intelligence. ... Nature—whether on our planet or some alien world—will stumble into increased IQ sooner or later.
Seth Shostak, Alex Barnett, Cosmic Company: the Search for Life in the Universe (2003), 62 & 67.
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…comparing the capacity of computers to the capacity of the human brain, I’ve often wondered, where does our success come from? The answer is synthesis, the ability to combine creativity and calculation, art and science, into whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
In How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom (2007), 4.
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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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Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
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
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
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
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

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